Where are the B in LGBT?

by

THE MAGAZINE

by Ariane Wolfe

 

The Episcopal Church has made huge strides for people who identify under the umbrella term LGBT in offering overall acceptance, marriage equality, and opportunity for ordination. I’ve met clergy who are “L”, “G”, and “T.” But the “B” seems ever silent. Are there any openly bisexual deacons, priests, or bishops in the Episcopal Church? I don’t know, but come out, come out, whoever you are—I’m hoping to join your ranks and would rather not do it alone!

 

I believe that we are all created in God’s image, and that there are many ways of speaking that truth. Whether we call the Creator by different names or by no name, are we willing to be who and what we were created to be? Do I need to defend who I am? No—and yes. The thing about being bisexual is we’re invisible. For better and for worse, we disappear in a crowd or even just in each other’s company. When I’m with someone of a different gender, people assume I’m straight, and if I’m with someone of the same gender, people assume I am a lesbian. So far so good, and why make waves? Except that either is only part of what I am and who I’ve been.

 

Does it matter? I could in theory go all my life without revealing my sexual preference (lack of preference?) to anyone and wouldn’t suffer for it, at least not externally. I am married to a man and monogamous, and so I “pass” in society as a straight, middle-class woman of European decent. The only obvious reason I’d be discriminated against is that I’m a woman. Oh, I was born Jewish, too, and while I’m Episcopalian by baptism, faith, and practice, my heredity is stamped on my face indelibly. But I don’t feel I’ve been treated as “less-than” for that. So why offer up something that could be used against me or that could be a pathway to discrimination?

 

The thing that has always goaded me into speaking my truth even when I didn’t have to, is that I can’t really feel accepted (loved, respected, visible, understood) as a human being if I’m worried about whether revealing my true self to someone (or some group) would make the difference between being perceived as okay and not okay. A friend, a bisexual man who was closeted about it for most of his life, told me about the church he used to belong to and how they loved and accepted him for who he was; he felt embraced by and supported by the community. When I asked him whether the people there (lay or ordained) knew that he was bi, he said no. He felt they might not have been okay with that, and their acceptance of him was crucial. So did they truly accept him as he was? Or only because he was willing to fit into their idea of what a “good” person was? For some that’s not such a big deal; for me it always has been. God is Love, and God bids us to love our neighbors as ourselves—and all the world is our neighbor. Our Baptismal Covenant binds us to “respect the dignity of every human being.” Do we? Are we each accepted unconditionally as we are?

 

But what if the lesson I’m supposed to take away from this is completely different? What if this is really about humility and letting go of ego? About learning to be okay with being invisible, unseen; to be all right with people accepting me for who they assume I am, for what they can see of me and judge me by? It does bear thinking about. I’m in seminary and hoping to become a priest, and one thing that means is that the part of me that others see will one day also represent the Church. I imagine there will be things I need to learn to “just go with,” opinions I’ll need to leave unsaid, opportunities to leave feathers un-ruffled and boats un-rocked. But (and this is a big but) my gut tells me that’s not it this time. It doesn’t feel right. And the biggest reason is not about me. It’s about others who are afraid to speak or who, for various reasons, can’t share, talk, or be open about their sexual orientation. Because it does matter. I spoke from the perspective of a bisexual woman in class one day, and afterward another person who hadn’t told anyone else, came out to me. She thanked me for it and said it felt good to share her truth with even just one other person—to know she wasn’t alone. I suspect there are more of us out there than anyone knows. We are far from singular, but often alone.

 

I think Robyn Ochs, quoted in Marie Alford-Harkey and Debra W. Haffner’s book Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities, says it well:

The “privilege” of passing [that is] possessed by invisible minorities also carries as its counterweight the onus of having to actively announce one’s identity group membership in order to avoid being assumed to be other than one is, as well as feelings of guilt or discomfort that may arise when one is silent. If we are silent or neutral, we are subject to misinterpretation, invisibility and even the perception that we do not exist at all.

 

According to Alford-Harkey and Haffner, more LGBT people identify as bisexual than as gay, lesbian, or transgendered; bisexuals—especially teens—are more likely to fall into depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts than others; and only a small proportion (28%) of bisexual people polled by Pew Research Center said that “most of the important people in their lives” knew their orientation.
For these reasons and others, I feel the need to speak out, to be open about who and what I am. It can be awkward at times. Do I have a little trepidation about it in the context of my calling to ministry? Yes—what if it becomes a stumbling block during one of the many reviews or approvals I’ll have to go through? But if it came to it, I wouldn’t want to become an official representative of a church, community, or organization that wouldn’t want me as I am. And knowing that I could be an inspiration, a help or support for even one other person because of my willingness to speak my truth makes any personal discomfort or inconvenience worth it. So here I am.

 

My name is Ariane Wolfe. I am a bisexual seminarian and I approve this message.

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17 Responses to "Where are the B in LGBT?"
  1. I'm not sure what I would do differently if I knew someone was bisexual. I would be comfortable if you were in a relationship with someone of either gender.

    As a fellow Christian, I would expect that you were in a monogamous relationship with whomever it was. And there is the difference. I know non-Christian bisexuals who think that because they are attracted to folks of both genders, that they can have one of each at the same time, sometimes openly, sometimes on the down low on the side.

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    • I think the only bisexuals who OPENLY engage in simultaneous relationships (of whatever gender) are polyamorous (and polyamory is an approach to sexual relationships that gays and straights, as well as bisexuals, may hold).

      Otherwise, it's a downlow thing. Which is never healthy or ethical (and therefore, not acceptly Christian).

