It’s that time of year again. This is the third year that I have spent February, March, and April trying to fundraise for abortion access. I am not that good at fundraising, but I try. I try to organize a team, promote the fundraiser, get some donations, and help with the organizing of the event through H.O.T.D.I.S.H Militia. My contribution to the event is not as much as the contributions of others, but it is important to me. For the past few years, H.O.T.D.I.S.H Militia, a local abortion fundraising group has attempted to raise $10,000 through a national fundraiser called “Bowl-a-thon” which is organized through the National Network of Abortion Fund’s (NNAF). We have successfully met our fundraising goal each of the last three years that I have participated. There are many reasons why I participate in this event, which I will outline so that readers have a better understanding of how the fund is used and why it is necessary.
This image was created by Betsy Hunt for H.O.T.D.I.S.H 2019
Abortion is Expensive:
Expensive is relative, as all medical expenses tend to be costly to those who cannot afford them. But, considering that 40% of Americans cannot cover an unexpected $400 expense, abortion or ANY unexpected medical cost is expensive (Bahney, 2018). At our local clinic, the basic cost of an abortion is $700, which goes up in price depending upon how far along the pregnancy is and if the patient requires a Rhogam injection. The $700 cost is pretty similar to the cost at the other four Minnesota clinics listed on NNAF’s website. This $700 cost is expensive for someone who was not intending to become pregnant, who only has a short time to raise the funds (less than 14.5 weeks at our local clinic), who will see the cost increase the longer it takes to raise the funds, who must take the day off of work (since abortions are only provided locally on weekdays), must pay for transportation and perhaps day care or a baby sitter, and other costs. 75% of abortion patients in Minnesota were economically disadvantaged (State Facts About Abortion Minnesota, 2018). I have recently had some unexpected medical expenses and it is extraordinarily stressful! In my case, these are expenses that I can pay over time. Unfortunately, at our local clinic, the payment is due in full at the time of the procedure. There is no method to pay in installments. $700 is therefore an enormous barrier for patients seeking an abortion. H.O.T.D.I.S.H. provides supplemental funding to patients who might otherwise be unable to afford the full amount.
Insurance Often Doesn’t Cover Abortion:
In my observation, most patients with employer provider insurance must pay for the in full as the procedure is not covered by the insurance (some parts may be, such as an ultrasound, but patients are still responsible for the cost at the time of their appointment). Many patients who seek abortion have not yet met their deductible or their out of pocket maximum. Thus, it seems uncommon that insurance picks up the tab for the costs. The H.O.T.D.I.S.H fund helps working people with insurance cover this unexpected expense. It seems pretty unjust that abortion is segregated from regular health care, so that even those with insurance find that they must pay. This punishes women and serves to stigmatize abortion as something frivolous or unnecessary. In Minnesota, Medical Assistance covers the cost of abortion, but many patients do not have active M.A. because they have moved, did not submit paperwork, forgot to renew it, or any number of reasons. Those who do must pay an $8 co-pay, but even this can be a barrier to someone experiencing domestic violence, homelessness, unemployment, or extreme poverty. H.O.T.D.I.S.H funds are sometimes used to cover the co-pay or any additional expenses that Medical Assistance (Medicaid) might not cover. It is also important to note that because of the Hyde Amendment, not all states fund abortion through Medicaid. The Hyde Amendment prevents the use of federal funds to cover the cost of abortion. States can elect to use their own funds to cover abortion, but only seventeen states have chosen to do this. Minnesota is one of them, but patients from out of state may find that their Medical Assistance does not cover the cost. For instance, Wisconsin only extends coverage in the cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment (Hyde, n.d.). Finally, while Medical Assistance (Medicaid) covers abortion in Minnesota, Medicare does not cover elective abortion. Therefore, individuals with disabilities who receive insurance through Medicare are unable to access abortion through that program. As a caveat, I want to make clear that I am not well versed in the world of insurance, but in my observation at the clinic, insurance is rarely a guarantee of coverage. H.O.T.D.I.S.H funds are regularly used to supplement employment health insurance coverage, MA copays, and to support Wisconsin residents on Badgercare. Because 30% of Black women and 24% of Hispanic women receive Medicaid, as compared to 14% of white women, the national restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortion disproportionately impacts women of color (Hyde, n.d). The abortion restrictions through Medicare is ableist. All of this is symptomatic of our need to repeal the Hyde Amendment, fight for universal and free health care for all, and demand that abortion be treated as ordinary health care.
Abortion Intersects with Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault:
I work extremely part time checking in patients at our local clinic. My short shift at the clinic is usually preceded by a night shift at a domestic violence shelter. While I must maintain confidentiality at both places because of HIPAA and VAWA, I will say that I sometimes recognize patients from my other full time employment at the shelter. I am usually familiar with at least one name from the patient list. To me, it is extremely sad and angering that society portrays abortion seekers as selfish, irresponsible women. This ignores the violence, control, and coercion that women experience in their relationships and how pregnancy is a tool of patriarchal dominance. Pregnancy is a tool of patriarchal dominance in violent relationships, but also in everyday ordinary relationships wherein women must negotiate consent, birth control, their sexual desires or lack thereof as unequal partners on account of sexism, racism, economic subordination, heterosexism, ableism, and other forms of oppression that compound together within patriarchy and capitalism. Providing abortion funding may help a patient escape from an abuser, begin to rebuild their life after sexual assault, and use their limited funds to leave a shelter for a housing opportunity rather than use that money to pay for an abortion. It disgusts me that patients are met with a gauntlet of protesters who shame and abuse them for their choice with little concern or pause for the trauma that some patients have endured. It also disgusts me that we live in a society where women can be forced to be pregnant simply because they cannot afford to terminate a pregnancy. Funding abortion helps survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Abortion Access is Always Under Attack:
Abortion is always under attack. Each year, there are always new regulations and new schemes to limit abortion access. In Minnesota, patients must receive mandatory information from a doctor 24 hours prior to their appointment. If the patient does not receive this phone call, they are unable to have the procedure. Minors must bring what seems like a mountain of paperwork documenting their identity, their parents’ identity, and acknowledgement of both biological parents that the minor is having an abortion. In the absence of both biological parents acknowledging the abortion, the minor must appear before a judge, who will determine if they can have the abortion. These current restrictions are fairly tame compared to the aggressive movement to further restrict abortion across the country. This year, fetal heartbeat bans or six week abortion bans have been enacted, passed, or are in the process of passing in Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee. This year, governors in Arkansas and Utah also approved bans on abortion at 18 weeks. The Minnesota Senate Health and Human Services Committee is currently reviewing a 20 week abortion ban in the interest of fetal pain, even though less than 2% of abortions performed in the state occur after 20 weeks and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists posts that it is not until at least 24 weeks of gestation that a fetus possesses the brain structures necessary process pain signals (Ferguson, 2019). In the face of challenges to abortion access, many activists often frame it as a matter of how many Democrats are in power or that these bans will be overturned by the court system. The fact of the matter is that the pro-choice movement has been losing the battle for abortion for over forty years. This battle cannot take place in the arena of electoral politics, which has failed to prevent the avalanche of over 1,000 restrictions on abortion since 1973. This has to occur by strengthening independent social movements capable of fundamentally transforming and challenging state power and while radically altering mass consciousness and discourse regarding the oppression of women. Fundraising can be a supplemental stop gap measure in such a movement. Fundraising should be used while putting demands upon the state and drawing attention to the systemic failures. At the minimum, fundraising is a hands-on activity that could be used to connect pro-choicers to one another and the community. At best, it needs to contribute to a fierce, strategic, and unwavering social movement that takes to the streets in protest and strike. Power must be reclaimed by the masses, rather than consigned to courts and politicians.
