My Experience At The National Equality March

bisexualSo many things had been speculated about the National Equality March that took place last Sunday, and there had been so much controversy and hastiness in throwing it together that no one was sure how well it would go. Well, despite all the trouble leading up to it, the march went off amazingly well, and I had a blast.

The march weekend for me started on the night of Saturday, October 10th, when I went to the BSN/Purrr Enterprises/Binet “Social Mixer for a cause” at the Shadow Room Club in Washington DC. It was a lot of fun, and I got to meet some wonderful people. It was good music, good conversations, and good times all around. I was so glad we actually had a bisexual event of our own before the march. On Saturday things were happening all over DC in preparation for the march-the biggest news being the flash protests that took place all over the city.

On Sunday morning, I was supposed to meet the bisexual groups that were marching at a coffee shop not far from where the march was supposed to start. I took the subway into town with another bi friend, and on the way in we ran into two guys who were together and also were going to the march. They saw our bi flags and asked what they stood for. We told them, and they responded that it made sense and they were glad to see us out. I had also heard on the radio an announcer had been interviewing one of the organizers of the march, and the announcer had called it the “gay and lesbian march” and the organizer had corrected him “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender” march. I was amazed, and I hoped these were good omens!

We met at the coffee house. There were four official bisexual groups: BinetUSAThe New York Area Bisexual Network, the DC Bi Women, and BIMA DC, and three of them brought banners. Overall, there were about 25 of us total that showed up there. I had hoped there would be a bigger turnout, but I was glad to see the people that came. I heard later that there were other bisexual people marching with other groups, so I’m guessing that there were probably quite a few of us overall.

We gathered together with the rest of the crowd—I looked around, and in every direction I had never seen so many people! There were all kinds of neat signs, outfits, and flags. We got our banners ready, tried to line up as best as we could (there was no official order for the groups to line up in) and waited. We waited for about an hour before things started, by which point it was getting hot and we were ready to go!

Around one o’clock, we started to march. It was quite fun, people came up with all kinds of chants, and as we walked, people came out of office buildings and stood on the sidewalks and cheered us on. There were press and camera people all over filming us and taking pictures—I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place! There was only one heckler—and he didn’t get too far. Other groups started marching with us, one example being a group that was marching for breast cancer awareness. It was really great to march—the only thing that got annoying was that there was no official order for the how the groups where supposed to organize, so everyone was marching however best they could, and people kept getting separated. Our own groups got separated several times.

At several people found a “shortcut” through the white house lawn! So we walked through there and took some great pictures of people standing in front of the white house holding their banners. Then we marched on, until we hit the west lawn of the capitol, tired and thirsty! Everyone tried to get as close as they could to where the speeches were going to be, and people found places to sit. We sat pretty far up, but still not close enough to actually see the speakers, although we could hear them. The speeches  were moving and inspiring, and they energized the crowd, even though people were tired from marching. In the opening convocation, several GLBT pioneers were mentioned, and to my pleasant surprise, they mentioned a bisexual one. Pretty much all of the speakers said GLBT, some even going so far as to say all four words.

There were four bisexual speakers—Penelope Williams, Lady Gaga, Michael Huffington, and Chloe Noble. Except for Lady Gaga (who everyone already knows is bisexual), each one of the speakers used the word bisexual and conveyed that they were proud to be part of the bisexual community. What was great was to hear the thunderous applause after they said it. They all did wonderfully well and I am so proud of them and honored that they represented us. I actually felt well represented and acknowledged as a bisexual for once.

