It Aint Over Till the Bisexual Speaks

In the early 70s, Lani Kaahumanu began to realize that she was very much attracted to women. Only later did she fall for a man, which led her to realize that she was, in fact, bisexual. Despite a bi-phobic undercurrent in the community, Lani pressed forward and devoted her energy to fighting for bisexual representation and inclusion.

I was conceived in Hawaii. This is how the story goes conceived in Hawaii, born in
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Canada. My mother was an immigrant to this country, and she was born in Japan, raised
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in Japan. And then both her parents died, basically, and she was raised in Hawaii in
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the thirties. My father is from a Minnesota family Duluth, Minnesota and his family
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drifted out to California, and then he was stationed in Hawaii, and thats how it all
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began.
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I was in San Francisco from about six months old to four-and-a-half years old, late forties,
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when people from San Francisco moved to the peninsula, and so in the late forties, moved
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to San Bruno, California.
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Looking back on it, when Im trying to figure things out, I was the kid that organized everything.
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I organized the Kool-Aid stand. The Kool-Aid stand wasnt good enough for me, so I added
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a puppet show. Then Id have a Kool-Aid stand and I had a circus, so Ive been an organizer
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and an activist from day one, when I look back on it. It kind of makes me laugh.
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In high school, I was a rah-rah. I was in the finals for cheerleader, but then I got
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a D minus in shorthand. Worst grade I ever got. And I got kicked out of the finals for
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cheerleaders, which was, like, really a bummer for me, but I became rally commissioner. You
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recover, and do something else. The captain of the football team and I fell in love, and
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that was pretty amazing.
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We went steady from the time I was 16, got married when I was 19, and by the time I was
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24, I had been married five years and had two kids, and he was teaching high school
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where we met.
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Everything was perfect. Great husband, home, organic garden. Its the sixties, and I started
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reading I watched a lot of talk shows, which were different then, and theyd have these
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feminists that came on that were talking about the womens movement.
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So we started talking about womens rights, and whats going on. I remember changing from
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Mrs. to Ms., and my fathers family was upset with me. It was so disrespectful, blah, blah,
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blah. And Im thinking, Really? My husband didnt mind at all. He thought it was, Oh,
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thats kind of cool. Hes real laid back. But my consciousness was broken open, and
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I got involved with the anti-Vietnam War movement. And as a housewife, with my limited experience
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of the world, really, even if I was in my mid-twenties, where had I gone? I hadnt gone
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anywhere, really.
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There came a point in our marriage and this was in the sixties late sixties. And everythings
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changing around us. Very exciting, shifting in gender, the peace movement, the civil rights
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move you know, it was just like this time. And we were swept away in that. And he was
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an anti-war activist and we were you know, it was both of us doing that.
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And there came a time in the late sixties, early seventies where I was just crying a
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lot. I didnt know why. I just couldnt I just was not happy, crying a lot, just
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it wasnt making sense, since everything around me was so exciting. I was, like, a
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Little League mom. I ran the art corner at my kids school fieldtrip driver. Full,
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you know, amazing life.
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We just came to a point where I realized I stood up for myself in a way I never had.
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A good friend of mine was relaying a really moving story that had happened to her, like
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reviewing something, and it was time for me to go home, and cook dinner for the kids.
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I made a decision to stay there with her during this time. Id never done that before. And
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I called and told him. Hed go, Okay. Fine. But then I said, Im gonna stay with her.
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Im gonna stay overnight. And he just kind of backed away. It was the first time I ever
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kind of just did some you know, like, said, No. You can cook dinner, because he cooked
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sometimes, too.
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After that, I just remember I was still crying, and trying to figure things out. Ill never
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forget this. He looked at me, and he goes, I figured out why youre crying. He just
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said, You need to leave. He goes, Youve never, ever had a life of your own. And he
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goes, Ill have the kids. He goes, You cant do what you need to do.
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As soon as I heard it, it was right, and within six weeks I mean, we invited my sisters
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and their husbands over, my mom, and we just told everybody at the same time. Were trying
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this out, although we knew. And six weeks later, I had an apartment. And I was still
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the teachers aide at school. You know, like, I was still doing it. I was about a mile away
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from the kids. And thats the hardest thing Ive ever done in my entire life is leave
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those kids.
