I called yesterday in my blog for a response from DIVA about my criticisms, and a response I have got. (I stirred things up quite a bit on twitter.) Louise Carolin emailed me; she wrote both the original article in DIVA, and the response to my letter. She is also an out bi woman herself – something of which I was not aware when I wrote my blog. I don’t want to add too much commentary to the emails; I’m satisfied with the response, although I remain in disagreement with Louise.
The first email from Louise:
Jane Czyzselska has asked me to respond to your criticisms of my article about lesbian and bisexual women’s dating issues (DIVA 190).
The article you take issue with was headed Why Do You Have To Be A Heartbreaker? (not Why Do You Have To Be Such A Heartbreaker? as you suggest) – a well-known song title. It does not refer specifically to bi women, nor is there any suggestion in the story that it does or should. In fact, the article begins by describing the different opinions voiced on our Facebook page when we posted a call-out for the experiences of both bi and lesbian women. It describes the “hurt and heartbreak” on both sides. It then immediately notes that “bi women spoke of committed, longterm relationships with women” and lesbians’ support of bi women’s orientation. As you have said yourself, the article was balanced.
The intention of the article was to examine and validate the experiences of both lesbians and bi women. Not the prejudices or the bigotry, but the experiences. My main interviewee, Meg Barker, lead author of The Bisexuality Report and a relationships therapist herself, stressed the importance of this approach, and as a bisexual woman who is in a long-term relationship with a gay woman whose previous partner (of 10 years) left her for a man, I was in firm agreement.
It is all too easy to raise the cry of “biphobia!” when a lesbian-identified person who has had an emotionally demoralising or actually devastating experience with someone who identified as bi (or was behaviourally bisexual) makes what they feel is a self-preserving decision based on that experience. Personally I don’t find that a useful approach. It doesn’t actually change anything emotionally for the lesbian and just promotes the notion that bi women think that any criticism of poor behaviour towards partners is “biphobic”.
We wanted to open up a space in which to discuss these issues and explore how to move forward, why one bi woman doesn’t represent all of us, how lesbians and bi women who are in relationships can support each other, and why the relative invisibility and stereotyping of bi people contributes to making some lesbians wary of dating bi people.
In order to illustrate the kinds of experiences that lesbians and bi women have, and the way differently-identified women feel hurt and betrayal, I used the personal accounts of readers who emailed me as requested in my Facebook call-out. These appear as a sidebar to the main story. These were forwarded to Meg and discussed in the interview on which the main story is based. I was careful to include examples of bi women who were fighting biphobia on all fronts and could call it out where they saw it. I also tried to make sure the anger and hurt biphobia causes bi-identified women was illustrated. It would have been lovely also to include examples of lesbians and bi women in happy relationships, but space was limited, the focus was to illustrate the problems, and therefore I made sure to acknowledge that happy relationships and supportive attitudes are possible – and indeed common – in the first paragraph of the article.
Our hope was that after reading these accounts and the main story, lesbian women who might have held these opinions before might start to consider that the picture is much bigger and more complicated and that ultimately they are responsible for ensuring they form relationships with people who share their emotional/life goals. I disagree with your racial/ethnic equivalents, by the way. This was an article specifically about dating issues between lesbians and bi women. Lesbians are not the primary oppressors of bi women and nor are lesbians responsible for the lack of bi visibility and positive representation in the media which is noted as problematic in the story.
Coverlines are often intended to be provocative. In hindsight, this one could have been worded better. It is obviously problematic for a magazine for lesbian and bi women to seemingly address a coverline to only one element of that demographic. (Interesting tho, that you assumed the story headline to address bi women only, although the coverline appeared to “sell” the feature to lesbian readers. Why not assume the headline question was aimed at biphobic lesbians?)
I absolutely agree that it is important to call biphobia where you see it, but I disagree that this article was the scarlet example of lesbian biphobia that you are painting it. I would add that the project of making DIVA truly inclusive of all its extremely diverse audience is ongoing and that we appreciate all positive and constructive criticism.
Thank you very much for your response! I wasn’t intending to make your article out as a scarlet example of biphobia in itself, and apologise if that’s the way it came across: the article itself was good. My original critiques were that the only lesbian experiences of bisexuality presented were negative, and also the headline and cover line. I was more upset with Jane’s response to my letter which claimed that neither lesbians nor bi women had more claim to be hurt. I realise that my comparisons to oppressions were problematic, and apologise for them – I am aware that lesbians do not have societal power over bisexuals; I was trying to make a point, and made it badly. I still feel that Jane was wrong to say that neither lesbians nor bi women had more claim to be hurt; if a lesbian has a bad experience with a bi woman, this is not in itself biphobia, but I feel if she imputes this to the woman’s bisexuality certainly is.
Again, thank you for your email – if it’s okay, I’ll post it on my blog and make it clear that I’ve received a response on twitter.
And she responded in turn:
Thank you. You’re welcome to blog/tweet my response.
I probably should have added that the editorial response to your letter came from me, and basically condenses my view as outlined and expanded just now. I don’t think that bi women can claim to be “more hurt”, but perhaps that sounds different coming from an out bi woman that it does coming from a lesbian? And maybe that statement sounds different to a lesbian (given that some lesbians like to consider themselves the victims of bi women in this sad scenario) than to a bi woman?
Myself, I’d like us all to step right away from the whole “victim” construct. I don’t find it helpful either politically or in terms of relationships. But that’s me – it’s a big bi universe out there!
As I say, I personally disagree with Louise’s point of view, but I’m very grateful to her and DIVA for responding to me. Please do give me your opinion on the emails, as I’m interested!