Bisexual Naming at National Black Justice Coalition Out on the Hill Conference


One of the great things we discussed at length during last week’s Bisexual Awareness Week (#biweek) was the bisexual identity, the many labels bi people consider using to describe their experiences and why. Awhile back the Patheos.com “Camels with Hammers” blog published a great piece that detailed the vital function that both labels and the development of labels serve. I’ve bolded some of the more stunning statements here for the “tl;dr” crowd.

“Naming the gender types, the sexual orientation types, the sexual interest types even, in all their beautiful diversity helps us think better. It helps us acknowledge more realities and account for them with better social practices so that the people who don’t fit into one or two current everyday categories are now taken into account. Having words for these differing people at the tip of our tongue, reminds us they exist at all. Refusing the words for them. Refusing the conceptualizations of their experience they offer us is an attempt to erase their existence. It’s an attempt to make it harder for us to remember them or think about them. It will make it harder for us to take any interest in their thriving. The conditions of their thriving may be different than ours. Denying them labels to describe themselves or their experiences will make it harder for us to meet their needs.”- “Why Do We Need Labels Like “Gay”, “Bi”, “Trans”, and “Cis”?

With this in mind we should welcome new conceptualizations of sexuality, gender, race, culture and every aspect of our humanity. For black bisexual people this conversation has been an on-going cultural experience. As a child I remember my West-Indian grandfather bristling as popular culture began to exclusively use African-American to describe black experiences in America. For him and other members of my family, the term African-American did not fully describe their experiences, political history and culture of their Black America.

cheltenham_clinton
Meeting former president Bill Clinton one night at dinner was a highlight for my grandparents (left)

Every so often it seems that words will change to reflect our better understanding of each others experiences. Nowhere is that truer than for bisexual folks who have re-claimed terms like bisexual, pansexual, fluid and queer to describe our lives as sexually fluid individuals. It’s also necessary for there to be some examples and role models for black and bisexual people, whether it be youth, elders or working professionals.

ooth-label-ocean
From The Out on the Hill Black Bisexual Experience Presentation, click here to download it.

Being able to positively identify yourself within a group of people is also extremely important for bisexual people striving to find a safe haven from the micro aggressions bisexual people regularly report experiencing. For as a recent report on bisexual women and micro aggressions said:

“We hypothesize that microaggressions that render bisexual women’s identity claims faulty or, worse, false and inauthentic, burden bisexual women with additional ‘identity work’. This burden, or stressor, is both cognitively and emotionally taxing, and in turn, likely has negative consequences for mental health and well-being.” – Wendy Bostwick on bisexual specific micro aggressions

ooth-bisexual
Faith Cheltenham, ABilly S. Jones-Hennin, and Shervon Laurice at Senate Hart building #OOTH2014

One of the more important things we did at our Out on the Hill black bisexual panel was exist as our total selves and in doing so continue to cement the importance of affirming black people, bisexual people, LGBTQIA people and every person working towards a world where we’re all equally valid.

Published by thefayth

Faith Cheltenham activist/writer/speaker There are so many different aspects of Faith Cheltenham’s life and career––writer, community organizer, advocate, activist, lecturer, poet, social media expert, digital strategist––that she is currently working to develop a single unifying “theory of Faith.” (It might be easier if you keep in mind Faith lives with hyperthymesia, or the inability to forget her own memories.) Then you too might be able to “keep thefayth” and learn to live in a future where gender and sexuality quite easily bend and every single Black life matters. Faith got her start in LGBT advocacy as a Human Rights Campaign intern on the Gore 2000 campaign, and in 2002, she co-founded UCLA’s BlaQue for LGBT/SGL students of African descent. In 2006, she appeared in the Emmy winning reality series on race in America, “Black. White.” produced by Ice Cube. After spending time working in corporate America doing digital strategy for Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York and co-creating and launching tor.com for Macmillan Books, she began to focus full-time on bisexual advocacy. In 2012, she was named one of The Advocate’s "Forty Under 40" and was appointed to the University of California's LGBT Task Force. In 2013, Faith was the Co-organizer of the first Bisexual Community Issues Roundtable at the White House & in 2014, was honored to be a stage participant alongside President Obama as he signed the Executive Order protecting LGBT employees of federal contractors from discrimination. Between 2015 and 2016, Faith co-organized four bi community meetings with the Obama White House including the first livestreamed Bisexual Community Briefing at the White House in 2016. Every year, together with GLAAD, BiNet USA co-sponsors Bisexual Awareness Week (#biweek), a social media experience seen by millions that Faith co-created in 2014. As a lecturer, Faith has spoken at locations as varied as San Diego Comic Con, Netroots Nation, Case Western University, UCLA & Yale University, on topics like the histories of pre-colonial African sexuality and bisexual intersectionality. An award winning journalist and writer who has had her poetry featured on Genius, Faith won her first writing acknowledgment from Parade Magazine for her musings on the racism she experienced as a Black Star Wars cosplaying kid in her native San Luis Obispo, California. Faith has been published widely in Washington Blade, South Florida Gay News, Advocate, Huffington Post, and her personal blog, thefayth.net. She has also been featured in various publications and outlets, including CNN’s Headline News, LA Times and New York Magazine. Faith identifies herself as a “Black bisexual intersex queer woman of color who came up transracial.” She is the proud parent of a gender expansive child, Storm (age five) with her husband Matt Kanninen, an Android developer working at Facebook.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: