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Stories from the B-Side: Bisexual Voices


On Thursday, October 16, approximately 60 attendees were blissfully exposed to diverse voices and stories from the Bi-side of the Boston LGBTQ community. The event was co-sponsored by SpeakOUT Boston, the City of Cambridge GLBT Commission, the Bisexual Resource Center, and the Cambridge Public Library. Caitlin Drechsler, a member of Cambridge’s GLBT Commission, welcomed the audience and introduced the moderator Ellyn Ruthstrom, the executive director of SpeakOUT and board president of the Bisexual Resource Center. Ellyn delivered an empowering and intellectually digestible presentation about bisexuality. Presented in a fashion that was similar to an undergraduate 101 course, her short presentation was concise and gave context for the panelists and audience members to refer to during the duration of the panel discussion that followed her introductory information.


Ellyn noted the word bisexual can have many meanings depending on who is asked, and short definitions don’t always grasp the complexity of the orientation. There’s also a difference between community and personal identity labels. Using “bisexual” as a community label unites all who have multi-gender attractions and aides in linking politically. Whereas personal identity labels such as “fluid” and “queer,” speak to an individual’s labeling preference. Ellyn also spoke of the Kinsey Scale, a measuring system designed by Dr. Alfred Kinsey to describe the spectrum of sexuality. In addition to reviewing the statistics on the percentage of bisexuals within the queer community (about 50%), Ellyn explained that according to Dr. Mimi Hoang, the stages of coming out as bi are different from gay and lesbians. Bi people often come out later in life due to having a longer coming out process, and the journey is not always a confidence builder due to misperceptions from monosexual individuals about bisexual identities.


To begin the panel discussion, Ellyn asked the four panelists: What does bisexual mean to you?

Panelist Priscilla Lee is a mother and educator with the Department of Human Services Community Learning Center and she shared the intersections of her Chinese heritage, dating diverse genders, and navigating her identities while engaging with her parents, students, and colleagues. Being with a long-term same-sex partner often has others identifying her as a lesbian, but she asserted that the bisexual label “feels authentic to me.”

Tangela Roberts is a second year Ph.D student at UMass Boston in Counseling Psychology who is also a facilitator of Bisexual Women of Color’s monthly Bi People of Color Coffee & Chat.Originally from Alabama, she spoke of the rigid gender roles and limited gender expression imposed on African-American women in her community. When she first thought of coming out as bi, she stated, “I didn’t think it would be hard for me, but it would be hard for my family.”

Charles Strauss is a psychotherapist who also facilitates the Bisexual and Bi-curious Men’s Group at Fenway Health. He spoke about the Klein Scale, created by Dr. Fritz Klein, which accounts for various types of attractions and change over a person’s life and how that scale often helps give legitimacy to the experiences of his bi male clients. He highlighted gender expression, masculinity, and societal gender roles and commented that “coming into your bisexuality and the beauty of it” is how people become their authentic selves.

Alyssa Marino Medina is a Latina bisexual tryke who pushes gender roles while working as an engineer. She spoke of why it is important to explain her different identities, “Whom I am attracted to has nothing to do with my gender identity. The fact that someone is bi is not a neat category. The fact that someone is trans is not a neat category. Everyone wants nice neat categories. Bisexual and trans are separate.” It is her experience that being in “the middle” is what others find uncomfortable.

After the panel discussion, the audience had an opportunity to engage with the panelists with a Q&A session. A social worker asked Charles Strauss how local organizations can be more bi-inclusive and he suggested that when providing services to LGBTQ clients to meet them where they are, let clients speak of their own experience, and not assume how they identify. A high school student of African descent asked Tangela Roberts if she felt it would be more challenging to come out as a bisexual black male than as a gay black male and if the black community is less accepting of bisexuals compared to white communities. She responded that in some black communities bisexuality is less affirmed and accepted due to a stronger intellectual understanding of monosexual identities and a strong religious tradition. The last question for the evening was directed to all the panelists regarding coming out in the workplace. Priscilla Lee suggested to do it in gradual steps and not to feel you have to come out to everyone in a work setting. Charles chimed in and advised displaying one LGBTQ item in your workspace, than maybe another, and then build up to talking to trusted colleagues.

The evening concluded with a reception, providing an opportunity for audience members and panelists to network with each other, local bi and LGBT activists and community members. To stay connected with the bisexual community of Boston visit the Bisexual Resource Center’s Meetup page , Boston Bisexual Women’s Network, Bisexual Women of Color (BIWOC), and Fenway Health’s Bisexual and Bi-curious Men’s support group.

Gwendolyn Henry, EdM, MSLIS is a writer, librarian, archivist, mental health advocate, and vegan personal chef. She is the founder of Bisexual Women of Color (BIWOC), an online and in-person support and discussion group based in Boston, MA. She was recently awarded the 2014 Unsung Hero Award by the Bisexual Resource Center for her work in the Boston bi community and for founding Bi Women of Color (BIWOC) and Bi People of Color social and support groups.