THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 52
Bisexuality Part Three
Having looked at the initial ideas about bisexuality in Part One, and at some of the aspects of the needs of the bisexual and the purpose of sex in Part Two, I now want to offer some comments on how I see the place of bisexuality in the present discussions about homosexuality going on in the Church of England and in churches across the world.
The present dispute in the churches is about a much deeper and wider gap than the subject of homosexuality. That rift was there all the time, but everyone carefully walked around it. The issue was not allowed to surface. It was never addressed. Consequently the deeper dispute never surfaced.
So what is the issue that lies behind the debate about homosexuality? It goes right back to the authority and interpretation of scripture. And it is therefore about how we should use scripture.
There is tremendous diversity across the world wide Anglican Communion on this subject. Now that the issue has been highlighted by the appointment of a gay Bishop, many churches find that they cannot reconcile their views on the bible (both on the authority of and how to use the bible) with other churches in the Communion. The homosexuality issue has brought the deep divergence into the open and schism is threatened. Indeed, it looks as though it is already happening.
The situation is very fluid, with much effort going on behind the scenes in an endeavour to hold the worldwide Anglican Communion together in one form or another.
How does bisexuality affect this issue? I will make some general comments.
As already pointed out, heterosexuals try to make sensible comments about bisexuality but, naturally, are unable to get outside their own heterosexuality. I am not saying that they do not wish to be impartial or that they don’t really want to understand. What I am saying is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for them to step outside their own sexuality and this prevents them from seeing the full reality of the situation. They see it only from the point of view of a heterosexual. This has relevance to the worldwide debate about homosexuality.
It is perhaps appropriate to mention at this point how important and basic our sexuality is to each of us. It has been said that a man thinks about sex every few minutes of his life. That may be truer than we care to imagine. The sexual instinct is one of the main driving forces in our lives and it is present with us throughout our lives. By that I mean, not that a man has desire or lusts every few minutes, but rather that our sexuality so permeates us and is part and parcel of our very make-up that we are totally unable to eliminate it’s influence from our being. It is part and parcel of being a human. If blocked one way, it appears in another. It affects our every waking thought. We are not conscious of how all pervasive our sexual feelings are in our lives, only really becoming aware of them through our sexual desires.
This inner force of sexuality reaches our consciousness via our sexual desires, loves and hates. But its influence on our lives is ongoing, even though we may not be conscious of it. It colours all we do, from the testosterone filled young man to the little old lady.
This inner drive shows itself through the sexual orientation a person has. The heterosexual thinks all the time in heterosexual terms. He is made that way. The homosexual thinks all the time in homosexual terms, he is made that way. And the bisexual thinks along the lines of his current sexuality. For all three types, the sex drive is one of the main motivating powers in their lives. This is not to say that they are dominated by sex – they may be chaste and celibate and have great control over their imaginations, but one of the great driving forces in their thinking and living, because they are human beings, is the sexual instinct.
The heterosexual can try to think objectively about how a homosexual might think and feel, but he cannot actually think or feel as a homosexual. Likewise the homosexual cannot think objectively as a heterosexual thinks – he cannot get completely ‘inside the skin’ of a heterosexual. On the other hand, the bisexual may be able to see life to some extent from both points of view. When he is directed sexually towards his own sex he can perfectly understand the homosexual approach to life. When he is attracted to the opposite sex he is perfectly able to understand how the heterosexual approaches these matters. This is another aspect of bisexuality that is largely ignored in the current debate.
As I have outlined in previous articles, both the both heterosexual and homosexual sometimes feel superior to the bisexual. The Guide issued by the Church of England suggests that the existence of the bisexual creates even more problems than the existence of homosexuals (section 1.4.10). The basic reason is that, for the orthodox Christian, all non-celibate bisexuals must be classified as either adulterers or fornicators – or possibly both!
However, I wish to suggest that, instead of being the villain of the piece, the bisexual may be able to make a most valuable contribution in the present impasse. It may just be that a bisexual, able to see from the point of view of both heterosexual and homosexual, can perhaps suggest ways ahead for the church to take.
The reason I have gone into some detail about the inherent nature of sexuality in our natures is to bring out the fact that in the current debate it is, perhaps, only the bisexuals who can really understand the outlook of both sides. This adds a vital dimension to a debate that is too often conducted in only theological terms.
