I have been called “too Anglo and not angry enough” by a lesbigay friend, the opinions of whom I do value. The truth of the matter is that this person may be right.
Soulmate and I entered college together in the early 1980s, just when the AIDS epidemic struck with full force. Being ever so slightly bisexual quickly went from “not optimal” to “rather bad” as a direct result.
There had been some blowback from the mainstream already because of the renewed conservative political culture, but AIDS was the real culprit, killing family and setting back the LGBTQI movement by roughly ten years or more. With college scholarships and starter employment prospects on the line, quiet and reasonably closeted seemed the better way to go for many of my kind back then.
Our gay/lesbian friends from college began integrating into the greater community soon after graduation, while the bisexuals in my crowd started getting cold feet upon hitting the real world. There was an obvious out in my case: Soulmate and I had managed to fall in love. We soon married, both of us relieved to have found a partner who shared an intimate secret.
Our happiness was not to be shared by friends who could not do the same. They had no other choice but to forge ahead and be part of the revolution. There was no going back for them. Silence really could equal death ... and they knew it.
My bisexual friends were more than a little scared of going public with the unrequested blessing anyway. There were real consequences: shunning, lack of employment opportunities and the stigma of not committing to “either team” were just a few. We were also afraid of the bar culture...and very few of my church-college gang had ever seen—much less dabbled in—the recreational drugs that seemed to be making a strong comeback within the community by the 1990s.
It was better to stay politely closeted and support The Tribe from behind a curtain, we reasoned. For me, the straight act worked fine for twenty-plus years until my near breakdown over gender dystopia. I managed to not do anything too stupid in all that period of time, but just barely.
Severe life changes and the prospect of soon turning fifty does make one consider past actions. Not speaking out and shying away from the organized LGBTQI resistance then was a serious mistake on my part, and I am very sorry that I failed to do so. If we had to do it all over again, Soulmate and I would have become the openly lesbian couple that we are today from day one, and I would have willingly kissed the career possibilities goodbye in favor of happiness and sanity.
I imagine that we are not the only ones who could say this. I also imagine this category is chalk-full of mostly closeted bisexuals who could get away with the “looks straight” option while the gay/lesbian wing had to slug it out with organized bigotry. Thank goodness the so-called radicals of our community were leading the fight back then.
The simple truth of the matter is that The Tribe would be nowhere near where we currently stand without the folks who were willing to give all to obtain our full freedom, stigmas and consequences be damned.
This generation’s activists have their roots in groups like Act Up, descended from the Stonewall era, themselves growing out of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Mattachine Society. Often, “radical” really just means being ahead of the curve. That’s where our community’s heroes have always been.
It takes that type of gutsy person to turn a page for society and history in everyday America. Were they so radical because they knew who they were and were fighting for their lives, their loves and their freedom? If I had a realistic chance of losing my lifemate because we lived in a society that could easily have thrown me in jail for openly loving her, I would easily have become that radical too.
I still tend to speak softly and try to use the powers of reason and love as my weapons of choice, but I am not as naive as I used to be. This is a true culture war, and we have no option as a people but to win it. Bigotry persist, metastasizing into far more dangerous forms. All progressive communities and their allies are now under direct threat, and thus the quiet types amongst us may no longer stay so polite and quiet.
Guilty consciences often breed determination to right past wrongs. As my generation and younger of formerly closeted bisexuals continue to stream back into the community, I predict many of these fellow souls will take a more open and active role in the fight, no matter who they love. That, in itself, will be a quiet victory for The Tribe.
The “radicals” of our tribe were right. I am very grateful to be amongst them now.
Julie Chase is the pen name for a local 40-something trans woman. A graduate of The University of the South at Sewanee, she loves butterflies, strong women and the Austrian School of Economics.