This image was taken from NNAF for Bowl-a-thon purposes
Abortion isn’t Abnormal:
Abortion is always treated as a taboo. It can’t be mentioned or is too controversial to bring up in polite conversation. Yet, 1 in 4 women have had an abortion before the age of 45. It isn’t abnormal. It is ancient. It is common. By fundraising, abortion becomes more normal. At least once a week, I remind people that I am fundraising for abortion on Facebook. The actual fundraiser is fun. We go bowling. The bowling alley chooses to host an abortion fundraiser. Bowling alleys are not typically considered enclaves of the feminist movement. Last year, almost 100 people participated at the bowl-a-thon event. This year, there are over a dozen teams and we expect a similar turn out. The bowl-a-thon is a public way to be pro-choice and normal. We are having fun fundraising. The event has prizes and a party like atmosphere. This isn’t about death, morals, taboos, secrets, and all of the dark ways that abortion is discussed in society. This is about raising money and trying to have some fun while doing it. Of course, it is also about all of the serious things that I outlined above. But, part of this struggle has to be about making abortion less scary to talk about. Asking strangers to donate- then having fun while doing it- dispels the the stigma around it.
This year we have already met our goal of raising $10,000. That sounds like a lot of money! It is, but really, it doesn’t stretch that far. Over a year, we can provide about $833 of support a month with those funds. Remember, a single abortion procedure costs $700. Thus, despite our best efforts and all of the people involved, we can really only pay for a little over 14 abortions a year! Of course, the money is not used to pay for an entire abortion. It is doled out more sparingly, typically with $100-$200 grants given to a couple of patients each month. That really isn’t much at all! It makes a difference to those patients, but $500 is still a large amount of money to come up with. The amount we raise is small compared to the actual need. Perhaps in the future, we will increase our fundraising capacity and be able to do more. Better yet, it would be great if we could somehow change our society in such as way that we don’t have to fundraise at all. Abortion would be available on demand, for free. It would be wonderful if patients didn’t have to drive several hours to the nearest clinic or that everyone had guaranteed sick/personal leave so that missing work wasn’t an economic stressor. Unfortunately, we have society as it exists now. In this moment, the fundraising is both critical and inadequate. There are still a few days left to donate to this year’s Bowl-a-thon. The donation makes a difference locally, and hopefully I have illustrated a few reasons why!
On December 16th, over a dozen feminists gathered in Duluth to protest sexual misconduct in an event called “Spark in the Dark.” The event was organized by the Feminist Justice League in response to the growing number of public figures that have been accused of sexual harassment and assault. The goal of the action was to draw attention to the ongoing issue, show solidarity with survivors, and embolden victims who remain silent. Those who attended were asked to wear black, as this was symbolic of the silencing, blaming, and disbelief of victims. At the end of the event, protesters lit sparklers, which was representative of the spark needed ignite a social movement.
The chilly December weather may have deterred some activists from participating, but the issue remains important as both major political parties have been mired in sexual scandals. Some political figures, such as Al Franken and John Conyers, have stepped down from their positions. Others, such as Ruben Kihuen and Blake Farenthold, have decided not to seek re-election. Roy Moore, who victimized several underaged women, was narrowly defeated in Alabama’s senate race on account of a higher turn out of Black voters. Despite resignations and losses, it is important to continue to demand accountability for all offenders accused of sexual misconduct, while continuing to support victims. As exemplified by the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment and sexual assault are part of the everyday lives of all women in society and are the result of the unequal position and worth of women within patriarchy. It is critical that the media attention these extensive and high profile sexual misconduct cases has garnered does not fade into apathy or indifference. Instead, feminists should treat this as an opportunity for building a mass movement that seeks to end sexual harassment and assault through accountability of victimizers, as well as mass education, awareness, and changes in the discourse surrounding these issues. Feminists should demand dignity, safety, and corrective actions in all arenas where these behaviors occur. This is why the event was organized. While the event was small, it was organized with the hope that this kind of action might spark future protests, marches, and actions around this issue. In the 1970s, feminists mobilized to take back the night. Today, it is time for feminists to organize to take back their workplaces, schools, streets, households, and all other places where power based harassment, violence, assault, and threats occur.
Once a month, Pandemonium meets for “Bi with Pie.” “Bi with Pie” is a discussion group wherein members discuss issues related to bisexuality and bi+ identities. In the past, we have discussed our experiences as well as topics such as bisexuality and domestic violence, bi phobia, and the importance of bisexual organizing. Usually, I try to facilitate the discussion by bringing an essay or article to share. This month, I wanted to explore various bi+ identities. Originally, I wanted to compare bisexuality and pan-sexuality, but this expanded to include other bi+ identities. I am not an expert on sexuality, but it is an area of interest. Certainly, there may be some errors in my definitions and analysis. But, the point of our group is to grow and connect as a community. Part of my own growth as an activist is my own growth through learning and sharing information. With that said, hopefully this essay provides an overview of some of the identities within the Bi+ community. It is far from comprehensive, but I think it helps to clarify some differences between identities while revealing a trend in LGBTQ identities.