As the rally was coming to a close, several people in our groups had to start leaving, as they had planes, trains, buses, and rides to catch home. The rest of us went out to dinner, and found the restaurant we went to full of other tired and hungry marchers. After dinner, we went our separate ways and started to try to get home. The process of leaving DC took quite a while because so many people were leaving and it was very crowded. As I was waiting for a subway, I saw civil rights leader Julian Bond, who had spoken at the rally. He was sitting not far from me talking to a family. I now had a confirmed celebrity sighting! After that I made my way home and eventually got there. I know there were several parties in city after the rally, and I wish I could have gone to them, but I was just too tired! I heard they were a lot of fun though.

bisexual justiceWhat was truly amazing about this day was all the energy of the crowd—I could literally feel it-and it energized and motivated me as well. Near the end of the march my feet were killing me, but I marched on because I really believed in what I was marching for. The best part was, I felt totally included that day. Everyone who saw our bi groups was friendly and welcoming, and one of the groups even got interviewed for GLBT.TV.com! It was a great opportunity to come together and focus on the positive and what is best about your community instead of our divisions.

The march seems to have made a real impact-several media outlets have been talking about it. I hope that people can take the positives from it and use it for local activism. Most importantly, I hope that the message of inclusion will bring equality for the BLGT community, and will also inspire more inclusion in the BLGT community itself, especially towards the B and the T.

 

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!”

The ‘Barsexual’ Debate

debateI wish they would just be labeled as straight girls looking to entertain, not bisexuals. So the question is, how should we view this trend? Many bisexual women’s (including my viewpoint) natural tendency is to get angry—we don’t want to be stereotyped, or have our sexuality associated with something fake—that is just done for entertainment. We feel it cheapens the concept of real bisexuality and leads to people saying it’s fake—it doesn’t exist, or it’s just a phase, or worse yet, that bisexuals are sleazy opportunists and bisexual women are nothing more than sex objects. It only adds insult to injury to hear that many of these barsexuals say they’re really straight, or so the story goes, anyway. I’ve heard several bisexual female friends say “I wish they would just be labeled as straight girls looking to entertain, not bisexuals.” I most definitely sympathize with that frustration, as I’ve felt a lot myself when hearing about this, but recently I’ve been thinking and have begun to ask myself: are all these girls really just “straight fakers,” doing it for attention? Or could some of them be bisexuals who just are not giving people the best impression of bisexuality, or just coming out, or people who came out,  as in this example? Or could some of them be questioning and unsure of their orientation and questioning [their sexual identity]?

To quote Adrienne Williams, founder of Bi Social News: (See Types of Bisexuals)

Bisexuals come in all shapes and sizes, and what’s okay for some isn’t okay for others. If girls are going around kissing girls in bars—it could mean they might be a different [type of] bisexual than what you think bisexuals are—the scale does slide after all.

That statement really made me think, and it makes a good point. While I definitely don’t doubt that there is a sizable chunk of these “barsexuals” who are straight, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of them did turn out to be bisexual, or emerging bisexuals. We see this trend in porn movies too—while sometimes the “girl on girl” ones made for men will be just straight women doing “gay for pay”, there are bisexual women involved in that kind of work as well. And as much as both instances might make some of us cringe because it’s really not giving the rest of the world the best impression of bisexual women, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not bisexual—if they are, they are, whether they express it right or not. Should we automatically label them “fake bisexuals” just because we don’t like how they express it? And who gets to make these rules anyway?

Part of the problem with this is that bisexuality still isn’t accepted nearly as much as it should be in either the gay or straight community. In the gay community too often it’s considered a phase or nonexistent, and in the straight community—especially with women, it’s used for entertainment or titillation. So naturally, most bisexuals understandably are not going to want something that adds to negative perception to be associated with them. I will say I’m glad people have given this trend its own word.

Personally, I’m not sure what to think? Being in the bisexual community has taught me to look at the grey area in a lot of issues—which is why I’ve tried to express both sides above. I wonder, how many of the people who get into these situations are questioning or even bisexual,  but I also can’t help but wonder how many are just straight girls playing into the trend.

So I am leaving this article open-ended and am asking you—our readers: What do you think, and why? How does the bisexual community feel about this issue? What has been your experience? Please feel free to post a comment, wherever you see this article, or to send me an email at bisocialnews@gmail.com. If I get enough answers, I’ll write a follow-up summarizing them. This is one issue we should be talking about!

