Gay, Lesbian, ________ and Transgender

This will be brief.

People need to belong.

Abraham Maslow’s heirarchy of needs describes how people are able to get their needs met. First is survival. If you don’t have food and water, or other things you require to keep drawing breath, there is little else you can strive for. People stranded in lifeboats rarely write political manifestos. Once this need is met, you can attend to other matters of safety. Once you are safe, then you begin to look past the next breath and look towards belonging.


People need to belong. We are gregarious beings – not truly social like honeybees or naked mole rats or the coalescent hives of Stephen Baxter’s later Xeelee novels, nor pack animals, but like the bonobos we are close cousins to we assemble ourselves into troops and tribes – and communities. We define these tribes in many ways, from genetic and/or household familes all the way up to nations and races. In this early 21st Century milieu, one of the ways we define communities is by sexual orientation, something that some dismiss as “Identity Politics”. We are political creatures, though, and identity is important in a thousand ways.

There are a lot of models of identity development, some of which I have written about in this space, some of which I will explore more in future posts. The fundamental fact, though, is that the presence of a welcoming community of people who share important characteristics is a must. There is a reason that the header of this blog contains the phrase “To live a life of integrity in a community of mutual support”.

This is one of the many reasons bisexual erasure is a problem. It prevents people from recognizing themselves in others, because it prevents people from seeing others like themselves. A community of invisible people is not a community that can empower its members – a community of invisible people is not a community at all, but a Cantor dust of scattered atoms, occasionally randomly connected, with only the power that each individual is able to bring to bear.

If we cannot find each other, then, we cannot satisfy our need to belong, which means that on some level we are unable to build self-esteem, and without that ability, self-actualization is forever out of reach.

So how do they keep us from finding each other? Lots of ways, including the incessant redefinitions of bisexuality to justify Anythng But Bisexual labels. But the one that is catching my eye (and ear) recently? While it’s not exactly brand-new (it’s been going on for a bit), the newish way to erase bisexuality is gaining traction. Senator Al Franken has done it. Articles about LGBT issues have done it. And Entertainment Weekly recently did it. Now, I don’t think of EW as anything of real lasting value – those of you who have spent time with me in these pages know that academic journals and science fiction novels are more my cup of tea. But I recognize that things like EW and People and supermarket tabloids have a much wider readership than The Journal Of LGBT Issues In Counseling.

Which is why it’s a big deal that Entertainment Weekly devoted an entire issue to “gay, lesbian, and transgender entertainment”.

It’s just the most recent in this growing trend. I’ve been to functions in queer spaces where LGBT was unpacked as “gay, lesbian, and transgender”. It is undeniable erasure.

Part of the problem is that for quite some time the initialism LGBT have been being used in bothersome ways. For example, frequently articles about queer people in the news will say “gay” or “lesbian” if the person identifies as such (or, of course, is bi but has at any time in their life has even hinted otherwise for any reason, or if the author simply decided to gaywash them), but if someone clearly identifies as bisexual (or any of the other words that people use to stand in for bisexual) the media will refer to them as LGBT. Which is ludicrous on the face of it.

What that does is erase bisexuals, because let’s face it – you and I both know that 99% of the time, LGBT is pronounced “gay”. And no one is L, G, B, and T all at the same time.

So for some time now, there’s been this sort of half-assed inclusion where people will write LGBT, and then unpack it as “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender”. Which seems better than nothing, right? Except if you look closely, the only place the Big Bad B Word is mentioned is in the unpacking. It’s a phenomenon I call “Ctrl-R Inclusionism”.

Only now, they are even omitting that tiny nod. Which shows just how much they never meant it in the first place. “Lesbian, gay, and transgender” may leave out half of the community they are talking about, but in a way it’s more honest (and easier to fight) because they’ve really been leaving us out all along.

We’ve simply been so used to settling for crumbs and will-o-the-wisps that we’ve let it happen.

Posted in Bisexuality, Identity Politics (non-monosexual) | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Why I’m Afraid of My Coffee Cup

I’m afraid of my coffee cup.

For 30 years, beginning at the age of 15, I smoked approximately 30 cigarettes a day. In that time I made two serious attempts to quit. The first time I lasted 8 months. The second twelve. Between those times I did things like: get gas money from my teenage child because I had spent my cash on cigarettes – and spent his on them too, sold off a set of comic books I had been collecting for several years for about 10 percent of face value, pawned the antique sword my wife bought me for Father’s Day some years back and failed to redeem it.

Can you imagine that. That sword was a gift of love that meant a lot more to me than I can easily describe, and I sold it for cigarettes. Yes, I claimed I needed the money for gasoline or for paying the power bill or whatever, but the truth is, I sold one of my most prized possessions, something I genuinely loved, for cigarettes. That wasn’t the first time.