Bisexuality was first coined in 1892 by Charles Gilbert Chaddock in his translation of Kraft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis. It is in the late 1800s and early 1900s that psychologists sought to classify sexuality. As such, our modern sexual concepts emerge during this time period. However, these understandings were medical understandings meant to delineate health from deviance. For instance, Freud believed that humans were innately bisexual, but that normal individuals would become heterosexual unless exposed to trauma. Unfortunately, many people still seem to believe that being gay, lesbian, bi, or anything but a cisgender heterosexuality stems from poor parenting or some kind of trauma. Despite the relative newness of labels such as homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual, there has certainly been a wide array of sexual behavior across cultures and time periods. Men in Ancient Greece entered relationships with older men as youth, but also married women. In Ancient Japan, young men formed sexual relationships with older men in the context of Buddhist temples and among samurai warrior culture. While these cultures aren’t precisely bisexual in the modern sense, and even then, this sexual expression was limited to men, it should at least demonstrate that attraction to more than one gender has deep historical roots.
Although the word has been around since the late 1800s, there are many misconceptions of what it means to be bisexual. For instance, the Merriam Webster Dictionary defines bisexuality as a sexual or romantic attraction to both sexes. It also defines it as something which possesses male and female reproductive structures. This definition is confusing, since it implies that there are only two sexes and does not mention gender at all. It is also confusing, since it defines bisexual as synonymous with hermaphrodite. This use of the word might be appropriate in strictly scientific contexts, but it is potentially confusing and offensive in other contexts. Finally, the definition implies that bisexuals are not attracted to trans or non-binary individuals.
Because of these limitations and misunderstandings in mainstream definitions of bisexuality, bisexual organizations have sought to create their own definitions. For instance, BiNet defines bisexual as, “A person whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction is to other people of various sexes and/or gender identities. Individuals may experience this attraction in differing ways and degrees over their lifetime.” This definition is notably inclusive of various sexes and gender identities. Likewise, the American Institute of Bisexuality defines bisexual as, “A bi person has the capacity for romantic and/or sexual attraction to more than one gender.” Once again, bisexuality is not limited to attraction to both men or women, but more than one gender, which could include many gender identities. The Human Rights Campaign defines bisexuality as, “A person emotionally, romantically, sexually and relationally attracted to more than one sex and/or gender, though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree.” This definition acknowledges that bisexuality does not mean an even proportion of attraction to various gender. It is clear by these definitions that bisexuals do not define themselves as simply being attracted to men or women, but simply more than one gender. In fact, there have even been petitions to define bisexuality more accurately on online dictionaries.
While many people believe that the bi in bisexual means attraction to “two” and the two being male and female, according to the American Institute of Bisexuality, it is a scientific word that describes someone who is both heterosexual and homosexual. Despite the efforts of bisexual activists to define themselves in a way that does not reinforce binary gender identities, the misconception persists that bisexuals are attracted to men and women. Many bisexual individuals choose to identify as bisexual because it is the most commonly used word for someone who is attracted to more than one gender. Some use bisexual in combination with other sexual identities. Some use it because they are indeed only attracted to men or women or their sexuality is not inclusive of all gender identities. Bisexuality is also used as a generic umbrella term for a variety of sexualities that involve attraction to more than one gender. Personally, I choose to identify myself as bisexual since it is the most commonly understood word for attraction to more than one gender, it is a word that is associated with social movement organizations and history, and because I believe it is a word that should be reclaimed to be inclusive of all genders.
Although bisexuals have been part of the modern LGBT movement since the 1960s, it is still in many ways very new as a movement. The bisexual pride flag was not invented until 1998. BiNET USA, the first nationwide organization for bisexuals, was not founded until 1990. The first Celebrate Bisexuality Day was on September, 23 1999. The first books that specifically focused on bisexuality were written in the 1990s. Thus, bisexuality as a distinct movement and community is only a few decades old. Although it is new, there are many identities which have arisen since the 1990s. This can make some bisexuals feel threatened or may raise the question of if bisexuality has become obsolete. Hopefully, bisexuality is not obsolete as this would cut short its development as an identity and community and undermine its potential in the struggle against heterosexism. It is my hope that bisexuality will remain relevant by collaborating with and making space for emergent identities.
The 1990s saw a flourishing of bisexual identity with the emergence of national organizations, books, a flag, etc. It was during this time period that Queer Theory emerged. In a larger social and historical context, this period also marked the end of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War. The apparent victory of capitalism, complete with its insidious institutions of globalization and finance, led to a crisis of faith in Marxist or even modernist understandings of society. This has played a large role in sexuality is presently understood and the emphasis on identities. Of course, identity politics is important to building movements as it helps individuals develop a sense of self, a sense of unity, and an understanding of their own oppression. Yet, I think that this also explains the plethora of new sexual identities that have emerged since the 1990s. We live in a society where politics are very identity driven and individualized. This is not to discredit anyone’s identity. It is simply to put these identities into a material and social context.
With that said, while pansexuality may seem like the new kid on the bi+ block, the term has been around since the early 1900s and was coined by Sigmund Freud. At the time, it was a term that described how sexuality was the basis of all human interactions. According to an analysis of google data, pansexual began to appear online in about 2007. The concept arose or at least became more popular with the emergence of genderqueer and non-binary activism. The word pansexual was invented to specifically include non-binary individuals. The word pan means “all,” so someone who is pan-sexual could potentially be attracted to all genders or sexes. There is a slight difference between bisexuality and pansexuality, as bisexuality is often defined as “more than one” and pansexuality as “all.” Thus, pansexuality does come across as more broad and potentially gender blind. Adopting this label is an attempt to make clear that an individual is attracted to all genders. Some bisexuals may feel upset with this term, since pansexuality may seem like it is trying to correct a failure of bisexuality to include trans and non-binary genders. Some bisexuals may feel that this term is not necessary since bisexuality is inclusive or that the label may somehow shame, denigrate, or marginalize bisexuality. I would hope that pansexuals are not seeking to differentiate themselves in such a manner. At the same time, everyone should have the autonomy to define themselves how they like. Pansexuality should be viewed as legitimate and important.
