Our Family celebrates families led by Black trans, bi and queer women. The series delves into some of the challenges and triumphs they face. ELIXHER recently had the opportunity to chat with Faith Cheltenham, president of BiNet USA, about blended families and bi misconceptions.
ELIXHER: How do you define family?
FAITH: Family refers to the people who are my biological relation, whether immediate or extended, “chosen family,” aka those I have chosen to live and love with as close as kin, as well as those who have chosen me.
ELIXHER: Tell us about your family.
FAITH: Much of my my experience with family is devoted to the coalescing of love, in many different forms. I am married to a great guy, Matt. Matt works at Grindr as a lead Android developer making sure that bi, gay and trans men have the opportunity to meet each other and Matt is straight (but obviously not narrow). Matt was previously married to Sevina, the mother of Cadence, my 8-year-old step-daughter. Matt and I have been together since Cadence was 2 years old and I am a proud step-parent. Over the years, using techniques learned from No One’s the Bitch: A Ten-Step Plan for the Mother and Stepmother Relationship, Sevina and I have developed a friendship and a strong co-parenting relationship.
ELIXHER: What has been key to co-parenting?
FAITH: I believe that my bisexuality is a super power, which does more than just increase my opportunity for trauma and disparity. Being bisexual allowed me to assess my relationship with Sevina in a different way from the usually contentious step-mom and mom relationship. I can totally get why my husband once was in love with her and had a beautiful and wicked sharp daughter with her. I wouldn’t kick her out of my bed for eating cookies, if you know what I mean.
Being able to see Sevina as her own woman, who isn’t a threat, and who looks just like the dear stepdaughter I have adored for six years means I really want the best for her, because I want the best for my stepdaughter and my family. Access to the wealth of knowledge in the bi, pan, fluid, queer (bi+) community meant that when discussing blended families, I had more ideas to draw from. Something I found enormously helpful was an ideal often spoken about in polyamory relationships and families: compersion.
Compersion means I can take joy in the love I see Sevina have for her daughter without framing it in jealousy. Compersion means I get a kick out of seeing my 3-year-old son spend time with his sister’s mom who loves to cuddle with him. Compersion means we can skip rolling like Bey and Jay in “Jealous,” because “you keeping your promise, I’m keeping mine” and get right to “the sweetest in the middle.”
ELIXHER: What are the biggest misconceptions people have about families with bi parents?
FAITH: I think the biggest misconception people have about families with bi parents is that we’re all non-monogamous, and if we’re poly, we’re living a “dangerous” lifestyle. We have ample legal evidence that bi parents are losing their kids at a higher rate, both to their former different-sex partner or their same-sex partner. It’s okay to be gay or straight, but because the in-between is so much more misunderstood, our kids suffer from stigma, misconceptions and outright discrimination, sometimes before they’re even born.
My regular LGBT-friendly gynecologist did not deliver babies, so I got switched to an obstetrician who did deliveries a few months into my pregnancy. After a few visits, I felt comfortable coming out to my doctor. When I did, her look of shock and worry was disturbing. She immediately wrote up an order for a sexually transmitted diseases test and said, “You and your husband seem so in love! I had no idea you were sleeping with so many people.” I had to explain to her what bisexuality was, and that I was monogamous and that even if I wasn’t, her assumption was crass, cruel and hurtful. I tried to not take it personally because the vast number of people in the world have been miseducated about bisexuality just as much as I once was.
ELIXHER: What does a typical day look like for your family?
FAITH: A typical day for my family starts with my husband taking the kids to school after I give hugs. Then he goes to work and I work from home before picking up the kids from school. Then we do homework and then I cook dinner. My husband arrives home and takes over so I can go exercise while listening to the new Adele single on repeat. We’re serious TV watchers after the kids go to sleep, but both avoid horror even though we love The Walking Dead. So we fastforward at 2x speed to see if someone’s gonna die, and then if they don’t die, we go back and watch the scene. If they do die, we don’t. (Well, except for one time recently.)
ELIXHER: What has been the biggest challenge and greatest gift being a mom?
FAITH: The biggest challenge being a mom was initially the birth as my body wasn’t really built for it. A lot of queer women like myself have issues with fertility or hormones that traverse the boundaries of “norm.” I’ve got HAIR-AN Syndrome, an offshoot of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, so my pregnancy was high-risk and fairly difficult. I ended up having our son, Storm, four weeks early.
Storm was in a hurry to get out, and he hasn’t really stopped being in a hurry since. When he first arrived, I was shocked and a bit disturbed by how attractive he was. How could something like that come from someone like me? Or someone like us? My husband is cute too, but he’s grown into his full geekiness and we’re just not the “pretty” type. To boot, my kid is gender fluid and often prefers pink diapers to blue. His primary toys are kitchen tools and he likes sparkly dresses and glitter boots.
A major challenge we’ve faced is our two homes for Cadence and Storm having a sister who’s not always home. We work on that by doing visits with Cadence and her mom Sevina and finding new ways to share holidays. It means consistently working to find where our boundaries are. For instance, Sevina asked if I wanted to live in the same building complex and I told her I preferred for our families to live a 5-minute drive away.
I never thought I’d be in a situation to love a child the way I love mine. I certainly never dreamed of being a bonus mom in a loving co-parenting relationship with my husband and his ex-wife. When you see us all together, we laugh and have fun and appreciate what we have. It’s the greatest gift I’ve ever been given.
ELIXHER: What are some resources for bi parents, particularly bi women of color?
FAITH: There are no children’s books for bi parents or for bi kids. I made a rhyme for my stepdaughter when she was about four to help describe myself, our friends and others she may meet. It goes something like:
Some girls like boys. Some boys like girls. Some girls like girls and some boys like boys. Some boys like girls and boys. Some girls like your Faithy like boys and girls but I only love your daddy.
Now that our son sometimes chooses “no gender” when given a choice of “boy,” “girl” or “no gender” day, we’re adding “some boys and girls aren’t boys or girls but people” to make sure we cover non-binary identities and gender nonconformity.
Some parenting resources for bi women of color are the Twitter hashtag #bipoc, the BiNet USA Mailing List for Bi+ People of Color, the Bisexual People of Color Facebook page, the Bisexual Women of Color Support Group, and the Tumblr page of famed Black bisexual UK advocate, Jacq Applebee.