20 October 2011

Not so!

“We must understand that any persuasion to enter into any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the Gospel must be wrong. In the Book of Mormon we learn that ‘wickedness never was happiness’. Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the unpure and the unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember He is our Father.”
-President Boyd K. Packer, October 2010 General Conference (1)

Some suppose that their attraction to the same sex is sinful or shameful. They believe that their deepest capacity to love another person must be suppressed or that God cannot approve of the nature of their love. Some suppose that only in being fractured can they be saved, that only in withdrawing from themselves can they commune with God. Not so! Why would God endow a person with a beautiful capacity to love another and then require him or her to fight this very gift? Remember that truth transcends culture and ignorance and fear.

Some others suppose that it is natural to have disgust for those who acknowledge or express love towards the same sex. They believe that only attractions towards the opposite sex are normal, and that other forms of love are illegitimate or unfulfilling. Some therefore suppose that it is their duty to denigrate homosexuality, to elevate themselves by demeaning others. Not so! Why would a loving, omniscient God ever sanction ignorance or arrogant judgment of others? Remember that we each have the remarkable capacity to reach beyond the limited understanding of our own individual experiences.

(1) This is the un-edited version of President Packer’s talk delivered at the LDS General Conference in October 2010. My transcription is taken from the video posted here. The talk was later edited for the printed version of the General Conference proceedings.

07 October 2011

Bisexual envy?

Perhaps I’ve occasionally entertained the idea that I am bisexual, but I honestly think that such thoughts have derived mostly from wishful thinking. Having a bisexual orientation would fit in more comfortably, I suppose, with the reality that I am married to the opposite sex. However, I am fairly confident I am pretty far to the homosexual side of the Kinsey scale. So I haven’t really thought of myself as bisexual for a while.

Some people view at least some manifestations of bisexuality as a stepping stone to acceptance of homosexuality. As this line of thinking goes, a person begins to come out of the closet and may temporarily hold on to the idea that they are attracted (or can be attracted) to the opposite sex, coincident with beginning to acknowledge and give validity to feelings of attraction to the same sex. While this model is certainly plausible for some people, I’d bet people with a long-term stable bisexual orientation might bristle at the notion that their sexuality is only a transitional phase between a heterosexual and homosexual identity.

My original understanding of bisexuality appeared to be based on the idea that bisexuals could be happy in a relationship with either sex. If so, bisexuality might then present some advantages over homosexuality or even heterosexuality. For instance, a bisexual might be attracted physically to a broader suite of people, and might be able to more profoundly appreciate both male and female bodies and personalities. And given that homophobia is a powerful negative social force, my old understanding would argue that a bisexual has more relationship flexibility than a homosexual: bisexuals, at least have the option of choosing a straight relationship. Maybe this either/or description of bisexuality accurately describes attractions for some people.

However, as I have read of some bisexual experiences, not all appear to have an either/or type of attraction. Some, it seems, really need to have relationships with both men and women to feel more complete fulfillment. For bisexuals who experience attraction in this way, being in a monogamous relationship with either a man or a woman might only be a partially fulfilling experience with another person. When paired with the opposite sex, the same sex needs are neglected and vice versa. I don’t know if sequentially moving between same-sex and opposite-sex relationships helps fulfill needs or just leads to frustration! Are polyamorous relationships appealing to bisexuals who feel this way?

Regardless of their personal patterns of attraction, it seems like all bisexuals probably share a common challenge – how they may be frequently misunderstood from the outside. A bisexual in a same sex relationship would easily be assumed to be gay if he or she showed affection with a partner in a public setting. Likewise, a bisexual coupled with an opposite sex partner would almost surely be perceived as heterosexual by strangers and unknowing acquaintances. Yet in neither case are perceptions accurate since they are based on only half of the story. I don’t know if this matters significantly on a day-to-day basis for bisexuals, but I imagine there can be times when that misunderstanding can be frustrating.

As a gay man married to a straight woman, perhaps I have more in common with bisexuals than I’ve realized until just recently. For instance, being married to a woman presents challenges with respect to feeling that certain of my relationship needs are fulfilled. Paired with either a same or opposite sex partner, a bisexual may also long for the kinds of fulfillment they have the capacity (and maybe experience) to enjoy from the other type of relationship.

Additionally, like bisexuals, I am probably very frequently misunderstood in public settings when I am with my family. In most cases, it will be assumed that I am straight. Usually this is not important, but it becomes more disconcerting when I start to get to know new friends, acquaintances or co-workers better. If I had a same-sex partner, a new acquaintance is likely to learn much faster (instantly, if I am with said same-sex partner at the time) that I am gay. If a close friendship eventually evolved with this new acquaintance, I think in many cases I’d want them to know about all the major parts of my personality, including the gayness. If I comfortably accept this part of myself, there is no reason that it needs to remain hidden from those who are close to me.

So this post stems from some thoughts about the bisexual experience, but not a lot of understanding on my part. If you are bisexual or know well the experiences of bisexual friends or family members, will you educate me? How are bisexual attractions experienced? What is unique about the bisexual experience? What challenges and advantages do bisexuals have?