Robyn Ochs has served the bisexual community, as an activist, educator, writer, speaker, and advisor. She is a co-founder of the Bisexual Resource Center and the Boston Bisexual Network. She also co-founded and co-chaired the LGBT faculty and Staff Group at Harvard University. She advocated for LGBT students, by serving as the faculty advisor for their Queer Straight Alliance (QSA.) Ochs has taught courses on various topics of the LGBTQ community at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Johnson State College, and Tufts University. She served 12 years on the Board of Directors of Mass Equality. She is an editor for the publication, Bi Women Quarterly.
Ochs has a BA in Language and Culture in Latin American Studies from State University of New York at Purchase. Ochs also has a C.S.S in Administration and Management and a M.E.d. from Harvard University.
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Interview of September 6, 2018
Alexandra Wang: What is your advice for those coming out as bisexual?
Robyn Ochs: The coming out process does not happen in a vacuum; it depends on the person’s environment. That person could face other types of challenges too. Family support will make it easier. The person needs confidence in order to come out. It helps to live in a progressive environment.
It will be much harder if the person isn’t living in a supportive environment and lacks confidence. Also they can or could face other forms of oppression. For example, a person with a disability might be isolated from their group or community if they come out as bisexual. This is true for some who is Muslim and comes out as bisexual. So, intersectionality is important.
My advice would be come out, even if it’s just to one person. Come out to more people, if it’s safe. Like everything else, practice makes it easier. It was my experience that the cost of silence was greater than the risks of coming out.
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Alexandra Wang: How can the coming out process be easier for people with disabilities or people who are Muslim?
Robyn Ochs: They should try to identify a community that will accept them. They should have some friends or peers who are going through similar experiences and are willing to support them.
Alexandra Wang: Can you explain how the “cost of silence” affected you?
Robyn Ochs: Remaining silent was painful for me. I felt as though I was suffocating. I feared that I was unacceptable. I lacked confidence, so it was hard for me. At first, I was confused about how to hold this identity.
Later, I realized it was largely an irrational fear. My family was much more accepting than I thought they would be. So coming out turned out better than I expected. Some members of my family were supportive, but did not understand what I was talking about. They did not understand bisexuality at all, so they responded with ignorance. There was not much information about bisexuality when I was younger. Some of they said: “I love you, but I wish you were straight.” Some of them were very uncomfortable, and worried what other people (their friends or in-laws for example) might think if they revealed that information.
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Alexandra Wang: Did you have peers who shared similar experiences?
Robyn Ochs: I have someone close to me whose biggest fear was how people might perceive him after coming out as bisexual. He was afraid that they would see him differently. He was afraid that they would only see him as bisexual. This is an issue for many people.
Alexandra Wang: Research has shown that many males have a hard time with coming out and identifying as bisexual. This is evident in your book, Recognize: The Voices of Bisexual Men. What can be done to help them?
Robyn Ochs: I would urge any man who identifies as bisexual and is in a safe position, to come out. This would benefit them and others. They would be role models. It could encourage other men to come out too. For example, when Alan Cumming, the actor, and singer-songwriter Frank Ocean came out as bisexual, this was helpful for everyone.
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Alexandra Wang: What can society do to help them?
Robyn Ochs: I would say that women who support bi men, and men who support bi men can help too. You don’t have to identify as a bisexual man to support bi men. You can be an ally, just as straight allies support the LGBTQ community.
Alexandra Wang: What are some beliefs that society taught you about bisexuality when you were growing up?
Robyn Ochs: I came of age before the internet, so there was no information about bisexuality when I was growing up. I heard of bisexuality once or twice before adulthood. There wasn’t anyone who openly identified as bisexual on TV, no roles that I knew of. I grew up in silence.
Alexandra Wang: How about in adulthood?
Robyn Ochs: At first, they were only lesbian groups, and they made it clear that I would have to choose being heterosexual or lesbian. Being bisexual wasn’t an option. They wanted bisexuals to pick a side.
Alexandra Wang: What can be done so that there is more awareness about bisexuality in both the heterosexual and lesbian and gay worlds?
Robyn Ochs: Information and resources about bisexuality should be made available to everyone, so that people can educate themselves. Bisexual groups and individuals can continue to make themselves more visible by attending events such as pride marches.
Alexandra Wang: You facilitate programs to help people understand sexual orientations and gender identities. What kind of approach should facilitators use?
Robyn Ochs: Facilitators should take care to make their classroom safe and welcoming for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities. One of my programs is called “Beyond Binaries.” In this program people fill out an anonymous questionnaire, providing information related to their sexual orientation and experience. The forms are collected, shuffled, and passed back out, and we look at the data, with each person representing a random person in the room. It’s a powerful tool to bust open the binary, and to show that we are diverse and complex.
Alexandra Wang: What can schools do to support students who are bisexual?
Robyn Ochs: Schools should have programs on bi+people, so that all groups in the bi+l are recognized and given a voice.
Alexandra Wang: What can students do raise awareness on bisexuality?
Robyn Ochs: Students can have panels on bisexuality. Bi+speakers can be invited to awareness events. Students can put up signs or have a parade around their school or campus to show bi visibility. Their voices must heard by the school community.
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Alexandra Wang: What can school counselors do to support students who are bisexual?
Robyn Ochs: School counselors should be familiar with bisexuality. They can educate themselves by learning about challenges bisexuals face, such as fear and marginalization.
Some therapists don’t acknowledge bisexuality. I’ve heard stories coming out to their therapist as bisexual being told that they are wrong, that bisexuality isn’t a legitimate identity, and they must be really and they must be really straight or lesbian. Therapists must acknowledge and be open to all types of sexual orientation and gender identities. This will allow the client to achieve good mental health.
Alexandra Wang: You co-founded the Bisexual Resource Center. What led to the founding of it? What was it like for you when it started?
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Robyn Ochs: The Bisexual Resource Center started as a “checkbook” to fund annual conferences in the Northeast United States. The first bi conference in the Northeast was held in Connecticut in 1983, and there were annual conferences for several years thereafter. In 1985 it became a 501(c)3 registered nonprofit organization which hosts support groups, and provides educational resources.
Alexandra Wang: You are the co-author of the book, Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals From Around The World. What was it like to hear international stories about other people’s experiences?
Robyn Ochs: It was exciting to get entries. It was moving to read people’s experiences all over the world. The biggest takeaway from this book was that we shared both commonalities and differences across cultural and geographical borders.
Alexandra Wang: Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. What can be done so that there is a larger representation of the bisexual groups?
Robyn Ochs: If possible people should march with the bisexual groups so that we are highly visible. Of course most people who identify as bisexual will march with other groups in the parade. If possible, they should carry bisexual flags and wear tee shirts with messages about bisexuality regardless of which group they march with. I marched with the bisexuals in the parade marking the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The group I marched with made efforts like that. By our presence, we raised awareness. We also had a lot of fun!
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Copyright by Alexandra Wang 2018. All rights reserved.