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BobBI (Barbara) Keppel was born on December 6, 1932 in Washington, DC. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1955, but spent a year abroad at University College, London, where she remains a lifetime member of the Debating Society. A mother of two, she was a social worker for nearly 30 years. 

BobBI did not come out as bisexual until she was 43 years old. Throughout college, she only considered herself heterosexual. As she aged, she embraced the fluidity of her sexuality, and began looking for ways to model that fluidity for others. Of all her accomplishments within the bisexual community, BobBI is most proud of creating the Sexual and Affectional Orientation and Identity Scales (SAOIS) with Alan Hamilton. SAOIS draws on the Kinsey and Klein scales of sexual orientation to help users map out their sexuality across time. She uses the model in workshops, classes, and seminars to demonstrate the variety of sexual identities. 

In 1991, BobBI contributed to the anthology Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out, a book that propelled the bisexual rights movement forward. That same year, she co-founded the Unitarian Universalist Bisexual Network, which later merged into Interweave, the Unitarian Universalist queer organization. 

A prominent activist for safer sex, BobBI has presented and hosted workshops at leading conferences throughout the country. From 1999-2005, she was a safer sex advisor for the Bisexual Health Project in Boston, MA. In 2003, she was the first safer sex presenter at the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists’ conference. She also presented on safer sex at the National Joint Conference on Aging in 2004. 

BobBI is also a devoted fan of folk music. In 1962, she co-founded the Omaha Folk Song Society. Her home became a gathering place for people interested in folk music. As they crossed the U.S., fellow “folkies” could share music in exchange for a bed and meals. Although BobBI no longer lives in Omaha, the group she founded till gathers monthly to share music. 

BobBI currently lives in Portland, Maine, where she is a member of The Harbour Singers, a hospice choir that sings to people in end-of-life care. She claims that while her eyesight has deteriorated, her “vision of a better world for bisexuals+ is unlimited.” OUTWORDS interviewed BobBI on a pristine Maine morning in August 2016. Afterwards, buoyed by BobBI’s flinty strength and ineffable optimism, they enjoyed a feast of lobster rolls at a park overlooking Portland’s Back Cove. 
Mason Funk: [00:00:00] Just tell me your first and last names and spell them for me please.
BobBI Keppel: I'm Barbara, B-A-R-B-A-R-A, Keppel, K-E-P-P-E-L.
Mason Funk: Do you prefer to go by Barbara or Bobbi?
BobBI Keppel: Bobbi, B-O-B-B-I.
Mason Funk: I've seen your name spelled B-O-B Capital B-I. Can you spell that for me?
BobBI Keppel: Capital B-O-B capital B capital I.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] Capital B, Capital I. That's how you'd like it to appear if we make a compilation of these interviews, you'd like to be titled that way?
BobBI Keppel: I like to do that. It just gives people a little clue that, "It's not exactly what we thought."
Mason Funk: Tell me when and where were you born please. What kind of family were you born into?
BobBI Keppel: [00:01:00] I was born in 1932 in Washington DC, and my parents lived just outside the district in Maryland. When I was about two, they moved to a different town in Maryland which is now pricy suburbs; but in those days, it's where depression era barely-hanging-on-to-the- middle-class
BobBI Keppel: [00:01:30] folks lived, particularly a lot of people who worked in the government which my father did; and then, when the war broke out, my mother did too.
Mason Funk: What kinds, you have mentioned already your father was a nut.There was activism in the air. Tell me about that.
BobBI Keppel: Of course, some of it I was too young to know about.
BobBI Keppel: [00:02:00] In 1969 ,when the University of Massachusetts at Amherst desegregated their fraternities, my father said to me, "I was just 50 years ahead of my time because that's what I was trying to do when I was a student at Amherst," which would have been 1919. He was already launched as an activist.
BobBI Keppel: [00:02:30] I can't remember any time when he wasn't working around desegregation, around women's rights, and defense of Jews who were given a really hard time if they could get jobs in the government.He got into all kinds of problems because he was trying to organize government workers into a union,
BobBI Keppel: [00:03:00] United Public Workers. He was just always out there doing that kind of stuff. I just thought it was normal. I mean, my father does it, it must be normal.