When I was about 20, I had a hardcover copy of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Paid $25 for it, the most I had ever paid for a book. Sold it to a bookstore for literally the price of two packs of cigarettes at the time, which would be about ¼ the price of one pack today. When I first started smoking, I could buy a pack at the local chain convenience store for $0.76. I would say things like, “If they hit $2.50 a pack, I’m done.” But, of course, like the fabled frog in the stewpot, I just grumbled and paid the price.

When I was a teen, I used to pay what was at the time exorbitant rates for specialty cigarettes. I remember paying $35 for a carton of Sobranie Black Russians. They were beautiful, black paper with a gold foil tip, triple filter (with charcoal in the middle filter), made with imported Balkan tobacco. They were sophisticated and oh-so-grown-up. I went on one of the few actual dates of my life with someone who thought I was at least 30 years old instead of 17, solely because of what I smoked and how I smoked them – casually, with just the right combination of insouciance and sophistication, lighting them with a plain steel battered Zippo that I struck by flicking against my leg, and closed the same way. I also was served alcohol in the bar that night, without being carded or questioned.

I loved to smoke. That’s the dark secret, I think. I didn’t like paying for them, and I didn’t like having to stand outside in -20 weather to have one, but in the end I really, really enjoyed smoking. If I could take the habit up again right now without consequence, I would do it right now. This minute.

But this isn’t actually about cigarettes. This is about coffee. And why I am afraid of my coffee cup.

In November of 2014, about two weeks after I took up smoking again (after a year without) I continued to ignore the pain in my chest that had been there at varying degrees of intensity for what in retrospect has to have been at least six weeks, but growing steadily worse for the preceding three. But after going upstairs for a cigarette, the pain got too intense for me to play off, and I ended up in the hospital. Three days later I was released with a stent in my heart, a stern admonition that 45 was much too young to be having heart attacks, several new prescriptions, and prohibitions on salt, tobacco… and caffeine.

Now, my love affair with caffeine is longer than my sometimes tumultuous relationship with tobacco. I literally drank coffee at my grandmother’s knee. Spent large portions of my young adulthood staying up all night in 24-hour casual family dining restaurants. I mean, the night I met my wife, after the party we went to Denny’s (with her date) where I wooed her with a Flintstones coloring book, while we drank coffee. Over the last two decades it’s been rare that we didn’t have coffee. When I worked in telemarketing, I once literally bit a coworker because my supervisor didn’t bring me coffee fast enough. Once I got my own office, I had my own coffeemaker – and that was besides the 2-4 energy drinks that I had every day.

I was drinking Mountain Dew by the case as well. When my diabetes was diagnosed, I simply shifted to sugar-free – and continued to mock people who drank decaf. My coworkers down the years have always joked about how much coffee I drank: strong, black, creamy, cappuchino, mocha, latte, iced, flavored, plain, sweet, bitter. It didn’t matter as long as there was lots of it. Weekends at home were pot after pot of coffee. Back when alcohol was an option for me, my favored drink was, you guessed it, Irish Coffee. Or, at least, coffee with some brand of Irish cream liqueur in it. (That night where I got served at the bar at 17? What I was served without question was Kaluha in coffee.)

The night after I was admitted to the hospital, I had classic caffeine withdrawal symptoms. I was offered morphine for the headache, but declined because it seemed a bit out of proportion to the symptoms – I had just had morphine for the first time the day before, and felt like it was something better saved for more extreme pain. I mean, caffeine headache? Not a big deal, I had those all the time.

I had those all the time. I went without coffee/Mountain Dew/energy drinks for a day, and I got that thumping pound behind the eyes. I knew what it meant. I knew the cure – just get me a cup of coffee. Hello, nurse? Can I get a cup of coffee over here? No, not a cup of decaf. A cup of coffee.

Please. Give me a cup of coffee. Please.

Jump ahead three months and a bit. I’ve avoided caffeine, on doctor’s orders. A few people have told me that I seem calmer, but I don’t feel any less anxious and tense. I’m drinking cup after cup of decaffeinated tea – and complaining about it. “I’m going to ask my doctor for a variance,” I tell anyone who will listen. “I haven’t had coffee for three months, so I’m not quite awake yet.” So I go to my appointment, and I tell the doctor that the lack of caffeine is having a negative effect on me. He thinks, for a moment, then twinkles at me. “You can have one” holds up a finger, pointed at the acoustic ceiling tiles “one cup of low caffeine, green tea or something like that. One.”

I smile and point skyward myself, a symbol of great victory. “One”, I repeat, grinning. I feel like I’ve been released from an odious burden.

And I went to work, and did not stop on the way to get a cup of half-caff. And drank decaf tea all night. And made a pot of decaf to have this weekend.

I’m afraid of my coffee cup.

I do not think that I will be capable of controlling myself in any terms other than strict and severe abstinence. When I started smoking again, after a year of not, I went from 0 to a pack in less than a week. The last time I quit smoking, it took about three days to be fully entrenched again.

