Wendy is the current president of BiNet USA and a software engineer. BiNet USA is the oldest national bisexual entity in the United States. “It is a network of groups, projects and individuals, encouraging dialogue and participation as a way of creating and maintaining a cohesive bisexual community and empowering individuals to feel proud of their bisexuality.”
I caught up with Wendy over email. Here’s Wendy…
How did you come into bisexual rights activism?
Accidentally. I didnâ€™t learn there were others like me until I was in college. After years of not feeling like I fit in, I was eager to meet as many bisexuals as I could. I was in a rural state, so real life opportunities were rare. I was forced into using the earliest possible technologiesâ€”bbs [bulletin boards], then later the early internet.
BiNet USA recruited me from one of those listservs (bifem-l). Since its mission is to network bisexualsâ€”be that providing speakers, interviewees, artists or teaching people how to organize locally, it fit with my natural drive. My current role necessitates writing opinion pieces and talking to politiciansâ€”your traditional activist stuff. But Iâ€™m happiest helping isolated bisexuals. For example, a young Puerto Rican boy found me on Myspace and asked me to help him find other Latinos who can provide support as he deals with the conflicts between his culture and his sexuality. Or a recent prisoner pen pal who only began to deal with his sexuality once he was in prison and sober.
What kind of work does BiNet USA participate in and organize on a local and national level in the U.S.? And what issues do you think voters should consider when trying to pick their next presidential candidate?
Because BiNet USA is a grassroots organization, we probably do more than Iâ€™m aware of. At the national level, we partner with other national GLBT organizations to address whatever issues arise. We have a rapid response team that can respond when, for example, Brokeback Mountain led to a series of articles on rural sexuality. Currently, we are providing perspective to the ex-gay debate, trying to overthrow â€œDonâ€™t ask, donâ€™t tell,â€? supporting same-gender marriage while supporting the â€œalternatives to marriageâ€? people. We do partner with non-GLBT groups as well, when their goals align with ours. We work with First Freedom First, PFLAG, Straight Spouse Network and the Woodhull Foundation.
In two weeks, Iâ€™ll be heading to â€œcamping outâ€? to speak withâ€”and hopefully learn fromâ€”the future leaders of the GLBT community. While still in high school, they already are organized, educated, and prepared for all life throws at them. They give me hope.
At the local level, we have several local organizers/groups in the network. We (with the Bisexual Resource Center) provide pamphlets, guidance, and support for people interested in organizing.
Regarding the next presidential candidate, there are so many characteristics Iâ€™d like to see restored to the presidency. What I (the individual, not BiNetâ€™s president) most yearn for is someone who can unite us as a country. Someone whoâ€™s leadership does not depend on separating us into groups who despise (and hence, donâ€™t speak with) others, who doesnâ€™t require an â€œotherâ€? to battle in order to get elected. If we can begin talking to each other again, we can tackle the war, the lack of universal health care, marriage rights, poverty, education, outsourcing, etc.
Obamaâ€™s speech (at the Democratic convention) had me crying for days. Not only because it was a beautiful, inclusive speech, but because we had become a society where unity was not even talked about. I am lucky enough to live in a state (New Hampshire) that allows me to meet all the candidates. Iâ€™m hoping to find that true â€œuniter not a dividerâ€? in the current batch.
From your work on the International Conference on Bisexuality, what do you see as the state of bisexual rights activism on a global scale?
It varies incredibly from country to country. Canada is more advanced than the U.S. Uganda, for example, is still a very dangerous place to be for bisexuals. Thanks to the internet, we do have an international bi activists listserv. It allows New Zealand, Holland, British, Mexican, etc. activists to interact on a regular basis. Unfortunately, those in the most dangerous communities cannot join under fear that they will be outed and even jailed for this association.
Recently, BiNet USA participated in the development of the report, â€œBisexual health: An Introduction and model practices for HIV/STI prevention programming.â€? What were the findings you found to be most significant?
What I found most important is that doctors, like most people, make assumptions about patientsâ€™ sexualities. As a result, they donâ€™t ask questions that could reveal risk factors. If, for example, they are treating a married man, they donâ€™t ask about receptive anal sex. In all likelihood, they wonâ€™t test for STDs unless the individual asks.
The CDC [Centers for Disease Control] has the potential to assist in educating. Yet, they still choose to categorize people as MSM and MSW (men who have sex with men and men who have sex with women)â€”completely hiding the bisexual overlap and the entire genderqueer community. If I have a relationship with a non-operative FTM transman, where does that show up in their data? It doesnâ€™t. Until they start tracking the data, many doctors will continue to view their patients in a monosexual fashion.
What do you see as current threats to the bisexual community?
Invisibility. Because most people will look at a couple and decide they are straight or gay based on the combination of apparent genders, we fly under most peopleâ€™s radar. As a result, many people are isolated and the stereotypes remain unchallenged. In the late 90s, many of our bi activists moved to the larger GLBT groups (NGLTF, Out&Equal), which was a very important step. But that â€œbleedâ€? has left some of the bi focused groups understaffed, which has allowed the invisibility to continue.
BiNet USA also monitors and responds to the mediaâ€™s portrayal of the bisexual community. What are some recent portrayalsâ€”both positive and negativeâ€”that BiNet has responded to in the media?
Sometimes we do serious responsesâ€”like the continuing lack of inclusion in The Advocate or Aliceâ€™s biphobic remarks on The L Word. This week, the public debate has been a bit lighter. My last column was on I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. There was a fear in our community (based on the commercials) that it was a homophobic, sophomoric movie. But, in reality, itâ€™s truly a nice piece of GLBT propaganda.
Currently, there arenâ€™t many bi characters on TV or film. This is especially distressing given Logo has 24 hours per day to fill yet, STILL canâ€™t find space for ongoing bisexual characters.
Is there anything you would like to add?
As a life-long feminist, I am thrilled to see the resurgence of the term. Iâ€™m grateful for spaces like Feministing that donâ€™t shy away from the phrase and provide space where feminists can connect and learn from each other.