Your Problem Is My Problem

romantic couple in front of santa monica amusement park at sunset. My friend Majed and I were on the road again a couple of  Saturdays ago and as he took me on the scenic, off-highway tour of Massachusetts’ North Shore, we spent a lot of time talking about the oftentimes difficult nature of human relationships.  We weren’t just discussing family and friends though.  As educators, we consider our ties with our students and colleagues to be of special importance.

Each of us has had occasion to work with students who needed support and encouragement.  Some need extra help with their class work.  Others have pressing personal issues-including illness in the family, divorce, childcare and work-that impinge on their academics.  Majed and I-like our colleagues-have worked with students to find solutions that make finishing their degrees possible because we consider the process part and parcel of the vocation of the teacher.

Majed, though, expresses his sentiments more directly and powerfully.  While we were having a coffee stop, Majed described how he faced one particular student in difficulty.  After having heard the student’s story, his words were, “Your problem is my problem.”  It’s a good thing I had finished my coffee because I’m sure I would have spilled the cup on myself.  I don’t think I’ve heard solidarity expressed so clearly and poignantly in quite a while.

In very much the same way, I feel that when it comes to the bisexual community-especially bi men and my fellow Italian Americans-“Your problem is my problem.”  I can’t very well exhort people to come out or explore their bisexuality if I’m not going to be there in some way.  I can’t complain about the lack of visible bisexual men if I don’t step up to the plate.  That is why I made a conscious decision to go online.  I know how lonely and isolated I used to feel as a bisexual man-as a bisexual Italian American man to be absolutely precise.  I could either spend my time feeling bad or I could take action.  I also realize that I have opportunities to speak out and be out that others don’t.

The more bisexual voices out there, the better it will be until we can all feel safe, supported and free to be ourselves.  The important thing to remember is that we bisexuals are not alone. We have a community that we are continuing to strengthen.  It is too easy to feel isolated and separate in this age and in our society.  We must remember that we do not live alone and  that in some way or another we have opportunities to reach out to each other.  As a columnist, I always hope that my stories will comfort, encourage and challenge you.  Those of us who can lend a helping hand should do so.  If you need help, ask for it.  Our joys and pains are community property.   In Majed’s wise words, your problem is my problem.

A Bisexual Space to Call Our Own

A Bisexual Club?

bisexual clubPeople have commented about the “bisexual community”, some praising how it has acted together to combat the latest round of biphobia, others wondering why there isn’t more of a community. I’ve wondered, what exactly constitutes the bisexual community, and how is it different from the gay, lesbian, and transgender community?

Since I’ve been out, I’ve read and researched this. Although I live in a pretty liberal area where I was welcomed into the larger BGLT community, I kept hearing about other bisexuals who were not so lucky in different parts of the country and world. I figured, “well, don’t they have a bisexual community to fall back on?” The answer, not always.

A large portion of the bisexual community seems to have started and still is online. I’ve read many articles that said that if [it] hadn’t been for the rise of the Internet in the 1990’s, it definitely would have been harder for bisexuals to organize, and I agree. If you are in a small town, and both gay and straight people tell you “it’s just you”, it can be pretty discouraging. But if you go on the Internet, in a very short while you’ll see that there are bisexual groups all over the world, and many Websites and organizations devoted to the cause.

The Internet has really helped us find groups and create a sense of community. However, we need more non-internet information.

In many big cities, including where I live, there are bisexual groups, and these tend to be very accepting and welcome most people. Groups like BiNet USA, and the New York Bisexual Network (I wish there was an “official” network for my city, all we have is one women’s group, though it’s a great group!) What I and others have noticed that both gays and straights have, that we seem to lack, are recreational places for us to hang out. Basically: bisexual bars-why aren’t there any? Where are the “bisexual sections of town” the way there are “gay sections?” A friend and I had a great discussion imagining how an ideal bisexual bar would be-all kinds couples dancing together, all kinds of people meeting and getting to know one another-no one getting a dirty look for being the “wrong” orientation or gender. I could bring both my straight and gay friends and no one would be “suspicious” because they were from the “other side” (I know it’s ridiculous, but I’ve encountered both scenarios). Of course pansexuals, transsexuals, intersex people, asexuals, and others would be welcomed too. So how come there hasn’t been an attempt to start one? Certainly there are gay and straight bars that are bi friendly, but how come we don’t have one of our own? We could call it a “bi/trans/pan” type place. I seriously think that if someone started this in a big city where there are a lot of us, it would become popular very quickly.

We also need more of a presence in pride parades  — I know this isn’t always easy, especially when encountering resistance. In New York, where there is a thriving bi network, a big section of it marches in the parade every year. It’s basically a numbers game — the more bisexual, pansexual, fluid people who are active in the movement, the more of a separate bi presence there is. Where I live, that doesn’t happen enough.

