Editors' Note: Guest blogger Ellyn Ruthstrom is the President of the Bisexual Resource Center and the Calendar Editor of Bi Women Boston.
One of the things I really value about the bi community is the way we provide a wonderful safe space for many lesbian and gay people in which to come out. What?! Don't you mean the other way around? No, I've observed over many years that the bi community has been (and will continue to be) a fabulous warming-up stage for some people who later realize they are lesbian or gay or for those who know they are lesbian or gay but need to slowly acclimate to the queer scene. I consider it a valuable service to the greater LGBT community that we are happy to oblige.
I have seen this time and time again in various coming out and support groups where a person (usually a woman because I've personally been involved with more bi women's groups) starts her coming out process by sitting in on a bi group in order to feel more comfortable discussing her same-sex attraction. She's worked up enough courage to find the group and very often wants to observe and listen for awhile before sharing her own story.
This woman could be married or involved with a man and never had a relationship with another woman, or she's had relationships with women but has never been able to come out about it, or she's had relationships with both men and women and unsure of what she feels about them. Often the woman is dealing with a great deal of internalized homophobia--most of us can relate to that--and is looking for a place to say things she has never been able to say aloud to anyone else in her life.
These are some of the folks for whom bisexuality may be an identity phase that they will eventually shed (and which encourages that dreaded myth that all bisexuality is merely a phase) and decide to identify instead as lesbian or gay. Which brings me to one of the other great things I like about bi community. We don't care how you identify or even if you don't want to have a label at all. If you feel good about who you are and whom you are involved with then so do we. At least that has been my experience in my community.
Unfortunately, I've heard some rather negative stories from bisexual people about trying to come out as bi in gay and lesbian space and not being treated quite so supportively. In fact, I've heard instances where some members try to get the person to change the way they identify or not to discuss any relationships they have or had with other-sex partners. This is one reason why providing safe bi-identified space is so important in LGBT communities and why I encourage LGBT spaces to assess how bi-friendly their programs may or may not be.
I like to believe that the relationship between the bisexual and lesbian/gay community has been improving over the last twenty years, but some incidences stay with you when you've been hurt or disrespected. I was part of a bi women's support group a few years ago that initiated a combined meeting with a lesbian support group and when we arrived for the meeting a significant part of the lesbian group got up and left, refusing to have a dialogue with us at all. You can imagine how the bi women felt as we sat down for that discussion.
I've heard it said that bi people "use" the lesbian and gay community. That we sneak in and experiment with being queer or at least with having sex with lesbian and gay people, and then we run back to our "straight" lives. From my own observations in bi support groups, I know that lesbian and gay individuals have "used" bi space to help them through the often excruciating experience of breaking down internalized homophobia, recognizing their true selves, and allowing others to see them for who they really are. And I don't have a problem with that at all. Come in, have a seat, use us for whatever you need. We're in this together.
Support and coming out groups have been an important foundation for so many people's emergence into their queer identities. As a community bound by our overlapping struggles, histories, and paths to liberation, we do ourselves an injustice if we don't try to ease the common path for one another.