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With Dry January just about over, we want to tip our hat and raise a glass to Short Mountain Distillery.
Nestled on the border of Cannon County, Short Mountain could seem like a world away from Nashville, particularly for members of the LGBT community who are accustomed to thinking of the rural South as a place to be avoided.
For those in the know, however, Short Mountain and its surroundings have long welcomed LGBT people, particularly those on the margins. But chances are, unless you’ve seen the name on a bottle of moonshine, you haven’t heard of or don’t know much about the place.
Short Mountain Sanctuary, a collective providing queer safe space, has been the center of a thriving counter-culture LGBT community in rural Cannon and Dekalb Counties since its founding in 1980/81. It’s annual Spring and Fall gatherings attract visitors, who run the gamut from city dwellers seeking a spiritual or communal experience in the woods to radical fae from other communities, from around the world.
Many who are drawn to the area by encounters with likeminded individuals live in the surrounding communities, and have, over the years, become part of the towns and villages around the mountain. The thriving LGBT presence centered on Short Mountain has often gone unacknowledged, though, and for many this is a welcome fact.
Last year, however, that anonymity was broken as a feature in the New York Times by Alex Halberstadt entitled “Out of the Woods” shined a bright light on that unconventional world.
From Los Angeles to Woodbury, Tennessee
For some, that light brought unwelcome attention to a world intentionally lost to the surrounding culture. On the other hand, awareness draws new blood and new life to communities like Short Mountain and nearby Woodbury. An excellent case-in-point is Billy Kaufman, founder of Short Mountain Distillery. When Kaufman decided to call it quits on the Los Angeles rat race, it was his knowledge of the strong LGBT presence around Short Mountain that initially drew him to the area.
“I came out here fifteen years ago,” Kaufman recalled. “I wanted a farm, but I had no idea about farming, I had no idea about Tennessee, really, except I had a bunch of friends here because of the Sanctuary. I knew gay people in this area who are into farming. I looked around—I didn’t want to be the only gay person living out in the country. I wanted a community.”
What he found exceeded his expectations: he found something more than an LGBT community. “You know there is just nothing else like it on the planet. I bought a big farm and very quickly realized it’s not really a gay community here: it’s just a community of people,” he said. “There’s farmers, there’s workers who commute, there are families that have been here a hundred years—all sorts of people, all just trying to get along and having to work together for it.”
While he found in the community something he was seeking, farming just didn’t pay off. “I found myself farming with these old farmers who weren’t really making any money farming—there’s not any real money to be made in farming out here,” he explained. “Once you pay off your equipment and your losses, you might break even. Some people make business around here in the nursery business, but farming is like a dying art.”
So how did Kaufman make his way to moonshine? Those old farmers enlightened him. “I learned quickly that these old guys were making moonshine for money on the side,” he explained. “And that got me thinking—I’d give some to people from the city and they loved it. I didn’t think of it as being illegal back then, I was just sharing country moonshine I got from these old guys. But people were excited—they didn’t know anyone still made it or how to get it on their own.”
Indeed, Kaufman’s farm has its own storied history with moonshine dating to long before Kaufman was born. Pointing to a photo hanging over the shop counter in the distillery, Kaufman said, “This guy, Cooper Melton, was the owner of this farm during Prohibition, and he was a moonshiner. Tennessee went into Prohibition before the rest of the country, and given Tennessee’s huge tradition of distilling, a lot of locals became moonshiners. When the rest of the country went into Prohibition, Tennessee became a moonshining center.”
Long after Prohibition ended nationally, some locals continued to make illegal moonshine. This makes sense for Kaufman, who explained, “When I moved here this was a dry county, and in the country a lot of people just still bought illegal moonshine. You have to remember that Prohibition effectively ended in Cannon County in stages: when we were allowed to sell moonshine at the distillery and when we got the license to serve alcohol by the glass in the Stillhouse Restaurant at the distillery.”