Our woman’s group has a booth at the pride street festival-but there aren’t enough of us who are active to have a separate marching block. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of us-there are many people who are active online but not active in non-online groups. I just found out that there’s supposed to be a “bi/fluid” pride march coming up in California in June! That’s great! I hope we have many more!

Transgender people have done a great job of taking their cause from just the internet to the real world. Often in pride parades you will see a separate block for transgender pride, even if there are only a few people in it, the same with BGLT conferences and pride seminars. They have gotten really good at making themselves visible and making their cause heard even when the larger BGLT movement tries to ignore them. Definitely something to emulate. So to make a long story short, I hope that more of us (who are able to safely be out) can take that energy and passion from the internet and spread it out as far as we can — making ourselves more visible, more heard, and more of a force to be reckoned with. I know we have the numbers — now we just need the voice and the organization. Who knows, maybe one day there will even be a bisexual bar. One can hope, anyway.

Bisexual Women: What are Our Unique Challenges?

bisexual womenOn a GLBT social site, I run a group for bisexual women. Last week, I asked them the question, “What challenges do you feel that we bisexual women face that are unique to us — both in the GLBT and straight communities?” Today I decided to write and answer that question myself, from my own perspective and my own experiences.

I would say the two main challenges many of us face in both communities are being taken seriously and visibility. Biphobia has gotten significantly better since the 90’s, and although we don’t get many of the comments that Transsexual people get, we still struggle to make our mark in both communities. We need to bring out the “B” in GLBT.

Both communities have one significant thing in common — they want to label us and put us in a box. They ask, “are you one of us, or one of them? You can’t be both!” My reply is always “why not?” to which the answer is a look of bemusement.

In the straight community, bi women seem to be perceived with both a sense of odd fascination and as sex objects. Visibility isn’t as much of a problem here, but it’s not the kind of visibility we want. One of the first questions we often get asked is “can I watch?” or “can we have a threesome?” Our sexuality is often seen as a joke — a drunken experiment, a way to please a male partner, or a cry for attention. While there are some women who fall into those categories, the majority of bisexual women are serious and honest about their sexuality. We don’t want it to be treated as a joke. Many men are in awe of the idea of us, but most of them wouldn’t want a long term relationship with us. We’re just something fun to sleep with a few times. The problem arises in mentioning anything resembling a serious committed relationship; many of them fear we will leave them for a woman. This overlooks the current statistics that it is just as likely that a straight woman would leave them for another man.

The acceptance of the straight community is a backbiter for the bi women community because the “sexual popularity” of bisexual women colors the perception for lesbians. No one wants to be made into a full-time joke or an adolescent fantasy; it’s often popular to have a “woman on woman” scene in a straight porn movie. The most unfortunate part of this scenario is that it is often with two straight women who do not want to be doing it, and they make it obvious. In that light it feels like a slap in the face to all women — who are in loving relationships with other women, regardless of whether they are lesbian or bisexual. This image being presented causes many people to see it as simply something to titillate and arouse.

This has been a growing trend on TV shows; there are more and more female bisexual characters that have full story arcs, instead of being made into just some arousing sideshow. While it is good to see that, you can’t help but notice that it follows the same pattern. It begins with the character going out and having one night stands with a few girls, usually involving alcohol. When the time in the story comes for a serious relationship, it is always with a man. Many lesbians and bisexual women resent this as it perpetrates two horrible myths:

There is no such thing as a “real” lesbian. I can’t even dignify this one with a response.

A bi-woman will always leave a woman for a man. This is the most destructive because it sabotages relationships before they even form.

I have to admit, it would be nice to see a stable female/female relationship on prime-time, and while I have this pipe-dream why not have one involving at least one bisexual woman? The problem is that even when there is one, it does not usually end well, and the character usually ends up with a man.

As a complete opposite of the social syndrome surrounding bi women, bi men experience near complete invisibility. If you think this an exaggeration, consider what happens when a male politician is caught with a man. The first and only assumption made is that he is gay and hiding it. The possibility that he may be bisexual is not even considered.

In the GLBT world, there is the opposite problem when it comes to bisexual women and it provides a dark reflection of perceptions in the straight world. Bisexual women, rather then being lauded instead — exist in the state of invisibility, that bisexual men have in the straight world. If there is a bisexual woman on a gay show, such as the L word, she is turned into a lesbian as time goes on. The message that is sent is that if you have any feelings for women at all, you are a lesbian. Even if you experiment with a guy once in a while, it’s just a phase or a fad and not to be taken seriously. If someone does insist they are fully bisexual, in both worlds, especially in movies, they are too often shown as “unstable” and “unable to make up their minds”.

In a group, I go to for bisexual women that meets once a month. Many of the women talked about having turned to dating only bi women, because of the perception of bi women perpetrated upon lesbians.

