Last week Julie Bindel told bisexual women that if they had an ounce of sexual politics, they would stop sleeping with men. Immediately a Facebook group sprung up, entitled "400 Women Called Sarah". Inspired by 'Project Steve' which countered a list of scientists who doubted evolution by producing a far longer list of scientists called Steve who supported it, this group hoped to find at least 400 women called Sarah who believe that bisexuality exists and should not be condemned.
I am a woman called Sarah who has identified as bisexual since the age of 15 (and, to cap it all, I have the temerity to be married to a man; Julie Bindel would no doubt detest me, especially as I proudly call myself a feminist). I joined the group and watched with interest as it mushroomed (membership stood at 586 at the most recent count). Lots of Sarahs, and even some Saras, of hugely varied sexual persuasions, joined the group and the lively conversation.
The tone of the conversation was, and continues to be, largely positive. One of the 586 Sarahs wrote on the Facebook page, "Hello fellow Sarahs, non-Sarahs and supporters of liberation and equality!" However, not surprisingly, much anger has been shown about Julie Bindel's article. One Sarah wrote, "to label yourself a feminist and lesbian doesn't entitle you to preach to others about their behaviour."
Bindel's rejection of the LGBTQQI grouping and her transphobic beliefs also came in for scrutiny, with one woman - Sarah - quoting Bindel's very offensive claim that she '"do[es] not wish to be lumped in with an ever-increasing list of folk defined by 'odd' sexual habits or characteristics." Another woman - a Sara this time - demanded Bindel apologise for her comments.
As the recent Bisexuality Report highlighted - and as Bindel's article reiterated - biphobia is still sadly very prevalent and this has a hugely negative effect on the lives of many bisexuals. The report made reference to a number of studies which repeatedly found that bisexual people are more likely to suffer from mental health problems and less likely to be at ease with their sexuality or 'out' to family and friends than gay men and lesbians. One of the reasons for this, the report concluded, was the often negative response bisexuals get from both heterosexuals and gay people.
Bindel has no doubt encountered homophobia throughout her life. It is a pity that rather than engendering compassion, her experiences have rather made her so very bitter, territorial and judgemental. Be just like me, she demands, or I will condemn you. In telling bisexual women that they are somehow 'traitors' to feminism if they ever deign to sleep with men, she is metering out the very same cruelty herself.
Luckily most women realise that being a feminist isn't only an option for lesbians, and that sexual politics is about much more than simply who one chooses to sleep with. Indeed, this bizarre belief of Bindel's makes her appear to be a dinosaur. More importantly, her claims are damaging, retrograde and ultimately destructive to the women's movement that she claims to feel so passionately about.
However, one thing is for sure: in ordering bisexual women to bury half of their identity and to live a lie, she has unwittingly brought together a movement of people who believe that we should be true to our feelings and confound the bigoted biphobes. And 586 of them happen to be called Sarah.