Bisexual parents are a huge percentage of all LGBTQ parents, yet they continue to face challenges and discrimination from within and without the community. Here we talk about the fierce pride of bi+ people and parents, and how biphobia and bisexual invisibility is compounded by parenthood and having LGBTQ parents.
Meet Our Guests
Lynnette McFadzen is president of BiNet USA. Since 1994, the national 501c3 for the bisexual+ community. Lynnette is also the creator and co-host of The BiCast, a podcast launched in 2014 for and about the bisexual+ community. Lynnette identifies as bisexual, queer, demisexual, demigirl who is disabled and elder. Lynnette came out at 55 after battling internal biphobia all her life.
Faith Cheltenham is a writer, activist, lecturer, poet, digital strategist, stand up comic, and survivor. Faith started her work in LGBTQ advocacy as a Human Rights Campaign intern on the Gore campaign in 2000. She has since done incredible work at around the world – check out her website for her complete and inspiring bio. Faith identifies as neurodiverse, Black, bisexual, pansexual, intersex, woman, writer, and mom.
Emily M.: This episode, we're talking about something very important to our community. The B in LGBTQ. We're talking about bisexual parents, parenting and how bisexual erasure and biphobia impact our families. Let's start with the facts. According to the 2016 Movement Advancement Project Report "Invisible Majority: the disparities facing bisexual people and how to remedy them", bisexual people are more likely to be parents than gay or lesbian people, and two thirds of LGB parents are bisexual. So we know that bisexual people are the majority of the LGB identifying community and that they are more likely to be parents. Groups like BiNet USA are leading the way to end bi erasure and biphobia by building a network of folks, increasing visibility and educating others. I want to acknowledge that while we've had a bi+ identifying guests on the podcast before, this is our first episode dedicated to the stories and experiences of our family members With me today for this great conversation is Faith Cheltenham and Lynette McFadzan. Thank you both for talking with me. So to get us started, I want to make sure that all of our listeners are all on the same page with us. I would really appreciate your help in quickly defining some of the terms that I just mentioned, like biphobia, bisexual erasure, what bi+ means.
Lynnette M.: Biphobia is an aversion toward bisexuality and toward bisexual people as a social group or as individuals. It could take the form of denial that bisexuality is a genuine sexual orientation or a negative stereotypes about people who are bisexual, such as the belief they are permiscuous or dishonest.
Emily M.: And how does that differ from bi erasure?
Lynnette M.: Bi erasure or bisexual invisibility, is the tendency to ignore, remove, or falsify bisexuality in the history of academia, the news media, and other primary sources. In its most extreme form, bisexual erasure can include the belief that bisexually simply doesn't exist.
Emily M.: What does bi+ mean?
Lynnette M.: Well, in our community we have a variety of ways of identifying ourselves. Bisexual plus is inclusive of all of these terms that people use such as bisexual, pansexual, and omnisexual.
Faith C.: That was good. I wanted to follow up. Bi+ is an encompassing term for folks who have the capacity to be attracted to more than one gender. It's also intentionally done with a plus sign to identify the many that we lost the HIV epidemic. So it's an intentional identification of folks who live with HIV as well and the acknowledgement of our community.
Emily M.: My next question is one that I really love asking all of our guests and it is who is in your family and how was it formed?
Lynnette M.: I have several different families that are interconnected with each other course. I have my immediate, real life family who was formed because of my mother and father. I'm very close to all my siblings. I have my children, three girls, and then I have my grandchildren and my great grandchildren. It's all been a very accepting family. We have a lot of LGBTQ going on in my family. So they were pretty aware. And then I have friends that I connected with on another podcast and I have people I've connected with online basically and at conferences. But as a disabled person I have found my most supportive LGBTQ family has been online. A lot of it through BiNet USA's group site on Facebook.
