Monday, September 24, 2012

Bisexuality Part 1 - What is Bisexuality?

Yesterday, as I was looking up information to include in this post, I became aware that it was "Celebrate Bisexuality" Day. I had been considering doing a post on bisexuality (which is how I happened across the information). Even though it doesn't relate as directly to the main theme of my blog as some other topics, bisexuality is something that I personally experience, and I think it's something that is frequently misunderstood, not only in society as a whole, but to some extent, even within the LGBT community. And so when I learned that yesterday was Celebrate Bisexuality Day, it confirmed to me that now is the time to write about bisexuality.

In reveiwing the information I want to include, I have decided that there is too much to be included in one concise post. This will be the first of a three part series of posts on bisexuality. Part Two will be about the myths and stereotypes concerning bisexuality. And Part Three will be about biphobia.

When I first heard about Celebrate Biseuality Day, I was pleasantly surprised, though for me, I'd be more pleased with a Bisexuality Awareness Day. By that, I would hope for a day that people became more aware not only that bisexuals exist, but also aware of exactly what bisexuality is.

Bisexuality is defined as the romantic, sexual or emotional attraction or behavior toward males and females. As behaviors are more likely to be situational based on a variety of factors, my focus on this post will be on attractions.

A person who identifies as bisexual is one who is romantically, sexually or emotionally attracted toward males and females, regardless of whether they participate in romantic or sexual behavior with individuals of both sexes.

The American Institute of Bisexuality has the following to say concerning bisexuality:
Bisexuals are people who have the innate capacity to form enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attractions to those of the same gender or to those of another gender. There may be an individual preference for one gender over others. Bisexuality is not synonymous with being polyamorous. Individual bisexual people may be celibate, monogamous or non-monogamous just as individual straight, lesbian or gay people can be.
In my experience, bisexuals often appear to me much less visible in society than those that are straight, gay or lesbian. I believe that this is in large part because for many, it's easy to assume thier sexual orientation based on the sex of their spouse or partner. Many assume that if a person is in an opposite-sex relationship that they are straight, and if they are in a same-sex relationship that they are gay. I have had people assume this about me when I have been dating. And I have been guilty of this myself at times, only to later find out that the person I assumed was gay or straight was actually bisexual.

There was a time I found myself almost gravitating to others that I learned were bisexual. Because these were others that could truly relate to my experience. While others that were attracted to only one sex could sympthize with me, other bisexuals were those that knew what I felt from experience.

I have at times have had people tell me that I am lucky to be bisexual. And I suppose that in some ways they may be right. But while some may see being bisexual as the best of both worlds, I also see it as being the worst of both worlds.

Before I was out, and even now when I'm in a group that doesn't specifically know my sexual orientation, when I am with a group that is predominantly straight, the assumption is generally that I am straight, even though I really am not. Likewise, when I am in a group that is predominantly gay, often the assumption is that I am gay, even though I really am not (there have actually been times when I've been in a predominantly gay group and been asked if I was straight, but that is a discussion for another time).

In a sense, I am both gay and straight, and yet I am neither. I can usually pass as either without even trying, but althogh I feel welcome, I don't feel quite that I'm a part of either group.

For example, when I'm with a group of straight guys that are talking to each other about the women that they are checking out that they think are hot, I can't often relate. My hetersosexual attractions don't generally work that way. At the same time, when I'm with a gay friend who's talking about how gross or disgusting he finds the female anatomy, I also can't relate. I do have heterosexual attractions, and I don't find the female anatomy gross or disgusting.

But these are my experiences. Other bisexuals might find themselves relating to either experience depending on the nature of their attractions to either sex.

I once asked another bisexual man that I'd recently met whether he was equally attracted to men and women, or whether the attractions to one was stronger than the other. His response was: "It's apples and oranges."

I didn't really understand what he was saying at the time, though I have a much better idea now, particularly since I've come to see my own attractions in much the same way. I used to think of my attractions to men as being stronger than my attractions to women; now I just see them as different.

For those familiar with the Kinsey Scale, I don't feel like it works very well for me. For me attractions to one sex don't decrease as attractions to the other sex increase. For me (and for others I've spoken to), they work independant of one another.

