Legally Bi: Becoming a BiLawrrior Part 1

6/8/2018

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The fantasies started when I was young. The tension, the passion, the sparring, the building up to a resolution… so much about lawyering appealed to me.

Being bi on the other hand?  It’s not something I either fantasized about or was really self-aware of at all, not until I was more than halfway through college and fell in love with a woman for the first time at age twenty.

As they say, the personal is political. This adage has been an unshakable theme in my life, including during my college coming-out years. After dating only boys (and then men) for years, my first lesbian love (but not lover) profoundly shook my sapiosexual soul as she introduced me to essential truths of feminist non-heteronormative living, leading me into a transformative journey of deeply politico-personal self-discovery.

Pam was a smart, kind, beautiful, soft butch out-and-proud lesbian, and the president of my college’s pro-choice group, S.U.R.F. (Students United for Reproductive Freedom). One night, I showed up for a weekly S.U.R.F. meeting after my fiancé — a good-looking, charming, but troubled college boy for whom I’d transferred colleges and moved cross-country — had just rejected me for gaining a bit more than the traditional “freshman 15”. “My fiancé just dumped me for getting fat,” I announced to my pro-choice sisters-in-arms that night. “Who wants to take me out and cheer me up?”

“I will!” Pam jumped up and offered with unmitigated warmth and a supportive smile that melted me.  That was the beginning of a sweet, life-changing friendship. I had already admired Pam deeply for being a lesbian who, even though in my mind at the time didn’t have much of a personal stake in the issue, was selflessly dedicating herself to fighting for the reproductive rights of “straight” women like myself. Pam and I were nearly inseparable for the next few weeks, as she introduced me to books — from Naomi Wolf to Marilyn Frye to Alice Walker to Susie Bright —  that, through the intersectional voices of women across the world, taught me to claim my own strong identity and self-worth as a woman. With Pam’s loving guidance, for the first time, I learned to embrace my intellectual abilities, talents and worth, far beyond meeting the surface-level looks-focused expectations imposed by mainstream society.

It was inevitable, of course, that I would fall in love with her.  And it didn’t take long from the moment it first hit me that I had fallen for a woman, to also realize that meant I was bi. For THAT realization, I credit such additional nudges as the movie “The Crying Game,” the book “Bi Any Other Name,” the music of Ani DiFranco, and then, the welcoming embrace of my college’s bi support group, of which I soon became a co-facilitator. I came out as bi almost immediately, and have continued to identify as bi for the more than quarter century since those first days of awakening to my love for women. And that love for women, the same as flows between women in any same-sex relationship, has never translated in my mind or heart into negating in any way the love I also have felt for men.

I’d like to say it’s been smooth sailing ever since, an easy path from awakening to my bisexuality to becoming a BiLawrrior (my personally coined term for being a fierce bi lawyer and LGBT-rights advocate). But of course, it hasn’t been.  I’ve had the same horrible wrestling matches with mocking, dismissive biphobia as many bi people. Pam herself wouldn’t date me because I was bi, shattering my heart into painful shards, as I emo-ed out to the theme song to “The Crying Game” over and over in a melodramatic loop that spring of my first lesbian rejection.

The lesbian rejections piled up over the years. So many lesbians wouldn’t date me, calling me “germy” or worse because I refuse to renounce my love for men. I have been accused of being somehow being less trustworthy, less worthy of queer credentials, more shrouded in “het privilege,”  even though I devoted much of my legal career (as I will describe in Part II) to fighting for LGBT rights, and even though I never married a man or otherwise availed myself of so-called “het privilege.” Other than for one year in my life when I was clerking for a state supreme court justice up for re-election and under ugly attack by right-wing conservatives, I have never allowed co-workers to assume I was heterosexual. Instead, I have paid my dues repeatedly, coming out over and over in a way that bi people are uniquely forced to do (thanks to the erroneous gay-or-straight presumptions that abound, and grow even prolific when one is in a monogamous relationship that “looks” gay or straight to the assuming eye).

Although I have been visibly, proudly queer in my identity, and have passionately fought for LGBT rights for decades, it was never enough for many of the lesbians I would have loved to have dated had they been willing to cast aside their biphobic presumptions. As if that weren’t bad enough, sometimes the biphobia and bi erasure came from the LGBT-rights movement itself.

How bi erasure from the LGBT-rights movement itself became the final fuel to my fire that turned me into a BiLawrrior, transforming the personal into political for good, is a story to be told in a future column.   The more personal part of my story, I’m pleased to report, is one with a happy ending as of the drafting of this column. These days, I am blissfully content with my personal life, living in Los Angeles, where there is an impressive ambi social community of bi people with thousands of members. Until recently, I’d lived primarily in places that had nothing close to a thriving bi community. As a result, most people I’ve dated until now have not been bi.  Too often they have been either straight men or lesbians who struggled to varying degrees with my bi orientation. Such judgment has not come from other bi people, or from non-bi trans people I have dated. But finding “BT” folk to date was easier said than done outside California.

It’s not that bi folk aren’t everywhere.  It’s just that we aren’t as visible and connected everywhere.  There too, as in politics, coming forward, connecting, organizing, nurturing each other and holding each other up, is key.

So please, come out, come out, wherever you are!  It’s politically imperative, personally empowering, and incredibly attractive to other bi folk and those who love us.

Nancy Marcus
Nancy Marcus is an out bi lawyer and LGBT rights activist. She is a co-founder of BiLaw, the national organization for bi lawyers, law professors, law students, and their allies, and is the author of "Bridging Bisexual Erasure in LGBT-Rights Discourse and Litigation," published by the University of Michigan Law School's Journal of Gender and Law.