Mason Funk: How about your mom, was she also an activist?
BobBI Keppel: I think she would have been-
Mason Funk: We need you saying my mom.
BobBI Keppel: My mom, she certainly was of an activist bent.
BobBI Keppel: [00:03:30] Her father, who emigrated from what's now the Czech Republic and was Czech, was a socialist. That's one of the reasons he emigrated. He was an activist, getting the carpenter's union going in New York City in the late 1800s. I think if my mom hadn't had to just work so hard to get recognized
BobBI Keppel: [00:04:00] and have jobs because she was a woman, she probably would have been more activist about other issues.Not that things are so great now for women, but compared with how they were back then And, of course, my older brother and I were both born during the great depression, so things were particularly tough.
BobBI Keppel: [00:04:30] Then World War II started, so both my parents were working in the government in DC.
Mason Funk: What kind of jobs did they have?
Kate Kunath: I'm going to make a small adjustment.
Mason Funk: Hold on one minute please. Mention your mom and dad, my parents, or my mom and my dad, and tell us what kinds of jobs they had in DC during the war.
BobBI Keppel: Let me back up because my dad started working in the Fish and Wildlife Service.
BobBI Keppel: [00:05:00] He was an economist by training, and he did graduate work in rural sociology as did mom. He got a job as an economist in the government in the Fish and Wildlife Service. It was in the Department of Agriculture, and then very shortly after he got in there, it moved over to Department of Interior.He told me that at the time that they moved to the Department of Interior,
BobBI Keppel: [00:05:30] there were no African-Americans working in the Department of Interior above the level of messenger, and there were no Jews in the Fish and Wildlife Service. Dad went down to the steno pool, they called it. He was entitled to have one stenographer and one secretary.He said to the head person there, "I want one of each [stenographer and secretary].
BobBI Keppel: [00:06:00] If they would be African-American or Jewish, that would be fine with me." She said to him, "You don't understand, Mister Russell. The Fish and Wildlife Service does not do that this way." My father said, "It's a government regulation, I do it this way. Send them up." He got one of each. That was held against him for all the years that he worked in the Department of Interior.
BobBI Keppel: [00:06:30] During the war, he decided to go over and work in War Production Board because he saw it as the golden opportunity to advance civil rights for people working in the government. The government was obviously expanding as part of the war effort. When he announced he was going over there, the secretary and the stenographer said, "We are going with you.
BobBI Keppel: [00:07:00] We will get crucified if we stay here without you." They went with him and then, at the end of the war, they came back. By that time, the government was shrinking back down and McCarthyism was on the rise. Somebody decided this would be an opportunity to get rid of my father as being un-American. Long story short,
BobBI Keppel: [00{07:30] he went through that whole process. He was suspended from government service after, of course, a secret hearing. He was without a government job for five years while the case went to the Supreme Court.
Kate Kunath: You had said that your dad had won.
Mason Funk: Back up a little bit and say he was essentially run out of his job.
BobBI Keppel: [00:08:00] He was McCarthyised out of his job.
Mason Funk: Sorry, my dad, start by saying
BobBI Keppel: My dad was, but it was really about his civil rights activism.
Mason Funk: Back up a little bit and start clean with "because of his civil rights activism, my father was run out of his job" and mention him, and then carry out with the court case then.
BobBI Keppel: [00:08:30] Because of his union activism and his advocacy for African-Americans and Jews in the Fish and Wildlife Service, there was real determination to get rid of him. McCarthyism was a wonderful opportunity to do that because the rules and regulations for suspending people or getting them out of government service were extremely loose.
