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.

Interview with me at Quite Irregular

I’m talking about Speak Its Name with Jem Bloomfield over at his blog today. If you want to know more about my writing process, my decision to self-publish, and where Lydia, Colette and Peter might be going next, go and have a look over there.

Then, if you are at all interested in feminism, Golden Age detective fiction or Shakespeare (not to mention the Church, Taylor Swift or Movember), wander around the rest of Quite Irregular. It’s one of my favourite blogs and I’m delighted to appear there.

Escape from Planet Hype

DSCF9703

Escape from Planet Hype

Not such a frequently asked question as some of the others – people are too polite, I think – but thank you, yes, sales are going reasonably well. I have not yet made the cost of the ISBNs. (Well, I have if you assume that I’m going to write another four books and can divide the £149 by five, but that’s some years off…)

I have, however, made more than the cost of making this blog advertisement free. And, since I doubt that WordPress is showing you anything nearly as interesting as this Dutch tram stand, with Grumpy Cat on Planet Hype, or a sweet and innocent looking poison frog, I shall do this as soon as the first month’s worth of payment comes to me at the end of March. Make the most of One Weird Trick to pick up Hot Singles In Your Area, or whatever you’re getting, in the meantime.

Deleted scene: a lot of Will’s backstory

Where Will might have ended up

Where Will might have ended up: rowing on the Cam

There are some very early lines in here. The whale gag dates from the very first draft of all. Some of it will feel vaguely familiar, as I ended up recycling bits into Lydia’s internal monologue, though I think some of the duplication may have been deliberate. At one point I had the idea of showing the same event from several different points of view. I think cutting it down to a single one was the right move in terms of structure, but it did mean losing a lot. I’m afraid, though, that this is all you’ll ever get about Why Olly And Will Hate Each Other So Much.

 

Will looked very much like any other stereotypical Stancester student – rah, sloane, Oxbridge reject, call them what you will. He had the floppy hair and the flippy-floppy flip-flops; he owned a wardrobe of rugby shirts, all of which he wore with the collar turned up.

Stancester, despite vigorous attempts by the Public Relations department to shake off the label, was generally acknowledged to be a university for Oxbridge rejects. It had always been fairly likely that a certain proportion of those who lacked the brains or motivation to reach the dreaming spires even leaping from the springboard of private education would end up settling for the rather less dizzy heights of Stancester’s prosaic and distinctly square blocks.

Will was among this number and was not ashamed to admit it. But the Lord looks at the heart, and Will’s beat, with well-meaning, exuberant devotion, to the glory of God the Father.

As Olly had informed Peter, it had not always been thus. Despite the best efforts of a cathedral school, the Dean’s sermons, and Religious Education, Will had never really grasped the point of it all. Oh, he enjoyed the singing, he would nod approvingly when people talked about the United Kingdom being culturally Christian, but it had never, he said, reached the deepest part of his being.

Nor had he ever really expected it to – particularly not three weeks into his first term at university, when the hangover that he had been trying to outdrink since Freshers’ Week had caught up with him, he was despairing of ever getting his head around Professor Bullen’s take on employment law, and he had just got onto the reserve hockey team. Some good, some bad, but none of it really the kind of experience that would obviously lead one to God.

God, however, works in mysterious ways, a fact that Will was to discover over and over again over the course of his university career.

Had he thought about it at all, Will would have compared his first term, to living inside a kaleidoscope, it had been such a colourful whirl of reality, illusion and violent agitation. His Freshers’ Week and the fortnight following it had been like one long school reunion. He had, he estimated, had alcohol in his bloodstream for eighty-five percent of his waking hours, and been roaring drunk almost every night. He had joined the cricket club, the rowing club, the sailing club, and several more that he only remembered when they sent him emails. Occasionally he had been to a lecture. He had, in fact, had a whale of a time.

It was the Tuesday of Week 3 when the whale seemed to tire of its parasitical passenger and vomited him out onto dry land. There was nothing special about Tuesdays; and this one was no different (so far as he could judge) from any other Tuesday. He had no more of a hangover than usual; his contract law lecture was no more boring than usual; his friends were, if anything, more scintillating and amusing than usual. Had you asked him how he felt about life, he would have blinked at you a little and replied that yes, on the whole he was pretty satisfied with it.