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So he stayed in the suburbs, and I, after a year living near my kids school, I moved
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to San Francisco, and I had a few years earlier started college. I took a night class, which
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was huge for me. I was just like, Oh, wow, I really like this. Id been going to night
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school, and I started going to school full-time at San Francisco State, right when people
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were organizing to found the Womens Studies Department. So I got involved with all that,
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and of course, it was complete lesbian, womens, feminist, amazing people leaders that I
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got to meet, and have them as my professors, mentors.
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And I came out as a lesbian. Because I knew I always loved women. I was attracted to women.
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I think being raised Catholic and being so repressed, I didnt connect it with sexuality
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or anything. It was just like, I really was attracted to women. But it, kind of, the feminist
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movement just kind of lined it up. Theres theory. Oh, my god. Theres it was an
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awakening, an amazing awakening.
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I didnt come out as a lesbian right away after I divorced. I moved to the city, and
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it was the first time in my life that I had ever been on my own. I was 31 years old. I
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met my husband when Id just turned 16. I was a teenager.
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Everything was an adventure. Every single moment of my life was an adventure. I didnt
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want to settle down. I didnt want to be with anybody. I just wanted to find out, what could
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I do? I got a job as a waitress in one of the jazz club restaurants in the Bay, by the
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airport, and became friends with a lot of people. I had what I used to call its a
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line from a country western song my one-night stand in boogie band days. It lasted about
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six months. It got really boring.
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I was the token feminist, and there was a token African American woman who I would
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pick her up in Honers Point and we would go to work, and then I would drop her off
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on the way home, in the city. And come to find out she was a lesbian, on top of everything
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else. So there was something about my life that I was ending up being around a lot of
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lesbians, and going to school, and being a waitress. So it was a whirlwind and in this
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whirlwind, it was like, Ugh, Ive got to stop. What is going on? Am I a lesbian? Am I heterosexual?
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Whats going on? You know, all my friends are starting to come out at school. I dont
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whats going on?
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I was going through this whole period of, like, Ive just got to I just wont be
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sexual for a while, and just clear my head out, and try and figure out whats going on.
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But in that year, I was celibate for a whole year, and when I figured it out, it just felt
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really good, and I came out as a lesbian. I did not fall in love with a woman right
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away. It wasnt because I left the reason for leaving my husband, or anything at all
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like that.
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And coming out coming out as a lesbian was a political statement, but it was much more
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than that. You were becoming part of this growing community, this giant wave, and it
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was there was so much support, and a cheering section, literally. It was just like, Yeah,
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youre in the club. You know, theres like this community feeling [that] just washes
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over you, and it was exciting and wonderful and so supportive. And if something hard happened,
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or you lost your kids, because that was happening, there was support. You know, there was like
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everywhere you went, you were supported and loved and honored. But the politics of
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the time were so lesbian that if you said women, it equaled lesbian.
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When I came out as a lesbian, two interesting things. My ex-husband said, Youre not a
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lesbian. Youre bisexual, and I told him there was no such thing. And there was never
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I was never threatened with him taking the you know, like, taking the kids, taking
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my rights to see them away, or anything, but I did have friends that lost their rights.
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One friend, the husband kidnapped them, and took them to Italy.
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Coming out is so different if youre isolated in a place, like rurally or whatever it is,
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and you dont have support anywhere around, its very hard to come out. But I know people
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come out online, and then its a safer kind of a thing. And I think its important to
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come out. Risking yourself is one of the most important things, and I guess Ive been really
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privileged to be able to have done that in my life, because there wasnt violence around
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me, or the possibility of violence around me, when I came out. And I came out twice.
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There was emotional violence, and I had to deal with stuff coming out as bisexual that
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was not nice. It was wrong.
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It was basically safe for me to come out, and I think for somebody young coming out
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and trying to figure it out, if you dont feel safe, and you dont have anybody to talk
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to that could help you or protect you or give you advice, I would check out the internet
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and find a safe place there to come out and connect with people. Because holding something
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like that back in is not so good. Love yourself. Love yourself for exactly who you are. Thats
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the most important thing.
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In 1979, I was at San Francisco State. I graduated from Womens Studies. The first job I got
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I was totally pride, activist, just needing some and Im a cook. Ive cooked before,
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and so I became the out lesbian chef at a new age, clothing-optional resort up in Mendocino
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County. It was called The Village Oz, so structures all over the place, weekend massage, weekend
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meditation, all that stuff. I was there the first summer, in 79.
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In the fall, I went to the first March on Washington for lesbian and gay rights, because
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it just I had never been to D.C. I went by myself. It was an amazing trip,
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I went and lived in Hawaii for seven or eight months. I was a prep cook at the Aloha Cantina.
