Coming Out Bisexual On The Real World

real worldWhen I heard that the 23rd season of MTV’s The Real World was going to take place in my hometown of Washington DC, and was going to feature two out bisexuals, I had to tune in. The show has turned out to be quite interesting. The two bisexual characters are Emily Schromm, who is 21, and Mike Manning, who is 22. Both are newly out; Emily was raised strictly religious just had her first relationship with a woman; Mike was raised very religious as well and is struggling to reconcile his faith with his sexuality, and just came out and started exploring his sexuality right before he came to DC. He came out to his housemates at dinner in the first episode, and they all seemed okay with it. He said that while he doesn’t like labels overall, he would label himself as bisexual, and has dated both men and women.

Several articles were written about both characters on BLGT blogs around the time the show premiered last December, and most were positive. Yet only one episode had aired—and already the sirens were off in the form of pages of comments saying “he’s not really bi, he’s gay, there’s no such thing as bi in men”—going on and on about the “bi now, gay later” stereotype, and quoting that ridiculous and disproven J. Michael Bailey study (how many times does a study have to be discredited before it gets through to some people)?! The absolute worst ones were here and here.  Men from both the gay and the straight communities weighed in. It was nice to see that there were several comments defending Mike, more so than the last time a bisexual man came out, so that is progress, but unfortunately the negative ones outweighed the positive ones. It is truly amazing how many people want to decide someone else’s sexuality for them, including sadly, some of Mike and Emily’s roommates who think he’s  ”just confused and is really gay” and tell her that “it’s okay if you are a lesbian”.

As much as I didn’t like the overflow of comments, there is actually progress. Much less has been said overall questioning Emily’s sexual identity, at least in the BLGT community—and I do remember a time when that was different, so it seems there is definitely a positive trend a somewhat growing acceptance for female bisexuality, though possibly not always for the reasons we would like. But it seems male bisexuality is one of the last and biggest barriers to more acceptance of bisexuals in general. What are some of the reasons for this? Let’s examine them through the adventures of Mike Manning on The Real World, and through some of the stereotypes that showed up over and over in the comments about him.

For starters there was the whole “I knew a bisexual man and he turned out to be gay”. Well, so he did. I stated in this article my opinion on what label people who are unsure when they come out should use. The actions of a few people who use the wrong label or really do go through a phase should not be used to label an entire community. I’ve actually seen a lot of the opposite: several bi men who do not want to use the bisexual label because of the negative connotation. Secondly, there was the whole “he doesn’t want to fully come out and wants to hold on to hetero-privilege”. Well, Mike Manning is totally out to his family, and came out again on national television no less. Being from a religious family myself, I can tell you that being bisexual isn’t any easier than being gay-neither one is considered good. Just ask Emily—her own sister rejected her after she came out to her on live TV. As for the hetero-privilege myth, this is my answer to that one.

A rather odd argument was that Mike has used the terms  gay  and  bi  interchangeably a few times, so that proves he is gay. I know very few bisexual and transgender people who don’t sometimes do that.  Gay has become a catchall term for BLGT, and since most of society doesn’t treat bisexuals very differently from gays, many of us feel comfortable interchanging the two sometimes.

Another argument was that rumors have said that overall by the end of the show, he had dated more guys than girls.  In the first two episodes, he made out with a girl and a guy. Why is anyone surprised by this? He just came out! He’s been suppressing the side of him that is attracted to men for years, and all those years he’s been able to act on his feelings for women, so naturally he’s going to want to explore the male attractions. When I first came out as bi, I was mainly into women for months. I’d had a 14 year head start on my attraction to men and had barely acted on my attraction to women-I wanted to make up for lost time. Once I got used to the idea of being out, I evened out. I’ve had several other bisexual people tell me they went through something similar, and I suspect that is what Mike went through. This really was not only the first time he was really out, but the first time he had access to a thriving gay community. I would have been surprised if he hadn’t chosen to explore it.