Ending Prohibition in Cannon County
Kaufman was considering taking up illegal moonshining himself around the time he met Christian Grantham. Grantham and other friends cautioned Kaufman that this would be a terrible idea, as he could lose his 400-acre farm if he were arrested. Even though Tennessee had recently legalized moonshining and other distilling statewide, it was still banned in Cannon County, which was completely dry.
“I told him he was going to lose his farm if he did that,” Grantham recalled. “So [Kaufman] asked me, ‘How do we do it legally?’ And I knew enough—because I had followed the changes in the state law—to know that he needed to run a county referendum. He saw that I could help him, and asked me to assist.”
What had impressed Kaufman about the men he was learning from struck Grantham as well. “[Kaufman] introduced me to three moonshiners who blew my mind. They had never left the county. These were craftspeople, the descendants of people who were driven west by the whiskey tax as early as the American revolution and who fled into the hills to make their whiskey with the government out of the picture. And here they were, generations later, still doing it. This is the story of America!”
Collecting signatures invited a lot of conversations, which were eye-opening, especially for Grantham, who was a newcomer to Cannon County even by comparison with Kaufman. “As we were collecting signatures,” he recalled, “every person who signed it would say things like, ‘My aunt used to make medicine out of it, my uncle used to make it, my grandfather….’ I was blown away. I had no clue—I had no idea so many people had a connection. Their pride in that art was hidden: it was something they were ashamed of but they saw this as an opportunity to get out from underneath that shame and to shine. It passed in every single precinct.”
With the law changed, Kaufman could proceed with construction of the distillery and begin production of his Short Mountain Shine. Grantham helped Kaufman with his business plan. And just as Kaufman was driven to preserve the tradition of Cannon County moonshine, he was equally wed to his own family business tradition.
“My grandfather started Samsonite Corporation,” Kaufman explained. “He had a marble that they would give out, and around the marble it would say, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ They would do union negotiations based on that, they would negotiate with new trade partners based on that—it would really tell them what they stood for as a business. It allowed that company to be very diverse, and to grow, and for people to treat each other very respectfully.”
Kaufman and his brothers, who are his partners, decided to adopt the same business motto, so it appears on the back of every coin featured on each bottle of Short Mountain Moonshine, along with the three stars of Tennessee. “When kids come in with their family, we pop the coins off of a bottle and give it to them,” Kaufman said. “We put coins on all our bottles, and we change the design often so people can collect them. We have gone through about nine designs so far.”
A Recipe for Success
Kaufman’s vision was more than just to begin making moonshine. “When I started the distillery—we are the number six distillery in Tennessee—it was a very fresh, very new concept,” Kaufman said. “I decided we were going to make really highbrow moonshine and show the world what moonshine is all about.”
“The first thing we came out with is called Short Mountain Shine—and it’s the local, Cannon County recipe for moonshine,” Kaufman explained. “It’s 105 proof. We had three different moonshiners we talked to and they all made this recipe: almost every moonshiner in Cannon County has made this recipe for generations. It’s a sugar shine, and it’s got a very expensive grain bill because of the cane sugar.”
Kaufman rapidly diversified his offering. “Short Mountain Shine is a high proof spirit that you would treat like vodka or tequila,” Kaufman said, “but what I found was that most people want to drink stuff right from the bottle, so the second thing we came out with was the Apple Pie—it’s not a really high proof spirit, it’s only 40 proof.”
“This is the historic cocktail that people would make if they had a moonshiner in their family. It was a way of making the moonshine go farther and making it easier to drink. It’s a value-added thing you could do to the moonshine by making it a cocktail. So even moonshiners knew flavors sold!” Kaufman said, jokingly referring to the endless flavor combinations offered in today’s spirits market.
Moonshiners are nothing if not practical. “Not everyone knows how to drink the straight shine,” Kaufman said. “Give a bottle to that person and they’ll taste it and put it on the shelf where it’ll sit for a hundred years. But mix it with something and they’ll finish the bottle and come back for more. Apple juice or cider was accessible, relatively inexpensive and made a really good cocktail.”
