Two Forgotten Communities -- Bisexual and Crossdresser

When I recently wrote my year-end reviews I was criticized by a barrage of tweets from the bisexual community. I found that strange because I was writing a trans year in review, and I had only mentioned the Obergefell marriage equality decision up front because it was the most momentous decision of the year for everyone in the LGBTQ community. However, because I once substituted "gay and trans" for "LGBT" I was taken to task, and then others joined in to tell me about events in the bi community.

Here are a few of those tweets:

I don't have any substantive arguments with any of the above. I clearly have my perspective, and others writing (and tweeting) have theirs. I don't see it as my primary responsibility to promote the bisexual community even though I identify as part of it, as there are only so many hours in my day. Admittedly, bisexual persons do make up the majority of the LGB community as well as the trans community. It's just not an identity that I prioritize, nor do many others, if I were to go by what I read on any given day (though recently there was a good article in The Daily Beast).

I'm not happy about that. Some of my best friends are bi. More importantly, I find those whom I know to be bi to be much more accepting of trans women than those who identify as lesbian. I find it difficult to find bi women; a good friend of mine remarked, when the Gates study from the Williams Institute was published which showed the bi population as the majority of LGB, "Well then, where are they?" I replied, "They might as well, for political purposes, be on a reservation in North Dakota."

There is a long history to bisexual erasure, and I will leave it to experts like Robyn Ochs to write about that. I hope it changes. When trans women speak publicly about relationships with other women, it is usually in the context of radical lesbian exclusionists, because that's where the drama has been since those lesbians politicized the phenomenon. Bi women, many having been in relationships with men before, aren't as worked up about being with a woman who once lived as a man or who had a penis. The organ simply doesn't have the same mystical power with them as it does with lesbians. If bi women (and men) were more prominent politically, their presence as openly bisexual might help us progress even more than we have. And, as I mentioned in my original article, the biggest event of the year, marriage equality, is as significant for bi persons as it is for gay ones.

The other community, which is rarely in the news, is the crossdresser community. Note that when we speak of crossdressers, we're referring only to men; crossdressing women are not an issue; the difference rooted in the profound sexism that undergirds our society and generates homophobia and transphobia.

I recently received an email from a crossdresser in the local community who was upset that the progress we've made, culturally as well as legally, doesn't include his ability to shop openly for lingerie. He's found that the public, while not overtly hostile, has barely reached a threshold of tolerance for him.

In answer to a question, I told him the law does not apply to men shopping in the women's clothing department. It applies only to trans persons who live as their reassigned gender on a consistent basis, and that doesn't include men who want to try on clothing in the lingerie department. Trans women shopped for women's clothing for decades, before shifting to catalog and online sales, but those public trips were made only after making an effort to find supportive sales women. Many businesses want to make money, and catering to the crossdressing community is a good source of income. However, expecting to be welcomed without preparation is asking a lot. It is also putting trans women at risk because it feeds the right-wing talking points of men invading women's spaces, including bathrooms and locker rooms. Crossdressers identify as men and usually have no intention of changing that, at least as far as gender expression goes, so until the culture evolves a great deal further, they are going to be limited to pursuing their interests on the down low.

That leads to a political dimension these two communities share which is worthy of note. Acknowledging bisexual persons has long been thought to confuse the messaging about the innateness of sexual orientation -- the "born this way" theme which has played an important role in gay legislative success. Of course, bisexuality is just as innate as homosexuality, but political sophistication is not a major attribute of many voters or legislators, so it was decided to play it safe. Importantly, bisexual people are covered legally and legislatively anyway, so it's more a matter of identity validation than anything else.

Similarly, most Americans, at least until recently, did not distinguish among trans women, drag queens and crossdressers when they thought about the trans community at all. As public acceptance has improved, both trans women and gay queens have been demanding recognition, fraying the transgender "umbrella," and the battles have played out over the past few years. Public self-promotion by crossdressing men, however, would throw a wrench into the cultural discussion, a wrench the unsophisticated can use to derail much of the progress we've made.

I have a feeling it will take a coming out by someone of the stature of Caitlyn Jenner to even begin that conversation. By some estimates within the community, 10% of the straight male population cross dresses to some degree, which would lead one to believe it should be easier to generate acceptance for that larger number than for those few who've transitioned gender. Alas, the stigma associated with crossdressing, still considered a "disorder" by the American Psychiatric Association, is profound, and change is not in the air (outside of the fashion industry). That cross-dressing men identify as men complicates the issue of gender identity and sex-segregated spaces, as I've mentioned, and is the most critical block to liberation for that community.

This year is shaping up to be quite interesting, in the sense the Chinese use the word "interesting."