By María Christina Blanco
I recently attended a BBWN brunch – the first bi community event (except for Pride) that I’d been to in nearly a decade – and was warmly welcomed by long time and new members alike. After playing tug-of-war with our hostesses’ new baby over the latest issue of Bi Women, I read the 25th anniversary edition with great inter-est. When Robyn asked me to write on “Children in Our Lives,” I remembered the last time I was published in Bi Women, in 2000, and I thought about how much things change and how much they stay the same.
A headline in that issue announced the legalization of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands, the first anywhere in the world. Now, equal marriage rights in our own state, Massachusetts is yesterday’s news, while tomorrow’s big stories will be about the fight for marriage equality in states that have overturned or banned it in November: California, Florida, and Arizona. Back then, I was among those of us in the community who identified as multiracial or multi-cultural and submitted articles reflecting on our realities for the theme “Bicultural, Biracial, Bisexual.” And as I predicted in my piece, entitled “Complex Lives,” here I am in 2008, still wrestling to integrate and validate all the aspects of my identity on a daily basis, LOL.
A picture ran with my article of me holding my infant daughter in my arms. It was taken by my daughter’s father, whom I lived with at the time, and would later marry and eventually divorce, after going through drama that rivals that on my favorite TV show, Ugly Betty! In addition to being a new mom, I became a family caregiver after he sustained a brain injury, I saw him through an immigration appeal, attended college while working and with a toddler in tow, I moved nine times in the first six years of my daughter’s life (interspersed with stints of couch surfing), and I struggled to keep my sanity through betrayal in my relationship and the trials of having a loved one with addiction issues. Meanwhile, I became a community health worker, moved along slowly toward a college degree that I hoped would lead me into the public health field, and raised my daughter essentially as a single mother. Today, I am very proud of my strong, smart, healthy, loving almost – (gasp!) – nine year old. I am blessed to own my own home now. I hope to finish college soon, and start my own business.
For the better part of this decade, I have been MIA in the bi community. But I never stopped affirming (in ways large and small) the integrity and beauty of the diversity of human love, relationships, and sexual expression. During stretches where my mental health suffered under the strain of all the drama, I have felt MIA in my own life – there have been times when I’ve questioned whether I even had a sexuality at all, let alone a sexual orientation! But I never stopped honoring the fluidity of my own attractions, responses, cultural ties, and relationship history. Coming back to BBWN feels like coming full circle. I realized that day at the brunch – as I struggled to explain my seemingly on-again/off -again relationship to the organized bi community – that existing in a state in which your personal life is suffocated by unresolved issues can make it impossible to stay engaged with formal organizations, networks, and activism that center around sexuality and relationships. But that doesn’t mean that people aren’t actively contributing to sexual and gender justice and liberation in their own ways during these stages of life.
Becoming a parent and dealing with life’s challenges has definitely broadened my conception of activism and of my own identity. You have a new role in your community that brings you into contact with schools, other parents, youth organizations, and the healthcare system. You have new perspectives and priorities. Most of all, you have a chance to shape a new person who will grow up to live life on their own terms – as a friend, a lover, a partner, a neighbor, a consumer, a voter, a leader. The saying goes, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” In the same way, I knew instinctively when I had my daughter that, like all human beings, she was meant to contribute important things to the world; this beautiful gift was on loan to me for a limited time, so I’d better do the best I could!
I’ve taught her about pride in your own identity and respect and appreciation for others. This applies to race and religion, which are easy concepts for her to under-stand, as well as to gender expression and sexual orientation. I happen to have a lot of transgender and gender-queer people in my life, and my circle is pretty mixed in terms of people with same- or opposite-sex partners, or both. I normalize this for her in the language I use and the openness I model. I also show her that I value and belong to queer communities as well as mainstream ones: in the music we listen to, the performances we see, the events we go to. I play Ani Difranco along with Lila Downs. We see Zili Misik at the Keshet Purim Party, and Mariachi Veritas at the Día de los Muertos Fiesta. The Boston Pride parade is an annual event we go to just like the Jamaica Plain World’s Fair. I don’t have to accept segregation or feel ghettoized in one community or the other. Th is is a way I pass on my values on without preaching; the same way I demonstrate any other value, such as environmentalism, in that recycling and composting are just things we do automatically in our house.