Next came Prohibition Tea. “This one is a sweet peach tea, made by cold-brewing Lipton tea in the moonshine for three days and then sweetening it with sugar and a little peach. This one is a little stronger—60 proof—and is great with lemon, lemonade, Sprite, anything citrusy.”
Shiner’s Select is moonshiners shine. “People would tell us, ‘Your shine’s really good but it doesn’t taste like the shine they used to make here because it’s too smooth,’” Kaufman said. “So we were like, ‘We actually make the shine exactly like they used to make it, we just blend it in.’ So they said, ‘Well, let’s try not blending it in, because it has a completely different flavor. So let’s make it on the old pot still and separate it.’”
Shiner’s Select is the result. “It tastes exactly like a high quality illegal moonshine from Cannon County would have tasted like,” Kaufman said. “Illegal moonshine has a reputation for being harsher: so this has more flavor but is not as smooth as the Short Mountain Shine, which is slightly higher proof!”
Charred Shine is a product available for purchase only at the distillery. According to Kaufman, an early batch of Short Mountain Shine came out tasting a little different that the rest. Rather than risk their product’s flavor profile, they barreled and aged that batch in charred oak barrels. “Bourbon lovers and whiskey lovers will enjoy this,” Kaufman promised. “We aged this for a little over two-and-a-half years. It’s smoother than any bourbon or whiskey: it’s not as complex a flavor but the finish is very smooth, and that’s moonshine.”
Around February or March, the distillery will be releasing a 100% organic, corn-based product as well. “That is an authentic way to make moonshine because there was time when sugar was not readily available during depression and during war, and they would make moonshine with just corn.” The product is charcoal filtered, giving it a smokiness reminiscent of Tennessee whiskey.
A Crowded Market
Kaufman’s moonshine is made to an exacting standard according to a historically verified recipe and process, and when he makes a flavor he uses natural ingredients and infuses the flavors in-house. This sets him apart from his competitors in terms of quality, but it has also put him at a disadvantage in a market that doesn’t fully appreciate the value of quality moonshine.
Kaufman compared the challenge of trying to market his high-end, carefully quality-controlled product to that of a baker who is “coming out with something that looks like a Twinkie that’s actually a fine pastry. This pastry is excellent and it’s worth ten dollars a serving, but everyone looks at it and says, ‘But it looks like a Twinkie, and I can get a Twinkie for a dollar!’ So when people compare my product to those cheap jars, I have to say, ‘No, no, no—think again!’ So that’s my challenge.”
Compounding the issue, shortly after he opened his distillery, the market was flooded by cheaper competition. “Thirty distilleries came in right after us,” Kaufman said. “They all came out with ‘moonshine’, and their take on moonshine is that it’s cheap. So all of a sudden I was trying to create this celebration of this really great recipe, but I got steamrolled by cheap moonshine. So here I am now trying to go into a restaurant and sell my product, they say, ‘Well, moonshine has a bad reputation.’ It has a reputation as not being good alcohol. But this is a great spirit, and what’s happened is that all these things in jars—they’re cheap and they’re going for the hillbilly look, but it’s not real moonshine.”
What constitutes “real moonshine” is exactly the problem though. “The government doesn’t regulate—if I’m going to make bourbon or whiskey I have to follow regulations in order to label it as that,” Kaufman explained. There are no such regulations for moonshine. “So the goal for them is to use the cheapest thing you can and make the perception be that it’s not supposed to taste good, or if you flavor it it’ll taste good. You fill the jars with cherries, add flavoring syrup. That’s why there are twenty different flavors from all these other distilleries. I don’t want to be in that business.”
Instead, Short Mountain Distillery will be sticking to its roots, expanding its lines in ways which honor the tradition and craft of moonshining.
