Monday, 10 August 2015

Biphobia and Radio New Zealand

Dear Radio New Zealand,

Thank you for investigating the impact of marriage equality on sexuality and gender diverse communities (which I’m going to call “queer”) in your recent news article.  It’s most welcome to have ongoing attention to the ways in which discrimination and oppression are experienced by queer people in Aotearoa.

Many of the speakers were interesting, thoughtful and eloquent.  I particularly enjoyed hearing from Ngahuia Te Awekotuku and Elizabeth Kerekere as centring takatāpui experience should be part of any conversation of queer rights in Aotearoa.  And I loved the use of “queer” as an umbrella term by Radio NZ, though I know it's a contested term.

I missed any acknowledgment of issues for intersex people, particularly when Aotearoa is the home of one of the most internationally respect intersex human rights advocates in Mani Mitchell. Intersex people face unwanted and intrusive health practices throughout their lives as a result of binary understandings of sex. These things have been completely unaddressed by marriage equality.

I also missed any investigation of changes for queer Asian and Pacifica peoples, since in all those communities, queer activists raised issues and pushed MPs to vote in support of queer rights, with varying degrees of success. I wondered what, if anything, those conversations have opened up for queer people in those communities.

The concern I'm best placed to speak to though, as a Pākehā cis bisexual woman, relates to the biphobia and bi-erasure in the article. From the very first sentence in both the news story and the podcast, we were told queer rights were about “gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.” But bisexual people were not just absent, like intersex people and queer Asian and Pacifica peoples, we were completely erased. The “B” in LGBTIQ is too often silent, but this article took it to new levels.

You said:
"A study published by University of Auckland researchers last year found one in five same-sex attracted youth had attempted suicide in the past year - a rate five times higher than their straight counterparts.  Nearly half had thought about killing themselves, and just short of 60% had self harmed."
FALSE: That study is about same and both-sex attracted young people.  Bisexual people are explicitly included.

You mentioned in the podcast that international research shows homophobia is experienced by “gay and lesbian” sportspeople in Aotearoa.

FALSE: That study is about bisexual, lesbian and gay sportspeople.  Bisexual people are explicitly included.

The article referred to marriage equality repeatedly as same-sex marriage. This invisibilises both bisexual and trans people. There were gains for some trans people from this legislation, because for some it meant marriages that had been legal before transitioning but not after can now be legally recognized. And for bisexual people who have been able to marry different gender partners but not similar gender partners, this was a significant gain, and one which our submissions often explicitly discussed. "Marriage Equality" as a phrase in Aotearoa was about making sure this issue did not hide queer community people who do not identify as lesbian or gay. 

The word bisexual was not mentioned once. The word biphobia was not mentioned once. I understand both were used by at least one of the people you interviewed, but this was edited out.  Just like bisexual people.

You might not be sure why this matters, I guess.  So let me tell you.

Biphobia and bi-erasure mean bisexual people have the poorest mental health outcomes of all sexualities, and we hold onto those poor mental health outcomes for longer, because when lesbians and gay men get older and find community, that can be protective for mental health. That’s not always true for bisexual people.

Biphobia and bi-erasure also mean bisexual people have the highest rates of substance misuse of all sexualities. We use alcohol and drugs differently, and in more problematic ways.

Biphobia and bi-erasure mean bisexual people have the highest rates of sexual and partner violence of all sexualities.  This is true for bisexual women and bisexual men. We are targeted for violence because of our gender and sexuality identity, and biphobic attitudes often form part of partner violence for us.

Biphobia and bi-erasure often make queer spaces very uncomfortable for bisexual people, and this impacts on our health and wellbeing.

None of these vulnerabilities – unlikely to be impacted much if at all by marriage equality – have anything to do with what it means to acknowledge attractions and loves for more than one gender. They are to do with the ways bisexual lives are invisibilised and stereotyped in mainstream culture.

Please do this better next time. Bisexual people have been active in campaigning for and writing rights based legislation for queer people in Aotearoa for decades. We deserve to be included and have our distinct issues treated with respect.

Yours truly,

UPDATE: 11 August 2015.  The response received from Radio NZ said:

Thanks for your feedback.  I absolutely take your point and will pass on your message to my editor - as a broadcaster you'll understand we're constantly trying to get our scripts as tight as possible but I see the issue of erasure apparent here. I've taken it on board, and will ensure to be more inclusive and clearer in the future. Again, I do appreciate the feedback, as it really makes a huge difference in how I tell stories and explore issues going forward.
I asked if they could edit the online print story to include the word bisexual where it's appropriate (which they have done) and note the erasure and omission at the end as a problem (which they have not done).  The journalist concerned was gracious and has reiterated that they intend to approach queer stories differently in the future.  I hope that's what ends up happening. 


thegypsypriest said...

Thank you. It's very encouraging to read someone speaking out on our behalf. cheers.
To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
e.e. cummings, 1955

LudditeJourno said...

Thanks Gypsy Priest, nice quote :-)