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Dan Savage is still biphobic


Dan Savage wrote a piece in The Stranger this week, claiming that he’s not biphobic and that the problems that bisexuals face are mostly their own fault (no really). The comments on this piece are really good too.

The tagline for this article is:

You Need to Come Out to Your Friends and Spouses—Now

Well thanks Dan for that order, I’ll get to it right away… actually no, you can stop dictating what I should and should not do, what bisexuals should and should not do.  I tend to not read a whole lot of Dan Savage’s writing, I find him annoying, biphobic and judgemental.  I don’t know if he orders other members of the LGBTIQ community out of the closet, but surely issues of safety and the like would prevent most people ordering others out of the closet (granted this doesn’t seem to factor in the thinking of the media who happily out politicians, celebrities and other public figures if they think they can get away with it).

I’m not bi-phobic—in fact, I love bisexual people so much, I wish there were more of them.

Really Dan?  Based on your previous biphobic commentary, it’s going to take a whole lot more than you just stating that you “love bisexual people” for me to believe that you’re no longer biphobic.

I do find some bisexuals scary, particularly the ones who are always accusing me of being bi-phobic.

Yes, because people pointing out that your biphobia is scary, and instead of checking your privilege you just declare that bisexuals who suggest that you’re being biphobic are scary – instead of finding out what it is that makes someone say that, and how you can change that, and actually being an ally instead of a privileged jerk.

But let’s unpack—for Pride Week!—why I’m constantly being accused of bi-phobia, particularly by bisexual men. And it’s basically this: I’m unwilling to pretend that what is, isn’t.

I don’t even get what Dan is trying to say here.  I’d suggest (as I’ve linked to Greta Christina above) that not all your accusers are male.

Here’s one thing that is: Many adult gays and lesbians identified as bi for a few shining moments during our adolescences and coming-out processes. (We wanted to let our friends down easy; we didn’t want our families to think we’d gone over the dark side entirely.) This can lead adult gays and lesbians—myself included—to doubt the professed sexual identities of bisexual teenagers.

Well that’s lovely.  I don’t care how many gay and lesbian people transitioned through bisexuality in order to let friends/family/whatever down easy.  This does not give you or anyone else the right to question the professed sexual identities of anyone, especially teenagers.  As the founder of the whole “It Gets Better” project (that I have issues with anyway), professing doubt (even just here) of the identity of a teenager is horrid.  Telling someone that you’re not convinced that they are actually bisexual is biphobic.  Just because you and some other people you know may have used that term to let people down gently before announcing that you were gay, does not mean that the teenagers of today are doing the same thing.  Times change, people change, society changes.  I’d argue that it is far more acceptable for teenagers today to out themselves as gay or lesbian over bisexual.

I don’t berate bi-identified teenage boys, I don’t tell them they’re not really bi, and I don’t cruise around bi neighborhoods looking for young bi guys to beat up. But I do know that a bi-identified 36-year-old is likelier to be bisexual than a bi-identified 16-year-old, and I resent being asked to pretend not to know it.

Really?  So just based on age you’re more likely to believe someone’s self identified sexual orientation.  What if that 36 year old man identified as gay yesterday and bisexual today?  Are you still going to believe him?  I don’t care how much you resent having to allow a teenager (or anyone else) the right to self identify, but that’s just tough.  Get over it and stop pretending to be the sexual identity gatekeeper.  You resent people telling you to stop judging other people and to stop believing that you can identify whether someone is straight, gay or lying.

And here’s another thing that is: Most adult bisexuals, for whatever reason, wind up in opposite-sex relationships. And most comfortably disappear into presumed heterosexuality (including all three of my biggest bisexual antagonists—what are the odds?!).

As someone pointed out in the comments, the percentage of straight identifying people in the world and the percentage of queer identifying people in the world are not even close to even numbers.  With greater access to heterosexual relationships than queer relationships, then perhaps it shouldn’t be that surprising that some bisexual people end up in opposite sex relationships – and even then, if bisexuals are people who are attracted to more than one gender, then there will be those that end up in opposite sex, and those that end up in same sex relationships.