Also, Mike could “lean” more toward men, as being bisexual certainly doesn’t have to mean having a “50/50″ attraction (in fact most of us lean one way or the other).  But if he’s still attracted to both sexes-then he’s bi!  (See latest update below to learn more about this, apparently there was “creative editing” going on). Does someone’s “bi card” get revoked because their attractions aren’t always equal? Many people seem to think a “true bisexual” has to be 50/50. Most of us actually tend to lean one way or the other.

People have come up with other terms to describe which way they lean, such as “bi gay”, “bi straight”, “bi queer”, “homoflexible” and “heteroflexible”. While I don’t like to tell anyone how to label themselves, I do think people need to be less afraid to just use the term “bisexual” somewhere in their label. Words can be very powerful.  When the girl he kissed on the show (and apparently slept with behind the scenes) saw him kissing a guy, she was all grossed out and couldn’t believe she had been with a bi guy. I’m pretty sure that reactions like that from women are another reason male bisexuality isn’t popular—who wants to hear that?

Just recently Mike Manning himself gave two great interviews— one in Metro Weekly , the other in Realitywanted —both definite must reads, and most of the comments were positive!  Contrary to the rumors that he no longer identified as bisexual, he embraces the label (as much as someone who doesn’t like labels can), and talks about the biphobia in the gay community that he’s had to deal with. He also says that once guys he dates actually get to know him, they start to believe he really is bi. Personally I say thank you to Mike Manning for not bowing to pressure, for being true to who he is, and for openly embracing the label.

Emily Schromm recently gave a great interview as well to the website AfterEllen, telling us a bit more about her and her background, and about how while her bisexuality was acknowledged on the show, it was downplayed as far as showing who she dated while on the show and living in the Real World DC house.  She embraced the label as well and I’m proud of her for not caving to pressure either.  My hope is that as more bisexual men like Mike Manning and bisexual women like Emily Schromm come out, more people in both the straight and BLGT communities will take the time to get to know them and try and see them for who they really are—not who they think they should be.

Latest Update as of March 2010:  It turns out that both Mike and Emily’s hookups with women were edited out of the show, but both are talked out in this aftershow video and this interview. Both were made to appear to be mostly attracted to men. Why was it done this way?  Maybe for ratings?  I’d like to hope it’s not due to biphobia, but I really have to wonder.

The Bisexuals In Uganda

lgtbIn the past few months, so many of the BLGT blogs and organizations have been writing about the possible anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda. Proposed by an extremist religious group. There are also rumors that some homophobic politicians in the USA here have been supporting this group.  The bill makes any type of behavior that is not heterosexual a crime punishable by death, and it goes after anyone who in any way helps BLGT people—if you are a parent or a friend who knows someone who is queer and you don’t turn them into the state, you could be executed as well! It has been proposed supposedly to “protect children from homosexuals who recruit.” There has been much pressure from both domestic and international groups on the Ugandan government to drop the proposed bill, and many Ugandans of all orientations and political affiliations are against it as well. The most recent development is that instead of execution, BLGT people and their allies might face life imprisonment. Even more disturbing is that a chapter of the Kill the Gays movement is organizing in Newark, New Jersey.

As I’ve been reading about this bill, I’ve wondered where the bisexuals in Uganda stand in all of this. Obviously many of them face the same threat as the gay Ugandans, but they may or may not experience threats unique to them as well—and are they even out as bisexuals and visible in this fight for human rights? If some of them are married to opposite sex partners, and could possibly hide—dare they risk coming out and fighting alongside their queer brothers and sisters, even though they risk imprisonment, torture, and death? The answer turns out to be a resounding yes.