Since it’s opening, Short Mountain Distillery has enjoyed a steady flow of visitors, and Kaufman hopes to increase those numbers, both to promote his brand and his community. “The goal is to bring people to Cannon County to enjoy this last bastion,” Kaufman said. “It’s a rural oasis in my eyes, and there’s a lot of culture here that’s still here. We’re just preserving it and sharing it. The Stillhouse Restaurant is very nice. It’s an elegant day trip for people. We want people to come here and experience very welcoming rural experience: meet a moonshiner, drink some moonshine, eat a well-made home cooked meal, enjoy the country, and take a tour.”
The distillery welcomes guests, as well as hosts events. “We’ve hosted weddings, graduation parties, and people come here to take photos … we don’t charge people for that. The restaurant is a great space for office meetings, and even church groups will come out now. We’ve held concerts here—if musicians want a venue, this is a good outdoor venue. Car and motorcycle clubs meet here because there’s plenty of room to line the vehicles up, and it gives them a nice long drive to go on.”
The distillery even hosts an annual haunted woods, which combined this year with a similar event hosted by the local volunteer fire department. “We’ll keep adding new things but it’s slow. I’ve been here for fifteen years and we’ve been open for five, and look how long it took the fire department to partner up with us. This distillery is just starting to feel like part of the neighborhood, which in the country takes a long time. People’s memories are really long and they want to get to know you: It’s all about building community.”
“We have a diverse community. I sort of see Short Mountain as a microcosm for our country because you have all sorts of different people living here,” Kaufman said. “I think that we’re a model of what is positive in diversity. People are just trying to make things work, so people work together and if things bother them, they don’t make a big deal. I’ve never had an unkind thing said to me in Cannon County.”
Kaufman hopes that the community will continue to grow and strengthen, developing as even more diverse newcomers are attracted by the unique opportunities of what he called a rural oasis. “I see Cannon County in the next ten or twenty years really changing…. I hope we’ll see more artistic people come here, young people who want to get into farming, who want that sort of experience, homesteaders, craftsmen, people who have families.”
And Kaufman is willing to do his part to help develop the ideal of community that attracted him to his oasis in the first place.
For more information about Short Mountain Distillery, events and tours, visit shortmountaindistillery.com. Tours are generally offered, and the Stillhouse Restaurant is usually open, Thursdays through Sundays. The distillery and restaurant will be closed during the month of January, but tours will still be offered on Saturdays.
This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.
When I was 14 years old, I surreptitiously made my way through the stacks in the local library until I came to the Psychology section. One after one, I took down the books whose titles I thought would provide an answer, went to the table of contents and, if there were any, I flipped to the pictures.
Eventually, I landed on one with a word I had never seen or heard: Transvestite. And on the next page there was a black and white photo of a man wearing a dress, looking like he had just crawled out from under a rock. I can still see the expression of guilt on his face.
Not long after that, the newspapers and TV broke the story of Christine Jorgensen, a former member of the U.S. Army who had gone to Denmark to have Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS). Of course, the majority of the reports were always accompanied by some sort of joke, such as “Christine Jorgensen went abroad and came back a broad!”
America's First Trans Celebrity: Christine Jorgensen youtu.be
But those two events rescued me. I learned that I was not the only person in the world with this “affliction,” this sense that something wasn’t right. And I got a word I could apply to it and maybe even hope for a cure. But it was too early. I knew that to say out loud, even maybe, that I should have been born a girl, would mean being ostracized, becoming part of the joke, so I chose the path followed by most transgender people of my generation. I put all of my energy into making sure that no one knew.
And that wasn’t easy. For no matter what I did, I couldn’t match the image of the all-American boy, so I became the class clown. If I wasn’t the John Wayne male, at least I could be Lenny Bruce. It was my way of deflecting the mismatch, and, to some extent, it worked.
Others like me took varying escape routes, becoming athletes, businessmen, or whatever role they could slip into and hide behind. Most married, had kids, and did whatever was necessary to survive, with varying results, but never with happy endings.
