The Cleveland E. and Phyllis B. Dodge Room is a multi-purpose and rather spacious area located in the Flynn Campus Union. On Feb. 1, award-winning social justice activist Robyn Ochs created a benign pocket of parity and optimism within the conference room with her presentation of “Getting Bi: Unpacking Biphobia and Creating a Culture of Inclusion.”
The workshop addressed an audience of more than 100 people sitting in a horseshoe formation that stretched five rows deep, and explored the relationship between bisexuality and our society. It shed light on the various types of sexuality, the unfair stigma many bisexuals face, and how our culture surrounding sexuality can be changed for the better.
Ochs began the presentation by introducing bisexuality and additional sexuality identities. She professed that orientations such as bisexuality, pansexuality, and omnisexuality are not simply phases. Instead, each word is ‘the best word for somebody.’ “Each [sexual orientation],” Ochs said, “is a constellation in the identity sky.”
Ochs, who identifies as bisexual, recalled growing up in a society where heterosexuality was the norm. During that time, a time she referred to as ‘Before Google,’ many considered any other sexual orientation to be unacceptable. Ochs recalled a weight being lifted off of her shoulders when she met a coworker who was also bisexual. She said she was excited to no longer feel alone. “I went from saying, ‘I’m not like that’ to ‘we’re not like that,” said Ochs. “It made me feel stronger.”
Ochs did not shy away from speaking about the reality of the situation. “You can’t tell what bisexuals look like,” Ochs said. She explained that some see two men together and see “gay,” while one may register two women together as “lesbian.” However, bisexuality cannot be defined unless, as Ochs puts it, it is “acted out.”
She also addressed the biphobic and homophobic statements that are all too common. With a snap and a squeak of an Expo marker, the echoes of ignorance were reflected on a white board. “Make up your mind.” “They are just confused.” “They will grow out of it.” “Bisexuals cannot commit to a relationship.”
Despite this, there are ways to beat such derogatory views. Ochs stated that it is because of intersectionality, the theory that oppressive institutions such as racism, sexism, and homophobia cannot be separated from one another, that humans are complicated beings. In order to weaken such negativity and understand one another’s variety of identities, people must be willing to listen to others’ stories. “Telling stories is a way of feeling whole,” Ochs said.
“It makes you stop and think,” said graduate student Jared Heath. “It teaches you how to avoid putting those kinds of labels on people.”
Bisexuality is targeted by phobia, and this conflict includes bisexuals being isolated or alienated by everyday culture. Ochs made one solution to this clear: empathetic compassion through attentiveness and understanding.
“My hope is that [the audience] leave with more information about bisexuality, leave with more information about identity in general, and leave with a greater understanding of intersectionality,” said Ochs. “[I hope] that all of these things [will be] tools for them to navigate other issues as they go through their life.”