The Bi Life

Bisexuals know there is still a lot that the gay, lesbian and straight communities need to learn about acceptance and sexuality

"I like the line from (R.E.M.'s) Michael Stipe, when he was asked if he was gay. He said, (paraphrasing), 'I only discuss my sexuality with people I sleep with.'" - Jerry Diaz

The baton-wielding cops who showed up at the Stonewall Inn in New York City on June 28, 1969, were shocked when patrons—tired and angry about a series of raids and arrests—decided to fight back.

Sylvia Rivera was one of the first people to throw bottles and rocks with other transsexuals, queers, gays and lesbians.

Rivera, who died in 2002, is a hero to Jerry Diaz, the HIV/AIDS educator at the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation (SAAF).

"She was one of the first people to fight against the police that night, and she was a bisexual and transgender woman who lived on the streets," Diaz says.

However, Rivera was not seen as a hero to everyone in the LGBT community—in part, because she identified as bisexual.

"Later on, the heads of the gay community wanted to change the story—but to deny who she is and what she is puts a big shadow over everything," Diaz says.

Diaz is bisexual, and he says the fact that some gays and lesbians refuse to embrace bisexuals—Diaz prefers the term "omnisexual"—is slowing down the fight for equality.

"It's our fight," Diaz emphasizes. "We do better when it's all of us, not some of us."

Diaz was born and raised in New York City, and moved to Tucson in 1989. He served in the military before the days of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," but left after three years, because he was ready to do something else. He got married and lived in Spain for a few years, working for the U.S. military as a civilian. He returned to New York and went to cooking school for a year before coming to Tucson for the warmer weather.

During his 20-plus years in Tucson, Diaz got divorced, remarried and raised a daughter; he is currently married to a woman. He also came to terms with being bisexual—and faced the unique headaches that come with that identity, from both the straight and gay communities.

Those early Tucson days included volunteering at Wingspan, when the LGBT community center had no Internet access or computers, but did have lots of books, a comfy place for people to cool off and get a drink of water, and a hotline telephone.

Diaz says the callers to the hotline ranged from kids getting kicked out of their homes for being gay, to an 80-year-old man who was just coming to terms with being gay. There were no professional staffers.

"It was just us, but in doing that work, it helped me to discover myself," he says. "I learned bisexuals are the ones who face scrutiny from both sides. The straight community believes you just want to sleep with everybody, and that is actually the same thing the gay community says, plus: 'Bisexuals, they don't know what they are doing; they are confused,'" Diaz says. "Well, no, that's not true."

Diaz says he was confused for a time, because he felt like he had to fit in the straight community and the gay community—until he ran into a woman at a Tucson Pride celebration back when the festivities were held during the summer.

"'Look, that's who you are; quit trying to fit in either,'" Diaz remembers her telling him. "She was right. I did that for years. I'm gay. I'm straight. But I've been married; I have children. But at the same time, I'm walking to a gay bar, and I've had relationships with men. It was time to admit I was bisexual," Diaz says.

At first, Diaz says he told everyone who would listen, but then he realized he had to pull back a little. "I like the line from (R.E.M.'s) Michael Stipe, when he was asked if he was gay. He said, (paraphrasing), 'I only discuss my sexuality with people I sleep with.'"

Diaz says he also faces misperceptions among HIV educators: Bisexuals are frowned upon, "because we're perceived as being a higher risk factor. People think we are having sex with multiple partners and not getting our status—but that can be for anybody."

He says bisexuals have become a scapegoat, and Diaz insists that the problem with HIV/AIDS does not involve someone's sexual orientation, but someone's behavior. "People who are closeted who have sex ... unprotected and then come home—I'm not going to call them bisexual. That's not bisexual. That can just as easily happen with a straight man who goes to Singapore and has sex with hookers all night long, and then comes home and has sex with his wife.

