February 7, 2013

IconBisexuality: Identity and Experience

On Wednesday, June 30th, the Washington Square campus of NYU opened its doors to a slew of bisexuals and bisexual allies as the Trevor Next Gen hosted a panel called “Bisexuality: Identity and Experience”.

Speakers included author and editor Ron Suresha, BiRequest leader Paul Nocera, sociologist and Shaman Dr. Aih Herukhuti, novelist AJ Walkley, author and activist Robin Renee, and psychologist Dr. Betti Schleyer.

To be perfectly sincere, I had somewhat low expectations before the event started. I don’t mean to be unkind, but the fact of the matter is that I have attended “Bi” events in the past and there is usually a low turn out and a struggle to find legitimate speakers. Yes, I am bi, so I suppose it sounds a bit turncoat of me to generalize about my own people, but I’m just going off my own past experiences. The good news is that the event far exceeded my expectations.

The speakers were allotted a set amount of time and each presented under their own designated topics. Presentations ranged from the history of bisexuality (with Dr. Herukhuti showing hieroglyphic evidence of two married male manicurists embracing and being buried in the same tomb-yes, he said they were manicurists) to the various studies over the years disproving and proving bisexuality, to the alarming statistics regarding the mental health of the bisexual community. Author AJ Walkley shared her story via video, Robin Renee taught us about the importance of connection, and we were coaxed out of our seats for a group activity (you know, one of those things that is not only fun, but you actually “learn something” in the process).

Let’s get serious, thank goodness for the lightheartedness and charming background told by AJ Walkley and the silly, but informative group activity that broke up the heavy handed plop of repeatedly disheartening messages. True, it was interesting to see how the severe lack of informed and legitimate studies really has affected the perception of bisexuals in the world. And yes, people need to know that bisexuals have a higher risk of depression and suicide. (No, bisexuals as a whole are not born with these mental illnesses, but they do face an inordinate amount of stigma, bullying, and abuse.) But come on, people! I don’t want to walk out of a conference feeling completely dejected and fearing the worst!

Thankfully, there was laughter.  In a square room, one person holding up a male gender symbol sign stood at the west end. One person holding up the female gender symbol sign stood at the east end. “More feminine” was on the north side, and “more masculine” stood on the south side of the room. A series of questions were read out loud, and the audience walked and shifted according to their answers. For instance, the first question was, “In the last six months, which gender do you most identify with?” (Exhibit A: I walked to the “female, more feminine” side of the square room) That one seemed easy enough for most people, as was, “Which gender have you had the most sexual relations with in the last six months?” Things started getting a little trickier when they started asking about who you fantasize about, and who you would prefer to be engaging with sexually. It was so fascinating to see how people shifted and walked about, sometimes striding far apart from what one may guess. The real highlight was about eight minutes into it, when one older woman who had resigned herself to a chair, blurted out, “Which side is the “I haven’t been laid in forever” side?”

As aforementioned, the “Bisexuality: Identity and Experience” was better than expected and I am grateful for the Trevor Next Gen for hosting and organizing. I also loved the awesome sexuality comic shout out! I look forward to attending more bi-related conferences in the future, and can only hope that laughter is sprinkled in to keep things from going too deep or dark.

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Maria Burnham

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