Editors' Note: Guest blogger David Phillips is a poly Leather shaman, kink evangelist, and Queermen's health advocate living in Arlington, VA. A survivor of relationship abuse, David co-founded the Rainbow Response Coalition, addressing intimate partner violence among LGBTQ people in Metro DC.
Following the example of Eric Rofes in pursuing asset-based approaches to wellness and community, around 300 activists, academics, and professionals gathered in Chicago the week of August 14-18 for the LGBTI Health Summit, beginning with the Bisexual Health Summit on Friday. It was refreshing to be immersed in conversations that describe me and other gay and bisexual men as something other than vectors for transmitting sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, even as many of us share a legacy of over two decades of survival with the virus.
Friday's Bisexual Health Summit underscored the health disparities experienced by bisexual people as compared to heterosexuals, gay men, and lesbians. Bisexual Health Summit attendees also discussed strategies for closing those gaps, including raising bisexual visibility and appreciation--spare them "acceptance" and "tolerance," as those words reflect a remaining sentiment that they are 'wrong' in some way.
As a gay man who in younger days had bought into binary models of gender and sexuality--pick a side, will ya?!--I felt indicted. I've spoken and written about LGBTQ intimate partner violence in broad terms; yet, research points to bisexuals experiencing relationship abuse at rates higher than other same-gender-loving people. Bisexuals also experience higher rates of substance abuse and suicidality, faced with exclusion by heterosexuals, lesbians, and gay men with whom they might otherwise identify. Still, advocates for bisexual health find hope as more queer and non-queer people grasp the complexities of identity and sexuality with more gisexuals emerging from heterosexual and homosexual closets.
As LGBTI Health Summit unfolded over the following three and a half days, it seemed to me at time that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Intersex people, the 'I' in LGBTI, were largely Invisible. Conversations about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)--in other words, taking anti-HIV medications as a proactive defense against the HIV virus, much like an aspirin a day to prevent heart attack and stroke--invoked moral panic among some about encouraging more condomless sex among men and a presumed spike in other STIs (sexually transmitted infections). Conversations about why some men eschew condoms zeroed in on risk, harm, and "moral self," often without acknowledging pleasure, perceived benefits, impediments to enacting self-care, and bonding around transgressive behaviors.
Fortunately, though, LGBTI health does not revolve around HIV, and discussions of lesbian health and transgender health drew my attention to the basic needs of these siblings in Queerdom.
Vaginas still crave community, caring, and stimulation; and building programs for their owners can be as challenging---and fun--as programming for penis possessors. Trans identities result from rare self-knowledge and breathtaking perseverance, but face unique challenges. And, to my delight, sexual freedom and family structures of choice--it works for us, deal with it; not sorry it's not "don't ask, don't tell" 'monogamy'--re-surfaced as critical components of the LGBTI health agenda!
Further, the summit theme "Through the Life Course" was bolstered by plenary sessions on the need for increased intergenerational connectedness, particularly as the number of post-Stonewall adults becoming our elders increases. I'm planning to be sexually vibrant to my last breath, are you? Metro Weekly Cover Daddy at 82, Cherry Blossom Weekend 2047? Fuck yeah!
But what steps are we taking now to ensure that our elders have the knowledge and the access to tools today for enjoying their sexuality safely, so that we may enjoy as well wherever and however we age? Are queer elders not living on their own comfortably able to be out and to ask for barriers, lube, and gear in the places where they live? When is the last time we befriended queers in the generations before and after our own, or beyond our customary social and economic milieus?
Several individual groups came to and departed from LGBTI with visions of the next LGBTI Health Summit in 2011 or the Gay Men's Health Summit of 2010 or 2012 in their home areas. If you are in the DC-Baltimore area and share a passion for the health of your community, your input may be invaluable in formulating proposals to bring a summit to the Nation's Capital, Charm City, or a socially and politically important location in our region. Got a city in mind? Connections who would jump on-board quickly? Experience planning successful gatherings of 250-400 from across the country and around the world? A few thousand dollars to get something rolling through a sponsoring agency? You can express your interest to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll get you to the right team!
Here's to our health!