by Martin Rawlings-Fein
When We Rise was difficult television for me to watch. I kept waiting for the next leader introduced to be Lani Ka'ahumanu who assisted in the founding of the San Francisco State Women Studies Department, she is also credited with the founding of BiPOL the first and oldest bisexual political organization. I kept watching hoping that perhaps Dr. Harriet Leve and Dr. Maggi Rubenstein might show up as the co-founder's of the San Francisco Bisexual Center on Hayes and Masonic, they could have been included as Maggi was also a co-founder of three major sex-education institutions in San Francisco: Glide Memorial Church's National Sex Forum, the San Francisco Sex Information Hotline, and the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality.
Or Dr. David Lourea and Cynthia Slater who presented safer-sex education in bathhouses and BDSM clubs in San Francisco as well as David going on to push the DPH to recognize bisexual men in their official AIDS statistics which was a huge victory for data scientists everywhere. When that didn't happen and those leaders did not rate even a mention, I hoped that A. Billy S. Jones could have been thrown in as one of those organizers of the March On Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights and was sorely disappointed.
In the end of the miniseries none of that happened, I was only watching Gay, Lesbian and Transgender stories depicted. While Cleve Jones, the author of the memoir that was the basis of the miniseries stated about the criticisms, "Honestly, if just a fraction of the energy spent complaining went into WRITING, all these stories could be known. The people who feel left out should take responsibility to do that hard work." That is when I realized that while When We Rise did not tell our stories, the truth is that we have been telling our stories separately for years and being told to "shut up" because nobody in the gay community wants to hear them.
Our stories are not convenient, they do not fit into the boxes in which others try to place them. The idea of two women in a relationship that is not a lesbian one was too hard for marriage equality to handle, so Lindasusan Ulrich and Emily Drennen were not used in the case against Prop 8 despite their 3 marriages to each other. During the national spotlight on “gay marriage” the couple were outspoken and protested the use of “gay marriage” in discourse. They even went so far as to create a document "Words Matter" and went to a Town Hall event for the Equality for All campaign (the coalition fighting Prop 8 in California) to present an action called "unVEILing injustice" to highlight our struggle against erasure. Just one story that could have illustrated the fight for equality even within our own queer community.
Despite Dustin Lance Black's assurances that there was bi+ representation in the miniseries, there were none that I was aware of either in reading his response or other tweets that he pointed me to on Twitter:
As I read the words I felt his exasperation as a filmmaker. He hadn't done the minimal legwork on Bi+ issues, like our representation in the media (a simple Tumblr search could have helped), I actually felt sorry for him as an artist and historian. If he had done the research he would have known that bi people already see ourselves as part of the struggle, we don't need to be told so on camera without mentioning bisexuality. We are not beards simply staying with our gay, or straight appearing, husbands to keep our housing. We are not objects of desire to be used as props to help the story line along. We are not allies of the LGBTIQA community, but full fledged members of the community.
Using those items especially as touch points to illustrate stories about us is demeaning and frankly ignorant. To use a slogan of the Bi+ movement, "Nothing About Us Without Us!" Next time, actually talk to a person of lived Bi+ experience to find out if something might be considered offensive. Like perhaps having 8 hours of LG( )T stories without mentioning the "B" word once.
I feel that this kind of miniseries is so important, in the words of Lani Ka'ahumanu, "Yes this LGBT mini-series “WHEN WE RISE” is a big deal AND there is no bisexual representation. The B is missing from this epic LGBT docu-drama. When LGBT people rose in San Francisco [and everywhere else], we rose together. Bisexuals worked shoulder to shoulder with Cleve Jones, Ken Jones, Roma Guy and Cecilia Chung whose lives are featured. This is not to take away from their incredible contributions; this is to point out what might not be noticed in the excitement of watching “When We Rise”. Indeed, this is not a zero-sum game, we can honor those depicted in When We Rise, and mourn the poor Bi+ representation
My hope is that we as a community can rise above the bi erasure to bring our stories out and really be a force for change in the larger queer community. To use a slogan from the fight against the Briggs Initiative, "Come out! Come out! Wherever you are!" If you see poor representation in film and media, send your thoughts to GLADD and report an incident. Something that I suggested to those reading Cleve's Facebook thread was The GLBT Historical Society's oral history program for those elders who would love to have their stories heard. Also if you don't have those stories yet, become an oral historian through their program and find those stories of our Bi+ elders and leaders to document our rising with the LGBTIQA community.
Let's not let a wide brush of a historical miniseries deter us from telling our stories, let's bring them out into the sunshine and let the world know that we were there and we are here as vital members of the LGBTIQA community not allies like Black painted Lady Gaga during the series, a prime place to say the word bisexual when pitching her as a speaker at the National Equality March yet nobody said the word once during the entire show.
I assume the big bisexual representation that we were all promised was her file footage speech to the National Equality March that almost never happened because according to Cynthia Connors from NYABN* ( "the March Committee which was steadfastly refusing to allow Bisexuals to "officially" participate finally gave in" and that BiNet had Penelope Williams, a Dominican American bisexual and immigration right activist introduce Gaga on stage for her now famous "ARE YOU LISTENING!!" speech.
The week has passed, we are now in a post When We Rise world, where ratings are key in seeing anything like this spring up again. This is the time to bring our stories out and write them all down. If you have any remembrances that you would like to write for the Bay Area Bisexual Network blog, please do not hesitate to let me know through either email@example.com , Facebook or Twitter, or post your own remembrances of Bi+ history through the hashtag #BiHistory on twitter and add a mention of@BABN.
Martin Rawlings-Fein is a bisexual trans man, a devoted husband and father and volunteers as a co-director of the Bay Area Bisexual Network.
*Update: "according to Cynthia Connors from BiNet USA" is incorrect as Cynthia is the technical admin from NYABN (the New York Area Bisexual Network) not BiNet USA. Giving Credit where credit is due.
Our mission is to foster a sense of bisexual/Pan+ community and promote better understanding of bisexual+ lives and issues within the larger lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) community and the public.
Our Informational Blog Recently Made Number 38 on the Top 50 Bisexual Blogs!