For our first installment of Bi+ Health Month 2022, Julie Morgenlender writes on finding (and creating!) the spaces in which she feels the most seen.
By Julie Morgenlender
We all have identities that we relate to strongly. Bisexuality and chronic illness are two of those for me. I am acknowledging my privilege here that I do not face racial discrimination. Some folks will want to find community that intersects with their identities related to race, religion, or something else, and my hope is that these tips will help you find those communities as well.
I remember the first time I was in a room full of bi+ folks and, for the first time, no one cared which pronouns I used. Even so, I went to many events before I finally stopped cringing, waiting for pushback, whenever I used gendered pronouns when I referenced a crush or former partner.
I remember the first time I was in a room full of people with chronic pain. I talked about feelings that had previously been dismissed or condemned and waited for a bad reaction, but I received only understanding and comfort. It took a while, but eventually this began to feel normal.
I remember the first time I met an LGBTQ+ person with chronic illness. Wait, there’s someone else like me out there?! I felt a connection immediately, because she understood these two parts of myself that so few understood even individually, and she could relate to both.
It has only been in the last few years that I have met bi+ folks with chronic illnesses. I am fortunate to have been able to find them. Part of this is because I am outspoken about both my bisexuality and my chronic illnesses, and that leads people to open up to me about these aspects of themselves. It’s hard not to be public about both, when I am on the Board of the Bisexual Resource Center and have recently published a bookabout living with chronic illnesses. Still, while I have a few friends who are bi+ and have chronic illnesses, and have found that some members of my local bi+ groups also have chronic illnesses, it’s been rare that I’ve encountered others. But then, someone posted in a bi+ Facebook group about having chronic illnesses and wow, what a response! It’s a large group, and it was clear that many people were looking for connections.
Some wonder why we look for these connections. Is it necessary to have people in our lives that share all of our identities? No, of course not. I identify as more than bi+ and having a chronic illness, but these are the two identities of mine that I feel are the most misunderstood and maligned, so having friends, acquaintances, and social media contacts who identify the same way and understand the struggles and the joys has been like coming home and snuggling under a cozy blanket. These are folks I can turn to when I’m struggling, and they will understand better than most. And I can be there to support them, too, which helps me at the same time. We understand each other’s situations, and not having to explain for the millionth time why bisexuality doesn’t mean having twice as large of a dating pool or that yes, it’s totally possible for someone who uses a wheelchair to be able to walk, removes a heavy burden and makes all of our interactions so much easier and more pleasant.
But how do you find others, aside from posting in a large group? And how do we form more intimate community, where deep conversations can take place? Consider if you are looking for a friendship, a support system or something else. There are a lot of possibilities, with many different kinds of relationships. Maybe you’ll form a friendship with one person but a different kind of relationship with someone else. Give it some thought, and be open to the possibilities.
One option is to create your own. My guess is that with some social media posts, word of mouth, posting at the local libraries and coffee shops, etc., a small group could be formed. It does not have to be a formal support group. Anything from a local Meetup group to a Twitter chat could provide the community that you’re looking for.* You could even start a blog, podcast, or YouTube channel. It takes work to run these, and they will start off small with often just one or two people, but the payoff could be well worth it.
Another option is to reach out within existing bi+ groups and ask if anyone has chronic illnesses, and to reach out in chronic illness groups to see if anyone identifies as bi+. Then ask if they’d like to hang out some time. Maybe see if they have any bi+ friends with chronic illnesses who would also like to join. If you aren’t open about your orientation or health status, try posting online anonymously. Comment on blogs and videos on these topics. Comment on tweets using an anonymous handle. It may be a bit harder at first, but there are a lot of people forming friendships online in the chronic illness community in this way.
If you are looking to develop friendships with these folks, remember that we are all complete people. We may bond initially over these shared identities, but we must also move beyond them. When I speak with my friends who are also bi+ and have chronic illnesses, we may talk about our latest health struggles, but we will also talk about one person’s job, or someone’s volunteer work, or a fight someone had with a sibling or spouse. It’s important to be friends primarily, with shared identities strengthening that connection, not defining it. That means we have to remember that just because we share these particular identities, doesn’t mean that we will necessarily be friends. There are all kinds of reasons that friendships fail to form.
There’s something comforting, reassuring, and beneficial about being around others who understand our journey. In chronic illness circles, I can reference being “low on spoons” and everyone understands. I don’t need to explain. It’s just like how in bi+ circles, if someone says an actor is cute, I can chime in with other actors that I think are cute, and no one questions why they aren’t all the same gender.
If finding or forming community with those who are bi+ and have chronic illnesses appeals to you, why not get started right now, this very minute? Search out Twitter hashtags, follow folks on Instagram, search for Facebook groups, email your family and friends to ask for tips, and you may be surprised at who you come across. It won’t happen overnight, so try not to get discouraged if you don’t find anyone who wants to talk to you right away, but if you keep at it, my guess is that sooner or later you’ll find someone. After all, there are a lot of us out there, and the world isn’t quite as big as we think it is. We’re all connected, so it’s a matter of effort and time, and not giving up.
This is only scratching the surface. I’m sure there are many ideas I haven’t included here. What other ways do you think people can find bi+ and chronic illness community? What has worked for you and what hasn’t? Please share by commenting on our social media posts and who knows? Maybe your idea will work for someone reading this!
*Author footnote: As always, be safe when meeting people in person. Also, it’s important to be clear when forming a group that it is not a support group run by a professional, unless you are a professional who is trained in this area, in which case you should mention that up front.