Segue to the present. The scenario I described above is, to a great extent, still being played out, but now there are exceptions. Transgender kids today can find some consolation on the Internet. They can learn early on that they aren’t “afflicted.” They can make contact with others like themselves. And they can read about transgender people who are proud of themselves and what they have accomplished as well as hearing about transgender children whose parents accept them and allow them to be who they are.
But the information highway is not all smooth driving. And naïve youth can get lost on detours and take wrong turns, winding up as prey to the trolls, predators, and religious zealots—as well as various other kinds of bullies—who inhabit the virtual world.
So is it any better today for our transgender youth? Most still have parents who reject them and peers who bully them. Nearly half of transgender teens have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having attempted suicide  compared to a rate of 1.6 percent for the general population.
It’s far from a perfect world. But I believe it is definitely better than the one I grew up in, because it’s a world where the President of the United States has condemned “the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender”; it’s a world where the parents of transgender children have publicly supported their sons or daughters and stood up to schools that would try to discriminate against them; it’s a world where the medical and psychiatric professions have come to recognize that being transgender isn’t a disease. All these things were inconceivable possibilities on the day I sneaked into the library.
Nina Simone To Be Young Gifted And Black youtu.be
When I was a teenager, Nina Simone had a hit record titled “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” that has since been covered by artists as diverse as Elton John, Rah Digga, and Faith Evans. A portion of the lyrics say, “We must begin to tell our young / There’s a world waiting for you / This is a quest that’s just begun.” That same message applies today.
To be transgender is not a curse; it’s a gift. As Derrick Moeller, a graduate student in Education at Iowa State University and a transman explains, “Having to contemplate what your gender identity and gender expression looks like is a privilege that most folks don’t have to go through” . Rather than being rejected they will know that they have been blessed, so that their plea “Why was I made like this?” will be replaced by a prayer of gratitude: “Thank you for making me like this.”
 Grossman, A.H. & D’Augelli, A.R. (2007). Transgender Youth and Life-Threatening Behaviors. *Suicide and Life-Threatening Behaviors* 37 (5), 527-37.
 Tiffany Herring, January 28 2015 Iowa State Daily [goo.gl/YSL3SC].
Many of us have made resolutions and pledged ourselves to transforming some aspect, or aspects, of our lives. For some, these resolutions will involve career, budget, home ownership, etc., but for a LOT of us, they will involve various health, exercise and fitness goals.
Often, these resolutions are vague, like “lose weight” or “exercise more”, and way too often they begin with a gym contract and end with Netflix and a bag of takeout. Getting specific can help in holding yourself accountable for these commitments, though. So we thought it might be interesting to talk with a local gay trainer, James Mai, about his fitness journey, his work as a trainer and how he keeps himself motivated, and get some of his suggestions for carrying through on this year’s fitness resolutions!
Mai said he hasn’t always been athletic, though he was thin. “I have not always been athletic. I danced a bit in college but never lifted a weight. I was what you call ‘skinny fat’ and I didn't know any different. I only started truly working out three years ago, when I started in the entertainment industry.”
The motivation to get into better shape was work. “Fitness was a byproduct of having to keep up my looks for castings,” he explained. “I found a love for training because everyone is on a different path, but I knew that I enjoyed being on that journey to help others get to be their more confident selves.”
Training, of course, keeps Mai in the gym, and helping others reach their goals keeps him motivated. He trains at Barry’s Bootcamp in Nashville, and he’s clearly passionate about his workplace.
“Barry's Bootcamp has been my family for the past 3 years!” Mai said. “There is a community of people that come together and actually encompasses what a fit family truly is.”
Barry’s describes its gym as “the room where everything becomes possible. Where you push through the ‘I can’t’s’ and ‘If Only’s.’ Where you run faster, lift more, lean out, quiet down. This is what transformation looks like. Where you become the best version of yourself.”
