Compiled by Robyn Ochs
I posted the following question on social media: “Question for the #BiHive: Who are your bi+ role models, and why?” Here, with permission of the authors, are some of the many responses I received:
Margaret Robinson (Toronto, ON, Canada): When I first joined Bisexual Women of Toronto around 1999, it was mostly run by Karol Steinhouse, who died suddenly in 2000. We could have easily folded without her, but DANA SHAW stepped in, facilitated meetings filled with grieving women, taught women how to facilitate, and organized us to do so. BIWOT met at a queer community center, but the space was borrowed and never felt like our own. Dana began hosting regular social events at her apartment, booking the party room or the hot tub, and the friendships we had in the group deepened as a result. We started going out for food, seeing movies together, and we made an outing to a nude beach that made the local papers. Suddenly we were a community instead of strangers who met once a month. Dana organized educational events and helped us oppose biphobia in our community. Eventually we hosted the Ninth International Bi Conference and attracted 200 people. I was absolutely inspired by her ability to create a welcoming community with almost no resources beyond her outgoing personality, her innate ability to connect with others, and a spot to host us. She’s my template for community-building activism. She didn’t do it all alone—she’s not a glory hog—rather, she empowered us in ways I’m still discovering. The fact that BIWOT is still a group is testimony to the power of Dana’s love for bi community.
Sarah Ann Mikhail, Charlotte, NC, U.S.: HERON GREENESMITH. They make so much space for us to be any kind of bi person we want to be and hold community so well.
Holly Lynn Danyliw, Norwich, CT, U.S.: Two out bisexual political figures: GOVERNOR KATE BROWN in Oregon, and EVELYN MANTILLA, who was a state representative in Connecticut. I worked on Mantilla’s campaign for State Representative in Hartford in the 1990s. She was so inspiring and was a success story. I was very proud to be part of her history. It is, in my opinion, super hard to be out in any public arena involving any governmental office but it is so needed.
Yvonne Armbruester, Bingen, Germany: For me it’s ANNA PAQUIN! She says about herself that she’s “proud to be a happily married bisexual mother.” And so am I. It’s not easy to come out as bi when you’re a mum….Even when your husband is totally fine with it, other people often tend to react in some strange way….
Leslie Apperson, Minneapolis, MN, U.S.: DESIREE AKHAVAN and JANELLE MONÁE because they both create such beautiful and powerful art that explores the bisexual experience, and they themselves are such powerful women. They are the image of strength to me!
Stina Flink, Uppsala, Sweden: BIRGITTA STENBERG, a Swedish author who was unapologetically herself. She travelled around Europe in her twenties and wrote books about her queer life half a century ago. She later lived as a fisher on the west coast of Sweden, and I could go on… It is also fantastic to have an older out bi person as a role model.
Erika Wyse, Charlotte, NC, U.S.: My friend STACY KELLY! I met Stacy through another person in our Employee Resource Group, who met her at the Out and Equal Workplace Summit. I was really having a hard time finding people in my organization who identify as bi/pan and were out at work. When Stacy and I first met, it was amazing because we have so much in common in our personal lives. It really felt great to know someone else who identified the same way as I did, and Stacy went even further by introducing me to others in my company who were out at work as bi/pan. Stacy also really was there for me, and for the first time in my life (at age 40), I finally felt comfortable being my full self, both at work and on social media. I don’t feel like I have to hold back or apologize about my sexuality anymore, and that is really due to the support and friendship that I have with Stacy. She is so in touch with who she is; it really gave me the confidence to be unapologetically myself, which is really an amazing feeling.
Christine P., Germany: LADY GAGA for many reasons. She helped me explore my own bisexuality – she’s always been open about hers—and allowed me a safe space in the LGBTQ+ community growing up before I even knew I was a part of it.
Katie, Pennsylvania, U.S.: @GABYROAD (Gaby Dunn). I love that they are a bisexual stereotype and not afraid to own it! I’m a bisexual stereotype, too!