Faith C.: My family is a really complex entity. I'm fantastically lucky to have a genealogist in my extended family, so I know a lot about portions of my family, especially my mom's side. I'm a black person and so family is really, really important. And for myself, like Lynette, my family is made up of people who are immediate, like my child as well as people who are a chosen family, like my bisexual mom, Lorraine, people who are real family, like my real mom, and different individuals. But like many people, I have a story of being kicked out of the house when I was 18. There's a lot of folks who have experienced difficulty with family and I'm one of those people too. So at the moment though, my real strong focus is my six year old family, which is my six year old child and his two teeth, which he's really stressed out about losing.
Emily M.: I know that the way that I describe my own sexual orientation has changed over time. And that is especially true as I learned new terms, got comfortable with them and then also gave myself space to explore my own identity. Have the words that you use to describe your identities changed over time?
Lynnette M.: Oh goodness. They've change so much over time. I identified as straight until I was 55 years old. When I did come out, I just identified as bisexual. But as I started exploring myself more, I understood that I had all these other labels. So yeah, it did change over time as I became familiar with other words and with myself.
Faith C.: When I first came out in 1998, I came out as a lesbian. After a year of being in the community and insisting that I could still also be interested in men, I was expelled from the lesbian circle of college and ended up identifying as queer. That wass much more radical for me. Eventually I would identify as pansexual and then finally finding the term bisexual within a political context that I had not had before. The term bisexual was to me much more political because it gave me an opportunity to rub it faces and binaries that they didn't realize that they're already living in. I feel like I feel lucky, as a black American to have that context and understanding. Since I was a kid that how I identify racially and my race has change like seven times maybe. I remember being Afro-American for like one year. We have all these different words that we use for different things and those change over time. And so I think it's really important to be really open and expansive of many different labels and so we see people just kind of changing terms, just like we change.
Emily M.: Yeah, it's been really liberating for myself to also learn about other terms and what they mean. I know that I also really strongly identify with the term queerspawn. I have queer parents and that was a term to kind of place my own identity as someone who grew up culturally queer and surrounded by queer culture and to have that term. And when I heard it I was like, oh, there's a word for me and I love it. And it was really affirming just to have that term sometimes.
Faith C.: Yeah, absolutely. I agree with that. I like to tell people labels alone will not save us. But really what it comes to is that labels provide a handy bucket, if you will, for community. I came out actually for the first time when I was seven. I told my mom that I wanted to marry a girl probably, but I was open to marrying a guy. But that either way I was going to wear the veil and I was open to them wearing the veil too. And I knew that that was going to be a big deal for my mom because for her, guys didn't wear avails. But actually it was a little bit bigger deal for her that I wanted to marry a woman, let alone the whole guy's veils idea that I was rocky when I was seven. She immediately sprung into action and took me to church. I got prayed through, I got 'ex-gayed', and the whole situation. Unfortunately folks told me that these feelings were sinful and sick and not real and not right, and something that I could change. And that wasn't something I could change, but because of that experience from maybe seven to 12, 15 years old, I really was actively trying to change. Like, almost everyday thinking, how can I not be like this? I think a lot of people experience that as bi people because there's a sense of, oh, we can use this thing. Lynnette, you came out when you were 55, but you are still bisexual when you're 45, when you were 35, when you were 25.
Lynnette M.: When I was six! I had a terrible crush on Audrey Hepburn. It was terrible.
Emily M.: In that 2016 Movement Advancement Project report that I mentioned earlier, there are really alarming statistics and research that demonstrate that bi+ people are regularly facing bias and discrimination and erasure. And that that has some really alarming consequences on health and safety and security. Would you share a little bit more of an experience that you had experiencing biphobia in your life and possibly even as a parent?
Faith C.: I remember coming out as bisexual in my process of having a child and just trying to think really intentionally about how can I be out as a mom, as a pregnant person. Like trying to find ways where my identity can be represented no matter where I was. I wasn't actually also getting served the way I should have been served as a bi person, and also as a black bisexual person. I probably would've been better served by a hospital that had more positive experiences for black people. And so I experienced 21 hours of labor before an emergency c-section where they found out that my child wouldn't have ever been able to make it through the body because my body wasn't built that way.
