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.