The Other Bi: Bigender

Bigender_prideThe labels associated with the BLGT community are many and varied. Bisexual, as we know is generally accepted as the attraction to both genders but is often confused with pansexual–the attraction to people regardless of gender.  The subtle difference being that a bisexual person must be attracted to men and women, whereas the pansexual can be attracted to men, women, transgendered persons and anyone who doesn’t identify as being either male or female or part of the gender-binary system. Add to this the plethora of other labels, such as intersexed, genderqueer, heteroflexible et. al. and it becomes a bit more clear why it is so hard for a bisexual, homosexual—and yes transgendered person too—to discover what fits them, and why; and perhaps most importantly, to be accepted and what they are once they find it.

When doing research for a recent article, I came across a new term that immediately prompted the need for more research. The term “Bigender”—previously unknown to me, but apparently around since the late 90s—denotes a tendency to move between feminine and masculine gender-typed behavior depending on context. A 1999 survey conducted by the San Francisco Department of Public Health reported that less then 3% of men and 8% of women identified as bigender.

What exactly is Bigender though? Beyond the basic definition above, there doesn’t seem to be much known about it. What is a bigender person? The American Psychological Association’s report Answers to Your Questions About Transgender Individuals and Gender Identity uses the term only once, saying:

“Other categories of transgender people include androgynous, bigendered, and gender queer people. Exact definitions of these terms vary from person to person, but often include a sense of blending or alternating genders. Some people who use these terms to descrive themselves see traditional concepts of gender as restrictive.”

Elsewhere on the ‘net, bigender is defined as having the job of describing the behavior of a person, particularly a person who can identify as a male in certain situations and as a female in others—this would seem to be analogous to the way that intersexuality would apply to someone who is born with physical characteristics that are not exclusively male nor female.

While not much is known about this other “bi” culture within the BLGT community, it does seem to share a common thread with bisexuality.  Both are all inclusive gender–bisexuality allowing one to be attracted to and have relationships with both men and women interchangeably–bigender allowing on to present themselves as a man or a woman interchangeably as the situation dictates.  Both share the stigma of being misunderstood as well.  Bigender is often confused with crossdressing or transvestism, rather than being understood as the fluidity of gender that it is meant to represent.  One thing is certain, however, the two terms should not be confused with each other.  It might seem that a bigender identity must go with a bisexual identity but gender identity and sexual orientation are independent. It is possible to be bigender and not bisexual, or bisexual but not bigender.  Regardless of whether bigender defines who you are or bisexual defines who you love, it would appear that being bi is seemingly more complex and more amazing than previously believed.

Bisexuality And The “Ex-Gay” Industry

Ex_Gay_SurvivorPretty much everyone in the BLGT community has heard of it, and most of us would like to pretend it doesn’t exist. For some it’s a joke, for others it represents a deeply painful experience they have actually lived through. It’s the “ex-gay” industry. And despite our living in one of the most democratic countries in the world, there are still plenty of people who are against equality for BLGT people; and these “ex-gay” industries are multimillion dollar businesses. Many are run by some sort of faith group, others claim to be based on science; still others are run byindividual people. Very often it’s families seeking to “cure” a loved one of same-sex attractions that encourage people to go to these programs; other times it’s BLGT people who honestly think that there is something horribly wrong with them that they need to fix. The techniques of the “therapy” seem to mostly center on “praying the gay away” and doing “gender specific activities”, which, as we’ve seen, are very often unsuccessful.

A question I’ve heard asked time and time again is: how do bisexuals figure into this whole “ex-gay” business? You almost never hear about bisexuality in regard to the “conversion” process. It’s all about being gay and going to straight. The“ex-gay” industry mostly acts like bisexuality doesn’t even exist (unfortunately not too different from the rest of society), and mostly talks about “gays and lesbians”. Every once in a while when bisexuality is brought up, it’s often used by both sides to bolster their arguments of “gay people can change” vs. “they can’t change”. I’ve also seen bisexuality mentioned one time when someone was writing about how they thought that some of the “success stories” presented by “ex-gay” organizations were actually bisexuals who just were not acting on their same-sex attractions. I had hoped this would be elaborated on, but that turned out to be the only thing mentioned about bisexuals.