Faith C.: So I think it's one of these things were for myself, I've definitely experienced intersectional systemic oppression as a black bisexual, intersex woman, and especially within that frame of being a parent. My c-section happened without any anesthesia. Those are the type of experiences that I know I'm not alone in having as a queer woman. I've since found that situation is such a regular occurrence for black women in this country. It should disgust us all. Black and brown women consistently have difficult outcomes in health care and maternal health. When we are bi, when we're queer, we're trans, intersex or Ace, when we're gay, those are realities. These realities are just compounded at such high levels. We all have to come up with different scenarios for how to save our own lives. And I think that's a lot of the work that BiNet USA does to support bi people, all types of people and all types of by parents. Like bi parents who were living in prison right now, bi people who are in detention right now being what I would identify as unlawfully held by this government. We have people who are on hunger strike right now as prison strikes have continued across this country. So there's a lot of intersections that people often miss. Whether they are bi, pan, fluid, or queer, it's really relevant to that person's life because they're less likely to have a job and be employed. They're are more likely to live in poverty. Bi people have a higher rate of poverty than gay and lesbian, and straight people.
Emily M.: As you mentioned, that intentional inclusion and visibility for bi+ identities is a key part of BiNet USA's mission. So within the LGBTQ community and also without what has bi erasure, you're most commonly looked like, or how do you see bi erasure often manifesting itself?
Faith C.: I think bi erasure is a really tricky concept, especially in this time and age. One of the things I love to take people through very quickly, is just an understanding of how bi erasure has operated over the last hundred years or so. If you look at Freud and the type of folks who were coining the term bisexual and pansexual and late 1800s, then you look at some of the things that were happening in the LGBTQ community space in 1920s, you see that bi people are not being recognized or even acknowledged. Which is a form of bi erasure. At the same time, nobody is being acknowledged as being queer because it's like literally, you could die. As time goes by, people start to come out as gay and they say, Hey, I'm gay. Gay Power. Queer power. During that time period, there are people who start coming out as bisexual inside of the gay rights movement. So there's a history of bisexual people being erased in a purposeful, intentional way. And why? Because it doesn't fit neatly in the narrative. There's never been this moment that bi people have this privilege, that bi people had this awesomeness. What has actually happened is that bi people have been erased from gay rights work that we built, what has happened is that bisexual identities have been taken from trans icons like Sylvia Rivera, who was a very proud bisexual trans woman. So when that happens, it has an impact and we do see it as a form of harm that gets enacted against communities.
Emily M.: And when it comes to to parenthood and bi+ identities, how does becoming a parent compound that bi erasure?
Faith C.: We had a support group chat recently about this very topic, about families dealing with how to be out and visible when they're in a different sex relationship in particular. It's just a very, very common question for us in bi work. If you are in a different sexual relationship and we see a really high percentage of bi people being in different sex relationships, that doesn't mean that they're only in different sex relationships over the course of their life. Just like straight people and gay and lesbian people, bi+ people know how to date. We do have studies that show 80% or more of bi people are in different sex relationships and so therefore we know that those people are the people who are reporting these really high rates of disparities. These are the people who are reporting really high rates of lack of access to safety, security, health care. These are folks who at the same time are not out to their doctors. These are folks at the same time are not accessing services. We definitely know that it's hard for folks to be out and the easier it becomes for people to be out, the easier it becomes for them to get help and services and support and get connected to other people like them. There's lots of different ways for people to come into their bisexuality in a way that really embraces where they are in their life. I think one of the the blessings that bisexuality brings to this world is to illuminate that.
Emily M.: Yes. And have you had conversations with your children about your identity and how your identity has changed over time?