I don’t have any idea what caffeine will do to me if I start using it again. Clearly there is some physical risk, because if there wasn’t, my doctor would have said “Drink all you want.” I’ve had days in the past where my heart pounds like a pigeon trying to escape the dark cavity of my chest, because of too much caffeine (it was in high school, and involved taking my caffeine in tablet form rather than in a beverage). How much is too much, now that I have a piece of titanium shaped like the spring from a ballpoint pen residing in my frontal cardiac artery? Can I drink just one cup of low-caffeine beverage?

I don’t think I can. I’ve given up other things without significant difficulty, because I didn’t have a problem with them that reached anywhere near the level of addiction. I eventually quit smoking cigarettes, because I was presented with the Addict’s Choice: Keep using and die, or quit using and just maybe live. That was what it took to get me to quit smoking. $7.80 a pack when I had no income didn’t stop me, having to go outside to smoke in brutal Minnesota winter didn’t stop me, my kid’s teachers wrinkling their noses because his coat reeked of tobacco didn’t stop me. Almost dying, lying in a hospital bed for 3 days with no certainty that I would ever get out of it again? That was what it took. And they told me no salt, no caffeine, no cigarettes.

I cut down on my salt. It’s hard, but I can do it. I’m still taking in a lot more salt than They would like, but three months ago They told me I couldn’t have butter either, and that’s good for me now. I have not had a cigarette since The Last One. It was a Marlboro Black, strongly flavored, and I finished it in spite of the pain in my chest and down my left arm. And I’ve stayed away from caffeine.

But if I start drinking it again, I am afraid that I will do the same damned thing I have done all my life: I’ll build a tolerance in a short time. And I’ll start drinking all I want, because hey, it’s not affecting me, and it takes two cups for the headache to go away, and my heart’s just pounding because of the blood thinners. And then I’ll tell myself that I can handle it, shows what They know, like butter and eggs.

And then I’ll light up. And that would be the death of me. Because of a lousy stinking cup of coffee.

I’m afraid of my coffee cup. And, like any other addict covering up the tracks he’s leaving on the banks of that river fabled in story and song, I lied. I said “this isn’t about cigarettes, it’s about coffee.” But it’s not.

I am afraid of my coffee cup because it sits next to the ashtray. And it always has.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Bisexual Erasure in Academic Research 1

Last week I got my copy of the Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, Volume 8, Issues 1-4, 2014. For those who don’t know how these things work, this is the peer-reviewed academic journal of ALGBTIC, which is the queer-focused professional division of the American Counseling Association which governs master’s level clinicians. It’s the equivalent of Division 44 of the American Psychological Association (which oversees doctoral level psychologists). I am a student member of ALGBTIC as well as of the ACA, and when I graduate (May 9th, G-d willing and the creek don’t rise) I will be a professional member.

Every peer-reviewed article is built on a foundation of other peer-reviewed articles. Everything has to be supported and justified by reference to previously published articles, and then the author(s) add their little bit to the body of research. There are good reasons for this, primarily because what we’re doing in these kinds of articles is science.

Now, ALGBTIC has some pretty cool stuff going on – including competency guidelines for counselors working with LGB clients that specifically includes why and how the B is different, and guidelines for working with Transgender clients. But when I started reading the Journal, I ended up having to stop myself from pitching it across the room.

These are the three paragraphs that stopped me in my tracks (I have edited out a bunch of references):

“Concepts and Language

Within the sexual minority community and literature, acts of naming and identification are significant and have subsequent consequences for the interpretation, application, and generalization of research. This project uses the terms gay and lesbian to describe same-sex sexual orientations (homosexuality). Although by no means universal across all cultures and histories (9 references), gay and lesbian have proven to be useful social categories within popular culture and academic work—documenting the psychological lives of people engaged in same-sex sexual behavior and same-sex relationships, the social meanings of same-sex sexuality, histories and political movements organized around sexuality, and the nature of subcultures and communities based in part upon same-sex sexuality (8 references). Salient to the purposes here, one outcome of this work has been documentation describing the locations and forms of representation, agency, oppression, privilege, and discrimination that occur around sexual orientation, including how various sexual orientations are positioned within education (7 references) and elsewhere (6 references).

For this project, the choice to use the terms gay and lesbian was made with the full realization that other terms and concepts are also available to describe similar or parallel experiences related to sexuality and orientations (e.g., same-sex loving, men who have sex with men, women who have sex with women, queer). However, realizing the potential that newer and less widely recognized terms or constructs might be unfamiliar to many of the survey respondents, using the terms gay and lesbian for this project seemed the more prudent choice.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) identities are often grouped together, creating a single population composed of sexuality-based (gay, lesbian, bisexual) and gender-based identities (transgender). Historically, this grouping has been useful to political activism, policy development, and research. However, there is also a risk that sexual orientation and gender identity will be confounded and mistakenly assumed to be synonymous, representing identical experiences and, for purposes here, the same curricular content (6 references). In the interest of clarity for respondents, survey brevity, and the clarity of findings, this project focused only upon sexual orientation and gay/lesbian related topics.”

