Once more, I am participating in A Chronic Voice’s monthly linkup.
Wondering, Repeating, turning, desiring, getting
As a bi person with a chronic and likely life-long condition, I have put time into wondering what informs my partner selection, and wondering about the values others who share either or both identities express.
You may be wondering just what bisexuality is, so let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. A bi person is capable of being sexually, romantically, and/or emotionally attracted to people of both their own gender and other genders.
I can, of course, only speak for myself – but over the years I’ve been pretty active in the bi community and have connected with a fair number of people with other disabilities over the years, so I have heard some experiences and ideas.
Here’s what I’ve picked up: both bi and disabled people(and I’d argue this is a pretty universal trait) want to be loved and accepted for who they are, as opposed to how they look, their socioeconomic status, or sharing(or not sharing) certain interests or identities.
Bi people are stereotyped as overly sexual and promiscuous, but the reality is that bi people run the gamut.
Some bi folks practice ethical nonmonogamy(having multiple partners with the awareness and consent of all involved), while others are monogamous.
Just like any other group, there will be some individuals who cheat and are otherwise dishonest, but it’s not especially likely or common.
Some bi folks are also asexual or demisexual, while others are indeed focused on sex and sexual gratification.
Much of the bi population is cis-gendered, but there definitely is a large percentage of the trans community that identifies as bi, or has had bisexual experiences.
The bisexual identity is often erased even by other members of the LGBT community – anything from “oh this is a phase, eventually you’ll admit that you’re really gay”, to the opposite sort of dismissal “Well, I suppose everybody is a little bit bi”.
I am by no means the only person who is both bi and disabled, I honestly seek out other people who also have this intersectional identity – though most of the folks I know are managing invisible illnesses, rather than physical limitations.
That may also be influenced by the fact that the community usually meets at the LGBT center in Manhattan, and the city is not super accessible.
The building itself appears to be, but I remember us having one or two blind people come over the years I’ve participated, but I only am aware of one person who used a wheelchair participating, and she was only in the city for a few months.
I think it’s sad because I’d love our group to have that additional diversity, but, as I said, I understand how challenging it is just to get out and about in the city when managing mobility issues.
I like to think of the bi community as being extremely understanding of differences, and my experiences have backed that up, but still I wonder if and how we could be even more accessible to the physically disabled community.
**update** I have left BiRequest due to experiences with ableism. **
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
At that time, the primary word used to describe the community was “queer”
The term bisexual didn’t really exist. Freud at one point talked about the idea of people having the potential to be attracted to either sex before they committed to one or the other. The “Kinsey scale” in the late 1940s discussed how while some people were heterosexual, and others were homosexual, there was a definite percentage of the population who were attracted to “both” sexes (male and female).
Later, the Klein grid(http://www.americaninstituteofbisexuality.org/thekleingrid) was suggested, which recognized that time is also a factor in relationships.
For example, monogamous bi people definitely exist, so while they usually appear to be either straight or gay(depending on their partner’s gender/gender presentation), their next partner can easily have a different gender identity.
Klein also discussed how people spend time in both gay and straight spaces(the concept of bi space didn’t exist, and is still rare).
Klein’s grid is still used today and is a useful self-evaluation tool.
Klein published one of the first books on bisexuality, The Bisexual Option, where he discussed his grid and his experiences as a therapist working with bi people.
Huge strides have been made in the last 50 years towards LGBT rights, and the concept of bi-ness has also grown. I am immensely grateful for the sacrifices made by LGBT activists in the past years.
What I don’t want is for people to have to repeat the fight, or need to fight again for our hard-won rights. The current political climate is dangerous for people who share either or both of these identities with me. The trans community is being very visibly attacked, but they are not alone in being under threat.
Bi people are oppressed even by members of our own community(LGBT) and there is a large overlap between the bi and trans communities, as most trans people have at some point had the identity of their attraction changed, and many trans people are attracted to others regardless of gender.
Even if a trans person is focused upon one gender, society’s view of them has changed from being homosexual to heterosexual or vice versa. There’s a kinship there, and one I want to celebrate.
