Write as Rain

On Coming Out Day, I stayed inside

Posted on October 13th, 2014 by The Invisible Bisexual

The Invisible Bisexual is a new contributor on my blog.  She is a real person, sharing honest comments about her experiences as a closeted bisexual.  ~Loraine Hutchins

The Invisible Bisexual

I’m so confused, but it’s not because I’m bisexual.

It’s this heated debate among the LGBTQ demographic about the use of the word “bisexual” that makes my head hurt.  This is supposed to be my “community” of allies, yet the stigma against bisexuality is still so strong that many continue to shun the Bi “label” (even many bisexuals) while trying to justify it with twisted logic and semantic gymnastics.

“It’s too binary,” they insist.  What kind of criticism is that?  We live in a binary world: female/male, yin/yang, gay/straight or the numbers 1/0 used for computing, for example.  They claim the word “bisexual” offends and excludes those who want to define themselves with some other label like queer, fluid or pansexual, and that it erases transgender people.  Never mind that transgender and bisexuality mean two different things: gender identity and sexual orientation.  And many trans people identify as bisexual.

If these Bi re-branders were honest, they’d have to admit that they don’t want to identify as bisexual because they don’t want to attract the painful stigma attached to bisexuals by both gay and straight people.  Could this be internalized biphobia? 

 If these Bi re-branders were honest, they’d have to admit that they don’t want to identify as bisexual because they don’t want to attract the painful stigma attached to bisexuals by both gay and straight people.

Statistically, bisexuals represent about half of the LGBTQ demographic.  But instead supporting bisexual pride with the majority of members among our LGBTQ cohort, many of our queer community continue to erase, conflate, obfuscate and denigrate bisexuality.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is a good example with its 40 years of Bi erasure.  This year on the 15th Annual Celebrate Bisexuality Day (September 23, 2014), NGLTF posted an anti-bi blog by Evangeline Weiss, their Leadership Programs Director.  Could this be institutional biphobia?

Weiss wrote, “…My gender non-conforming, queer and/or genderqueer lovers, colleagues, and friends often feel trapped by the prison of the binary way our language designates gender.  So I’ve made a decision. I’m no longer going to lift up and claim a concept painful to others as part of my identity…I’m ready to say bye bye to the word bisexuality.”  Please stop conflating gender identity and sexual orientation, I want to scream!  Even worse, her comments were illustrated by an image of a button that lists “Gay, Straight or Wibbly-Wobbly Sexy-Wexy” as choices.  WTF? 

I’d like to feel respected and supported as a bisexual by all queer rights organizations.

What in these comments supports bisexual awareness or celebrates Bi pride? The button certainly conveys the stigma directed at bisexuals as being lascivious, over-sexed and confused. I’m so offended!  This is why I choose to remain invisible and stay in the closet.  Sadly, this kind of warped reasoning is not surprising coming from an employee of a 40-year-old gay rights organization that had yet to change its name to reflect approximately 50% of the people it purports to represent.

However, after this recent slap in our face, NGLTF has made some progress.  The Task Force waited until after Celebrate Bisexuality Day to announce it had changed its name to “National LGBTQ Task Force.”  Well, isn’t that nice?  But I have to ask, ‘How about owning your years of Bi erasure and your biphobia?  How about an apology?’  Hell, I’d be happy to see some advocacy and articles about bisexuality on the Task Force homepage.  I’d like to feel respected and supported as a bisexual by all queer rights organizations.

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Talking about the LGBTQ Life in DC…

Posted on October 1st, 2014 by Loraine Hutchins

The DC Public Library invited me to be part of a panel discussion about our vibrant Washington DC LGBTQ community, its history, evolution and trends.  I’m looking forward to an engaging discussion with panel members Mark Joseph Stern (Slate), Andrew Sullivan (The Daily Dish), Philip Pannell (community activist) and our attendees.

Please join us at 7pm on October 22, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.  You can RSVP for “District of Change” online or call 202-727-1183.

Bisexual? Fluid? It’s your week to celebrate!

Posted on September 22nd, 2014 by The Invisible Bisexual

So now we’ve got a Bisexual Awareness Week?  Give us a day and we take a whole week!  Sure.  Why not?  This is the beginning of a whole  week when bisexual people are encouraged to celebrate themselves; to “come out,” letting everyone see just how varied, ordinary and average we really are.  Then the formally unaware world will realize that they’ve been surrounded by invisible bisexuals (like me) all the time.

