Four points for better bi-related media

1 June 2017 by Jennifer

Mainly for people who write articles and blog posts and want to up their bi-solidarity game.

That doesn’t only mean non-bi people; we can benefit from considering this stuff ourselves. And some of the points are also relevant where we ourselves might be writing about some other marginalised group.

The background is a bi flag: pink, purple, blue. In front of that is the text "Four points for better bi-related media" and the web site address www.uncharted-worlds.org. The words "better bi-related media" are the biggest.

  1. There’s a difference between “challenging an idea” and “reproducing an idea”.

    In the process of raising awareness & making change, sometimes it’s not easy to see how we can challenge an idea without reproducing it. How can we name a problem without being part of normalising it?

    The concepts of “centring” and “framing” can help.

    • Framing: Which ideas are put up for discussion, and which are taken for granted?

    • Framing: When we put an idea into words, is it clear to the reader whether we’re endorsing the idea or intending to challenge it?

      If we’re intending to challenge it, are we actively explaining to the reader “here are the ways this idea is mistaken or can be misused”?

      A neutral-seeming “Let’s discuss!” isn’t necessarily neutral in reality; its effects depend on what’s already out there.

    • Centring: Whose perspective is being shown? Who’s placed at the centre of the story, and who’s at the edges or not mentioned at all?

    • Centring/framing: Who is the implied reader, or audience? (implied by things like the use of “you” or “we” in the text, or by the information that’s included and left out, compared to who would or wouldn’t know that already.)

    It’s true that prejudices against us deserve to be written about. This can be done by centring our perspectives, as the people experiencing the effects.

  2. If you ask a question about a marginalised group which centres the viewpoint of a person biased against the group, then the effect of asking the question is not reversed by your later answer.

    Even if you immediately, in the very next line of the same piece of writing, go on to challenge the bias, still the effect of raising the question is not fully reversed: your answer can’t revoke having legitimised the question.

    If the follow-up is deferred to another page or another venue or another time, then the effect of raising the question isn’t even slightly close to being reversed: you (re-)opened and legitimised the question for X number of people, but countered it (to whatever degree) for only a subset of those people.

    This limitation is useful to consider before asking a question, or making a statement, that you think is

    • “controversial”

    • “provocative”

    • intended to draw attention to something bad.

    For example, imagine you sent out a poll tweet “Would you date a bisexual? Yes / no / maybe”.

    If you did that, you’d be validating the question of whether every bi person should be ruled out just for being bi. You’d also be suggesting and accepting “I’d rule them all out” as a legitimate answer.

    Of course, you might have been planning to use the poll in writing an insightful challenge aimed towards people who wouldn’t date a bi person. And when your article came out, it might have been wonderful.

    But because of the structure & flow of the communication channels you’re using, many or most of the people who saw the tweet probably wouldn’t see that follow-up.

    So then there’s people out in the world who voted “no”. Plus there’s people who didn’t actually vote, but read the question and thought “ooh no, I wouldn’t, not me”. And for everyone who didn’t read the follow-up, the result of that interaction would only be that their prejudice was framed as legitimate.

    A similar practical limitation affects clickbait promotion lines: not everyone clicks through.

    If the promotional line, taken alone, presents a biased idea unchallenged, then all you’ve done for the readers who don’t click through is to validate the biased idea.

  3. If you don’t know the territory, you’re going to miss stuff.

    1. Are you the best person to write this?

      • Could you boost someone else’s writing instead, who’s closer to the centre of the issue, and knows more about it?

      • Could you pay that person to write, or refer a paid opportunity to them?

      • Could you pay a Black bi writer, a disabled bi writer, a trans bi writer, or someone else from a group not often represented?

    2. If you’re set on writing it yourself, have you done your homework?

      “First, do no harm.”

    And in particular…

  4. Whether bisexuality exists is not a neutral, legitimate or harmless question.

    There is no sense in which the answer to “does bisexuality exist” is still unknown. Anyone who won’t simply accept actual bi people’s firsthand accounts, check out the science.

    Re-raising that question therefore does not function as legitimate enquiry.

    Re-raising the question functions instead as invalidation and stigma.

    I say stigma, in particular, because asking that is equivalent to asking “are all bi people either lying or deluded?” Accepting the question as up for discussion is accepting that “whether all bi people are either lying or deluded” is a legitimate topic.

    “Deluded” and “Liar” are stigmatised categories. There is no context in which “Maybe all bi people are deluded or lying” is a neutral proposition.

    If, despite understanding that, you still want to use that question as your way into something, ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish.

    If your intention is to stigmatise bi people, then of course this is an effective way; own that outcome, and don’t be surprised if people are angry with you.

    If your intention is to educate, find a different way to do it, which doesn’t include framing this harmful and unnecessary question as legitimate.

Hope that helps :-)