Will could not have told you what was so intriguing about the neon yellow poster that appeared, from a distance, to bear the single word Perfection? He could not have told you why he crossed the dining hall to look at it more closely, nor why, having deciphered the legend Want to know more? Look out for SUCF events throughout weeks 3 & 4!, he did not simply identify it as harmless, if silly, Christian propaganda and dismiss it as irrelevant. He walked on and ate his lunch, but the one-word question danced infuriatingly in his mind. Perfection?

He saw an identical poster that afternoon, blu-tacked crookedly to a door and, below it, a half-sheet screaming excitedly Ken Garnett HERE 4pm!!! Will consulted his watch. It was three minutes to four. He hesitated for less than a second before pushing open the swing door and – he could not have told you why – walking in.

After the event Will was, in his own mind at least, perfectly capable of explaining the mysterious attraction the Perfection? poster had for him. ‘It’s like, yeah, the Lord just, just, led me to that event; it’s like He was saying to me, “Will, you’ve just got to stop this sinful life you’re leading, you’ve just got to stop it and follow me.” He was saying to me, “Will, you’ve got to change”. And yeah, that was it, basically.’

Others put it down to boredom.

The effects of Will’s conversion upon his life were not immediately obvious to the casual observer. He continued to participate enthusiastically in the social life of the university’s sporting circle, both in the sport itself and in the attendant lager consumption, and was not noticeably more dedicated in his attitude to his academic work. He managed, however, to squeeze a few more hours into each week of his crowded calendar, and in them applied himself to Bible study, prayer meetings and good works. His circle of friends expanded to include Christian Fellowship members from every conceivable background. This was how he ended up frying eggs and bacon every Friday morning at Saint Martin’s Centre for the Homeless – a commitment he fulfilled religiously no matter how bad his hangover – and that was how he met Becky.

Will and Becky’s friendship was an unending mystery to acquaintances on both sides. Each one’s upbringing, politics and religious views were manifestly at odds with the other’s. Will said ‘sconn’; Becky said ‘scoane’. Becky said ‘laff’; Will said ‘lahf’. One would have assumed that all they had in common was the greasy frying pan at Saint Martin’s. It was impossible to deny, however, that there was more to the bond than the coincidence of the shared Friday mornings, and, against all the odds, Becky and Will got on like a house on fire. They teased each other mercilessly, mocked each other’s accents, brightened each other’s life with unceasing affectionate bickering and entertained the other volunteers and the homeless diners queuing up for their breakfast. Somewhere between the mocking and the insults the eggs and bacon got cooked.

In fact, it was Becky who had invited Will to fill the sixth space in Alma Road, back in the spring of first year. He had missed the boat in the scramble for housing; his Fellowship friends assumed that he would be sharing with people from the Sailing Club; the sailors took it for granted that he would have found a home with the Christians. Which, in the end, he did – but not those Christians, and anyway, Becky tended to get twitchy when people called her ‘Christian’. Olly, too – well. Will tried not to think too hard about Olly, but there it was: evidently a cathedral school hadn’t done much for either of them.

Leaving all that aside, even the ever-gregarious Will had secretly admitted that it was something of a relief when Becky turned to him across a sinkful of hot greasy water, and asked, ‘Who are you living with next year, anyway? Because I’m going in with my flatmate Colette and some of her friends, but I know they’re still one down…’

‘I hadn’t quite got as far as that,’ Will said, sheepishly. ‘I’ve got so much going on, you know? But yeah, if your house does have a spot going that would be great.’

She flashed a grin at him. ‘Brilliant! I’ll have a word with Colette, just to make sure they’ve not found anyone else, but it sounds like we’re good to go!’

And so they were. He wondered, sometimes, if he would have changed his mind had he known that Olly Sennick was one of this vague group of ‘Colette’s friends’ before he signed the contract – but never wondered too hard. After all, he concluded, every time, it was probably part of God’s plan. Perhaps he would be the one to lead Olly to God. Perhaps…

Immortality, of a sort

YRARBIL HSITIRB

YRARBIL HSITIRB

This afternoon I received a request from the Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries for five copies of Speak Its Name – one each for the Bodleian Library, the Cambridge University Library, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales and Trinity College Dublin. I have duly ordered these and asked for them to be sent straight to said agency.

