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The Casual Bi Activist: Every Little Bit Helps

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Maybe I've dwelled too much in the House of Bi -- or not enough. When I think of what so many bi activists are achieving now, I'm humbled and ashamed that I didn't take such initiatives for decades. I dabbled, I tread water, I picked away at actions, but never consistently, rarely effectively, never in a focused way, almost always reacting rather than being proactive. Much of that time I didn't have time, let alone mental acuity, farsightedness, clear-eyed vision, and the organizational and visionary skills that it takes to bring about cultural change in a big way.

Yet I'm reminded again by people who are only now "discovering" me and others that we casual activists are nonetheless role models. So I am inspired to try yet again... but in a concertedly casual way.

Being bi/try/diverse is a bit of a chore, especially if you dwell all the time on the same subject in the name of activism and social change -- crusades and crusaders are rather anachronistic and even pathetic or worse. As with any other endeavor or subject, you can lose perspective and proportion and become a mere stereotype or even an archetype. Some of my favorite acquaintances are folks who interrupt their surfing to go to work, who stop running a marathon because, well, they need to save the world and, besides, the race ended, or they're working on their master's theses but only because there isn't enough snow to ski on just yet.

So, every once in a while, activists (of all persuasions) take a vacation from activism. And often they feel guilty about doing so. That's silly, of course, especially if you're bi/diverse: one-issue "movements" and campaigns are by definition NOT diverse and are, in effect, ineffective because they don't show the diversity and multidimensional nature of what it means to be a fully realized human: well-rounded and holistic. In essence, "only" being an activist -- i.e., being defined solely by that activism in a one- or two-dimensional way -- whether as a bi person, an abortion advocate or foe, a Democrat or Republican, an Oakland Raiders fan or a Dallas Cowboys backer -- in essence makes you inauthentic and unbelievable.

There are exceptions, of course: a war zone where danger and death are imminent or present. But can a freedom fighter even in a war zone take a break? Momentarily, yes. But not every campaign for freedom and fairness is a war; they're often more like gardening: maintaining, replanting, watering, pruning. Basically they become routine -- much like a "regular" job.

Such "dancing at the revolution" can actually be a good thing, especially in the culture "wars". Sometimes the best way to fight attacks is by singing, celebrating, and laughing in the face of hatemongers: Set the example, show the joy ("gay" people often aren't gay -- as in "happy") enough, and with good reason, but the moniker is certainly an inspirational/aspirational one.

In the past, for me, the problem was that I was too serious and angry at those who dismissed bisexuality/diversity as not real, not authentic, and not respectable, so instead of being happy, joyful, gay, and celebratory, I was defensive and almost hostile, with a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude. I've mellowed, of course and changed my demeanor, outlook, and perspective. But not my energy level; if anything, I'm even more laconic than before in terms of activism and devotion to "the cause" -- I'm unfortunately more of a "I'll try to get around to it eventually" sort of activist these days, especially when I see so many others doing the heavy lifting these days.

Part of my nonchalance is age, part is realizing we've come so far that I can let down my guard, part of it is handing off the torch to new generations, and part of it is realizing that many people doing small things can still move mountains. So these days, I try not to feel too guilty about being an armchair activist, but still it took me by surprise when some of my activist and non-activist colleagues started firming up their "retirement" plans... which made me wonder: Do people "retire" from activism? Can you truly retire from a cause you believe in? Can you pick away at activism the way retired people pick away at a hobby: the occasional donor, the occasional letter-writer, the occasional trailblazer (or, as with some Sierra Club members, the occasional trail maintainer)?

Well, of course -- Palm Springs, senior citizen centers, hobby clubs, and political parties have such "activists" all the time. Every little bit helps. It's wonderful to be "devoted" to a cause, to put your heart and soul into an endeavor -- it feels good, and it often does good. But for quite a while, it seemed as if it was never enough to "put in as much time as possible" to "the cause". So, over the years, I tried to do what I could when I could. Now I look out at all the young people who casually identify as bi (or who identify their attractions as bi, if they choose not to label themselves as "bi"), and I think, "Mission accomplished". Oh, there's still a lot to be accomplished, a lot more acceptance to be developed, a lot more wrongs to be righted, but, considering the march of time, it's more a matter of living the dream and just "being" a role model rather than whining and shrieking "Accept me!"

But when I think, "OK, I can retire now" from activism and in general, probably the opposite would happen: Maybe having more free time would give me MORE time to volunteer MY time to "the cause(s)". It's happened before: After BiNet USA was founded and started its own newsletter, I retired my newsletter to focus on other matters, such as my husband's health; after he passed away, I returned to activism until other matters intervened. So I've been an inconsistent insider, almost an unreliable and somewhat inept one, but at least a well-meaning and constant supporter.

So I'm not bi-focused to the degree I used to be. Does that make me a "bad" bi activist? Maybe. But being a bi activist was never my intent or really my identity; it just sorta happened. Which is fine, but still, can you build or maintain a "movement" that way? I'll flip it around: I think what has changed the world for the better is the constant, consistent, ethical way that people live their lives every day just by being themselves. That's how we've cleaned up the environment a bit, made the U.S. civil rights movement of the last century relatively successful, and made bisexuality a comfortable reality for so many. Yes, as Margaret Mead said, social movements have always depended on only a handful of activists who really do most of the work; the rest of us help lessen the load and make it real. Not a shabby trade-off -- but I'm sure glad the other activists out there are blazing the trails and keeping the rest of us on our toes.