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