Saturday October 3rd, we held the first Ace/Bi/Demi/Pan Conference at the Pride Center of New Jersey. There were approximately 15 people in attendance. It was a group of very invested, open-minded, open-hearted folks who gathered to learn more about these marginalized sexualities. I think the break down was (approximately, according to how folks self-identified):
- 1 straight male, non-White
- 3 lesbians, 1 Latina, 1 Asian, 1 Caucasian
- 5 bisexuals, 1 trans* male Caucasian, 4 female Caucasian
- 1 queer caucasian woman
- 3 pansexuals, 1 Latino male, 1 Caucasian female, 1 African-American (non-binary)
- 1 gay male, Caucasian
- 2 asexuals, Caucasian
Most of the attendees were between about 25 and 55 years of age. So, this was a relatively diverse group of people - mutli-sexual, multi-generational, multi-gendered, multi-perspectives. All sharing one goal: To gain and give more visibility to the Asexual, Bisexual, Demisexual and Pansexual folks in the LGBTQ Community.
The day began with a mixer and coffee and donuts, followed by welcoming and two ice-breakers. The ice-breakers were designed to get folks up and moving and finding out a little about each other. We engaged in two activities: Yes/No/Maybe/So, during which folks stand under the sign ("yes" "no" "maybe" "don't know") that corresponds to their response to the statements made. Statements started out simple: "I have a favorite color." to "I identify as asexual." Then we did a "Privilege Walk." It's an exercise which is meant to show in spacial terms who in the group is more privileged than others. In our case, I adapted it so that it the spacial reflection was of who has the most visibility in our group. Folks who identified as gay and lesbian were mostly up front (most visibility), those who identified asexual and pan-sexual mostly landed in the back of the room (least visibility).
With these activities behind us, we launched into the sharing part of our conference.
We did introductions and opening statements by the five panelists. We were a small enough group that we could sit in a circle, which was very powerful for community building. It would have been great to have more people present, however, if we had lost our circle, I'm sure the connections that were felt between people would have been lessened to some degree.
Some of the most salient topics that came up were about asexuality. What is it? Does it mean you don't masturbate? How does dating and asexuality work. We learned that asexuality doesn't necessary mean "sex repulsed." It means that sexual relations are not really on the radar of someone who identifies as asexual. They are more/most concerned with physical (non sexual) attraction, and emotional attraction. We learned that some asexuals do masturbate, which inspired someone who was speaking about demi-sexuality to share that they know a demi-sexual who does not masturbate, but will engage in sex with someone that they have an emotional connection with.
Demisexuality we learned is the proclivity to only consider sex with another person once an emotional connection has been established. It doesn't have to be a deep connection, it can been a somewhat shallow one, but it is a connection, none the less. Otherwise, the sex is not satisfying or does not feel complete.
There was a lot of talk about Bi-Phobia -- the name calling that bisexuals experience: "greedy," "fence sitting," "want their cake and eat it too," "selfish." We deconstructed these names to the best of our ability and realized that most of them come from misunderstandings about bisexuality at its core. There seems to be a prevailing idea that bisexuals are choosing who they want to be with and so have an unfair privilege advantage that gays and lesbians don't have. Also, there's the invisibility that bi people experience when a bi male dates a male, he's read as gay and when he dates a female, he's read as straight. In both cases the read is wrong. The man is bisexual and that, in and of itself is a valid, bona-fide sexuality.
We talked about pansexuality and how it means being open to all genders and how that definition could be conflated with that of bisexuality. It was difficult at times to delineate between the two and there were some calls at the conference for a "re-naming" of the bisexual/pansexual community to better represent who they are attracted to.
I think the most exciting thing about this conference was that people on the panel and people in attendance were all sharing realizations and discoveries they were making about themselves as we continued to explore these very personal topics. We were literally growing alongside one another! One woman identified as bisexual at the beginning of the conference and then by the end of the conference explained that she had never heard the term "pansexual" before and thought that it better described her and how happy she was to be introduced to this new term. Discoveries like that were shared throughout the conference. The act of trying to explain oneself to others served as a catalyst for honing how one saw and expressed oneself. It was magical.
I am so proud to have been a part of this event and I hope that the people who were there will consider reaching out to others who would want another conference like this next year.
Thank you to all who participated. Thank you to the Pride Center of NJ for being an amazing supportive, safe space. Here's to moving forward and always learning and growing.