In 2013, ACON worked with Thinkspace at the Powerhouse Museum to run a workshop with a group of young gay men to produce 5 digital stories.
ACON continues to work with and for the LGBTI community to promote health and well-being. Peer education has always been a vital component of our work, with young gay men learning about and discussing experiences of HIV and sexual health to prevent new transmission and fight stigma within our communities.
This innovative project involved storytellers participating in a 5-week workshop through Thinkspace, which empowered them to create and share their stories.
During the workshop our storytellers developed personal skills in multimedia production techniques to uniquely express themselves. The project enabled them to speak about topics that matter to them in their own words, with a focus on sexual health and why it is important in their lives.
We interviewed each of our storytellers about their stories…
YGMP: Your video gives us the perspective of a young bisexual man coming to terms with himself. What inspired you to produce it?
Alan: Beyond the Rainbow’s inspiration came from a number of things: memories of being a young boy and teenager when the world was less ‘rainbow tinted’ than it is today; having to ‘DIY’ my understanding of my sexuality, which was the constant undercurrent of my youth; and in more recent years, trying to engage with my sexuality without becoming too jaded in the face of an imperfect community—learning how to acknowledge that it is an important part of myself without letting it become the entirety of who I am.
I had the chance to do something for bisexual guys who are in the position I was in by telling my story. When I was growing up, being gay was still a big deal and things like bisexuality were virtually unheard of (I didn’t hear or read the word till I was in University). It would be an egregious double standard to not try and do for ‘the next generation’ what I wish had been done for mine. Hopefully, by producing Beyond the Rainbow, I can set a good precedent of being proactive in trying to make our lives better.
YGMP: You use a lot of black or white imagery in your video, to symbolic effect. If the world ‘exists in a state of duality’, is it correct to say that society often expects bisexual people to choose between straight or gay?
Alan: As sexuality goes, Bisexuality is best known for its transitionary quality – something people are when they are going from straight to gay or gay to straight. However people often forget that there are many people, such as myself, who are not moving between two definite sexualities.
There is a lot of rhetoric regarding treating LGBT people as ordinary human beings. But all too often, many people who are fighting for the rhetoric of ‘gays and lesbians are human too’ are the ones who turn around and say that you can’t like both men and women. Ironically, mottos such as ‘you just won’t decide what you want’ can be heard from the same mouth that says ‘born this way.’
Black and white thinking is very present in society at large. There is definitely a sentiment at play that you must be one or the other, an implicit demand. Obviously, it depends somewhat on the situation, but there are many situations where there is more than a slight subtext of people wanting you to ‘just pick one and stick with it’. I’ve regularly been in a conversation where my sexuality has come up and with frightening regularity the following comment is “So, are you still bi or have you gone full gay/straight now?” It is difficult to say if people even realise they are doing it because the idea of someone being bisexual is still conceptualised in the same manner as being on a diet—that it’s something you do for a set period and then stop.
Moreover, despite recent efforts there is still very much a strong sentiment of ‘us and them’ and unfortunately those lines tend to be drawn based on who you want in your bed rather than based on what you think is right or what you stand for. Anyone who doesn’t match up to the ‘us or them’ mentality often ends up getting the short end of both sticks which only reinforces the idea that it is bad to be different. The expectation to be on one side or the other even sometimes develops further into a very poisonous ‘well, if you must stay bisexual at least hide it because we are ashamed of you’ kind of attitude.
YGMP: In your opinion, what are some health challenges that young bisexual guys face, especially when it comes to HIV?
Alan: The sad fact is that many bisexual guys (including myself) may fall into a number of traps that may result in HIV infection. Being regularly ignored by potential partners in social settings subtly increases the chances of engaging in risky behaviour.
It can be construed as a sign of infidelity if a bisexual uses a condom. There is something of a double standard going on whereby a non-bi guy who uses a condom, gay or straight, is just being safe and healthy, but a bi guy who uses a condom is trying to literally and figuratively cover up his infidelities. I can’t say that I personally know how that one has come to ‘be’ but for some reason a bi guy in a non-open, non-poly, everyday normal relationship who wants to use a condom during sex, is secretly having an affair and his use of a condom is proof.
Having sex with multiple partners makes it nigh impossible to keep track of what everyone is and isn’t doing, whether male or female. Female partners who believe that women can’t get HIV and don’t get checked is a worry, especially if they are having sex with guys who have sex with other guys, who are at higher risk of getting HIV.
In the vernacular opinion: “shit happens”. Mental health challenges in particular are especially difficult to face, at least in part because it is sometimes hard to tell if you have really have one or are ‘just being selfish’ like everyone says you are.
YGMP: You talk about stereotypes in your video. What are some stereotypes about bisexual guys, and how can we overcome reinforcing the ones that are negative and false?
Alan: Bisexual stereotypes are just as numerous as any other kind, but some of my favourites are: Bisexual Guys are Just Confused; No One is Bisexual/Everyone is Bisexual; Bisexuals Don’t Love, Just Fuck; Bisexuals Can Fit In Anywhere; Beware the STI Petri Dish! My personal favourite however is Bisexual Guys Are BAD!!!! – This one I understand the least.
It is also worth reminding everyone that we all have stereotypes. Next time they perceive you through a stereotype stop and ask them how many stereotypes could be applied to them and how many are accurate. Then ask them to think about the ones that are accurate and ask: Why?
YGMP: What key message would you like young bisexual guys to hear as they watch your video?
Alan: People are going to unhelpfully inform you that “actually, you’re gay. You know that right?”, or straight or whatever; people are going to have problems with you and accuse you of being a slut or greedy or indecisive; you are going to feel like utter crap because no one wants anything to do with you because you “can’t be trusted and are probably dirty anyways”. There will more than likely be times when you doubt whether you are actually bisexual because you’ve not thought of men or women in a precisely measured 50:50 ratio. Obviously, it’s all a crock of shit and it sucks beyond the telling of it because your self-respect is going to have to be stronger than anything that gets thrown at you. However if there is one thing that I have learnt, doing things the hard way like I did, it’s that it doesn’t get better.
You have to make it better.
When shit gets thrown at you, deal with it in a way that works for you. Punch a lion, make out with someone, sit down and have a serious talk, dance the Samba, bake cookies. Whatever… (within reason).
If there is no community in your local area, or you can’t find anyone or anything online then start a community, be that person, write the thing you couldn’t find online. Make it better for yourself and the next person.
No one but YOU gets to decide anything about your sexual identity. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
Gay and Lesbian counselling service of NSW: 1800 184 527; http://www.glcsnsw.org.au/
Alan Evans, 24, English Language Instructor
Anyone wanting someone to talk to is more than welcome to contact him at email@example.com