I got invited to this face book group, and I started researching more about bisexual organizations in Uganda and what they are doing to combat the bill. I found a blog and a listing about Bisexual Movement Uganda. On a list of BLGT organizations on Wikipedia, this group is listed as “a group of university students fighting for a livable environment for all LGBTs in Uganda.” Their website says: “The vision of Bisexual Movement Uganda is to have a well organized Bisexual Movement in Uganda which is aware and capable of advocating and defending for their fundamental Human Rights.” It goes on to list some great goals and objectives, enumerate the many problems facing all BLGT people in Uganda, and explain how Bisexual Movement Uganda is working with other Ugandan BLGT groups to try and change social attitudes and fight for equality.

Bisexual Movement Uganda fights against the bill and for the rights of all BLGT people in Uganda, while affirming and contributing to a positive and visible bisexual identity, and giving bisexual people in Uganda a place to turn to that reaffirms their needs and identity. The overall message is one of empowerment and unity, and a courageous way for Uganda’s bisexual community to show that they are not afraid to speak up and stand by their BLGTQ brothers and sisters.

Here in our own bisexual community, as we also join in the fight to help all BLGT people in Uganda, let’s especially remember to do what we can to help out  Bisexual Movement Uganda, as well as other organizations fighting for BLGTQ rights in Uganda, by spreading the word about its existence, giving donations, and any other way we can.

Figuring Out Obama and DOMA

Is the whole BLGT community up in arms about President Barack Obama’s position about DOMA? Read our Op-Ed from our Blogger Mizz.

obamaWhen I heard that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had filed a brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I was surprised, but then I’d read somewhere that there was a legal reason they had to defend it for now. Then I actually read the defense, and along with a lot of the BTLG community, I was shocked. Had President Obama just thrown us under a bus after all the promises he made? Did he have a hand in writing this? Did he know about it? Did someone else write it to make him look bad? I didn’t know what to think. The brief seemed rather passionate in its defense and even seemed to recall some of the stereotypes about BTLG people (a connection to pedophilia, etc.) and going so far as to say DOMA is good for the economy. Many activists began calling for Obama’s head, saying he’d betrayed us. Several are pulling out of DNC fundraisers, and not supporting the Democratic Party anymore. Not long after Obama gave some legal benefits to same-sex partners of government workers; and he has promised to do more, and recently some BTLG activists (including Bi activist Robyn Ochs!) were invited to the White House to talk with him. However, many are saying that it’s “too little too late”, that we “wasted our time with him” and that we “never should have voted for him”. While I too was dismayed, I’d like to ask one question: “Would we be better off if the opposition had won last November?” The answer is a big fat NO. Somehow I doubt anyone would have been invited to the white house or even acknowledged. It could have been worse than the past eight years.

doma protestLet’s face it, this administration is the best we’re going to get, at least for now. While I can’t understand [DOMA] it was written as it was (if they had to defend it, they could have done so in a less inflammatory manner), there is progress on several other fronts-the inclusion of BTLG people, the government benefits, the invitations to the white house, the rumors about repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT – a trans-inclusive EDNA.

Let’s remember, that BTLG issues are not the only ones – when it comes to things like war and poverty, understandably, those will take a back seat. I don’t envy the president’s job — every group wants what they want NOW, you’re expected to fix everything immediately, and no matter what you do, someone will call for your head – sometimes literally. Plus some people hate you for nothing other than being black. You have to try and govern from the center. My personal opinion; if Obama was in on the writing of the brief, he probably figured he’d go ahead and throw a bone to the conservatives since for now, he had to defend DOMA anyway. I think it backfired. The right is going to hate him no matter what he does, and if he wants to throw them “bones”, it shouldn’t be at any community’s expense.

I’m ticked about the brief, but I also understand that when you are a politician in the position of the president — well, let’s just say you aren’t always going be able to keep all your promises, and yes, some things will have to take a backseat, at least temporarily. Then there’s the strong role religion plays in all this-the president is liberal but still religious, and is going to have pressure from several religious groups. To be fair, he’s been honest the whole time that he doesn’t support same-sex marriage because of religious reasons, so maybe supporting the “Defense of (heterosexual) marriage” shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise.

