National Coming Out Day 2017

I’m bisexual and polyamorous. I came out as bi in the fall of 1990 when I was 19. I dated as a polyam person since my mid teens, long before I had words to explain it. I’ve run multiple bi+groups and participated in local, regional, and national community organizing and activism. (Bi+ is used to acknowledge the many labels used by people attracted to more than one gender including bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer and others.)

I reclaim words like greedy, slut, and bitch as biphobic and/or misogynistic words. They are used to degrade and silence people who challenge power. I teach, lead workshops and discussions, and am someone you can talk to about your awkward questions about bisexuality or polyam. I put myself out there because I am one of the people only lightly touched by the mental and physical health disparities that are prevalent in the bi+ community. I am not untouched, I’m am merely able to stand in front of people and talk about the challenges faced by my community, I’m able to answer the ignorant questions with little trauma, and I have patience with people who are curious and willing to learn.

On this National Coming Out day I want to acknowledge how fortunate I am to be able to be open about my identities. Many factors make that true and I know how many people can’t be out and still be safe. The morning I woke up and found out Trump was President, I had a momentary thought “Should I go back in the closet?” Then I realized I had an article published in an academic journal about the future of bisexual activism and I was about to be a key note speaker at a statewide conference. I had attended a White House event discussing bisexuality and I was listed on websites as a board member for Bisexual Organizing Project. Most of my FaceBook posts are about activism and identity.

So I’m out: on social media, at work, standing in front of rooms full of people, in life. And yet, there are still things I don’t talk about much. The more work I do on behalf of the bi+ community, the harder it is for me to be in bi+ spaces. The more work I’ve do on my own mental health, the less patience I have for people still struggling with unacknowledged or unmanaged anxiety or depression. These and other challenges have shaped how my show up for my communities. However, I’m out and I always will be. Bisexuality and polyamory aren’t behaviors or lifestyles; they are part of who I am and they shape how I view the world. I am proud of who I am because some people would try to make me feel ashamed.

I work to center the voices of people who are different then I am (youth, people of color, people of different classes & backgrounds) because I’ve had my time in that space, and it’s time for new voices and visions. I continue to lead in some ways because I have the skills, the will, and the desire to leave things better than I found them. I write in hopes you will learn something or find something that resonates with you. Humans are social creatures and it is terribly dangerous to feel isolated or alone. Find your people, find your tribe, find your chosen family, even if your family embraces all of you. There is no substitute for being with people who get you, who want you to show up as your whole self, who want to stretch themselves to accept all of you.  

So, on this National Coming Out day, I challenge people to stretch themselves, to accept things that are uncomfortable, and to embrace people who need the support. You are not alone, you are enough, and you deserve to be seen as who you are.

 

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Us vs. Them in the New America

I’m putting this day in my list of “you’ll always remember where you were” days. I know exactly where I was when I heard about Elvis’ death, the explosions of both Challenger and Columbia, the twin towers falling, and now when I found out Donald Trump had been elected.

I believe Trump’s election is the Republicans reaping what they have sewn since the Republican Revolution in 1994 and the Democrats seeing the impact of too many years of letting the Republicans define the battle field. I think it is going to fundamentally change the United States. I know we cannot let it splinter us farther apart.

Who is us and who is them? This the fundamental question of all community organizing and I am first and foremost a community organizer. I create spaces for people who share common identities, find community, share support, and organize for change. I see some folks responding to the threat they feel in a Trump presidency by circling the wagons. They are saying, “we must protect our own.” I want to ask them: “who do you consider yours?”

I feel that the wider we define us and the more narrowly we define them, the stronger we can be. The easier we make it for someone who changes their understanding to move from them to us, the faster we can change the world.

I’m not saying that you need to invite someone who is violently opposed to you into community. A bigot doesn’t need to be welcomed into the community of people they hate. However, I think it is important to expand your understanding of “us” to include other people who are experiencing similar trauma, even if it is for different reasons. Alongside that, we must also be sure we are not perpetuating more trauma against other threatened communities.

Trauma right now is feeling unsafe in your own country (maybe for the first time, maybe more acutely than in the past). Trauma is not being sure who you can trust, wondering if you were too open about your identities in the past, and knowing not everyone around you will protect you if you are threatened.

These feelings can make us narrow our definition of who is us. I would argue, we need to broaden it. People of color, Muslims, and undocumented immigrants are threatened with more violent and broad based discrimination then in recent years. LGBTQ folks and people with disabilities know protections they fought hard to win are coming under attack.

As a bisexual woman, today is the day I need to turn to my Muslim neighbor and ask how I can help him because tomorrow I may be the one who needs his help.