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AMA: About (my) Bisexuality & Queerness

If you don’t really know me you may not know that I identify as queer. 

People are often surprised when I tell them I date women, too, because I can “pass” as being straight. I don’t have the stereotypical markers of queerness that some people look for in queer women: tattoos, short hair, rainbows and Xena (hey Haydee!), flannel shirt, etc. (trust me, I tried the faux-hawk thing and it didn’t work for me!). 

I identify as “femme” and I own and love it. My femme-ness doesn’t make me any less queer, radical, or feminist, because I am exercising agency to define what queerness and womanhood feel and look like for me. By the way, stereotypes that expect lesbian women to be butch, and gay men to be feminine further perpetuate heteronormativity and erase the necessary distinction between gender identity and sexual orientation. A topic for a longer blog post. 

As you can imagine, my ability to “pass” as straight and being seen as traditionally feminine give me access to certain privileges (cis- and hetero-). And it makes being queer a little tricky at times, too. I frequently find myself correcting people when they incorrectly assume my sexual orientation, explaining myself in queer spaces, and feeling defensive when my sexuality is challenged. Femme invisibility is real and I experience biphobia and internalized biphobia often. It’s been a journey learning the language and tools to empower myself to explore them. 

Coming out, for me and many others, is a constant act — every time I meet someone new, every time someone makes an assumption or questions my identity, I assess whether I want to come out. Do I feel safe? Do I trust this person enough? Do I want to engage in a longer dialogue? Is this going to require emotional labor and am I willing to perform it? Do I need this person to know all of me? Then, I run through my usual coming out repertoire, some variation of “actually, I’m queer” “I date women, too” “I’m not straight.” 

In honor of Bisexual Visibility Week, I figured I should share some of the frequently asked questions I get from folks and also my internal dialogues I tend to keep to myself. Over the past few weeks, I collected questions through my website, social media, and in-person channels. Here’s what I got: 

Q: What does being “bisexual” mean?

Like most identities, being “bisexual” or “bi” can mean different things to different people. The conventional definition of being “bisexual” is to be sexually attracted to both men and women. Some folks use “bisexual” as an umbrella term to describe being attracted to people beyond one gender. 

Q: Are you attracted to women or men more? Or is it 50/50?

On sunny days, women. On rainy days, men. Just kidding. It depends on the person I meet. Duh, people. Look at this handy chart below.

Q: What’s the difference between “bisexual” and “queer?”

“Queer” is often described as an umbrella term, but again, it means different things to different people. For me, it means being outside of the heterosexist norm — I also see it as a movement, a community, with a hint of radical flavor and a heavy dose of fearlessness. I sometimes like to identify as “bisexual,” not because I believe there are only two genders, but because I think bisexual invisibility / erasure is all too real. I like to claim the identity to increase visibility for folks who don’t fit into the L/G categories and to take up space. I find the term “bi” to be limiting in acknowledging gender as a much broader spectrum, so I prefer to identify as “queer.” 

Q: How about “pansexual?”

I identified as pansexual for a year or so in high school, but it never stuck with me. I see more and more folks identifying as pansexual, meaning you’re attracted all (“pan-”) people, irrespective of their sex / gender identity. I’ve also met folks who identify as fluid, heteroflexible/homoflexible, or choosing to not label themselves at all. 

Q: When did you know you were bi/queer?

I didn’t have the language to describe myself as queer until I was in high school. Growing up in South Korea, the concept of queerness wasn’t even on my radar, but in retrospect, a lot of my childhood experiences that made me feel “different” make sense. Like, as a child, I was obsessed with naked dolls (or are all girls like that? I don’t know) and I always got chills (the good kind) whenever my girl friends touched my hair. I had my first official crush on a girl when I was a freshman in high school. I was *head over heels* and oh so confused.

Q: What’s the biggest difference dating a man vs. a woman?

Again, this depends on the person I’m dating. But the biggest difference, for me, has been the ability to empathize with my lived experiences as a woman. I mean, it’s kind of an obvious statement, but it does make a difference when the person you are dating can deeply empathize with you. I have met some pretty cool dudes who have been able to listen to my needs and sympathize, but there’s definitely a difference in living an experience vs. observing them.

Another big difference is how I take up space in and outside of the queer community when I’m dating a man vs. woman. For example, when I’m in a relationship with a cis, heterosexual man, I think twice before entering spaces that are created to honor and celebrate queerness. Even if I identify as queer, being in a relationship that is perceived to be normative and heterosexual gives me privileges that I need to be aware of. On the flip side, when I’m with a woman, I tend to avoid spaces that make me and my partner feel less safe — think super bro-y sports bar, conservative neighborhoods, etc. Well, I guess I don’t go to those places anyway :P 

Q: Is being bisexual just a phase people go through until they decide to be gay or lesbian?

