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Covenant Network: “Bisexuality Basics: Honoring the Bi in Pres-Bi-Terian”

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Rev. Layton E. Williams celebrating communion for the first time. (photo: Jack Jenkins)

On Friday afternoon [11/6/15] of the Covenant Network National Conference, Presbyterian Teaching Elder Layton Williams, from Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, offered a workshop entitled “Bisexuality Basics: Honoring the ‘Bi’ in Pres-Bi-Terian.”

[Editor’s note: The Presbyterian Lay Committee continues to adhere to, uphold and advocate the Christian worldview that fidelity in marriage between one man and one woman and chastity in singleness is God’s best for human beings. Our coverage of Presbyterian meetings hosted by those who believe differently is a part of our ongoing effort to inform and equip Christians to understand and engage meaningfully in the issues of the day. Journalistic coverage should not be misunderstood as agreement with the views expressed herein.]

After introductions around the semi-circle of eight participants, Rev. Williams shared a list of definitions to provide a working lexicon for attendees.

“Bisexuality,” Williams defined as “attraction to people of one’s own gender and people of other genders.”

She shared that as a person who identifies as bisexual she resonates with a definition of bisexuality by Robin Ochs, “the potential to be attracted, romantically and/or sexually, to people of more than one sex, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”

Williams then identified “pansexual and polysexual” as terms that are related to bisexuality. “Both terms,” she said, “describe people whose attractions move beyond a single gender.”

By contrast, Williams identified “gay, lesbian and straight” people as “monosexual” because they attracted to exclusively one gender.  She added that “monosexuals are considered privileged by bisexual people.”

queer intersectionAsexuality was discussed and then polyamory which was defined as “the practice, desire, or acceptance of intimate relationships that are not exclusive with respect to other intimate relationships, with the knowledge and consent of all involved.” Williams added that “consensual non-monogamous” is another way of saying polyamorous; adding that “you can be bisexual monogamous or bisexual polyamorous.”

When asked about the Q in LBGTQ, Williams answered that “Queer is an umbrella term for those whose sexual and/or gender fall outside of heterosexuality and cisgender.”

Cisgender, you ask? Williams answered, “we’re getting to that.”

But first she defined “transgender as a gender identity that does not align with the sex assigned to a person at birth.” Offering three related terms:

  • Gender queer (the bisexuality of gender – which can be fluid)
  • Cisgender – a person’s gender identity is coherent with the sex they were assigned at birth
  • Agender – a person who does not identify with a specific gender

gender identityWhen a question about agender was raised, the workshop participant who identified as an asexual polyamorous transgender woman, further explained that “a non-binary person rejects the distinct difference between male and female. They don’t think of it as a linear scale but as a galaxy of orbits that are ever changing.”

Bi stories

Williams then shared her story. She said she had a “conservative upbringing in Atlanta, in a blended Presbyterian family,” where she was “exposed to issues of sexuality in public school. First exploring sexuality/bisexuality in high school, she lived open in college and came out in seminary” after, she said she “went to a discovery weekend at Austin and met many queer students.”

She openly admits that she has been in relationships with both women and men and that she “went through my call process and my hiring process in a very open way.” She says, “I have loved the people that I have loved for exactly who they were. I am attracted to all of them.”

Each person who identifies as bisexual, Williams said, “has their own story.” She shared about an individual who “identifies as gender non-binary or gender queer.” They were “previously married to a man and then came out as a lesbian and dated women exclusively for a while but now consider themselves bi and polyamorous.” And another individual who “identifies as genderqueer but was in a lesbian relationship and is married to that spouse.” Then they “transitioned to a genderqueer identity.” That resulted, Williams said, in “lesbian no longer describes the relationship.” She added that they “never identified as bi until they started taking hormones and experienced attraction to both men and women.”

When asked how this aligns with the “marriage matters” conversation and the efforts led by the Covenant Network for “marriage equality,” Williams admits that for “polyamorous people marriage is not a relevant construct.”

Particular struggles of bisexual people

Williams said that “people who identify as bisexual are the largest subset of the LGB community but the least resourced.”

They experience, Williams said, “Biphobia,” which she defined as “hostility from all sides even within the queer community. Because we pass as straight we have access to privilege. But when that happens it’s called ‘eraser’ – because the reality of who I am is erased by the assumption that I’m straight.”

That leads to a further complicating reality for the person identifying as bi. Williams spoke personally about “invisibility.” Describing it, she said, “if I’m walking with a partner I’m assumed to be straight if my partner is a man and lesbian if my partner is a woman. For a bisexual person, every second that we’re not saying it, we’re miserable because it’s assumed that we’re not bisexual. Which is why I have to make it an issue. My constant naming of my reality is” driven, Williams said, by this sense of “invisibility.”

Honoring the Bi in Pres-Bi-Terian

Williams then identified several “gifts of bisexual people” in church:

  • “Ability to hold seemingly disparate truths together; holding things in tension.
  • “Ability to question and challenge presumed boundaries, appreciation of nuance and complexity.
  • “Understanding that what is seen is rarely the full story.
  • “Understanding of being misunderstood, ostracized, etc. leads me to seek out the people who don’t fit in any way.

Rev. Layton Williams blogs at http://www.rmnetwork.org/newrmn/author/lwilliam/

 

 

 

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Carmen Fowler LaBerge