Seeing red yet?

As much as half of the queer kids these school counselors will be seeing are bisexual, but as far as the research that informs their training? They don’t exist. We don’t exist. The word bisexual was used twice in the very paragraph that speaks about the importance of not conflating experiences, and yet all bisexual experience is conflated, folded into and subsumed into the gay and lesbian experience. Because obviously those are the only salient experiences. Obviously only gay and lesbian faculty can serve as suitable role models for queer students.

And so another article enters the noosphere, another article that erases bisexuals and bisexuality becomes a resource for people to point to in their lit reviews and say “See, there’s just nothing there in the research, so we shouldn’t add it in and confuse people.”

After taking the time to note that naming matters, our name is removed.

This study’s erasure of bisexuality also erases the erasure of bisexuality from counselor education programs, another serious issue that I have been grappling with over the course of my education to date. This kind of meta-erasure makes it almost impossible to get any good information about bisexuality into the hands of counseling students… which means that no matter how well-intended counselors are, the odds are that unless there is a bisexual activist in their classes shouting about it all the time they are not going to be prepared to meet the unique needs of their bisexual clients.

Jennings, T. (2014) Sexual orientation curriculum in U.S. school counselor education programs. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, 8(1) 43-73

Posted in Bisexuality | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

The Big One, or, How Many Times Do I Have To Say This?

This is the big one. This is the misconception about bisexuality that is used every day to harm us. For the most part I have gotten away from the kind of “mythbusting” that basically every bisexual activist starts out by doing.

But this is one of the basic issues that plague us.

So let me say it loud and clear.

Being bisexual is not being in the closet.

Now, are there gay people, especially it seems to be gay men, who for an hour day week month claim to be bisexual to others and even to themselves, claim to be bisexual because somehow they think it will make their lives easier?

Sure. In fact, these days it seems that the majority of gay men tell me that they identified as bisexual “for a while”.

But they were not bisexual for a while, if they are gay. They just claimed to be. And they came out that way. And then at a later time (and usually not that much later) they came out as gay, thus somehow “finishing”.

Here’s the part where I get angry (oh, don’t make that face, you knew that was coming, it’s written on the top right corner of the page).

Too many people think that anyone who identifies as bisexual is either really an open-minded straight person, or a gay person who just hasn’t figured things out yet. The first assumption denies us our place in the LGBTQ+ community, a place we need in a community we worked just as hard to build as the people who identify themselves as gay. The second denies us our integrity of knowing who we are.

Because I was NEVER straight. And as I’m not faking my attraction to the person who right now is sleeping not ten feet away, and who is a different sex and/or gender than I am, I’m pretty clearly not gay. So what am I?

I’ve known I was bisexual – even though I didn’t have the words for it – since I was 13. That’s 33 years. Now over those years I’ve had some girlfriends, I’ve had some boyfriends, been married a couple of times (once long-term). I also spent 28 of those years in the closet to all but a few of my closest. And when I say in the closet, I mean trying to tell everyone I was straight. I used every dodge – flat lies, misdirection, hiding (to my shame) behind my wife. But she wasn’t my beard, she was my (not always willing) co-conspirator.

So eventually I finally judged it safe to come out – or more properly, determined the corrosive effects of being in the closet had done and were continuing to do so much damage that the costs and risks of being out in the time and place I was in were less than the risks and costs of staying in. Of continuing to lie.

I’m not kidding or exaggerating when I say that the closet damned near killed me. Seriously, it was worse than grad school, which those of you who are close to me know took a good swing at it.

But when I came out, I came out bisexual. And have continued to do so pretty much every day since then, because although it’s not the complete description of my identity, it is salient. It is an integral and integrated part of who I am. It’s sort of like being 6 feet tall and having hair that’s gray and brown (where I have hair, which as I age seems to include my back, I haven’t the foggiest idea who thought that was a good idea). It’s not the only thing that defines who I am, but no description of me is complete without it.

I’m going to repeat that for all the people who say “Oh, I hate labels” or “Quit talking about your sexual orientation, it doesn’t define who you are.”

No description of me is complete without the information that I am bisexual.

And no one, straight or gay, gets to pat me on the head and tell me how I need to just get with the program and finish coming out. Jeebus, people, if I’m not all the way out of the closet yet there’s no hope for anyone! I mean, have you met me? What do you want me to do, get up on the stage and try to get one past my tonsils? I mean, not to be crude about it or anything, but I can and have – not on stage, though. But what kind of proof do you need?

Because gay men don’t have to prove it. I don’t know about lesbians, because I’m not one, so I don’t know if there’s pressure on them to prove their queerness. All I know is if a man says “Hey, you know what, I’m gay” the gay community will rally around them. No matter what their age is, no matter if they are a virgin or Casanova, no matter what the sex/gender of their last known sexual partner is.

