D Gregory Smith

A Problem and a Proposal

Filed By D Gregory Smith | January 17, 2010 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: bi, bisexuality, building community, LGBT Community, LGBT Support, mental health, proposal, Sexual development, trans

"Why can't they just let me have this? Why does it have to be such a fight?"

These words came from the mouth of one bisexual client, but they have been echoed by almost every bisexual client I've ever had- and there have been many. They were describing the pain, the anger, the sadness felt as a result of comments and treatment by gay/lesbian friends.

Surprised? I'm not. I hear these stories of pain all the time. You've probably heard comments like, "Bi? More like bi now, gay later; She says she's bi, but it's just a college thing; He'll screw anything with a hole- that doesn't make him bi, just a dog, etc."

There's a perceived pecking order in our communities, generally with wealthy, healthy, gay, white males at the top and poor, differently abled, positive, transgender Christian bisexuals of color at the bottom.

OMG. Did I just say that out loud?

It's a human trait to want to feel satisfied and happy, and to avoid feeling like shit. There's nothing inherently wrong in that. However, sometimes the finessing of our feelings can get a little sloppy.

Psychologically, one of the fastest ways to feel good is to make someone else feel/look bad. You know it's true. We all do it- or have done it. The problem is, when this behavior occurs, the good feeling it brings to the perpetrator is fleeting. So, like an addict who is becoming used to the heroin, it takes more and more to feel good as time goes by. It's also not very sophisticated psychologically, it takes far fewer skills to simply react or attack than to actively evaluate and respond with integrity.

People tell me what they see, and I also know what I myself have seen. We see the cliques that form at clubs and bars and in social circles- the packs that hold court and put down and look down. We see sides being taken in problematic relationships. We see people flirting overtly and disrespectfully to our dates and partners right in front of us. We see posturing and gossip intended to intimidate and hurt.

There are also power struggles in our organizations and communities- outcries of pain and rage among members who feel left out or ignored by those in power. From ENDA to the HRC to our local AIDS organizations, people are struggling to be heard, fighting to be included. Ironic, huh?

Many of us were bullied in school because we were different. Some would argue that we are still being bullied by public policy and perception today. We know what it's like to take that kind of abuse. Maybe we think that's what people in power are supposed to do, because we certainly know how to dish it out. In fact, we do it so well, someone responded to a survey I was doing about LGBT community by saying, "I'm more afraid of my gay friends than my straight friends- they can hurt me more."

And so it goes.

Don't get me wrong, I think we can be fantastic and loving and supportive as a community- we have plenty of examples of courage and loving kindness. My concern however, is with the amount of pain we can cause each other, which seems so contradictory to the kindness and support many of us have experienced. Is it a sign of confusion? A result of bullying? A type of post-traumatic stress disorder manifesting in confused and non-reflective behavior? Are we so desperate for security that we will trample over others in order to get it? Have we become so interested in self-preservation that we've lost all compassion for the other wounded people around us?

I certainly have my suspicions.

Maybe I'm oversensitive to this because in my work I hear so many stories of pain and confusion- it's the nature of the beast. I hear about the anger and sadness felt by people who feel disadvantaged by their peers- real or perceived. I hear tales of insecurities exacerbated by pressure from LGBTIQ culture. I see the damage caused by the struggle to fit in to two worlds- and in the case of bi or trans persons, more than just two. Maybe my sense of this is over-exaggerated, hyper-inflated and ridiculous.

Maybe. But the pain felt by my bisexual clients is real. It is echoed by others, by me and maybe by you reading this now. That's my concern- the suffering we cause each other, often out of ignorance or fear.

I have a proposal. A not-so-modest one.

It hinges on the science of personal development and experience which says that self-understanding unfolds over time. It develops gradually. That applies especially to sexual orientation of LGBTIQ persons who face the added difficulty of pleasing several different groups of people- and attempting this with the added difficulty of often having to do so with a still-developing brain. My proposal is this:

When our own people are easy targets for us, let's refuse to take the shot.