What’s odd is the contradiction between reaching out to the community, the language in the brief, and then reaching out again? As I said, perhaps it was some attempt at a bad concession. I don’t think anyone is really sure, and it’s immature to try and draw too many conclusions. The best thing to do is wait, take every opportunity given us when the administration does reach out, work on educating the public, be cautious about any DNC support, and to hope for the best. When the administration stops inviting our leaders over to the white house to talk, and/or starts behaving more like the previous administration-then I will really worry. For now, I am going to extend the benefit of the doubt, try and reserve judgment, continue with activism, and wait and see. If some in the community don’t agree with me, fine, that’s their prerogative. For the record, I don’t regret my vote at all last November — because I’ve seen work on several other issues — and as far as BTLG issues go — if the other side had won, we wouldn’t even be having this debate because there would be nothing to talk about.

Massachusett: Where Same-sex Marriage is Legal

gay marriageHi everyone, my apologies for being gone for a while — I am getting over an injury that has prevented me from typing much until now. I recently visited the great blue state of Massachusetts, where same sex marriage is legal and has been since 2004, and did my best to record my experiences and observations.

For starters, the lies of the religious right became even more amusing. They would have us all believe that society would literally fall apart at the seams if same-sex marriage becomes legal. I found the opposite to be true. MA seemed to be functioning quite smoothly. Both opposite sex couples and religious institutions (both of which I saw plenty!) are doing just fine, and no one is “persecuting them.” There is a very active Catholic population.

From what I saw — most of the people seem pretty liberal and easygoing (unless the Red Sox8 loose!). Boston itself is very diverse, and they appear to be proud of that fact. I saw much diversity and all kinds of couples-interracial, opposite sex, and same sex. A pleasant surprise was that I saw several same sex couples walking about openly holding hands in the “mainstream” public. Where I live, you really don’t see much of that except in the ‘gay section” of town, even though I don’t exactly live in a conservative area. I saw one same sex couple sitting in a park being very affectionate with one another-and no one around them seemed to care. There wasn’t starting, or pointing, or laughing. It was just another couple being cute with each other like all the couples. Now granted, MA has had five years to get used to the idea, but I really hope what we are seeing is a trend-that hopefully in a few years in most states, the idea won’t be such an alien one, and a same sex couple will be just “another couple”.

Boston of course, is the proud home of the Bisexual Resource Center. They had a meeting while I was there, but unfortunately I couldn’t attend. I did talk to some people at the center, which is downtown, and they told me that Boson has one of the largest bi networks in the country, and that the BRC participates heavily in pride every year. They were preparing for pride, and they do a lot to promote bi visibility. Although Boston is better than most places when it comes to bi visibility, there is still work to be done, and I’m glad that the BRC is there to do it! I was really proud to speak to them and hope to actually go to a meeting next time I visit.

I did have a chance to check out the BTLG bar scene, and I met some really interesting people, B’s, T’s, L’s and G’s all of which seemed cool with the fact that I was bi. The bars were pretty interesting.

Unfortunately, no trip seems to be complete without at least one homophobic experience, and even though MA is a great liberal state, it’s no exception to that rule. From what I was told by the locals, up there it happens quite a bit less then a lot of other places, but it still does happen. I personally experienced it myself-coming out of a gay bar where I’d met up with some friends who unfortunately had to leave. I was planning where to go next, when big guy approached me and started screaming homophobic slurs at me. I admit my response wasn’t the smartest-I yelled back at him. He started walking toward me. I pulled out my pepper spray and said “if you come any closer I will spray you”. He stopped and we stood there. What happened next was totally unexpected. There were some guys walking by, on their way to the bar I had been at, and they stopped and defended me-and told him to leave me alone. Outnumbered, he left. They and I started talking and hung out for a while, and they escorted me to the subway to make sure I got there safely. They told me to be careful, that homophobes in that area like to come out at night and especially like to pick on girls coming out of BTLG bars alone. I guess no area is perfect unfortunately, but I have to admit it was nice to have my own little gay liberation army! To me this really underscores how we all need to stick together when confronted with bigotry.

