The Perception of Attraction

oppinionAs I was reading this article by my co writer, Peter Ruggiero, I was struck by this quote: “On top of this, there are some extra challenges for the bisexual male. If you’re one of the “regular guys,” folks may not want to believe that you are also attracted to other men. If you’re a man who’s gender atypical, folks often have a hard time believing you like women. I have a friend, also named Peter, whom I like to quote on this subject; “I’m here, I’m queer and I like women too. Get used to it!”’ I couldn’t have put it better myself.”

That really made me think—being in the bisexual community has taught me not to judge people by appearances and even mannerisms, because those are not set in stone and mean different things to different people, and can change over time. This brings with it a certain openness, to get to know people for who they are on the inside, not outside, and not to follow stereotypes. Basically, don’t judge a book by its cover, but there is much more to it even than that.

One problem people have with understanding bisexuality seems to be based on understanding gender and gender roles. If a person doesn’t fit into a certain perceived gender box, i.e. they don’t behave, look, or dress in a way that is supposed to fit with their gender, then they can’t possibly be bisexual. This has been a problem for the gay and lesbian community as well, as many masculine gay men and feminine lesbians will tell you—but it seems to be an even bigger problem for bisexuals, because of the duality of our attractions, and because we sometimes change roles and demeanor depending on what community we are in.

If a man is considered masculine, he can’t possibly be attracted to men, if he is perceived as more feminine, then he can’t possibly be attracted to women. For women, if you are “too butch”, it’s hard to imagine you liking men, and if you’re what is considered a feminine woman, people have a hard time believing you can be attracted to other women. I’ve experienced it myself—depending on how I dress, or act, my hair length, my nails-I have to be either gay or straight, because I “can’t possibly be attracted to (insert either gender).” A few weeks ago I met what many would consider a very “butch looking lesbian”—who started telling me she’s actually bisexual and dates men as well as women. I admit, even I had thought she was a lesbian by first glance-which really goes to show that unfortunately these stereotypes get ingrained in all of us at some level.

Since there is a mainstream gay and lesbian community, and several stereotypes have grown up around it (all gay men are feminine acting, all lesbians are masculine acting), bisexuals often get caught between the stereotypes—if we behave “too straight”, we must really be straight and just “experimenting”, if we behave “too gay” we must just be denying we are really gay. These stereotypes that both sides have of each other run rampant in both communities. I tried dissecting it in the gay community once, and asking “what does it actually mean to be too straight? Am I acting too feminine for you? Does this mean I can’t possibly be attracted to women? Would you say that to someone who considers herself a “femme” lesbian?” Naturally I didn’t get an answer, just a look of confusion.

I’m sure if I asked in the straight community-“what exactly does it mean to be too gay?” If a woman doesn’t wear skirts, or has short hair, or is too opinionated— does that automatically mean she can only be attracted to women and not men? If a guy is short, not into sports, and not stereotypically masculine, is he automatically attracted to only men and not women? We’ve seen those stereotypes broken over and over again, that how someone looks or even acts in a given situation doesn’t determine who they can be attracted to—there’s even a name for it in the gay community—“straight acting” gay man or woman” and yet the stereotypes persist.

Then we have the idea of “well you don’t act like a bisexual”—how is a bisexual person supposed to act? Should we have someone of each gender on each arm? Should we be a cross between a gay stereotype and a straight one? Do I need a sign? Do I need to actively chase both men and women in front of people? I never seem to get answers to any of these questions either.

So to paraphrase Peter’s friend: “I’m here, I’m queer, and I like men too. Get used to it!”

Bi Social News: Wishes Our Readers a Happy New Year!

happy-new-yearBSN want to thank all our readers and members that come here every day, week or month to read up on the latest bisexual information—whether it’s entertainment, news, bi candy or politics and opinion, we are happy and honored that you continue to stand by us as we grow, change and reach into 2010—which will be even better!

BSN Partners with Center on Halsted
Our goal is clear; we envision bi programming on a national level. 2010 brings even more great exposure, as BSN has teamed up with Center on Halsted that will be chalked with bi events threes nights a Month in Chicago. This is a huge undertaking, and COH took a leadership role in making sure bisexuals will be counted in 2010 and beyond. We are happy that BSN will be a partner in this idea of showcasing more events around our fair city, and as we show the world—that the “B” really matters in the LGT community. If you live in Chicago and would like to help make these events happen by volunteering, please drop me an email at bisocialnews@gmail.com. Together we can make a difference.