Yup. A man who has had sex with one or more women, who declares in public they are gay, will be accepted as such. And, in fact, if they later say “You know what? I’m pretty fond of {insert euphemism for whatever in your mind constitutes Definitively Gay Sex}, but I also really enjoy {insert euphemism for the other team}”, they are likely to be disbelieved or ignored, or simply erased. At best they are expected to prove it somehow.

What’s the ultimate source of this double standard, this exiling from the community, this devaluation and invalidation? There are a lot of theories (including the one you simply must read, Kenji Yoshino’s Epistemic Contract of Bisexual Erasure). But here’s one that covers at least one part of it, especially for bi men.

The only way that gay man can justify the lies they told, is to normalize it for themselves by accusing everyone else of being liars too. Because if everyone is lying, well, that’s just like telling the truth!

Guys (and it’s guys that are the worst offenders, I think), stop doing this. Stop telling other people where the closet door is. Because for people who can be fairly described as bisexual, it’s behind us.

Posted in Bisexuality, Identity Politics (non-monosexual) | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Bisexual Identity Development: Perspectives, Similarities, and Contrasts

“Bisexual Identity Development: Perspectives, Similarities, and Contrasts” is an academic paper rather than an informal blog post. Portions mirror my previous post, Bisexual Identity Development, or, You’re Out Of Your Box Enjoy.

(A note on language: in modern usage, the word “homosexual” is frequently deprecated due to the LGBTQ+ community’s history of legal, medical, and psychiatric oppression under that word. Therefore its use in this paper is restricted to quotations, and “gay” or “gay and lesbian” is preferred in the text.)

Part of the biopsychosocial development process is the development of multiple intersecting personal and community identities. These identities vary in salience and social acceptance, and follow some roughly predictable outlines. For individuals in marginalized groups, these identities are likely to be most salient when they align with both the individual’s personal experience and the narratives of the cultures in which they are imbedded. Rust describes identity as “the link connecting the individual to the social world” (2009, p. 227). Erickson’s staged theory of human development poses development as a series of crises to be resolved, either at an age-appropriate time or later in life, in which the key crisis of adolescence is that of Identity versus Role Confusion (Broderick & Blewitt, 2014, p.12). Sexual orientation as an identity is a relatively new concept in the study of development, as until recently all sexual orientations other than straight were either erased or pathologized. Bisexuality in particular has been pathologized by heterocentric models of psychosexual development such as the Freudian psychoanalytic view that posits bisexuality as an immature state, one even more problematic than the gayness these theories have only reluctantly embraced as part of the spectrum of normalcy (Rapoport, 2009). Models of gay identity development such as Cass’s, while a great leap forward at the time, frequently explicitly deny bisexuality as a stable, valid, and mature identity (Cass, 1979). More recently, several models of bisexual identity development (both staged and non-staged) have been developed. This paper gives a brief overview of several sexual orientation-specific identity development models and suggests an integrative approach to bisexual identity development.

Specific to all models of gay or bisexual identity development is the concept of “coming out”, which is the experience of telling someone – generally yourself first, then intimates, then more people until you reach the point of openness you desire, which varies by the individual – that you are not straight. Coming out, like identity development, is not a singular event, but rather a process that reprises frequently. It is not an experience shared by people whose identities are heterosexual, although it can be approximately compared to the experience of racial “passing”. However, in cases of racial passing, it is rare indeed that the person asserting their racial identity will be considered to be morally deficient because of it, although there may be consequences to them for doing so. All sexual orientation identity development models other than heterosexual incorporate coming out into the model.

Two Models: Linear and Non-Linear

The model of gay identity development proposed by Cass is highly influential, and highly problematic for people with a bisexual identity. According to Cass (1979), the development of a gay identity proceeds through six stages, each of which offers the possibility of advancement through to the next stage or “identity foreclosure [where] the individual may choose not to develop any further” (p. 220). This concept of identity foreclosure comes from Marcia’s exploration/commitment grid, with foreclosure described as high commitment with low exploration and moratorium as high exploration in the absence of any commitment (Sneed, Schwartz, and Cross, 2006).

The first stage in Cass’s model is Confusion, where a person frequently reacts to the dawn of their perception of their behavior as incongruent with their selves by denial, or by attempting to scrub themselves of their same-sex attractions. The second stage is Comparison, where the individual is starting to see themselves as something other than straight. It is in this stage that the Cass model begins to be problematic for bisexuals, in that it posits bisexuality as a purely self-deceptive strategy where the nascent gay uses a bisexual identity as a way to hide their gayness from themselves. According to the progress/foreclosure schema adopted as the rationale for stages, therefore, a person who identifies as bisexual cannot by definition have a mature and robust identity development.

