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.

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.

Michael Jackson’s Complex Sexuality

complex sexualityThere’s been so much buzz about Michael Jackson lately, since his death, and both fans like me and critics have been wondering-what was the deal with his sexuality?

One thing that I’ve always liked about MJ that scared a lot of critics was that he bent gender roles and sexuality in general, even if he was straight. I remember in the early 90’s he was wearing lipstick and eyeliner, and looking like a woman, but still retaining some “manly” qualities, I found him quite attractive. He seemed to blend what was best about each gender. Male performers often take artistic license with certain things like wearing make up, but MJ took it to another level. He could go from being the tough guy in the “Bad” video and aggressively chasing the girl in “The way you make me feel” to being gentle and almost feminine in videos like “Have you seen my childhood”, and exude a certain vulnerability that men are often afraid to show. In the video “In the closet” (interesting title!) he was pursuing a woman, but could have passed for a lesbian himself. When it comes to performers in terms of sexuality, I haven’t seen any other such versatile performer, and for me and for a lot of other fans I know, it was a big part of his charm. We felt like he was breaking certain taboos that we sometimes were afraid to even talk about in his music videos.

Some have speculated that MJ was really gay, but struggled with accepting it because of his strict Jehovah’s Witness upbringing. I wouldn’t be surprised. I know firsthand how repressive religion can make you hate yourself and your sexuality, and from what I have heard, the JW’s take it to a frightening level. Repressing this and trying to sometimes “prove” he was masculine may have led to some of the odd and self-destructive behavior we saw (for the record, I do not and have never believed the allegations against him, but that’s a whole other article). It could also have explained why he sometimes came off as ‘effeminate” to a lot of straight men, and why he seemed almost afraid of his sexuality. Some people actually liked him because despite his gender bending ways, to them he himself seemed almost asexual-like a little boy trapped in a man’s body (which he himself later said he was), who was just coming to terms with sexuality or trying to, and was still “innocent”. I think one reason the allegations where so shocking, besides the obvious, was that for those who believed it, it ripped away at the idea that MJ was innocent at all.

Could he have been one of us-a bisexual? Another strong possibility. When the police raided Neverland in 2003, they found both straight and gay porn. Assuming it belonged to him, and not to one of his employees, this does make me think he may have been either bi or at least trying to figure out if he was. His first wife, Lisa Marie Presley, claims they did sleep together and it seems that even though it didn’t work out he did really fall in love with her, so it seems he was capable of loving and being with a woman, assuming she is telling the truth. If he was bi, repressing this would also have been very difficult just like repressing being gay, and it would have clashed with his religious upbringing. I think that one reason he was so comfortable bending gender roles and “cross-dressing” in his videos was because it gave him a chance to express the sexuality he seemed almost afraid of in real life.

And of course, MJ could have been transgender. It would explain some of the dressing, and maybe even the plastic surgery-before it went totally wrong it did make him look more feminine, more attractive in a female sense, and I wonder if that was as far as he felt he could go with expressing his inner female. Perhaps he liked women, men, or both, but also felt that he himself was really a woman. As many transgender people can tell you, repressing a transgender identity can lead to real pain and self-destructive behavior.

Of course we’ll never know, but I’m glad he broke the gender barriers in the music industry that he did-perhaps more people will follow him and won’t be afraid to come out. I’m just sorry that his sexuality, whatever it was, brought him such pain and that his vulnerability caused so many people to try and take advantage of him and harp on every thing he did. He took us to new frontiers-in both gender bending, and of course, in music. Whatever his sexuality was, long live the king of pop.

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Micah Kellner: New York’s Openly Bisexual Assemblyman

MicahKellnerLearn about Democratic Assemblyman Michal Kellner from the state of New York. Did we mention he’s a proud and out Bisexual? Read our exclusive interview.

Micah Kellner is a Democratic Assemblyman from the state of New York.  He is a disabilities and bisexual/GLBT advocate.  He is one of five GLBT members of the New York Legislature.

How did you get into politics?

I had actually gone to school for film and television. In 2000, I volunteered for Al Gore’s campaign, and I wound up interning at Senator Schumer’s office. I worked in his fundraising office and spent everyday fundraising, and that got me hooked into politics.

How much of an issue has your bisexuality been in your political career?

It’s an issue because people are always interested. Before running for office I thought of myself primarily as a disabilities advocate. When I ran, everyone was intrigued and had all sorts of questions so it’s something I’ve really embraced. It’s a label that’s going to be with me forever, whether I like it or not, so I try to make the most of it.

There is a real prejudice against bisexual men. How have you been treated by the gay and straight communities?

When I first ran for office, a group of my friends, mostly gay men, decided to sit down with me to determine “what Micah was going to be”, because he couldn’t be bi. They felt no one would ever accept a bisexual, so some said “say you’re straight”, and others said “say you’re gay”. Someone suggested that I should state to the Stonewall Democratic club that while I’ve had sex with men in the past, I just don’t identify as a member of the GLBT community, which I took to mean that I was openly on the “down low”, which made no sense.

We finally decided honesty was the best policy, but sadly, too often I’ve found as a public official that bisexuals are the last group that are easily held up to ridicule. That’s mostly because the gay and lesbian community allows it. There are too many people in it that perpetuate that bisexuality isn’t real and mock it, and by doing that they are allowing our straight allies to do the same thing.

Labels are either imposed on you or you impose them on yourself. Some parts of the lesbian and gay community basically say “it’s not cool to be bisexual, you will face ridicule”, so there are many bisexuals who choose to identify as being lesbian or gay. I feel sometimes like a bisexual confessional—people come up to me and say “Oh, I’m really bi, but it’s just easier to say I’m gay” or “well I’m probably bisexual but for political purposes I’m gay”. Until the L and G fully accept bisexuality, we are going to have a hard road up.

Is there a strong bisexual community where you live, and if so, how involved are you?

Recently I’ve gotten involved more in the bi community here. Up until I ran I was involved in a GLBT community that has been pretty supportive of me. The people at the Stonewall Democratic club, of which I’m a member, were my first and strongest supporters. I didn’t really feel a backlash for the bisexual label until I ran for office.

The gay and lesbian victory fund supported your campaign. Have you had a positive relationship with them and have they been supportive of your bisexuality?

Yes, they were terrific. They came in and offered financial support, strategic advice, and they had a great coordinator and organizer come and help me.

With everything that has happened in the past year, the political environment for GLBT people is constantly changing. What role do you feel the bi community is playing and can play in influencing GLBT politics in general?

The important thing is making sure that people understand what bisexuality is. Recently, during the marriage debate on the assembly floor, the leader of the Republicans got up and started asking “What about bisexuals? What if they want to marry a man and a woman?” He completely confused bisexuality with polygamy!

I happened to be the next speaker, and I commented on that coincidence (which got a chuckle out of all of us) and I explained the difference between bisexuality and polygamy, and that while I’ve dated both men and women, only one at a time, and that I’m sure that there are plenty of bisexuals who are in same-sex relationships who want to get married and have all those rights. We need people at the forefront who identify as bisexual whether it’s politically correct or not. Cynthia Nixon is a great example of this.

After the questions, he also added: I’ve worked with great GLBT advocates that have made sure to include the B and the T, especially in legislation, and I hope that the days where it was just the G and the L are slowly passing.

I’d like to thank Assemblyman Kellner for the interview, and to say “thanks for representing us!”

If you’d like to know more about Assemblyman Kellner, please visit: Micah Kellner Website

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