While there is a long way to go, both in respect to disability rights and LGBT rights, I am glad progress is being made, and want to make sure that diversity is celebrated so we do not repeat the assumptions of conformity or majority power that has existed in society.
This year, I am making extra effort to participate in Pride events, both to celebrate my bi identity, and to do what I can to make the events I participate in welcoming and inclusive for people with disabilities.
I am marching at the end of the month with the Queer Liberation March, as opposed to Heritage of Pride(aka The Pride Parade).
**Update, read about that very positive experience here**
My reason for this is that Heritage of Pride(HOP) has become more and more commercialized, and now charges each participant for the privilege of being in the parade(previously organizations paid registration fees, but there was no cost to individual participation).
Last year, HOP lasted around 7 hours, with floats from a huge number of commercial ventures that do nothing for the LGBT community as a whole.
There also is internal pressure to focus on the celebratory aspects, rather than pointing out the systemic inequalities. While I am grateful HOP exists and have enjoyed marching with HOP in the past, I’m excited to do something so different this year.
The Queer Liberation March goes back to the roots of what the original march was about(fighting for recognition and respect for our identity), and will not have any organizations that don’t focus on the LGBT community year-round.
I am excited to participate and am getting my celebratory moments in the more local events.
As a bi person, we are often seen as turning from one thing to another, even though we have for the most part been remaining true to ourselves.
Personally, I dated men, and everybody assumed that I was straight, including me, until I met a woman who I instantly fell in love with.
It took me a little while to figure it out – I knew I was blushing and stammering and wanted to have and keep her attention.
I knew that I really wanted to spend more time with her. I knew that I felt like I was tongue-tied and clumsy while she seemed perfect in every way.
I learned the word bisexual later that evening after I talked to a friend about my experience and mild confusion.
“You must be bi” she said. “You know, attracted to both men AND women”.
I realized that that’s what it was, I had my first ever crush on a woman!
She didn’t “turn” me bi(there are some gay folks who take straightness as a challenge to break down), but it was through meeting her that I realized I was bi.
I learned more about myself, more of my identity through meeting her, and learned things I hadn’t previously known – but she was the catalyst for that, not the cause.
Bi people are often painted as indecisive or undiscerning(we are sometimes painted as interested in “anything that moves”), but the reality is that most of the time, we know what we are doing, it’s others who put us in the wrong box.
Many of my fellow bi folks share how their families assumed their orientation based on their partner’s gender identity, and when they brought a partner of a different gender, their family would respond with “oh, so you’re gay now” or “wait, I thought you were a lesbian, what are you doing dating a guy?”.
For us, though, it’s usually a matter of finding the right person, no matter what their gender presentation or sexual orientation is.
People with disabilities are, unfortunately, generally not put in the “desirable” category by a lot of non-disabled people.
There are people in the disability community trying to change this, such as Andrew Gurza with his #disabledpeoplearehot hashtag, but those of us with disabilities do often find ourselves struggling to feel desirable and to find people who express a desire for us.
Those of us with disabilities also often need partners who are willing to be flexible in sexual expectations and actions.
Traditional sex and sexual behaviors may be physically impossible for us, so we often need to improvise a bit, and negotiate with our partners to find a truly mutually enjoyable form of sex that works for us.
If our partners aren’t empathetic and flexible, that may not be possible.
Bi people are often stereotyped in some ways opposite of people with disabilities.
Where often people with disabilities are often viewed as non-sexual or un-sexual, bi people are frequently stereotyped as overly sexual, promiscuous, prone to cheating, and other negative aspects of sexual expression.
There are bi people who are very sex-positive and others who may be repressed(in theory up to 80% of the population may have the potential to be bisexual), and there are also people who identify as asexual, aromantic, or demisexual.
We honestly probably get fewer relationship opportunities than many people(straight or gay) because while we often are interested in all genders, many people simply won’t be willing to have a partner like that.
Bi men mostly are fighting against toxic definitions of masculinity while bi women need to face down the history of pornographic depictions of threesomes and other sexualized depictions of bi women.