In the present situation in the church we have heterosexual and homosexuals firing at each other from opposite trenches. Mainly they use theological bullets and neither can really empathise with the other. What is needed is for them to meet in between, in No Mans Land. It is the bisexual who can perhaps help that to happen by interpreting and explaining each side to the other, and thus helping the two sides to begin to understand each other’s point of view. Neither side understands the bisexual, whereas he can to some extent see both their points of view. It would be naïve to suggest that this could solve the present intractable problems, but it would at least enable the discussion to be carried on in a more intelligent and graceful manner.
Could such better understanding overcome fixed theological positions at some future time? Possibly. But not where a great deal of personal worth has been invested in holding a theological position. At the least it might mean that diehards of all types had time to rethink and, perhaps, become more sympathetic to the other side.
By being a bisexual – by whatever route one became a bisexual – one can sympathise with the heterosexual who thinks that deviation from ‘normality’ in the bedroom is pretty disgusting. By being a bisexual – by whatever route one became a bisexual – one can sympathise with the homosexual who cannot understand what all the fuss is about when he is simply doing what, for him, comes naturally.
I probably need to explain that phrase ‘by whatever route one became a ...’
It seems to me that there are probably a number of reasons why one might be or become a bisexual. Firstly and most obviously it might be, like homosexuality, the product of genes coupled with the very early days of nurture. The person is therefore bisexual from his earliest memories. The upbringing, training and the pressure of society around him might have led that person to assume, on growing up, the heterosexual cloak. But eventually he may accept that he is attracted to both sexes and emerge into maturity, wearing his bisexuality more easily.
Secondly, there is the ‘forced’ bisexual: the person who starts life on the heterosexual side but who, through circumstance (such as traumatic childhood experience, or special friendship or whatever), sooner or later, realises that their sexuality is far more complicated than they realised. They become aware that they are attracted to both sexes, and emerge into full bisexuality as an adult.
The point I wanted to make is that, in the process of helping both sides, the origin of a person’s bisexuality does not matter. What matters is that he has seen life from both sides. He has sat in the trenches as a heterosexual for at least a little while. He has also sat in the trenches on the gay side, at least for a little while. By virtue of this he understands both viewpoints to some extent and may thus be able to offer suggestions that might help the two warring parties reach some sort of understanding, if not reconciliation.
What form might such better understanding take? Well, I can only make some initial suggestions.
Firstly I would suggest that the bisexual might be able to help those who are disputing to get away from the ‘either/or’ attitude that both adopt so often. Homosexuality is not a black and white matter – and to accept that this is so is not a wishy washy compromise, nor a selling out to the other side. To recognise the complexity is to accept that human beings are more complicated than we have realised hitherto. Neither is it an open or shut theological case. We need lots more study and research and above all a willingness to listen to the other side and to be prepared to open our minds to new ways of looking at things. Indeed, the black and white approach to all life has many limitations.
Secondly, I would suggest the key issue in all of this is how one regards the Bible. This again seems an open and shut case to the diehards on each side. Instead, there has to be a coming together of minds and hearts to try to understand, not so much what the Bible says, but how we should regard the Bible. Surely we should be able to agree some common ground there? The issue is not this or that text. It is what place the Holy Scriptures should have in our lives and thinking. It is how we regard the undoubted authority that the Bible must have for all who call themselves Christian. We must be ready to rethink the approach to our bible and its unique place in our lives, without devaluing or over-valuing it. Fundamental differences – for example, one’s view of the importance of the creation story in relation to marriage – will persist, but can we not agree to differ on these?
Thirdly, and with this I finish, as all three-point sermons should! – I think both sides should attempt to look away from the heat and smoke of the battle to a wider horizon. And maybe they need to do this together, as well as singly. If both sides could agree on the urgency and priority of presenting the good news of Christ to a needy world, could that not help heal their differences?
We all need to look at the task of the church in the world around us, and where we might combine in tackling some of the needs. We need to see afresh the challenge of the wandering millions. At the same time we all need to see the enormous advances in knowledge and exploration that are taking place beneath our noses. These challenge aspects of our faith, and new answers and understandings have to be worked out by Christians. Are we to remain impervious to these new ideas and discoveries? As Christians we have to take this ferment of new ideas and concepts into our thinking and start to apply our Christianity to the world that actually exists around us, as distinct from our inherited world-view. We need a modern set of clothes in which to dress the gospel, else we shall be relegated to the dustbin of history.
Maybe bisexuals are not odd people, after all. Maybe they have an important part to play in the evolution of our understanding about human sexuality. Maybe, after all, God has a part that bisexuals can play in this huge argument that is going on in Christian circles.