Oh dear, DIVA: leading magazine for queer women legitimises biphobia.
Many of my readers will be aware of my former dispute with DIVA magazine, the UK’s leading magazine for lesbian, bisexual and other queer women. Last time it was about their behaviour over internships, which got rather dramatic and resulted in being brought up in the House of Commons. This time, it’s about biphobia; the bigotry and ill treatment of bisexual and other non mono-sexual people.
In April’s edition of DIVA, an article was published entitled “Why do you have to be such a heart-breaker?”, focusing on relationships between lesbians and bisexuals. Although it was supposedly about biphobia, and presumably biphobia being a bad thing, everything about the article seemed to suggest that a fear of dating a bisexual woman was something perfectly natural. The line on the cover was “How to overcome your fears and date a bisexual,” which implied that such fears were natural, to be overcome, and further more made clear that DIVA magazine is perhaps not aimed at all queer women but just lesbians. The article’s headline, quoted above, immediately framed bi women in the role of fickle cheat, breaking the hearts of those steady, ill-done-by lesbians who date us. The sub-header was “Can lesbians and bi women ever find true love?”, to which the answer is so obviously “yes” I wonder the question even needs asking. The article itself was less objectionable, but what really frustrated me was the “Reader Experience” section. No bisexual-positive quotes from lesbian women were given; just anecdotes about bad experiences with bi women and bi women in turn talking about the bigotry they’ve experienced. As if the two were equal! I have seen the facebook discussion from which these quotes were taken: there were lesbian women who were not only happy to date bisexuals, but expressed disgust with the biphobia displayed by other lesbians. DIVA presented the case as if all lesbians encountered showed an unwillingess to date bisexuals.
I am not someone to keep my opinions to myself, as anyone who follows me on twitter will know. I wrote DIVA a letter, and it was duly published in this month’s (May) issue. I quote it in full below, together with the Editor’s (Jane Czyzselska) response.
I was really quite disappointed in your article on biphobia (April). Could you really not find a single lesbian who would date a bi woman or had had a positive experience with bisexuality? The readers’ experiences were divided into bi women who’d faced bad reactions from lesbians for being bi, and lesbians who talked shamelessly about their bigotry against women just because they liked men as well. I know there are lesbians out there who don’t behave like this. Furthermore, even the line on the front of the magazine – “How to overcome your fears and date a bisexual” – seemed to imply that such fears were totally natural and understandable for lesbians to face. They’re not.
Ed: The article aimed to acknowledge the painful experiences of both lesbians and bi women and looked at ways to move on within relationships. Neither lesbians nor bi women can claim to be more hurt, as the reader stories showed.
My instinctive response to the Editor’s reply was something along the lines of “what the hell isthis bullshit?”, but I’ll try to express myself with a tad more eloquence. I am stunned that DIVA magazine, usually excellent on matters of bigotry and discrimination (that is, combating the above, not perpetrating) would say something so blatantly flimsy in terms of reasoning and frankly offensive on a number of levels.
So, the “painful experiences of both lesbians and bi women”, hm? In an article about biphobia, a particular bigotry aimed at bisexuals? Why the hell should I, discriminated against for being bisexual, care about the painful experiences of a bigot? Imagine the statement reworded, in an article discussing racism:
The article aimed to acknowledge the painful experiences of both white people and black people….. Neither white people nor black people can claim to be more hurt….
Or, very relevant to DIVA magazine, imagine an article about homophobia:
The article aimed to acknowledge the painful experience of both straight people and gay people….Neither straight people nor gay people can claim to be more hurt…
What DIVA magazine fails to understand, while reaching out to understand the experiences of the poor bigots, is that yes, one side can claim to be more hurt. The side who is discriminated against by the other side. This is hardly a difficult line of reasoning to follow. What Jane Czyzselska seems to be saying, in her capacity as Editor of the leading magazine for queer women in the UK, is that the anecdotes from some lesbians about some bisexuals offers a justification for biphobia. This is wrong. If a newspaper contained “reader experiences” in which people told stories about being cheated out of money by Jews, that would not provide any kind of justification for anti-semitism, nor indeed show that “neither gentiles nor Jews can claim to be more hurt”, which is the equivalent claim Czyzselska is making concerning biphobia. Likewise, if there was a reader experiences section in which people had anecdotes about being mugged by black people, these would not show the immense hurt apparently faced by white people in the UK. What DIVA’s reader experiences showed is not that neither lesbians and bi women can claim to be more hurt, but that some lesbians had experiences which reinforced their perceptions and stereotypes of bisexual women, and bisexual women face the effects of discrimination from lesbians. These are not comparable. The painful experiences a few men might have had with women who broke their hearts does not compare with widespread misogyny and oppression of women. Some white people having bad experiences with black people is not comparable to societal and institutional racism. DIVA, however, seems to be saying that the experiences some lesbians have had with bi women is something to do, not with those individual women, but with bisexuals as a group. Effectively, what Jane Czyzselska is doing is legitimising biphobia, which is a shameful position for the Editor of DIVA to be taking.
I am here calling for a public apology from DIVA magazine: I urge my readers to email them, tweet them, whatever it takes. It is immensely hurtful to me that DIVA has taken this attitude, and believe it should actively condemn biphobia and biphobic behaviour from lesbians. Biphobia is not something which falls on the shoulders of bisexual women to tackle: we are not the ones who need to change. What we need is straight people and gay people to stop marginalising us and hurting us, and for leading voices within the queer community to stop encouraging it. Please, DIVA. Apologise.
ETA: I felt I should point out that I’m not saying the dynamic between lesbians and bi women is the same as that between white people or black people, or men and women – obviously the lesbian/bi woman dynamic lacks the same institutional power component. I was using those examples to illustrate the failings of reason made by the Editor.