While it is true that physical and sexual attraction to men usually comes much faster for me and that there are many more men that I find attractive than women, that does nothing to diminish my attraction to women when it is there. For there have been both men and women for whom I have felt strong physical, sexual and emotional attraction.

Some would tell me that because I more readily notice men that I find attractive than women, that I would be better off as identifying as gay. But for me, "gay" has never felt like a good fit. For me, it denies the heterosexual attractions that I do have. If I am to be true to myself and honest about my attractions, bisexual is the identity that fits best for me.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Respectful Dialogue

When I was in grad school for social work, one of the classes I took during my first semester was called "Diversity". I'll admit that at first I was somewhat apprehensive about taking this class. I had come from a conservative background, and had heard from others, who at some point have had to take diversity trainings or classes, who had negative experiences with them.

Despite the fact that the class was about forming respect and understanding for all, I wasn't sure that I would be respected or understood. By this point in my life, I had already seen that there were a lot of people and groups out there calling out for acceptance and tolerance for who they were and what they believed, but often did not extend it to others who were different from them in either who they were or what they believed.

I had noticed this in particular when it came to the topics of religion and homosexuality, both of which were topics very close to me. Here I was, a believing Mormon who experienced same-sex attraction (which was how I identified at that time). If I were to reveal these aspects of myself, would my diversity be respected and accepted? Or would I get the same messages I'd received in the past that unless I lived in a certain way, I wasn't being true to myself?

In spite of the concerns I had going into this Diversity class, it turned out to be a very positive experience for me. The basis of all discussions in that class was respectful dialogue.

In the first few weeks of the class, we were all given the opportunity to present our own diversity. At this point, I hadn't quite developed the rapport or trust with my fellow classmates to open up about my sexuality, though I was open about my religion. For while I wasn't the only Mormon in the class, and I wasn't the only "sexual minority" in the class, I was the only one that was both.

As the weeks went on, my skepticism faded away and I saw that there was a respectful dialogue in the classroom. And over time as I got to know the others in my class, I also began to feel accepted by them.

Each week, we discussed different topics in this class, including race, gender, ethnicity, religion, and disabilities. It wasn't until closer to the end of the semester that the topic of sexual orientation was discussed. By this time, I knew I was ready to open up about myself and provide my own perspective.

By this time, I'd already discussed my sexuality in papers I'd written for the class, so our professor was aware of my sexuality and my beliefs. A week or so before the class discussion on sexual orientation, I spoke to her privately, and let her know that I wanted to open up about myself. I asked for her feedback. She thought that it would fit well in the discussion, and told me that she'd give me an opportunity to speak if that's what I wanted.

The week that we had the class discussion on sexual orientation also shortly followed the passage of an amendment to the Utah State Constitution banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. I remember several in the class expressing their frustration at its passage. Much of the discussion was focused on how its passage affected those that were gay or lesbian. I began to feel more and more nervous as the discussion went on.

But I realized that this was still something I needed to do. And when the opportunity came, I spoke. Though I no longer remember my exact words, I said something along these lines:

"I'm an active believing member of the LDS Church and I'm attracted to men. Because of my beliefs, I choose not to act on these attractions."

That opened up a dialogue about a perspective that many of my classmates had never before considered. Several of them thanked me for my courage to open up about myself. And it also lead to me building some new friendships.

For the rest of my time in that class, I was able to speak openly about myself and my opinion and perspective. During a group project on the military draft at the end of the term, I was able to add another perspective about the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that would not have been discussed otherwise.

This class, probably more than anything else, has been what has prompted me to work toward opening a respectful dialogue with those of differing opinions and beliefs. After this class ended, I did start to make an effort to reach out to others in the GLBT community. As I was doing so while at the same time remaining publicly "closeted" about my sexuality, I only had limited success at the time. But it did give me experience in starting respectful dialogues.

Over the coming weeks and months, I will likely be posting more on topics that are more controversial and polarized. As I do, there will likely be those reading my blog that feel strongly about these issues on one side or another. As we discuss these topics, my desire is that we maintain a respectful dialogue. The point is not to change someone else's mind, but to hear and understand them and respect their right to hold their opinions.

As always, I welcome feedback on my posts. Your comments are a big part of what gets the dialogue going, so please share your thoughts and opinions on what I've written.