BobBI Keppel: [00:09:00] The government order under which he was eventually suspended covers people with tendencies towards subversion, people with alleged tendencies towards subversion - that was my father - and homosexuals, all in the same regulation. If he asked for references, they would not say which of those three categories he was in.It really was about
BobBI Keppel: [00:09:30] his continuing activism to desegregate restaurants in DC, and that they were actually sitting in every Saturday in stores in DC that would sell items to African-Americans, but wouldn't serve them in their eating facilities. We found out, when we got a transcript of it,
BobBI Keppel: [00:10:00] that hearing, that in fact the Undersecretary of Interior was taken down on a Saturday to see that my father was actually sitting in in a restaurant.He was out for five years, and then there was a class action suit. At the end of five years, they won, and he was reinstated in his job. There were years of
BobBI Keppel: [00:10:30] all that hassle. I mean, I had an FBI record when I was 16. I discovered because a neighbor who didn't like my father told another neighbor when the FBI came around, she told them that I was a communist and my dad was a communist. Our other neighbors said, "Did you believe that?" and she said, "No, but I didn't like them."
Mason Funk: [00:11:00] I'm curious to know how your father, given the fact that this really does sound like it was a lifelong pursuit of his, this civil rights activism, where did he come by his activism? Was it religious? Was it faith based?
BobBI Keppel: Absolutely not faith based.
Mason Funk: Incorporate my question into your answer. In terms of how my father or where he got his activism
BobBI Keppel: Where my father got his activism, well, certainly not from his parents.
BobBI Keppel: [00:11:30] He should have had my mother's parents. My take in talking with my cousins is that my grandfather, my father's father, was sort of a tyrant and abusive. I think all of the kids, at one time or another,
BobBI Keppel: [00:12:00] got to be fairly oppositional, and somehow my father seems to have been the one that was the most oppositional.He had a very strong sense about justice and equality.
BobBI Keppel: [00:12:30] (He came from) one parent was generations Yankee, the other was generations Nova Scotian. How that came out? I don't know. It certainly wasn't faith based. He tried out the Unitarians, he said, when he was a teenager. His mother was a Unitarian, I discovered many years later. He was so upset
BobBI Keppel: [00:13:00] by how they wouldn't stand up against World War I, that he was very briefly Unitarian. He said, "They declared all these principles, but then they backtracked and I'm not willing to be there." I guess his passion was about equality.
Mason Funk: [00:13:30] In terms of your personal development, you mentioned you had an older brother. Is it true that by the time, you might not have been a communist per se, but by the time you were coming of age as a teenager, were you already taking an interest in political issues and activism, the issues of your day? In other words tell me about yourself as a teenager.
BobBI Keppel: [00:14:00] When I was a teenager, the sort of war between my parents got more extreme. When I was 14 My mother wasn't willing to be divorced because nice women didn't get divorced in those days. Her way out was to take a job with the State Department in Germany,
BobBI Keppel: [00:14:30] so she went off to live in Germany.It was a very difficult time. It was much more peaceful with my father because my mother was somewhat nuts, but it was a real struggle. I had to go to school full time,
BobBI Keppel: [00:15:00] I also was doing almost all the housework and most of the cooking. I had a full time job at home. It was hard to get time to play, not that I didn't want to. I did make that happen some, but it was a very abnormal
BobBI Keppel: [00:15:30] teenage period.The year my brother graduated from high school, he was one year ahead of me in school, he went to live for a year with mother in Germany which essentially meant he went to Germany and figured out ways not to be with my mother. Then he said, "You've got to come over for your year when you get out of high school."
BobBI Keppel: [00:16:00] I said, "No, I couldn't stand to live with mother," and he said, "You don't have to. Just get over here."I didn't find out for probably another 25 years that my mother had persuaded my father that he would allow each of
BobBI Keppel: [00:16:30] the children to spend a year with her in Germany. How that was decided beats me. She's the one that wanted it, and I'm sure my father was extremely worried about that. Anyway, I went over there. There I was, 17, getting on a ship in New Jersey and taking a ten day trip to Rotterdam
BobBI Keppel: [00:17:00] and figuring out how to get off the ship and on a train and get to Germany - not your average teenage job. All this was going on while my father was also scrapping with the government about his job. He hadn't been discharged yet.I had a German pen pal that I had started corresponding with when I was in high school.
