By Faith Cheltenham
Originally published on Advocate.com September 22 2012 10:20 AM ET
Every September 23 is Celebrate Bisexuality Day, also known as Bi Pride Day. And every year on September 23, I do two things: First I wish my mother a happy birthday, and second I take a moment to pray for the bisexual activists, community organizers, and advocates past, present, and future. I say a blessing for all those we lost this year to suicide and disease, since there are always too many. Afterward I send some good thoughts out to the world. On Bi Pride Day, I celebrate that I am able to exist and am still happy to do so.
Last night I heard from my fellow BiNet USA board member Gary North, after he heard the news that Berkeley, Calif., was the first city in the nation to recognize the September 23 Bi Pride Day. Gary had gone and rummaged through his files and found that in 1990 the city of San Francisco had proclaimed June 23, 1990, Bisexual Pride Day in San Francisco in honor of the 1990 National Conference on Bisexuality. Gary tells me that the biggest lesson from his decades of involvement “has been reinforcement that change and acceptance are in large part generational.” I know what he means even though I am still a bit of a young one at 32 years of age.
Back in the 1990s I hadn’t even heard of the word bisexual, and coming from the small coastal California town of San Luis Obispo, my exposure to anything gay was very limited. Having been raised in the Church of God in Christ, a primarily black Pentecostal denomination, I had been placed in pastoral care by elementary school so as to stamp out my unnatural urges. My mom was doing what she then thought was right to save my soul, so I read from Ezekiel and had elders lay hands on me to pray that devil right on out. Like many queer folks, I escaped my confusion of sexuality into a clusterfuck of sexual activity because none of it made a whole lot of sense. People told me I would “come out eventually,” but I didn’t have any idea what they were talking about, as I had a preference for living indoors and really hated camping. So I carefully folded up my pictures ferreted out of a trashed Playboy, hid them under the bed, and prayed after doing such “bad things” at the end of every night. My heart still pounds to think of my fear, to remember the feeling of being caught in an undertow, as if I jumped into the biggest wave, only to find the light lacking and the deepness of the ocean void of air. It seemed I lived without breathing for years, caught between the worlds of gay and straight.
Finding the bisexual community saved me. Finding others like me online and off made me feel completely normal and finally capable of loving relationships with whomever I wanted who wanted me. No one should need a permission slip to fall in love, and no one should have anyone else’s definitions define them. This Bi Pride Day I celebrate the heroes who helped me get here, and all the people who work toward a world where none of us live without being able to love ourselves. In a stunning letter from a person who’s loved more than one gender, Frank Ocean tells me, “I was never alone, as much as I felt like it … as much as I still do sometimes. I never was. I don't think I ever could be.” Frank’s letter shot off into space, breaking barriers and embracing the kids on the street, people between sheets, and all the other lovers who had missed a beat. For there are still too many people waiting, watching, and wondering about the line of best fit; how they intersect, and if they’ll ever connect.
There’s nothing more annoying to me than a person who scoffs at my bisexual insistence, those who tell me “sexuality’s not really a big deal” and “no one really cares.” When my orientation is dirty enough to be on a block list from Google and I have to spend time convincing them it matters, it’s a big deal. When monosexism and heterosexism mix in my Lamaze class and I’m seen as a married straight, it troubles me. Yet I am lucky to not be the first person to care, and to not be the last. Lani Ka'ahumanu, Autumn Courtney, Arlene Krantz, David Lourea, Cienna Stewart, Maggie Rubenstein, and other members of BiPol organized that first National Conference on Bisexuality in San Francisco, and we bisexuals have always been right there, matching stride for stride. Our pride was so fierce that Brenda Howard, a bisexual woman, was even a founder of the LGBT Pride days now held all over the world. These days, bisexuals run for Congress and train contestants for NBC’s The Biggest Loser. We’re lambasted by conservatives and defended by a gay icon who only agreed bi men existed last year. Gary’s right, all this life is change; either you’re making it or you’re waiting around for it. So this time every year, I say a lil' pagan prayer that someone else just like a younger me will know what it is to breathe safe and free.
FAITH CHELTENHAM is the president of BiNet USA.