Loraine Hutchins Introduces ABilly S. Jones-Hennin
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: “If Loving You Is Wrong, Then I Don't Want Wanna Be Right”
My fellow bisexuals...
I stand before you as an unapologetic, outspoken, bisexual activist who has intimately loved women, men and transgender persons throughout my life span of 72 years; And in the words of a popular and soulful rhythm and blues song from the sixties and seventies by Luther Ingram and Rod Stewart,
“If loving you is wrong,
Then I don't wanna to be right!”
I stand before you acknowledging that I have been
- in consenting poly relationships,
- marriage to a heterosexual woman,
- and for the last 36 years, in a committed, loving and open Same Gender Loving (SGL) Relationship with a bisexual man who I will be marrying in a few weeks.
Then I Don't Wanna BE Right or DO Right!
Coming to Minneapolis is always a HOMECOMING because it is the city that inspired me to acknowledge publicly
- that I am bisexual;
- that I am queer;
- that I have the capacity and the desire to love men as well as women as well as transgender persons.
One key message I would like to convey to you today is that
COMING OUT IS A LIFTIME AND ONGOING ADVENTURE
Every day, and often many times a day, one may find yourself gently or forcefully coming out to someone or someones.
Just on the plane coming here, minding my own business and trying to take a nap, my seat mate asked me if I lived in Minneapolis.
My short answer was, “No.” Now I could have shut up, but I informed my seat-mate that I was going to a conference. And that response led to, “What conference?” I paused and thought to myself, how far do I want to take this. So to speed things up, I informed him that I was speaking at a bisexual conference.
And guess what, he wanted to know more so that he could let his daughter know about the conference; so we talked throughout the entire trip – me talking and sharing about me; he talking and sharing about him and his daughter.
He shared that his daughter had been married to a man; then announced that she was a lesbian and in a relationship with a woman; and is now again in a relationship with a man. Poor Dad was confused and I am not sure my story helped so I suggested that HE come to this conference – if not this year, next year.
Like some of you here today (hopefully not too many), early in my life I identified as straight – in part because being heterosexual was all I knew; in part because in the forties and fifties when I was growing up, there were more likely to be hand signals to describe sexual minorities than words like bisexuals, lesbians, gays, and transgender persons.
- “bull dyke” referred to women who were romantic with women or had culturally masculine traits;
- “sissy” referred to men who were culturally effeminate;
- and “punk” usually referred to men/boys who were poor fighters); I digressed
I also in part identified as straight because of messages of church and community leaders who were inclined to give hell and damnation messages rather than embrace sexual minorities; and in part because I was too much of a coward to tell anyone that I was queer; that as a kid growing up I was liking boys as well as girls.
Although I grew up in a household and family that talked and joked openly about sex and sexual relationships, somehow I got the message that I was different and that I should be quiet about my sexual attractions – at least when it came to boys and men.
So I took the advice of my father (who I learned after his death through my mother that he was bisexual) and married; had children; and exercised discretion/secrecy when intimate with men.
I married a woman that I loved (and still love) very much, but It was not until seven years into the marriage and living here in Minneapolis that I came out, not as a bisexual, but as a gay man.
I identified as GAY until I moved to DC in the 70s.
In spite of my being in a non-traditional heterosexual marriage at the time, and father of three children, it seemed less complicated (easier to fit in) at the time to identify myself as Gay, rather than as BISEXUAL.
Here was another closet for me to hide – not that I hid the fact that I was in a relationship with a woman as well as a man; I just never said the word BISEXUAL .
On rare occasions when I ventured to say I was bisexual to a Gay or Lesbian person, I would get such disdain that I just crawled back into the nearest closeted.
I bought into the faulty thinking that defining oneself as bisexual was a form of denial that one was Gay or Lesbian; that defining one as bisexual was a temporary stage of becoming becoming Gay or Lesbian.
There was little to no support for one to declare oneself as Bisexual. In fact, my Bi mentor, Dr Loraine Hutchins, for many years was the only out and unapologetic Bisexual I knew. She was the lone Super Woman in many of DC's pride parades who did not hide behind the identity of Lesbian.