In stages three and four, Tolerance and Acceptance, the individual gets more comfortable with themselves – but in both of these stages, this comfort is more and more dependent on rejection of the heterosexual. For someone whose identity is coherent when framed as gay, this is not necessarily an issue, but for someone to whom attraction to people of different genders/sexes is salient, it places them in an untenable situation, where in order to be told they are mature they must reject a significant portion of themselves. Coming out can begin to occur at any point from stage 3 on, but it is considered essentially inevitable by stage 5. At stage 5, Pride, the individual “dichotomizes the world into homosexuals (credible and significant) and heterosexuals (discredited and insignificant)” (Cass 1979, p. 233). This strategy, when combined with the perception of bisexuality as a case of identity foreclosure rather than a stable non-heterosexual identity in its own right, causes further separation between the bisexual individual and the community. Stage six, Synthesis, features an integrative sense of self where the individual encompasses multiple salient facets of themselves into their self-image. The nature of the staged model, however, has specific consequences beyond the obvious.

Staged models of development, wrote Rust, lead to a “transformation from description to prescription [which] makes the model a moral one; movement toward the end state is defined as progress, whereas movement in the other direction is defined as regression” (2009, p. 239). Because of this tendency of staged models to become prescriptive, many nonlinear models of identity development have been proposed in many different arenas. Identity development models that describe how people with identities built around monosexual (gay, lesbian, or straight) orientation and attractions define their experiences certainly can be useful to them, but for bisexual people whose identity development is frequently nonlinear, they are potentially harmful (Bilodeau & Renn, 2005). In the particular, “an initial formulation of a conceptual theory of bisexual identity development seems to call for a task model rather than a phase or stage model” (Twining, in Fox 2009, p. 96).

In 1994 D’Augelli proposed a six-part identity development model for non-heterosexual identities that identifies the parts as discrete, potentially concurrent, and not forming any identifiably linear macroprocess, although each part could be seen as containing linear elements (Bilodeau & Renn, 2005). The important distinction is that any or all of the parts can be at any level of development without challenging the development of any of the others, unlike the stage models that present a moral progression. Bilodeau and Renn (2005) delineate D’Augelli’s model as “identity processes” of “exiting heterosexuality, developing a personal LGB identity, developing an LGB social identity, becoming an LGB offspring, developing an LGB intimacy status, entering an LGB community” (pp. 28-29). While this model lacks some of the specific issues that Cass’s model carries for bisexuality, in particular the construction of bisexuality as an immature way station, its generality serves to hamstring its utility when dealing with specific populations.

Implicit in stageless models and necessary to staged ones is the concept of “recycling”, where an individual’s experiences that cause them to question their identity lead them to revisit an earlier stage (Sneed et al, 2006). This recycling, with its sense of regression and therefore violation of the moral imperative to progress toward the desired endpoint of development, is superfluous to models without a prescriptive bent.

Bisexual Specific Models

Knous (2005) described bisexual identity development though a sociological lens of acceptance of deviance. In the article, she describes a set of preconditions for successful identity development from the work of Ann Fox in Hutchins and Kaahumanu’s seminal 1991 anthology Bi Any Other Name – Permission (from self), Recognition (of self), Validation (from self and others), Support, and Community acceptance (Knous 2005, p. 42). While these preconditions are identical for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, the way that they play out in people’s lives frequently differs, in particular validation, support, and community acceptance. Knous’s staged model begins with same sex attraction or actions from an assumed heterosexuality which is challenged, leaving the individual in a state of confusion or curiosity. The second stage is labeling as bisexual, either by self or others. Knous wrote that “stigma management becomes essential” at this point (2005, p. 46). This labeling stage also incorporates coming out, which is seen as a process of both self-labeling and reaching out to the gay and lesbian community – which Knous acknowledged to frequently discriminate against bisexuals as the heterosexual community does. Knous’s third stage features joining the bisexual community and “a rebellion against social prejudice, as well as being proudly out as bisexual within the wider gay and straight communities” (2005, p. 48).

Another stage model is the Layer Cake Model, which like much other research focused on college students (Bleiberg, Fertmann, Friedman, & Godino, 2005). In the case of this particular model, it was developed by four straight people with master’s degrees in Student Personnel Administration from the same university. While that does not necessarily taint the model, it does make it an illustration of how the assumptions and experiences of the authors influences the way the experiences of the subjects are interpreted. This model, like Knous (2005) begins with an assumed heterosexual identity in a heteronormative society. This identity is then challenged and disrupted by same-sex attractions or actions, or through introspection and acknowledgement of feelings. In Layer Three, individuals are self-accepting but retain the assumed identity of heterosexuality, a retention that is in part driven by the lack of a supportive community as well as a perception that coming out is “not only uncomfortable but […] unnecessary” (Bleiberg et al, 2005, p. 56). Layer four is conceptualized as a fusion of gay and straight identities, with labeling (or rejection of labels) and the initiation of a coming out process, proceeding to the fifth layer of bisexual identification, where the model ends. This is an extremely simplified model that seems to lack much of either a theoretical or observational basis, although the description of assumed heterosexuality is a fair starting point for all non-straight sexual orientation identities and may be a second universal component of shared gay and bisexual experience.