BobBI Keppel: [00:17:30] I spent a lot of time hanging out with him. He was at the university in Frankfurt which is where mother lived. I'd visit his family. We had a big romance. That was nice.I realized eventually that I didn't want to live as a foreigner the rest of my life, going to Germany. I couldn't ask somebody
BobBI Keppel: [00:18:00] who'd already survived the rise of Nazism and had to serve in the German army to think about moving to the United States with Joseph McCarthy at the helm. Eventually I broke it off.In terms of being an activist, I didn't do a lot in high school. I was too busy doing
BobBI Keppel: [00:18:30] other things. However, out of those 1,700 students in my high school, I found Celia Stone whose father, I.F. Stone, was probably the best known radical news writer in the United States. When I asked her, "What does your father do?" she was very evasive.
BobBI Keppel: [00:19:00] Finally she said, "He writes for a newspaper in New York and then she told me his name is I.F. Stone and I said, "My father worships at your father's shrine. He reads every word your father writes."When I went home and told my father that this person that I'd struck up acquaintance with, and really liked,
BobBI Keppel: [00:19:30] was I.F. Stone's daughter, my father just practically burst his buttons. He was so pleased that I had found the absolutely right person out of my entire high school, so she was my best friend all through high school. Her father and mother were a team in terms of how they worked together around his job. I spent quite a bit
BobBI Keppel: [00:20:00] of time with them, which was really nice.By the time I got to college Two things happened. My father's distant cousin came from Nova Scotia to the States. He met her in New York at his brother's house. She wanted to do some research in the Library of Congress.
BobBI Keppel: [00:20:30] He said, "You can come and stay with me. I have friends who are librarians there in fact." She did, and they fell in love. Now I had a stepmother. When I came home from Germany, I found out when my parents got divorced, which was a five year battle, I would have a stepmother.She was absolutely wonderful, she changed my life.
BobBI Keppel: [00:21:00] You probably wouldn't know about this, but there was a movement during the Vietnam war, Women's Strike For Peace. She was one of the three women who started Women's Strike For Peace. No slouch that woman. She just was a very kind, warm person who
BobBI Keppel: [00:21:30] had never been interested in being married and had lots of women friends. She taught me a lot about being respectful of women that I never would have learned from my mother. That was really helpful.
Mason Funk: That was one thing.
BobBI Keppel: That was one thing. Another thing is that a bunch of people in Washington DC discovered the so-called Lost Law of Washington. In 1909
BobBI Keppel: [00:22:00] when the laws of DC were recopied, there was one law that was left out. That was the one that said that regardless of color, everyone had to be served in public eating places unless they were drunk and disorderly.A bunch of black and white folks got together and said, "Let's see if we can get this
BobBI Keppel: [00:22:30] law enforced," because at that time most eating places in DC were segregated. Dad was one of those folks. He was out. They would go to a restaurant and ask to be served, a mixed group of them. If they were refused they'd ask to see the manager and they brought out a
BobBI Keppel: [00:23:00] copy of the law Sometimes the manager said, "I didn't know it was the law. Okay." Sometimes they wouldn't; and if they didn't, they were in for a sit in. Eventually, they got the law enforced. As soon as I was home from college, my dad had me out on the street corner getting signatures on a petition
BobBI Keppel: [00:23:30] to reinstate the Lost Law. Yes, I was off and running on that.I will say that except for Celia Stone I really wasn't talking to anybody about my father's loyalty stuff. It didn't feel safe. It wasn't until I got to Oberlin College where there were other students whose
BobBI Keppel: [00:24:00] fathers, (I think they were all fathers), also were in trouble with McCarthyism, that I felt like there were other people I could talk with about it. It's a coming out experience, it's very much like coming out as being queer that making those judgments about can I talk about this, who can I talk about this with? What kind of troubles am I going to get into?
Mason Funk: [00:24:30] That's really interesting. You having to test the water and figure out where you can be safe, where you can't, where you're not safe. That's interesting.
BobBI Keppel: It was really interesting to me that one of my classmate's father was Alger Hiss' lawyer. If you want to talk about an unpopular position, that was it. She said,
BobBI Keppel: [00:25:00] "My dad's a lawyer and he got assigned the case."