Of course, I’ve also taught my daughter about standing up for ourselves and our rights. I don’t gloss over the reality that people have conflicting ideas and beliefs. Th at doesn’t mean we demonize others; but it does mean we have to speak up for ourselves. I show and explain to her all the ways we have power in our lives: who I vote for and vote against, what I buy and don’t buy, what the newspaper says and doesn’t say and how we can write letters to the editor – or better yet, write our own articles for alternative media! These decisions are about supporting those who share our values, or who at least respect our right to self-determination, including our love lives. She tagged along with me to the State House and helped lobby legislators on economic justice issues during the budget-cutting days of the Romney administration. She learned to march and chant in the big anti-war pro-tests of 2003, and the big immigrant rights rallies of 2006. (Th is one backfired on me, though – one day at summer camp on a field trip to the zoo, the sight of the animals caged up prompted her to start marching and shouting protest slogans like “El pueblo unido jamas será vencido!”) She saw me call and email my legislators thanking them for their support of same-sex marriage rights over the last several years, and understands that I believe in this as a part of human rights for everyone, and also because I want these rights to be there for me if I ever need them. (Not that I have any plans to ever go there again with anyone of any gender at this point, though!)
As she gets older, there are more and more ways I can affirm her right to develop into her full self – whatever her orientation ends up being – and celebrate all the possibilities ahead of her. It’s a challenge that’s both daunting and exciting. One way to rise to the challenge that many parents forget about is to devote energy to developing and healing ourselves. Being a parent pushes you to get to know yourself, grow as a person, and learn to use your voice in ways that you probably would have avoided if there weren’t someone else counting on you to be a positive role model and guide to young people. And though I would have often loved to have avoided it, it is helpful to make the time, when needed, to reflect on and process the baggage that gets in the way of healthy sexuality and relationships in your own life. I have a feeling that very few of us have not been affected by personal trauma, homophobia and biphobia, or rigid gender socialization.
Another way to support our children is to get involved in the schools. My daughter has several classmates from two-mom families, one of which includes her first-grade teacher. I very much enjoyed volunteering in her classroom that year, and letting her know that I accept and appreciate her and her family. Our School Parent Council formed a “Climate Committee” to address issues of respect and bullying, particularly around homophobia, and I attend the meetings when I can and suggest resources. I also volunteer in other ways and am active in the school community in general, because like all parents, I’m much more than just my sexual identity.
Finally, I’m trying to be more open and forthcoming with my daughter about sexuality in general than my parents were with me. In particular, her generation – even more than mine – needs to be mentored on media literacy, especially the girls! Interestingly, watching Ugly Betty together Ugly Betty together Ugly Betty has prompted great conversations between us. I definitely don’t remember my mom explaining contraception to me when I was nine – or ever! I still struggle for the language to talk about sex in a non-heterosexist way, but matter-of-fact media representations of diverse sexualities are a big help. Kids are amazingly perceptive – my daughter picked up immediately on the age-old complaint of queer media critics: even if network TV shows have sympathetic gay/bi characters, they never get to show affection or attraction with their same-sex partners in ways comparable to the straight characters. When the fashion-conscious character Marc tried to pass off his boyfriend as a “friend” due to embarrassment about being seen with a non-model, she piped up “I think he’s just a friend too, because they don’t kiss or go to bed like Betty and her boyfriend.” So I explained to her how I thought they were meant to be boyfriends on the show, but because some people don’t think men should be with men or women with women, most TV shows don’t show how two men in a relationship actually treat each other, and added that I wished they did.
And with that, I conclude my report on “What I did on my ten-year vacation.” For me, motherhood IS activism. So bi mother-hood = bi activism. Hey, I think now I know what T-Shirt I’m wearing to the Pride parade this year! See you there!
María Christina is a Jamaica Plain mother, maternal-child community health worker, researcher and onetime BRC Board member (1996-1999). She has become contrary in her old age (of 31) and now tends more towards the “I Refuse To Label Myself!” camp, but she will always feel at home in the bi community. Look for her at Pride in her “I can’t even label my leftovers, let alone my sexuality” T-shirt.