The Bisexualist Road of Debate
Whether you are for bisexual or an ally, this moment is important. We might not agree on every idea of our lives like Obama and DOMA, if Lady Gaga is a great bi role model for the community or where the BLGT movement should be going in 2010—but our voices do matter and should be heard nonetheless—which ever the position. Our interactive Blog gives us this platform. We are always looking for Bloggers and Columnists that want to reach out, give back to the community and share their voice. Come join us!

Supporting the Bi Community
I have stated this before, the Lesbian and Gay community support, sponsor and give back in ways of volunteering, donations and time. BSN is no different! If you want bi programming to continue, though our content is free—it takes time, money and passion to keep this going. If you noticed we have a new tool where everyone can give a subscription donation [on the home page] to the cause. We are a for-profit company, so any amount will go into helping our current writers write, helping us gain more dynamic writers. Keep out site moving in a positive direction and giving you more products, Bi radio, a store, interviews, and beyond our imagination. The road is only going to get wider—we need your help to get there!

As we more into 2010, I can’t wait to get started and continue to move bisexual content into the 21 century! From all of us at BSN—may you have a happy and safe New Year!

Adrienne Williams

Founder of Bi Social News!

You Don’t Look Italian

As the bromide goes-if I had a dime for every time someone said that I didn’t look Italian, I’d be a millionaire.  Admittedly at 6’4” with blue eyes, less-than-olive skin and long, light brown hair, I am not what most people in the United States would imagine an Italian American looks like. However, visit my mother’s hometown of Isola del Liri in Italy’s Lazio Region and you will see plenty of people with my features.

So what does this have to do with being bisexual?  Well every year in October when Italian American History Month rolls around, I  fulminate about how much I want nothing to do with Columbus, how little anyone knows about Sacco and Vanzetti, and how I wish I had other Italian American bisexuals, gay men and lesbians to hang around with.  It’s as if I spend the month in a protracted and wide-ranging intellectual version of hide-and-go-seek.  Come out, come out wherever you are.  Please.

In fact, I see the surface level of parades, nostalgic remembrances of Little Italies, and the struggle to ‘make it’ in the United States.  What I see little of is critical discussion of Italian American history and the state of the community as it is.  In fact, one of the few places I see such is the Italian American studies discussion list, which I have been following for a few years now.  What I see nothing of is a continuing discussion of what it is to be BLGT and Italian American so there are moments when I feel on the margins of margins because of my ethnicity and sexuality.

I have an intense hunger for connecting to other BGLT Italian Americans because of our common culture and history.  As an Italian American, I have maintained a certain attachment to tradition.  One of the things this means is that I value community , although not necessarily in ways my ancestors would have understood.

In my great hunt for other Italian American bisexuals, here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

When I was on the board of the Bisexual Resource Center a few years ago, I asked my confederates if they knew of any other Italian American bisexuals-especially men.  My colleague Sheeri mentioned Tom Limoncelli and I immediately went to his web site.  Well, I’m not the only one, I thought.  Anyone else?

Well, there are two women I can think of: Camille Paglia has been out for quite a while and Lady Gaga seems to have joined the ‘party’ lately.

And that’s where my line of inquiry ends.

I also did a web search for works on BLGT Italian Americans, I found Fuori: Essays by Italian/American Lesbians and Gays,  one of whose authors, Giovanna Capone, suggested I also look at the anthology Hey Paesan! Writing by Lesbians and Gay Men of Italian Descent. Although these insightful and poignant books do not mention bisexuals, they have become indispensible to me as a way to assure myself of the existence of other BLGT Italian Americans.  In short, I’ve grabbed on to what was there.

But that is not enough.  I salute the authors of the above works, although it is clear that more is needed.  This more is part of the reason I do this column.  The Italian American community prefers not to talk about ‘alternative sexuality’ and so, maintaining family solidarity, opts for silent tolerance.  The BLGT community, I have found, seems ill-at-ease in discussing ethnic differences that do not fit neatly into the Black/White/Asian/Native American/Latino rubric.   Not that we are all that comfortable discussing race and ethnicity at all in the United States.  We all have an ethnicity-or ethnicities-and it plays in how we view our sexuality and act it out.

Given all that, here’s what I want to see:

I want more Italian American BLGT folk to come out of the closet, tell their stories and build community.  I want the larger Italian American community to listen with respect to and embrace its BGLT members.  I want the BGLT community to understand and honor the fact that its Italian American members come from a different cultural space.  I also want the BGLT community to have more open and honest discussions about race and ethnicity, as well as religion and class, that lead to more effective representation of the community as a whole.

Using the Questioning Label

question markOne of the arguments against bisexuality and the bisexual/pansexual community that I’ve seen written on too many gay blogs is the whole “when I first came out I said I was bi too, then later I realized I was gay.” This tiresome argument drives me nuts, because for starters—just because that’s how it happened to some people, doesn’t mean that’s how it is for everyone. But unfortunately, even I can’t deny that it does happen, and I’m not too fond of the whole “bi now, gay later” bit. For a while now, I’ve wanted to say to people; when you first come out, if you aren’t sure, don’t use the word bisexual—because if you do and you later realize you are gay, it will only lend credence to the stereotype. When I first came out, even though I was reasonably sure I was bisexual, I just said I was “not sure” and “questioning”, until I was sure, as I explored the BTLG world. The bi/pan community is a very welcoming place to explore one’s sexuality, something that has always been an asset, but unfortunately this can backfire if people go on to realize they are gay or straight; they can think that bisexuality and/or being between gay and straight in general is just an “in between” phase or label.

I’ve started seeing the whole idea of the “questioning” label being encouraged more, even sometimes being added to the end of GLBT to make GLBTQ. I think it’s a great idea. It seems that for some people—when they first come out,  they don’t know what label to use, and they jump to the bisexual label—because there’s this rather erroneous idea in the straight community (and unfortunately too often in the gay community as well) that it’s the “easiest” label to deal with—and that it’s more acceptable to come out as bisexual. Later on, if they realize they are gay, they drop the bisexual label, and this gives rise to our least favorite stereotype.

Using the questioning label definitely has much less potential for misunderstanding and stereotypes; after all, the label itself implies searching, transition, and being temporary. It sounds a lot better to say “I was once questioning and then I figured out I was gay”, then to say “I was once bisexual, but then I realized I was gay”. As far as I know, there aren’t people who claim questioning as a permanent label—nor is questioning an orientation. The questioning label also allows for “comfortable exploration” even for straight people—if they later realize they are straight, they can always see the questioning as a phase.  It seems most people in the BTLG community are comfortable with people who are just out using that label as well.

So how do we encourage people who are just coming out—but unsure of their orientation, to use the questioning label? The best way is already being done—to make the idea of GLBTQ more visible. Several BTLG centers now use the acronym “GLBTQ” (among others with more letters, such as GLBTQQIA) to acknowledge, and encourage people who are questioning—to come in and use their resources. Several website profiles that allow you to list your orientation, now have “questioning” or “not sure” as a choice. I’ve heard it used more on TV too; “so and so is questioning their orientation.” Hopefully, this will make its way more into BTLG vocabulary. One way we bi/pan people, especially bisexuals, can encourage its use is to encourage anyone we do know who is starting to question their sexuality to use the questioning label, until they figure things out. We can also counter the stereotype of bisexuality as a transitional label for everyone— when someone says, “I was bi once, then I realized I was gay”—we should answer, “No, you were questioning, not bisexual. You were in the process of coming out and then you did.”

To be fair, not everyone can always use the questioning label—some people may truly genuinely believe they are bisexual—then realize they are gay, and vice versa. But, I think that overall the questioning label can be used by most people—questioning their sexuality and coming out or thinking about coming out. The younger generation does seem more willing to embrace it, and both the gay and straight communities seem pretty accepting of using it. It can take the place of the word bisexual—when coming out, and help erase some of the stereotypes and biphobia that have surrounded the bisexual label and orientation. That’s something we can all look forward to in the future.

To learn and read more discussion about the Questioning Label, check out this post on Queers United.

Figuring Out Obama and DOMA

Is the whole BLGT community up in arms about President Barack Obama’s position about DOMA? Read our Op-Ed from our Blogger Mizz.

obamaWhen I heard that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had filed a brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I was surprised, but then I’d read somewhere that there was a legal reason they had to defend it for now. Then I actually read the defense, and along with a lot of the BTLG community, I was shocked. Had President Obama just thrown us under a bus after all the promises he made? Did he have a hand in writing this? Did he know about it? Did someone else write it to make him look bad? I didn’t know what to think. The brief seemed rather passionate in its defense and even seemed to recall some of the stereotypes about BTLG people (a connection to pedophilia, etc.) and going so far as to say DOMA is good for the economy. Many activists began calling for Obama’s head, saying he’d betrayed us. Several are pulling out of DNC fundraisers, and not supporting the Democratic Party anymore. Not long after Obama gave some legal benefits to same-sex partners of government workers; and he has promised to do more, and recently some BTLG activists (including Bi activist Robyn Ochs!) were invited to the White House to talk with him. However, many are saying that it’s “too little too late”, that we “wasted our time with him” and that we “never should have voted for him”. While I too was dismayed, I’d like to ask one question: “Would we be better off if the opposition had won last November?” The answer is a big fat NO. Somehow I doubt anyone would have been invited to the white house or even acknowledged. It could have been worse than the past eight years.

doma protestLet’s face it, this administration is the best we’re going to get, at least for now. While I can’t understand [DOMA] it was written as it was (if they had to defend it, they could have done so in a less inflammatory manner), there is progress on several other fronts-the inclusion of BTLG people, the government benefits, the invitations to the white house, the rumors about repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT – a trans-inclusive EDNA.

Let’s remember, that BTLG issues are not the only ones – when it comes to things like war and poverty, understandably, those will take a back seat. I don’t envy the president’s job — every group wants what they want NOW, you’re expected to fix everything immediately, and no matter what you do, someone will call for your head – sometimes literally. Plus some people hate you for nothing other than being black. You have to try and govern from the center. My personal opinion; if Obama was in on the writing of the brief, he probably figured he’d go ahead and throw a bone to the conservatives since for now, he had to defend DOMA anyway. I think it backfired. The right is going to hate him no matter what he does, and if he wants to throw them “bones”, it shouldn’t be at any community’s expense.

I’m ticked about the brief, but I also understand that when you are a politician in the position of the president — well, let’s just say you aren’t always going be able to keep all your promises, and yes, some things will have to take a backseat, at least temporarily. Then there’s the strong role religion plays in all this-the president is liberal but still religious, and is going to have pressure from several religious groups. To be fair, he’s been honest the whole time that he doesn’t support same-sex marriage because of religious reasons, so maybe supporting the “Defense of (heterosexual) marriage” shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise.

What’s odd is the contradiction between reaching out to the community, the language in the brief, and then reaching out again? As I said, perhaps it was some attempt at a bad concession. I don’t think anyone is really sure, and it’s immature to try and draw too many conclusions. The best thing to do is wait, take every opportunity given us when the administration does reach out, work on educating the public, be cautious about any DNC support, and to hope for the best. When the administration stops inviting our leaders over to the white house to talk, and/or starts behaving more like the previous administration-then I will really worry. For now, I am going to extend the benefit of the doubt, try and reserve judgment, continue with activism, and wait and see. If some in the community don’t agree with me, fine, that’s their prerogative. For the record, I don’t regret my vote at all last November — because I’ve seen work on several other issues — and as far as BTLG issues go — if the other side had won, we wouldn’t even be having this debate because there would be nothing to talk about.

Massachusett: Where Same-sex Marriage is Legal

gay marriageHi everyone, my apologies for being gone for a while — I am getting over an injury that has prevented me from typing much until now. I recently visited the great blue state of Massachusetts, where same sex marriage is legal and has been since 2004, and did my best to record my experiences and observations.