I’ve already sent a copy to the British Library. I walk through the forecourt of the actual British Library building in London on my way to work every day, but sadly I couldn’t just drop a copy through the letterbox as I passed; I had to post it to Yorkshire.

It doesn’t feel quite as much of a milestone as getting the ISBNs did, but it does contribute to the general sense of having written a real book. The Bod et al are very welcome to their copies.

All suppliers reached

Messing around with words

Book… Nook… Kobo… Messing around with words at King’s Cross station

Speak Its Name is now available on Kobo and on the Nook. And that, so far as I know, is the lot. I’ve updated the page for the book with links to the purchase pages on all channels that I’m aware of.

If you have read the book and feel like leaving a review on any of those pages you feel would be appropriate, I would be delighted. The same goes for Goodreads, LibraryThing, BookCrossing or anything else of that ilk.

Deleted scene: Peter’s thoughts on Bristol VRs

This is not a Bristol VR. This is a photo of two interesting buses taken from the back of another interesting bus - but then I would say that...

This is not a Bristol VR. This is a photo of two interesting buses taken from the back of another interesting bus – but then I would say that…

I feel slightly guilty about Peter. In the blurb he’s described as a ‘bells-and-smells bus-spotter’, but because I lost a lot of his point of view in the great Lydia take-over, he hasn’t ended up with very much bus-spotting.

So here he is, with Georgia and Olly, preparing to graduate and leave Stancester for ever, and getting distracted by what’s coming round the corner…

 

‘I can’t believe,’ Georgia said, ‘that this is the last time we’re going to the Black Swan. Together, I mean. I’ll probably go to it quite a lot next year, but it won’t be with you guys.’

‘Yes, well, to all times there is a season and -‘ Peter broke off abruptly. ‘… Oh, for God’s sake, will you look at that?’

Georgia and Olly followed the direction of his glare, and saw nothing out of the ordinary.

‘Look at what?’ Georgia asked.

‘Over there – just coming round the corner of Dorchester Road.’

Olly ventured, ‘It’s a bus?’

‘Yup,’ Peter said.

Olly raised his sunglasses to see better. ‘And? It’s just a bus.’

‘My point entirely. It is a thoroughly boring bus. It is a Bristol VR; it was probably in service up until five years ago; and some idiot is taking it to a historic vehicle rally. What is the bloody point of that?’

‘I don’t wish to encourage you,’ Olly said, ‘but how on earth can you tell?’

‘Well, you can tell by the name on the side that it comes from the other side of the country. Also, it has what I think is its life history blu-tacked to the window. Also, there is something much more interesting following it through the traffic lights there.’

‘That’s another bus,’ Georgia told him.

‘Yes, but it’s about forty years older.’

Georgia and Olly looked at each other. ‘How,’ Georgia asked, ‘have we been harbouring a bus-spotter in our midst for three long years, and not known about it?’

Olly shrugged. ‘I believe it’s an occupational requirement for a vicar to have a morbid obsession with some form of public transport. He’s probably been mugging up on it so he can get through the bishop assessment thing. Did you never see The Titfield Thunderbolt?’

Georgia laughed. ‘Oh – yes. Yes, it all makes sense now. I bet there’s a test. But buses?’

‘Trains are more usual, I will grant you. When I was at school the Dean – the current Dean, not the one who left in disgrace – no, I’ll stop there, or we’ll never get off the topic. But I think buses are allowed.’

‘Actually,’ Peter said, with sorely wounded dignity, ‘my granddad was a bus conductor. On the Routemasters.’

‘Not the granddad who was a vicar?’ Georgia said, suspiciously.

‘No. The other one.’

‘Did the one who was a vicar like trains?’

‘I don’t know,’ Peter said. ‘Bit of a pity if he did, because I think his parish got Beechinged in the sixties.’

‘Oh, well,’ Georgia said, ‘Routemasters are cool, I guess.’

‘Thank you,’ Peter said graciously.

‘Can we get some lunch now?’ Olly asked.

‘I was waiting for you,’ Peter said. ‘And there doesn’t appear to be anything else interesting coming, so I’m perfectly happy with the idea.’