What bi people of any gender share is the potential of a partner’s fear of being cheated on.
For some reason, a lot of monosexuals (people attracted to only one gender) seem more afraid of their partner cheating with a person of a different gender than they are of a partner cheating in general.
Personally, I don’t get it, as cheating is going to feel bad no matter what.
Sexually, bi people are apt to have been exposed to a lot more options in sexual play and have a wider definition of sex than your average person, so we are often more flexible in what we desire and are willing to do.
As a bi and disabled person, I am facing down these opposing expectations and assumptions, and finding people who can be mentally and emotionally flexible enough to love me for who I am.
Getting my needs met
I was born with the potential for both my bisexual and my disabled identity inside me.
In my case, I was predisposed toward mental illness by genetics(there is a long history of depression and anxiety in the women in my family), which left me open to developing FND as well.
Even though I did not realize I had same-sex attraction until I was in my early 20’s, it wasn’t something I chose to have, it was simply part of who I am.
I feel lucky to have found a space, a tribe, that will accept me for who I am, and not expect me to be something I’m not.
In my case, the most accepting space that I have found is the bi community – in the NYC area, it’s mostly built around Birequest, a discussion group for the bi community.
Since birequest’s foundation, I believe in the early 90’s, it’s been a space for bi people to gather and talk about the bi identity, share our bi experiences, and learn more of bisexual diversity from one another.
I first found birequest in 2004, as I was adjusting to my Functional Neurological Disorder and trying to improve my mental health following my diagnosis and my father’s untimely death.
In the safety of that space, I have been able to process my identity as a bi person, and learn a lot about additional alternative lifestyle options.
I don’t focus on the gender of my partner, but rather on their internal worth – supportiveness, creativity, the right kind of nerdiness to complement mine, and shared values in regard to fairness and equality.
I realize that one of the things I value greatly is mental and emotional flexibility – I want to have a partner who can handle whatever changes are happening in my life – who can comfortably adjust plans if I’m doing much better or worse than I expected.
Somebody who can be a bit of an emotional anchor, relatively unlikely to be fazed by my occasionally extreme emotional reactions, and by my extreme physical reactions.
Somebody empathetic, who reads me well, and who wants to be my cheering section at times, while respecting that if I say something is too much at the moment, it is.
I have found this person. Al and I have taken turns pulling one another through tough times. He happens to be a straight cis-gendered man. You’ve heard me mention him multiple times on this blog. We live together with our kitties, Nigel and Rorschah.
Al just isn’t my only partner.
A newer addition to my life is Kawa (with me on the top picture) they identify as nonbinary(NB), but are comfortable with using both ‘she’ and ‘they’ pronouns.
**Update: Kawa and I are no longer together. Like all new relationships, milestones lead to self-reflection, and we eventually parted ways after being together for around a year**
They also fit the social model of disability, being self-diagnosed as on the autism spectrum on top of minor chronic health concerns.
We are celebrating Pride together this year, the first time either of us has had the opportunity to celebrate with a partner who is also in the LGBT community.
I feel that that value of flexibility is something that’s important to me with both identities, not just one or the other.
As a person with a disability, having an empathetic and supportive partner is huge – somebody who can manage to avoid both being overprotective and not being there when needed.
It is a balancing act, especially because for many of us, what’s too much one day is fine another. We as individuals have to know what we can and can’t do or enjoy on a day-to-day basis, and we need partners who understand and respect this judgment.
Conclusion: I am a bi person with a disability
Like most people, I want to be loved for who I am, not how I look or what I do. I have found the bi community to be very open-minded and supportive, and respectful of my identity as a person with a disability.
I choose my partners based upon characteristics that are much more internal than external, and because of my orientation, the gender presentation of my partner doesn’t affect my interest in them.
I currently have a straight male partner and a nonbinary partner who tends to be recognized as female(they use both “she” and “they” pronoun-wise). I have also dated a lesbian, a trans man, other bi folks, and straight men. I have partners with disabilities and have had partners who would not consider that label.
I am proud of the history of both of these identities, and I want to help empower people who share either or both identities with me.
