… a social service worker retired from active duty. For 10 years, I focused most of my work around youth services, dealing with addictions, trauma, and the gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, two-spirit, and queer (GLBTTQ) youth community. I also grew up, and came out, in Ottawa.
I think I always knew I was bisexual, but I didn’t have a word for it until a friend in high school came out to me. When he explained that being bi meant you could like either boys or girls, I remember I was floored: there was a word for this? And there were other people like me? At age 14, I suddenly had a word that described me. Sometimes a label can be freeing instead of oppressing; sometimes words give us power.
I learned the hard way that being anything other than straight meant plenty of hurt. I also learned being bisexual was its own special challenge: you’re misunderstood on both sides of the sexual-identity equation. The straight people think you’re confused, or you’re just putting on a show for boys; meanwhile, the gay and lesbian people think you’re “straddling the fence” and taking advantage of appearing straight while actually being gay.
Because of these misconceptions, high school was harder than usual. A friend’s boyfriend hit on me one night, and when the truth got out about his indiscretion, he was forgiven and the blame was put on me: I was informed that as a bi girl, I must have instigated the behaviour. Later on, after I was dating a girl for a couple years and then started seeing a boy, I lost almost every lesbian friend I’d made in the community because I was seen as “switching teams.” Ironically, bisexuals — people built to be capable of loving twice the average number, if you think about it — often end up the most isolated of all.
Sometimes I’d try to fit in with one group or another, but eventually my saving grace was finding a GLBTTQ discussion group at my school. Suddenly I wasn’t isolated at all, and the youths there introduced me to groups far beyond those the school could offer. I couldn’t believe I’d spent my first three years of high school not knowing these groups existed. I swore I would become an activist and spread the word to the next generation of high school kids.
I found solace in activism. I volunteered more than 2000 hours before applying for admission to the social service worker program at Algonquin College, almost all of it working with GLBTTQ youths. I developed youth groups, ran programs, facilitated training, and wrote manuals. My goal was to be sure no youth would ever feel alone again. Then about a year ago, I decided to take a break from the field and focus on writing. I resigned from my jobs and changed professions. I also married a man, a wonderful, beautiful man. But in many ways, I felt as though my wild bisexual activist persona had been hung up like Batman’s cape at the end of the day.
Then I was asked to write an article about growing up gay, and to interview some young gay people. Naturally, I headed back to the Rainbow Youth Advisory Committee (RYAC). This was the committee I’d personally worked on through most of my youth. As I sat in the meeting room waiting for the team to gather, a young girl ran up to me and asked breathlessly, “Are you Jordan? The Jordan?”
I answered, laughing, that I might be the Jordan, depending. She said she’d heard I was coming, and she just wanted to see me in person. She’d heard so much about me, she said, adding every time the history of a project was talked about, my name came up. She said I was the measure against which all others were measured. She said, in short, that my legend lived on and inspired the new generation of youth activists. I don’t think I actually responded to her. I’m pretty sure I just stared with a dazed smile on my face. This was such an incredible welcome, such an incredible legacy.
Some of the stories the youth shared with me during the interview broke my heart. I hated to hear that fifteen years after I was a high school kid, many of the same struggles are still happening. But I can see the progress, slow yet certain, as each generation works at making sure the next one doesn’t have to feel afraid anymore. It does get better, even though the changes may sometimes take generations to occur. We each of us stand on the shoulders of giants.
I’m not very active in the GLBTTQ activism community anymore, especially with my job change. But I try to still lead by example. Every day I am an out, proud, bisexual woman. I love my partner, I take care of my family and I nurture myself inside and out. I call people on homophobic comments, I use my voice politically and I have learned to choose true friends.
The encounter with that young girl was brief, but it was affirming. I have stayed true to myself and stood tall in the face of adversity for sixteen years. The reward was that moment, and it’s more than I ever needed.