Since bisexuality is misunderstood and pansexuality is not a well-known sexual identity, one benefit of adopting this identity is that it may require an explanation and definition. This is a way to specifically spotlight the gender component of bisexuality/pansexuality. Unfortunately, it has added to the misconception that bisexuality is about binary gender and sexes. Both bisexuals and pansexuals can be attracted to a variety of genders and sexes and both can be allies to these groups. And, while bisexuals struggle with the rootword “bi” which by default sounds like binary, pansexuals must wrestle with the rootword “all” which to some people implies animals, inanimate objects, children, etc. Thus, both identities struggle with defining themselves on their own terms. At the same time, bisexuals have various organizations to advocate for their interests and development as a community. Pansexuals do not have independent social movement organizations (or at least national or well-known organizations). As such, they may be dismissed as an internet identity with no presence in the real world. Pansexuals are lumped together with bisexual organizations. Because the identity is fairly new, perhaps with time it will grow and separate from the bisexual movement. For now, both are conjoined.
I am not certain what percentage of the Bi+ community identities as pansexual. However, in a 2014 Needs Assessment Survey of the Bisexual, Fluid, and Pansexual Community of L.A., 26% of the respondents identified as pansexual. 61.8% identified as bisexual and 36% identified as queer. Thus, pansexual was the third most prominent identity in the survey, consisting of over a quarter of respondents. Despite the lack of pansexual specific publications and institutions, some celebrities have come out as pansexual such as the feminist sex educator, Laci Green, rapper Angel Haze, and Miley Cyrus. The pansexual flag was invented in 2010. The pink represents women, the blue stripe represents men, and the yellow stripe represents non-binary gender. In conclusion, pansexuality as a distinct identity is much younger than bisexuality, but is quickly becoming a popular segment of the Bi+ community. While pansexuality is similar to bisexuality, it emphasizes gender over sexuality. It remains to be seen if pansexuality will separate from bisexuality and form an autonomous movement with its own organizations. I suppose this depends upon how well both groups collaborate and identify common needs and demands. Interestingly, the Bi+ group that I am a part of is called Pandemonium, which puts more emphasis on “pan” than “bi” identity. An effective Bi+ organization should ensure that pansexuals feel like an equal partner in the struggle against heterosexism.
Another identity that may fit in the Bi+ umbrella is fluid. Of course, since fluid is fluid, it may not fit from time to time. I suppose how it fits in would be up to the individual and how that person wants to relate to the Bi+ umbrella. A fluid individual is someone who may be attracted to multiple genders or may be attracted to one gender. Someone who is fluid may reject labels. Their sexuality may involve attraction to multiple genders at once, or a single gender at one time. 24% of the respondents to the 2014 Needs Assessment Survey of the Bisexual, Fluid, and Pansexual Community of L.A. identified as fluid, which made it the fourth most common response. To those who identify as fluid, they may feel as though bisexuality or other labels do not adequately describe the variability in their sexuality. Another word for fluid sexuality is abrosexuality. Though, abrosexuality may mean rapidly changing, so I am not certain that it is perfectly synonymous with simply being fluid. Most bisexuals and pansexuals likely recognize that sexuality is to some degree fluid. It would be rare to find a bisexual person who is always exactly 33.3% attracted to men, 33.3% attracted to women, and 33.3% attracted to non-binary individuals without change or deviation. However, identifying as fluid makes it very clear that sexuality is always changing and evolving.
Queer is often used as catchall term for anyone who is not cisgender or heterosexual, so it is a term that is applied both to sexuality and gender. Thus, it is commonly used to describe any sexual and gender minority or denotes any identity that is not heterosexual. Importantly, it should not be applied to people who don’t self-identity as queer, as the word has historically been used negatively against sexual or gender minorities. The word is multifaceted, so some individuals adopt the word to express their identity as someone who is attracted to men, women, trans, or non-binary individuals. The word is also employed to express that an individual is against the status quo or is a radical or revolutionary sexual or gender minority who is looking to challenge oppressive social norms and systems.
Although queer was once a derogatory word used against sexual or gender minorities, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, activists sought to reclaim the word queer. An early example of the popularization of the word queer is Queer Nation, an organization that was founded in 1990, which used direct action, marches, education campaigns, and protest to challenge homophobia, violence, and promote LGBTQ visibility. Queer Nation came out of ACT-UP, an group which used similar tactics to draw attention to the AIDS crisis during the 1980s. The militancy of ACT-UP was in response to government inaction in response to AIDS and the deaths of thousands of people from the disease. By 2000, almost 450,000 people in the United States had died of AIDS, though the rates of infection and death had decreased since the mid-1990s. Because of this history, the word queer has been associated with LGBTQ militancy, though today, many mainstream organizations have adopted this word.
There are many other sexuality within the bi+ umbrella. Another identity is polysexual. Poly means many. Thus, a person who identifies as polysexual may be attracted to many genders but not all genders. This definition implies that there are some genders which a polysexual is not attracted to or potentially attracted to. A challenge that polysexuals might face is that “poly” may sound like polyamorous. Thus, they might be mistaken for polyamorous, or non-monogamous. As you can see, each identity has some challenges on account of the root word. Finally, polysexual is much more obscure than pansexual and bisexual, so it may require more explanation or confusion. I am uncertain of the history of exact history of polysexuality, but judging by the historical trend of other identities, I imagine it was first articulated in the late 2000s. There are few online resources related to this identity, but it seemed worth mentioning as it relates closely to pansexuality.
In a similar vein to polysexual, there are some people who are only attracted to non-binary identified individuals. These are skoliosexuals. Skoliosexuality is not very well known. I wasn’t even 100% sure which flag represented this sexual identity or if this identity had its own flag. The prefix “skolio” may refer to the Greek word for bent, such as scoliosis, a curve of the spine. The challenge of this sexuality is that it is not well known, it sounds like a spinal deformity, and individuals may be accused of fetishizing gender non-conforming people. The history of this sexuality is unknown, though it may have appeared on the internet after 2010.