“The workout itself is designed for efficiency. The intervals and strength training combinations are proven to lean and tone your body. This isn’t a fitness trend. It’s just science. And it works,” the company says. “Then there’s the ‘thing’ that happens when the doors close, lights dim, and music turns up. There’s a palpable energy in the room that pushes you one step further. It’s the soul, body, brain revolution that’s uniquely Barry’s.”
Mai’s commitment to health continues outside the gym, though. “Outside the gym, I love dancing, and you can see me taking classes at DancEast to brush up on my technique or out and about just jamming to music. Dance is a great way to move your body and a cardio workout, if you are really get into it.”
It’s not all about what you do with your body: what you put into it matters as well. “Diet is a huge part of getting results that you want, in addition to time at the gym,” Mai explained. “I meal prep every week, so that I know what goes into my body and I can monitor the macros that I am consuming each day. There are plenty recipes and information about meal prep options to help you reach yours goals. Check it out, test it out, and choose what you like and don't like.”
Mai also doesn’t do something that might be a hard habit to break for some of us: “I also don't drink, so that helps keep off those unwanted calories that I don't need!”
Asked for some strategies he’d suggest for people looking to get healthier and keep those New Years resolutions, especially those of us out of practice or new to trying to get in shape, Mai offered the following:
Try to exercise every day.Be active, whether it's a simple walk or run, bike ride, dance class, yoga, or swim. Daily exercise builds adrenaline, endorphins, pheromones, and testosterone—which are ingredients for the perfect healthy addiction. Once exercise becomes a daily habit, you will miss it if something gets in the way.
Get a workout buddy.Friends don't let friends down. With a friend, you can hold each other accountable and keep that motivation intact. Try a new studio together, take a class together, and laugh and share the joy of your journey together.
Vary your diet.Most people will eat the same thing every time, given the option. Think about how what you eat powers you through your activities. There are many types of diets out there. From keto or whole 30, paleo to low carb, research and try out what works for you. Even gradually incorporating aspects of these diets can help you towards your goals.
Get more sleep.Take naps, go to bed earlier, and give yourself more time to rest. Sleep volume is directly correlated to physical and mental health.
Focus on yourself and your feelings.Often, people strive to lose weight or make muscle gains and focus on the scale to see their progress. Making change takes time and is not immediate. Instead of focusing on the numbers right away, focus on how you feel after a workout: strong after a lifting exercise, energized after cardio, or relaxed and connected after a yoga session. By focusing on how you feel rather than the scale, you are more inclined to stay motivated on your fitness journey.
Mai also had some suggestions for incorporating health goals into daily life. “Being healthy is comprised of many parts: Mentally, physically, and emotionally. Filling these capacities takes time and needs attention and care. At the end of the day, you are working on living your best life, and, by living a healthy life, you impact not only how you feel but also how others feel around you.
“Mentally,” he explained, means “Keep learning. Feed your mind and continue to grow. Workout your mind and allow it to keep you informed and motivated. Eat well. Drink sensibly. Take a break from social media, because the perceptions versus the realities of posts on social media can mess with your emotions and how you think. Allow yourself to connect mind, body and soul.”
“Physically, working out and exercising allows you to get to your best self. Like Elle Woods says in Legally Blonde, ‘Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands, they just don't.”
“And emotionally, how you feel about yourself feeds into how you perform. If you look in the mirror and you don't like how you look, you are less likely to want to go out and have a good time,” he added. “By emotionally feeding yourself positivity, you are creating a more well-rounded version of yourself. Every time you look in the mirror, tell yourself ‘I'm beautiful and worthy.’ These words of affirmation to yourself may seem silly, but are crucial to your health. Start believing that you are beautiful and worthy and that positivity will take strives in your life.”
For more information on Mai’s gym, visit barrysbootcamp.com.
Rarely are the words, “I’m bi,” heard. Whether on TV, film or even from friends and family, it’s almost nonexistent. Coming out as gay is thought to be brave; a pivotal moment in someone’s life. Coming out as bi, however, is often met with rolled eyes, being viewed as a sexual object, and even with the chant, “Bi now, gay later.” Being bisexual isn’t heralded as brave: it is often treated as if it isn’t even a real thing!