September 23 was officially designated Bisexual Awareness Day about 15 years ago.  Is it a siren’s call to catastrophe or a perfect day to uncloak our beautiful bisexual/fluid orientation for all the world to see?

I’ve been wrestling with this question for many years. Should I live out loud or should I continue to operate on a need-to-know basis?  Biphobia is devastating, and there’s still plenty of it to go around among both straights and gays.  I consider the stigma and professional risks.  So I ask myself, “Do I want to attract small-minded speculation about my private life?”  So far, the answer has been “no.”

Yet I’m thrilled by the growing awareness about bisexuality and the increase in bi visibility in the media.  Check out all the bisexual celebrities flowing out of the closet and showing us their famous faces, and sayin’ ‘Yeah, me too.’   But after way too many years in the bisexual closet, I’m thinking, “Times have surely changed, but I still don’t feel safe revealing my orientation to people I don’t know.”

“All-y All-y in come free; come out, come out wherever you are!”

Enjoy this week with bi friends and allies.  Check out the shiny, new website, http://www.bisexualweek.com/ and all the cool events that have been planned by many amazing volunteers.  I’m proud to be part of this diverse group of human beings.  Their fierceness gives me courage.  Hopefully, one day I’ll have enough courage to join the unveiling.

~The Invisible Bisexual

BECAUSE Brings Bisexuals Together

Posted on June 18th, 2014 by Loraine Hutchins

Surround me with a few hundred bisexuals for a whole weekend, and I relax like I haven’t in a long time, feeling empowered and supported.  Even after all these years as an out bisexual, being with so many bi comrades who understand our unique challenges and care about our community is still a rare experience.  But if Keynoter ABilly Jones-Hennin hadn’t launched a full-on campaign to convince me to go with him, I would have missed out on this inspiring gathering of my peers.

ABilly Jones-Hennin and Dr. Loraine Hutchins taking a break at BECAUSE in Minneapolis. (June 2014)

The last time I attended BECAUSE (Bisexual Empowerment Conference: A Uniting, Supportive Experience) was soon after the 1991 publication of “Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out,” the bi anthology Lani Ka’ahumanu and I co-edited, which includes ABilly’s coming out story.  The love, respect and understanding I received at BECAUSE, both then and this year, were profoundly encouraging.  The stigma that’s all too often projected onto bisexuals takes a disheartening toll.  This is all the more reason why the Bisexual Organizing Project’s annual gathering is such a treasure.

BECAUSE 2014 was held on June 6-9, at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.  The conference featured presentations on media representations of bisexuality; health care; the state of the bi movement, intersecting identities; bi visibility; sexual violence; aging; bi arts and literature; and the publishing industry.  There were workshops, panels, plenary sessions, a theater performance, various social activities, even a bi items gift shop.  I met young filmmakers, playwrights, bloggers, rappers, student activists, elder caregivers, parents, teachers, scientists, artists, secretaries, and cashiers—all kinds of bi and bi-friendly human beings.

ABilly is among the elder vanguard of the LGBT movement in the United States, and he had much wisdom to share in his keynote address.  He is someone who can organize a bathroom line at a crowded movie theater, a line of non-violent resisters at a demonstration, or a rope line at the White House with equal aplomb.  Originally from Antigua, West Indies, this month he will celebrate a 36-year, same-gender-loving relationship with his bi partner, Christopher Hennin.

Among his many accomplishments, my longtime friend co-founded Gay Married Men (GAMMA), the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays (NCBLG), and several other gay and human service organizations.  In the late 70s, he helped mobilize the first national March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights, convened the first conference of Third World Lesbians and Gays at Howard University, and led the first African-American gay delegation to the White House.  His recent essay about himself and his father will be published this fall in “RECOGNIZE,” a new anthology on bi men.

ABilly flashback

The merry twinkle in ABilly’s eyes first caught my attention at the Washington DC Runaway House when he walked into our tiny basement office in Dupont Circle to interview for a youth counselor position in the mid-70s.  His experience as a devoted father and a compassionate human rights activist were just what our young clients needed. He eventually became director of the program.  Since that time, we’ve been serving our communities and instigating political action together for almost 40 years, inspiring and mentoring each other along the way.

This year, I was honored to introduce ABilly to the conference attendees, most of whom were meeting him for the first time. Who better to epitomize BECAUSE values? This 72-year-old great granddad exemplifies loyalty and caring, inspiring many by his brave and steadfast love for his partner and their blended, inter-connected family. He’s a quietly persistent instigator who sticks up for seniors, homeless people, prisoners, refugees and workers. ABilly’s big arms embrace us all. He makes everyone feel like family.  Just because.