Bisexual Conundrum

angelieEveryone has fantasies. In fact—everyone has sexual fantasies. For bisexual people those fantasies include any variation of men and women that is pleasing – because of that fact, when someone comes out as being bisexual it is sort of a big deal. A celebration is held that maybe, just maybe, the subject of our most intimate fantasies is—to use the vernacular—batting for “our” team. Why does this matter? What possible consequence could there be behind Angelina Jolie, Pink, Billie Joe Armstrong or Daniel Radcliffe are attracted to members of either sex? Beyond the fantasizing outlined above, the only possible reason there could be is—what other people think.

When it comes to men, bisexuality is probably just as common as it is in women. Though there isn’t much research to that effect. While Alfred Kinsey estimated that nearly 46 percent of the male population had engaged in both heterosexual and homosexual activities—there is research from only a few years ago citing that bisexuality simply doesn’t exist in men. Rumors have arisen surrounding the sexual orientation of our favorite celebrities for years—some complete with facts and quotes. Pink, Lady Gaga and Angelina Jolie are all bisexual and the information comes from some very reliable sources. Gerard Butler, Robert Downey Jr. and Billie Joe Armstrong are also reportedly bisexual—though the sources of this information are far less credible than a Barbara Walters special. All of these people may be bisexual.

gerard-butlerThe fact remains, however, that this hot button issue will be met with a decided difference of opinion—seemingly based on gender. Regardless of being a man or woman we all have social standards we’re brought up to believe and for every Barbara Walters interview that makes it safe for a celebrity to come out, there is an article in a reputable newspaper such as Newsday with the headline “Anti-Gay Jock Tells it Straight” making it completely unsafe for a male celebrity to come out. The bias itself isn’t limited to gender. In fact, many women would prefer not to think of their favorite heart throbs as being bisexual and to that end the search begins to refute the “rumors”—sometimes with success. Gerard Butler (Actor of 300), for instance, in fact never stated that he was bisexual and the article that reported it was confirmed as a fake. Regardless of the reasons why, the question of sexual orientation regarding celebrities will likely never go away. Their life in the public eye marks them as the elite of society. Their portrayal of our heroes on television, in sports, in film and on stage make them the role models for ourselves and our children – as such society places importance on their personal live

As long as there is a question of morality a celebrity’s sexual orientation will be questioned. As long as society as a whole believes that same sex relations, particularly between two men is a sign of weakness, a detriment to virility then the question of male sexuality specifically will continue to be a cause for concern. In the face of these concerns, however, there will always be those that admire those in the public eye for being brave enough to be who they are in the face of excessive scrutiny.

Coming Out as Bisexual

BSN Contributing Writers share their stories of coming out on National Coming out Day!

come-outWhen I think of coming out as bisexual, here is the clearest thing in my head: I am sitting on a student panel in the art history lecture hall in the Williams College Museum of Art.  It is evening and we are seven panelists.  We are making our introductory remarks; perhaps we were taking about when we knew we were “gay” or “lesbian.”  I distinctly remember being the seventh person to speak and being the only one to utter the word bisexual.  It strikes me as being the grand finale to some big production.  This is it; I am out in a big way.

I don’t remember much about the rest of the presentation.  I knew it was during my senior year but I couldn’t quite figure out when.  After dusting off my brain cells and doing a bit of research, it has to have occurred on what was the second National Coming Out Day, October 11th, 1988.

Exactly a year earlier, I had been part of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.  I was giddy with collective embracing and celebration of same-sex love.  I was proud to stand up and be counted for our community’s rights.  There was no going back because we had determined not to live in fear and shame.  We were valiant.  We were steadfast.  We were…gay?

After the headiness of the march, I had to look into my heart and also do some serious thinking.  I knew I was attracted to women, but it felt so good and so right to stand up and say that I was attracted to men.  I was affirming myself and we were all affirming each other.  I felt like I was part of one big club.  However, in the end I knew that if I denied my attraction for women, it would be as much of a lie and an injury to me as if I had continued to hide my attraction for men.

