Monday, March 10, 2008

Where's the B and the T in LGBT?

This weekend, I attended a meeting of my church's Rainbow Task Force, our congregation's welcoming committee.

Our church officially became a welcoming congregation more than fifteen years ago. We have significant numbers of gay men and lesbians in the congregation, and we have celebrated many civil unions. Our policies, our membership materials, and our web site all affirm our welcome to LGBT persons.

But like most of the congregations I work with we fall far short on the B and the T of LGBT. We are just taking baby steps to look at how we can be welcoming of transgender persons; a workshop I led in the fall on transgender has started to focus attention.

When I suggested at this meeting that we also need to become more welcoming of people who are bisexual, I was taken aback by some of the comments. Several people mentioned bisexuals as "promiscuous", confusing having attractions to people of both sexes with wanting to have sex with multiple partners. (I thought to myself, but didn't mention Kinsey's definition of promiscuous: anyone who is having more sex than you are.) Others mentioned that bisexuals can choose to live as heterosexual and therefore don't have the same issues as gays and lesbians. Still someone else wondered whether we should be encouraging people to label themselves at all.

But naming is so important -- as is breaking the silence about the range of sexual orientations and gender identities. I think it's fair to assume that there are signficant numbers of people in my home congregation (and in your's) who are bisexual, who have questions about their erotic attractions and interests, and who need our support.

It's time to stop just saying saying LGBT, and pay attention to what those letters mean.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am a UU who is bisexual, but in a committed long-term heterosexual relationship for the last six years. I am about as far in the closet as you can be in my church, because if I am perceived as straight but allied I am much better accepted then I would be as a bisexual in a monogamous heterosexual relationship.

You are right... I dont have the same issues... but that does not mean that there are no issues at all for me. One of those issues is that I have never felt welcome to share this aspect of myself in church.

Robin Edgar said...

It's time for U*Us to stop just saying saying we affirm and promote the inherent woth and dignity of every person, and pay attention to what those words mean. . . The same can be said about most of the other Seven Principles of U*Uism. The second and third principles of U*Uism come into play here as does the Seventh Principle. Sometimes I wonder if U*Us even know the meaning of the word compassion. . .

Your post here, and the sole follow-up comment so far. . . reveals some of the flaws of the UUA's "Welcoming Congregation" program but by no means all of them.

:Our policies, our membership materials, and our web site all affirm our welcome to LGBT persons.

What about the people? How do the members of your congregation actually welcome to LGBT persons? Indeed how do they welcome people more generally? I know of plenty of so-called "Welcoming Congregations" that are far from genuinely welcoming to people who walk through their doors on any given Sunday, regardless of their sexual orientation. How are visible minorities, or not so visible minorities. . . welcomed? Not to put too fine a point on it I know of so called "Welcoming Congregations" where LGBT persons find themselves to be less than genuinely welcome because of their religious orientation. Yes, God believing LGBT people have been made to feel unwelcome because of their Christian or otherwise theistic religious beliefs rather than their sexual orientation.

:But like most of the congregations I work with we fall far short on the B and the T of LGBT.

I am not the least bit surprised to hear you say this. As will become clear from subsequent comments.

:We are just taking baby steps to look at how we can be welcoming of transgender persons; a workshop I led in the fall on transgender has started to focus attention.

15 years down the road from *officially* becoming a "Welcoming Congregation". . . This is by no means the only way that U*U congregations fall far short of what their *official* policies, membership materials (aka marketing materials and U*U "church" propaganda), and web sites claim.

:When I suggested at this meeting that we also need to become more welcoming of people who are bisexual, I was taken aback by some of the comments. Several people mentioned bisexuals as "promiscuous", confusing having attractions to people of both sexes with wanting to have sex with multiple partners.

Forgive me for being a bit waggish here but if a bisexual person acts upon their attractions to people of both sexes it means that they will have sex with at least two different partners. . . There is no confusion there. The real question is what actually constitutes being promiscuous. But that raises another question that harks back to my initial comments. Why should promiscuous people be shunned by U*Us if U*Us affirm and promote the inherent woth and dignity of *every* person? Allow me to play Devil's Advocate here and suggest that maybe U*Us need to add a P to the B and the T in LGBT, maybe an H or an S wouldn't hurt either. . .

:(I thought to myself, but didn't mention Kinsey's definition of promiscuous: anyone who is having more sex than you are.)

Surely, in this context, you mean anyone who is having more sex than U*Us are. ;-)

:Others mentioned that bisexuals can choose to live as heterosexual and therefore don't have the same issues as gays and lesbians.