Omnisexual, Ambisexual, and Trisexual are other varieties of bi+ identities which I found online. Of these, omnisexual is the most commonly referenced online. Omnisexual seems to be used as a synonym for pansexual. Ambisexual and Trisexual appear to be rather obscure labels at this moment of time. While there may be individuals who identify as these labels, there are few resources regarding what the identity entails. There are more common labels such as heteroflexible, homoflexible, and bi-curious, but it is beyond the scope of this particular essay to explore all of these labels. As such, this essay provides an overview of some but not all Bi+ identities. The big idea is that there are many ways to describe and experience attraction to more than one or multiple genders.
Why So Many Labels?
A big question that a person may have after reading this essay is why are there so many labels? This essay doesn’t even offer a comprehensive list of possible identities within the bi+ community! I think that there are several reasons why there are so many labels. First of all, there are some “old school” labels. These came about in the late 1800s by scientists and medical professionals. Labels like homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual were coined in the late 1800s. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, the mid 1800s saw the emergence of powerful medical institutions which replaced folk understandings of human bodies and health. This time period also saw the emergence of new disciplines of understanding and organizing knowledge, such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology. The esteemed position of scientific knowledge over religious or folk knowledge was not new, but it was accelerated by the industrial revolution, the subsequent growth of urban centers, and the global expansion of capitalism. This trifecta of conditions called for new ways of studying human beings and articulating deviance/difference for better control of colonies and workers. For instance, scientific racism emerged in this time period as a way to classify some humans as lesser. This justified colonization projects and the exploitation of these people. The veneer of science was used to define deviant from “normal” sexuality for the purpose of controlling the reproduction of workers, pitting some workers against others, and controlling workers themselves by ensuring the unequal position of some groups within the labor force and household. Therefore, these original labels for sexuality were meant to control and divide people. I don’t think it is a coincidence that scientific racism and sexual labels emerged during the same time time period. There was a fear of demographic crisis. Population is a resource within capitalism. Anything that potentially threatens reproduction is automatically suspect.
While different words and labels were adopted and rejected over history, there seems to be a real flourishing of identities since the 1990s. These labels are not coming from scientific institutions, but individuals and activists who want to define themselves. The biggest boon in this process seems to have been reclaiming the word queer in the early 1990s. This came out of militant LGBTQ organizing during the 1980s, which itself stood on the shoulders of the LGBT movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Queer was adopted by activists themselves, but entered academia through queer theory. Of course, the academia of the 1990s was somewhat demoralized by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the perceived failure Marxism. Thus, it seems to me that LGBT theory and analysis has been very centered upon the use of language and the development of identity, as academia has been influenced by post-modernism and post-structuralism. I find nothing wrong with exploring language, identity, or thought. I also find nothing wrong with deconstructing gender and sexuality. These things should be deconstructed. The status quo should be challenged and social movements must promote new understandings. But, I also think that larger economic forces should ground this analysis.
With that said, new identities have developed because identity is a focal point of understanding LGBTQ issues. Identity is important to organizing, but it is a double edged sword because it can be atomizing, dividing, and self-focused. The emergence of so many new identities since the mid to late 2000s can be attributed to social media and the increased ability of individuals to develop a sense of self through the internet. It can also be attributed to American hyper individualism. This is not to say that the emergence of new identities is wrong or bad. It is simply to argue that we live in a society which values individuality (inasmuch as it can be subverted for consumer interests or as a distraction from class consciousness). At the same time, these identities are subversive, since they do challenge heterosexism. This may sound contradictory, but I am simply arguing that a society that allows us to define ourselves through thousands of styles of shoes, clothes, music, and food choices also creates the space for us to define ourselves through thousands of labels for sexuality. And, to add to this, there truly ARE thousands of ways to express sexuality and gender. Finally, there are more labels because there is increased social space to explore gender and sexuality. Victories in the realm of marriage equality and trans bathroom access and trans acceptance (despite recent setbacks) create more space for individuals to think about and express gender and sexual identity. It is my prediction that many more sexual identities will emerge. That there will be many more new flags. I think that this is because people are seeking to define themselves and social media provides a platform for connection and identity creation. There is nothing wrong with this. The question isn’t a matter of right or wrong or what identities should exist or should not exist. It is a matter of organizing to fight heterosexism. To that end, I believe that uniting towards common goals, articulating common interests, identifying economic and structural forces, mobilizing in real time and physical spaces, and building a collective movement that consists of affirmed individuals will further the cause of bi+ individuals as we move towards the future.
This past fall, the Twin Ports Women’s Right Coalition began doing small events called “Feminist Frolics.” These events were meant to educate our participants about feminism while enjoying the outdoors. The very first frolic was entitled “Patriarchy in the Parks.” This talk explored how patriarchy shapes women’s relationship to nature and participation in outdoor recreation. The original talk discussed how history, gender roles, safety, and leisure influenced how women participated in nature. Since that talk, I wanted to connect how racism, classism, ableism, and other “isms” shape how individuals participate in the outdoors. As such, this talk puts a special focus on race and recreation. In particular, it explores racism and winter recreation. In my own experiences, when I spend time outdoors in the winter, I don’t often see racial minorities participating in skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking. This talk hopes to shed some light on why this is.
The Myth of Geography:
When one considers the racial composition of winter recreational activities, the whiteness of these activities seems almost a given. In our racist imaginations, it seems natural that white people would participate in winter activities. Afterall, Europeans live in the northern hemisphere, where there is snow and cold. Thus, one might argue that geography plays a role in why winter sports tend to be more popular among white people. But, arguments about geography ignore larger issues of racism and classism. It is true that many parts of the earth do not receive snow and that these warmer regions are inhabited by darker skinned ethnic groups. However, geography does not entirely account for participation. For instance, some parts of Africa actually have ski areas. Algeria has two ski resorts and Morocco has three. Morocco has participated in six Winter Olympics, but has never won a medal. Algeria has competed in the Winter Olympics three times, but again, has never won a medal. South Africa has one ski resort, which operates three months out of the year. Lesotho also has a ski resort, which is open during the winter months and is located about 4.5 hours away from Johannesburg and Pretoria in South Africa. Despite having one ski area, Lesotho has never participated in the Winter Olympics and South Africa has never participated in ski events. In 2014, Sive Spielman, a black South African teenage skier was denied entry into the Sochi Olympics. He qualified to compete in slalom skiing, but the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee disqualified him on the grounds that they did not think he was good enough. Considering he came from a poor area of South Africa, was black, and learned to ski through a ski club at his public school, his participation would have been remarkable (South Africa withdraws only athlete, 2014). Even more remarkable considering that blacks would have been barred from ski clubs and the single ski area until apartheid ended in 1994. Because under apartheid black athletes could not compete alongside white athletes, South Africa was barred from competing in the Olympics between 1962 and 1992 (they were allowed to return to the Olympics before apartheid had ended). Thus, four South African figure skaters competed in the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley and the country did not compete in a Winter Olympics again until 1994.