I don’t remember that its being cool and hip in the 1980s to be bi, but I don’t remember people being overtly hostile to me about being bi, at least on campus.  I know that I also had bi friends there, if only in behavior.  What I remember is that I kept using the word bisexual and that I had to use it to express my truth.  I had to say “I am bisexual” when it was my turn on the panel.  Once said, the sentence seemed to hang in the air as if a professor had just revealed some new idea to us and the light bulbs needed a little time to warm up.

I’m still glad that I mustered the courage to be on the panel and to call myself bisexual.  It wasn’t all that easy, something that had slipped my mind before I sat down to prepare this, but it was the only way to thoroughly embrace and affirm myself.  I sincerely hope that I set an example for other bisexuals and made their coming out a little easier.

It is now October 11, 2009 and National Coming Out Day is here again.  I encourage you to come out for yourself and for our community.  Every time one of us comes out-especially a bi man-it makes the path a little smoother for another to do the same when it’s time.

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.

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.

Being Thankful For The Bisexual Community

Man Consoling Girlfriend --- Image by © Image Source/CorbisUnfortunately, with all the setbacks the BLGT equality movement has had lately, much of the community news has been dwelling on the not so great news. So for Thanksgiving, I thought I’d write a bisexual version of “What I’m thankful for.”

First of all, even though I can’t really be out to my family, I’m thankful for the people I can be out to. I have many great and supportive friends, acquaintances, and colleagues of all orientations that have really been there for me when I’ve needed help and guidance, much like a family. I’m thankful that I came out of the closet, and that I had people and places to turn to. I’m thankful for the growing bisexual community, that is really starting to stand on its own, both as a part of BLGT culture and as its own community. I’m thankful we have websites like Bi Social News, and organizations like BinetUSA, The Bisexual Resource Center (BRC), as well as many others across the country. I’m thankful for all the bisexual social and support groups in the USA and all over the world, and that many more are springing up and starting to network. I’m thankful for my co-writers on this website and for BSN in general, for bringing together great ideas and having filled a much needed niche in the bisexual community. I’m thankful that I’m able to devote time to writing and furthering the cause for our community — something I truly love.

I’m also thankful our community is coming together to have our own bi-themed entertainment [supported on our homepage], more out bi celebrities, more young publicly out bi actvists,  movies about us, out bi politicians, our own conferences, writers groups, books, magazines, and professional groups. I’m thankful we actually have an entry on Wikipedia about our community that keeps getting longer as our community gets more active. I’m thankful for the Internet itself — as cheesy as that probably sounds, because it’s helped us to organize and network so much. I’m thankful for all the great bi and BLGT writers and activists I’ve met while participating in writing and activism. I’m thankful that I got to march with the bisexual contingent at the National Equality March; it was truly an experience.

I’m thankful that even though we still have a long way to go, overall tolerance for and acceptance of BLGT people is rising, especially among the younger generation and it seems in the entertainment industry with more out queer characters. I’m thankful for blogs and organizations such as Queers United, GLAAD, and NGLTF, as well as many others that include bisexuals along with everyone else on the spectrum and stand up for us when there is biphobia and bisexual erasure. I’m thankful that LOGO is finally starting to include more bisexual-themed entertainment. I’m thankful that both bisexual women and bisexual men are finding their voices and fighting back against the stereotypes, biphobia, and bisexual erasure in both the BLGT and straight communities, and that especially in the BLGT community, it is growing increasingly more unacceptable to bash bisexual and transgendered people.

I’m thankful that the city [that] I live in has a thriving BLGT community that is pretty accepting of bisexuals and I hope this happens in more cities. I’m thankful that I live in a country where I can (for the most part) express my sexuality freely and the government isn’t going to throw me in jail or kill me (let’s hope it stays that way!) I’m thankful that coming out of the closet has enabled me to look at many things, especially gender issues, with a much more open mind and to see the grey area in most situations instead of just looking at the black and white. I’m thankful we (hopefully) have an administration that is finally going to help us and pay attention to us.

