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by Jessica Ennis
Born in Chicago, Harris, now 47, was diagnosed with pyloric stenosis, a narrowing of the exit to the stomach through which food and other stomach contents pass to enter the small intestine. The condition causes vomiting and could have led to severe dehydration or even death.
“The surgery was probably a much bigger deal nearly 50 years ago than it would have been today, and there probably weren't any pediatric anesthesiologists back then,” says Harris, associate professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.
Harris puts his left leg up on a table, pulls up his blue scrubs and points to a faint scar on his ankle. “You can still see where they put the IV in me,” he says. After the surgery, Harris' health quickly rebounded.
Harris' mother, Marie, was a pharmacist, and his father, Endom, who among other jobs worked for several years for the federal government's Department of Labor, divorced when Harris was eight.
Within the next few years Harris' mother married Edward White, who was a salesman for a drug wholesaler. Harris lived with his mother and stepfather along with his younger brother, Charles.
“To some degree, my mother, father and stepfather all raised me,” he says.
When Harris was beginning seventh grade, his family packed up and moved two hours away to the Milwaukee area, where they lived until he finished high school.
Harris was a busy teenager involved in many activities. He was in gymnastics, a drummer in the marching band and traveled with the American Field Service.
The summer between his junior and senior year of high school, he was a study-abroad student in Switzerland, living with a host family in the town of Langnau, near Berne.
“It sounded really neat at the time,” Harris says. “The opportunity to participate in another culture was absolutely transforming to me. It gave me a world view that has always been important to me, and the trip just broadened my view even more,” he says.
After graduating from high school in 1977, Harris attended college at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. After earning an undergraduate degree in Pharmacy, Harris enrolled in medical school a year later.
“I was required to do a year of internship to obtain my pharmacy license, so I worked in a very busy drug store,” he says.
He realized during that year that he was making the right decision to pursue his medical degree, and says his knowledge of pharmacology has certainly helped him become a better doctor.
Harris said his father had high hopes that his son would become a physician.
“My father definitely wanted me to be a physician, but because the training is so difficult you have to make the decision for yourself. If you try to do it for someone else, you'll never make it through,” Harris says.
Harris' decision may have also had to do with the positive experiences he had with his own pediatrician.
“I was just thinking the other day about my pediatrician, Joseph Schapiro, who was the kindest, gentlest man. He definitely made an impact on me,” Harris says.
As most all doctors-in-training will admit, Harris says medical school consumed his life for four years.
“The big recreational thing to do was to play volleyball at noon on Fridays during a study break, and the definition of a big night out was dinner and a movie,” he recalls. “You really have to give it your all, especially the first two years. All you do is study and go to class. But it's always in your head that the ultimate goal is to become a physician, so you just do it.”
Harris said the third and fourth years were more enjoyable because he began to have patient interaction, and he was advised to start thinking about what specialty he was interested in.
“I kind of knew that I wanted to do Pediatrics, and doing a rotation in Obstetrics confirmed it,” he said. “After the obstetrician delivered the baby, their focus turned to the mother, but I was really interested in that little being that went to the open bed warmer,” he said.
He learned early that working with children could be fulfilling and heartbreaking at the same time.
In Harris' fourth year of medical school, there was a five-week period just before Christmas in which he was involved with diagnosing three children with cancer.
“That just rocked me back on my heels, and I had to go out and buy the book ‘When Bad Things Happen to Good People,’” Harris says. “I read it over the Christmas break, and that book has traveled with me over the past 20 years now. That book was incredibly helpful and affirming for me to know that in spite of all real difficulties, I still wanted to be a pediatrician.”
It was during his last few years of medical school that Harris became particularly interested in children's lung diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and asthma.
After completing medical school, Harris came to Nashville for a residency at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 1987. The program would give him experience at Vanderbilt University Hospital as well as Nashville General Hospital.
