By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
ANN ARBOR – Bisexual author and activist Robyn Ochs spoke at the Ann Arbor Library in a program co-sponsored by UofM’s office of LGBT Affairs on March 24, 2005. Ochs, a co-founder of the Boston Bisexual Women’s Network and the Bisexual Resource Center, is the editor of “Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World,” which was published in April.
The highlight of Ochs’ talk, which covered the progress of recognition of LGBT rights in the United States and throughout the world, was the video of her wedding to her wife, Peg Preble, in Massachusetts.
In an interview after the lecture, Ochs took time to speak with BTL specifically about the bisexual rights movement.
BTL: What is the current state of bisexual activism?
Ochs: In the U.S., bisexual organizations have maintained themselves at more or less the same level for the past 15-20 years. The reason for this lack of growth is not an indication of failure to thrive, but rather a sign of our success. As so many LGBT organizations become more inclusive there is no longer the same desperate need to form separate organizations. That said, progress is uneven. Some parts of the country and some individual organizations have made tremendous progress in achieving inclusivity, while other places and other organizations still have a long way to go.
BTL: Do you feel that bisexuals need a separate movement today?
Ochs: I think that there still is a need for separate bisexual spaces and organizations, but in the same way that there’s a need for every group to come together to discuss their common experiences and to devise strategies for reminding the rest of the world that we exist. While I’m a big fan of creating spaces for people of very specific identity groups to come together and support each other or strategize, I’m not a big fan of the idea of living my entire life inside of any identity group. I think my life is strengthened by difference, by coalition, and by being challenged by people who are, in whatever way, unlike me. The community that I want to be a part of is one with as many different types of people as possible, and one in which we all stand up and fight for each other’s rights.
BTL: In your work as an activist, have you come up against any resistance from gays and/or lesbians to accepting bisexual people?
Ochs: While we’ve made huge strides, there is still a lot of resistance. People are most comfortable with binaries and they – emotionally they really want the world to be simple: us and them. Those of us with identities that remind people that things are much more complex and that every identity falls along a spectrum makes people uncomfortable. Much of our civil rights gains have been based on the “poor us, we were born that way, we have no choice” argument. Underlying this argument is the unstated assumption, or the usually unstated assumption, that if we could choose, we would all choose to be straight. This argument makes me profoundly uncomfortable. While I did not experience my own identity as a choice, rather I discovered that I had attractions to people of more than one sex and had to make sense of that, if I could choose, I would choose to be exactly as I am. Many people think that the idea of bisexuality implies choice and wish that it would disappear.
Resources for bisexuals
“Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World,” edited by Robyn Ochs and Sarah Rowley. Features 184 essays from around the world that explore bisexual identity – including essays by two Michigan residents, MSU doctoral students Julie Hartman and Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhran.
“We tried very hard to represent as many different voices as possible in this book in terms of age, nationality, class, race, ethnicity, etc. – from somebody you might meet at the grocery store to somebody you might see behind a podium,” said Ochs of the book.
Order online at http://www.robynochs.com.
“Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out,” edited by Loraine Hutchins and Lani Kaahumanu. According to Ochs, this book is “the Bible” of the bisexual movement.
“The Journal of Bisexuality,” by Haworth press, “is the first professional quarterly to publish both professional articles and serious essays on bisexuality and its meaning for the individual, the community and society,” according to the Haworth press website.
Order online at http://www.haworthpressinc.com or by phone at 1-800-429-6784.
For links to additional resources and articles on bisexuality, visit http://www.robynochs.com.