In contrast to South Africa, Zimbabwe has no ski areas, but had a skier compete in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Their skier, Luke Steyn, was white. Unlike Spielman, he was quite privileged, as his family moved to Switzerland when he was two years old and he attended college in Colorado. Furthermore, he was provided financial support by the Zimbabwean government (Blond, 2014). It is odd to think that Zimbabwe’s athlete was a white skier who left the country around 1995. Although he was celebrated in the media, the celebration was oddly colorblind. While many Americans adopt colorblindness as a way to avoid the sticky issue of racism, it actually perpetuates racism by skirting around issues of oppression and invalidating the continued racism in society. While I am not sure about Luke Steyn’s history, his race in contrast to his country of origin seems like an elephant in the room. His family would have been among the 120,000 whites living in Zimbabwe in the mid 1990s and likely left, like many did, because the political situation was not favorable for white people. That is, his family probably left because of land reforms which sought to turn white landholdings over to the largely black population. This was done to rectify a history of colonization, wherein white farmers were offered large tracts of land in exchange for the conquest of the country in the late 1800s. It was also done to dismantle the economic foundation of apartheid in that country. While I don’t know his family’s history, judging by his Dutch surname and his family’s ability to move to Switzerland, I can only assume that they were privileged if not landowners. The stories of Steyn and Spielman make for an interesting juxtaposition, as it shows how a white man can still succeed in a black country whereas a black man struggled for recognition even though he was part of the majority population in South Africa. One was privileged by race and class, the other disadvantaged.
All Olympic athletes are to some degree privileged, but in Africa, and when it comes to winter sports, this is more pronounced. For instance, in 2014, Togo sent its first athlete in the winter olympics in Mathilde Petitjean Amivi, a cross country skier who grew up in France but has a Togolese mother. In the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo, Lamine Gueye was the first black African to compete in the Olympics. But like Amivi and Steyn, he grew up outside of Africa. He went to live in Switzerland after the death of his grandfather, also named Lamine Gueye, the head of Senegalese Party of Socialist Action. Gueye has been an advocate for changing the rules of the Winter Olympics to allow more countries to compete. In fact, 96 nations have never participated in the Winter Olympics.
While tropical climate is certainly an impediment to participation in winter sports, there are many countries which have snowy areas which have not participated in the Olympics to the same degree as European countries. For instance, India has eleven ski areas and Pakistan has nine. Iran has almost twenty ski areas. Kazakhstan has four ski areas, Kyrgyzstan has three, and Lebanon has six. Ski areas indicate that the countries have elevations high enough for snow, which lends itself to skiing, along with snowboarding and sledding sports. Iran has participated in the Winter Olympics ten times, but has never won a medal. Kyrgyzstan has never participated in the winter olympics and Kazakhstan has six times. Kyrgyzstan is 94% mountains and has 158 mountain ranges. The Soviet Olympic skiers trained in Kyrgyzstan Karakol Mountain Ski Base (Krichko, 2016). Pakistan has participated in two winter Olympics and Nepal has twice. Chile, which has eight ski resorts, has participated in sixteen Olympics, but has never won a medal. Argentina has ten ski resorts, has participated in eighteen Olympics, and has never won a medal.
The trend is not so much that a country has to have snow to earn medals, as there are plenty of countries with snow, mountains, and wintry conditions which have not won medals. Instead, it seems that the countries with the highest medal counts are European and high income countries. The top ten countries for medals are Norway, United States, Germany, Soviet Union, Canada, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland, Russia, Finland. China, South Korea, and Japan each make the top twenty. These countries have more money to devote to developing sport programs and more citizens with income required to compete at a higher level. Thus, high income countries tend to be more competitive in the Olympics and high income individuals have more opportunities to participate and compete. This explains why diverse countries like the United States do not have more athletes of color in winter sports. Athletes of color have excelled in baseball, basketball, soccer, running, and many other sports. African Americans have long participated in the Summer Olympics. For instance, George Paoge competed in the 1904 summer Olympics and won two bronze medals in the 200m and 400 m hurdles. In contrast, the first African American to compete in the Winter Olympics was almost 80 years later in the 1980 Lake Placid games when Willie Davenport and Jeff Gadley competed as part of a four person bobsled team. The first African American woman to win a medal was in 1988 when Debi Thomas won a medal in figure skating at the Calgary games(Winter Olympics: Why Team USA is Nearly as White as Snow, 2010).
Rather than geography, the reason why few African Americans participate in winter recreation is because winter sports require more money for equipment, training, and coaching. Facilities to practice winter sports are often far from urban centers where African Americans might live (Winter Olympics: Why Team USA is Nearly as White as Snow, 2010). While I could not find any recent statistics, as of 2003, 2% of skiers in the United States were African American, 3% were Latino, 4% were Asian, and 1% were Native American. Among the membership of the National Brotherhood of Ski Clubs, an African American ski organization, 74% of the members are college graduates and 60% live in households with incomes of $50,000 to $100,000 a year (Rudd, 2003). Thus at an international level, but also at the level of individual local participation, access to resources shapes these sports. This is a barrier to participation among racial minorities. So, even in places with wintry conditions, there is still the barrier of cost of participation. On the low end, a beginner snowboarder would expect to pay $500-$1000 for a board, bindings, and boots. Adult skis can range from $200 to $1200. A winter season ski pass for Spirit Mountain costs over $400. Since 27% of African Americans live in poverty, compared to 11% of the general population, these kinds of expensive outdoor activities are beyond the reach of many in their community.
The Role of History:
Another reason why winter sports are white is because of the history of these sports. After all, when an individual imagines winter sports, they might imagine their white ancestors participating in some form of skiing, hockey, or skating. However, this version of history ignores that some cultures may have their own winter sports. For instance, Pakistan hosts a Baltistan Winter Sports and Culture Festival wherein participants play Ka Polo and ice football. Pakistan actually has the highest concentration of glaciers outside of the poles (“Traditional Winter Sports festival and ice sporting in GB,” 2016). Likewise, every two years, various circumpolar regions compete in the Arctic Games. Participants from Northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Sami areas of northern Europe, and Northern Russia compete in snowshoeing, snowboarding, volleyball, futsal, skiing, and traditional Dene games like finger pulling, pole push, and stick pull. Additionally, while there is evidence that skiing originated in Finno-Scandinavia with the discovery of rock drawings in Norway and a 4,500 ski in Sweden, Iran also has a long history of skiing. In 2000 BC ancient people in Iran produced skis made of hides and boards (History of skiing, 2005). Cree women would play a marble came, wherein marbles carved from buffalo horns were slid towards holes made in ice (Christensen, 2008). Snowshoeing originated in Central Asia 6,000 years ago, then migrated across the Bering strait to the Americas. Anishinabe, Cree, and Inuit invented sledding. The word toboggan comes from the Algonquian word odabaggan. Sled dogging was an indigenous invention and the Jean Beargrease sled dog race was named after an Ojibwe postal worker who delivered mail from Two Harbors to Grand Marais in often treacherous conditions. The Iroquois also invented a sport called Snow Snakes, or snow darts. In this game, the players must underhand throw a smooth stick along the snow to see whose stick rolls the furthest (“Winter workout: Enjoy traditional native snow sports,” 2011). Thus, many cultures have robust histories of winter games and sports. However, these winter games were either lost and diminished by colonization, appropriated by colonizers, or simply not promoted as mainstream winter activities.
Colonialism continues to play a role in winter sports. The Ktuanaxa tribe of Canada has been fighting the construction of a ski resort for 25 years. The tribe has argued that the site is sacred to them as it is a place called Qar’muk, where a grizzly bear spirit resides. The Canadian Supreme court is reviewing whether or not the resort will impinge on their religious rights, as the tribe has argued that the resort will scare away the spirit and render their rituals meaningless (“Skiers v the religious rights of Canada’s indigenous peoples,” 2016). Even Spirit Mountain in Duluth, was one of seven sacred sites to Anishinabe people. It was a place for burials and worship and development of the ski area and subsequent golf course and hotel. Spirit Mountain was a meeting place for Anishinabe and had historical significance as place on their western migration route (Podezwa and Larson). Environment and culture did not stop a ski resort from being built in Arizona. In 2012, the Navajos and twelve other tribes appealed a judge’s decision to allow Arizona Snowbowl to use wastewater to make snow for their ski resort. The Navajo argued that the land was sacred and that the use of wastewater to make snow was a threat to human health. Navajo people collect medicinal plants from the mountain, which have been contaminated by the wastewater. Using only natural snowfall, the resort would have a nine day ski season. However, the artificial snow extends the season to 121 days. Once again, geography is not necessarily an impediment to winter sports if there is money involved. As of 2015, the issue was not resolved (Finnerty, 2012). While it would be unheard of to construct a skating rink in a cemetery or cathedral, the religious and cultural practices of Native Americans have been ignored, suppressed, and mocked. It is little wonder why they would not be interested in participating in high priced, environmentally destructive leisure activities on sacred land.
While the lack of Native American participation in some winter activities could be attributed to a different relationship to land, it doesn’t account for why Native Americans do not participate in snowshoeing. Rudimentary snowshoes originated in Central Asia 6000 years ago and moved across the Bering Strait to the Americas with the migration of aboriginal peoples. Differing snow conditions resulted in various designs, with longer snowshoes developed by Cree people, who faced warmer, wetter snow conditions and shorter snowshoes were developed by Iroquois people (Carr. n.d.). Snowshoes were developed as a matter of survival, as they allowed indigenous people to travel and hunt during the winter. The construction of snowshoes themselves was a traditional craft undertaken by both men and women (Boney, 2012). As with many things, European colonizers adopted snowshoeing for their own uses, eventually converting them to something used for recreation. Snowshoeing first became a sport in Canada, then the U.S. By the 1970s, they began to grow in mainstream popularity. During the 1980s, aluminum snowshoes grew in popularity (King, 2004). In the advent of manufactured snowshoes, the craft of snowshoe making has been declining. This has also rendered snowshoeing a profitable industry to companies who make snowshoes. Companies such as Red Feather, Tubbs, Atlas, and Yukon Charlie are not owned by Native Americans nor do they specifically seek to benefit them. While Tubbs boasts about inventing the first snowshoe for women in 1998 and donating money to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, there is no mention of how their snowshoes might benefit anyone other than white women. Likewise, Redfeather snowshoes based in La Crosse, Wisconsin mentions on its website that it hires people with disabilities, but does not mention anything about helping Native Americans, even if its name and company logo invoke Native American imagery. It is no wonder that a simple google image search of snowshoeing features hundreds of pictures of white people, but no images of Native Americans partaking in the activity. It has become a thoroughly white pastime. It is an example of cultural appropriation that is so normal and commonplace that the historical and cultural meaning of snowshoeing is almost entirely invisible.
The Role of Racism:
The lack of participation in winter sports may seem trivial, but in many ways it is a microcosm of the larger racial issues in society. For instance, in 1997, Mabel Fairbanks was the first African American woman inducted into the U.S. figure skating hall of fame. She was 82 at the time of her induction and was never allowed to skate competitively. Because of segregation, she was not allowed to practice at skating rinks. However, she went on to do her own skating shows for black audiences and was a coach to Debi Thomas and Tai Babilonia. Thomas cited income as a barrier to competitive skating, as she was raised by a single mother and the cost of training can be $25,000 on the low end (Brown). In U.S. society, class intersects powerfully with race. African American children are four times as likely to live in poverty in the United States than white children (Patten and Krogstad, 2015). In 1967, the median income of African Americans compared to white Americans was 55%. In 2013, this had increased to 59%, but a 4% increase over four and a half decades is hardly impressive. Looking at wealth, or such things as retirement savings and house ownership, African Americans owned 7% of the wealth of white people in 2011. This was actually down from 9% in 1984 (Vara, 2013). The segregation that Mabel Fairbanks faced continues today in the form of economic segregation that relegates African Americans to poor communities and low paying service industry jobs. It also persists through the criminal justice system. After all, an African American male born in 2001 has a 32% chance of going to jail, compared to a 6% chance for a white male born in the same year (Quigley, 2011).