Meanwhile, my partner and I continued our open relationship – sometimes with men; sometimes with women.
Eventually, it hit home. WOW!!! We are Bisexual men in a Same Gender Loving Relationship!!! WOW!!!
And I have not wavered since that awareness. I am one of the many, many Bi's in in civil rights and social movements of the LGBT community;
However, I do not have the luxury of being an activist in the trenches of one movement.
As a person of African-Caribbean descent, I must address racism as well as biphobia and homophobia and other inequalities that impact me.
While my consciousness of the Black Civil Rights efforts started as a teen in Richmond, Virginia; my LGBT activism started in Minneapolis in my 20s and my Bisexual activism started in Washington, DC in my 30s.
Along my journey of more than fifty years of activism, there are many lessons learned that I would like to share a few with you – not that you do not already know these lessons, but as reminders.
Foremost, before jumping into the fray of a movement or an organization, give serious thought to its philosophy, it's goals and objectives, and the strategies used to achieve those goals. History tell us that there are often multiple approaches to achieving a similar result:
- Booker T. Washington vs. W.E.B. Dubois
- Tuskegee vs. NAACP
- MLK Jr vs. Malcolm X
- ACT Out vs. AIDS Service Organizations
Be realistic about your time commitment. Burn out is real. Most of us already have multiple commitments in regards to work and/or school, family and/or relationships. We sometimes have a tendency to over commit and then burn ourselves out to the point of making ourselves ill; or we make a commitment and fail to follow through. Neither scenarios will bode well for you or for the organization you are volunteering for.
- State at the beginning of your involvement your time restraints
- Don't get coerced into doing more than your energy can handle
- Racial/ethnic organizations should strive for diversity of its membership
- Gender specific organizations should strive for diversity of its targeted populations
- Youth and senior agencies, while targeting an age range, should also diversify
- And we Bisexuals must insist that national and local LGBT organizations be much more intentional about including us on all levels – boards, staffs and clients. There will be the age old push back: “We can't find any/know any,” so have a list of bisexuals ready to push back the push backers.
We readily pat ourselves on our backs when we post our announcements of events on Facebook, Twitter, or our web-page.
- I contend that we must put our boots to the pavements and go to places that are not OUR well-known neighborhoods to reach the Bisexuals who are not in our bars and restaurants, don't live in our LGBT neighborhoods, and may not be on our list-serve or have seen our web-site.
- Although more and more persons are getting on board with today's technology for communicating, there are still colleagues (such as seniors) who do not have access to computers or may not like using the social media.
- A good leader must learn how to manage (if not resolve) conflict
- Members of an organizations must learn to listen – really listen – to minority opinions and to be respectful. With diversity of members will come diversity of ideas and opinions.
- Within the Bi movement, there is much diversity of lifestyles, family dynamics, and what we all ourselves. Our differences is also our richness and we must embrace one another, not shun one another.
In spite of my elation about the current momentum of marriage equity and my pending marriage to my same gender loving bisexual partner, there are so many more issues that we Bisexuals as part of the LGBT community absolutely must address: community and domestic violence, homelessness, sodomy laws still on the books in some states, poverty, work place and housing discrimination, and cruel treatment of prisoners – especially of transgender persons, and mistreatment of our seniors in nursing homes and hospitals.
Staying healthy and living well must also be a priority aspect of our activism. We have lost so many men and women to HIV/AIDS related illnesses, various forms of cancer such as breast and prostate, obesity, substance abuse, smoking-related illnesses, etc.
We absolutely must mentor our youth and future leaders. The well-being, growth and success of any organization will in large part be how well we embrace our youth and prepare others to step into leadership roles; how well we do our job for this tenet, will bring us years of joy in the future.
When we step away from our organizing (but never activism), we must continue to support those organizations with our financial contributions, volunteerism, letter writing, and accolades when they do well.
That If Loving You Is Wrong (All Of You)
Then We Don't Wanna Do Right!