BISEXUALS IN THE PRESS—OR NOT By William Burleson
I couldn’t have been more excited when the news came via E-mail: Robin Ochs, instructor at Tufts University, long time bi activist, and old friend just wed her partner of seven years, Peg.
Yea! Who wouldn’t be happy for this beautiful couple? Don’t say it: I know. A lot of hateful people, that’s who.
What made the E-mail even better was that it contained a link to an actual film of their wedding. Yea! Let’s hear it for technology! Here I am, in my office at work (don’t tell), watching these amazing women get ready and go to their historic ceremony. It brought tears to my eyes.
The E-mail also had a link to the Washington Post. It seems they were the subjects of a story about the very first day of legal same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. Yea! How wonderful to let the world read how these two loving people belong married.
But then: clunk. The title of the story: “A Carefully Considered Rush to the Altar. Lesbian Pair Wed After 7 Years Together.”
“Lesbian” Pair? Did they actually say “Lesbian Pair?” Apparently, for the Washington Post, that sums up Robyn’s two decades plus of bi activism in a nutshell. “Lesbain Pair” indeed.
Bisexuals are nearly invisible in the press. Hell, it’s as if most of the media has never even hear the term before. Take for example a 2002 story from the Los Angeles Times by Maura Reynolds, “Sex Between Men an Open Secret in Restrictive Afghan Society.” In it Reynolds reports one Mullah saying that 90% of men want to have sex with other men, but only 20 to 50% do. 20 to 50%? Man, party time in Kandahar! But my point is, after 1200 words about men having sex with other men before and after getting married to women, not once did the word “bisexual” ever come up. How can that be?
Another example is the 2003 story by entertainment columnist Neal Justin in the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Kiss the Girls.” Justin talks about how common it has become to see otherwise straight female TV characters kissing other women. He reports, “…The idea of two attractive women kissing is about as controversial as a guest appearance by Alan Thicke.” Yet not once does he ever use the word “bisexual.” Not one time. Not even to say something like “Lisa Kudrow behaved bisexually on TV last night….”
These aren’t isolated examples; this seemingly intentional erasure is the rule when it comes to bisexuals and the press. What on earth is going on?
I think a couple things. First, bisexuals are invisible in general. In our culture, people assume our orientation on the basis of our partner’s gender. Robyn is marrying a woman, ergo she is a lesbian. While I will grant you this system is very neat and tidy, it is also often quite wrong: studies have shown there are at least as many people in the U.S. who call themselves bisexual as call themselves gay.
Second, the purpose of these stories isn’t to educate about bisexuality (for that, apparently, we would have to start by educating the reporters). All the press is interested in is Madonna planting a wet one on Britney, not wave a bi flag.
Last and perhaps worst: many if not most people don’t accept bisexuality as a bona fide sexual orientation. It’s that simple. Never mind the folks who still don’t accept anything but heterosexuality, for both straights and gays bisexuals screw-up the implied contract that there to be only two teams, ones where we can easily sort out who’s on which.
Bottom line: Robyn had to be lesbian in the Washington Post article, otherwise it would have been a completely different story, one the Post is ill equipped and unmotivated to tell.
So we bisexuals have our work cut out for us. We have to wave our pink, purple, and blue flags. When the press makes us invisible, we have to speak out. We have to claim our identities. We have to demand to be seen.
Meanwhile, we can celebrate with Robyn and Peg. A victory is a victory. No damned newspaper is going to ruin it for me.
William Burleson is the Author of Bi America: Myths, Truths, and Struggles of an Invisible Community, coming from Haworth Press in April of 2004. Visit www.bi101.org for more information.