"In the HIV field, I am proud to talk about being bisexual, but I don't do my presentation as a bisexual; I do it as an educator," Diaz says. "I am quick to explain that the behavior factors are going to exist not because of your sexual orientation, but your behavior. That's what it comes down to—whoever you are has nothing to do with you getting HIV; it's what you are doing. Our clients range from all backgrounds and genders, but we don't ask for your sexual orientation on your intake."

When Michael Woodward moved to Tucson in 2001, there was a bisexual support group that met regularly at Wingspan; eventually, the group disbanded. When Woodward was hired by the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance (SAGA), which later merged with Wingspan, calls came in regularly from people looking for a bi group—but it was challenging to get people together.

"It was too bad, because I think the people who really needed it probably didn't show up, and those who came were already part of the community. When you're bisexual, it is difficult to build community around bi identity, and you begin to feel invisible," Woodward says.

"I think the thing that most bi folks struggle with is that no matter what side is looking at you, you are invisible. Most people think you just can't make up your mind, and there's a lack of respect for your individual identity. In the end, your identity ends up being based on who you are with. If you're with a woman, and you're a woman, then you're a lesbian. If you're a man, and you're with a man, then you must be gay. If you're a man, and you're with a woman, then you are straight."

At Raging Sage on Campbell Avenue, Woodward sits across from his girlfriend, Carolyn Fort. This couple has no problem with public displays of affection between sips off coffee and bites of cake—and if anyone were to jump to conclusions when seeing them, those conclusions would probably be inaccurate.

"It's true that you end up being defined by who you are with. The first few weeks of our going out publicly, it was a very bizarre experience," Fort says. "I wanted to wear some giant flag on my head that said, 'I am fucking queer.'"

Fort first met Woodward when she sat down next to him almost two years ago at a meeting regarding UA domestic-partnership benefits. Even though Fort was in a 17-year relationship with a woman, she says she felt an instant attraction to Woodward. She sent him a couple of e-mails, hoping he'd get the hint.

It was only after Fort saw Woodward participate in Odyssey Storytelling at Club Congress last year—when he shared his story about being transgendered and bisexual—that she finally e-mailed him and told him she was interested.

Woodward admits he often puts up a wall when dealing with others.

"I was relatively oblivious that Carolyn was attracted to me. It is self-protection. I've been rejected so many times because I am trans. I figure if they want me, they will let me know," Woodward says.

Fort was married to a man before she became involved with a woman—and then she met Michael.

"Fortunately, in my community, and the circles I ran with in Tucson, it wasn't an issue when I began seeing Michael," Fort says.

When Woodward was a woman and was attending college, he identified as a lesbian. He became part of a women-only "separatist" community—so when he decided to transition from female to male, his friends didn't take the news well.

Once Woodward was finished with his transition, he noticed something he didn't expect—that he was attracted to men in addition to women.

"When I started transitioning, I heard rumors that some people's orientation might change or shift, even though I kept saying to myself, 'No, I like women,'" he says.

The process helped Woodward become who he really was, and that helped him understand himself better: He realized he was actually bisexual.

"Who I am is clearer, which is great, but at the same time, it's fuzzier. Gay people don't support the bi community very much. We get forgotten. If you're not purely gay or purely straight, you get left out of the conversation."

In late August, a study from Northwestern University was released that offered good news to some in the bisexual community, because it confirmed something that they already knew: Yes, bisexual men really do exist.

The new study comes six years after a different study angered the bi community, because it supported the contentious stereotype that bisexual men were generally gay men who hadn't yet fully accepted their homosexuality.

Fort, a senior research specialist at the UA, says she questions the methodology of the recently released study—which involved having male subjects watch gay and straight pornography, and charting their arousal levels.

On one level, it's insulting that studies are needed to prove that someone exists, when thousands of people already know it to be true. On another level, the study got into territory that is very complicated.

"They put sensors on men's penises to measure their arousal, but the larger sex organ is still this," Fort says, pointing to her head. "Using pornography is risky. Some people watch gay porn, but they aren't gay."

"I know for me that what I am attracted to is masculinity, in whatever form that is. It took some time to acknowledge that to myself—that this is legitimate, and this is absolutely a part of who I am."

