By Gloria Jackson-Nefertiti
What are the challenges of being an older bi+ person?
I hate to start on a negative note, but I would have to say that my biggest challenge is the resentment that I sometimes feel when I think of what I had to go through when I first came out. Let me explain.
I first came out as bisexual in the early 1980s after I left fundamentalist Christianity. I was living in Portland, Oregon, at the time, and you were either gay/lesbian or straight. Identifying as bisexual opened me up to all kinds of assumptions and derision from people in the gay/lesbian community, who would frequently say things like, “Oh, you’ll have to excuse Gloria. She can’t make up her mind.” Or they would tell me that I had an inability to choose. It wasn’t until the mid to late 1980s that bisexual groups started popping up in my area. Finally! I had found my people. I didn’t have to explain who I was. They “got” me.
I will also sometimes feel envy when I think of today’s young people who are coming out as bi+. They just seem to have it easier than I did “when I was their age.” (And I never thought I would ever say that!) They just seem more confident about their sexual orientation, much more than I was when I first came out. Now, I’m certainly not saying that their lives are a bed of roses. But society—actually, the world—seems to have become more aware. We’re seeing marriage equality in our lifetime. It’s becoming more and more common for people to list their pronouns in their email signature lines or social media profiles. And just a couple of years ago, I was on an LGBTQ panel as part of a “Freedom Day” at a local high school, where I got to talk to the students about bisexuality! I can’t imagine that ever happening at my high school, from which I graduated 45 years ago.
We’re definitely living in a different time, one where I cannot imagine anyone saying to a young Bi+ person, “Make up your mind! Pick a side!”
How has aging transformed you—in mind, body, spirit, or sexuality?
Art modeling (which I’ve done since the mid-1980s) has really helped me to feel comfortable with my body. I’ve toyed with the idea of retiring from modeling, since posing isn’t as easy for me as it used to be due to pain from osteoarthritis in my knees and hips. But then again, I enjoy modeling too much to quit.
My body shape and abilities have definitely changed over the years. Actually, it’s been a combination of aging and having breast cancer that transformed my body. In 2009, I had weight loss surgery (the lap band). I lost a lot of weight, but that didn’t come without complications from the lap band. I had it removed in 2017 (the day after I presented at the BECAUSE conference in St. Paul, MN!), which caused me to regain most of the weight. It bothers me some, but at least I’m able to eat normally again.
I’m guessing this would’ve bothered me more if I were younger, and a little bit vainer. But now, I’m much more philosophical about my body. Besides, the artists for whom I model don’t seem to mind, and neither do my loves.
What have been the most significant moments or transitions in your life?
In December 2013, I was diagnosed with Stage 0 (zero) breast cancer. Thankfully, they caught it early. But the diagnosis ended up being a blessing for me. It showed me just how short life is. And as a result, I stopped caring what others thought of me. This was the catalyst in my coming out as bisexual, polyamorous, and sex-positive. This also made it possible for me to begin, in 2017, presenting a class I developed, called “Transcending Shame.” I’ve presented it all over the U.S., as well as in Vancouver, British Columbia. This has been especially significant because I’ve been able to use a great deal of my life experiences as illustrative examples and cautionary tales. Most significant of all is the knowledge that people are receiving benefit from this class.
So sure, there are times I wish I were able to experience bisexuality as a young person. But when I think of the gifts I’ve received from my life experiences and the benefits that people are receiving as a result, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Gloria Jackson-Nefertiti is a public speaker, workshop leader, pan- elist, and artist’s model. She lives in Seattle, Washington.