That's a good one. . . Why didn't these "others" mention that gays and lesbians can "choose to live as heterosexual" as it were? There is this thing known as the closet. . .

:But naming is so important -- as is breaking the silence about the range of sexual orientations and gender identities.

To say nothing of breaking the silence about U*U hypocrisy about sexual orientations and gender identities.

:I think it's fair to assume that there are signficant numbers of people in my home congregation (and in your's) who are bisexual, who have questions about their erotic attractions and interests, and who need our support.

I guess that would depend on what the term "significant numbers" means. . . If one reviews official UUA membership statistics it becomes clear that many U*U congregations have fewer than 50 members and many more have fewer than 100 members. One has to wonder just how many LGBT members such small U*U congregations may actually have, even when they go out of their way to pretend to be welcoming to LGBT people.

:Anonymous said... I am a UU who is bisexual, but in a committed long-term heterosexual relationship for the last six years. I am about as far in the closet as you can be in my church, because if I am perceived as straight but allied I am much better accepted then I would be as a bisexual in a monogamous heterosexual relationship.

It's a sad day in the U*U World when a bisexual U*U, possibly even a member of a so-called "Welcoming Congregation". . . admits to being all but completely closeted because if they are open about being "bisexual in a monogamous heterosexual relationship" they will be less accepted than if they keep up the sham of being "straight but allied". Indeed this bisexual U*U is so closeted for fear of a negative reaction to their bisexuality that they feel compelled to post anonymously. Oh well, so much for the Third Principle of U*Uism that calls for "acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations". . .

Dare I once again point out that many gay and lesbian U*Us do their darndest to be perceived as "straight" as possible in some if not many U*U "Welcoming Congregations"? Which brings us full circle to how transgendered people, perhaps especially those who cross-dress before successful completion of a sex change operation, are not really all that welcome in many U*U "Welcoming Congregations".

:You are right... I dont have the same issues... but that does not mean that there are no issues at all for me. One of those issues is that I have never felt welcome to share this aspect of myself in church.

Which really does beg the question as to whether or not the U*U congregation that this anonymous closeted "straight but allied" bisexual U*U belongs to is *officially* a "Welcoming Congregation" and affirms its welcome to LGBT persons in its policies, its membership materials, and its web site etc. There are times when I can't help but wonder if the so-called U*U World isn't the Potemkin Village of religions and this post about far from genuinely welcoming "Welcoming Congregations" is certainly one of them. . . I dare say that a good number of *officially* "Welcoming Congregations" in the U*U World would be rather more appropriately decribed as being "Unwelcoming Congregations", and not just in terms of how they fail to be genuinely welcoming to LGBT people.

Robin Edgar said...

Thanks Debra.

You really are a good sport and I genuinely appreciate it. As you will see from The Emerson Avenger blog post that cross-posts this comment I gave you the benefit of my doubt that might find this critical comment a bit too hot to handle and decide not to post it and you did not let me down.

Best Regards,

Robin Edgar

robin said...

okay...this is what drives me crazy about UUs. why is it that we have to be specifically welcoming to certain groups of people? we so often emphasize GLBT and minorities and women and blah blah blah, but why can't we just be accepting of all? why must we label everything and everyone? why do we have to be sensitive and "welcoming" to only specific groups of people? why can't we just treat everyone with respect and kindness? honestly...

Anonymous said...

My spouse of 14 years and I both are bi, polyamorous/non-monogamous UU's and very much in the closet about both - not the UU part :).

Similar to the other anonymous poster, we don't feel comfortable sharing this aspect of our lives - mostly because we don't want the hassle of explaining it to everyone, but also because we doubt it would be received well.

We have a large proportion of g and l folk in our congregation who have a tacit understanding of at least my spouse's bisexuality, but it isn't discussed directly.

It feels that in our area of the US, bi women "must be bored or confused" and bi men are considered to be promiscuous disease carriers.

Not to mention the polyamory/non-monogamous aspect of things ... we would only mention it to a very select few people. I doubt it would be very well received in our congregation (or any other in our area).

It's frustrating to say the least.

Robin Edgar said...

What the other Robin said, as somed up in the first sentence of my comment and the first principle of the Unitarian*Universalist Association of Congregations.

Look`s like we`re birds of a feather in some ways. . .

Of course, from my perspective and no doubt that of many other people, U*Us have to some explaining to do as to just why it is that they do such a poor job of actually living up to the letter and the spirit of that alleged "covenant", or indeed the six other "covenants" of the U*U religious community.