No. Although my dad still believes this. People thinking this is just a “phase” is deeply hurtful. It denies my desire that spans multiple gender identities, and makes me feel like I am not a whole person. It’s as if someone is telling me I’m still “figuring it out,” when actually, I have it figured out! Saying bisexuality is not a real identity or calling bisexuals “fence-sitters” is offensive and invalidates a big part of who I am and who I’ve always been. 

Q: Have you dated other bisexuals? What’s the prevalence of other bisexuals among those you’ve dated? 

I found this question to be so interesting. Yes, I have dated other bisexuals, but not because I sought them out. I never thought to look for other bisexuals, although this question makes a lot of sense if you think of it from the perspective of lesbian, gay, or even straight people. Huh, interesting.

Q: When do you bring it up when you are dating someone? 

Depends on the person. It’s usually something that comes up or I bring up on the first 1–2 dates. I’ve ended dates after learning the other person is not comfortable with me being bi/queer. I’ve also ended dates after hearing biphobic remarks (“oh that’s hot” is amongst my favorites. NOT). 

Q: Are you straight now that you’re dating a man?

Nope. Whom I’m dating or sleeping with currently doesn’t dictate how I identify. Does a straight person become asexual when they don’t have a partner? No. My queerness doesn’t just disappear when I’m dating a man and I bring my queerness to all of my relationships, regardless of my partner’s gender identity. Also, just because I’m dating a man, that doesn’t make our relationship “heterosexual” — I’m still a queer person, and there are ways to “queer” relationships that may seem normative on the surface. There are privileges and access points I get when I’m in a visibly “heterosexual” relationship. However, those privileges don’t make me straight. I’m happily in a relationship with a cis, heterosexual man who makes me feel seen as a whole person, who acknowledges and honors all of my identities, including my queer identity.

Q: What are some examples of biphobia? 

  • Believing bisexuality isn’t a legitimate identity (e.g., “it’s a phase” “he’s actually gay” “you can’t be a fence-sitter. Choose!”) 
  • Assuming someone’s identity based on sexual or dating history, or current partner’s gender / sex
  • Calling bisexuals “allies” to the LGBT community
  • Assuming everyone is either gay or straight 
  • Believing bisexual people are confused or trying to “decide”
  • Erasing bisexual people from the broader LGBTQ movement and struggles
  • Thinking bisexual people are “half-oppressed” or have it “easier” than lesbian and gay people
  • Sexualizing bi women or thinking bi women are seeking attention from men
  • Telling bisexuals that we have “double the options” — no, we don’t
  • Not dating bisexual people because you think they’re going to leave for another gender; thinking bisexual people can’t be monogamous
  • Thinking bisexual people are attracted to everyone
  • Assuming all bisexual people want threesomes. GAH!

Check out this Invisible Majority report by the Movement Advancement Project detailing the disparities facing bisexual people (this glaad article summarizes it nicely).

Also, check out these amazing graphs summarizing my life.

 

bi-3.png

Q: What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

Now this is a tough one. I’m into pistachio these days, but I also love a good, high quality vanilla. I’d like to identify as a lover of all ice creams. Jk, butter pecan is a shit flavor. 

Q: How do you think your life would be different if you weren’t bi? Do you ever think about that? 

I don’t have to think about it because the media shows me what it’s like. Every. Damn. Day. 

Q: What advice do you have for people going through self discovery?

Everyone’s journey is different and only they can define the right milestones for themselves. Seek out resources and perspectives of others, try to develop a supportive community of folks you trust, and reach out! Don’t feel pressured to come out at the expense of your own physical, psychological, and emotional safety. Take as long as you need to validate your feelings and to find language that feels right for you.

Q: What advice would you give to allies who’d like to support queer / bi-folks?

Do your homework — Google all the things. Ask questions respectfully, don’t make assumptions, and try not to put additional emotional burden on folks you’re trying to support for the sake of your education!

Intervene when you observe homophobia / biphobia. Speak up whether we’re in the room or not.

Got other questions? Ask in a comment below. Are you bisexual? Share your journey and perspectives!

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About Michelle Kim

Michelle is an entrepreneur, activist, speaker, and a coach passionate about empowering individuals and organizations to create positive change. She is the co-founder of Awaken and owner of Michelle Kim Consulting.

Follow Michelle’s continued journey to create change in this world:

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Why I'm tired of "Diversity" Workshops

I always shuddered at the thought of building a services company. I had always envisioned starting my own company one day, perhaps a product company with rapidly growing recurring annual revenue and a kickass margin. Super scalable. All the sexy buzzwords, throw them in there, I wanted them.

Never did I imagine myself becoming a workshop provider (or a career coach, for that matter). 

Well, life happens. And like Oprah said, you just have to lean in to life.

Ever since I was a student, I wanted to start my own business. Not because I wanted to be “my own boss” or because I wanted to build the next billion dollar unicorn (btw, did you hear unicorns are falling?).

