Meeting people where they are
Wednesday Letter #52
|Paula Dennan||Sep 2|
I recently spoke on a panel about Bi+ Representation in the Community as part of the Pride Inside digital festival organised by Kerry Pride, Killarney Pride, Black Pride Ireland, Galway Pride, Limerick Pride, Mayo Pride, and Sligo Pride. Setting aside the fact that I called P my late husband when he is very much alive and well, it was a great discussion about our experiences of biphobia, bi-erasure and the importance of finding community.
When asked about what people who are not bisexual, pansexual or otherwise non-monosexual can do to help combat biphobia and bi+ antagonism, my answer centred around an idea I’ve been mulling over for a few years now—meeting people where they are.
The example I gave was of a person repeating antagonistic things about bisexual people, which they heard from others, without giving it much thought. I wondered whether the simple act of asking them why they believed what they had just said, or asking them to explain their joke so you could understand it better, could be enough to make them realise the harm in their words.
I approached the question this way for two reasons; I’ve had some really informative conversations with people who have cracked those ‘jokes’ in front of me and I’ve said, or written, some incredibly biphobic things myself over the years.
Much of this newsletter is about changing my beliefs when presented with new-to-me information and owning the mistakes I made when I first came to feminism and activism. I will make more mistakes because, well, I am human but also because I still have a lot of unlearning to do. I think we all do.
It was pro-choice campaigners answering my questions back in 2012-2013 that helped me, not only, become pro-choice, but set up Kerry for Choice. It was the kindness of friends and strangers on the internet who spoke to me after I wrote a blog post which fell into the problematic and dismissive ‘everyone is a little bisexual’ trope, that helped me realise how much internalised biphobia I needed to unpack.
Canvassing during the marriage equality and repeal the eighth referendums were national exercises in meeting people where they were. Which was not without its problems.
We learned to differentiate ‘hard no’ voters from ‘soft no’ voters. We knew we couldn’t change the minds of ‘hard no’ voters anymore than they could change ours, so we apologised for interrupting their evening, thanked them for their time and moved on to the next door.
Where people had genuine questions or concerns we did our best to answer them, often beginning our sentences with something like “I understand where you are coming from, but have you looked at it this way…”
There are absolutely times when having a quiet word with a person who says homophobic, transphobic, biphobic, misogynistic, or racist things will not be enough. It is also not the job of the oppressed to hand-hold their oppressors until they feel comfortable. We should be uncomfortable.
Confronting homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, misogyny, and racism starts with having conversations with our families, friends, colleagues, or that guy you are friends with on Facebook but cannot remember how you know them.
Let’s do more of that.
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