Tag Archives: community

Being out makes a difference

I forget how much of a difference being out makes to other people.  I’ve been an out bisexual since at least 2006, and I forget what difference that makes to other non straight, non gay and non lesbian people.

A couple of weeks ago, I appeared in The Age (nice photo and everything) talking about bisexuality, to support a friend and fellow activist’s book on bisexuality.  The interview was easy, apart from it being at 9:30am on a Sunday, and the photographer who came around to take photos of me and James was also lovely, the whole thing was great.

My colleagues, who I had told I was being photographed, were very supportive of the story, messaging me as soon as they saw it, congratulating me on being in the paper.  Old colleagues from a previous job, who I am also out to, got in contact to tell me that they had found the article and loved it.  In all of this, I forgot that this story makes a difference to people.

Being an out bisexual is so a part of my life, I forget that it helps other people.  Two people, one a friend of a friend, and one a business associate, have commented positively on the article, one talked to me about bisexuality and the invisibility she feels because she is married to a man, as well as how she feels unwelcome in LGBTI spaces because she is bisexual and married to a man.  The other thanked me for the work I do (outside my paid work), saying that this was so important, and made such a big difference to people.

When I agreed to be interviewed I thought about the impact this probably wouldn’t have on my life – given I’m very out.  I didn’t think about the impact that it would have on other bisexual people, or those who fit under the bisexual umbrella.  I’m glad it’s made a difference, and I recognise I need to spend more time thinking on how to use my power (of being an out bisexual) for good to bring community to those who don’t know where to find it.

If you are in Victoria, Australia there is a Bisexual community.  You can be a part of called Bi-Alliance Victoria.  If you are in other parts of Australia, please feel free to follow us on Twitter, join our email lists or like our Facebook page. (I’m not on Facebook, I have no idea what you’re supposed to do in FB land)  If you’re visiting Melbourne, and you’re here when we have a discussion group, come along.  Always great to meet people and build community.

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Building a community of the future

*trigger warning – discussion of rape and other violence*

I have this idea.  I’m not sure if it would work, or even be possible, but I’d like to try it out – sadly control groups and experimental groups are lacking.

A little background might help I guess, because what I’m asking for is people’s opinions and ideas as to whether my idea is feasible, whether they’ve seen anything else similar anywhere else, and overall whether I should push this as a form of community engagement.

I’m a member of a polyamorous community in Victoria (Australia).  There has been a lot of discussion recently about how to ensure that the community remains safe and what (if any) role the committee of the incorporated organisation play in that.  There is clearly a desire for clarity around the committee’s role and what the community can expect – but this isn’t the discussion I want here, this discussion is for my idea of creating a safer community.

If the leaders of a community (whether elected official leaders or other identified leaders) expressed clear opposition to unsafe behaviours and encouraged the community to openly and safely discuss how those unsafe behaviours have affected them personally (with no mention of perpetrators) in their lives, would that create a community were those who engaged in those behaviours would not feel welcome?

That’s nice and complicated, let me break it down to a specific example.  If the committee/leaders stated that rape and other sexual crimes are behaviours that are not tolerated in the poly community, and the community was encouraged to have ongoing discussions regarding the effect that rape has had on their lives, without naming he perpetrator because this is the space for those who have experienced rape or other sex crimes, would those who believe that rape is no big deal have their minds changed, and would those who have raped or who will rape be less likely to remain in the community?  Could a community be built that does not blame victims for the crimes against them but instead supports them and talks about the damage that silence and victim blaming causes?

We don’t talk about violence against others nearly often enough in the community spaces I inhabit.  We do not express our distaste, our displeasure, our repulsion, our abhorrence against what is done by some to others.  This culture of silence often means it is easy for people to be unaware of the extent of the harm that violence causes, and also how wide-spread some forms of violence are.  If those of my community, who evidently felt safe to do so, stood up and told our stories of violence, those who don’t know would most likely be shocked at how common such things are.  I’d want the leaders (elected or generally respected) to be very clear that no one invites crimes to be committed against them and that any form of victim blaming would not be tolerated.

