Back in the late 1990s, around the time i turned 21, i started to openly identify as bisexual. I had had a few sexual experiences with women by that point and little did i know i was a few months away from my first girlfriend (and my first poly relationship and kink experience as well). While i didn’t dare come out to my family, i was out to most everyone else. I was trying things out. I was seeing where I fit in the world.
Usually i didn’t do any sort of formal coming out thing, but as i met new people, i just expressed my interest in women in casual conversation and watched for reactions. that was how i weeded our new people who weren’t cool with it. I think most people I already knew and the people i met during that time didn’t really react much. I don’t know if it was just something obvious about me or if it was just the city or crowd i was in anyway, but it didn’t seem to raise too many eyebrows among my peer group. I was lucky on that front.
I had traded my first garbage apartment in the college neighborhood for a shared two-bedroom with a gay man named James*. After i met and moved in with him, i started hanging out with his crew. We lived downtown – at that point, i was living in the nicest place I’d ever lived, really – and we frequented most of the LBGTQIA-owned businesses a few blocks from our place. I had early mornings at the coffee job, but many afternoons, I’d come home, eat a late lunch, take a disco nap, and then head out with James and company to dinner and drinks.
I was just starting to make nice with my own sexuality and thinking some support and networking would help, i attended a group for queer folx just coming out which was sponsored by my city’s LGBTQIA center. It was a good group with interesting dialogue and a great facilitator, but it was also heavy on white men with the very occasional person of color. I made a couple of friends, but for the most part, i didn’t find much community there beyond invites to the bar. There was a woman who came to a couple of our meetings and she expressed relief at my presence there. The feeling was mutual. However, She didn’t last long for the same reason: lack of diversity and few women.
Unfortunately, as small as the community of queer men was, it seemed even more difficult to find queer women or anyone non-binary or genderfluid or anyone… just… not a white gay man.
There were a couple of bars that catered to lesbians and bi women. (and they probably served trans folx, although, to be quite honest, I didn’t much about trans folx or would have even known TO look for them at the two lesbian bars i knew about.) i never really felt like i fit in there, either. At various times, i felt too femme, too butch, or too androgynous. And when i wasn’t feeling like “too much,” i was feeling like an interloper. I don’t think i was easily read and categorized and i was all over the map with my attractions, and so i didn’t find any sort of clique to join. I didn’t really have many friends who went to the lesbian bars and no one made introductions for me or approached me. in retrospect, maybe i could have approached people myself, but i was intimidated at 21. There were lots of older lesbians and then baby dykes and then there was me. I didn’t know how to fit in there and no one was welcoming me in, either. and i heard a lot about how i needed to choose: be lesbian or be straight. bisexuality was a refusal to choose.
So i hung out with James’ crew more than anyone else. We had a lot of fun dancing in clubs and drinking a lot and being obscene in all the wrong places. I enjoyed being young and witty with those boys. I enjoyed being the only girl in the group and, thus, being exalted as a goddess to be adored. We complained to each other about guys and dished out the snark. It was a blast.
It was a blast until I started seeing the misogyny and racism that white gay men were capable of and it really injured me at the time. There was one man in particular who loved to be sweet on me, but then continually called my vagina a “bleeding gash.” He would get so easily disgusted by any talk of women’s anatomy. But he’d also drunkenly grope me in the bar, calling attention to my breasts while also demeaning my genitalia. As if he was on the playground, as if he didn’t come from a womb, as if he really despised women. i think he did.
Long before the “no blacks, no fatties” type of bullshit that’s unfortunately become standard on queer (and even straight) dating sites, i saw this dynamic play out in how these men coupled and how they socialized. This group had a token person of color, but it always seemed like he had to try twice as hard to fit in. he was the last to know about our friday night plans. he was the first to be dropped off when our designated driver took everyone home. And he was often teased by the white guys about the size of his dick and even before i knew the term, he was fetishized in a way that made both of us uncomfortable. But… at that point, it was hard to find community where we were, so you took what you could get if you were a black gay man, i think, or if you were a white bisexual not-quite-cis, not-quite-anything young woman who couldn’t figure out where she belonged.
I couldn’t understand it. “Aren’t we all in this together?” i asked myself over and over. It didn’t compute that we’d sideline or tokenize or even verbally abuse each other. it blew my mind that even gay men would sexually harass me. Weren’t we all facing the same kind of discrimination? Sadly, my naïveté and ignorance before all the gender studies courses and hard-earned personal lessons was showing. Sure, we shared the struggle of loving people we were told we shouldn’t, but sometimes that’s exactly where any similarities ended. And those upwardly mobile white gay men wouldn’t know what it was like to be young and queer AND a person of color, nor did most of them want to know. They wanted to be accepted into the straight world, to have their lives and their desires validated by heterosexuals. And that was a legitimate request, a legitimate demand, in some ways. we all want to be accepted and considered “normal” and left to live our lives in peace. But they wanted to do it in a way that, quite unfortunately, left behind people of color, working class queers, women, and trans folx. they wanted to assimilate. they didn’t use their privilege to bring along non-white, non-male queer folx. they didn’t use their privilege to make it better for everyone. they wanted the white picket fence. they wanted the status quo for themselves and not a different world.
It broke my heart and made no sense to me. Now that i know about intersectional politics, i can better see how all of these microaggressions operated. I better understand that time in my life and can see the ways that racism and misogyny (among other forms of oppression) divide us and leave people behind to say the very, very least.
this pride, i challenge white folx to DO BETTER. pride celebrations all over the world have become corporate-sponsored weekends about drinking and wearing rainbows. pride celebrations have welcomed in oppressors. pride celebrations in many places aren’t organized by people of color, but instead, are organized by white gay people with lots of money who welcome the corporate sponsors and the white cishet people who come to gawk and/or be “allies” for the weekend. they’re happy to take their money and they’re happy to make money. i don’t attend pride for this reason and other more practical reasons like my own issue with crowds. it’s basically become a glitter-encrusted drinking holiday and i’m sure there are many people who don’t even know the origins of pride or who don’t even care to know.
let’s think of those twenty-something kids who are seeking community. let’s create communities for all and not build them around bars and drinking culture. let’s create families upon families upon families, a culture of care and respect. let’s listen to and lift up the voices of those we have ignored in the past.
let’s make something to be proud of… together.
* not his real name