The Center on Halsted hosted writer, activist and public speaker Robyn Ochs for a “Bi Author Night” to discuss misconceptions about the bisexual community and the tense relationship between the letters LG and BT Monday night.
Ochs, editor of Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World, an anthology of 180 different authors from 42 countries, gave her perspective on creating vibrant bisexual communities. Nearly 25 people attended the talk.
Her words on the topic were highly-anticipated by bisexual activists in attendance.
“She has some good ideas on how to grow the bi community,” said Ed Negron. “Boston has a thriving bisexual community … They have it together out there.”
Ochs has been a figure in the Boston area bisexual community for many years and edits Bi Women, the longest continuously published bisexual women’s newsletter which has been around since 1983.
The barriers to creating community are first and foremost the effects of minority stress, said Ochs. This minority stress is based upon perceived and actual discrimination, which results in an increase of poor physical and mental health. She discussed the current research studies, such as those done by Gregory Herek, and how stress is a symptom of larger systems of oppression.
“It’s not actually about us at all,” Ochs said. “The ways people think causes that.”
Studies suggest that bisexuals and transgender individuals have the highest minority stress in the LGBT community and for that reason, Ochs connects their struggles both inside and outside LGBT spaces.
“Oppression is oppression and oppression is hateful,” Ochs said and went on to describe how when she was coming out 36 years ago, gay and lesbian groups were often vocal sources of biphobia.
Community should not be synonymous with sameness and it is not the same thing as support spaces, she said. Support spaces are where people can come together and discuss shared experience in one aspect of our lives, whereas community is something born out of understanding of the differences and common interests we all have, according to Ochs.
“I don’t care how you identify as long as you got my back,” she said.
Chris Pierce, organizer of several bisexual groups at the Center on Halsted, echoed this sentiment.
“Real community is getting together to share differences,” Pierce said.
However, this is easier said than done and comes up against larger structures, Ochs said. What she hopes to do is give people the tools and language to disempower those structures.
Since the results of these structures are visible in the arenas of physical and mental health, Ochs devised her speaking presentation to activists and community members with that theme, calling it the “Biphobia Vaccine.” Rather than involving needles, this vaccine is administered through an interactive series of narratives and activities.
Starting from an impressive list of stereotypes and tropes about bisexuals suggested by those in attendance, Ochs broke down the structures behind them into six frames: invisibility, erotophobia, sexism, contested space, the pull of the binaries and lack of information.
The concept of binaries was center stage and Ochs claimed that much of the reasoning behind stereotypes of bisexuals also apply to pansexual, queer, transgender, genderqueer, and otherwise fluid people.
“All complex identities are invisible.” she said.
In the end, language itself was described as a double-edged sword because it can only approximate the individuals it attempts to describe.
Ochs’ metaphor for this was, “I always say that language is like a door, the person is behind it.”