And last, but certainly not least, I’m thankful for you, all of our readers!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Maria,

The Bisexual’s Guide to the Universe

guideWhenever I visit my local book store (which is often), I always peruse the gay and lesbian section. While there, I am looking for one thing — books on bisexuality. I am nearly always disappointed. Leaving aside the fact that I am rarely able to find anything other than gay or lesbian erotica; the books that are available fall into one of three basic categories (not counting the aforementioned erotica):

1. Tragedy (see Prayers for Bobby by Leroy Aarons)
2. Gay (see The Greeks and Greek Love by James Davidson)
3. Lesbian (see Lesbian Couples: A Guide to Creating Healthy Relationships by D. Merilee Clunis)

There are a great number of titles available, but it seems that they all can be categorized into these areas. It is rare to find a book that deals exclusively in bisexuality; which leaves bisexual men reading books about being gay and bisexual women reading books about being a lesbian, almost exclusively; contributing to the confusion of bisexuality as a valid orientation. On my most recent trip to the bookstore, I was pleasantly surprised.

The Bisexual’s Guide to the Universe, by Nicole Kristal and Mike Szymanski is a poignant, researched and fun look at the “invisible orientation” of bisexuality. The book offers the reader (who should be bisexual) a journey on the path of bisexuality, breaking it into three parts. Part One: Beginner, seems to be all about coming to terms with being bisexual. Chapter One: The B-Word – starts the journey by referencing the “flip-flop” that we all know so well. That period of time in our lives when our families believe that we’re straight and our friends have seen us flirting and have labeled us as gay. It goes on to define bisexuality, both by its dictionary definition (pointing out the absurdity of the hermaphroditic and botanist connotations) and the etymology of the word. It turns out that bisexual was added to the dictionary in 1892, while the abbreviation “bi” was coined in 1956. Chapter 2: Measuring Sex continues on the beginner’s journey to discover who they are – bi, gay or straight. The Kinsey Scale and research of the Kinsey Institute reveals that 13% of women and 37% of men achieve orgasm with a partner of the same sex. The Klein Grid (expanding on Kinsey’s research) makes things more detailed by breaking things down to seven elements of sexuality. Antonio Galarza has developed the “Three Circle Graph” which shows 70-80% of men to be bisexual.

Part Two: Intermediate, recounts what it’s like to be bisexual. Chapter Four: Two Closets opens with a step by step “how to” for coming out. “Coming Out Without Coming Out”; this guide shows the method of creating an air of mystery around your sexuality. Never fully explaining who you’re interested in, feeling that your sexual orientation isn’t really anyone’s business; refusing to label it for even those that ask point blankly. “Coming Out to Your Conservative Mom” suggests using television to your advantage, appealing to things your mother already knows and likes and then pointing out that they’re gay. “Coming Out to Your Hippie Mom” offers a humorous how to, suggesting any time any place and cautions the reader of learning too much about their mother’s past. “Coming Out to Your Radical-Right Dad” this how to is extreme in its recommendations of caution; saying “Do stand a safe distance when you utter any word or phrase containing sexual.” The guide does not limit the situation to parents, however. Providing additional advice and how-to’s for “Coming Out to Your Straight But Not Narrow Siblings” and “Coming Out to Your Curious Co-Workers.” Chapter Six: Doubling Your Chances opens with a quote from Woody Allen “Bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date on Saturday Night.” This chapter tends to focus more on how to attract members of the same sex. Providing tips for both the guys and the gals; while also providing the transition into Part Three: Advanced.

The four chapters of part three cover sex and love for the bisexual person. Everything from getting laid to playing “bi” heart. When I closed the book, I fervently wished for two things. 1. That it wasn’t over. 2. That there were more books like it. To my utter delight, I was able to find more information from these wonderful authors as there is a companion website to the book, linking the blogs of the authors. As I said before, it is poignant, researched and humorous. It was a joy to read and it had the calming effect of letting me know that things really aren’t that bad if you’re bi. Something we may need reminded of occasionally.

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.