White House Bisexuality Briefing

On 26th September 2016 I attended a historic bisexuality briefing at the White House. Bisexual community leaders had met with the White House on previous occasions, but never before had the meeting been live-streamed, recorded, and made public during and after the event. There were well over a hundred bisexual activists in attendance, and the two hour event mixed together talks and panels on vital topics as well as some powerful music, poetry and other creative input about bisexual experiences.

 

There’s also a great summary of the event in pictures and words here.

It was extremely valuable to me to have the opportunity to learn about how bisexual matters are being discussed and engaged with in the US. Speakers emphasised many of the same issues that affect bisexual people globally: invisibility, discrimination from both straight and gay communities, and high rates of mental health struggles due to biphobia. However, it was also striking how much careful attention was paid to intersectionality. That is the idea that sexuality intersects with many other aspects of experience and identity (race, gender, class, ethnicity, age, disability geographical location, etc.) to produce unique experiences of being bisexual in different groups and individuals. So we heard people speaking about bisexuality from diverse positions, and emphasising the importance of listening to diverse voices, and targeting support to the places where it is most needed.

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Fifty shades switched

As part of my writing on Fifty Shades of Grey I’m thinking about gender and other aspects of social identity in the novels. I thought it would be interesting to see what the book read like if these aspects of characters were changed. Here is what a gender switched version of the first meeting between the two main characters is like:

I push open the door and stumble through, tripping over my own feet and falling headfirst into the office.
Double crap – me and my two left feet! I am on my hands and knees in the doorway to Ms. Grey’s office, and gentle hands are around me, helping me to stand. I am so embarrassed, damn my clumsiness. I have to steel myself to glance up. Holy cow – she’s so young.
‘Mr. Kavanagh.’ She extends a long-fingered hand to me once I’m upright. ‘I’m Clarissa Grey. Are you all right? Would you like to sit?’
So young – and attractive, very attractive. She’s tall, dressed in a fine gray suit, white shirt, and black tie with unruly dark copper-coloured hair and intense, bright gray eyes that regard me shrewdly. It takes a moment for me to find my voice.
‘Um. Actually – ‘ I mutter. If this woman is over thirty, then I’m a monkey’s uncle. In a daze, I place my hand in hers and we shake. As our fingers touch, I feel an odd exhilarating shiver run through me. I withdraw my hand hastily, embarrassed. Must be static. I blink rapidly, my eyelids matching my heart rate.
‘Mr. Kavanah is indisposed, so he sent me. I hope you don’t mind Ms. Grey.’
‘And you are?’ Her voice is warm, possibly amused, but it’s difficult to tell from her impassive expression. She looks mildly interested but, above all, polite.
‘Andrew Steele. I’m studying English literature with Ken, um … Kenneth … um Mr. Kavanagh, at WSU Vancouver’
‘I see,’ she says simply. I think I see the ghost of a smile in her expression, but I’m not sure.
‘Would you like to sit?’ She waves me toward an L-shaped white leather couch.

Interesting questions, I think, include:

  • What is striking about this version which isn’t in the original, and vice versa, and what does that suggest about our common understandings of masculinity and femininity?
  • What kind of woman and man do we imagine Clarissa and Andrew to be (compared with Christian and Ana)?
  • What impact would other changes have on our reading of the text? (e.g. making it a ‘same-gender’ relationship, having the student as the dominant person and the rich CEO as the submissive, switching the backgrounds such that Ana has the history of abuse and adoption rather than Christian, or altering other dimensions such as age, class, race, body-type, etc.)?

Thirsty for more? Try reading: