Real Men

menEmancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds. Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”

The sun finally poked its head through on July 4th long enough for us to remember what it’s like to have a summer, and with summer firmly in place my thoughts turned to the joys of summer reading. I always consider summer reading to be a special project, an opportunity to focus on some project or issue that has been on my mind and needs particular attention.

So as I was perusing my bookshelves to see which of the books were calling to me, I was drawn to The Prince of Tides whose 670-plus pages have been waiting for some attention since about 2005. I had finally seen the movie that year and, very much enjoying the other of Pat Conroy’s books I had read, I decided that the novel itself would be worth picking up.

I am so far some 300 pages in and I have not been disappointed. Conroy’s narrative is the very definition of sweeping and I am being reminded of vocabulary that I had considered long lost. The power of the story and the language keeps me turning the pages in rapt attention. I don’t think I’ve cared this much about a character in quite some time.

Wine Cooler Rebellion

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds. Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”

Summertime and the living – as the song goes – is easy. The sun is out and Boston no longer feels as if it is veiled. The temperatures have hit the 80s and I feel the vibrancy of the season.

 OK, I confess that unlike most people I know I just love the hot weather, which makes me just want to, uh…. chill out. So, while there is an excitement to the summer, I feel its languor – that pull to do nothing but lay back and relax, go out and party. Anything but work!

 This attitude of mine also translates into wanting to put bisexual activism on the shelf for a while. Oh yes, I’m thinking things like: “Can’t I just take a vacation from all of this for just this month! How about a ceasefire on the biphobia for August?” Well, that’s not going to happen. I can no more put the bi activism on the back burner than the environmental activism; things are just too urgent out there.

Bisexuals Are Alive and Well and Living…Everywhere!

bisexual groupEmancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds. Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”

Ah, the end of the fiscal year brings many things with it, new budgets to create, records to unearth and reconcile, and vacations to take – lest the days be lost. So, I combined my time off with a whirlwind tour of the bisexual world Manhattan style.

My first stop on Thursday, May 29th, was the 21st Lambda Literary Awards. The awards were held in New York this year and I had been invited to be one of the four judges for the bisexual category. Having jumped at the opportunity, I wanted to see the capstone event of the award being handed out. I actually had the pleasure of sitting close – without knowing until the announcement – to the winner, Jenny Block, author of Open, a memoir about Block’s own open marriage. To me, the book reads as an elegant manifesto for both bisexuality and polyamory.

Friday, I took a day to enjoy other aspects of New York. On Saturday, I was part of the Putting the “B” in the LGBT Summit sponsored by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center and the Bi Writers Association. Through Bi Writers, I was part of the organizing committee for the event that included a keynote address by Robyn Ochs, one of the foremost bi activists working today, and panels dealing with the myths that haunt the bi community, marriage, the military, working with the media, and being more inclusive of bisexuals.

The summit was capped off with dinner at a local restaurant and followed by Bi Lines II – also held at the Center – a celebration of bisexual artists and performers. Four of the finalists for the Lammy – including Block – read from their nominated books. There were other writers at the podium as well as scenes from a one-woman play and musical performances.

And yes for the record, I was co-host for the evening. Let’s just say this was a working vacation, and I have never been so pleased to spend my vacation time working – OK, I’ve never been pleased to spend my vacation time working, but this was a special case.

You see, I managed to reconnect with the larger bi community out there – in fact, to reconnect with the queer community. Since the event was in New York, my initial contributions to the effort were mainly through email and telephone. Once I got to New York, I was able to be present to and at events that brought queer folk together from around the US at a minimum. Present, though, were bi people of every age, color, marital status – including open and monogamous – not to mention bisexuals married to both same-sex partners and opposite-sex partners. Why, there was even a whole transgender contingent.

What I saw was our community – our beautiful bisexual community – together in all its variety. Now, this in only the third year a bisexual category has been present within the Lambda Literary Awards, only the second iteration of Bi Lines, and only the first summit on bi inclusion in the media. But, all of this shows how vibrant and alive our community is. To paraphrase Twain, rumors of our non-existence are greatly exaggerated.

We may be marginalized within the larger BLGT community, as author/speaker Keith Boykin put so well in his introduction to the bisexual and transgender Lammy awards, but we are alive and kicking. We have been and we remain an integral part of the fight for BLGT civil rights, even though the G, the L and even the T nowadays seem to get the most play. It doesn’t matter: We bisexuals are here, steady and sure.

And now dear readers to you: What are you doing to increase bi visibility and to declare for our community? What alliances are you building? What political action are you undertaking? What art are you creating? Speak out. Speak loud. Speak proud. We’re all in this together.

Who Can You Talk To?

Who-Cant-TalkEmancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds. Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”

Pride came to Boston this past Saturday and I celebrated by helping staff the Peace Corps booth in the early afternoon. Yes, even Peace Corps is at Pride; sexual orientation is part of its non discrimination policy. Plenty of folks stopped by and asked, “Do they take gay people?” The answer given by the recruiter was, “They took us.” (OK, given that one of the three Returned Peace Corps Volunteers present was a woman and that the question was being asked by women, it wasn’t the moment to get technical about vocabulary. Context is everything.)

Naturally, I also made sure to stop by and say hello to my friends at the Bisexual Resource Center’s booth. The BRC is going strong and preparing to celebrate its 25thanniversary next year. That’s right; the BRC has been a focal point for the Boston bi community since 1985. In fact, it was one of first organizations that I found online when I was in Côte d’Ivoire (West Africa) as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and it gave me great comfort to find information for bisexuals even halfway around the world from home.

As you can probably tell, I get pretty reflective around events like Pride. And as you already know from an earlier column, I had my 25th high school reunion, yet another reason to get reflective. I am a great lover of history and I believe firmly in the words Socrates spoke at his trial for heresy, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”In other words, we need to look at where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going both individually and collectively.

What Bisexuals Know

teenage girlWell dear readers, on May 3rd, I had my 25th high school reunion. A group of us who had graduated from a rather small school in Waterbury, Connecticut gathered at the home of a friend to celebrate and reminisce. While the drinks flowed and food sated, the seven of us who graduated together along with the two honorary class members, spouses – and one child – caught up on the happenings of the past quarter century.

Most of us made it through college. Most of us still find ourselves in the Northeast while others are spread out around the US. We are teachers, businesspeople, housewives — I even think we have a massage therapist [i]n the mix. Some of us partnered up earlier than others; some of us are still single. Some have children who are ready for college; some have their first on the way. We are intimates of a sort because we have known each other for around thirty years, crossing in and out of each others’ lives to one degree or another, yet we have much to learn about each other. And learn we did. As the old expression goes, in vino veritas. I would add also, in cosmo veritas. I’ll leave it at that.

Now, most of my comrades are in male-female couples, and you might expect that to have lead to the old hackneyed complaints that begin with “Men just don’t understand….” and “Why don’t women….” There wasn’t much of that, except for the women present wishing they had a wife. I’ll leave that one alone, too.

One, Some or None – Intimate Choices

couple kissIt’s another Monday and the deadline for this column is looming. I’m wondering what in the world I’m going to say this week, trying to keep up the clever machine and fearful that I’m going to draw a big, fat blank as if there’s just no grist for the mill. Here’s the writer’s dilemma: not having anything to say when you have to produce.

Now, as anyone who knows me is aware, I’m rarely at a loss for words. In fact, I’m quite sure that more than a few of my friends would like to me to learn the joys of silence. It’s just that this past week I’ve had something rolling around in my mind and I was wondering if this were the moment to bring it up or not, hoping that some other idea would miraculously spring to mind. Well that hasn’t happened, so I’m going to have to go with the thought that I have been nursing since last I wrote to you. Please bear with me because ‘we’re going to go there’ and you may want a return ticket!

When bisexuality is mentioned, there does tend to be someone who jumps on the notion that all bisexuals are sexually voracious predators who are dissatisfied with only one partner and only capable of jumping from person-to-person, making unending sport of lust and debauchery — as if bisexuals had more time than and didn’t have to earn a living like anybody else!

I believe — and this is nothing new, I’m sure — that such a view is based on both on collective fears and desires. The Puritanism that seems to be our national heritage in the United States wants to tamp down sexual desire of any kind, let alone admit that it exists at all. This same Puritanism attempts to keep everything under control by conceding to us one single partner to whom, once united, we invest uniquely and irrevocably in mind, body and spirit.

It is any wonder fifty percent of marriages end in divorce? Or that some people are commitment phobic? Or that we try to knock ourselves out looking for that one someone special? Or that we beat ourselves up if we are unpartnered?

Ask anyone is in a relationship of any sort if their desires have suddenly disappeared? Talk to someone who has intentionally embraced celibacy to see if they have lost all attractions whatsoever. I think you will find that, quite realistically, the answer is no. It’s impossible. After all, we are living breathing creatures.  Besides, do we tend to show love to only one member of our family? Do we normally have only one friend?

As far as I am concerned, intensity and nature of relationships are just as fluid as sexuality itself. Once I accepted and embraced the non discrete nature of bisexuality, I had to accept that the notion that having a single partner can be rather contrived as well. Why put all my hopes and dreams in one person in terms of a committed relationship?That seems an awfully lot of undue pressure for another person.

OK, everybody take a deep breath. I’m not suggesting that everybody go out and get themselves a string of lovers. I’m merely asking that we consider where this notion of the ‘one and only’ comes from and that we deconstruct it in order to make more informed and authentic choices.

When I was younger, I was always fascinated by the Muslim convention that permitted a man — under certain conditions — to take four wives. It both chafed and enticed me. I realize now what chafed was both the sexism and heterosexism inherent in the practice, since only men can take multiple spouses and they have to be women. What enticed was the possibility of forming intimate attachments with more than one person.