In 2002 Brown compared and contrasted 15 different models of sexual orientation identity development and proposed a staged model loosely based on a staged model by Weinberg, Williams, and Pryor. The original model consisted of “Initial Confusion, Finding and Applying the Label, Settling Into the Identity, and Continued Uncertainty”, and the primary change is to the final stage, relabeling it “Identity Maintenance” (Brown 2002, pp. 80-81). The first stage maps neatly onto Cass, however Brown noted that this confusion can be moderated. Fox (2003) addresses this moderation as well:

Finally, one of the main differences between bisexual men and women and gay men and lesbians is in the degree to which a visible community of similar others exists and serves to support the individual in the coming-out process. […E]xtensive support networks […] have served this purpose for lesbians and gay men. (p. 116)

This community support, argued Brown, is a key part of his revised model (2002). The presence of a community of mutual support makes the difference between isolation and continued identity questioning, and a robust stable identity similar to Cass’s stage 6 (Brown 2002).

The most salient difference between Cass and Brown is that while Cass metaphorically threw bisexuals under the bus, invalidating their identity, Brown’s model specifically described bisexuality as a valid and intelligible identity. One of the strengths of Brown’s (and therefore Weinberg et al’s) model is the explicit acknowledgement of the role of community in development.

No identity develops in a vacuum. Without a community to recognize, validate, support, and welcome bisexuals, it is impossible to have a stable social identity. Some areas of future research would include examining ways that individual’s stigma management can disrupt this community, and ways that the negative effects of the dominance of models of gay and lesbian identity development that depend on pathologizing bisexuality can be moderated or eliminated.

A single model of LGB identity development may not be possible, even with the similarities between the populations, simply because the salient differences between bisexual identity and monosexual identity as currently formulated trumps said similarities. For example, monosexual identities involve attraction to only one specific sex/gender whose social appropriateness is based on your own sex/gender; gay models pathologize “inappropriate” gender choices just as certainly as straight models do (Bilodeau & Renn, 2005). Bisexual models, however, must include an internal acceptance of multi-gendered attractions, meaning that in either a gay or a straight framework some of a bisexual’s attractions and/or relationships will always be viewed as inappropriately directed. Regardless of whether the model of identity development is staged or unstaged, bisexuals are tasked with the “need to acknowledge and validate both homosexual and heterosexual components, regardless of the degree either or both are actualized in sexual behavior or relationships” (Fox 2003, p. 117).

One potential direction would be to use D’Augelli’s task model to illuminate Brown’s modification of Weinberg et al as well as newer research. A piece of identity development that has only very recently been conceptualized is fluidity of orientation as identity. Some people in the bisexual community use “fluid” as part of or even their exclusive sexual orientation identity label. Researchers like Lisa Diamond, and Rosario, Scrimshaw, Hunter, & Braun have begun work codifying how people’s identities shift, but without the necessity of making bisexuality into an unintelligible transitional non-identity. While Rosario et al (2006) continues to carry assumptions that prevent accurate measurements of bisexual identity (for example, while a significant proportion of the subjects initially identified as both gay or lesbian and bisexual, this was not given as an option for any of the identities whose change was measured over time, thus effectively forcing them to change), it is one of a group of newer studies that does not assume that all bisexuals are merely closeted gays, experimenting straights, or confusedly immature. Rather, fluidity is beginning to be acknowledged as part of normal existence rather than as recycling or confusion.

One possible task-based model of bisexual identity development could look like this:

    exiting monosexuality
    developing a private bisexual description
    developing a public bisexual description
    becoming a bisexual offspring
    exploring fluidity of attraction and behavior
    engaging with bisexual community

This kind of stageless task model could easily incorporate the staged tasks that Brown poses; for example, Finding and Applying the Label would fit into both private and public bisexual descriptions while removing the perceived requirement for confusion. Allowing exploration of fluidity and liminality without making it a required stage also allows those bisexuals who do not perceive themselves as fluid to develop a stable static identity without denying stability of identity to those with a more dynamic approach.

One further suggestion would be to look at the language of confusion that pervades existing models of bisexual identity development and reframe the word. When we read confusion as uncertainty, instability, and chaos, we ignore another, older, alchemical meaning – con-fusion, the mixing and merging of two or more substances together until they are inextricably mixed together. It certainly seems appropriate to apply alchemical metaphors to bisexuality and bisexual identity, to view this identity as an alloy that incorporates and con-fuses the best of all of the elements that make it up.


