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Bi activist Loraine Hutchins: ‘AIDS catapulted bisexuals into public visibility’

Bi activist Loraine Hutchins: ‘AIDS catapulted bisexuals into public visibility’

When you think of bisexual activists, there is hardly a more relevant name than that of Loraine Hutchins.

If that doesn’t ring a bell to your LGBTI ears, suffice to say Hutchins is one the two co-editors of a cornerstone read for bi people, Bi Any Other Name. First published in 1991, the book is still in print after nearly 30 years.

‘We wanted to write the book that we wanted to read, that we needed, that we knew others needed,’ she said.

‘We were tired of reading research about bisexuals written by people who were not, in fact, bisexual themselves. It felt creepy and disempowering.’

Hutchins opened up about her love and activism life, telling Gay Star News about the struggles of being bi in the 70s and how the AIDS crisis changed the game.

Loraine Hutchins came out to her friends and family in 1970. | Photo: supplied

Her mom hoped she “wasn’t avoiding working out stuff with men”

Having celebrated her 70th birthday last May, Hutchins is a key figure in the community. She grew up in DC in the 1950s and took part in the LGBTI rights marches at a crucial time.

‘I didn’t realize I was bi when I was growing up but I was on record as advocating for homosexual rights, as my friends and I all saw that as part of civil rights,’ she said.

She came out to her friends and family after graduating in 1970.

‘My mother told me she hoped I “wasn’t avoiding working out stuff with men”. How can I, I’m bi, I wanted to say,’ she recalled.

‘And I don’t think anyone else took me seriously.’

She explained how bisexuality wasn’t considered a legitimate sexual orientation back then.

‘Straight people tend to overly eroticize us and gay people tend to not trust us, call us double agents, switch hitters,’ she said.

‘AIDS catapulted bisexuals into public visibility’

In Hutchins’s words, it was because of AIDS that bisexuals suddenly became visible in the 80s.

‘A lot of bisexuals had already died. AIDS catapulted bi people into public visibility,’ she said.

‘The world could no longer deny people loved more than one gender when it was clear that heterosexuals were afraid of bi people doing unsafe sex and “bringing” HIV to them.’

She also said: ‘It was as if all gay and straight people practiced safer sex and only bis didn’t, which is ridiculous.’

Hutchins said this was the reason bisexuals had to come out and fight back.

On BiNet USA and meeting Obama

Loraine Hutchins and Director at SpeakOUT Boston Ellyn Ruthstrom hugging.
Loraine Hutchins (L) and Director at SpeakOUT Boston Ellyn Ruthstrom at the Bisexual Community Briefing in DC. | Photo: Jamie McGonnigal

Together with her fellow bi activists, Hutchins created BiNet USA, an organization to give bi people a voice.

BiNet USA was officially born in 1987.

‘We distributed flyers at the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, the march where the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt was first displayed.’

Furthermore, Hutchins pointed out her BiNet ‘has been a small volunteer organization and never had the kind of funding the big gay lobbies have’.

‘Our biggest achievement was participating in the White House bisexual policy roundtables hosted by the Obama Administration,’ she said.

‘We were able to gather all the latest research on bisexuality and present it to federal policy-makers at various divisions in terms of recommendations we had for them about how to better serve bisexuals.’

But things have changed with Donald Trump’s administration.

‘Of course, when the new administration came in, all the bisexual information was wiped off the White House site and other federal sites.’

The loss of the loved ones

Being 70 means she has lost several people along the way.

‘I lost some beautiful lovers and friends back in the 90s, to AIDS,’ she said.

Hutchins tried to process her sorrow by writing about it in Bi Any Other Name.

‘More recently I lost Nan. It was a very unique relationship, not the so-called typical kind people expect of queer people.’

Nan is Nancy Logsdon Mandelkorn, passed away in 2015. Hutchins wrote some heartfelt verses about her.

The loves of her life

Hutchins also talked about the other big loves of her life.

‘I am single now. The biggest love of my life, in many ways, is Lani Ka’ahumanu, my co-editor [on Bi Any Other Name], someone I’ve never been lovers with. What I mean by that is that we have been loyal friends for 30 years and sustained our friendship bi-coastally over all that time,’ she explained.

‘Another big love of my life was a straight-identified man who was an erotic dancer, and a working-class gardener. He was a fabulous lover. We had some great adventures together.’

Loraine Hutchins: ‘Now I am my own best lover’

‘Bi and Proud’. | Photo: @centerbiplus/Twitter

How has her love and sex life changed now that she’s 70?

‘How has stuff changed?’ she laughed.

‘Well, now I am my own best lover. I’ve enjoyed wonderful sex in the past and have great memories.’

She teaches sex ed and is interested in the intersections between healing arts and sex work.

‘Pleasure is our birthright. Trusting that and embodying it is something else,’ she said.

‘We want our straight and gay friends to just relax’

When asked about the challenges faced by bisexuals today, she highlighted how the majority of people still seem to fail to recognize them as a reality.

‘What stymies me about bisexuality is how common and ordinary and prevalent it is, yet how much in denial people still are,’ she said.

‘It’s like humanity thinks it needs to choose sides and continue to fight about it. We wrote Bi Any Other Name to plead with people to stop fighting. We want our straight and gay friends to just relax and chill and let it be.’

Advice for the new bi generation

Moreover, she warned about the worrying studies on the bisexual part of the population.

‘Bisexuals are more at risk for suicide, rape, drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, and depression,’ she said.

‘When I saw the statistic that 45% of bi women have experienced sexual assault, I just wanted to curl up into a ball, pull the blanket over my head and die.’

Nonetheless, she seems positive about the future, now in the hands of the younger bi generation.

‘To 17-year-olds today just discovering they’re bisexual, you are so lucky to live in this time in history when the majority of young people are identifying as bi. Make the best of it.’

Read more from Gay Star News:

5 refreshing bisexual movies you need to watch this Bi Visibility Month

We need to talk about bi erasure in media: ever heard of the Unicorn Scale?

Matilda star Mara Wilson opens up on her ‘bisexual impostor syndrome’