I live in Bloomsburg Pennsylvania, a small college town in an otherwise rural area. We generally have only two kinds of buildings in this area, buildings that have been around since 1775 or brand new ones – and most buildings don’t go above 5 stories tall even if you stack some farm animal on top for extra hieght.
I live, go to school, and organize in this area.
Because things are so spread out, and because being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Asexual (LGBTA) in this area is still incredibly taboo, most of my organizing is done online, with meetings and events then translating out into the real world.
The blogging platform Tumblr has played a huge roll in my shaping as an activist. Right now, Bi Tumblr has one of the most active and vibrant bisexual communities anywhere online. There discussions are contstantly going on about what it means to be a bisexual, how can we phrase and express our desires in a way that is both true and affirming and inclusive of transgender people. New ideas are constantly generated, discussed and honed in between posts with pictures of bisexual pride colored easter eggs and sneakers.
It was the supporting and challenging atmosphere that Bi Tumblr and other online bisexual spaces that helped create that gave me the ideas, strength and courage to start up a LGBTA group for my local community. Weekly meetings of the areas LGBTA community with coffee and snacks in small town library are what I’m used to. Fancy hors d’oeuvres and wine in the White House in bustling Washington DC with no cattle? It was almost beyond my comprehension!
So when I recieved my invitation to the White House’s LGBT Pride Month Reception I initially did not believe it.
What in the world would the White House want with someone whose biggest claim to fame is an online blog and a small rural LGBTA group that meets in a library?
But it was real. Very real. And it was literally less then a week and several hundred dollars away.
Some recent statistics show that bisexual people are more likely to live in poverty then their monosexual counter parts, and I m no exception. What money I do have is often spent on medication or goes towards expenses like printing and other supplies for the LGBTA Group. So the money not only for gas down and back but clothing that would be appropriate, (up until then I owned only 2 types of clothes, “hey let’s hang out!” and “I’m sorry for your loss” funeral clothes). Neither would work for a White House reception.
That is when something really truly amazing happened. The community, stepped in and helped me gather the needed funds to get some new clothes and the money to drive down. Thanks to the power of the online bisexual community, in 48 hours I had more then enough to go!
After this whirlwind of support I felt I owed it to my fellow community members to finally do something I had never done before: tell my mother. I held my breath and panic and texted her that I was going to the White House Pride Month Reception as a bisexual activist. Then a miracle happened, my phone lit up with a text that read “OMG!! REALLY?! I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!”. After I finished getting my lower jaw back from the earth molten core I checked my phone again and saw that she had offered to help by getting me and my partner a hotel room in the city so we would not have to drive down at dawn and back home right after the reception. After that I figuired that I should just leave my jaw comfortably on the earths inner mantle, because getting it back up was becoming a hassle.
A few days later we drove down to DC through some really lovely sunny countryside that was spotted with familiar things: cows, sheep, really big trucks hauling things but then suddenly we were in some suburbs and from there, it seemed we were suddenly on another planet.
Huge eleven-story buildngs were everywhere; brand new office buildings crammed right next to lovely victorians and byzantine style churches. I had to consciously remind myself several times to look where I was driving and not at all the buildings or else I was likely to pancake the pedestrians. After getting very confused and lost (no thanks to our GPS) we found our hotel. The Hotel Harrington, right next door to Ford’s Theatre and we were on the eleventh floor! From the hallway window you could look out and see buldings, roofs, monuments and people all tiny and scurying like ants.
The whole endeavor was starting to feel like the old movie “Mr Smith Goes to Washington“, when I became enthralled with the mail shoot with it’s little brass mail door and shoot on every floor and it’s ornate little box in the lobby. I liked it so much I just had to get a picture and post it to facebook, something my city dwelling friends found confusing.It was just a mail box! But having come from a place where your choice of post boxes came in two flavors, blue and new or rusty and tetnus flavored it was almost magical.Our room had been upgraded to a suite with a king sized bed and a separate full sized bed and two full bathrooms and two TV’s with cable (something we don’t have at home, all our TV shows are streamed via computer) we felt very posh because of it all.
A few days before driving down I had contacted the famous bisexual writer, Dr. Loraine Hutchins about meeting up when we arrived and she graciously said yes. She met us at the hotel restaraunt for some snacks and conversation. Meetng and talking with Loraine was an amazing and enlightening experience that only deepened and charged my commitment to activism both for the bisexual community and for the larger queer community of which I am a part.
Maybe it was the charge from talking to Loraine and the excitment the next day promised or maybe it was just that I am a homebody who has trouble sleeping anywhere that isn’t their own bed, but that night I could not get to sleep no matter how hard I tried. Late night TV was of no help. If it wasn’t transphobic jokes it was out and out biphobia, like on one program where the host advises men she counsels against dating bisexuals because “duh they will leave you for another woman”. At this point I was pretty sure that I wanted to open up the window and hurl the TV set out the eleventh story window.But seeing as how that would definetly end poorly I opted to instead just watch infomercials for hair products in Spanish, and finally fell asleep.
I woke up the next morning and got ready to head to the White House. I had checked and rechecked and in a panic, I checked once more the details of how and when to get there. Even though I had been told the invitation wasn’t nessesary to get in I took it anyway along with my bi pride flair that I was saving to give to my fellow bi activist attendees, William Burlson and Lauren Spencer.
Decked out in our best with flair pinned to us, my partner and I grabbed a taxi and headed for the white house.
I was dreading the line outside the gates. I had heard that you could end up standing around in the heat a long time and the day’s forecast had called for severe storms, something I in my second hand wool blend suit coat, was not looking forward to. No better way to fix yourself in the mind of the LGBTA rights movements elite than being the person who smelled like a sheep that had gone through a car wash.
