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How bi women found their place in DIVA

“I re­ally don’t un­der­stand why you ex­pect/seek ac­cep­tance from us when you’re not a les­bian,” says a reader’s let­ter in a mid-90s is­sue of DIVA. “We have fought long and hard to gain ac­cep­tance, both from within our­selves and from other gay women, and we don’t give that up to out­siders eas­ily.” An­other let­ter in­sists: “I read DIVA be­cause I’m an out and proud les­bian/ dyke, not a fash­ion­able wannabe. [Just as] I used to go to Pride ev­ery year for gay Pride, not to sup­port any other cause.” Yet an­other cor­re­spon­dent snaps: “You can’t be­come a les­bian when it is con­ve­nient. Les­bians are born. It’s an iden­tity that goes be­yond sex. It is a state of mind, not some sort of per­ver­sion to tell your male sex­ual part­ner to get him off.” No prizes for guess­ing which group of peo­ple they’re talk­ing about. We’ll draw a veil over the bi­sex­ual cor­re­spon­dent who later sent a let­ter which (I as­sume) was writ­ten in re­sponse, ask­ing “Why are all les­bians ugly?” Hmm, that’s not quite the way to deal with it…

Any­way, I spent a fas­ci­nat­ing day at DIVA’S of­fices go­ing through its archives to see just how much had changed in the mag­a­zine’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion of – and so­ci­ety’s at­ti­tudes to – the bi com­mu­nity over the last 23 years. I had for­got­ten how DIF­FER­ENT Ani Difranco looked with that hair! And OMG, kd Lang and Cindy Craw­ford and that bar­ber’s chair! But I di­gress. In the 90s when DIVA be­gan, its “bi­sex­ual”- ori­ented ar­ti­cles over­whelm­ingly had head­lines such as “I’m not a les­bian but… Straight women who dilly dally”, “Con­fes­sions of an ex-het­ero­sex­ual” and “All in the fam­ily: What do you call a les­bian who sleeps with men? Straight? Bi­sex­ual? Has­bian?” etc, etc. The di­a­logue of these pieces was of course very clearly ei­ther/or – you’re straight or you’re a les­bian. If any emo­tion or be­hav­iour which fell be­tween those la­bels oc­curred, gen­uine bi­sex­u­al­ity just wasn’t re­ally an iden­tity op­tion. It was a piece of fri­vol­ity de­signed to shock, tit­il­late, ex­per­i­ment or ma­nip­u­late.

On to the noughties and things were on the up. I mean, DIVA’S “Top 100 Les­bians” list seemed a bit un­fair on bi­sex­u­als. And don’t even get me started on the writer who de­scribed The Hunger as a “les­bian hor­ror film”. How­ever, slowly but surely, more and more tal­ented bi­sex­ual writ­ers and en­gag­ing bi­sex­ual con­tent emerged from the wood­work, in spite of a con­tin­ued (al­beit smaller) stream of vit­riol from an­gry read­ers. There were many high points for me from here on in. Hell, Deb­bie Harry even came out as bi in a DIVA ex­clu­sive. One is­sue, a bi poly writer ex­plained that poly and bi aren’t mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive… and on the next page was a piece about Iris Mur­doch’s bi­sex­u­al­ity. “Bi­sex­u­al­ity in The L Word” was given a sen­si­ble, thor­ough anal­y­sis. DIVA had some shrewd bi celebs grac­ing its plat­form, with Björk telling us that “choos­ing be­tween men and women is like choos­ing be­tween cake and ice cream” and Su­san Son­tag ex­claim­ing that the fact she’d had “girl­friends as well as boyfriends is some­thing [she] never thought [she’d] have to say”. There was a wicked piece on “gen­derblind speed dat­ing”. Bliss and more bliss.

There were still too many other let- downs, how­ever, with head­lines that au­to­mat­i­cally put my head in my hands and made it want to stay there. “What’s up with the iden­tity for­merly known as les­bian?” “Anne Heche was a thorn in Ellen’s side.” “The straight girls who do girls (and why they don’t do les­bians).” And most of the time, “les­bian” was still the ac­cepted “blan­ket” term for all read­ers. In­clud­ing all over the cover. How­ever… The term “les­bian and bi­sex­ual” made its way fur­ther into DIVA af­ter the noughties, as did the term LGBT. The is­sue of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of bi women on televi­sion was ad­dressed. Read­ers were told where to find the best bi meet-ups and re­sources. One writer shared “Why I am an out bi role model at work”. Bi women in the closet were given ad­vice for com­ing out (and told not to worry if it was safer to stay in to fam­ily and friends, but urged to seek con­fi­den­tial sup­port). More and more bi­sex­ual ads crept into the per­son­als col­umn. DIVA was gen­uinely be­com­ing the safe space for bi­sex­u­als I’d al­ways hoped it would be and it couldn’t have hap­pened sooner. I bought my first DIVA aged 14 in 1998 and it stood with me through thick and thin: bul­ly­ing and heartache, self- doubt and self-pity. Now I could trust it even fur­ther.

In 2015, DIVA boasted six cover sto­ries about bi­sex­u­al­ity and in 2016 five. These all had in­spir­ing and/or fight­ing ti­tles: “Be­ing bi in long-term re­la­tion­ship”; “How to be a good bi ally”; “Bi women on TV: why it’s death by era­sure for bi­sex­ual char­ac­ters”; “We don’t ex­ist to sell sexy: bi com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion in a straight world”… The re­peated word “LES­BIAN” is now less ev­i­dent on the cover ev­ery is­sue. Gone is the glut of ex-straight di­a­logue, hope­fully forever. Un­for­tu­nately, the lan­guage in the mag­a­zine still slips into “les­bian” for short­hand some­times, but that’s im­prov­ing. And things are only set to get bet­ter, by the looks of it.

It’s nat­u­ral to make com­par­isons here be­tween the les­bian-bi de­bate and the ten­sions be­tween some sec­ond-wave les­bian fem­i­nists and the trans com­mu­nity. Yet again, a mis­placed “purism” about gen­der has cre­ated harsh di­vi­sions be­tween com­mu­ni­ties which should be sup­port­ing one an­other. “You’re not a real les­bian?” “You’re not a real wo­man?” No won­der the bi­sex­ual and trans com­mu­ni­ties have al­ways been nat­u­ral al­lies, in the face of such sim­i­lar lines in id­iocy. No won­der DIVA tries its hard­est to cham­pion trans and non-bi­nary rights as well as bi rights. Let’s not for­get that the won­der­ful Del La­grace Vol­cano graced its pages long be­fore most peo­ple even knew what non-bi­nary was. Now, if you’ll ex­cuse me, I’m off to fin­ish read­ing the fan­tas­tic fea­ture on trans fem­i­nism on page 42 of DIVA’S March is­sue…

CHAR­LOTTE DINGLE TAKES A LOOK AT BI­SEX­UAL VIS­I­BIL­ITY IN DIVA OVER THE DECADES – THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY Bi­sex­ual iden­tity was seen as a piece of fri­vol­ity de­signed to shock or ma­nip­u­late

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