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The first day of work, the cook sliced her hand, and I became the lunch person. The name
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Lani was everywhere, the Hawaiian culture, the I just felt at home instantly. I went
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back, and was the chef at The Village Oz, kitchen manager, basically.
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In July, this young man comes hitchhiking through. The first thing he said because
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everybody had come in the kitchen and would do karma yoga in the kitchen and in the garden
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so his first night there, he came and he goes, Wow! Because theres feminist posters
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everywhere in the kitchen. And he goes, Have you read Of Woman Born, by Adrienne Rich?
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I said, Yeah. It talks about the institution of motherhood. It was a big book in the seventies
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that we used in Womens Studies. I said, Yeah!
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He goes, Oh, Id love to just discuss it with you. Thatd be great. You know, no flirting.
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Nothing. Im going, Wow, thats totally cool. And it just went on from there. Within a few
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weeks, were sneaking around, because the owner of the resort had a cartoon book and
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I was one of the main characters in the book, and I didnt want him to know that I was having
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sex with this young man, because I was the lesbian cartoon character in the book.
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And then he caught us one day making out in the storage room, and then it was all in the
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open. Lan, what are you doing? Youre not a lesbian. Youre a bisexual. No, theres
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no such thing. We argued. I couldnt do it. My bi-phobia was so deep, and I knew when
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I went back to my community in San Francisco, this was 1980, I knew what I was facing.
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When I was an out lesbian, I fell in love with a man. Whoops. I had to prove that I
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wasnt a traitor. I didnt want to be kicked out. It was my community, but the internalized
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bi-phobia was enormous. There I was, in love with a man. I was truly in love with this
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person, and how could that be wrong?
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When I moved back to the city, it was, like, horrible. It was so hard. It was like the
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lesbian who fell from grace. I wasnt invited to parties because people thought Id bring
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a man. Well, its like you dont forget, you know? Like, four years of lesbian feminist,
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activism, and stuff, and you think Im with a man and Im going to forget everything?
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No.
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Or really rude things would happen. Really, really hurtful things, everything from people
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just talking like I was not there. After a big march, like a NOW march for choice in
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Golden Gate Park everybodys very high. You know, youve just you feel good at
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the end. And were standing around and this lesbian who I knew had this infamous dog,
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little black lab, very sharp, always had a red scarf on her neck, the dog, was a legendary
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crotch sniffer. This woman, who will remain nameless, told me, made this loud announcement
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after this exhilarating march, that her dog Natalie was never going to sniff my tainted
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crotch again. Announced it to everybody there. I didnt know everybody there. It was, like,
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so humiliating. What do you do with that?
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And her lover just said said her name, and you know, kind of, she kind of withdrew. But
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it was, like, just sitting there. The shunning, people just not looking at me. Im still doing
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the work. Im producing womens dances, lesbian dances. Im still producing you know,
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like, Im still a member of the community like I was before, and more so, but the only
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difference is, is Im naming myself lesbian-identified bisexual right away. You know, I dropped
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the lesbian-identified after a while, because I started realizing, well, its more than
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that. You know, Im bisexual. I have to say that several lesbians did stand strong with
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me. Bless them, because it was not easy for them to do.
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At the time, another interesting thing that I learned is that there was a bisexual center
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in San Francisco on Hayes Street. They had It was internationally renowned. Support
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groups, social, therapists, parent groups, newsletter. I mean, you know, it was a big
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deal. And so I went to their coming out group, all women, and every woman there said, How
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do you ask a woman to dance? What is it like to kiss a woman? Why are lesbians angry?
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They were coming from a heterosexual place into bisexuality. And I was just like, I could
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answer all their questions. My question was, what do I I didnt ask it, but what do
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I do with this man? How do I integrate my life as a bisexual, because Im not going
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to leave that community. Thats my heart was home in that lesbian and lesbian and gay
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community.
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All this identity stuff is getting in the way of us taking care of the mess this world
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is in. Its just like, were human beings here together, and we need to start identifying
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ourselves as human beings with other living things because our world is in big trouble.
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If we dont gather, we might not be here.
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I was in the lesbian community, and part of our idea was to organize bisexuals within
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the lesbian and gay community, because the farther I came out, I became a confessional
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to all these people that were having sleeping with the wrong gender. So the farther I came
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out, I started writing to get visibility, because I knew I wasnt alone, even though
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nobodys standing around me going, Yay! except for a small handful of people. So I
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started writing. Started I organized Bi-Pole with a bunch of other people, which so politically,
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we started becoming more visible and loud. And then in 87, there was the March on Washington.