The second and far more terrifying thought pressing down and flattening out my spiked up hair do, was the fact that my invitation had been issued to my chosen name, while my ID all listed my birthname only, and the possibility of being asked to step aside by the sharply dressed men with the ear pieces. Even worse, I might be flat out denied entrance. Incongruent documents and the fact that our gender presentation might not reflect with what people see on a ID cards sex/gender box and the hassles, and harrassment that often arises is something that as a trans* person I am very keenly aware of. But what was worse, and sat in my stomach like a old unthawed freezer burrito, was the fact that if I was denied entry, so would my partner. Feeling like we are letting people down leads to a lot of guilt, something we have to grapple with along with and carry with us everywhere.
We did make it past security safely and with no hassle, except for the odd look the officer working the metal detector and scanner gave me when I emptied my pockets and a ton of bi pride buttons came pouring out! Thankfully, they figuired I wasn’t going to try and pin prick the President and Vice President to death with them and let us go.
The inside of the White house was amazing, the main room featured marble floors, presidential portraits, a live band and one of three bars. as well as busts of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
By then the place was pretty packed and loud and on several occassions people nearly knocked me into the bust of George Washington. Unable to find my compatriots, I decieded to take a trip to the fabled white house bathrooms, something a bunch of previous white house reception attendees said were not to be missed.
They were so right! When I first entered I was convinced I had simply entered another parlor room and missed the restrooms. I went back and re-asked the nice marine who was giving people directions at the bottom of the stairs if had gone into the wrong room. No, she assured me it was the right one, the door was on the left and blended in a bit to the wall. On my second try I saw the door and a large portrait of bisexual first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. I remember doing a report on her in middle school and uncovering the fact that she had a long term love affair with another woman, while also having loved the President.
I was so excited (and glad I had taken initiative and strayed from my schools “encyclopedias for kids” type books) to have a bisexual role model to look up to at the time. A few seconds later two more people came in and asked me if I could take their picture beside the portrait of Jackie Kennedy. I said yes and they then kindly obliged and took my photo in front of Eleanor. Later on, a friend on tumblr pointed out that it looked like Eleanor was reaching out to pat my head or touch my hair in the picture. This both was hilarious and heartwarming. I felt like, even though we had never met Eleanor was telling me “good job kid! You made it!” from afar.
Rejoining everyone upstairs I found my partner talking to a man standing by the window. I went over and said hello, introducing myself and my work and asked what they had been chatting about. Turns out he worked in the Department of the Interirior on LGBTA issues and was from Altoona Pennsylvannia and they had been chatting about how much he missed Pennsylvannia food since having to move down to DC!
I talked for a while about LGBTA issues facing us rural Pennsylvanians, especially health care access, before I set off to look for the others again.This time I did find Bill Burleson and his wife! I gave them some of the Bi flair that had been jangling around in my pockets and we animatedly discussed things like the Bi Invisibility Report, his recent needs assesment report and just how awesome it was to be at the White House! After getting some pictures together I went off to search for Lauren Spencer, the other bi activist. Halfway through my search I noticed that the main hall had cleared a bit and I began to quickly stride towards the other large room, where the presdent was due to speak soon.
By then the room where the president was going to speak was crammed full of people. I managed to get in for a few minutes but the absolute squishing I was enduring was just to much, so I squeezed my way out and into the now very empty main room and watched on the large TV they had in there.
The President gave his speech, filled with jokes and real heartfelt sincerity, but the coolest part, was being among the first people to find out that Nitza Quiñones Alejandro was confirmed by the senate and would be America’s first openly lesbian Latina judge. Everyone broke out into cheers after that and it took a few seconds for everyone to calm down again. The speech was funny and informative and like the best speeches, short.
I did feel a tad bit erased by the fact that we hard working bisexuals were left out of things in favor of saying “gay and lesbian” several times, but I figured it would be a bad idea to stand at the door way and holler loudly “and bisexuals!”. After the speech I resumed my quest of finding the one remainig bi activist I hadn’t met yet, Lauren Spencer.
I roved around, meeting cool people along the way until I was getting tired and sore from all the roving (I had elected not to bring my cane that day, worried about security issues) I sat down on a couch, only to have my partner burst out laughing. Finally I turned my head and saw what was so funny: I was seated in all my queer bi and trans glory beneath the official portrait of Ronald Regan.
We snapped a photo of me seated there and sent it to my Republican, Fox News watching father with the caption “Guess where I am?” After some explaining of where I was and why, I finally got what I had waited literally my whole life for. He texted back “Wow. You are an important person”.
We met up with Bill and his partner again and got some more pictures and chatting in before we as Team Bi spread out to look for our missing member! We were aided in our search by the fact that the staff were starting to herd everyone from the various antirooms and back out into the main one. We finally met up with Lauren in the room where the President had spoken and I handed out my bi flair to her and we all got our group picture in before the staff very politely told us to leave!
We made it back to the hotel in one piece and collapsed in a heap of excitement and exhaustion. The whole drive home to Pennsylvannia was just tons of excited white house chatter: what we had seen, who we had met and how fun it had all been! I am so grateful for the oppurtunity to have gone, and can not thank the Bisexual Community enough for throwing my name out for the honor, and
I am so lucky to work with so many astounding people on a regular basis!
Aud Traher is a Bisexual-Trans Activist, local LGBT organizer, blogger, local craftperson and anthoropology major living in working in a rural community in Eastern Central Pennsylvania. Having been an organizer in the college’s LGBT Group and noticing the need for similar services that included people in the town and countryside, Aud decided to found a local LGBT Group open to all.