Lovespirit and Bisexuality
Spirituality and sexuality – what’s the connection? And is it different if you’re queer? These were the kind of questions discussed at the first-ever UK LoveSpirit Gathering (www.lovespirit.org). This one-day conference was held in central London in September 2011 and attended by 180 people.
LoveSpirit was intended as a place where LGBTQI folk could meet, explore common connections and (in the words of the conference strapline) celebrate their spiritual and sexual diversity. As I’d always been interested in exploring the connections between my spirituality and my bisexuality, I was really interested to go along.
What I found was a packed programme of speakers, workshops and socialising. There was the usual conference dilemma (familiar to BiCon attendees) of which workshops to attend: did I fancy ‘Finding the Inner Guide’, ‘Understanding the Soul’s Plan’ or perhaps ‘The Art of Touch’? Should I go for ‘Breathe Yourself Alive’, ‘Exploring Spiritual Relationships’ or opt (out) for ‘Sex and Shopping: Is That All There Is?’?
In addition to the busy Saturday programme, there was also a LoveSpirit picnic the next day in a nearby park – unfortunately I couldn’t get to this, but I heard it went well.
Generally I had a thought-provoking and highly sociable day, with much to enjoy and a few juicy ideas to take away and ponder.
LoveSpirit got a lot right. There was a large range of interesting workshops on offer. The general vibe was positive and friendly. There was attractive, informative pre-publicity. And the organisers did a great job pulling everything together, and communicating their intention of running a diversity-friendly event.
However, this event needs some big changes if it’s going to become a place that truly celebrates spiritual and sexual diversity.
Visible representation of sexual and gender diversity is the first big change. The great majority of attendees were gay men, many of whom seemed to know each other from various gay men’s spiritual groups and events. I’ve got no problem being around ‘tribes’ of gay men. But where were the corresponding tribes of bi people, trans people and lesbian women?
To attract a diverse crowd, you need a diverse programme. Having more female workshop leaders would help (i.e. more than three, of a total of 26). It would also help to have workshop leaders who identified themselves as bi or trans in the programme and pre-publicity (none did). Furthermore, how about asking all workshop leaders to spend part of their session exploring how their workshop themes might affect trans and bi participants differently to lesbian and gay participants?
The other big problem was exclusive language. There is just no excuse for running an event which claims to be ‘celebrating spiritual and sexual diversity’, and then allowing your speakers to repeatedly refer to their audiences as ‘gay men’ (occasionally with ‘lesbian’ tacked on, and even more occasionally with ‘LGBT’ or ‘trans’ mentioned – I heard the ‘B word’ maybe three times the whole day).
It’s not OK to erase bisexuality from your event by hardly ever referring to bi people. If you don’t want any bi people there, be honest and make this clear. But if you do truly want sexual diversity, the first step is to consistently acknowledge the existence of other sexualities, by consistently naming them. LoveSpirit professed to be a celebration of sexual diversity. How can you celebrate something you can barely bring yourself to name??
I spoke to the conference organisers at the subsequent feedback meeting. They were very aware of the need for more diversity amongst LoveSpirit leaders and attendees, and had tried repeatedly to make this happen. They were keen for suggestions on how to do better next time.
So, despite major challenges, I’m hopeful for LoveSpirit and bisexuality, and I’d love to see more bi people attending and getting involved. I think LoveSpirit has the potential to become an event bi people could really benefit from, and contribute to. It could become a source of inspiration and healing for people of all sexualities. The LoveSpirit Gathering could grow into a real meeting place where people from different spiritual, gender and sexual identities could come together, learn new ways of connecting and relating, and birth new forms of queer support and activism.
There’s currently a lot of dis-connection between gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans people. It’s hard for us to overcome our fear of each other – after all, fear of difference is a basic human trait. But it’s much, much harder when we’ve been actively hurt by each other in the past. Where this has happened within the LGBT community, there are deep divisions as a result.
Could LoveSpirit help heal these divisions? I think it could, if it becomes a place where people of different sexualities, gender identities and spiritualities can learn to trust and respect each other more.
It starts with acknowledging and respecting our differences. Then learning a bit more about who we all are –finding the similarities as well as the diversity. That’s how real connection becomes possible. And real love, and real spirit, too.