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Bisexuals were very visible there.
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There was a pre-march gathering. I walked into that room, and on my gut, in my gut,
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I thought, We have a national movement.
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Part of what happened in that room that day, there was a flyer: Are we ready for a national
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organization? Bi-Pole, the organization I helped found, our address was on there.
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So between 87 and 90, or late eighties, we got so much mail saying, Yes. People
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sending money. Cash was coming in, 500 or 600 bucks. And we planned the 1990 conference
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National Bisexual Conference. So that was huge. Another huge step. And it was during
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that time that the right wing started recognizing bisexual people.
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There was a call for another March on Washington. With the right wing, you know, we were in
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their sights. And I realized Im a good strategist. I didnt know that about myself,
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but it just made sense to me. Its time. This march, Id been to the last two, we can get
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our name in the march this time. Were visible enough. Were organized enough. We have enough
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visible people in big cities around the country. I organized a 12-city endorsement campaign,
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and I wrote up this little thing, Its time for bisexuals to be recognized. Were being
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included in the veterans organizations. Were being included in campus groups.
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You know, I just made the list, and its time, and then I organized, on-phone, 12 cities,
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and had people go get signatures from well-known people, lesbian and gay people, because my
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idea was, the strategy was, is that theyve been doing a lot of talk, but they havent
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done any walking at all. Its time for them to put their their name on a piece of paper
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that says its time to endorse, you know, for bisexual to be in the name on the
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March on Washington.
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And we got we were successful, but we had to remove sexual from it, so when you see
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it, its, The 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation.
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They couldnt deal with sexual. What is our movement about? Sexual liberation, hello.
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But they couldnt deal, No, we got to take the sexual out. So, got the bi in, and so
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bisexuals were active in every city. We were carrying the banner in the front. We were
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on the stage, the small day stage, and I was asked to be a speaker for the day. There were
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18 speakers of the day. Guess which one I was? Eighteen.
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I was supposed to go on at 5:30, and it was 6:45, and I still wasnt up. Im going in
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to look in the mirror, to see, okay, and one of the co-chairs comes to me and says, You
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have to make your speech two minutes. Im going, What do you You know, like, what?
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The park is going to turn off the speakers at 7:00. Its after, you know, its less
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than 15 minutes by that time. So Im furious.
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Another co-chair comes up, and, Whats wrong? I said, They just told me my speech is two
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minutes. And she was always an ally. She said, Thats wrong. Let me go see what I
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can do. Within ten seconds, Im not kidding, they said, Youre on. And I get up there,
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and then Robin Tyler, who I knew from the eighties, West Coast Women Music Festival,
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gets on her knees to me, and says, Please make your speech two minutes.
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She goes, We have to shorten your intro.
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I said, Its two sentences. And she wanted one, and I wanted the one that was more radical,
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saying I had been a housewife, I had identified as a lesbian, and Im bisexual now. The media
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tent had already collapsed. There was no media, you know, the press.
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So I walk up there, and I had you know, a five minute speech isnt that long, and
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I knew it was a little too long, and I just trusted myself to edit as I went. It was longer
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than two minutes, but as shes introduc people are leaving the stage. The musical group,
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Minaj, is leaving. Im walking up. Robin is at the podium, introducing me, and Im on.
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Thats, like, maybe a minute and a half after I was told. I mean, seriously, it was that
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quick. I just said, Aloha. It aint over till the bisexual speaks. And then I launched
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into my speech. And they were breaking down the stage around me.
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The March on Washington and getting our name in that title, at that time, was, we were
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at that national table. Before the March on Washington in 93, the buildup to that was,
24:20
you know, the religious right, radical right, was targeting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and
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transgender people. And yet, the lesbian and gay movement could not recognize us. They
24:33
didnt recognize us as part of the movement. Its just like completely frustrating.
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I think its important that the B and T got added to LGBT, because it represented all
24:50
the work that had come before, but it doesnt mean that everybody understand B or T at all,
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and what the connections are, and what the history is, and especially the history.
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My whole life, my organizing, my activism, its all of us and. And Im so glad Im mentoring,
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and theres so many young bisexuals coming up, and transgender people, and pansexuals,
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and sexuals, and fluids, and whatever you want to call yourself. Yes, do it! Just push
25:18
it. Push it all. Please.

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