Isolation, Health, And The Bisexual Community

Isolation_StreetAt the beginning of June, a study came out about the health differences of BLGT people versus straight people. When I heard about it I figured it would show something similar to what previous studies with the same idea have shown: that overall BLGT people have worse health, more depression and higher suicide rates than straight people. Considering the hurdles so many have to face, such results are unfortunately not surprising.

However, this study was different in two ways: first, its sample was from one entire state, Massachusetts, and second, a major difference was noticed and pointed out about bisexuals and how they compare to both straight people and gay and lesbian people. The ultimate finding: bisexuals, especially bisexual women, have the worst health of all of the groups that were studied.

This quote sums up some of the more alarming findings: “Compared to heterosexuals, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals were more likely to say their health was worse on 16 of 22 measures. They were more likely to be tense or worried, to smoke, have asthma, abuse drugs, or be victims of sexual abuse. Bisexual men and women were also more likely than heterosexuals to say they faced barriers to getting health care, had higher cardiovascular risk, felt sad, and had contemplated suicide in the past year. Binge drinking was more common among bisexual women than heterosexuals. Bisexuals, but not gays or lesbians, were more likely than heterosexuals to be poor. Bisexual women were the most likely to report having been sexually assaulted. ‘All told, bisexual women had the worst health,’ Conron [the scientist who did the study] said in an interview. ‘We were surprised that there were such differences for bisexual people compared to gay and lesbian people.’ Although the study didn’t investigate the causes for the gaps among people with different sexual orientations, Conron said she hopes further research will look at the social stigma bisexual people may face not only from heterosexuals, but also from gay men and lesbians. ‘Bisexual people may feel in between the two and may not necessarily be fully accepted by either group,’ she said. ‘I think it merits further investigation. We know isolation is bad for health.’ ”

I have to admit, it was nice to see the researcher of a study come right out and admit that isolation is a big problem for many bisexuals instead of trying to make the usual excuses. Of course, this is not good news. But as much as I hate to say it, is it really surprising? Bisexuals face some of the worst ostracism of any sexual minority group. Often we are rejected by the straight world, and contrary to popular belief, this can happen even if we are in an opposite-gender relationship if we admit to being bisexual. We start to hope there is an accepting community out there for us, and hearing the letters BLGT gives us hope.

However, too often, we face ridicule, exclusion, and social pressure, as well as being told we don’t exist, and being blatantly made fun of in some cases. Who wouldn’t have issues when their existence in constantly questioned? The very first comment under the article that totally misses the point of it illustrates how far we still have to go: “They may have the poorest health, but they get to play for both teams. So they have their perks.”

So, what can we in the bisexual community do about this? Fighting for acceptance is the first step, and not backing down about it. If we are excluded from something, we should do what the transgender community does (and possibly team up with them!) and have our own version of the event. We also need to reach out to newly out bisexuals or people who may be about to come out as bisexual; they need to know that there is a community that supports them. Secondly, there need to be health programs specifically aimed at bisexuals to help us deal with our unique set of problems, something other than just lumping us in with “BLGT.”

I’ve read that more health programs aimed at bisexuals are popping at BLGT centers, so that is a good place to start. Bisexual organizations need to strongly encourage such programs. Thirdly, there need to be more studies like this one done that take the unique experiences of bisexuals into account; hopefully more such studies will lead to a dialogue between the straight, bisexual, and gay and lesbian communities. I hope this study and others like it will get peoples’ attention and eventually lead to some gains, understanding, and acceptance for the bisexual community.

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.

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.

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.

Coming Out, Part 2

In high school, (in the 90’s) — which was liberal but still religious, I started dating a boy and we were together all throughout high school. He [was] great and we really did like each other; but that didn’t stop [us] from also having crushes on girls, as well as on other boys. I put the girls in the back of my head and didn’t give them a second thought. Then one day, I was sitting next to a girl in class, and she wrote the word “bisexual” down. I asked her what it meant. She explained that it was a word for people who were sexually attracted to both genders. I almost fell out of my chair — there was a name for it? That must have meant there were others like me! I was happy for the next hour — until it hit me that I could never admit it, if that’s what I was. Being attracted to the same sex was a sin. I didn’t want to go to hell and I didn’t want anyone to hate me. My parents never said anything hateful about gay people, but they did say I should agree with the church’s teaching on sexuality.

Coming out, Part 4

I have to admit the discrepancy between my online experiences (I have experienced very blatant biphobia online), my friends’ experiences, and my experiences in person have both puzzled and pleasantly surprised me. Am I just in a good area that’s very open (I do live in a big city that’s pretty liberal on a coast)? Is it that I make friends easily and am just very social? Is it that many of the GLBT people I’ve come in contact with are under 35, like me, and our generation is much more open about such things? I have heard that there is a generational gap when it comes to bisexuality, and that older people, both gay and straight, get touchier about it. I’ve also heard from friends in this area that have had biphobic experiences, so I guess I’ve just been lucky so far. I am hoping that that luck represents a trend-maybe attitudes are finally becoming more accepting? I try to come across as confident in who I am and in my sexuality and I am always ready to speak up if someone says something biphobic. Maybe people see that attitude in me, and it discourages biphobia?

Coming Out, Part 3

So, how have things been for me since I came out? At first, I felt relief — like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Then came the fear, “oh my God, what have I done, I’m such a horrible sinner, I’m going to hell, etc.” I [not] religious anymore, but I had grown up in conservative religion and that kind of thinking was still part of me. There was also the fear of society. Acknowledging my sexuality opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me — and [they] were both exciting and scary. It was exciting, because now I was free to fall in love with a person, not a gender. It was scary, because I knew that many parts of society expected me to always have an opposite sex partner, and scary because I thought of some people in my life that I really cared about, but I knew would probably never accept it — if I chose to have a same-sex partner.

Coming Out, Part 1

A question I often get is: “how [or] when did you know you were bi, and how did you get here?” Honestly, I think some part of me has always known in some way. How did I get here and finally admit it? It’s taken 15-years-and this article will be broken up into four parts.

When I was a kid, I was a tomboy. I preferred climbing trees to dolls, and rolling around in the mud was a lot more fun than playing with dolls or house. I first notice one thing odd when one day in kindergarten, I realized there a difference between me and most of the other girls. We were five and it was the time for “play weddings”. A boy told me, if I agreed to marry him then he would let me play with his trucks. I readily agreed, for they were cool trucks! A girl nearby who was playing with a transformer overheard us, and she turned asking me — if I’d marry her she’d let me play with the transformer. I thought about it for a moment and again agreed. The idea of marrying a girl seemed natural to me too. The boy said “what about me?” and I said “well I could see myself marrying either of you — who has the best toy?” This should have been a wholly humorous story but matters don’t work out that way: the other girls who were around starting laughing and calling me and the other girl “gay.” There was that word; I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew that it was an insult. I asked my mom that evening why the girls had laughed at us, and she replied that only boys and girls get married. I couldn’t wrap my head around this –  the idea seemed okay to me. But apparently something was wrong with it, so for a long time after, I kept it to myself.

As I grew, I kept it to myself, when I had crushes on both sexes, and only talked about boys. I knew next to nothing about sex; I just knew that people who got married loved each other. Even though, I hid my same-gender feelings, somehow the other kids still knew; those of us who didn’t fit in right were constantly called “gay”. I knew it was a bad word; I just didn’t get why.

Everywhere I looked were straight couples, so I figured that was how it was supposed to be and that was the only way. When I actually hit puberty though, a problem presented itself. I learned about sex and began to have sexual feelings, and I realized they weren’t focused just towards boys. In middle school, I finally had heard about gays and lesbians, and actually knew what the words meant. If a girl was “not right” in any way, the boys would call her a “lesbian”. I went to a religious school, so I began to learn that being gay was a “sin.” I had never heard of bisexuality, no one said anything about people who liked both. Between the ages of 12 and 14, I did a lot of thinking — was I a lesbian? Did I like girls more than boys? When I was honest with myself, I could see I liked both. I had no idea what that meant. So I reasoned, if I still liked boys that must make me straight, and was much relived to not be this “gay” thing that kids used to make fun of each other.

Part 2