Lynnette M.: Oh absolutely. I have a long story for you about my biphobia and my bi erasure as a child. We never talked about bisexuality and there was a reason, because we father was a closet bisexual. We didn't have a word for it, but that affected me all my life and how I viewed bisexual people. I knew I liked guys but I couldn't be just somebody who liked girls and who liked guys. So I picked, I called myself heterosexual and I lived under that and I think it influenced my kids quite a bit. Not In a good way. So when I finally came out, we talked about these things. And now with my grandchildren, this door is open to talk about gender and sexuality and all of these things and it's very comfortable. It is a real plus to be aware and to pass on the knowledge of the non binary.
Emily M.: Yeah, absolutely. I know growing up I felt a lot of pressure from society outside of my family to be heterosexual. Having queer parents, I would get questions all the time like, Oh, if your moms are gay, like does that mean you're gay too? My first memory of being asked that question was probably when I was seven, so it started very young and I continue to be asked as an adult now. Maybe not quite so blunt, but it still gets brought up. And so I heard the homophobia and the biphobia and the transphobia in that question. Have you been exploring any of that in conversations with your children or grandchildren?
Lynnette M.: Yeah, we've been able to talk with all of them about it. But they were pretty much aware of everything before I was. So for me, it's a different situation.
Faith C.: Yeah. That's been my experience too, as a mom who is bi, who has a child who's very expansive with gender that I just thank my lucky stars that I'm a bi activist. I've been an LGBTQ activist for 20 years kicking butt, so that way the world's better for him. When your own kids are queer, you wonder, is this okay? Because this could be because you're a part of who I am. But then there's this really amazing moment of, yes, that's right. This could be because of who I am, that you are able to recognize this in yourself just like me and I think that's a really powerful thing. I was really lucky to speak with great experts early on for my child and I recommend that if your kid is gender diverse, you check out Gender Spectrum, which is a great organization. And organizations that have lots of resources like the Family Equality Council. Having those opportunities is really special. A lot of bi people have parenting groups across the country. So anywhere there is a thriving bisexual community, the likelihood of there being a by parents group is really high.
Lynnette M.: I'm just curious, you were talking about fighting that mother instinct to protect your child and knowing that you have to allow him to be who he is. That must be incredibly difficult.
Faith C.: Yeah, I mean I just basically just try ask, hey, what do you want to wear today? It's totally up to you. You want to wear a dress? Great! But let's think about where we're going before we were a dress because my child is also a boy of color. And so for him as a black child, it's a very different experience than it is for white children who are gender expansive. So it's been a conversation and that's the intersectional conversation where at times we have to have conversations about like, Yo, we have to stay safe here in this situation. We went to the drag queen story hour, that's awesome. Where are the instances where it's going to be a hundred percent safe? Or if it's not safe, there's going to be a bunch of other parents and we're all going to be in it together?
Emily M.: Well that, do you have any final thoughts for our sort of wrap up here as we're ending our great conversation? Anything that we didn't yet cover?
Lynnette M.: I just want to remind everybody out there particularly our youth that you do have community and you're not wrong and you're not broken. And reach out, even if it's online, that that helps too because we have to end this feeling of isolation and we can't do that until we built communities.
Faith C.: One of the things that we were so excited about is that we were seeing things really changing in LGBTQIA communities for bi+ people. Recently New York City Pride showed up and showed out for bisexual awareness week. World Pride and the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall really acknowledged bi+ people are a part of us and we're here because of you. That's a wonderful acknowledgement of the people who helped start Pride like Brenda Howard and Steven Donaldson, among others. And the people who helped make Pride where it is, like Sylvia and Marsha and all these other people who a lot of times aren't being seen, whether they're trans or bi or pan or fluid or whether they use a label we don't know because they're not here with us anymore. It's really just about being able to identify our unique experiences and the things that we need to support each other. We're seeing a lot more positive support from people that are not part of the bisexual community and organizations that are reaching out to us.