How on earth did you get to “most” anyway?  Is there a paper to support your claim, or is it just based on your own anecdata?  I have no idea who the “three … biggest bisexual antagonists” actually are, but it comes across as if Dan is suggesting that once a bisexual individual is in an opposite sex relationship, then they’re not actually bisexual any more.

Not only would it be great if more bisexuals were out to their partners, it would be great if more bisexuals in opposite-sex relationships were out to their friends, families, and coworkers. More out bisexuals would mean less of that bisexual invisibility that bisexuals are always complaining about. If more bisexuals were out, more straight people would know they actually know and love sexual minorities, which would lead to less anti-LGBT bigotry generally, which would be better for everyone.

Bisexual invisibility is not specifically related to the fact that people don’t know any bisexuals.  If Dan had spent more than a couple of minutes looking into what bisexual invisibility actually refers to, then perhaps I’d be more convinced that he wasn’t biphobic.

Bi-invisibility refers to disregarding the clear evidence that bisexual people exist, that bisexuality is a marked orientation that can be lifelong and stable and exists outside the reputed hetero-/homosexual binary, and that despite misconceptions to the contrary bisexuals do regularly and fervently contribute to LGBT efforts and to their wider communities. (from Visible BiSocial Network)

Clearly bisexuals have a duty to be out, despite the fact that it is not always safe, to help out the LGBTIQ community avoid further bigotry.  As my husband stated in comment 64 on Dan’s article, there are plenty of bisexuals who have attempted to come out and who have faced bigotry from both the straight and queer communities.  Surely it is not the roles of bisexual people to make the world a safer space for the GLBTIQ community, to suggest that smacks of victim blaming given the bigotry bisexuals face.

Bisexuals are not responsible for the bigotry and prejudice faced by the LGBTIQ community.  Bisexuals are also not responsible for the bigotry and prejudice that is directed their way from either the LGBTIQ community or the straight community.  At this stage, a small number (but a loud minority) of people in both the LGBTIQ community and the straight community make life difficult for bisexuals.  Dan’s voice is amongst that loud minority – and being a very influential gay man – his voice carries a lot of influence.

But people get to make their own choices, and lots of bisexuals choose not to be out. While I’m willing to recognize that the reluctance of many bisexuals to be out may be a reaction to the hostility they face from non-bisexuals, gay and straight, bisexuals need to recognize that their being closeted is a huge contributing factor to the hostility they face.

But people get to make their own choices, and lots of gays choose not to be out.  But people get to make their own choices, and lots of lesbians choose not to be out.

It is no one’s responsibility to be out.  You are not required at any time to be out if it is unsafe, if you don’t think the world has any right to know, if you’re not interested in being out.  To suggest that someone has to be out for the good of the cause makes me want to tell you to fuck off.

No, bisexuals remaining in the closet is not a huge contributing factor to the hostility we face.  Arsehats are a huge contributing factor to the hostility that we face.  Influential arsehats who suggest that bisexuality is not a genuine sexual orientation is a huge contributing factor to the hostility we face.

Being constantly told that we don’t exist, that we’re on the fence, that we’ll just leave our partner for someone else, that we’re disease vectors… those are huge contributing factors to the hostility we face.

Bisexual activists like to complain that they’re the most oppressed because (1) it’s a contest, and (2) it’s a good excuse. If they can argue—and unfortunately, they can—that lots of gay people are mean to them (some gay people don’t want to date them, some gay people doubt they exist) and straight people are mean to them (some straight people don’t want to date them, some straight people doubt they exist), then bisexual people aren’t to blame for the bisexual closet. Everyone else is.

Quick look, bisexuals are playing the Oppression Olympics.

