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Book Review—Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities
posted 09.22.2014

Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities; by Marie Alford-Harkey and Rev. Debra W. Haffner; Westport, CT: Religious Institute, 2014; 95 pages.

I am an atheist. So you might ask, “Why are you reviewing a guidebook on how to make faith communities more bi-friendly and welcoming?” Part of my answer would be, timing. This summer, as Terri Clark and I were preparing to co-guest edit “Bi Blogs,” ASA’s LAIN blog posts on bisexuality, the Religious Institute announced the publication of Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities by Marie Alford-Harkey and Rev. Debra Haffner. It seemed like a resource we couldn’t overlook.

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Upcoming Webinar!

Join Terri Clark on Thursday, October 23 for "Bisexuality anf Aging: What's your BiQ?" This web seminar is free to ASA members! Learn more.

2015 Aging in America Conference

Join Terri Clark and Cathy Croghan at ASA’s 2015 Aging in America Conference March 23–27 in Chicago to learn more about the KSOG and have an opportunity to complete the grid. Participants will be able to ask questions and discuss the variance and fluidity of sexual orientation. 

Registration for AiA15 
opens on October 1!

I read this book through the lens of a researcher and advocate working on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) aging issues. There are so very few resources addressing bisexuality and aging, and I wanted to understand how this guidebook might apply to the work being done to create welcoming secular service environments for LGBT elders, specifically how could it be used to raise the profile of bisexuality in this work.

A 2013 Gallup Poll reports about 40 percent of the U.S. population weekly attends a church, synagogue or mosque. This suggests that communities of faith can be an important source of support for a large part of the population, including older adults. Perhaps the most important support they could provide is an opportunity to eschew the isolation of aging through fellowship. Whether it is found at a senior center, garden club, bowling league or local church, fellowship will help sustain you in your old age, both mentally and physically. Plus, beyond offering fellowship, congregations may have a faith community nurse (similar to a parish nurse) to provide home visits to older shut-in members. Presumably such nurses could be a significant resource to aging bisexual congregants.

While a number of faith communities now say they welcome LGB and sometimes transgender members, the “B” most often gets lost. It is either ignored or subsumed into the LG portion of the acronym. Why?

The failure of bisexuals to embrace the hetero-homosexuality orientation dichotomy makes many people in the straight and LGBT communities uncomfortable. You don’t have to search long to find comments like “It’s not a real orientation,” “They can pass, so why don’t they?” and, “Get off the fence.”

Alford-Harkey and Haffer’s book challenges the silence and lack of support for bisexuality and gives faith communities and their leaders clear tools to bring bisexuality into the foreground and create a welcoming environment. I believe it also is a worthy resource for helping those of us working in LGBT aging advocacy to better serve the community, including bisexual older adults.

The book is divided into four sections: Bisexuality Basics, Sacred Texts and Religious Traditions, Creating a Bisexually Healthy Congregation and Resources. Bisexuality Basics provides a great review of human sexuality, myths and facts about bisexuality, demographics and research. Also it includes a discussion of how bisexuals and bisexuality is often challenged within the LGBT community. This section of the book is the least religious and most generally applicable. With the addition of research on bisexual older adults from the Aging and Health Report, it would make a great outline for a training session on bisexual aging.

The second section, Sacred Texts and Religious Traditions, was the least interesting to me as a secular LGBT aging advocate. But to individuals working to advance bisexuality inclusion in faith communities, it may be the linchpin of the book, with short essays from Islamic, Black Church, Protestant, Jewish and Catholic perspectives, and a review of denominational statements of LGBT inclusion. I should add, however, that several faith perspectives regarding bisexuality were quite discouraging.

The approach and content of section three, Creating a Bisexually Healthy Congregation, was, as its name implies, primarily applicable to faith-based settings, but had several elements that translate well to any of the helping professions (social work, healthcare) including how to be a bi-ally. Similarly, about half of the items in the final Resources section are secular and would give anyone interested in bisexuality quick insight into available materials, issues and history. However, as you look at the resource list, it is clear there are no bi-specific aging resources. This is not an oversight on the part of the authors. If you search bisexuality on the National Resource Center for LGBT Aging webpage you only find two short pieces by my co-editor, Terri Clark, and are pointed to the Bisexuality Resources Center, which has no aging-specific materials. You might correctly conclude that bisexual aging is a pretty open field. On a positive note, the Journal of Bisexuality recently issued a call for papers on bisexual aging and the forthcoming issue should provide a significant boost to the scant information on this topic.

Alford-Harkey and Haffner are helping to make the invisible visible and in doing so create supportive environments for bisexuals in both secular and religious settings.


Copies of Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities can be ordered for $15 plus postage and handling, at the Religious Institute, and it is available at Amazon.com.

Cathy Croghan, MS, M.P.H., R.N., is a geriatric community health consultant, researcher and public health nurse in Minneapolis–St. Paul, MN. She also serves on the Training to Serve Board of Directors (www.trainingtoserve.org). Contact her at crogh001@umn.edu.

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