How would paying attention to bisexuals change the face of the “ex-gay” industry? For starters, it would be interesting to know just how many of the people who go into these industries to seek help because they’ve been convinced that there is something wrong with them are actually bisexual. Perhaps if someone is bisexual but leans more toward same-sex attractions, they can classify themselves as gay and think they need reparative therapy. Also, if someone feels they have somehow “cured” themselves, could they just be bisexual but not acting on their same sex side (which as any closeted bisexual can tell you, is still horrible)? Are any of the examples of people that supposedly went from” gay to straight” that are touted by these organizations really bisexual?

We don’t know for sure about any of these questions, because bisexuality and bisexuals are pretty much ignored in this industry by both the straight and the gay communities. It would be very interesting if somehow a study could be done to determine some idea of the number of bisexuals that are involved in these “ex-gay” programs, how they influence the “success” rate, and how the programs affect their sexuality and sense of self. What would this mean for the BLGT community, and for the “ex-gay” industry? Most importantly, what would it mean for the bisexual community?

Labels and Identity

my name isWith the recent controversy, which was basically a big argument about labels, I started to think about labels and identity in the BLGT community. Ultimately, do labels serve to unite, or divide? Would a more general label help unite those that are similar or have similar goals, but are not necessarily the same? Would it obscure people’s true identities? Do more specific labels help us understand each other better, or do they only serve mostly to divide us and make some people feel more excluded than others? What about people who use certain labels for political reasons, but don’t actually fit the label in their behavior? There’s a quote from the GLBTQ Encyclopedia that sums it up really well: “A significant distinction is between sexual preference and sexual identity. Sexual preferences are about various desires, positions, and fantasies one might have, whereas sexual identity is about how one self-identifies in terms of straight, gay, or bisexual.”  As that quote rightly points out, the two don’t always match up.

Whether some people want to admit it or not, the truth is that there are a significant number of people either in the BLGT community or who dabble in it—whose behavior and self-professed identity labels don’t match up: men who have sex with other men and label as straight, gay labeled men and women who engage in straight and/or bisexual behavior, and yes, some people who exhibit bisexual behavior who label themselves as gay, lesbian, or straight while not behaving like it or vice versa. What is the real “truth” here? Are these people who are in denial, use the labels to fit in, or are confused? Would using one label for the entire community, such as “queer”, put an end to this endless speculation about labels? What about those who want to add more labels to the community, such as pansexual, intersex, questioning, and asexual? Don’t they deserve to be included too? We do all share the experience of being ostracized from straight society. And each letter, B, L, G, and T, is so much more than just the letter or the word-there are many sub communities and subcultures of each, as well as overlap with other communities.

There really is no one answer to all of these questions, for some people it’s none of the above, for others, all of the above, and yet for others, a totally different reason; or there’s no explanation. Personally, I do like the idea of unity and inclusion and adding more letters, even though it may become cumbersome; as many communities as possible deserve to be represented. I also like the idea of having a more unified label such as queer, and have  used that term myself on occasion, but as I mentioned in my last article, it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to not want to admit you are bi or to say “bi but.”  A great example of the unifying power of using one term is the website Queers United , which has made a wonderful effort to include everyone. A unifying world would also help the whole “alphabet soup” problem, where some people think too many letters keep getting added on to the BLGT acronym.

love no genderHowever, I can also see the other side; if we all have one label, our diversity and individuality may vanish, and will it really put us all on an “even keel?” People who are really attached to their label and/or who have fought hard to use it will use it anyway, and not many will argue that they shouldn’t. I know that especially for the bisexual community, it’s important to be visible, out and proud, as discussed on the last Bi Talk Radio podcast.

Also, some people have trouble with the word “queer,” as it has been and sometimes still is used an [and] insult—even though the BLGT community has done a good job of taking it back. No one has been able to come up with a better word to signal unity. More importantly, even with all the labels we do have, people are so much more than a label, and a label shouldn’t ultimately make one feel they must restrict their behavior—if they see an opportunity for love that is outside of their label. In the end, love always wins out, which is why we sometimes hear about people who thought they were a particular orientation falling in love with the “wrong” gender; love knows no bounds or gender. So, how can we seek to unify ourselves, minimize distrust among various BLGT groups, and minimize bickering over labels and identity?

First of all, people need to understand that a label doesn’t always equal identity, and like it or not, labels can be permeable and fluid, and some people can move across the spectrum. The younger generations seem to be understanding this particularly well compared to previous generations. Secondly, we should celebrate the diversity and individuality of the BLGT community, by celebrating and including all the letters and adding more if necessary, but we should also focus on a word or words that helps to unite us as well; and try to move towards the day when labels won’t be as necessary or as big a deal. I see no reason we can’t aim for unity, while celebrating diversity at the same time, though I’m sure it won’t be easy.

