25 Years of Bi Life

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Almost 25 years ago, we birthed a book. Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out was published in February 1991, and helped catalyze a new bisexual rights and liberation movement in the United States, a movement that linked up with others organizing similar coalitions in different countries, becoming international by the late ’90s. The book nurtured many generations of bisexuals, staying in print 25 years with an anniversary edition released during Bi Awareness Week, September 20-27, in e-book, as well as print.  

In some ways things have changed tremendously for the better for bisexuals since Bi Any Other Name brought over 70 different voices sharing their bi stories in essays, poems, cartoons, and photos with the public. And in some ways, nothing much has changed at all, except that we now have credible research results that puts numbers to what we knew existed — the shocking and depressing statistics that document the exact ways bisexual people are disproportionately stigmatized, discounted, and hurt.

Still, the children of today grow up in a different world than the one we elders entered. It is no longer as stigmatizing or as alienating and isolating to be bi, at least in some areas of the country sometimes. And there are some other encouraging social changes in the culture and the society as well. As we wrote for the new introduction for the 25th anniversary edition of Bi Any Other Name:

“How could we have imagined when we were teenagers that, in the new century, thousands of triumphantly out LGBTQ people would walk boldly through the front doors of the White House as invited guests at Stonewall Pride receptions and governmental meetings? As youth we had no idea what the first early organizing efforts for U.S. gay rights in the 40s, 50s and 60s would portend. We certainly didn’t know how dizzying the language changes, how culture-wide the debates, would become.

… Living both inside and outside the sexual and social [gender] paradigms, we bisexuals, queer people, polysexuals, fluid people, pansexuals, by every name we call ourselves — continue to subvert gender assumptions and explore naming ourselves -- by every other identity, to no-identity-needed-or-wanted at all. This anthology has served as a coming out primer for generations of newly-out bisexuals of all ages, their families and friends. It catalyzed the U.S. bisexual rights and liberation movement and was heralded as a groundbreaking landmark. Called the Bi Bible, it became both organizing manual and reference book in classrooms, libraries, counseling centers, in pulpits and doctors’ offices.

… What’s most important is respecting each person’s self-identity and being recognized and understood for who we are.  Eventually perhaps the word bisexual will go the way of homosexual and fall from favor. Meanwhile we live and work with all the words we have. In the end, identity doesn’t matter to a heart in love.”

What’s encouraging is that in 18 years, Celebrate Bisexuality Day has grown from one day (September 23) to a whole week (September 20-27 this year) in the past few years, and that Celebrate Bisexuality Day/Week has sustained itself as a totally volunteer improvisational grassroots effort, so that there are now hundreds of events all over the country in big cities and little towns, on campuses and in independent bookstores, at conferences and other events.  What’s also heartening is that mainstream gay organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National LGBTQ Task Force have all become more bi-conscious in the past two years. 

NCLR lit up with Twitter with history, education, and health facts that Evan Rachel Wood and many others are retweeting up a storm with this week. The Movement Advancement Project released a great new report and HRC launched a bisexual topics page in honor of bi awareness week. HRC’s September 17 release highlighted the heightened risk for health issues that bisexual adults face and urged everyone to close the knowledge and care gap for this half of the LGB population, a substantial portion of which also identify as transgender and gender fluid.

And Monday, the Obama administration hosted the first Bisexual Policy Roundtable, involving almost 100 local and national bi activists/leaders and a collection of federal officials from various agencies and departments. They engaged in active dialogue on a variety of policy recommendations that the Bisexual Leadership Roundtable, a coalition of national and local bisexual groups, worked developing the past few months. This was a historic occasion, the first policy roundtable on bisexual issues ever hosted by a U.S. presidential administration. Two years ago, on September 23, 2013, there was a preliminary event in Washington, D.C., hosted by the White House and held at the Executive Office Building, that was an off-the-record listening session between a smaller number of individuals. That meeting laid the groundwork for the one this week.

Bisexuals still suffer disproportionately. But the hate, the hurt, the misunderstanding, the suffering, the erasure, the callous disregard, the contempt, the discounting, the stigmatizing has not stopped. We have a lot of work to do.  

LANI KA’AHUMANU is often regarded as the strategic political architect of the U.S. bisexual movement. She has a 40+ year career instigating and mobilizing social justice actions, campaigns, street theater and cultural events while challenging bisexual invisibility and ignorance within the HIV/AIDS and health industries.

LORAINE HUTCHINS co-edited Bi Any Other Name with Lani Ka’ahumanu, co-founded BiNet USA: The National Bisexual Network and the Washington, D.C. group, AMBi, The Alliance of Multicultutural Bisexuals. She teaches inter-disciplinary sexuality courses at a community college near Washington, D.C.

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