“I came to Nashville for the experience at Nashville General Hospital because I knew it would be a great training,” he says. “Way back when, they would put us in a taxi from Medical Center North to the General. The first time I walked in the clinic, I knew I could learn lots of pediatrics there.”
The patient population at the now-closed hospital on First Avenue covered the gamut of pediatrics.
“It was wild, but my abilities as a pediatrician were greatly enhanced by working there,” he says. “No matter what specialty you go into, you need to be well-rounded in general pediatrics.”
Working and dealing with complicated CF patients in the Cystic Fibrosis Clinic during his residency, which was run by Preston Campbell, M.D., Harris looked up to the director as a role model and wanted to “be like him.”
After his residency, Harris went to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill for a three-year pulmonary fellowship program.
“That was a fun time,” Harris said. “The 'research triangle' was such a great place to live; it was a very liberal, livable part of North Carolina.”
While in Chapel Hill, Harris came to a life-altering realization.
“During my first year of the fellowship, I came out to myself. This was during the scary times of the early 1990s, when there was all sorts of misinformation and near hysteria about acquiring HIV and AIDS.”
Harris began to give back to the gay community very early in his coming out by volunteering with the Gay Health Hotline in Durham.
Not only was Harris wary of coming out during such a tumultuous time, he said he was even more concerned about coming out as a pediatrician because of homophobic misconceptions by others about child abuse.
Once he completed his fellowship, he moved to Cincinnati to accept a position at the Children's Hospital Medical Center in 1993.
“I did lots of basic research there — four years of research and one year on the faculty. It was there that I came out professionally because I knew the hospital was really progressive, and the administration really listened to me, and supported me when I came to them. It was scary, but, at the end of the day, it was okay.”
In 1998, Harris came back to Vanderbilt to join the Division of Pediatric Pulmonology, led by the late Tom Hazinski, M.D. Harris primarily does clinical research, mostly on CF patients, investigating novel therapies for this progressive lung disease.
“Since I've been here we have investigated a new vaccine for RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), a new anti-inflammatory treatment for CF lung disease, new antimicrobials for Pseudomonas acquisition, which is a particularly nasty germ in CF. We are about to start a new clinical trial of a new inhalant medication for CF patients.”
The trial will be open to CF patients five or older who have a lung function greater than 75 percent and are overall stable. The six-month, multi-center trial hopes to find that the inhalant will cause the airway surface liquid to be more normal and less dry.
“All the trials I have worked on have been fairly significant. However, this new treatment really excites me. This trial is the first treatment that gets to the underlying mechanism for CF rather than treating a symptom or downstream complications.”
Added Paul Moore, M.D., associate professor of Pediatric Pulmonology at Children's Hospital: “Dr. Harris has been a great colleague to work with and is very thoughtful with his patients. On a professional level, he's been heavily involved in important research in Pediatric Pulmonology, and has very well represented the cystic fibrosis and pediatric pulmonology communities."
The quality of care for CF patients is also very important to Harris.
“The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has had a database that follows patients over time at each of the CF care centers. Reviewing this information has shown that some centers do better and some do worse in every area of care. Those centers that do better have patients living a decade longer than average,” he said.
“Ten years! That is really significant for a disease where the median life expectancy is 35 years. The CF Foundation has really been helpful in getting all of the CF care network to follow what those 'best centers' are doing.”
According to Moore, Harris has a great rapport with the adolescents with cystic fibrosis.
“Over the years, he has taken patients with him to the medical school to help the medical students understand first-hand what this disease is all about. Patients have later reflected to me how meaningful it has been for them to share their stories,” Moore said.
In addition to running clinical trials, Harris sees many patients with asthma and with broncopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). BPD occurs in infants who have been treated in the NICU with breathing difficulties.
Outside of his packed work schedule of doing research and seeing patients, Harris' life is consumed almost entirely by the love of his life — his four-year-old daughter, Maria. But it was nearly a three-year struggle for Harris to add the role of father to his accomplished resume.