So readers, I ask you for your comments and opinions; what do you think about the need for labels and how they affect identity, the difference between the two, and how we can do more to unite the BLGT community without loosing our diversity? Please write and let me know, and if I get enough responses, I’ll write a follow up article!

 

What I’ve Learned Since Coming Out

come outSo it’s been over a year since I’ve come out, and a few months since I wrote my four part coming out series, which you can read here. On this National Coming Out Day 2009, I wanted to go ahead and share what I have learned since I wrote those articles last April.

I’ve learned there is politics as usual in the BLGT community, just like in any other community. Growing up Catholic, I always had this idea that “those gays” were a big united front that wanted to take over (yes, they actually told us this in church). Having been in the community; I have to laugh every time someone talks about the “gay agenda”. If there is an agenda, no one can seem to agree on what it even is! There is infighting in the community just like any other community. There are many voices, not just one. Unity is one thing many minorities have had trouble with; BLGT people are just like the others that way.

The irony is that the diversity of voices and opinions that can sometimes contribute to the infighting also contributes to an amazing community that so many people like. You can find and meet so many different kinds of people, so many different ideas about gender, looks, sexuality, politics, and many other things. What needs to be done is to find a way to at least have the different voices “sing in the same key”, so the community can present a more unified front and get what it needs. We need to focus on what unites us and common goals we share, not what divides us. Those are two major things I’ve learned about the community in the past few months.

I’ve learned that religion still plays a role in many BLGT people’s lives. Another thing I heard growing up—that gay people are all “godless heathens”. I lost religion myself, but I have noticed that in the community there are many BLGT religious clubs and institutions, and there are several liberal churches that are accepting; for many people religion or some form of spirituality is still important. I’m glad they have this in their lives; as this seems to also help people deal with any guilt issues they might have, of which unfortunately there seem to be many.

I’ve learned that just like in the rest of the world, there is tension between genders, orientations, and races. People of color, bisexuals, transgender people, and many others too often feel excluded and not represented, as do some women. I’m seeing this problem addressed more and more, so that is a good thing to see. I’ve also learned that there is such a thing as BLGT Republicans.

I’ve learned that you don’t have to be “gay” to be bashed. I unfortunately know this from personal experience. As I wrote in my article about the myth of bisexuals and “hetero-privilege” bisexuals most definitely can be victims of hate crimes, as can be straight allies who support BLGT people.

I’ve learned that BLGT people throw amazing parties. Seriously, no offense to my straight friends, but you’ve haven’t been to a party till you’ve been to a “queer” one!

I’ve learned that beyond the four letters of B, L, G, and T, there are many sub communities as well, that you don’t’ always here about, such as bears, leather, polyamory, pansexuals, intersex, genderqueer, asexual, heteroflexible, homoflexible, questioning, and others. I’ve also learned that some people just prefer the word queer and don’t like to focus on other labels; this is particularly true among the younger generation.

Last, but certainly not least, I’ve learned that the bisexual community, which I never knew much about and always assumed was just integrated into the gay community, is a wonderfully amazing and diverse group of people with a great subculture, where I feel the most at home. Over the past few months working on bringing our bi contingent together for the National Equality March, I have seen unity and the bi community rally for representation when asked to, showing that yes we do exist and we do have large numbers, and getting results! I am so proud of them, and I hope this is the beginning of something wonderful leading to a bigger community of our own.

I’ve learned so much, and I hope to learn much more by next year. Happy coming out day to all of you, and you were all with us at the National Equality March in spirit.

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!

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.

Bi Talk: Loraine Hutchins Honored by ‘Rainbow History Project’

Loraine Hutchins shares with BSN her bisexual activism on what’s happening now and how we need to get equal representation in our community.

Loraine Hutchins is a bisexual activist, professor, and author, who is also involved in civil rights and social justice work. She is the author of Bi Any Other Name: Bisexuals Speak Out, which she co-authored with Lani Ka’ahumanu and several chapters and essays about bisexuality. She also teaches a class on lesbian, gay, bi and trans[gender] studies at Towson University, and a class on sexuality and women’s studies at Montgomery College. She has done local work with The Alliance for Multicultural Bisexuals and national work with BinetUSA, and has been an out bisexual activist — advocating for bisexual rights and bi visibility since the nineteen seventies.