Beginning a round of Oppression Olympics is generally seen as Derailment or even as a Silencing tactic, as it attempts to prevent or deflect discussion of one kind of oppression by denying its legitimacy or existence, downplaying its importance, or simply switching the focus to another. (from above)

I think bisexuals have a hard time both inside and out the LGBTIQ community.  I think that trans* people have a hard time inside and out of the LBGTIQ community.  I think that queer people of colour have a hard time inside and out of the GLBTIQ community.  I don’t know who brings the Oppression Olympics into debates with Dan, but pointing out that bisexuals are oppressed in and out of the GLBTIQ community is pointing out a fact, not a “good excuse”.

So I actually think that Dan is right here when he says, “If they can argue… that lots of gay people are mean to them… and straight people are mean to them… then bisexual people aren’t to blame for the bisexual closet.  Everyone else is.

Let’s not forget though that Dan has actually advised queer people not to date bisexuals in the past.

And they have a point—but it’s a self-serving, self-defeating point. Yes, lots of people judge and condemn and fear bisexuals. If those were good reasons to stay closeted, no gay or lesbian person would ever come out. And if bisexuals did come out in greater numbers, they could rule… well, not the world, but they could rule the parallel LGBT universe.

It’s not a self-serving, self defeating point.  The problem is that although gay and lesbian people face judgement and condemnation from some of their heterosexual counterparts, bisexual people face judgement and condemnation from both their gay and lesbian counterparts AND their heterosexual counterparts.  You’d think that those who had faced judgement and condemnation from broader society would not be so quick to cast it on another member of their community – but it happens, and it happens far too often.

If you’re going to be judged and condemned on all sides, why bother leaving the closet in the first place?  It actually makes it less safe to be out than to stay in the closet.  The Bisexual Alliance Victoria marched in Melbourne’s Pride March this year.  Bisexual groups have marched in Pride March since at least 2006, and each time I’ve been at one I’ve heard heckles from the crowd telling us that we don’t exist, that we need to get off the fence, and that we haven’t made up our minds yet.  What type of encouragement is this from the LGBTIQ community?  How does this encourage bisexuals to be out and proud about our bisexuality?  How does Dan Savage’s previous comments on bisexuality make it safe for bisexuals to be out and proud?

I’m sorry, bisexual activists, but you’re doing it all wrong. Instead of berating me for my alleged bi-phobia—and if I’m the enemy, you’re in real trouble—berate your closeted compatriots. If they all came out tomorrow, you could put an end to bi-phobia, take over the LGBT movement, and kick my ass out of it.

Again, it is not bisexual’s responsibility to make the LGBTIQ community safe for us.  It is the LBGTIQ community’s responsibility to stop being arsehats.  It’s Dan Savage’s job to stop being biphobic and to stop judging whether someone is genuinely bisexual or not (including teenagers).  It is Dan Savage’s job to stop being the arbiter of what is or is not a suitable sexual orientation for someone.

No one, ever, has to come out of the closet if they don’t want to.  As Rachel Maddow stated:

I’ve long held three basic beliefs about the ethics of coming out:

  1. Gay people — generally speaking — have a responsibility to our own community and to future generations of gay people to come out, if and when we feel that we can.
  2. We should all get to decide for ourselves the “if and when we feel that we can” part of that.
  3. Closeted people should reasonably expect to be outed by other gay people if (and only if) they prey on the gay community in public, but are secretly gay themselves.

I don’t necessarily agree with the third option, but the other two I believe are solid.

On that magical day when the loud minority of the GLBTIQ community stops judging and condemning bisexuals for their mere existence,  then perhaps there will be a corresponding increase in the number of bisexuals who come out of the closet.  Perhaps those parts of the BLGTIQ community who don’t believe that bisexuality is a genuine orientation should ask themselves why they get to judge what is and is not to be, and make the LGBTIQ community a safer space for all queers.

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The Discussion

see what everyone is saying

  • Marsha June 28th, 2011 at 2:51 am #1

    wow! well said! thanks for this critique. dan savage has always displayed an astounding lack of humility. i really appreciate the It Gets Better Campaign. celebrity has its perks so he was able to get heavy hitters to participate and i find it very helpful and have used it in LGBTIQQ activism. yet, he remains absolutely unrepentant in his sexism (ranking the G first in GLBT) and other subtle hierarchical actions , heteronormativity (assuming that somehow there’s a problem if bi ppl “end up with someone of the “opposite sex” really are we still using the tired old false gender binary accusation to deny the existence of BIs?), and a total unwillingness to use actual research. the SF Human Rights Commission just released an excellent review of bi invisibility. Savage displays his utter ignorance of it and repeats the same tired biphobic propaganda elitists in hetero and queer communities have been believing for decades. sad!

  • Elisa M Welch June 28th, 2011 at 4:34 am #2

    Yes, yes, yes, thank you! So often I just want to tell Dan Savage to STFU. You do it beautifully here!

  • Jan Steckel June 28th, 2011 at 5:24 am #3

    Excellent response, Marsha!

  • Erin June 30th, 2011 at 9:00 pm #4

    You quote Rachel Maddow: “Gay people — generally speaking — have a responsibility to our own community and to future generations of gay people to come out.”

    You follow this quote by saying that the principle “sounds solid.”

    Um… So what happened to this sentiment: “To suggest that someone has to be out for the good of the cause makes me want to tell you to fuck off”?

    Regardless of my own opinion on the subject, your hypocrisy is mind-boggling.

    Furthermore – yeah, it’d be great if the assholes of the world just magically stopped being assholes. But that’s not how it works. People need to step out and instigate change, not sit around bemoaning the fact that it would so much easier if the world changed on its own.

  • Jaroslaw July 1st, 2011 at 3:02 am #5

    I’m at work, computer down at home, don’t have time to refute this piece point by point – didn’t even have time to read it all. I just share what I think may be reasonable disagreement.

    1. Dan writes a column which means he has deadlines and everything he writes is not going to be a masterpiece.

    I have read him for years and do not think he is innately mean. I’m responding to the “who does he think he is telling a 16 y/o he isn’t bi vs. a 32 y/o bi guy. HELLO is it news to you that people grow and develop a lot between age 16 and 32? It IS extremely likely, that in any society that forces conformity coupled with overwhelming religious conservatism that a 16 y/o is much more likely to be “confused” than a 32 year old.

    2. bluebec? wrote this – Dan says straight out that he doesn’t berate bi-teen boys. And you STILL go pollyanna batshit crazy on him “you are OH SO concerned that even HERE he expresses a bit of doubt…” REALLY? Any teen mature enough to read THE ENTIRE article is smart enough to get advice, make a call to a hotline or do MORE reading. And take the entire article IN Context.

    As a person in my early 50′s, along with many many many friends who all pretended we weren’t Gay for a long long time, I totally understand why Dan would say being bi is a phase for many. Yet months later, all over the internet, people are writing that he said BI’s don’t exist.

    Perhaps rather than join the evergrowing list of people criticizing Dan, why don’t you venture out and write your own advice column? And then people can pick apart every word you write! I’m not saying you can’t have an opinion or criticize Dan ever, but these criticisms seem way overblown for the “offense.”

  • Rebecca July 1st, 2011 at 9:09 am #6

    Thanks for the selective quoting there Erin. It’s the second bit of that statment and the second part of the quote that are the MOST important bit, the

    We should all get to decide for ourselves the “if and when we feel that we can” part of that.

    Dan is dictating that bisexuals must come out, regardless of whether or not we feel safe enough to do so thanks to the overwhelming hostility from gay and lesbian individuals as well as straight individuals.

    In relation to stepping out and instigating change – thanks for telling me how to do my job. Everyone gets to choose how they step out and instigate change, and blogging about such things is one form of activism, as is my role as the Vice President of the Bisexual Alliance Victoria (yes, I’m an out and proud bisexual).

  • Rebecca July 1st, 2011 at 11:48 am #7

    Hi Jaroslaw,

    Thanks for taking the time to come to my blog and tell me what you think. I don’t know why I can’t be part of an evergrowing list of people criticising someone I see as acting in a way that is damaging to my bisexual community, but given that this is MY blog, I’ll state my opinions here as much as I can be arsed, and if you want to take my posts apart word by word, please feel free to go and do that on your own space.

