How to make bisexuals feel welcome at church

04-2013 August Wells 088

I’m assuming for the purposes of this post that your church is one that wants to make bisexuals feel welcome, that perhaps already has some sort of ‘LGBT’ outreach or ministry, that’s wondering where all the bisexuals are, that’s thinking that perhaps it doesn’t have any.

If that’s not the case, some sort of LGBT outreach would be a good start. And if you are starting from scratch, here’s how to include bisexuals in that.

The tl;dr version:

See us. Let us know you’ve seen us. Believe us when we tell you who we are. Or, if you can’t see us at the moment, let us know that it’s safe to be visible.

Don’t make assumptions.

Understand that you almost certainly have bisexuals in the congregation already. Who knows – they might even have got married in your church. Yes, even if your church doesn’t do same-sex marriages.

A significant relationship pattern among my friends is bisexual Christian woman + straight atheist man. That’s what mine looks like. In fact – let’s take that a little further. My husband goes to church almost as much as I do, and the potential for hilarious misunderstandings is endless. Quite often people come to the conclusion that he’s Roman Catholic – a Polish middle name and a habit of coming to the communion rail for a blessing rather than to receive will do that. They see us sitting side by side in the choir, and they assume that we’re a straight Christian couple.

But he’s not Christian. And I’m not straight.

The moral of this story is: don’t make assumptions about people’s sexuality based on their relationships.

Similarly, don’t make assumptions about people’s relationships based on their sexuality. For me, when I say that I identify as bisexual, I’m talking about potential: what might have been, what might still be. For most married bisexuals, our sexual identity just doubles the pool of people with whom we’re not committing adultery.

None of which is to say that there aren’t other models of relationships that are valid. Christians can be celibate; Christians can be polyamorous. A bisexual might have committed to only pursuing relationships with people of the opposite gender. A bisexual in a different-gender relationship might not want to get married because they know that if they’d fallen in love with someone different, they wouldn’t be able to.

Speaking for myself, I got married when I was 23, and I wouldn’t do it again. Not because of any difficulties in our relationship (except for that incident the other week where I laughed when he dropped his pizza…) but because I’ve come to find society’s insistence on marriage as the highest expression of human relationships damaging and verging on the idolatrous. But that’s just me, and I don’t speak for all bisexuals, not even all Christian ones. Don’t make assumptions based on me, or on anyone else.

Include bisexuality. Explicitly.

I went to a church where we once sang Over The Rainbow under a rainbow flag. It still took me years to come out, because I wasn’t sure that I was queer enough to ‘count’. I came out to the rector, who was fantastic. I was never out to the congregation at large. It would probably have been fine, but I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure that people would accept me as a bisexual. I wasn’t sure that they’d believe me: they’d seen me get married to a man, after all. And so, for five years in a church that I loved, that was fantastic in all other respects, I was never quite myself.

It’s very reassuring to know that my church would accept me if I were to turn up with a partner of the same gender, but that doesn’t tell me that it sees and accepts me as I am now. So talk about bisexuality. Show that you understand that some people are attracted to more than one gender. Show that you understand what that means.

Remember that bisexuality exists. Don’t assume that people with same-sex partners are the only ones who have problems with, or in, the Church. Don’t use ‘LGBT’ if you just mean ‘lesbian and gay’. Don’t include the B and the T in the acronym in the top line of your sermon or newsletter article and then talk about ‘gay people’ all the way through the rest of it. It’s lazy and it doesn’t make us feel included; it shows that you haven’t actually thought through the distinctive experience of bisexuals – let alone trans people. (That’s a post of its own, and I’m not the person to write it.) Similarly, assuming that bisexuality is included on the basis of the ‘everyone’s bisexual really’ meme erases the experiences of those who do identify as bisexual, and of those who explicitly don’t.

Understand that bisexuals are likely to have specific pastoral issues.

There is a statistic floating around that says that bisexuals are more likely to have mental health problems than either gay people or straight people. I resemble that statistic. And I am not remotely surprised.

Whatever our relationship might look like, we’re always half in and half out of the closet – or we’re having to work very hard swimming against the tide of other people’s assumptions. We’re always aware that there’s a side of us that people are choosing not to see. We feel guilty, as if we’re hiding something, but we fear that if we are explicit about our identity then people will accuse us of attention-seeking. Sometimes we worry that we are attention-seeking, but if we try to settle into the role that society has assigned to us we’re always aware that there’s something else, something that we must acknowledge or be damned.

The Christian life calls us to a sexuality that’s pretty much the opposite of the promiscuity that popular culture ascribes to bisexuals. The more we try to live out our Christianity, the more our sexual identity is erased. Monogamy is mistaken for monosexuality, and we disappear into the gap between straight and gay. Being invisible is not healthy, spiritually speaking, and if your vocation is to care for your congregation, then you need to care for both halves of us.

God sees us as we are.

One day, I hope the Church will do so too.

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