Mason Funk: Where were you at, in terms of your own you mentioned just now being queer. Where were you at in terms of your own sense of being queer or not being queer or any awareness of being different with regard to your sexuality at this stage, maybe say in college?
Mason Funk: [00:25:30] Set us in the timeframe so we know what timeframe you're talking about.
BobBI Keppel: I started college in 19 51. The year I was in Europe was 1950/51, and I went to two different French boarding schools for one term each. I think part of what I got especially out, especially at the second one, which was the
BobBI Keppel: [00:26:00] only Protestant boarding school in France and the only coed boarding school in France, was I got a really immersive experience of being the other. It was very, very helpful to me in terms of my personal growth.At the second school, Le College Cevenol, it's in an area of France that's primarily Huguenot descendants.
BobBI Keppel: [00:26:30] The town where our boarding school is known to a lot of people now because it's the town that saved more than 1,000 Jewish children. Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. None of which was public at that time. It's still a big secret.It was immersive in terms of language because
BobBI Keppel: [00:27:00] essentially everything but my English class was taught in French. I was a foreigner. I was a foreigner at a time when French people really had it in for Americans around McCarthyism and we were way up in the mountains in rural France, not exactly my usual way.Happily for me, my roommate,
BobBI Keppel: [00:27:30] who was French from Algeria, loved to sing. She didn't speak English very well; I didn't speak French very well, but she taught me all of the popular songs of the day. We sang as we learned each other's languages, and that was really great.I think it's a really good experience in terms of being other,
BobBI Keppel: [00:28:00] to have that kind of immersion, and to be out of US culture, I think, was really good for me. I later on; I spent my junior year of college in England. At least I kind of spoke the language; it might be questionable to some Brits. I would say I didn't have any clues about being queer at that time.
Mason Funk: [00:28:30] Just one second please. Should we kill the fridge? The refrigerator just came on and I just want to check on the sound as to whether we should try to maybe just turn it off.
Kate Kunath: We could or we could do room tone with the fridge.
Mason Funk: We're going to record the sound of the room with the fridge running for post.
Kate Kunath: Room tone.
BobBI Keppel: I can't hear it.
Mason Funk: [00:29:00] We'll just have 30 seconds of just silence for the fridge.
Kate Kunath: [00:29:30] Okay.
Mason Funk: Is how you learned at a certain age to get comfortable with being other. Because I think the idea of learning what it feels like to be other ,and learning to get comfortable with that, is obviously really formative for any person, any person who's Any queer person. Does that make sense? I know that's a little bit broad,
Mason Funk: [00:30:00] but I wonder what your thoughts were on that word or are?
BobBI Keppel: I'm not sure that a person ever gets completely comfortable with being other. I guess maybe some people do. I think it's more a matter of learning to live with it. Feeling that
BobBI Keppel: [00:30:30] the choices I'm making are right for me and they may not fit for other people, but they're working for me. I think it's also I'll credit my stepmother a lot, Margaret, that she was one of the most
BobBI Keppel: [00:31:00] respectful people in terms of difference of anybody I've ever known. She was a very respectful disagreer. That would not be necessarily true for my In some ways that was not true for my father. I think he was much more openly feisty.
BobBI Keppel: [00:31:30] My stepmother really taught me a lot about being respectful of other women. I remember her telling me that she told my father, "I've gotten together with these same women friends for, I don't know, 25 or 30 years. I'm going to go ahead
BobBI Keppel: [00:32:00] getting together with them and you are not invited. That's just how it is."That really helped me understand about the priorities in relationships and about being as respectful of relationships with women as with men. That's in a time when culturally, 1950s,
BobBI Keppel: [00:32:30] it was all about catering, for women to cater to men and for, "I'll do something with my women friends, girl friends, unless somebody asks me out on a date."I think what my stepmother did was to set a different kind of standard for me about how that could be. It obviously worked with her
BobBI Keppel: [00:33:00] and my dad. As it turned out all of her friends absolutely loved my father. There was more integration than I might have expected. My stepmom still went off and did stuff.Mind you, this is a woman that was raised in Nova Scotia and at age 29, she got on a freighter to spend two years going around the world. It was cut short by World War II,
BobBI Keppel: [00:33:30] so she only spent a year; but she traveled, a woman alone, on a freighter. She went across the South Pacific. When she got to China, she got off on one side of China and she went, did it her way, by train across China and met the freighter weeks and weeks later on the other side, and she did the same in India. She's not your ordinary person. She was
BobBI Keppel: [00:34:00] extraordinary in many ways, although she didn't come off that way at all.