I wanted to build a company I can be proud of. A company with my values and principles deeply embedded throughout. I wanted to create an alternative reality. I wanted to build a company that:

  • Treats all people with respect and dignity
  • Is radically transparent
  • Pays people well unapologetically and equitably
  • Hires and rewards people with integrity, grit, and empathy
  • Fires jerks and bros (or don’t hire them to begin with)
  • Is truly diverse (not some “diversity of thought” bs)
  • Allows people to be their whole selves
  • Is unafraid to take a stand on political issues no matter how risky
  • Roots for the underdog
  • Wants to do good, for the sake of doing good, not for ROI
  • Cares about social justice

When I imagine my perfect “company,” I remember the time I co-led a queer student organization at UC Berkeley. We were made up of majority queer people of color, and had members from all identities and intersections. Our mission was to create an inclusive space for all queer people — folks of color, folks with disabilities, undocumented folks, truly.. all people on the margin who wanted to come together and build community, participate in developing youth leaders and empowering ourselves.

I thought I could one day achieve this vision by starting a sexy, scalable product company. Well, maybe I still could one day. But for now, I’m doing workshops.

So why did I decide to start a company providing “D&I” (Diversity & Inclusion) workshops?

I got tired.

I got tired of sitting in so-called “diversity workshops” that barely scratched the surface.

I got tired of seeing old white people dominate conversations around race and gender, “diversity,” and what it means to be an inclusive leader.

I got tired of corporate-bred D&I workshop facilitators (again, most of them old white people) diluting critical social justice concepts into palatable talking points for straight white men.

I got tired of seeing white, cis, hetero people never once feeling uncomfortable when being educated on D&I, but feeling absolved after having “checked the box.”

I got tired of seeing my friends and mentors not get paid for their social justice work. Being discounted to “soft skills” facilitators, not warriors, activists, and mission-critical educators.

I got tired of feeling the only reason why companies tolerated my outspokenness was because I was a high performer (and that I was a less threatening East Asian woman) and I had to continue to earn my right to call shit out .

I got tired of seeing companies using “Diversity and Inclusion” as marketing catchphrases to gain public validation, yet never wanting to dig deeper or put money where their mouth is.

I got tired of talking about metrics I didn’t care bout, I got tired of losing myself, I got tired of covering.

I got tired of doing extra emotional labor around D&I issues because no one else would.

I got tired of dealing with “brilliant jerks.”

I got tired of feeling like dying a slow death by a million paper cuts made by daily microaggressions.

I got tired of seeing my peers be mistreated.

I got tired of being let down by people.

I got tired of losing faith in humanity.

I got tired of never feeling free.

Every time I sat through a divershitty training (yeah I just made that up), I wished someone would come in and do a REAL workshop. Encourage REAL TALK. Make me and others feel uncomfortable, because without discomfort there is no real learning when it comes to understanding systemic and institutional oppression.

I wished someone would bring in critical social justice concepts into the workplace, and not be afraid to talk about structural racism, misogyny, and homophobia, and how unconscious bias stems from our deeply socialized identities that are perpetuated systematically.

I wished someone would actually name white privilege, misogyny, heterosexism, ableism, and gender binary. I wished someone would actually say the word queer or trans. I wished someone would acknowledge the mass incarceration and killings of black people by the criminal justice system.

When the time came when I no longer could stay in the toxic tech industry as an employee, I, along with thousands of women who have left before me, left.

So now I’m trying to make my distant dream and wishes a reality. I’m trying to unlearn the toxic shit I had to pick up in the corporate world, and bring back the old, authentic me. The old me who was unafraid to call shit out, who was passionate about building solidarity and coalition, who took risks and used privileges to provide access to others.

Awaken Team facilitating a workshop at General Assembly SF

Awaken Team facilitating a workshop at General Assembly SF

 

I’m rolling up my sleeves and applying everything I’ve learned from my social justice activism and surviving the corporate / tech world to redefine “D&I workshops.”

I’m working to bridge the gap between “Diversity and Inclusion” and social justice activism. I’m working my ass off to get well-deserving, non-corporate-bred folks paid.

In order to create change, we need to embrace discomfort. We need to create a compassionate space for uncomfortable dialogues, where we allow each other to fuck up, but also hold each other accountable. We need to acknowledge that change doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen incrementally.

While I would never claim “D&I Workshops” will solve all your companies’ toxic culture problems, it can help begin the conversation. It’s a starting point.

There are so many amazing people trying to do different things to move the needle a smidge on creating a truly inclusive culture. And we need all of them. We need all of the process changes, policies, culture shifts, engagement surveys, ERGs, D&I consulting, anti-sexual harassment training, offsites, Artificial Intelligence based recruiting, VR training, VC accountability… we need everyone and we need all of them.

The problems we are trying to solve are so massive and so ingrained. We need all the help we can get to have a fighting chance at moving the needle.

So here’s me, choosing to do what most software junkies call “unsexy” work (but you just wait). And you can help me by spreading the word about Awaken (and our upcoming workshop series).

Come on, let’s wake people up.