More than 1,500 New Yorkers gathered today in Manhattan to mourn the death of a 32 year-old gay man, who was shot down on Friday just blocks away from the historic Stonewall Inn in an apparent act of anti-gay bias.
Q & A with Bisexual Activist Amy Andre
This Q & A with Amy Andre is part of GLAAD's tribute to Celebrate Bisexuality Day, September 23rd 2009.
Can you tell me how you got your start as a bi activist? What has motivated you to focus on bisexual issues?
I read Bi Any Other Name when I got to college, in 1992. I was already out by then (as a bisexual, which I still identify as to this day), but the book really motivated me to get active around bisexual politics. It’s a book that continues to inspire me, as do its editors, Lani Ka’ahumanu and Loraine Hutchins.
Bisexual Health is an amazing book full of vital information – can you tell me how that project got started and what it was like working on it?
Around 2006, BiNet USA and the Fenway Institute (part of Boston’s famous LGBT health organization) were working on the book with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, (which published the book). Lani and Loraine, who, by this time, were not just mentors and inspirations to me but also friends of mine, were involved in editing the book, and the Task Force asked me to come on board the project as a co-author. I had recently finished my master’s degree in sexuality studies, where I did my thesis on bisexual women’s identity development. So, I had already been doing research and writing on bi issues.
The project was already underway when I came on board. A lot of the research had already been done, and my work involved synthesizing the findings and writing about them. I had a full-time job at the time at Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. I worked on the book in my spare time, on evenings and weekends; it was a little over a year between the time I got involved and when the book came out.
It was an incredible experience, and one that continues to this day. I do a lot of public speaking about the book. Just this year alone, I’ve lectured at Brown, Stanford, Rutgers, among other schools.
You’ve also made a documentary film, On My Skin/En Mi Piel, about a mixed-race transgender man and his family. As a mixed-race person myself, I really appreciate the way you are bringing these issues of race, skin privilege, and gender together and addressing the ways they overlap and affect each other. How did that project come about?
My partner is a filmmaker, and I’m a film buff. So, in 2005, just for fun, I decided to take a free film-making 101 class at a local community center. I’m a biracial African American Jew, and I’m a sexuality studies writer; and I had this idea to write a piece based on interviews with mixed-race people talking about their sexualities. (I think we as mixed-race people have a unique take on sexuality and the intersections of race and sex.) But when the opportunity came up to take the class, I thought, “why not create a film instead of an essay?” I wanted to capture not just the words but also the images of mixed people.
At the same time, a friend of mine, a queer mixed transman who has a master’s in sexuality studies and a master’s in ethnic studies, was writing some amazing stuff about his mixed and trans identities. He’s incredibly smart and articulate, and I ended up building my film around him and his words and his journey.
The film came out in 2006, and I started showing it at LGBT film festivals. It gained tremendous momentum and eventually showed at festivals around the world. I even had a version made with Spanish subtitles, and it got shown in Spain and Latin America – and not just in LGBT festivals, but also in Latino film festivals. I still get requests for it to this day, through my site, www.amyandre.com.
Many of the bisexual activists I have spoke to have collaborated with transgender people and activists because, not only are there many trans people who are also bisexual, they see a natural alliance between bisexual and transgender issues. Would you say you have found this to be true in your work as well?
Absolutely. I think that we have similar ways in which we analyze, deconstruct, and reconstruct concepts like gender and its salience in our lives.
You’ve frequently been a resource for the media on bisexual health as well as LGBT health disparities. Last month, you participated in the Bi Health Summit in Chicago. What can you tell us about the way bisexual health is treated in the media? As a spokesperson, have you noticed a change over time in the type(s) of questions you get asked or the circumstances in which you are sought out to speak on these issues?
I think the media has a long way to go in creating accurate portrayals of bisexual health. For example, the average article that touches on anything bisexual is usually along the lines of: “Do they exist? This expert says yes, but this one says no. Hmm. Who has the stronger evidence? I’ll conclude that it seems that they do exist, but not much more is known.”
Of course, anyone who wants to debate the fact of my existence – or my right to call myself bi – disgusts me. But the underlying idea, that this is the most we can say about bisexuals (“yes, there are some people who identify as bi”) is equally appalling. It wastes an opportunity to educate about bisexual health, which, in my biased opinion, is what we need to be talking about.
The four questions I get asked the most are:
- What percentage of people identify as bisexual? According to a ton of research, the answer is: 50% of people who identify as either gay, lesbian, or bisexual, identify as bisexual. We make up half of the LGB population.
- What is bisexual health about? Don’t bisexuals have better health than gays/ lesbians, but maybe worse than heterosexuals? Aren’t they in the middle? The answer is no. Bisexuals have poorer health than gays and lesbians. Gays and lesbians have poorer health than heterosexuals. This means that there is a hierarchy of health, with heterosexuals at the top, gays and lesbians in the middle, and bisexuals at the bottom. And I’m speaking here of people who identify as straight, identify as gay and lesbian, and identify as bisexual. I’m not even talking (yet) about behavior!
- Why are bisexuals at the bottom of that hierarchy of health? The answer is simply: biphobia. Studies of stigma show that bisexuals are more stigmatized than gays and lesbians. In fact, out a group of 100 stigmatized identity categories, bisexuals are second only to IV drug users in level of stigma. That means the average person would rather hang out with almost anyone except a bisexual person – unless they have to choose between a bisexual person and an IVDU. (This group of 100 categories includes gay and lesbian, by the way.) That biphobia, that stigma against bisexuals, has very real health consequences.
- What health issues do bisexuals face? Compared to gays, lesbians, and heterosexuals, bisexuals have significantly higher rates of smoking, drinking, drug use, depression and other mental illness, suicidal tendencies, cutting and other self-harming behaviors, and domestic violence victimization, among other health and safety problems.
The bottom line is: we make up half the LGB (sexual identity minority) population, and we’ve got the worst health – and really bad health. That means our community has a health crisis on our hands. So articles debating my existence and the existence of my fellow bisexuals are beyond the pale compared to what we should really be focusing on.
What are some of the recent developments in bisexual health? What do you think our next big challenges are, when it comes to our health and how it is perceived?
I think the biggest challenge is drawing attention to the problem – and letting people know that there are solutions. Fenway Health in Boston, for example, has made tremendous strides in caring for bisexuals and dealing with bisexual health. Other LGBT health centers and health care providers need to be educated on bisexual health, so they can apply or adapt the Fenway model – or create solutions of their own.
A simultaneous challenge is getting at the root of what’s causing these issues: biphobia. If we build bi community, if we speak out against biphobia at every opportunity, and if our allies really come through to support us, I believe we can eradicate biphobia and cause a true shift in the health of bisexuals. You’ll notice, after all, that each of the bi health problems I mentioned is related to the impact of being part of a deeply stigmatized group. Take away the stigma, the shame, and the oppression, and we can change the world, and not just for bisexuals but for all sexual minorities.
Amy Andre, MA, MBA, is a writer, university lecturer, and the co‐author of Bisexual Health, a book published by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. A biracial, bisexual, African American Jew, she lives in San Francisco with her partner, a filmmaker. With a master’s degree in sexuality studies (focusing on bisexual identity and LGBT community) and a business degree in nonprofit management, Amy does consulting for LGBT organizations. Visit her online at www.amyandre.com.