Sara Youngs, Glendale Heights IL, U.S.: It is 100% you, ROBYN OCHS. I met you way back in 2007/2008 at a small college in western Illinois, and it was during a very difficult time for me of trying to accept my sexuality. You gave me a name to use, a definition that felt like me, and a feeling of validity. I felt seen. I felt real and normal. Meeting you and listening to you helped me find and accept a part of myself that I am not sure I would have otherwise.
Loraine Hutchins, Washington, DC, U.S.: LANI KA’AHUMANU, with whom I co-edited Bi Any Other Name, is a visionary who honors her grassroots and is always loyal to that truth. Lani and I worked so well together because we are an interesting combo. I know people who don’t know us well confused us, but anyone who knows us knows how different we are: California cool and DC savvy, matched. I love to do research; she loves to make connections between people. It’s been a glorious co-conspiracy!!
Cammie Pavesic, Sacramento, CA, U.S.: My union organizing mentor, LYNN HOFFARD! She is an amazing union organizer. I was working at the Rainbow Room in NYC. After we won that campaign, we organized the United Nations workers in 1990. We used to go to Chinatown on Friday nights for double dates with the men we were seeing, massages, and Karaoke. I moved to the West Coast and started dating a woman. She told me she was also dating a woman. We met up in San Francisco and stayed at a Lesbian B&B and then camped in the Muir woods. One of my favorite life experiences and the first time I felt happy and free rather than having to hide in shame.
Loraine Hutchins, Washington, DC, U.S.: LOU HOFFMAN is a role model to me because she is in it for the LONG haul. She has a lot of patience and a sense of humor. She carries the history of what works and what doesn’t, and why, and she teaches that to a wide variety of people. She is humble. She will work yet another literature table at yet another state fair or park, and she doesn’t care if it’s boring. She delights in the “people connection.” She is also a model to me of someone who struggles with health issues and with family problems and keeps on going, no matter what!! Lou Hoffman makes a difference because she cares and makes that clear.
Emily A. Fisher, Bakersfield, CA, U.S.: REBECCA SUGAR. The world they created in Steven Universe is a breath of fresh air. Where you can love who you want and express any gender. I’ve facilitated multiple bi/pan+ workshops where several people said they just started crying when watching the show, because they experienced what an accepting world could be like.
Robyn Ochs, Boston, MA, U.S.: MARCIA DEIHL (1950-2015), one of the founders of the Boston Bisexual Women’s Network, because she embraced her quirky self and didn’t waste a lot of time self-censoring in anticipation or fear of judgment or criticism. Marcia helped me learn how to be unapologetically myself. (I’m still working on this.)
Evan S. Peterson, Chico, CA, U.S.: ANY OUT BI+ CELEBRITY because they’re often/likely the first people young bi folks will see; they may be the first to help them feel good about themselves as bisexuals. Specifically, EVAN RACHEL WOOD and AMBER HEARD for being outspoken about domestic violence.
Amy Luettgen, Wauwatosa, WI, U.S.: My role models are EVERYDAY FOLKS I know and those I meet who proudly own their bisexuality or see me with my bi bling and acknowledge that we are kin! They uplift me as I live my openly bi life.
Additional #bicons and role models mentioned include: Scott Bartell, Lauren Beach, Charles Blow, David Bowie, Bill Bureson, Marge Charmoli, Julie D’Aubigny (La Maupin), Marlene Dietrich, Asia Kate Dillon, Dr. Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé, Cory Flanders-Foster, Lucy Friedland, Roxane Gay, Farley Granger, Dr. Herukhuti, Billie Holiday, Loraine Hutchins, Jameela Jamil, Frida Kahlo, BobBi Keppel, Dr. Fritz Klein, Debra R. Kolodny, Apphia Kumar, Denarii Monroe, Natalie Morales, Alanis Morissette, Niecy Nash, J. Christopher Neal, Gary North,, Aubrey Plaza, Carol Queen, Michelle Rodriguez, Ellyn Ruthstrom, Sara Ramirez, Victor Raymond, Lori Ross, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dana Shaw, Willow Smith, Karol Steinhouse, and Hilde Vossen.
It takes a tremendous amount of courage and integrity to come out as bisexual. I have so much admiration for each person who has the courage to be themselves. You are my #bicons.
Robyn Ochs is editor of Bi Women Quarterly.