I recently stumbled upon a YouTube video which I’ve attached below. It’s a roundtable of women of various sexual identities who have gathered together to talk about bisexuality. It’s 17min long. It’s well worth listening to this video. This video was compiled by a young woman working on her Master’s Degree in journalism. She does not identify as bisexual, but she recognized that people don’t talk about bisexuality enough, and she wanted to convene a conversation among LGBT women and straight allies.
One of the more controversial claims that I have made is that my own experience of LGBT circles as a bisexual woman was initially similar to my experience of being a queer Rev in the church. And I stand by that statement. But I should explain it. I don’t have any interaction with churches that preach and teach that queer people go to hell. As a pastor, I know those environments, and I have seen and observed those religious environments in action. I have never personally worshipped in an environment like that, or attempted to be a leader in an environment like that. As a pastor, I have counseled religious individuals from those types of conservative/fundamentalist/evangelical religious environments.
I grew up in a conservative to moderate mainline protestant church tradition. This tradition had the most significant impact on my spiritual formation. As a leader, I still frequently find myself in those environments today. This segment of the church does not preach or teach hellfire and damnation for LGBT people. They just don’t quite know what to do with LGBT people. As a queer person in this part of the church–you just never feel quite at home. You just never feel quite yourself. You just never feel fully valued, visible, embraced, wanted or affirmed. I jokingly (and not jokingly) say that this part of the church is one in which–“All are welcome…..to sit in the pews invisibly.” They don’t want to change you, in fact, they don’t want to know that you’re there at all because it might stir up conflict and bring conflicted opinions to the surface. It might spark a set of difficult and vulnerable conversations between pastor and congregation and queer people of faith. Likewise, many of the community based LGBT groups that I engage with are not overtly hostile to bisexual individuals. Bisexuals are welcomed—-to sit in the pews invisibly. But programming really isn’t for bisexual individuals. The community spaces really don’t include bisexual individuals. Resources aren’t considered for bisexual people. We’re allowed to attend, but beyond that, these spaces just don’t quite know what to do with bisexuals.
Both of those environments (the church) and (LGBT spaces) left me feeling vulnerable. Lonely. Isolated. Misunderstood. Judged. Talked about. Analyzed.
Most of us know what it’s like to be queer in the church. This YouTube video might offer some insight into what it feels like to be a bisexual person in many different LGBT spaces. I’d encourage people to listen to this roundtable of women twice. Once all the way through. And then as an empathy exercise, anytime you hear someone in the video use the word “bisexual”–I’d invite you to change that word or swap out the word “bisexual” in your head with the word “Gay,” or with “Christian” or with “female” or “Male” or “Straight” or some other identity word. And as you listen to the conversation with a different identity word and with different ears, ask yourself how it feels? What do you notice? What do you observe? What feelings are stirred in you?
Before people click play on the YouTube video, I want to be thoughtful and sensitive to the women gathered and on camera in this YouTube video. My intention is not to call any of them out. My intention is not to stir up a shame shitstorm for anyone. There’s way too much of that kind of “call out” behavior in activist circles, and it’s not helpful. On the contrary, I applaud these women for having honest and thoughtful conversation about bisexuality in public and doing it on camera. All of us are a work in progress. None of us have it all figured out. None of these women are being mean or mean-spirited in their comments about bisexuality. None of them are being hostile. If I met any of these women in real life, I would probably reach out and invite friendships with any of them. The questions they have about bisexuality are genuine and honest questions. The beliefs they harbor are pervasive in many LGBT circles. The uncertainties and concerns they have reflect their own experience (or lack thereof) with bisexual folks.
Many of us may not have supported LGBT people—until we did. Most of us at one point in our lives identified as straight—until we didn’t. Most of us believed things about differing or diverse identity categories that we probably don’t believe now. We changed because someone cared enough about us to challenge us, and then that someone walked alongside us as we were growing and changing. For that matter, most of us don’t believe today what we used to believe 5 years ago or 10 years ago about a lot of things, because life and knowledge and experience have a way of changing us. And the best way to create change is to bring our current beliefs to light in public and to openly talk about them.