With Haddayr Copley-Woods, a great photographer and one of the energetic conference volunteers.

Bisexuals & Domestic Violence

Posted on October 11th, 2013 by Loraine Hutchins

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the contentious Houses of Congress with their warring factions have added a darker level of meaning to domestic violence this year. The government shutdown and debt ceiling standoff, instigated by the Tea Party-ruled GOP, means that 80% of government-funded shelters will likely receive less support. 

The only Washington DC organization that provides immediate services to victims and their families, DC SAFE, is struggling to keep its doors open.  Even without such draconian budget cuts, most shelters aren’t adequately prepared to help victims who are gender variant, sexual minorities or male. 

On the 25th Anniversary of “National Coming Out Day,” is coming out more risky for bisexuals?  Statistics indicate: yes.

It’s also LGBT History Month with the 25th Anniversary of National Coming Out Day on October 11, 2013. This year’s theme, “Coming Out Still Matters,” encourages everyone to be as honest about their sexual orientation as possible.  Among those who identify as lesbian, gay or bi, 50% are bisexual; yet, we’re probably the least visible.  Is coming out more risky for bisexuals?  Statistics indicate: yes.

At last month’s White House Roundtable on Bisexuality our team reported on bisexuals and domestic violence.   Even we were shocked to find how disproportionately bisexual people are affected by intimate partner violence.  Sadly,  many with whom we’ve shared our findings  react the way people often do to the existence of bisexuality itself:  disbelieving that we or the statistics exist, minimizing and dismissing the discrimination against us, disputing that the abuse is so prevalent and “ordinary” and  blaming bisexuals for their own victimization.  Yes, we do need more bi awareness.  October’s awareness initiatives offer opportunities to share the research, tell our stories and engage in thoughtful dialogue.

Sixty-one percent of bisexual women reported abuse, primarily by men…Thirty-seven percent of bi men reported sexually abusive intimate relationships, primarily with women.

The CDC’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey is one of the first studies to report victim statistics by all sexual orientation categories.  Survey findings show that 61% of women who identify as bi report experiencing rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner, and 90% of their perpetrators were male.  In comparison, 44% of lesbians and 35% heterosexual women in the study had experienced domestic violence. Why is domestic violence so outrageously high for bisexual women in particular? And why do people have a hard time hearing this information at all, much less responding to it?

The stats for bisexual men are disturbing in a whole different way. Thirty-seven percent of bi men reported sexually abusive intimate relationships (compared to 26% of gay men and 29% of het men).  Moreover, 78% of these bisexual men reported that they were abused by women. Clearly, more research needs to be done to understand what these findings mean.

But research isn’t being adequately funded, and services won’t improve in this political climate.  Instead, projects are being stripped, gutted and de-funded.  It’s discouraging that these severe cutbacks are occurring just as the beginning of good research on bi-specific issues is being addressed in social service agencies and organizations.  Nevertheless, we included these recommendations in our report to federal officials:

  • More research on bi-specific issues;
  • Better training for law enforcement and social service agency employees; and
  • Improve data collection and inter-agency uniformity of sexual orientation definitions and categories, such as a policy to count bisexuals separately from lesbians and gay men, and a consistent definition of “bisexual” for cross-study comparisons.

 Beyond Only Recommending

We live in a very unstable time when basic human services are being cut, when many people are income-insecure, food-insecure, and often home-insecure.  All of these conditions lead to increases in domestic violence while vital services are de-funded.

What good do powerful stories and passionate recommendations do in a time of such dire inequalities and injustices?  What can we do besides raise our voices in protest and make suggestions?  Appealing to people’s better nature and giving them vital information isn’t enough—either for policymakers or the average person.

We live in a very unstable time when basic human services are being cut, when many people are income-insecure, food-insecure, and often home-insecure.  All of these conditions lead to increases in domestic violence while vital services are de-funded. 

The last thing the brave women who started the movement against domestic violence wanted was to create a more punitive criminal justice system that punishes perps without helping them or changing the conditions that create violence in close relationships. The last thing they wanted, or that we today need, is an increasingly compromised system whose inadequate services merely pacify and distract, while domestic violence’s root causes remain unaddressed.

Focusing on “Domestic Violence Awareness” in October isn’t enough.  But it’s a start.  Making a “way out of no way” is definitely what it’s all about.

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