31 August 2009

Defining the Ones Who Defy Definitions

Steven Andrews

I am a bisexual man married to a heterosexual woman.

And that’s odd, but is it queer?

I am a newlywed—by the time you read this blog, I will have been married for only two days—but I have been thinking for some time about the implications of my relationship for my affinity identity. We are in a monogamous relationship, so when we fell in love, and got engaged, and got married, I wondered, during every step of the journey: am I still bisexual? If the other side of my bisexuality will never be expressed again, can I still use that word to describe myself? Where’s the line between what I do and who I am?

I have already gotten in trouble for asserting my bisexuality. My original sponsoring congregation was a small church in Indiana. When I joined the church in 2005, I didn’t tell anyone about my affinity identity. I reasoned that I was more attracted to women than men, anyway—that there was no reason to risk the career track I was on or damage my relationship to the church. I could think of myself as bisexual in the meditations of my own heart, but there was no reason for me to express the dangerous side of my sexuality. I could pass as a heterosexual. It wouldn’t be a major loss. In this way, I came to think of church as a place where people hide who they really are; I thought concealment and deception were part of what it meant to be an active member in a church.

In 2007, I left Indiana and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where I began my theological education at Columbia Seminary. That was when things started to change. My church roots expanded. I met other queer Christians. I became more confident in my identity, not only as a bisexual, but as a human being. I came to know people who had been deeply wounded by the church’s negative stance toward queer individuals. I became confident enough and determined enough to do something about that, and I knew the most effective thing I could do was to “come out” to that church back in Indiana.

So in November 2007, I began to have conversations with people back home about my affinity identity. I owned bisexuality. I claimed it as who I was. My relationship with the church was strained for a while; our relationship ended in May 2008, when they found a pretense to revoke their original endorsement of me. Needless to say, our parting was not pleasant. But I stood my ground. I was honest with them, and I think that was more important than being pleasant.

I was able to remain under care of my original presbytery, which allowed me to transfer to the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta. My new home church is a welcoming and inclusive congregation in Atlanta—Ormewood Park—and it has been, in every way, a refreshing surprise to me. I have been able to be myself there, and not just in terms of identity, but in every aspect of who I am. I can say crazy things during Sunday School and they still love me. We have a warm church family, based on real intimacy and vulnerability. They have shown me that church can, indeed, be a place where people are honest.

Throughout the transfer process, I have been honest with my new church and with my new Committee on Preparation for Ministry about why and under what circumstances I was transferring. I have told them that I am bisexual. I have owned that name and claimed it as part of who I am.

But now what do I do?—what do I say?—and what’s the line between the two? Am I a bisexual man married to a heterosexual woman, or am I a heterosexual man in a heterosexual relationship? Is there a way to think of bisexuality as something more than an expression of who I’d like to be romantically involved with? I think there is.

For instance, I am more feminine than a lot of men I know. I enjoy reading and writing poetry. I’m not particularly athletic. I’m an empathic listener who thinks emotionally, not rationally. My hands are small and soft; my lips are full; my torso is slender. Even after the wedding, these things remain true. Can I think of these things as aspects of my bisexuality? I have before. If I continue to do so, am I being stereotypical? Am I saying all gay or bisexual men are less manly than other men, or speaking in terms of a gender binary many of us are working to shatter? Despite the import of those questions, I know I am not like other men, and I know this realization has been a part of my developing affinity identity. I don’t know what to say about the gender binary, but I do know this: my feminine attributes are not a threat to my masculinity. They are an expansion and redefinition of my masculinity, and they help me understand what it means to continue to call myself bisexual.

More importantly, though, I know a little about the spirituality of bisexuality. We are people who are open to finding all kinds of love in all kinds of places. In the words of Adele Stan, to us, “a person’s gender is just another attribute, like the color of his eyes, or the texture of her hair.” We see through the traditional definitions and look beyond the traditional boundaries to embrace affection in all forms from all directions. Some people say our ability to love is reminiscent of God’s unconditional love, and while I’m not quite willing to own that myself, I will note that it has been said. For my part, I am still a person who is open to finding all kinds of love in all kinds of places, even if my romantic attentions are focused on one, wonderful woman.

And she has been wonderful. She doesn’t want to be accused of turning me hetero; she wants me to continue to assert my bisexuality, my queerness, or whatever I choose to call it on any given day. And her desire gives me hope that I can sort all this out—that I can figure out what it means to be a bisexual man married to a heterosexual woman, and that I can assert both those truths without contradiction—that I can be honest with myself, with the church, and with the world.

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