Why LGBT History Matters

tags: gay history, LGBT

I remember handing in my preliminary research on bisexual history to my history professor in college. I was so excited. I’ve always been a history nerd, spending my Saturdays reading in a comfy chair — my preferred M.O. over sports or anything else.

This paper was going to be a chance to delve deeper into the bits of history I had already picked up, a chance to nerd out over all things bi and queer. I remember walking into my professor’s office to pick up my prelim paper and talk things over. She gave it back to me, and it was covered in red ink. My heart sank in my chest. She said I would have to pick a new topic. According to her it was “too recent” because “gays and lesbians don’t really have much history before Stonewall” and it is more “mainstream” than bisexuals who “only started doing things in the 90s.”

I was shocked and didn’t know what to say. I asked if I could instead do my paper on transgender history. Again no. Again it was because transgender history “didn’t exist” or “wasn’t enough.” I could feel my heart cracking as I resigned myself to doing a paper on something else. The irony of the “LGBTA Safe Space” placard on the office door did not escape me. I felt humiliated, rejected and depressed as I drove home that day.

At home I looked over my research again. It was good. It was solid, and I knew I had a paper there. I wanted to prove her and everyone else who thought like that wrong. So alongside my ”official” paper on a suitably non-LGBTQ and boring topic, I researched bisexual history. I devoured books and documents, asked bi elders for input and wrote an A+ paper.

I first learned about the word bisexuality. Its current use (meaning attracted to more than one gender) was first used in 1892 by the American neurologist Charles Gilbert Chaddock, in his translation of Kraft-Ebing’s book, Psychopathia Sexualis. Before then it was used to mean intersex people, and before that it had been used in botany to describe how some flowers reproduce. From that I learned how bisexual people had reclaimed the word as our own, giving it new meaning and life...

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