By Elaine Schleiffer
When a relationship ends, many times the friends and family closest to the couple will reevaluate their relationship with each of the former partners. There are friends we may see less often after a breakup, or family members of our former partner who will never speak to us again. Even members of our chosen family may reevaluate what their relationship with us should look like. There is nothing unusual about this period of reevaluation, and it happens to people of all identities. As a person who identifies as bisexual, I have found that there are normal outcomes for breakups that can be more dangerous for bi folks, and that can make our social standing even more uncertain and unstable. A breakup can call into question our place in the community, our strongest social ties, and even our very identity.
Like many queer folks I know, my closest circle of confidants and supporters is my chosen family. Because the members of my chosen family were gained later in life, and by choice rather than by genetics, a social shakeup like a partnership ending might have a greater impact on them. And twice in my life, I’ve lost members of my chosen family in the aftermath of a breakup. These losses affect the very foundations of our lives. In losing those familial relationships, I have questioned my choices, my identity, and my very worth as a human. I am left to wonder: if I was a 0 or a 6 on the Kinsey scale, would I have suffered those losses in the first place?
After a breakup, it feels like the queer community is waiting to see what my next partnership will be. If I enter into a heteronormative partnership, then any previous queer relationships can be read as a “phase” and not as a real indicator of my own queer sexuality. If I enter into a new queer partnership, then it affirms my status as a member of the queer community—but why does my belonging to the queer community depend on my partnership status? Saying that I am queer should be enough.
Several years ago, when my first serious queer relationship ended, I felt the weight of that partnership ending particularly heavily. I didn’t understand why, and it took me long months of processing, feeling, writing, and talking to dig myself out of that hole. A few months ago, I went through a similar breakup and found myself flailing for a sense of place in the queer community, and as a result, reached out to several folks I knew identified as queer but who I wasn’t very close with. I was hoping to build new friendships to replace the old.
Luckily, one of those people understood exactly what I meant as I spoke about my sense of loss and loneliness. She is a community organizer and activist, and she let our conversation become the impetus for a new mission: building social spaces for the bi community. Together we envisioned a new social group, and we created an initial event to gather in person along with an online space. Her passion and leadership helped shape the new Cleveland Bisexual Network, and our community-building events, Hi and Bi!
I feel fortunate that she was willing and able to take steps with me that would help us locate and build a new home for the bi community in Cleveland. I am also grateful to myself for stepping outside of my comfort zone to talk to people I otherwise might not have told what I was going through. We build our own communities, bi folks! And what we build is beautiful, diverse, powerful, and strong.
I encourage any bi person who feels alone, who feels ostracized, who feels like they’ve been kicked out of the queer community or their chosen family, to build their own network in any way that feels safe: because if I’ve learned anything, it’s that other bi people immediately understand what you’re going through. (And if you’re in Cleveland, connect with me—our bi community is eager for your participation!)
Elaine Schleiffer is a community-minded activist, reproductive rights advocate, and intersectional feminist. Her poetry can be found in publications like Cahoodaloodaling, Stylus, and Pudding Magazine, and her activism can be found in Cleveland, Ohio.