Aside from the racist structures that may prevent individuals to partake in winter recreation to begin with, there is racism within these sports. Surya Bonaly, a black French figure skater from the 1990s, was the only figure skater in the history to do a backflip and land on one blade. This astonishing feat actually disqualified her in the 1998 Olympics. She did the flip to flip off the judges, who she felt scored her lower because of her race. At the time, the rule was that a jump must land on one blade, which was meant to deter back flips as this would be a two bladed jump. However, she landed on one to test the judges, who disqualified her anyway (Surya Bonaly is the biggest badass in Winter Olympics history, 2014). At the time, critics called her inelegant and more powerful than graceful. Surya was accused of damaging the nerves of fellow ice skater Midori Ito, which caused Ito to fall in her performance (Du, 2016). These critiques demonstrate both racism and sexism, as she did not meet the judge’s expectation of what a figure skater should look like. To them, a powerful black woman was not only threatening to the sport, but to other skaters. The nine time French National champion, five time European champion, and three time World silver medalist now resides in Minnesota, where she teaches skating lessons.
There are many examples of more blatant racism against athletes of color. Irina Rodina, who lit the torch for the Sochi Olympics, posted an image of Barack and Michelle Obama as monkeys with bananas on her Twitter (Myerberg, 2014). The Northwestern University Ski Team, consisting of 65 individuals, hosted a racially themed party in April 2012, where they dressed as South Africans, Ugandan, Ireland, Canada, Bangladeshi, and Native Americans. The students participated in a “Beer Olympics” wherein they portrayed various nations competing with each other in drinking games. The students dressed in a stereotypical and mocking fashion. This caused a controversy on campus in which the ski team offered an apology but was also portrayed as victims of aggression from students of color who were offended by their party (Svitek, 2012). Val James, the first American born black player in the NHL, experienced racism when he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres in the early 1980s. Bananas were thrown into the rink and a monkey doll was hung from a penalty box. He was born into a low income family in Florida and did not start skating until he was 13. Despite his accomplishment in overcoming racial and class barriers, mocking spectators would eat watermelons with his name on it. Even today, only 5% of NHL players are black (Sommerstein, 2015). These blatant acts of racism send the message that people of color are not welcome to participate in winter sports.
Another example of racism is evident in the story of the Jamaican bobsled team. Jamaica debuted its famous bobsled team in the 1988 Calgary Olympics. The story was made into a highly fictionalized movie called Cool Runnings. The national team appeared again at the Salt Lake Olympics and Sochi. In the Lillehammer Olympics, the team placed 13th and beat the US, Russia, and Italy. Bobsledding was easier to adapt to Jamaica since it entailed pushing a 600 pound sled as fast as possible, then jumping in. The Jamaican bobsled team crashed during their first Olympics, but were treated as national heroes. The team inspired other unlikely countries to form bobsled teams such as Mexico, Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, and several U.S. territories (Atkin, 2014). Nigeria wants to field its own bobsled team in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. The Nigerian team of former Olympian sprinters has formed to practice with a wooden sled until they can raise enough funds for an actual sled and track (Payne, 2016).
The Jamaican bobsled team could be seen as heroic, considering the challenges of becoming a winter athlete in an impoverished tropical country. Yet, the team continues to be a joke at best and racist trope at worst. For instance, two San Diego High School football coaches wore “Cool Runnings” inspired Jamaican Bobsled costumes, complete with black face in 2013 (Walsh, 2013). In 2015, a group of UW-Stout students attended a private Halloween party as the Jamaican bobsled team, again in black face. The college made a statement that they do not affiliate with those actions (Perez, 2015). In 2014, a group of Brock University college students dressed up as the Jamaican bobsled team and won a $500 costume prize. A critic of these students wrote that black costumes represent the limit of the white imagination to envision black people as anything other than rappers, gangsters, or athletes. These costumes are also a way to control how black people are understood. The film Cool Runnings itself represented Jamaicans in a stereotypical way by actors who were not even Jamaican. Blackface dehumanizes black people. The Jamaican Bobsled costumes affirm a racial hierarchy by making the athletes a stereotype or joke (Traore, 2014).
While much of this discussion has focused on African and African Americans, other racial minority groups face similar challenges. Out of 11,000 U.S. Olympic athletes, only 14 have identified as Native American. Only two of the 14 were female. One of the two was Naomi Lang. In 2002, Naomi Lang became the first Native American identified woman to compete in the Winter Olympics. She is a member of the Kuruk tribe of California but was mocked for wearing traditional regalia at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Skating cost her family $60,000 a year. To afford this, she slept on a mattress and wore hand me down clothes as a high schooler. Lang resisted competitions, since she felt that her culture stressed cooperation and community. Aside from differences in culture and challenges such as racism and poverty, Native Americans face the added challenge of health. 30% of Native American 4 year olds are obese, which is twice the amount of any other ethnic group (Sottile, 2011). Native Americans are also three times as likely to develop diabetes than white people. These health problems can be related back to colonization, which removed Native Americans from their land and traditional food sources and created historical trauma that continues to cause stress and health problems.
The goal of feminist frolics is to enjoy the outdoors while learning. As we venture outdoors this winter, perhaps we will notice how very white the forests, trails, and hills are. Hopefully, this can be connected back to the larger racial disparities that exist in society. It is my hope that this can help us become attuned to other spaces that are largely white. For instance, one of the critiques of the recent Women’s March in Washington was the whiteness of the feminists in attendance. Many of the issues that keep racial minorities out of winter sports also prevent them from participating in politics. For instance, the media and police had an easier time imagining the protests as non-violent because it was undertaken by large crowds of white women, as opposed to Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter, which are viewed more negatively and violently by police and the media. Becoming aware of why certain groups may feel excluded or unwelcome can help us build stronger and broader movements. So, that is the larger mission of this discussion. There should be more spring times for oppressed groups than endless, white winters.