Many well-known blogs have used the purple analogy to explain bisexuality. Purple is known as its own color and not half red, half blue. There are even several shades of purple, some with more red or some with more blue. The same exists in bisexuality, where attraction can be fluid. Some can be hetero- or homo-romantic (meaning that when it comes to establishing romantic relationships they are primarily attracted to members of the opposite sex, or same-sex, respectively) but do enjoy physical, sexual contact with someone of different sex than their partner. Some can be polyamorous and even cohabitate with both sexes. And others decide on their romantic and sexual partners freely, a person to person decision based on what about the individual might tickles their fancy.
Understanding bisexualityPhoto by Isi Parente on Unsplash
While bisexuality, on the surface, should be welcomed as yet another beautiful way of living—loving hearts and not parts, if you will—bisexuality is often viewed in a not so great light or simply swept under the rug by both the straight and broader lesbian and gay communities.
I asked men and women who identify as bisexual to help us take a look at what it means to be a shade of purple in the big world of pink and blue. It should be noted, and of some concern, that most did not want to be identified by full name, or to use a photograph, in order to avoid judgment from one community, the other, or both, or even because of the risk of losing their jobs and family.
Sorting through the responses to our questions on bisexuality, early feelings of attraction for both sexes was a common theme. Most relate it to the same feelings as straight or gay people face. “I’ve known I was bisexual since I was very little,” Emma Frye stated. “I realized I was not attracted solely to one sex as early as I understood attraction. Most people know they’re straight or gay early in life; I was the same with bisexuality”
Some state that they did not recognize their feelings as bisexual, or perhaps did not know there was a name for it, like Lish Rodriquez: “I didn’t know about bisexuality—I just knew that I liked those people. As I grew older and the media picked up more stories about homosexuality and the AIDS/HIV epidemic, it gave me the word ‘bisexual’ to identify with.”
What comes up also, is the difference in fluidity. The majority of respondents were in an opposite-sex marriage and thus present outwardly to the wider world as heterosexual. Out of those people, many refer to themselves as “swingers.” This is a way for them to explore their bisexuality, with or without their spouses’ involvement, while keeping their marriage and families intact.
Taking the “B” out of “LGBT”
Despite its banner of open acceptance, there is a great deal of questioning in the wider lesbian and gay community about the status of the “B,” and just as some have called for the expulsion of the transgender community from LGBT, others are calling for the removal of the “B”.
One Tumblr blog, “Unpopular Opinions,” states, “I think we should take the B out of LGBT. Bisexuals have it way better than most of us in the queer community. They have straight privilege and ride on the coattails of the gay community.”
Turns out, that just as in the transgender community some agree for very different reasons, some bisexuals likewise argue that this just might be a good idea. Recently a YouTuber known as BisexualRealTalk called for the “B” to be taken out of “LGBT.” He concluded that a bisexual looking for support in the LGBT community was ultimately going to have more questions, be left with a greater sense of uncertainty, and come away with a deeper sense of being alone. “Expectation kills,” he says. “The LGBT community is not our friend”
In fact, a major Canadian study published by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission in 2010 called “Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations,” found bisexual men are 6.3 times more likely, and bisexual women 5.9 times more likely, to report having been suicidal than heterosexual people. Bisexuals are also 3-5 times more likely to feel suicidal than gay men and lesbians.
The majority of those we surveyed also felt discrimination from the LGBT community. Rae Schomburg-Hall states, “I receive scorn from most lesbians as they feel I should ‘pick a side’ and I must just need to ‘make up my mind.’” She feels she is seen as “a confused individual. An oversexed person, just looking for fulfillment. Not to be trusted. An interloper. This, coming from a community that heralds inclusion and acceptance is just…just…wrong.”