    Dan is a professional writer, if he doesn’t know what message he’s putting across when he types what he types, then he’s not as smart as he appears to himself and everyone else. Deadlines or not, he has to be careful about what he writes so he doesn’t get sued… so everything he writes will be carefully vetted.

    It’s not news that people change their mind, that identity shifts and changes as people mature, that said though, doubting that a 16 year old knows their own sexual orientation just because they are 16 is dismissing their own experience and knowledge of themselves.

    Yes, it is possible a 16, 20, 30 year old, with the religious indoctrination and living in a conservative country to be confused or even misled about their sexual orientation. To suggest that this is solely the province of 16 year old children isn’t true. I know people who’ve come out as gay after living a straight life, and then who’ve later come out as bisexual. I know people who’ve come out as bisexual and later come out again as gay or lesbian. Sexuality is a fluid thing, which is lovely and adds to the richness of life, but it isn’t always fluid for everyone and suggesting that a 16 year old may not be bisexual adds to the myth that bisexuality is not a real orientation.

    As a person in your early 50s, you grew up in a much different time than the teenagers of today. Dan Savage grew up in a time much different than that of teenagers today. Perhaps coming out as bisexual when you and Dan were teenagers was a less stigmatised sexuality than coming out as gay. These days, I’d argue that coming out as bisexual, when a loud minority of the lesbian and gay community does not believe that bisexuality exists, is a far more stigmatised sexuality. If a teenager comes out as bisexual, their outing should be as loudly celebrated as anyone else’s and not quietly questioned behind their back.

  • 38th Down Under Feminists’ Carnival July 4th, 2011 at 8:40 am #8

    [...] wrote about Dan Savage still being biphobic after a piece he published in [...]

  • bi and proud July 5th, 2011 at 8:11 pm #9

    oh my god SHUT UP, dan savage is awesome

  • Rebecca July 6th, 2011 at 8:23 am #10

    Hi bi and proud,

    You are entitled to your opinion as am I. Don’t come to my blog and tell me to shut up because you disagree with me. You are free to state your disagreement, but being rude is unnecessary. And if you are going to state your disagreement, try actually detailing why you are disagreeing with me other than stating that someone is just “awesome”, which isn’t really an argument.

  • Matthew July 6th, 2011 at 4:44 pm #11

    Fortunately when I was 13 I could go to a United Church of Christ pastor and he told me about Kinsey. So I had a firm sense of self even before meeting the gay community. But my first experiences by older gay men was to dismiss what I was saying – which meant no community and no support. Then I went to art school and had supportive bi and gay peers, but adults were few and far between. Now at age 39 I do feel it is my duty to support teens and undergrad bi people. When I was in graduate school a few years ago I was now past Dan Savages earmark of 36 but gay faculty and students alike felt that it was perfectly fine to ridicule me (this was graduate school!!!) I personally have had enough. Thanks for writing the article.

  • Rebecca July 6th, 2011 at 5:02 pm #12

    Thank you Matthew for sharing your story and experiences.

  • Rob October 14th, 2011 at 1:40 pm #13

    Thank you for yet again telling how Dan Savage is biphobic and practices bisexual erasure.

    I have been telling this to people ever since in the late 90s he said how gay men shouldn’t date or get involved with bisexual men at all, and when he completely supported the 2005 “study” by the eugenicist Dr. J. Michael Bailey and even said how in the bisexual documentary along with Michael Musto, how they both believe that Bisexual men don’t exist and are really gay.

    Jaroslaw-Dan Savage actually has a history of bisexual erasure and biphobia.

    See here: http://www.afterelton.com/oysters-04-28-2011-dan-savage-biphobic?page=0,1

  • [...] Schwyzer who plays the what about the menz game in disturbing fashion and the racist, cissexist and bi-hating gay dudebro known as Dan [...]

  • [...] On the other hand, Savage’s hotheaded, reactionary approach can be a real turn-off. And what is up with the biphobia? Did a bi guy leave him for a chick once or something, which I’m sure is so [...]

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