When a person says, "I'm bisexual," let's give them that. Let's allow them that place of self-understanding and respect. Let's quit being so hard-assed, bitchy, petty and small-minded about defining people- it's damn near impossible anyway...

Let's even take it a step further: When someone isn't wearing the right clothes or eating the right food or going to the right places or in the right job, or... you get the idea- let's find ways to be supportive instead of destructive. Look a little deeper and maybe we'll see the fear and the pain and the anxiety and the need for a friend. Maybe we'll see people that remind us of ourselves at some point along the crowded way....

I'm proposing that we let each other be human- that we actively work towards respecting and understanding each other and create a community, not just a Political Action Committee. And that will take some work. It will mean taking steps outside of our established circles, being a little uncomfortable, standing up when someone's being put down, looking a little more deeply instead of making a shallow snap judgment.

It will mean being more reflective, more responsible humans.

I think we owe each other that.

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Lisa Rayner | January 17, 2010 3:33 PM

*Thank you* so much for this article. I am bisexual. I was bullied in school from kindergarten through college. I made two suicide attempts when I was 18. I have PTSD, etc.

Luckily, my own gay and lesbian friends have not tried to heap anti-bi abuse upon me. But then again, I tend to avoid anyone who I suspect may treat me poorly. I am probably overly paranoid about this due to past experiences, but I have to do what I need to do to feel safe.

I stand in strong solidarity with people who identify in any way as bisexual or transgender (genderqueer, pansexual, etc.).

I think we all need to be aware of how harmful it is declaring to anyone who we think they are. We see that kind of arrogance and ignorance in fundamental speech all the time.

My awareness was deepened by a friend who is transgender. She explained her own evolution: "When I said I was straight, I was. When I said I was lesbian, I was. Now I realize I'm transgender. I was all of those things, and no one can say who I am but me."

That assertion states what you have put so well, and you have added a component of what I call grace. Don't just allow the differences, accept them and celebrate them; and protect each other's right to be different.

One of the biggest problems for bisexuals is how many gay men claim to be bi when they're first coming out as some sort of stepping stone to admitting that they're gay. Their fearful and dishonest use of the term leads others to wrongfully assume that everyone who says they're bisexual is "Bi today, gay tomorrow."

Bill has it right. I think there is less of that nowadays, but it wasn't so long ago that a lot of gay men got married, played the game, but would sneak out on their wives, and justify it to themselves claiming they were "bi." And frankly, I think a lot of us resented that lie.

I understand your point Gregory that we should respect that people are dealing with their own issues in the best way they can. I even accept what you are proposing, and know it's the right thing, and always do my best to meet people where they are...but remember, it's still tough for many, and not so long ago very tough for everyone to be honest about being gay. Those of us who have taken the often painful steps of being totally honest about who we are can be a bit resentful of people we suspect are not.

That doesn't excuse bad behavior, just my dime store explanation of why we sometimes react that way.

...and I think you may be right- there is resentment. And i think you agree that the point is no one can never really know what another person is going through, what sort of self-understanding they have at any particular point in their lives. If claiming the Bi label helps bring people to the fuller truth of who they are, then I think that's okay. Fear is generally overcome in stages.

Any step toward greater personal understanding isn't political for me, nor can anyone's personal courage be compared to another's- we all have completely unique experiences that are worthy of respect.
Thank you all for responding!

This weekend a friend of mine who I have known for a dozen years asked me how much of the personal issue that we were speaking about had to do with by self discovery of myself as bi. She said this as though it were a recent development as was the source of my problem. I pointed out to her that I have known that I was bi since I was 12 which is more than 30 years so it isn't a recent development and perhaps people could have personal issues that were not based on their bisexuality. She still went on to say that it is always a process of self discovery and I need to see how much that is causing a problem in my current relationship.
Here is the really bothersome thing. She has changed her self identity from lesbian to bi and back to lesbian over the past 5 years while my self identity has been consistent for 31 years.
We run into this sort of thing all of the time, where it is assumed that any personal issue that we have is related to our bisexuality as if it is some pathology. The fact that monosexuals and asexuals also have relationship issues, even the exact same issues seems to have no bearing. It gets old. Thank you for writing this post.