Before anyone thinks I’m bashing straight men or lesbians, I’m not. I’ve met many of both that are great people and are wonderfully supportive, that take me seriously, and I’m thankful for them, and I really hope there will be more of them. But unfortunately the trends I mentioned in both communities, even though they have gotten better over the years and are getting better with younger people, continue to persist. I think one way to overcome these challenges, other than what we are already doing by educating people, is to have more of our own “space”. A more general problem in the GLBT community at large is that too often things become more about the G and the L. Many polls have been conducted, and at least as many people identify as bisexual as the total of gay and lesbian. So why are we not more vocal, and more visible?

We need more “just bisexuals” places to call our own. It will help promote both visibility and seriousness. Websites like this one are a great start, along with the bi radio. I’ve heard that some cities have bisexual bars, and that’s great. I want to see more of those — more bi blogs, more bi news places, more of a community and togetherness. It’s harder to see something as a joke, and to keep thinking, it’s invisible and it doesn’t exist — when many people stand behind it and make their voices heard. We women especially need to spearhead this.

When gay people first started coming out of the closet there was a lot of fear, marginalization, and backlash. We can learn from them for they united and they persevered have really managed to build a community for themselves. We need to emulate them — and while working to put the B in GLBT, we also need to have more of a “B” to ourselves.

A Bisexual Space to Call Our Own

bisexual clubA Bisexual Club?

People have commented about the “bisexual community”, some praising how it has acted together to combat the latest round of biphobia, others wondering why there isn’t more of a community. I’ve wondered, what exactly constitutes the bisexual community, and how is it different from the gay, lesbian, and transgender community?

Since I’ve been out, I’ve read and researched this. Although I live in a pretty liberal area where I was welcomed into the larger BGLT community, I kept hearing about other bisexuals who were not so lucky in different parts of the country and world. I figured, “well, don’t they have a bisexual community to fall back on?” The answer, not always.

A large portion of the bisexual community seems to have started and still is online. I’ve read many articles that said that if [it] hadn’t been for the rise of the Internet in the 1990’s, it definitely would have been harder for bisexuals to organize, and I agree. If you are in a small town, and both gay and straight people tell you “it’s just you”, it can be pretty discouraging. But if you go on the Internet, in a very short while you’ll see that there are bisexual groups all over the world, and many Websites and organizations devoted to the cause.

The Internet has really helped us find groups and create a sense of community. However, we need more non-internet information.

In many big cities, including where I live, there are bisexual groups, and these tend to be very accepting and welcome most people. Groups like BiNet USA, and the New York Bisexual Network (I wish there was an “official” network for my city, all we have is one women’s group, though it’s a great group!) What I and others have noticed that both gays and straights have, that we seem to lack, are recreational places for us to hang out. Basically: bisexual bars-why aren’t there any? Where are the “bisexual sections of town” the way there are “gay sections?” A friend and I had a great discussion imagining how an ideal bisexual bar would be-all kinds couples dancing together, all kinds of people meeting and getting to know one another-no one getting a dirty look for being the “wrong” orientation or gender. I could bring both my straight and gay friends and no one would be “suspicious” because they were from the “other side” (I know it’s ridiculous, but I’ve encountered both scenarios). Of course pansexuals, transsexuals, intersex people, asexuals, and others would be welcomed too. So how come there hasn’t been an attempt to start one? Certainly there are gay and straight bars that are bi friendly, but how come we don’t have one of our own? We could call it a “bi/trans/pan” type place. I seriously think that if someone started this in a big city where there are a lot of us, it would become popular very quickly.

We also need more of a presence in pride parades  — I know this isn’t always easy, especially when encountering resistance. In New York, where there is a thriving bi network, a big section of it marches in the parade every year. It’s basically a numbers game — the more bisexual, pansexual, fluid people who are active in the movement, the more of a separate bi presence there is. Where I live, that doesn’t happen enough.

Our woman’s group has a booth at the pride street festival-but there aren’t enough of us who are active to have a separate marching block. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of us-there are many people who are active online but not active in non-online groups. I just found out that there’s supposed to be a “bi/fluid” pride march coming up in California in June! That’s great! I hope we have many more!

Transgender people have done a great job of taking their cause from just the internet to the real world. Often in pride parades you will see a separate block for transgender pride, even if there are only a few people in it, the same with BGLT conferences and pride seminars. They have gotten really good at making themselves visible and making their cause heard even when the larger BGLT movement tries to ignore them. Definitely something to emulate. So to make a long story short, I hope that more of us (who are able to safely be out) can take that energy and passion from the internet and spread it out as far as we can — making ourselves more visible, more heard, and more of a force to be reckoned with. I know we have the numbers — now we just need the voice and the organization. Who knows, maybe one day there will even be a bisexual bar. One can hope, anyway.