Steve Caldwell said...

Debra,

I would check out the resource on the Interweave web site:

http://www.interweavecontinental.org/

Scroll down to the link labeled "Bisexuality Curriculum Released."

According to the Interweave web site, this curriculum is:

" ... a new four-session curriculum on bisexuality, creatively titled The Bisexuality Curriculum. It is designed to be used in adult religious education, Small Group Ministry, or with youth or young adult groups."

This curriculum has materials related to the "bisexual = promiscuous" concerns and the related "bisexual = polyamorous" concerns.

Robin Edgar said...

Steve,

I expect that Rev. Haffner is probably already familiar with that Bisexuality Curriculum and the "materials" that it contains. What Debra, and pretty much every other commenter here, is talking about is the all too evident *gap* between what is *preached* in official U*U policies, U*U membership materials, and U*U web sites etc. and how U*U congregations put those policies and curriculums etc. into *practice*. I do believe that Rev. Haffner is quite rightly saying "Mind The Gap" if I may recycle a phrase from the UUA. . .

It is glaringly obvious from the testimony of the anonymous closeted bisexual commenters here, to say nothing of my own observations over the years, that the UUA's Welcoming Congregations Program and other policies and "materials" present a misleading facade that often does not reflect the actual experience of LGBT people in U*U "Welcoming Congregations." It doesn't matter how good or how readily avaialable the principles, the "curriculum", or the membership materials are if they are not actually put into practice by U*Us.

Anonymous said...

I would like, if I may, to direct attention to the other seemingly overlooked part of "LGBT Welcoming Congregation": the "welcoming" part, specifically as it relates to the B and T folks.

Now, before I get started, please know that I do not condone the practice of denigrating the G and L folk, welcoming congregation or not.

My congregation is a Welcoming Congregation and so far, all I can see that they do is not overly discriminate. I don't have a dictionary handy here, but I'm fairly certain that "to welcome" and "to not demonize" are not even roughly synonymous. If congregations want to point out that they are especially committed to not being mean to their LGBT members, why don't they label themselves thus, "An Unmean to LGBT People Congregation"

My seeming naivete is not without a purpose. To wit: if congregations are going to go through the UUAs requirements to become "welcoming", then, I ask, what does it mean to "welcome" someone? It is a question akin to one that asks what is the difference between tolerance and interest. I hope, by "welcoming," we mean the latter; who needs one more community that tolerates one's identity. The current zeitgeist of our country is tolerance. That's not saying much. If to "welcome" someone does not mean to take an active interest in their identity, then what is its worth?

All of which is really background to the main point I wanted to make: The identity of a group is knowable, ergo welcomeable, through its culture. Subgroups, especially marginalized subgroups, have throughout history survived by creating culture for themselves. Some of these we outsiders find to be "rich and vibrant"; others not so much. But our assessment of the worth of some other group's culture isn't the point. Culture is utilitarian. People make culture when they need to. So regardless of whether the dominant group finds itself enamored of the subgroup's culture, it is a handle by which to know, work to frame, and then welcome, truly welcome that group.

Anyone figured out where I'm going with this? If all we are supposed to care about, to "welcome" about another group is their issues, forget it. How, specifically, the world treats you like crap may get you my sympathy, but it won't make me take an interest in you. If the sum total of your cultural output is a handbook of strategies for dealing with oppression, you are...(how can I put this kindly?)...boring. You pale into the general oppressive surroundings. How can I like you, love you, hunger to know you? If you are not like me--which you patently aren't if you have a different initial than I do--then I have a very limited array of responses vis a vis you. I can minimize the importance of the differences between us, which allows me to largely remain permanently ignorant of you, or I can try to get to know you, compare and contrast me and you. But who are you, what have you got? My people invented chocolate chip cookies. What did your people invent?

And so what of "B" and also "T" culture? Bs first. What are "Bs" known for? What have their people become specialists in? What musical, art, food, forms did they perfect? What about them should I welcome? Now the Ts. Same question, really. What do you bring to the world? Oh, sure, there is that whole two-spirit thing. So, are you all shamanistically gifted? I think you get the point. It is hard, and , I think, sad to welcome "others" when that doesn't imply anything more than getting over one's fear that they have communicable cooties.

Oh, by the way, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I am a closeted transgender member of my congregation. And not because I'm afraid people won't like me. They'd have to despite themselves--I'm ridiculously likeable. I don't come out because I can't even figure out (aside from a few strands of leather) what transgender culture is or could be. But as soon as I have something to add to the cultural conversation, I will.