Last week I was brought into a Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) meeting in the state of Arizona to discuss my book, Queer Greer, and share my personal story as a bisexual person.
Going into the event, I was well aware of the overarching issue many bisexuals and transgender individuals have with the PFLAG organization, simply due to the non-inclusiveness of the name. Even though bisexuals and trans persons are not specified in the title of "PFLAG," however, their mission does include the BTs of the LGBT community, stipulating:
"PFLAG promotes the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, their families and friends through: support, to cope with an adverse society; education, to enlighten an ill-informed public; and advocacy, to end discrimination and to secure equal civil rights."
Knowing how lengthy LGBT organization names can get in order to encompass every gender identity and sexual orientation along the spectrum, this has never been a major problem for me. While I see value in being inclusive and welcoming of all, don't get me wrong, it's also valid to consider how PFLAG sounds and can be easily referred to as compared to PFLGBTQQIAP (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Pansexual people ... and I could definitely keep going.)
That being said, however, it became clear once my presentation was opened up to discussion and questions from the group that there was a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about bisexuality, at least in this particular PFLAG group. Many members had children who had come out as lesbian and gay, even several with trans kids and a couple who were trans themselves. Only one couple in attendance had a daughter who identified as bisexual and was recently married to her female partner.
Among the questions and comments I received were the following:
- "If you choose to be with only one person, don't you miss the other gender? How do you deal with that?
- "I understand how someone can be completely homosexual and completely heterosexual, but bisexuality seems like a choice."
- "When I was coming out, I went through a bisexual phase. Once I realized I was gay, though, I figured that bisexuality doesn't really exist."
I answered as honestly as possible. I told the first questioner that, at least for me, the genitalia and specific gender of those I date are not what matter, but who they are as people, their personalities and morals. If you're with the right person, no matter what your sexuality is, I questioned back, do you miss other men or women, depending on your preference?
I explained that this might be different for other bisexual people, as some enter into open relationships or practice polyamory, having relationships with more than one person at a time. From my personal experience, though, I prefer to be monogamous and if I'm happy with the person I'm with, I don't "miss" anything about anyone else.
To the second questioner, I admitted that if I did have a choice, it would have been a lot easier to be either completely heterosexual or completely homosexual. When you have a foot on both sides of the fence, so to speak, there are a lot of issues that come with being bisexual. I've been left out of experiences with my LG friends when I've dated men and vice versa when I've dated women. When I've been in seemingly straight relationships, the greater LGBT community is reticent to accept me and I've felt the negative bias many within that community feel when I've been in seemingly lesbian relationships. I've also had potential partners tell me that they just "didn't date bisexuals" -- most likely because they were under the false impressions that all bisexuals cheat, cannot be monogamous or will eventually leave to be with a different gender.
Then came the third questioner with his statement that stung a bit more than the first two. To be told to your face that you don't exist is an experience that can be very confusing and difficult to navigate. How can you say I don't exist when I'm standing right here and I just told you in great detail about the hardships I've personally gone through in coming to terms with my identity? It's bizarre, to say the least. I explained to this person that, while "bisexual" might not be the identity that explains him best, that doesn't mean that others who do identify as bisexual are wrong by any means. Just because someone is heterosexual, does that mean homosexuality doesn't exist? Of course not. Why should bisexuality be any different? I left this person, however, feeling that I had made an impression and that he understood my identity and the identity of so many more like me.
I also left the event realizing how much more education is needed on this subject. PFLAG is a great place to start, considering that the organization draws a group of people who are coming together in an effort to better understand the wide spectrum of sexual orientations for themselves, their children and their loved ones.
I was pleased that I was given the opportunity to educate others about the truths regarding bisexuality and I hope I have more occasions to do so in the future.