I feel, in an ideal world, that this could work, that a community could start to talk about the harm that violence causes, and make it a very unwelcome environment for those individuals that participate in forms of violence against others – because their viewpoints that their behaviour is ok would be challenged by people who think it is not.

I’d love other opinions on this however.

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A culture of silence

I’ve found yet another culture of silence I just don’t understand.  This one has nothing to do with physical violence against others, nothing to do with racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic behaviour, and nothing to do with rape apology.  This is all to do with gossip and rumours… which really thrive in a culture of silence.

Some context would probably be useful here.  I’m a member of a community that is relatively close-knit and some would say incestuous… but it is full of people who are polyamorous, so that second label is understandable.  Given the interlinked relationships, friendships and the like there is a certain amount of disclosure about people, but it is usually safe, sane and truthful.  It is useful, after all, to know your partner’s partner’s STI status, who else they are involved with, etc.  Honesty is valued in poly relationships because it is just impossible to trust a group of people (tribes is the terminology I tend to use) without being very honest with them and having them be very honest with you.

So when someone joined this community, and spent some time in it, started talking about negative experiences with others, given the constant reinforcement of honesty as a necessary part of polyamory, we trusted that she was at least telling as close as she could to her version of the truth – so it may have been hurt or anger with someone, but she was being honest at the core.

And we did not talk to those she said bad things about.  I think this is a common thing regardless of the community you are in.  Typically gossip is passed on to others and not the victim, which sadly means that the victim can be ostracised, isolated or subject to other forms negative of behaviour because something which may be untrue or taken out of context is believed by others and the victim is not given a chance to defend themselves, or if they are, it is usually far too late.

So why don’t we talk to the person the gossip or bad-mouthing is about?  Sometimes I think it’s because you want to believe what the other person who is gossiping to you to be true.  There were some things that were told to me by the aforementioned person which I could have believed to be true, whether that was because there was a grain of truth in them or because I was already biased against the person being gossiped about.  Sometimes I think it is because you instantly dismiss what the gossiper is saying because you don’t think it is true or you don’t care one way or the other.  The aforementioned person told me some things about people I was friends with which either did not fit my knowledge of that individual or were completely irrelevant to me.

It was only as we began as a wider group to start unravelling the lies that were told to us and found out the lies that were told about us that we realised the harm that this one individual had caused to our wider circle and community.  We have since cut all ties with her and I am of the understanding that she has now left the community, but that still does not solve the main problem… that of the culture of silence.

Maybe it’s an Australian thing to not disclose negative and hurtful information that you overhear to the person/s that it is allegedly about.  Maybe there are other places in the world that handle this openly and far better.  I’m going to try and find some way to deal with gossip I overhear by approaching the victim and effectively tattling on the gossiper.  Though it can be hard when you don’t know whether something is true or not to start with…  If my partner’s partner tells me that their new partner does/has/wants X, do I go and talk to them and tell them what I was told?  Where can I draw the line?

It is a very tricky thing to deal with, which is why I suspect I don’t ever deal with it well until it is too late, or when things are bad.  I don’t know what would have happened if I had confronted the gossiper (and outright liar) that has most recently harmed my tribe, earlier in the piece.  I suspect I would have been turned upon and maliciously attacked to others.

Some of the people who thought that they were going to be able to stay out of this have discovered that things were even said about them, things that were untrue that I dismissed as either irrelevant or unlikely to be true, and it wasn’t until we were debriefing about the situation that I passed those things on.  One friend was deeply shocked to have had lies told about her – even though in my estimation those lies were so irrelevant and meaningless.  Another friend who had had lies told about him did not seem to be bothered, even though the lies told about him seemed to be more serious than the other friend’s.

Debriefing has been incredibly useful but there is still serious damage that has been done.  Several members of my tribe are afraid that their ability to judge people is skewed, and their ability to trust has temporarily taken a beating.  There is a lot of anger and feelings of betrayal.  And of course the big question, “Why would someone do this?”

This post has been cross posted to my poly blog: Only More So

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