Eliel Cruz is an articulate, passionate voice in the world of bisexual activism. He’s a prolific journalist and vlogger, and I was delighted to include Eliel in my recent 5 Great Bisexual Blogs article.
Here’s my interview with Eliel. I hope you find it useful. As Eliel says, ‘Bisexuality is valid, your experience matters, and most of all you matter.’
-How did you come to identify as bisexual?
Eliel Cruz: I didn’t know what bisexual was until I stumbled upon the word when I googled “I like boys and girls.” I was 11 and super excited to finally understand my sexuality. At the point, I thought you had to “choose” between being gay or straight one day. So I came out to myself at 11, then came out to friends and family around 14.
-What are the main factors that have contributed to your sense of wellbeing as a bisexual person?
I think writing has helped me heal a lot. I used to write diaries when I was young to keep myself sane. Now, as an adult, I write through the things I have gone through and continue to go through on huge platforms. This allows me to connect with thousands of bisexuals who have similar stories to me from across the world. This community and knowing that I’m far from alone helps me tremendously.
-Can you share a coming out story?
My coming out story is complicated. I came out to friends at a private Christian academy during my freshman year of high school. After I came out word got out to my school’s administration. I was “asked to leave.” This made me come out to my family but it was quickly swept under the rug. I came out when I was 18 to my family when I was on my way to college. They have always been loving and accepting which has helped ground me and deal with biphobia.
-What advice would you give to someone who thinks they might be bisexual and are unsure what to do?
There isn’t a rush. Don’t feel like you need to ID a certain way under a certain time frame. Educate yourself in the definition, and history, of bisexuality. Perhaps most importantly, know you’re not alone. There are many others out there with similar experiences. Bisexuality is valid, your experience matters, and most of all you matter. Find community, whether in person or online, and always reach out to bisexual activists or organizations with any questions you may have.
Eliel Cruz is a speaker and writer on religion, (bi)sexuality, and a culture critic. He reports regularly for The Advocate and has a column on the intersections of faith, sexuality, and gender at Religion News Service. His work has also been found in the Huffington Post, Mic, Sojourners, Washington Post, Patheos, Everyday Feminism, DETAILS Magazine, Rolling Stone, VICE, and Slate.
He’s the co-founder and former president of the Intercollegiate Adventist Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition, an organization that advocates for safe spaces for LGBT students at Seventh-day Adventist colleges. He has a BBA & BA in International Business and French Studies from Andrews University.
I was delighted earlier this week to do an email interview with Nicole Kristal, founder of the Still Bisexual video campaign and co-author of ‘The Bisexual’s Guide to the Universe‘.
Nicole is a hugely positive and inspirational voice in the world of bisexual activism. The Still Bisexual campaign is doing an amazing job of challenging the myths and stereotypes about bisexuality that remain so widespread in our society.
Her reflections below on bisexual wellbeing are really insightful, and I hope you find them useful. As Nicole says, ‘Trust yourself. Don’t let the world define your attractions.’
How did you come to identify as bisexual?
Nicole Kristal: I always kind of had crushes on my best friends in high school. I was interested in male classmates, too, but I wasn’t really on their radar. Eventually, I fell in love with a woman in 11th grade and we had a secret relationship. I came out my freshman year of college as bisexual and dated men and women throughout college.
What are the main factors that have contributed to your sense of wellbeing as a bisexual person?
Coming out constantly. Being as out as I can be, no matter how hard it is. The world wants to see you as straight or gay, so it takes a lot of energy to remind people there’s something in between. If you are bi, but you’re moving through the world not being seen as a bisexual person, you can quite quickly start to feel like an outcast in most scenes and accrue some shame. We are outnumbered in most social situations so it’s important to be visible and live your truth.
Can you share a coming out story?
I came out to my mother the summer after my first year of college. She told me she was bisexual, too. It just goes to show that coming out as bisexual, you can never predict the response.
What advice would you give to someone who thinks they might be bisexual and are unsure what to do?
My main advice would be TRUST YOURSELF. Don’t let the world define your attractions. Deep down, you know what you’re attracted to. I would definitely start to follow BiNet and StillBisexual on Facebook and Twitter. Introduce yourself and let people know your situation and fears. You will be surprised at the amount of support you will get. Most of us came out without the online support that is available now, and it’s such a safe way to get the support you need before you feel brave enough to go to a bi or gay social event, which I recommend once you feel ready to come out.
