Some Bisexuals are Christian (and there’s lots of them)


Today is designated as Bisexual Visibility Day and it seems to me that it is about time that I said something about the B in LGBT that is so often silenced or invisible.

Some Christians are bisexual. In fact rather a lot of Christians are bisexual. Rather a lot of people now describe themselves as bisexual and their experience is very often missing from discourses about sexuality and particularly missing from discourses about faith and sexuality.

I must admit that there was a time when I’d never really considered bisexuality at all. It didn’t seem to speak to my experience (though more of this later) and had not really thought about it until I met and got to know someone on a retreat. Now, I’d signed up for this retreat on the grounds that it was a retreat for gay men. (There was a prominent gay author leading it and that had signified to me that this was what it was). And so I was puzzled when the person I met told me that he was getting married (in those days marriage could only mean between a man and a woman) just a few weeks after the retreat. “But how? But what? But why?” I can remember thinking. And indeed, I remember someone else muttering that the person in question didn’t know who he was at all. In fact the opposite was true. He knew exactly who he was and remains very articulate about being a settled bisexual person who happens to be married to someone who happens to be female. He just happens to be someone capable of falling in love with both men and women.

The thing is – if you listen to what young people are telling us about the way they think about themselves, there’s a huge increase in the number of people identifying as bisexual. But what does that mean? Does it mean that young people are different to the way young people used to be? Is their behaviour different or is it their perceptions? And for those who see sexuality as being fixed and God given (and you do hear such things being said these days) what does it mean? And, you can hear the conservatives mutters, if everyone is really bisexual isn’t that a cue for a revival of the idea that being gay is a choice and that everyone should make straight choices in order to please God who prefers things that way just because he does?

Let’s start with the recent statistics.

A YouGov poll recently showed that nearly a quarter of people in the UK identify themselves as not being completely heterosexual and the figure is far higher if you restrict the survey to those who are between 18 and 24. Thus they found that of that age group, 52 % identified themselves as exclusively either straight or gay with 43% putting themselves on a continuum whereby they experience feelings for both men and women which might vary from the occasional notion whereby someone unexpected catches their eye, to the experience of actually having relationships with both men and women. If you are looking for the lost 5%, don’t forget that some people identify as asexual, some don’t identify as either one gender or another and some just won’t say.

Now there is clearly a huge change since I was young. I’m not convinced that younger people are actually behaving that much differently to the way people behaved when I was younger but they are clearly feeling very differently about themselves.

When I was speaking recently at Greenbelt, one of the questions at the end came from someone who seemed a bit puzzled by what I was saying and said simply, “But everyone I know is bi anyway?” He seemed to imply that coming out as gay (or indeed straight as I was trying to argue straight people need to do) was in fact a bit alien. It was one of the comments which really made me think.

In my days of being 18 – 24 there was a strong narrative, supported by the churches, of young people who might end up identifying as gay being “confused about their sexuality”. It seems to me that this narrative is now diminishing and is being overtaken by the narrative that “very many more people are bisexual and what’s wrong with that?”

I tend to identify as being a gay man even though I don’t particularly think sexuality is immutable and am far from certain that I’d ever say that it is God given. My loves and cares are certainly tied up in what I believe about God’s loves and cares but that is a far cry from believing that God made me gay. I hesitate these days in the face of the oft repeated argument that “God makes people gay and God doesn’t make mistakes”. I do accept that this is how it feels but I’m not prepared to say that it is ontologically true. And it is a useless argument if we then move on to talking about the T in LGBT, but that’s for another day.

I do know that as the “everyone is really bisexual” way of thinking about things becomes more established there will be a resurgence in the “well you should make straight choices then” argument from conservatives. Faithful Christians who identify somewhere under the rainbow flag need to have arguments all ready for such conversations because I think they are coming our way.

I have a different take on human sexuality to many people. I think looking at the different sexualities is like looking at the night sky. If we look at the stars for long enough we start to see shapes and we begin to recognise these shapes as they move across the night sky. Now, the stars themselves have been used by human beings for different things – some more legitimate than others. Sometimes we use the stars and the shapes they make to navigate around the world. It is a joy to recognise the pole star and know one is heading true north if one is driving home late at night from the south. The stars and what we make of them are useful and there’s all kinds of good science to be enjoyed in learning about the universe that we live in. We make the constellations in our minds though and people have used the constellations to make myths which have been rather less scientific and seen meaning where there’s no intrinsic meaning there. Orion or Cassiopeia only make sense to me from my perspective here on earth. The patterns would be lost from other places in the universe. The meanings that human beings have imputed into the shapes of the stars are only human attempts to give meaning to where we find ourselves in the universe. If we stood in a different place in the universe we would see different shapes and patterns.

So it is with sexuality. The L, G, B, T, Straight, Asexual and other claimed constellations of sexuality may simply be our ways of trying to understand who we are in the universe that contains far more possibilities than we currently know. People in different times and in different places have understood human sexual activity radically differently which is why it is rather silly to think that the bible or any religious book contains the sum of all that should be known about human love.

We are developing in the West a way of understanding sexuality that argues that legitimate relationships are those which cause no harm – or rather relationships are legitimate which are mutual, consensual and lead to the flourishing of both parties concerned. This is the basis of marriage in my church these days and it didn’t used to be.

In that context, thinking of people as being essentially bisexual – filled with the potential to make either a male or female partner flourish makes complete sense and is completely legitimate. (And we need to fight off those who still mistake bisexuality for polyamory – the two are not the same).

However, all of that depends on there being an understanding about self determination. It cannot be legitimate for one person to coerce another person into a sexual relationship that they don’t want. Neither, and here we have the argument against any conservatives wanting bisexuals to make straight choices, can it be legitimate to coerce someone into a sexual identity with which they don’t identify.

So on this Bisexual Visibility Day, I’d say that in the future, expect to hear rather more about bisexuality than we’ve heard in the past. And look out for arguments about self-determination for LGBT people.

That’s the territory we’re headed towards.

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