She was recently honored by the Rainbow History Project in Washington DC, which keeps tracks of and archives the stories of BLGT people. Every two years they have an awards night when they honor DC Community Pioneers who’ve contributed to BLGT DC history. Not many out bisexuals have been honored, and it was great to see someone who has done so much [to be] honored for her hard work and also to see more bivisibility.

I caught up with Loraine and asked her what achievements she was recognized for and how was the ceremony.  [What were] her thoughts on the growing acceptance of bisexuals in the BLGT community, and also how far we still have to go?

Here are some of her thoughts, reflections, and ideas:

“The Rainbow Project honored me for my books and organizational work. For years I’ve tried to speak up at local queer events, and I remember going to events in the 80’s where I was the only out bisexual there. I marched in the 1985 Gay and Lesbian march for equality before it was called LGBT as a bisexual contingent of one. I had a sign that says “peace to all closet bisexuals and to those already out” and I was riding a “bi”-cycle! I’m pretty sure some of the other people at the awards ceremony have had relationships with both genders, even though they don’t identify as bisexual. I hope my being there and being out has helped them to realize it’s alright to feel feelings for people of all genders. I don’t know if there will be any major news about the ceremony, but I personally love the Rainbow History Archives because I am into documentation and chronicling and history and I’ve seen this group struggle to survive and sustain itself over the years. Mark Meinke the founder got it affiliated with the DC historical society. That has helped because the city itself is helping to document the history and stories of gay, bi, and trans people. It’s a fascinating eclectic multiracial and multicultural collection and an interesting overlap of people you don’t often see mingling in DC, and that was refreshing to see.

As far as bi-visibility goes, every little thing helps. People who otherwise wouldn’t know about Rainbow History Project came to the awards ceremony because I was in touch with them. There was an overlapping of lots of communities and I loved that. There are people who came that I knew who where heterosexual, polyamorous — from the swinging community, public interest lawyers, and people who are active in the sexual liberation fields who are not necessarily queer identified, but have done some of their homework in understanding bisexuality better, because of my work in those areas. It’s always good for people to learn about other communities. Even my mom came! She was active in the nineteen nineties helping her church become a reconciling congregation. There were a lot of connections made between people. The bio that was written about me on the Rainbow Project website did a lot to educate people on some of the realities of being bisexual and how hard it is.

What came out of it concretely in one way I didn’t expect, was that I was there with Billy Jones – the only other out bisexual that I know, [who’s] ever been honored by theRainbow Project.  He told me that a few days after the ceremony, he’d be testifying at the DC city council meeting on marriage equality and asked me if I would come and testify too.  So there would be more than one out bisexual person there. I couldn’t make it but I did submit written testimony — which helped to show that bisexuals have concerns and interests in marriage equality issues too, just like lesbian and gay people do.

In some ways, the overall LGBT atmosphere has gotten friendlier for bisexuals, but I wouldn’t say that it has unqualifiedly. In my LGBT studies class recently I started talking about bisexuality and the stereotypes bisexual people face. My class is made up mostly of queer friendly straight people, some gay people, and a couple of bi people. I asked them what they had heard about bisexuals around campus, and they said things like “bisexuals are dirty and greedy.” They acknowledged that they thought it was a negative stereotype, but the fact was that the stereotypes are alive and they don’t seem to be hearing the same stereotypes about gays and lesbians. I was explaining to one student that there is more to biphobia than just homophobia — that we can be hated for “refusing to choose” or being “too sexual.” One student in particular didn’t know that under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, bisexuals are not welcome in the military just like homosexuals. So yes, it has improved, but we also still have a long way to go.

It was nice to see that the word bisexuality was mentioned by several speakers and organizers at the National Equality March, much more so than in 1993 and 2000, and that we had our own speakers. Even Cleve Jones mentioned us! I’m also seeing more acceptance for non-straight people in genera, in the younger generations of the straight world through people who sign up for my classes. There’s more of an openness to listen to the experiences of LGBT people. There is good change happening but it’s back and forth, and there’s so many other problems people are worried about right now. And when people are having a rough time that’s when they can fall back into patterns of hate and distrust of those who are different from them.”

Thanks and congratulations to Loraine Hutchins for being recognized for all the hard work on behalf of the bisexual community!

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,