A Many-Splendored Thing: The Bisexual Organizing Project Tries to Take the ‘Bi’ Out of ‘Bisexual’

Photo courtesy of Nadia Honary
Photo courtesy of Nadia Honary

Photo courtesy of Nadia Honary

Love is a many-splendored thing, according to poets and pundits aplenty, something members of a community composed of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, and others, know very well. But one of those sub-splendors is itself a many-splendored thing, so says the Bisexual Organizing Project, or BOP, whose mission is to “build, serve, and advocate for an empowered bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer, and unlabeled (bi+) community to promote social justice.”

The B-word is often misunderstood, or perhaps misinterpreted, by the general public, and even by other members of the LGBTQ family. “Many people define bisexuality differently to fit their individual identity, but in general, it is the attraction to more than one gender,” explains Sally Corbett, support administrator of the Bisexual Organizing Project. “BOP uses the term ‘bi+’ as an umbrella term for all of the different labels used by people attracted to more than one gender, including, but not limited to, bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual, polysexual, fluid, queer, and unlabeled folks.”

All of these prescriptions might seem confusing at first glance, even overwhelming, but each is necessary. “The bisexual community includes all of these identities,” Sally Corbett insists. “Bisexual is the term that has been around the longest, and is the one most people are at least a little familiar with. Language and labels have historically been divisive and controversial in the bi+ community, and the term ‘bi+’ endeavors to repair these rifts. As individuals, our identities are self-defined, and which labels we claim, or don’t, is up to us before it is up to any agreed-upon definitions.”

Does this broad acceptance lead to a community too dissolute to commune? Corbett doesn’t think so. She says, “To someone unfamiliar with identity politics and language, it might seem like the point of inclusivity is to parse the community into finer and finer pieces, until we have an alphabet soup of identities, but this is not inclusivity in actuality. We use labels to unite in community, not further divide it. We want to acknowledge and validate how labels are meaningful to individuals, but not miss the forest for the trees.”

BOP seeks not merely a warm, fuzzy affirmation for bisexuals, but an acknowledgment of the demographic’s very existence. “It is true that bisexual erasure and bi invisibility are significant obstacles faced by our community,” Corbett points out. “We experience bi erasure and biphobia from both mainstream, heterosexual society, and the gay and lesbian community. Bisexual erasure and invisibility are the denial and dismissal of bi+ individuals, due to assumptions and misunderstandings about bi+ identities. This contributes to severe health disparities, marginalization, and creates barriers to access of LGBTQ resources.”

Photo courtesy of Shawna McNamara

The thought of any phobia leaking from one wavelength of the queer rainbow into another is disturbing, but all too real. “Bi+ people make up more than 50 percent of the LGBTQ community, but funding for bi+ organizations and programs is among the lowest of any LGBTQ demographic,” Corbett observes. “Our community has specific needs that aren’t being met, due to these obstacles.”

One way to cope with such obstacles, then, is to build a community within a community. “We organize to build community, and in turn, serve and advocate for our community,” Corbett elaborates. “Mainstream LGBTQ resources and organizations severely underserve the bi+ community, and there is a critical need for support for bi+ specific issues. BOP’s mission is to fill this need so the bi+ community can grow strong and thrive.”

And the lion’s share of that growing-strong is achieved by simply growing. “As an organization we’re eager to keep learning, growing, pushing boundaries, and challenging ourselves to better serve our community,” Corbett reports. “We always have tons of stuff going on and love seeing new faces!”

Those faces and places contribute to a state of heightened stimulation. “BOP is a really exciting organization to be involved with!” Corbett bubbles. “I am continually inspired and invigorated by the work we do and the people I get to do it with. We’re moving in a bold and ambitious direction this year and making a lot of things happen.”

These relatively large steps are always preceded by smaller ones. “Showing up and speaking out about ourselves and our experiences is the most effective way to advocate for ourselves, and is instrumental in furthering awareness and understanding,” Corbett says about BOP’s meetings. “People need to see and hear bisexuals to know we exist, and this is how we directly fight biphobia, bi erasure, and bi invisibility.”

Where that seeing and hearing are concerned, outreach is key. “Understanding is definitely the first step toward acceptance,” Sally Corbett insists. “Much of the stigma we face stems from myths, stereotypes, and misconceptions about bi+ people and what it means to be bi+. Some of BOP’s key programs are also geared toward education, like our Bi+ Essentials presentation, which is a training we provide for LGBTQ organizations to equip them to better serve their bi+ clients.”

Photo courtesy of Martha Hardy

Discussion group topics aspire to be self-informing, without drifting into self-indulgence. Corbett says, “We try to have topics that are seasonally relevant. For instance, March was Bisexual Health Awareness Month, so the topic was about bi+ health. In November we talked about our experiences surrounding being bi+ during the holidays, such as dealing with family, parties, going home, and stuff like that.”

Another form of communication, the written word, is the core for another kind of get-together. “I’m not personally involved in the biweekly writing group,” Corbett reports, “but for me, writing is the strongest tool I wield in my activism work. I have a strong background in writing, especially in academic and activist disciplines. I draw confidence from writing, and trying to master language as a means to put ideas into the world is very empowering to me.”

People interested in connecting with BOP might find a particular venue particularly advantageous. “The discussion group is a great place for BOP first-timers,” Corbett declares. “It’s a really inviting atmosphere, and the discussion itself is pretty informal and relaxed. You get to meet new people and hear their stories, and everyone is welcome to contribute. It’s great if you just want to sit and listen too!”

And naturally, BOP will be expressing its Pride this month. “We need folks to march with us in the Pride parade this year and attend our annual conference,” Corbett declares. Describing BOP’s annual, community-building conference, she continues, “BECAUSE is happening at Metro State University Sept. 28 through Oct. 2 this fall! We can be found on Facebook, Twitter (@biorgproject and @BECAUSEconf), and Meetup!”

Corbett concludes, “Working with BOP has been one of the most fulfilling, gratifying, and meaningful experiences of my queer life. This organization has helped me to discover so much about myself, connect with others, and find community; all things that are critically important for bisexual individuals to not only survive, but thrive. I will always be excited about working for BOP, because I will always know that we are making a difference in our community. Knowing I get to be a part of making this difference perpetually fuels my passion for BOP, and for building, supporting, and advocating for the bisexual community.”

For more information about BOP and the various ways you can get involved, go to www.bisexualorganizingproject.org.

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