      There are many bisexuals in both opposite-sex and (more recently) same-sex marriages. However, they often keep quiet about their bisexuality, as they so often face prejudice from BOTH straights and gays.

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      • I think the only bisexuals who OPENLY engage in simultaneous relationships (of whatever gender) are polyamorous

        YMMV. I'd prefer that you post your own experience as your own experience next time, rather than as what appears as a rebuttal or contradiction to mine.

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    • Mr. Allen: And I know of both gay and straight people (both Christian and non-Christian) who do not maintain monogamous relationships. I agree with you that we are called to monogamous relationships. However, I would be loathe to suggest that only one segment of people, based on sexual identification, somehow either reject monogamy or have a different view of relationships.

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      • This conversation isn't about gay or straight people. This is a conversation about bisexual people. Mentioning my experience of the self-identified bisexual people I know does not in any way suggest that only one segment of people, based on sexual identification, somehow either reject monogamy or have a different view of relationships. It suggests that I am sticking to the topic, bisexual folks.

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  2. I empathize with the author & her dilemma. I didn't know, but now I do, TEC permits sex outside of marriage for single Church Leaders that are in committed and monogamous relationships. Being conservative, I think celibacy is beneficial for un-married Church Leaders [straight, gay or bisexual] .

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  3. My only hesitance - and this may get me into some hot water in the Cafe - is that I generally prefer a minister who presents him/herself as a minister first and a person of whatever sexual/gender identity second.

    An analogy might be with woman priests: the really successful ones (in my experience) don't spend a whole lot of time ruminating over (or preaching about) their gender. They just preach and celebrate as if it were perfectly natural to have a woman in charge. This works wonderfully, because it IS perfectly natural to have a woman in charge. The woman priests who have more trouble - and again, this is based on my limited experience - are those who keep their gender as a chip on their shoulder, or something to pull out and worry over at every possible opportunity.

    The analogy isn't perfect, since out-LGBT ministers are a newer phenomenon in the church and probably experience more overt hostility, but the numbers on women in senior leadership positions posted here a few months ago prove definitively that we still have a long way to go towards women's equality too.

    I guess that for me, it's important that a minister of whatever variety be comfortable in their skin, and be facing outward toward the community rather than inward on the needs and demands of their own sexuality or gender. Thanks for speaking up, and good luck!

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  4. I don't believe TEC has an official policy of "permitting" sexual relations outside marriage. However, many of us know people in such relationships, and the challenge for many pastors is figuring out how to deal with people in those relationships who come to their churches. In these cases a "one size fits all" approach may not be appropriate. Instead, the pastor would have to decide on a case-by-case basis with guidance from the bishop, when appropriate.

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  5. The first sentence says, "The Episcopal Church has made huge strides for people who identify under the umbrella term LGBT in offering overall acceptance, marriage equality, and opportunity for ordination."

    I assume asexuals should be offered the same overall acceptance as everyone else. I don't know what the numbers are but the numbers really shouldn't matter. "A" people are people too.

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    • So what is your point? Why are you pulling this conversation off topic to interject a different topic?

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      • I 've never heard of any examples of asexual individuals being denied participation in any aspect of the life of the church based on their orientation or lack thereof. If it has occurred that would be an interesting topic for another post.

        One thing I've noticed is quite often when someone declares themselves to be bisexual, people's reaction is that the person is really gay/lesbian but unwilling to admit it. On the other hand if someone says that they are gay/lesbian but in a fully satisfying relationship with someone of the opposite sex, many people assume that the individual is really bisexual (if not delusional).

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  6. Ariane, I'm glad the resource was helpful to you. I think your desire to be open, honest, and fully who you are in ministry is healthy for you and your future parishioners. Kudos for helping to combat bisexual invisibility.

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  7. Something I've noticed is that often when someone announces that they are bisexual, people's reaction is that the individual is really gay/lesbian but not being honest with themselves. On the other hand, if someone announces that they are gay/lesbian but in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, the reaction is often that the individual is really bisexual.
    I'm not a psychologist, but I've often suspected that sexual orientation is complicated, and not everyone fits comfortably in a particular classification.

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    • In Latino cultures, a lot of gay men come out of the closet slowly, which often involves a period of time where they claim to be bisexual.

      I've had friends tell me that they were bi. I look at them and ask them when was the last time that they actually had a real girlfriend? As they start counting up the years I just grin at them and they perhaps start to realize that they aren't fooling everyone with the charade

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  8. I'm sure someone will be able to clarify my ignorance. Imagine a married husband and wife. The wife longs for sexual relationships with different men, but she never acts on any of her longings, other than let them sit in her imagination a little. As I understand it, this lust is something that is--according to our scriptures--unhealthy and something we should seek to be delivered from. So imagine a little longer: our wife doesn't want these attractions and seeks the Lord's help to remove them from her. This seems to me to be an appropriate and praiseworthy endeavor.

    Doesn't the same holds true to a married woman who lusts after men and women? Shouldn't she seek to *not* lust after men or women--or at least, seek to be freed from sexual attraction to anyone but her husband? If so, why would she want to *identify* as bisexual? Why would she say: who I am is essentially bound up with my attraction to women and men not my husband?

    Again, this is a genuine confusion on my part. I'd appreciate enlightenment.

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    • P.Brad -- when commenting - please sign your name as per our guidelines. Thanks, Editor.

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    • Being bisexual is not about lusting --it about accepting that one is attracted to both men and women. It is not about acting on these attractions. Seeking a partner is not dependent upon the "plumbing" of the other but on the qualities that make for a good companion. If you are married you do not act on those attractions. This is not a discussion about having multiple partners it is about how open should one be about the subject.

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