Consider for example the Dr Phlox character from Star Trek: Enterprise — yes, it was inevitable that I would reference the Star Trek franchise at some point – who has three wives, each of whom in turn has two other husbands. It’s heteronormative, but you get my point. Someone associated with the show could at least imagine a fictional world where men and women could legitimately be multiply partnered.

Back here on the real earth, we have polyamory, which is the notion that a person can partner with more than one person at the same time. This may not be for everyone. However, just as I feel that whether one chooses to be monogamous or celibate is a choice, so do I believe that polyamory — with its inherent ethical code — is also a choice.

As a friend of mine has said, it’s not sexual — or emotional — freedom if we don’t get to choose. It’s also no kind of freedom if we are not honest about our choices and what impact they have on others.

Choosing to Honor Our Space

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds. Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”

In my excitement to begin this commentary, I fussed over how to frame it, how to name it, and how to give it feeling and texture that would make it real to all of us — as if we were all gathered together in one place. The image came to me clearly, as I sat down for a dinner out one Friday. I imagined us all seated around a café in the late afternoon, enjoying a drink (I, with my espresso IV drip!), conversation, and maybe some dessert. And in spite of the fact, I pictured this in some Roman bar; I have California cool jazz playing in the background. But why not, since we’re in virtual space together anyway. I see us in a variety of hues, ages, backgrounds just relaxing and enjoying a moment together, a moment in which we are free to talk about our lives and loves in the peace of knowing that this is a bisexual space and a bisexual place. This is, in fact, what I want this column to be about: talking about being bi, especially being bi men, in a supportive way, creating the bi world which we would like to inhabit.

Bisexual Erasure

There’s much talk about the removal of the bisexual in the LGBT community. Are we real? Especially bisexual males. Come inside the world of our very own bisexual columnist Peter, as he shares his strong viewpoint on what he thinks is going on.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”

Here are some questions for all the fellas: Have you ever brought your girlfriends home to meet the family, but not your boyfriends? Have you ever been berated for not being ‘real’ and for avoiding coming out of the closet ‘completely’? Have you ever felt so torn and confused about your affections that you felt you were being ripped in two?Well I have, and this is part and parcel of the pain of biphobia and bisexual erasure.

male coupleAccording to definitions posted on the website of the Bi Writers Association (Disclosure: I am a member), biphobia is “[f]ear, hatred or prejudice towards bisexual people, often based on inaccurate stereotypes” and “[b]isexual erasure is the attempt to erase, hide, eliminate or make invisible bisexual people, groups or organizations and bisexual contributions to the LGBT movement, culture or history or general society. Bisexual erasure is an outcome of biphobia.”

I, like you, know from personal, excruciatingly painful experience how true these definitions are. It’s hard enough to come to terms with sexuality as it is in our society, but when your attractions are to both women and men then you’re in a double bind, pun intended.

For me, the realization that I was attracted to other boys when I was a teenager was an eye-opener. Then I came to understand that I like the girls too. Uh-oh! I literally felt pulled in two. When I was [a] teenager in the early to mid 1980s, the word ‘bisexual’ was floating around and by the time I got to college “bisexual chic” seemed to be the rage. Nonetheless, the world seemed to be into the gay/straight split and you’d better choose one of the other, as even someone said to me even three years ago!

It’s enough to make a guy crazy, and it nearly did. Looking back, I have to say that many of the feelings of depression, worthlessness, and confusion that I struggled with — had to do with non-acceptance of same-sex attractions by some and my different-sex attractions by others. The whole affair was only compounded by the fact that I had no idea where the other bisexuals were. I mean, I knew there had to be others and there had to be famous bisexuals too. But where were they?

I remember making a presentation my senior year in college as part of the gay students association in which, I was the lone bisexual out of seven or eight students on the panel in the lecture hall. I wish I had known that I was keeping company with Leonard Bernstein, Marlon Brando and Freddie Mercury back then. In fact, I distinctly remember Freddie being described as gay at that time. At least, I found a glimmer of hope in the then speculation about REM’s Michael Stipe.

I wanted to know that there was a community, a place to feel safe when what I felt was loneliness and isolation –- not quite fitting in with either the straight or the gay crowds, and feeling the pressure to pick one side or the other. I’m glad that I have been able to stay true to myself, with the support of friends, professionals, activism and yoga among other things. I’ve been battered and bruised, but I’m still here.

Unfortunately so is bisexual denial, especially when it comes to bisexual men. On August 5, 2005, The New York Times published “Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited,” by Benedict Carey. The article discusses a study done by J. Michael Bailey of Northwestern University, which claims that most bisexual men are really gay. The study and the article have been roundly criticized, and it sparked the ire of bisexual activists (see Gary North’s article “Dear Fellow Non-existent Beings.” Even this month, the Village Voice carried Michael Musto’s “Have You Ever Met a Real Bisexual?.”

So, does this mean that we’re doomed to eternal antagonism? I don’t think so. I think that bisexuality is transformative for the whole planet and that the agitation is just the sign of birth pangs as people get used to new ways of seeing and being in the world.  And for this, we must persist and make our voices heard.