Nicole Kristal is founder of the Still Bisexual YouTube campaign and co-author of ‘The Bisexual’s Guide to the Universe‘.
Earlier this week I interviewed one the UK’s most prominent bisexual activists, Marcus Morgan, founder of The Bisexual Index and Teaching the Difference. I wanted to find out what factors had been important for him in developing a sense of wellbeing and confidence in his bisexuality over the years.
Our conversation covered topics such as bisexual identity and community, coming out, and the importance of engaging with other bisexual people.
Here are some of the highlights from the interview:
How did you come to identify as bisexual?
Marcus Morgan: When I was a teenager I was gay, I wasn’t attracted to women at all. So, the big priority for me was to move away from my family and community, and find a larger setting to explore my sexuality and the gay scene in the UK. When I went to university I joined the gay society and started going out in London, and I met my first boyfriend, who I went out with for about two years. I also moved into shared accommodation with other people from the gay community.
I started to find that I was having very strong feelings towards some of my female friends. It wasn’t something that I acted on at the time, as I was clear then that I was gay, and my friends were lesbians. I tentatively discussed it with one friend on one occasion. This led me to feel that something had changed. It wasn’t that I’d had a revelation about something that I’d been all along, or I’d found a side of myself I’d been suppressing. I’d been quite happy being gay. I very much enjoyed the community, the pubs and clubs in London in the early 1990s. But I was now finding out a different part of myself.
I thought that if I am bisexual, then I need to meet other bisexual people, I need to find out how they see their sexuality. I contacted a large lesbian and gay phone service, and told them I was looking for a bisexual group. The person on the other end of the phone gave me the details of a group in London, and then he said to me, ‘I feel obliged to ask, are you sure you’re bisexual? Because a lot of people come out as bisexual as a stepping stone to coming out as gay. Wouldn’t it just be easier for you to come out as gay first?’. I was taken aback by this and I said ‘Well, I’ve already come out as gay, I’ve been gay for nearly 10 years!’. He said, ‘Oh, well maybe you’re going in the opposite direction then and it could be a stepping stone to being straight for you.’ Anyway, he gave me all the details for the group. Now it’s nearly 25 years later, and I’m still bisexual!
Six months later I plucked up the courage to go to the bisexual group. It took me a while to build up the confidence to go because I was expecting the people at the group to be incredibly comfortable about their sexuality, and thought they might look down on someone who was uncertain. I didn’t have a mental image of what the people would be like, as there wasn’t really any imagery of bisexual people to hang onto at the time.
I went along to the bisexual group, and the person who opened the door was someone from my university gay society! ‘Hi Marcus, so, you’re bisexual too I guess!’, he said. It was the most amazingly warm welcome, because it was someone I already knew. It was just an amazing coincidence. It really made an impression on me about how spaces can be welcoming. One of the things I’ve always tried to do, when I’ve welcomed people to bisexual groups myself, is greet them like they’re old friends who you’re meeting for the first time. I know how terrifying it can be to go for the first time, not knowing what to expect.
What advice would you give to someone who thinks they might be bisexual and are unsure what to do?
I would say find other bisexual people, particularly other bisexual people who are like you and talk to them. Not necessarily about bisexuality, just talk to them. Have the experience of it not being an issue. When I say ‘talk to’, I don’t necessarily mean face to face, it can be instant messenger or commenting on blogs, or tumblr or twitter, or whatever.
The most useful thing you can do is find somewhere that’s home for you. For me BiCon [the UK bisexual conference] is like how I think Christmas is supposed to be. All the family gets together for a big meal and a bit of a party. It’s my bisexual community getting together. Find a bisexual group by contacting an organisation like BiUK or Bisexuals of Colour or BiNet USA. Go along to a meeting or local group. If you’re ok about going to a gay event, go to your local Pride, and find the Bi Stall or Bi group, and just try being bisexual on. Not worrying about it. Just saying, ‘I’m bisexual, that’s ok’. You don’t need to have a detailed talk about what it means yet, you could do that later. Just try accepting it, and finding a space where it can be accepted.
On defining bisexuality
When we set up The Bisexual Index in 2009, there wasn’t anywhere on the internet that set out an easy, understandable definition of bisexuality that people could look at and say ‘that seems to apply to me’. We provided a definition, that a bisexual is someone who is attracted to more than one gender. People can try it out for size. If you like it you can keep it, if you don’t that’s fine.