For starters, the lies of the religious right became even more amusing. They would have us all believe that society would literally fall apart at the seams if same-sex marriage becomes legal. I found the opposite to be true. MA seemed to be functioning quite smoothly. Both opposite sex couples and religious institutions (both of which I saw plenty!) are doing just fine, and no one is “persecuting them.” There is a very active Catholic population.

From what I saw — most of the people seem pretty liberal and easygoing (unless the Red Sox8 loose!). Boston itself is very diverse, and they appear to be proud of that fact. I saw much diversity and all kinds of couples-interracial, opposite sex, and same sex. A pleasant surprise was that I saw several same sex couples walking about openly holding hands in the “mainstream” public. Where I live, you really don’t see much of that except in the ‘gay section” of town, even though I don’t exactly live in a conservative area. I saw one same sex couple sitting in a park being very affectionate with one another-and no one around them seemed to care. There wasn’t starting, or pointing, or laughing. It was just another couple being cute with each other like all the couples. Now granted, MA has had five years to get used to the idea, but I really hope what we are seeing is a trend-that hopefully in a few years in most states, the idea won’t be such an alien one, and a same sex couple will be just “another couple”.

Boston of course, is the proud home of the Bisexual Resource Center. They had a meeting while I was there, but unfortunately I couldn’t attend. I did talk to some people at the center, which is downtown, and they told me that Boson has one of the largest bi networks in the country, and that the BRC participates heavily in pride every year. They were preparing for pride, and they do a lot to promote bi visibility. Although Boston is better than most places when it comes to bi visibility, there is still work to be done, and I’m glad that the BRC is there to do it! I was really proud to speak to them and hope to actually go to a meeting next time I visit.

I did have a chance to check out the BTLG bar scene, and I met some really interesting people, B’s, T’s, L’s and G’s all of which seemed cool with the fact that I was bi. The bars were pretty interesting.

Unfortunately, no trip seems to be complete without at least one homophobic experience, and even though MA is a great liberal state, it’s no exception to that rule. From what I was told by the locals, up there it happens quite a bit less then a lot of other places, but it still does happen. I personally experienced it myself-coming out of a gay bar where I’d met up with some friends who unfortunately had to leave. I was planning where to go next, when big guy approached me and started screaming homophobic slurs at me. I admit my response wasn’t the smartest-I yelled back at him. He started walking toward me. I pulled out my pepper spray and said “if you come any closer I will spray you”. He stopped and we stood there. What happened next was totally unexpected. There were some guys walking by, on their way to the bar I had been at, and they stopped and defended me-and told him to leave me alone. Outnumbered, he left. They and I started talking and hung out for a while, and they escorted me to the subway to make sure I got there safely. They told me to be careful, that homophobes in that area like to come out at night and especially like to pick on girls coming out of BTLG bars alone. I guess no area is perfect unfortunately, but I have to admit it was nice to have my own little gay liberation army! To me this really underscores how we all need to stick together when confronted with bigotry.

On the whole, I had a lot of fun, and I hope to go back soon. I also hope that my experience of seeing so many same sex couples blend will be something we’ll all start to see in many more states!

Giving Love to Our Lesbian Sisters

An article was brought to my attention on about.com: Lesbian Life, regarding a lesbian writer who wanted her readers to understand what bisexuality is all about. It’s called“Bisexuality 101.”

Seems others that commented, weren’t to happy with the topic — it’s good to see that we have others, who recognize there is a need for understanding and debate.

As always, we’ll be watching.

Exploring the Bisexualist

bisexualistI was twittered, or was it tweeted by a great Blog called Queers United — As you know we like to support any effort of web content that supports the bisexual community and includes us in on the discussion. Seems like Queer United is onto a great start!

What I spotted on one article post called “Word of the Gay: Bisexualist.” From Queers United’s point-of-view the definition means — “someone who identifies and actively pursues their bisexual orientation.”

When I read that, I leaped for joy of this prospect. One of the goals of Bi Social News is to empower bisexual to be proud of who they are — no matter what group tells your you are not real or invalid. I feel the Bisexualist speaks volume to many men and women who want to shout it to the rooftops. There are many grays in the world! I’m bisexual and now, even better term – I’m a Bisexualist and proud of it!