To that end, I am participating in Pride with a focus on fighting for our rights as the LGBT community and will do my best from the inside to make sure that other LGBT folks with disabilities are able to participate as much as possible.
If you are coming to Pride, I will be marching with Birequest in both Brooklyn Pride and the Queer Liberation March. I’d love to meet you!
**Update, this year(2022), like last year, I’m planning on participating in the Drag March, Dyke March, and Queer Liberation March**
Great post! As a disabled person myself, I love how you’re making a difference for love in our community, as well as the LGBTQ community. Really awesome. Keep going.
Tiana, thank you so much! All I can do is my best, and I’m pleased to hear that my post is helpful! I love my communities and would love to have more intersectional identities participate!
That’s so great to here. No matter what community you’re a part of, I think it’s good to speak out and bring awareness to it. I’m in a wheelchair and I try to write as much as possible about something related to my disability.
Great blog. Keep it up.
Thanks so much!! *grin* I honestly do as much personalized advocacy as I can – I often get into conversations with folks on the train or other transportation, and educate them, as appropriate, on disability rights, LGBT equality, and how social welfare programs actually work – and when I’m doing well/have the spoons, will often share that I’m on SSDI myself to help fight the stereotypes(for example, after I explain my business goals and that I’m running this blog) – I use my privilege the best I can to advocate for my commmunities, and hopefully change a mind or two 🙂
Awesome! I’ve been trying to find ways in which I can use who I am to advocate for my community but didn’t know how. I can just follow your lead and start with just informing people any time I get the opportunity. You’ve motivated me to do that, thank you.
You’re welcome! I’ve been thinking about creating a post specifically on advocating for ourselves as a community – there’s so much siloing that happens(people being grouped by condition), that while most of us know what’s helpful for our conditions, there isn’t as much encouragement for standing up for the community as a whole – of course part of my feeling that way might be because I’m coming at this from the ‘invisible illness’ category, which definitely runs that way.
But yeah, a big part of small-scale advocacy is relatively simple things: share your story with others when it’s safe to do so, point out when ‘accessible’ spaces aren’t, and why, speak up if somebody you know expresses ablism, and explain how it’s hurtful. Do it only when you have the spoons, but each of those interactions has the potential to really improve all their interactions going forward!
Happy Pride! You really have made strides for both communities to make them more inclusive. I love your concern for including people with physical disabilities and not just chronic disabilities more. Your will to remember everyone really speaks to your character. Thank you for sharing I really learned a lot!
Niamh, thank you so much! The LGBT center most likely is completely accessible(everything I know to look for appears to be in place), and we have several members that I know are dealing with chronic illnesses and mental health conditions – I love that we are that open. Birequest already has grown a lot and is already very diverse(by age, color, creed, and life experience), but I know physical disabilities are under-represented. I just want people to know that we do our best to be a safe and welcoming group!
I tend to keep my blog focused on managing disabilities, so I don’t write very often about these other aspects of my life, but there are definitely some things I’ve learned that feel very apropos for our community!
I loved reading this post, thank you. I always find it fascinating how different writers interpret the prompts.
Jo, thank you so much!
I must admit that in this case, I did push it a bit – it’s June and I did also want to talk about PRIDE and my identity. I’m really glad you enjoyed the post!
Well, clearly I missed your link-up entry from last year, but at least I’m reading it this year. HAPPY PRIDE MONTH! I hope this year is amazing for you. I don’t know if you’ve heard of how Taiwan celebrates PRIDE, but it’s massive. We’re the first country in Asia to recognize and legalize same-sex marriage and our PRIDE parades are massive. 80,000 people fly in from all over Asia to participate and march the streets of Taipei. It’s a true celebration of love and freedom. Sending you rainbow hugs and best wishes for an amazing month, Alison.
Thank you so much! Pride in Taipei sounds awesome!
I have been participating in the Heritage of Pride marches for years in Manhattan, though last year I participated in the Queer Liberation March instead! This year, different groups are trying to do online events, since there won’t be any marches/parades this year due to covid19. It’s a strange feeling.
Rainbow hugs to you as well!