In 1993, Harris recalls going into a bookstore while attending an American Thoracic Society Conference in San Francisco.
“I picked up the book, "The Lesbian and Gay Parenting Handbook," and bought it. I consider that the start of my parenting journey. Nothing happened for seven years until I turned 40,” he said.
“That milestone may have had something to do with the process starting again. The stars aligned when I was at a neighborhood party back in 2000. I heard about a guy who had adopted through the state, and I learned about the process.”
Soon after, Harris attended an informational class about adoption, began classes through the agency and filled out mountains of paperwork, which included five letters of recommendations, home visits, fingerprinting, financial and personal background checks.
“The paperwork was extreme — including an autobiography,” he recalls.
Months went by and he never heard anything from the agency, and eventually they stopped responding to his calls. He then learned he would have to fill out the paperwork again since a year had passed since his original filing.
“I decided that wasn't going to work, so I tried another agency. I had a similar experience. They eventually told me since I was a single man, they could not let me adopt.”
Harris' commitment to becoming a father was unwavering, and he decided to work with a third agency in 2002.
“I called a social worker who agreed to work with me; and to make a long story short — my daughter, Maria, was born on Nov. 5, 2002,” Harris says.
Harris was at the hospital for the birth, and gave Maria her first bottle when she was just one hour old.
“My overwhelming thought for the first several days was that we were on a roller coaster. I didn't know where we were going to end up, but I knew we were in this together,” he said.
“It was the culmination of a lot of work and I just remember thinking we were on a journey.”
Harris took off about eight weeks to be with his daughter before returning to work. Maria had a caregiver originally from Guatemala for the first three years of her life, and learned to speak Spanish fluently in addition to English.
“I know about 20 words in Spanish and Maria will often tease me. I'll ask her what the word for helicopter is in Spanish, and she'll come back with another word in Spanish that I already know, just to mess with me,” he says.
Harris and his daughter, who is enrolled in Vanderbilt's child care program, do lots of art projects and often go swimming at the YMCA, but he says there's “never enough time.”
He adds, “It's true what they say, there is no guidebook and you have to make it up as you go along. To get Maria to put on her seat belt, we'll have a contest to see who can put theirs on the fastest. We're always having contests for something — it's just what we do.
“She has an outstanding imagination,” Harris said. “We truly have a bunch of fun, and I believe having a child added more depth to my practice as a pediatrician,” he says.
Harris, who has always been involved in issues that are important to him, has spoken frequently on behalf of the gay community, locally and nationally.
A past president of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, Harris has testified before a U.S. Senate committee in opposition to the proposed Amendment on Marriage and has taken on Tennessee's proposal to ban gay and lesbian adoption, which failed in committee.
“I'll drag my little dog and pony show out whenever they need me to talk,” Harris said. “I consider myself a congenital activist. I was taught the importance of giving back and that has extended beyond gay and lesbian issues.”
Harris, who is an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church, said he learned activism from his mother, who was very involved in her community through many organizations.
Harris is also the current head of the section of Pediatric Pulmonology for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
He wears several multi-colored rubber bracelets on his arm promoting causes such as the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, American Lung Association, the Down’s Syndrome Association and the Matthew Shepherd 'Erase Hate' campaign.
When asked if these bracelets serve as a platform, he replied, “These are important causes to me, but really I have found these bracelets work when I am examining a little baby — they serve as a distraction for them,” he said with a laugh.
He does wear some accessories that have a deeper meaning, though.
Around his neck is a large wooden beaded necklace which serves as an I.D. badge holder, and attached to it are three button pins with pictures of his daughter from her first years of life.
The necklace is in honor of his father, who, when suffering from moderate Alzheimer's before his death, would string together beads with Harris.
He also carries the memory of his mother with him by wearing her silver and copper bracelet.“I didn't end up here by myself — lots of people supported me and helped me get to where I am today,” he said. “This is just a way for me to carry the most important people with me.”
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.”