If I were invited to participate in a roundtable conversation exactly like the one below, I would say yes to that opportunity. But it’s important to note that I wouldn’t feel supported in the LGBT space below, nor would I refer to it as a “supportive space” or a “healing space” or a “relaxing space” for me as a bisexual woman. I would be in a specific leadership role in that space. I would be working in that space. This LGBT roundtable would be a space that is requesting emotional labor from me. It would not be a space that is serving me emotionally or bolstering/encouraging and caring for me as a queer woman.
In short, when I first came out, I traversed community LGBT spaces a lot like the one in the YouTube video below. In fact, a majority of the spaces that I encountered were a lot like the one in the YouTube video below, and the attitudes, experiences, questions of the group members were a lot like those of the women below. And it left me very confused. I was doing all the things I saw other queer people do in order to claim health and healing and wholeness in their lives, except I wasn’t getting emotionally healthier. I wasn’t feeling whole. I wasn’t feeling healed. Instead I was getting more drained, more depleted, and progressively less healthy.
This was confusing and frustrating to me. Because these LGBT spaces were healing spaces for some. They were community making spaces for some. They were safe spaces for identity exploration and formation for some people and some identities. They ARE doing some really great LGBT work in their community.
One of the things that I learned is that a group will always unconsciously reflect the majority or dominant identity group represented by that group. So if you are white, upper middle class, college educated, politically centrist and 80% of the group is composed of people like you–the group will take on that dominant identity/personality. The group itself will actually have an identity. The group will accept that frame/world view as the dominant or predominant lens without anyone questioning it. On some level I already knew this, but I learned this quite intimately when I came out and didn’t find other Marcys in many of the LGBT groups. It takes a conscious choice and a willingness to break your own frame wide open, to seek out counter narratives, and to expand your frame. This choice is and always will be an uncomfortable one, but the rewards for doing so are great.
Recently, Evan Rachel Wood shared this tweet below about her own experience of bisexuality. And the word that jumped out at me immediately was the word “lonely.” This was not in relation to the YouTube video I’m sharing. It was a sentiment she was feeling on a specific day related to a conversation thread on her own twitter about bisexuality. But I know this feeling. In fact, “lonely” is the main word I would have used to describe bisexuality for the first few years that I donned this identity. Lonely because I didn’t know any other bisexuals. Lonely because I didn’t feel particularly supported in most LGBT spaces or church spaces. Lonely because I didn’t feel well understood by straight friends, straight family, or straight or gay romantic partners. Lonely.
The longing and the deep cry in my heart was to exchange this feeling of isolation–for deep connection. To exchange this loneliness–for a deep sense of community. To have my deepest vulnerability–held gently by all those around me. In place of having my identity scrutinized/analyzed/questioned—to have people unequivocally support and reinforce my identity. Instead of having people express their questions or concerns about bisexuality, to have people simply say to me–You.Are.Awesome. Keep living out as your awesome bi self. Instead of being told what my story was–To have people ask me to share the journey of where I had been, how I had gotten here, and what this identity actually meant to me.
I have all of those things now. And wow it is amazing. Wow it is such a blessing. I want everyone everywhere of every conceivable identity category to have these things. To know love. To know support. To know unconditional acceptance. To know their worth. I want to be a helpful voice in helping communities become “bi friendly” places.
The women in the YouTube video took an important first step in discussing bisexuality and they were willing to do this publicly on camera. That is awesome. And they are awesome for taking that first step. I want to hold them generously for speaking publicly and candidly. It’s scary to do that. The next step is examining their dominant thoughts and beliefs and assumptions about bisexuality. The next step is letting 4 or 5 bisexuals share their own experiences in their own voice and to challenge assumptions so that we can teach and be taught by each other. The next step is to write a brand new story together. The next step is listening to our collective wisdom. Loving each other well. Becoming wise together. Supporting each other. Linking arms and moving forward together. Onward together. Kicking ass & changing society for the better together.