What do rubber bands have to do with Bisexuality?
By Ian Lawrence, originally published in BiJou vol 29, June 2014 produced by the BiNe Bi Network in Germany.
Ian Lawrence, Director of the American Institute of Bisexuality
“Männertreffen” [Men’s gathering] I heard Christoph say to somebody across the breakfast table at the Z-Bi last November. My ears immediately perked up, my eyes widened, and I literally jumped up to find out more. I was soon treated to an enthusiastic stream of stories about BiNe’s retreat and it was hard not to notice how everyone’s faces lit up when they spoke. Clearly, I had stumbled upon something special; I was ready to sign up on the spot.
“Unfortunately, the event is already full,” Christoph explained, “but I’ll put you a wait list.”
When I first became active in American bi circles back in the early 2000s, we had small bisexual conventions every year or so. Those events were milestones in my coming out process, moments when I finally believed, finally internalized on a visceral level, that being bi was a gift and a strength. Those conventions, or more correctly my interactions with the people there, really helped me integrate my identity as a bisexual man. The thought of going to a bi men’s retreat in Germany was therefore an especially exciting prospect and really stuck in my mind through through Christmas and the holidays. But as week after week passed, I slowly resigned myself to waiting a year for the 2015 men’s retreat. Then, at the last minute, I received an email from Christoph letting me know that a single spot was now available. Hallelujah! Whoever it was who cancelled and opened up a spot for me, I thank you from the bottom of my heart because what ensued was a wonderful adventure.
About a week later, I arrived haggard and disheveled at the Waldschlößchen conference center directly from L.A.. Scarcely 2 hours after that, I sat in awe as I watched the group casually and spontaneously plan a full and diverse schedule of workshops for the entire weekend. With a program that included everything from “heart-opening mediation” (which I later found out was far more literal – and brutal – than the word meditation alone implies) to movie night, to Freies Aufstellen (which is amazing, although I’m still not sure what it’s called in English), to a workshop about our bellies, there was something for everyone. The level of engagement, the enthusiasm, and the sense of openness and brotherly love between the men sitting with me in a big circle was a sight to behold. The bi conferences we used to have in the U.S. weren’t anything like this. There, we just showed up and a selection of presenters from a pantheon of veteran bi activists presented talks that regular attendees like me would dutifully, but rather passively, attend.
While the sense of kinship at the Männertreffen was familiar, in most other ways the weekend felt entirely different from similar offerings in the States. Labeling an event a “conference” (U.S.) versus labeling an event a “gathering” (BiNe) could theoretically explain the contrast, but really the workshops themselves offered at both venues weren’t all that dissimilar. Sure, the relative size of the events allowed for more intimacy and spontaneity at the Männertreffen, but there was more to it than that.
On Saturday morning, I found myself lying on the floor shooting rubber bands at the “enemy” in what I can best describe as a room-sized and far more elaborate version of the game Battleship many of us likely played as kids. Awa, an obviously talented artist who is a regular at these retreats, must have spent weeks on the intricate and beautiful paper ships we were now trying to “sink.” As I looked around the room at the smiling faces, part of me wondered – what does this have to do with being bi? The answer that came to mind and that I still think is true is this: nothing, and therefore everything.
In a world that too often denies our existence and marginalizes us as bi people, the allure of standing up in protest, of making important political gestures, and screaming to the world about our victimization can be very strong. Not only do we want to affect change, not only do we want justice, we as individuals want to finally be seen, be validated and affirmed as bi people. We crave the recognition that is a normal part of human development and that we experience for most, if not all, of the other identities that make up the unique person we each are. The effects of our marginalization are real and do tangible harm to us, but yet focusing on the hurt itself doesn’t make it go away.
Many bi activists in the U.S. are currently rather fond of repeating over and over, to whomever will listen, that bi people have the highest rates of suicide, poverty, rape, and mental illness of any sexuality. While that is sadly true, neither the statistics themselves nor the implied call to throw money at our community will inherently or automatically fix our problems. Just as with our individual health, focusing on symptoms can at best mask what ails us; to truly make things better you have to go after the causes. I believe that the root cause for what ills us as a people is no more complicated than the simple fact that bisexuals usually grow up and live as a socially marginalized minority. Denied the everyday recognition, respect, and validation that most people take entirely for granted, many in our community carry serious wounds. Fortunately, these wounds can be healed. It is sometimes easy to forget that our sexuality is ultimately about how we love – that our bisexuality is about love, a love that transcends boundaries of sex and gender. If the outside world won’t give us bisexuals the affirmation we and all humans need, it is up to us to give that recognition, love, and respect to each other. If we can build healthy core for our community, if we can be positive role models and help others become positive role models too, we can create a catalyst of healing and spread well-being for bisexuals everywhere.
It is precisely that kind of mutual affirmation, that witnessing, that I realized was occurring all around me as we shot rubber bands at each other in our homage to the naval battles of the Russo-Japanese war. By getting us to play like children, the game was taking us into an alternate mind space and connecting us to our younger selves. Years ago, when we were all adolescents, few of us were lucky enough to grow up in an environment that encouraged, embraced and affirmed our sexuality. This time around, during our brief trip back to childhood, our bisexuality was a given and we were free to simply be bi. I think the genius of it all is that the healing offered at the Männertreffen felt utterly effortless, even Taoist. Still, that kind of healing can be every bit as effective and powerful as the most dramatic surgery or the most powerful medication.
I think you can all be very proud of BiNe and the series of retreats you have put together. You have a lot to teach bi communities in other parts of the world and are doing important work. My hope for the future is that communities like ours can increasingly dialog, learn, and grow together in order to transform our bisexuality into a shared source of strength and cause for celebration. I thank you all for being so welcoming to me and look forward to meeting and befriending more of you in the years ahead.
About the Author: Ian Lawrence
Ian is a bisexual activist based in Los Angeles where he is a director of the American Institute of Bisexuality and also runs a bi social community called amBi. amBi currently has groups in LA and San Diego. He encourages everyone to create a profile on bisexual.org in order to bring new perspectives to the global bisexual community.