As a little black bisexual kid, I constantly learned about how I wasn’t supposed to belong. For every sector of my identity, I collected “names” and muttered them under my breath like a Stark daughter ready to avenge.
Malcolm, Martin and Medgar taught me that fighting for justice meant fighting for everyone, all the time, everywhere. Anita Hill taught me to expect from myself an uncommon kind of courage, even when faced with a consistent lack of safety in my workplace. Meeting Rosa Parks at 10-years-old taught me how dignity could embolden that courage, and keep my heart safe, slight after slight.
Such lessons would provide the basis for my life as a black bi activist, and my “names” turned into common intersections, that when pushed close enough together, might save more than just myself.
The ability to jump from issue to issue and to see justice in every possibility isn’t unique to bi people, but it’s something we take pride in. Sometimes the newest of us protest that responsibility, like Jessie J did last week when she said her time as a bisexual was over.
I’m sure that Jessie J has no idea what the real definition of “bisexual” is, or that her story is reflective of the many women who suffer daily from fluidity related micro-aggressions perpetuated by their gay and straight peers, family and even closest friends. I hold out hope that her approach to desire might someday be respected and appreciated for what it could be, a complex sexuality of which nothing should ever be assumed. Similarly so, I view Tom Daley’s recent statement that he’s “gay, not bi.”
If you keep looking at things from both sides, you’ll know that bi people in same-sex relationships seem to feel safer identifying as gay, so much so that a 2013 PEW study on the LGBT community found that 90 percent of the people who identified themselves as bisexual and in a relationship, were in a different-sex relationship, not a same-sex one. For many years the challenges bi people face in being identified as themselves have been inappropriately summarized as “bisexual privilege” and the results of that very real lack of privilege are clear. It’s a fact that bi people suffer from higher rates of sexual violence, suicide, cancer, poverty, domestic violence and bullying than their heterosexual or gay and lesbian counterparts.
So what’s it going to take for everyone to understand that bisexual means you could date a guy, a girl or a person who eschews gender entirely? What will it take for Google to unblock bisexual terms and resources that might help another Jessie J or Tom Daley? Bi people, no matter how they identify, are running out of time. We still lack a single public or privately funded resource for bisexual health, and even though 61 percent of bi women survive physical and/or sexual violence, no law enforcement agency has ever been trained on how to protect us.
Creating bi affirming spaces is an important start, for once the door is open and the light is on for anyone with a middle sexuality, you’ll see bi people at LGBT centers accessing resources they desperately need and you will witness an LGBT movement invigorated by having half itself back.
Originally from San Luis Obispo, California, Faith Cheltenham is the current President of BiNet USA, a national non-profit advocacy organization for bi people. Faith’s been an LGBT activist for 15 years and is also an accomplished writer, poet, and stand-up comic. Faith is mom to two-year-old Storm, step-mom to six-year-old Cadence, and wife to Matt in a very modern family in Los Angeles.