It reminds me of the days — I was watching Queer as Folk, and my coin phase on the character of Ben Bruckner was “ZenBen,” played by the lovely Robert Gant.  Because I lived in Japan for two years at the time, everyone started using that term, and it even ended up on the show! Yeah, Robert Gant giving kudos to the phase he started to use himself!

So, let’s start using this term! Let it be a positive expression for bisexuals all around the world!  I’m a Bisexualist, that’s me! Fighting for all Bisexuals everywhere! Mmm, perhaps there will be a superhero in there somewhere! I say Angelina Jolie! A true Bisexualist!

The GLBT Community and Religion

catholic symbolToday I’m going to talk about something rather controversial — the wacky, love-hate relationship between religion and the GLBT community. Why do so many GLBT people leave religion, and how do those that don’t, make peace with it? From my experience, many of us leave religion because we are tired of feeling hated and hating ourselves. If you grow up in a conservative form in one of the Abrahamic religions, as I did (Catholic), you are taught that homosexuality and bisexuality are major sins, and ‘choices.’ If you discover when you are a teenager, that you are gay or bi or transgender, you feel a big feeling of shame — and then you try to hide, and step into the closet, where you can remain for years.

Some people can’t step out until after they loose their faith. Another reason is because so many religious leaders preach homophobia and do everything they can to block  GLBT rights, such as gay marriage and other equal protections under the law. They seem to somehow think that equal rights will lead to total decadence (like it has in Europe, oh wait, it hasn’t!) Others are just tired of the hypocrisy — for example the Catholic church (especially this latest pope) routinely preaches against GLBT people — yet it’s a not very well kept secret that there are many closeted homo[sexuals] and bisexual priests, as well as nuns, who also have been blamed for the pedophilia scandal. It’s somehow their fault that the church seems to have a hard time protecting children and prosecuting those that would harm them. This is true in many other religions as well.

How do those who manage to stay religious do it?

In my experience, they either go to religions that don’t have a problem with non-straight sexuality, such as Unitarians and Buddhists, or they form their own congregations and churches that are GLBT friendly, and throw out the homophobic parts of their religions. This is true for allies as well; I’ve met many straight people with GLBT friends who are liberally religious who just disregard [with] part of their religion. In some cases, certain sects of religions do evolve to accept GLBT people, as in Reform Judaism.

I think though, one of the main reasons is how many GLBT people are personally affected. Not that long ago, someone I dated and I broke up, and one of the main reasons was thate she feeling conflicted between her religion and her sexuality, she felt that “God did not approve of the relationship”. I asked her if she planned to stop being bi, and her response was “no, I can’t stop being it, but I can stop acting on it”. Oh, brother. This is something people in the GLBT community often hear-both from conflicted people they date and from many religions — “well, maybe science says this how you are born, but you don’t have to act on it, because it’s a sin.” I admit that part really doesn’t make sense to me. I can understand, even though I don’t agree with, right wing people who say it’s a choice, at least then it becomes a “sinful choice”, like lying or a lot of the other “no-no’s” in several of the major religions. What is hard to get is the faction of the religious population that believes you are born gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, yet insist you don’t act on it. Why would an all powerful and loving God make you one way, and then want you to be the complete opposite of who he (or she!) made you, cut off a part of yourself, and make yourself and possibly many other people miserable?

Bisexuality itself, presents another conundrum for the whole issue — it’s been used by both sides both to prove same-sex attraction is a choice and to prove it isn’t. It drives me nuts when I hear some religious leader say “if you like both sexes, it’s a choice, and you should only act on one”. And unfortunately, some gay and lesbian people sometimes believe that too, and then say bisexuality doesn’t exist because otherwise it would mean homosexuality is a choice. Neither is true!

It’s my hope that eventually the right wing religious groups can live and let live. I am seeing a bit more tolerance, so that is hopeful, and more laws being passed to protect GLBT people. I think a good way to help start the process is if, you are a parent — don’t expose your kids to homo, bi and transphobia in the name of religion. Teaching about God’s love is one thing-but please, leave the ancient ideas in the past, where they belong, and hopefully this can add to breaking the cycle of self-hate and coming out that many GLBT people experience. Maybe one day, the GLBT community and the religious communities can coexist more peacefully. Now that’s something I could definitely pray for.