On the whole, I had a lot of fun, and I hope to go back soon. I also hope that my experience of seeing so many same sex couples blend will be something we’ll all start to see in many more states!

Figuring Out Obama and DOMA

obamaIs the whole BLGT community up in arms about President Barack Obama’s position about DOMA? Read our Op-Ed from our Blogger Mizz.

When I heard that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had filed a brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I was surprised, but then I’d read somewhere that there was a legal reason they had to defend it for now. Then I actually read the defense, and along with a lot of the BTLG community, I was shocked. Had President Obama just thrown us under a bus after all the promises he made? Did he have a hand in writing this? Did he know about it? Did someone else write it to make him look bad? I didn’t know what to think. The brief seemed rather passionate in its defense and even seemed to recall some of the stereotypes about BTLG people (a connection to pedophilia, etc.) and going so far as to say DOMA is good for the economy. Many activists began calling for Obama’s head, saying he’d betrayed us. Several are pulling out of DNC fundraisers, and not supporting the Democratic Party anymore. Not long after Obama gave some legal benefits to same-sex partners of government workers; and he has promised to do more, and recently some BTLG activists (including Bi activist Robyn Ochs!) were invited to the White House to talk with him. However, many are saying that it’s “too little too late”, that we “wasted our time with him” and that we “never should have voted for him”. While I too was dismayed, I’d like to ask one question: “Would we be better off if the opposition had won last November?” The answer is a big fat NO. Somehow I doubt anyone would have been invited to the white house or even acknowledged. It could have been worse than the past eight years.

Let’s face it, this administration is the best we’re going to get, at least for now. While I can’t understand [DOMA] it was written as it was (if they had to defend it, they could have done so in a less inflammatory manner), there is progress on several other fronts-the inclusion of BTLG people, the government benefits, the invitations to the white house, the rumors about repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT – a trans-inclusive EDNA.

Let’s remember, that BTLG issues are not the only ones – when it comes to things like war and poverty, understandably, those will take a back seat. I don’t envy the president’s job — every group wants what they want NOW, you’re expected to fix everything immediately, and no matter what you do, someone will call for your head – sometimes literally. Plus some people hate you for nothing other than being black. You have to try and govern from the center. My personal opinion; if Obama was in on the writing of the brief, he probably figured he’d go ahead and throw a bone to the conservatives since for now, he had to defend DOMA anyway. I think it backfired. The right is going to hate him no matter what he does, and if he wants to throw them “bones”, it shouldn’t be at any community’s expense.

I’m ticked about the brief, but I also understand that when you are a politician in the position of the president — well, let’s just say you aren’t always going be able to keep all your promises, and yes, some things will have to take a backseat, at least temporarily. Then there’s the strong role religion plays in all this-the president is liberal but still religious, and is going to have pressure from several religious groups. To be fair, he’s been honest the whole time that he doesn’t support same-sex marriage because of religious reasons, so maybe supporting the “Defense of (heterosexual) marriage” shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise.

What’s odd is the contradiction between reaching out to the community, the language in the brief, and then reaching out again? As I said, perhaps it was some attempt at a bad concession. I don’t think anyone is really sure, and it’s immature to try and draw too many conclusions. The best thing to do is wait, take every opportunity given us when the administration does reach out, work on educating the public, be cautious about any DNC support, and to hope for the best. When the administration stops inviting our leaders over to the white house to talk, and/or starts behaving more like the previous administration-then I will really worry. For now, I am going to extend the benefit of the doubt, try and reserve judgment, continue with activism, and wait and see. If some in the community don’t agree with me, fine, that’s their prerogative. For the record, I don’t regret my vote at all last November — because I’ve seen work on several other issues — and as far as BTLG issues go — if the other side had won, we wouldn’t even be having this debate because there would be nothing to talk about.

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.