Acknowledging those complexities of human sexuality helped Kristi Smith realize about a year ago that she was bisexual. Two years ago, Smith began volunteering with the Anti-Violence Programs (AVP) at Wingspan, and was hired in June to work as the AVP coordinator.

"When I started working at Wingspan, I considered myself to be straight. Then an intern we had brought it to the forefront for me. She identified as bisexual, and I remember her saying, 'I'm invisible in my LGBT community,'" Smith says.

"As I started working here more, I started exploring, and I started gravitating more toward identifying as being bisexual," Smith says. "It helps that I can advocate for that now here at Wingspan. Lots of crisis-line calls come in from people who identify being bi. Within the community, there's pressure to pick a side: 'This is a phase. You'll end up being straight or gay eventually.' I've been able to use my voice to help people understand that even if this is a questioning stage, it is totally valid for someone to identify as bisexual, and it's also OK for someone to continue to be attracted to both sexes."

In her role at Wingspan, Smith figures she can help put to rest some of the myths that continue to divide the B from the L, G and T.

"I feel like sexual attraction is way more fluid and open (compared to) how we are used to thinking of it. I know that I'm not even the same person in a lot of ways that I was five years ago. I find it hard to believe that my sexual identity would stay in one place, either," Smith says.

"Plus, I really hate being put in a box. Even if I identify as being bi, it's still just another box, but it is the most open box I care to put myself in right now."

Smith says she's learned that some members of the LGBT community feel it's important to blend in with the straight community. In the transgender community, some don't want people to question their gender.

Bisexuals who end up in opposite-gender relationships, of course, can blend in with the straight community fairly easily. However, that ability to easily blend in comes at a price: Those individuals can feel like they've lost some of their "queerness" and their ties to the LGBT community.

"People sit down and ask themselves, 'This is part of me. This community is important to me. How do I not lose this?'" Smith says. "They may feel that their queer identity doesn't mean anything."

Or they can do what people like Michael Woodward, Carolyn Fort and Jerry Diaz have done—be out, be proud, and be part of the LGBT community.

"That's why calling attention to one's self in some way can help strike a weird balance," Smith says.

Some bisexuals feel it's just best to stay in the closet and not get too involved in the LGBT community, because they fear rejection.

Leslie, who asked to be identified by just her first name, says she grew tired of going to Tucson LGBT events, only to have people walk away—or even tell her she wasn't welcome—when she told them she was bisexual.

"We're supposed to be a community that understands the importance of tolerance, but we're not so good at practicing that when someone doesn't fit into these specific boxes, 'gay' and 'lesbian,'" Leslie says.

To be fair, Leslie says the same intolerance of bisexuality exists in the straight community, although she says it's been easier for her straight friends to understand her than her gay friends.

"I guess the one thing I ask myself now is, 'How do I push this? How much of an issue do I make of this, when as a whole, our community has bigger issues that I can help with in the background, like marriage equality?'" Leslie says.

"Someday, you never know, that person of my dreams may end up being a woman, and I might want to marry her."

Jerry Diaz says he's faced similar rejection. When he's walked into gay bars in New York City and in Tucson, "I've been told I don't belong in there. Yes, it is easier to blend in to the straight community. I used to get into arguments with people, but I've learned to ease up."

Diaz says that when he goes to community events with his wife, people still say funny things.

"'Who is this? You have a wife? You're bi?'" Diaz says people ask him. "Yes, I wear my wedding ring. I never take it off, and what can I do? The judge let us get married."

However, Diaz's current marriage is different than his previous marriages. The first time, he fooled around with both men and women before he recognized he was bisexual. It was during his second marriage that he realized he was bisexual, and he came out to his wife. This time around, his wife is also bisexual.

"I revealed right away that I was bisexual, and she told me she was bisexual. I thought, 'OK, this is cool,'" Diaz says. "I immediately felt a kinship because of the ally-ness that exists between us. That helps."

Comments (0)

Add a comment

Add a Comment

Tucson Weekly

Best of Tucson Weekly

Tucson Weekly