Bilodeau, B., Renn, K. A. (2005). Analysis of LGBT identity development models and implications for practice. New Directions For Student Services, 111, 25-39

Bleiberg, S., Fertmann, A., Friedman, A. T., Godino, C. (2005). The layer cake model of bisexual identity development: Clarifying preconceived notions. Campus Activities Programming 38(1), 59 -62

Broderick, P. C., Blewitt, P. (2014) The Life Span: Human Development for Helping Professionals, 4th Ed. Pearson: Boston

Brown, T. (2002). A proposed model of bisexual identity development that elaborates on experiential differences of women and men. Journal of Bisexuality, 2(4), 67-91

Cass, V. C. (1979). Homosexual identity formation: A theoretical model. Journal of Homosexuality, 4, 219-235.

Fox, R. (2003) Bisexual identities. in Psychological Perspectives on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Experiences. Columbia University Press: New York

Knous, H. M. (2006) The coming out experience for bisexuals, Journal of Bisexuality, 5(4), 37-59

Rapoport, E. (2009) Bisexuality in psychoanalytic theory: Interpreting the resistance. Journal of Bisexuality, 9(3-4), 279-295

Rosario, M., Schrimshaw, E. W., Hunter, J., & Braun, B. (2006). Sexual identity development among gay, lesbian, and bisexual youths: Consistency and change over time. J Sex Res, 43(1), 46–58. (I found this article quite problematic in a lot of ways)

Rust, P. C. (2003) Finding a sexual identity and community: Therapeutic implications and cultural assumptions in scientific models of coming out. in Psychological Perspectives on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Experiences. Columbia University Press: New York

Sneed, J. R., Schwartz, S. J., and Cross, W. E. Jr. (2006) A multicultural critique of identity status theory and research: a call for integration. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 6(1), 61-84

Posted in Bisexuality | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

A few words on identity development

Water. Shelter. Food. Survival concerns, the base of the well-known pyramidal hierarchy of needs. Self-actualization is considered the peak, the top of the structure.

However, I don’t think the hierarchy, the pyramid, is as stratified as all that. I think that it’s more like a geodesic structure where all the elements push and pull against each other, and that sort of dynamic tension is more true to our queer lives.

Consider identity development. Interrupted identity development leaves a person stuck in a non-integrated state. There are many different models of identity development for minority populations (and a few for the majority as well). Bi/multiracial development models differ significantly from standard racial minority models, because the challenges are different. What do I call myself, how do I fit in the multiple communities and roles that I belong in, how do I carve out a life where I can be authentic, be all of me, even if people who I identify partially with reject parts or all of me?

Because that’s a piece of bisexual identity development, too. When Straighty McStraighterson calls you a fag, he’s rejecting all of you on the terms that only what he sees as your homosexuality is salient to his view of your identity. When your high school or college GSA says you’re not welcome because you are not queer enough or if they immediately brand you as a straight ally and therefore deny your queer experiences and attractions, it is only important to them that you ain’t no Gold Star.

When part of you is rejected, all of you is rejected. If someone says to me, “You can be here as long as you don’t act like a fruit”, they aren’t welcoming part of me. It is with my whole self I’ll tell them to [redacted] themselves with a [redacted] until their [redacted] is [redacted].* If someone tells me that I can come to the queer event but no PDA with my wife because “we don’t need to see straight people kissing in our space”, then see above – because any kiss that I am a part of is by definition a queer kiss.

The research suggests, and people’s lived experiences bear out, the power of community. (Before someone starts screaming that ‘anecdote is not the singular of data’ please let me point out that there is such a thing as qualitative data, and I’m not claiming this is universal, just that it’s common enough to be instantly recognizable.) The stronger and more welcoming and supportive the community is, the more able an individual is to fully develop into themselves.

This is not nearly all I have to say on the subject, of course. Consider this a taste, and a promise of more.

* – one of the redacted words may or may not be “pineapple”. Maybe. Not going to say for sure.

Posted in Bisexuality, Identity Politics (non-monosexual) | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Gut Feeling

Today I was working at an event to benefit the local transgender community – a community that intersects with all the other letters of the awkward initialism by which we identify ourselves.  We had received a substantial in-kind donation from a person whose transgender child had passed on.

When I heard the news, I felt it in my gut.  The person who told me this saw my face, and clarified that it was natural causes.

“Wow,” I responded.  “That’s unusual.”  And then it struck me.  It is unusual, in our communities, for natural causes to be the stated reason for our deaths.  This is not the case in the cisgender heterosexual mainstream world.

So I told another person, also Queer, about the donation and the circumstances.  They got That Look, you know the one.  So I gave them the rest of the story, and they said. “Huh.”

Huh.  Wow.  That’s different.

This cannot be allowed to continue.  It can not be acceptable for any part of our community – a part that intersects all other parts so intimately – to have natural causes of death not even be on the radar as a first or second possibility.

People ask what it is we want.  What’s the point of Pride, or of being out of the closet, they ask.  And there are a million answers to those kinds of questions.

But the right to have the ends of our lives be easily and naturally assumed to be something other than a word ending in –cide, it seems to me, is a pretty basic and important right.

Posted in Trans*gender | Tagged , , | 2 Comments