By Gwendolyn Henry
While the holiday season is a time to share quality time with loved ones and celebrate shared common experiences, it can be a time for mourning for bisexual activists and LGBTQ community members at large. Whether our loss is through the finality of death or through the loss of lovers, partners, friends, relatives, faith community, colleagues, networking and professional opportunities, employment, our financial investments and life savings, childhood dreams, our innocence, or a home to return to for the holidays, we all experience grief.
Grief is painful both physically and emotionally. It can literally make our bodies hurt. We get sick. We can lose time from work and community activities. Grief and emotional isolation are realities that many of us in the bisexual community experience. Grief never ends; it is a process that is lifelong. When we are triggered and feelings of loss come, we need even more empathy and compassion. As activists and advocates in the bisexual community, we grieve moments in our lives when we pretend to be someone we are not — moments we censor ourselves to make others comfortable — out of fear of rejection by the lovers, partners, friends we made in our communities of origin. And that makes sense. The possible rejection is real. Rejection hurts.
We grieve that we have lost our paid jobs to take on doing activist work for free. We grieve that we have visible and invisible disabilities that are ignored by the very people we love. We grieve that we don’t have the money to attend bi conferences, that we don’t have adequate health insurance, that we don’t have money and the means for adequate housing, day-care, and healthy food.
We grieve that our supporters, fans and followers don’t ask us how we are doing. They don’t ask us what we need. Activists, advocates, leaders, role models are people too.
Too many social justice leaders experience PTSD, depression, anxiety, and emotional isolation. When we see the stats for bisexual health, we need to realize that our activists are not exempt from that pain.
I wrote a poem 15 days after my father’s funeral that captured the social and emotional isolation I experienced, instead of comfort and support from my community of origin. As the holidays approach, I share this personal piece in hopes of exposing the harms of holding our community leaders, members, friends, and family to unrealistic and unhealthy standards of resiliency.
“Pedestals of Loneliness”
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
“Your beauty, light and strength inspires me.” — “I like when you post self-affirmative thoughts.” — “I admire how you handle stress.” — “You are my role model.” — “I’m inspired how you can go through so much and still bake cookies, be there for your kids, husband, go to work, and still listen to other people’s problems. You are so strong!” — “Frowning doesn’t suit you.” — “Don’t cry, it doesn’t look good on you.” — “You look funny when you cry.”
I don’t want to be your source of inspiration and be placed on a pedestal of great “strength and resilience”. That damn pedestal only creates distance between you and me. To you, it may feel like we are connected, but not to me.
I feel lonely and isolated.
I don’t want to be admired from afar.
I need to FEEL that connection. closeness. emotional intimacy. engaging communication. you initiate contact and ask me questions. active listening. comfort me as I have comforted you. give and receive. receive and give.
celebrate my authentic self. don’t demand my silence.
I need to be seen as fully human.
I need to be seen as a person that cries. that aches. that feels lonely too often that I care for. that is an Orphan. that has an inner child that will always grieve for what will never be…
— “You have EXCELLENT self-care and coping skills!!!” —
Regardless of why the people in our lives do not take initiative to provide us with comfort while we grieve, we feel isolated. That is why in times of grief we need to practice our self-care plan. Our self-care plan must be tangible. Write it down. Print it out. Tape it on a wall. Carry it in your pocket or handbag. The key is to periodically revise it. We can outgrow our self-care skills and need to be open to learning new ones.
I grieve with you the loss of old communities that were unable to empathize with our feelings or digest the content of our words. I rejoice with you in the hope that there are possibilities to form new communities that can celebrate our full humanity. During this holiday season may we find comfort in each other.
Eight Resources for Self-Care
- Self-Care & Activism | Suggestions for Alleviating Burnout
- Activist Advice: How to Avoid Tumblr Burnout
- 30 Things About My Invisible Illness You May Not Know
- Dealing with Sudden, Accidental or Traumatic Death. Journey of Hearts
- 5 Reasons People Abandon a Sick Friend
- PTSD and Long-Term Physical Health
- Loneliness Is a Silent Killer
- Tips for a Happy Holiday for LGBT People
Gwendolyn Henry, EdM, MSLIS is a writer, librarian, archivist, mental health advocate, and vegan personal chef. She is the founder of Bisexual Women of Color (BIWOC), an online and in-person support and discussion group based in Boston, MA. She was recently awarded the 2014 Unsung Hero Award by the Bisexual Resource Center for her work in the Boston bi community and for founding bi women of color and bi people of color social and support groups. Follow BIWOC on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.