Monthly Archives: March 2013

An open letter to the Indiana Daily Student

[Content note: misogyny, gender essentialism, bi/pan-erasure]

I don’t pay much attention to the student newspaper, but this terrible article was recently brought to my attention. It almost defies summary, but to make an attempt: “bisexual people don’t exist because I only care about men’s sexuality and women don’t think men making out is hot at parties.” I started writing an email to the editor, but then I remembered that I have a blog, and what are blogs for if not open letters to student newspapers after they post shitty columns? So here we are.

If anyone has some links to anything people have written about bi/pan erasure, I’d love to have them in the comments section here. I have a few down at the end of the letter, but unfortunately, my resources on this topic are pretty sparse.

EDIT: I got a response from the opinion editor and permission to publish it here; I’ll paste it below my letter.

EDIT 2: Apparently wordpress decided to make the formatting all terrible after the first edit, on both my letter and the response. Trying to fix it now…and fixed, probably through a needlessly manual process.

Dear editors,

I read the piece “Bisexual bias” (http://www.idsnews.com/news/story.aspx?id=90666) in the IDS this morning, and after a few readings, I’m still having trouble understanding how and why it got published. Is it supposed to be satire? I doubt it, but if so, it has failed to do anything other than reinforce the social dynamics which it attempted to mock.

Bisexual people exist. Pansexual people, too! I know because they tell me they exist, and I listen; it’s quite simple, really. They also tell me how unpleasant it is to live in a society that routinely tells them that they *don’t* exist, so finding a column in the student newspaper that reinforces this message is disappointing, to say the least. The existence of bisexual people is a matter of fact, not opinion.

Furthermore, this isn’t even well-informed erasure of bisexuality (not that someone sufficiently well-informed would erase bisexuality, but there are degrees). The argument appears to be that prevailing market forces discourage bisexuality in men, therefore it does not exist. This is the kind of impersonal argument that has become all too popular in social discourse lately; unfortunately, it seems the editorial staff is not up to the task of making sure it stays quarantined to rambling Facebook statuses.

There is also little to no consideration given to the sexuality of women. Knowledge of bisexual women is mentioned, but quickly swept under the rug, lest it distract Mr. McDonald from his vital task of ignoring the lived experience of actual bi/pan people. He makes ridiculous assertions, such as “Two women going at it? Crack a beer and enjoy. Two men going at it? Ultimate party foul.” A pansexual woman I know (who wishes to remain anonymous) said, in response to this, “I find two men going at it extremely hot. And most of the women I have talked to agree.” No doubt there are women who are not aroused by men kissing, but asserting that all women fall into this group is an oversight of absurd proportions.

Verifying this doesn’t even require human interaction, though; a simple trip to tumblr, deviantArt, or any fanfiction site could easily refute the notion that women are not attracted to men kissing. Discounting this is not just thoughtless; it ignores the voices of women and suppresses female sexuality. It also plays into the toxic notion that bisexuality is only a performance, rather than a legitimate orientation on its own.

To recap: this column is a steaming pile of misogynistic, gender-essentialist garbage that I would expect from a tabloid or the Wall Street Journal. I suspect there will be a fauxpology that involves some variation on the phrase “we apologize if anyone was offended”, and the page may even be taken down. These are meaningless gestures. The only way to move forward from an incident like this in good faith is to commit to *not* publishing narrowminded articles like this in the future.

I have already seen people making “freedom of speech” arguments to defend the author’s right to a column. But the right to a platform is not a guarantee of the first amendment, and articles like this are actually harmful to the freedom of speech and expression of who are gender and sexual minorities. There are many people who would benefit from a well-written, insightful column on sexuality, but instead you gave this platform to Dane McDonald and his regurgitation of played-out, repressive memes.

-Zach Sparks

In case you want more resources, here are a couple of things written by people in response to bi-erasure that has happened before: http://www.bitheway.co.uk/2008/05/22/bisexual-invisibility/ http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2006/06/if_you_believe_.html This article was not written in a vacuum.

The response, via opinion@idsnews.com:

Mr. Sparks,

Thank you for participating in the conversation begun by Mr. McDonald’s column. As always, the Opinion section of the Indiana Daily Student welcomes and encourages feedback and participation from our readers.

The Opinion section, of course, stands behind every column it publishes. In keeping with our goal of facilitating conversation, however, we find that specific topics and columns from time to time merit further discussion. Frequently, columns receive this treatment through the publication of rebuttals, responses, and letters to the editor.

In specific response to your letter regarding Mr. McDonald’s column “Bisexual bias” of January 24, I would encourage you to read the rebuttal to Mr. McDonald’s position written by his colleague Francisco Tirado and published January 25. It is available here.

I would also encourage you to listen to the community panel discussion on bisexuality that Opinion recorded with experts on sexuality from the Kinsey Institute and members of the Bloomington community who identify as bisexual. This podcast was released Wednesday, February 27, and is available in its entirety here. I moderated the discussion myself and found it fascinating and informative.

I trust you will find these two resources to be of sufficient value to share with your readers in the same fashion as you found necessary with Mr. McDonald’s column. Just as your letter was not written in a vacuum, nor was our decision made in one.

Sincerely,

Drake Reed

Opinion Editor | Indiana Daily Student

Advertisements