A political, progressive, and postmodern take on self-acceptance, self-assurance, and self-worth.
This past Wednesday night was the first time in many months I was able to pay a visit to my local LGBTQ Center’s “20-Somethings” group. Every week, a group of people from the ages of 18 to their late 20’s come together to have a discussion on what it means to be… us. As young LGBTQIA+ or Ally-identified* millennials, it’s comforting to discover spaces that are designed to allow us to freely speak our minds on everyday topics, from navigating intimate relationships to out college student life. In the past, many spaces of these sorts are dominated by gay/lesbian identified people, so it’s oftentimes tricky to be that lone person who brings up a “Queer” identity for the entire room, let alone squeaking out the sentence, “I happen to be Bi*, too!”
In such past spaces, I had to start explaining to everyone why I identify the way I do versus letting me make a quick introduction and moving on. This unfortunately makes my guard go up instantaneously and I oftentimes revert into introverted mode to prevent any more attention from being directed my way. For venues to promote themselves as “accepting,” it’s disheartening to become an automatic poster-boi* for both the queer community and the bi* community. When the spotlight is turned towards me, educating a large audience about my own existence (and the communities I belong to/with) can be quite exhausting; let alone it becomes a trigger for people like myself to internalize our own sense of belonging.
Everyone has to belong somewhere. Right?! Even our overall LGBTQIA+ society presumes we all automatically flock together, sometimes disregarding our unique differences. But what happens when no matter how hard one tries, inadequacy never seems to leave them. This personal void is very real among many LGBTQIA+ U.S. Americans who navigate everyday life with multiple identities, including myself. For example, I’ll unpack more about who King Chan is: the eldest son of immigrant parents from Malaysia who grew up lower-income, grew up culturally Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist, formerly fat, disowned for coming out as non-hetero at age 16, dropped out of a highly-praised high school program to end up attending a continuation school, and also navigating a world built on a foundation of heteronormativity (and nowadays homonormativity). Hopefully, this larger framework gives a better understanding as to why the feeling of “belonging” seems to always escape me.
I never admit to being a pity-party parade, but my reality is that not many people relate to me. Even those I allow to be prominent in my life can’t fully fathom how I identify as both bi* AND queer. To me, it’s a lot easier to just cope with my own identities without having to explain them, for fear of going out of my way for others who don’t have a capacity to understand my truths.
Many bi* individuals, like myself, work towards accepting our attractions, feelings, and mental health prowess on an everyday basis. When we discover spaces that are queer-inclusive, let alone acknowledges bi-inclusivity as a mandated priority, it becomes magical. Many queer organizations and spaces I’ve attended in the past are primarily focused on those with a mono-sexuality (a la gay/straight) so those of us who are bi* and have the capacity to be with anyone regardless of gender are intimidated to openly express our authentic selves. It becomes an internal burden to legitimize that we’re not “half-gay” nor “half-straight.”
Being queer-identified also allows me an opening to accept my non-heteronormative reality, which also respectively validates bisexuality, bi-romanticism, and any identity within the fluid spectrum. Moreover, tying in my own queer identity opens a discussion space where I can introduce myself as somebody who is purposely deconstructing masculinity for the sake of a more feminist, gender-inclusive world. This allows me to create inclusive spaces on behalf of female, trans*, and gender non-conforming individuals who are just trying to survive in our patriarchal world.
I know I’m not the only one proud to identify as an individual who is both queer and bi*. Being a member of these two communities allow me to understand generational shifts in my local LGBTQIA+ community. Oftentimes, I use my two identities interchangeably as my means to make an unintentional statement on self-defining my desires, the communities I am comfortable with, and my own political values. This may seem familiar for many readers for it’s an excerpt from Shiri Eisner’s “Bi Notes for a Bisexual Revolution.” Shiri’s 345 page dissertation is a holy scripture I can personally live up to on a daily basis. My takeaway from her playbook on progressive expressionist politics is to continue being my authentic self, as well as understanding the movements of the identities I self-affiliate with in order to live a more egalitarian reality.
Both bi* and queer movements used to be distinct from one another for the sake of honoring their original activist messages of recognition and acceptance. Although they both represent two different types of histories, I personally affiliate with both to merge their historical connotations with my body. Institutional policies and norms make it difficult for our authentic queer selves to be respected by those who clutch conservative notions of gender and sexuality as sacred. I am hopeful that being able to identify with these communities and identities allow me not only an internal sense of security, but belonging to something greater than my individual self.
