The International Bisexual Conference

This month’s column comes to you from Boston, where my partner Robert and I are doing workshops at Grand Opening! (Good Vibrations’ sister store on the east coast) and attending the Fifth International Bisexual Conference, held last weekend on the Harvard campus. Yep, almost a thousand bisexual people and their straight and gay/lesbian partners and supporters came from near and far to swarm Harvard Yard and attend workshops, plenary sessions, and entertainment events geared to their interests and issues. The bisexual movement has been holding conferences like this for nearly a decade — the first one I attended was at home in San Francisco in 1990. But the Boston area has hosted plenty of bi conferences too, and the community here has long been politicized and well-organized.

Conference attendees could choose workshops from more than twenty different tracks, including Sexuality, Relationships, Organizing, Spirituality, Gender, Literature, and History. Each track held up to seven workshops. (The common stereotype of bisexuals as “confused,” which annoys most bi’s to pieces, was true for many of us this weekend, if only in terms of choosing which workshop to attend!) Titles like “What’s a Nice Dyke Like Me Doing in a Relationship with a Man?” and “Lesbians and Bi Women Working Together” vied with “How Bisexual-Heterosexual Couples Maintain Marriage After Disclosure,” “Intersections of Race and Bisexuality” and “Intersexuality or the Seven Sexes” — and that was just during the time set scheduled for one series of workshops.

Actually, within each scheduled time period, available workshops ran the gamut, and pointed up how very diverse the bisexual community and its issues are. Almost by definition, bisexual people deal on an intimate basis (at least potentially) with both gays/lesbians and heterosexuals — not every bi person hooks up with another bi — and, like members of other communities based on sexual orientation or interest, come from all racial, class, and other sorts of cultural backgrounds. Especially lately, too, many bisexuals and transgendered people have been acknowledging common interests, and this conference had a greater number of high-profile transpeople than previous ones have had. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing, and neither causes the other — but they do relate intimately to each other. Gays are gay because of the gender of their desired partner. Ditto straights. Bisexuals, who do not restrict love or eroticism to either men or women, may be natural partners and allies for those who have lived as both women and men (or who insist, as many TGs and bi’s do, that there are not two genders but many, a continuum instead of an Either-Or).

These intersections of community were evident everywhere. On Friday night the conference sponsored a concert by Tom Robinson, a British folk/rock singer who achieved fame in the gay community in the late 1970s. He was out as a gay man at a time when many other rockers left never-confirmed (in fact, often publicly denied) rumors of bi or gay behavior in their wakes. I saw Robinson and his band play at the first gay and lesbian March on Washington in 1979. Years later, the British gay community was scandalized to hear that Robinson had a female lover. But the bisexual community embraced him as one of its own.

The next evening a Boston events promoter, Hannah Doress, organized a show called AmBIent Temperature, which I had the pleasure of MCing. Many fabulous acts were featured, including a beautiful word/movement piece by African-American Atlanta performer Cedric Maurice, high-energy Boston spoken word artist Amatul Hannan, and a performance duet by Tristan Taormino (author of The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women) and the irrepressible Kim Airs — proprietrix of Grand Opening! — who came in drag as her male alter ego Leo de Gennaro, bearing a pizza box full of butt toys. The evening’s high point was a visit from bisexual porn star Geoffrey Karen Dior, who, clad in nothing but strategically-sprayed whipped cream, brought the house down with a sing-along rendition of “Toucha-Toucha-Toucha-Touch Me” from that classic bisexual film The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Dior has been appearing in “straight” TV and film lately — it was actually she (he?) who gave Xena, Warrior Princess that notorious “lesbian kiss.”

The conference featured three keynotes — the first from Evelyn Mantilla, a Connecticut state representative, and the second from Kerry Lobel, executive director of the national Gay and Lesbian Task Force. We ended with a speech from Dr. Elias Farajajé-Jones. Farajajé-Jones is himself a study in diversity — perhaps his bio from the conference booklet introduces this renaissance man most succinctly: he is “a Spanish-speaking afrikan native-american and an anarchist guerilla theologian/AIDS terrorist/writer/cultural critic/performance artist/ritual technician, a two-spirited/queer-identified bisexual man.” He’s also an academic professor at a divinity school. If anyone could pull together the many disparate elements of the bisexual community and cut across lines of race, outlook, and sexual experience, it’s this preacher who completely cares about the full identities of the people he works with and speaks to — no cutting off sexuality from race and culture, no splitting religion or spirituality from anything else. Perhaps the greatest potential of the bisexual movement, as I’ve written before, is its ability to cross boundaries without insisting that other parts of one’s identity be compromised to fit a “politically correct” notion of what bisexuality is. As we’re reminded every time we come together, bisexuality has too many facets, too many ways of manifesting in a person’s life, for that.

If you couldn’t make the conference but want more information, you can check out Boston’s Bisexual Resource Center, one of the conference’s sponsoring organizations, at http://www.biresource.org — look for links to groups in your area or to other upcoming conferences. The next international conference will be held in Rotterdam, Holland, in a couple of years, but there will be national and regional ones in the meantime. If you want to read more, check out the following books: Bisexual Politics: Theories, Queries, and Visions, Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out, or Vice Versa. There are also a number of relevant essays in my books PoMoSexuals and Real Live Nude Girl, and my forthcoming erotic novel The Leather Daddy and the Femme, is crawling with bi characters. These are all available through Good Vibes’ mail order. You might also be interested in books we don’t carry — the Bisexual Resource Guide is available from the above Bi Resource Center site, and a more academic look is available from conference presenter Beth Firestein’s book Bisexuality: Psychology and Politics of an Invisible Minority (Sage, 1996).

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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