Views and Perceptions About Bisexuals
Reading through blogs and articles mentioning bisexuality, it doesn’t take long to find the words "greedy," “whore,” or “slut” being heaped upon bisexuals individually or as a group. The belief that bisexuals, regardless of the evidence, aren’t actually, or can’t be, monogamous is another common attitude.
“There are definitely people who think being bisexual means the exact opposite of monogamous, which is kind of hilarious” answers one of our participants. “I think people's sexuality is so personal, and it varies from person to person. Not all of us sleep with everyone, just because we can, although I have had close friends say that I was a whore or a slut because I dated both ‘sides’ from my pool of friends as a young adult.”
R.J. Aquiar, YouTube’s “NotAdam,” has a series he calls “Ask a Bi Guy,” where he addresses many of the perceptions and attempts to use his personal experience to change the attitudes on bisexuality. In response to our questions, he wrote, “There are still so many people out there who can't accept our identity as valid. They're so adamant about sticking to their existing world view, so they'll look for any reason to dismiss us rather than accept this new information that might require them to change their world view. That doesn't necessarily make them bad people, since it's human nature to do that. And it's even more understandable when you look at how much society enforces that gay/straight binary. Most people would, for instance, refer to a male/male or female/female couple as a ‘gay couple’ rather than a ‘same-sex couple’ while a male/female couple is most often referred to as a ‘straight couple’. If you know what to look for, there's bi-erasure all over the place. This can make it really difficult for a bi person to consider coming out since it means having to face all of that adversity head on.”
Men vs Women
Attitudes men versus women concerning bisexuality certainly differ. It is often said that women have it “easier” being bi. The acceptance of a bisexual woman actually involves oversexualizing her. When a woman says she is bi, many men would jump at what they think is a sure-fire way into a threesome. Very rarely is she viewed as a potential monogamous partner.
And if she comes out to a potential same-sex partner? She is often not taken seriously. There is a fear she will want to return to a heterosexual fantasy of husbands, children, and white picket fences in the suburbs. After all, bisexuals are always viewed as having the potential for passing in straight society as an option. One lesbian told us “I’m scared I’ll be hurt by bisexual women, so I won’t mess with them at all”.
Bisexual men do face a different demon, and because of it, very few men will ever come out as bi. Cooper S Beckett—author of “My Life on the Swingset” and “A Life Less Monogamous”—offers personal insight on this. There is “the immediate assumption that I was gay and kidding myself. I've been told it was a phase as well. Straight men don't like bi men, because they're afraid of another man coming along and treating them the way they've traditionally treated women, as someone you could cajole into doing something. They're worried about being cajoled into ‘gay sex.’ I've been told to my face by a gay man that I'm not bi, I'm just on the road to gay town. It's shocking and sad. But I think acceptance is growing.”
Finding a Tribe
There are plenty of online communities to join. Binetusa.org and shybi.com are places to discuss the unique challenges and obstacles bisexuals face. Bisexual.org has a fantastic library of articles, and discussions, and even lists famous people you might not have known were bi. In your local community, look at meetup.org to find bisexual or bisexual friendly meet-ups.
It is much easier to research within the bisexual community than to look in the LGBT community. It is most important to fight for your rights and support others who are questioning or longing for understanding.
“A lot of LGBT experts call bi people ‘the silent majority', since there are likely a lot more bi people out there who would rather hide than come out and deal with all the stigma,” Aguair writes. “Unfortunately, the only way we can change that is for more bi people to live their lives openly, and demonstrate firsthand how much it doesn't have to be that big a deal. It also illustrates how important it is for bi, pan, and other sexually fluid people to come together and form a community to support one another”
Pam Simmons, who has struggled with her bisexual identity for many years, wrote, "The best advice I could give is to find someone you trust and share what you are feeling, how it is affecting you, your fears & doubts. The journey to identifying as bisexual may be a lifelong process. But that’s ok. You define you…. Nobody else. Be true to yourself. And most of all, love yourself.”