When we validate that anybody and everybody, regardless of citizenship status, can be bi* identified and/or queer identified, it allows us to see that our communities are moving beyond solidarity. It’s our means to join one another for our shared and united front. I believe we can also prevent co-optation, pathologization, or maintaining respectability politics* if we allow our minds and hearts to be receptive to one another’s presences. Every individual is deserving to discover spaces where no one feels suppressed by who they are. After all, it’s already hard as is for LGBTQIA+ people to navigate the heteronormative and cis-supremacist* world we live in. As such, let’s prevent perpetuating any more difficulties.
Be being myself, I am paying tribute to those before me. I’m living proof that bi-erasure and internalized bi-phobia will be counteracted by our bi* and queer movement’s progress with recognition in spheres of influence. I also become one of many agents of modernizing the queer and bi* communities as ongoing movements striving to ensure a collective humanity, which every individual undeniably deserves. Our queer lives are intrinsically intertwined so let’s allow one another to process and actualize one another’s worth and meaningfulness.
Although I may oftentimes feel alone and like an outsider due to how I identify and/or the environments I enter, I’ll continue to remember that Wednesday nights at my local LGBTQ Center make me feel powerful, resilient, and safe within my own sense of self. We set up guidelines on checking one another’s societal privileges at the door and carefully monitor one another’s processes. We’ve been able to learn how to practice self-care and self-love as means for our spirits to grow and stay genuine. Moreover, we’ll continue to meet new people at such inclusive spaces who have better intentions for our life development than maybe those who we’ve known for years. Time means nothing; rather our personal characters do.
This message goes out to everyone when they enter a queer space that tends to be dominated by gay/lesbian-identified people: “We’re queer and we’re here. We’re bi* and that ain’t no lie.” Queer spaces are intentionally created to appreciate everybody’s orientation and gender identity/expression. Let’s continue this transformative paradigm shift towards making people like myself feel we always belong.
*Ally= My definition is one who has identities that fit with American standards of societal normative living (ala White, light-skin, Judeo-Christo, educated, etc.). People who are “Allies” are willing to understand their societal privileges and discuss such matters with groups of people who look and/or identify the way they do. This prevents burdensome work upon communities who lack access, privileges, and resources.
*Bi = My definition is one who has the capacity to be with anybody, regardless if they are cisgender or identify outside of normative gender identities/expressions. It’s about being attracted to another’s spirit and values. This op-ed’s definition of bi* is unique in that it intentionally legitimizes an openly bi* person’s capacity to commit to one person, regardless of gender identity. It stays distinctive from polyamory and the many subcategories of polyamorous relationships, which unfortunately will oftentimes get lumped into stigmas associated with the bi* community.
*Boi = My definition is one who identities outside of the American heteronormative norms of masculinity for intentions of authenticity and redefining gender expectations.
*Cis-Supremacist = My definition is a type of oppression where it is assumed everyone should live a life that matches up to the gender they are assigned at birth and should not deviate from typical gender roles.
*LGBTQIA+ = My definition is to recognize the spectrum of identities and communities that break beyond American socially constructed roles in which individuals are expected to be and do. This includes attractions, behaviors, desires, etiquette, gender expectations, physical appearances, romance, sexuality, etc.
*Queer = My definition is one who identifies with characteristics, qualities, and values outside of American societal norms of race, gender, sexuality, romanticism, relationship orientation, socio-economic class, citizenship, ability, religion, etc.
*Respectability politics = My definition is one who creates and/or maintains relationships at the cost of their own authenticity. One has to compromise some sort of their internal or outwardly expression in order to attain access of respect and influence from others (usually those with American normative identities).
King Chan is a simple student and community organizer who grew up in Long Beach, CA. King’s past repertoire includes: working on many Democratic Party candidate campaigns; partnering alongside the California Schools Board Association; serving in Washington, D.C. for then Congresswoman, now U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) through the Victory Fund & Institute; working for the Trevor Project; and serving on the California Department of Mental Health’s LGBTQ Disparity Project. Currently, King works with various student groups, non-profits, and public officials in Los Angeles County to empower all audiences, especially youth, to become the incoming generation of thoughtful, conscious leaders in their region.