Back then, if you went to the big gay organisations like Stonewall, they didn’t really define bisexual, or, if they did, they used very convoluted definitions. They’d say things like ‘bisexuality is a fluid attraction towards men and women that can be sexual and/or romantic’. The problem with that is they’d never give such a wordy description for being gay, and it made bisexuality this complicated thing. And if bisexuality’s complicated, then how can you be sure you’re bisexual? And if no one can be sure, then suddenly there’s no bisexuals anymore! I don’t think that’s a deliberate act on the part of the gay organisations, though I’m aware that other people do. I think it’s more about complete unfamiliarity, and that’s why it’s always better for people within a community to define the labels of that community.
– One of the great advantages that bisexual activism has over, say, pansexual activism is that people have already heard of the word ‘bisexual’. So, if someone’s thinking, ‘I’m attracted to 99 girls and Billy in my woodwork class, does that mean I’m bisexual? Am I bisexual?’, we give them a definition as a mirror they can look in. Perhaps they can see their reflection, and say ‘yes, it makes sense, I’ll use that’. We’re very clear on saying to people that it’s not about being 50-50 or simultaneously or currently attracted to more than one gender. It’s about being attracted to more than one. Which is a broad scope, and people can see themselves reflected in that, I hope.
On identifying as bisexual & the importance of labels
One of the things people often say to me in Q&A sessions after I’ve given a talk, is ‘don’t you think we should just get rid of labels?’. I can see that someone who’s confident about their sexuality and has a community and all their friends in place might want to stop being what they perceive as political about it, but labels are absolutely vital when you’re trying to find where you belong in the world. You’ve got to be able to see who is like me, who can I talk to about this stuff, without it being a big thing.
So when people say ‘we should move beyond labels’ or ‘label jars, not people’, I say ‘label yourself’, then find other people who label themselves, then compare labels. Then you can find people who are on the same page as you. If we ignore labelling, then how can we monitor inequality, for example? If we’re not using labels then we’ve no chance.
On bisexual erasure and changing society
People don’t see bisexuality. We sometimes talk about bisexual invisibility which is useful, but it’s not as useful as talking about bisexual erasure. Bisexual invisibility is something that bisexuals need to fix about ourselves; bisexual erasure is something society needs to fix about itself. The weight isn’t on bisexuals to be more visible, because the people who are out there being visible bisexuals are a tiny fraction of the number of people who are bisexual.
It’s far more useful if we can get people to stop assuming that everyone’s either gay or straight. We shouldn’t need to wear a purple T-shirt or a ‘nobody knows I’m bisexual’ badge for people to realise that maybe Bob in the office who’s mentioned that he was out with Jean last week and John this week isn’t talking about his brother, maybe he’s talking about a male partner, and a female partner, maybe he’s bisexual.
– All the surveys suggest there are more bisexuals than lesbian or gay people, but our society is so good at erasing bisexuality and only seeing people as gay or straight that we just don’t know the majority of bisexual people out there. So promoting inclusive definitions, giving people a chance to see themselves reflected in that; having open and welcoming bisexual spaces…these are small things we can do to turn the tide.
On the importance of the bisexual community
I think bisexuality’s really simple. Bisexuality is not something that people agonise over once they get into a community where bisexuality is seen as something that’s simple and you can just be, and get on with it.
– I’ve had very little cause in the last two decades to doubt or be uncertain about who I find sexually attractive. When I came out as bisexual and joined the bisexual community, I was immediately welcomed into a supportive group of people who were of very similar outlook and age to me. I was going to my first Bicon within 6 months of first attending a bisexual group. I was writing for bisexual newsletters by then. I’ve been lucky and privileged that the sort of things I was looking for in a social group were pretty much precisely the things the bisexual community at the time was providing. I had a very soft landing into bisexuality and I’ve not really had any need to question it or doubt it.
Marcus Morgan is founder and coordinator ofThe Bisexual Index, an activist network raising awareness of bisexuality and the issues that affect bisexual people. He is also an equality and diversitytrainerspecialising in bisexual engagement and inclusion. His clients include major international companies, government departments and NGOs. He was an author of the Open University’s 2012 Bisexuality Report, and has written on bisexuality for The Guardian and various LGBT publications.