Mason Funk: Let me interrupt you here, if you don't mind. Because I wonder This world she introduced you to where for example you would respect your relationships with women just as much as your relationships with men. In any way, shape or form, did that
Mason Funk: [00:34:30] create a seedbed for you when you eventually came out as bisexual?
BobBI Keppel: I don't think I was as aware of that influence when I came out as bisexual.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, let me know what influence you're talking about when you start-
BobBI Keppel: The influence of my stepmother, Margaret,
BobBI Keppel: [00:35:00] to respect relationships with women as much as relationships with men and to make space for those relationships. Strangely enough, I married a man who had exactly the same beliefs. My husband
BobBI Keppel: [00:35:30] to be, he was then, and my stepmother got along great. My husband probably was the firmest feminist I met for many, many years. He didn't use the word, he wouldn't have necessarily described himself that way, but he absolutely believed in the equality. He certainly put his
BobBI Keppel: [00:36:00] money where his mouth was.When he found out (he was in graduate school at MIT), when he found out that his sister in California needed to go to summer school very intensively in order to get her teaching credential, and she had a two year old, my husband, (he wasn't my husband then), left Massachusetts the day school was out. Went to California, spent his entire
BobBI Keppel: [00:36:30] summer taking care of this two year old while her mother finished her degree. He came back just in time for opening class in Boston.I think one of the things that's really amazing to me is I only found out about that inadvertently. It wasn't something that it was a big deal to him. It was just,
BobBI Keppel: [00:37:00] "That's justice. The kid needs to have really good parenting and my sister needs to get this degree."How that all worked I'm not sure, but I certainly think that the experience of being different and having a lot of reinforcement about
BobBI Keppel: [00:37:30] being different certainly supported my thinking differently about relationships, and I was in different kinds of relationships. I was living, when I came out, I was already married. I was living with somebody who, if anybody could have coped, he was certainly the person who could say, "That makes sense to me." Okay.
BobBI Keppel: [00:38:00] I didn't hear anything in college about queer folks. It's not that there weren't any queer students at Oberlin at the time; but when I went to my first Lambda Alumni meeting and the students from the 50s were all seated at a table, supposedly recording oral history,
BobBI Keppel: [00:38:30] we just all started laughing because essentially nobody knew anything.One of the fellows, who was the first out Minnesota legislator, said when he was a student he had straight roommates, and it is only much later they ever had a conversation about the fact, this.
BobBI Keppel: [00:39:00] I found out more about the history, and I know the person who wrote the queer history of Oberlin College, who also wrote the queer history of Stanford University.I know there was quite a bit going on, but Lambda Alumni met at a different time of year. They met in the fall during Coming Out Week because they didn't
BobBI Keppel: [00:39:30] want to meet in June or May during graduation week because that would be way too iffy. People were not ready to be out. Now, it's not an issue. Everybody all meets together, but that's because more people are out.
Mason Funk: Tell us about meeting You described your husband. Let's jump forward, because you referenced it
Mason Funk: [00:40:00] somewhat in passing, when you came out to him as bi. I assume that's what you meant. Tell us where you were at in your relationship and roughly how old you were. I think you had a couple of kids. What was going on in your life when the circumstances arose that led you to come out to your husband as bi?
BobBI Keppel: I came out as bi
BobBI Keppel: [00:40:30] about 1975, that would mean we had a 13 year old and 10 year old. At that point, I was taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity provided by the University of Nebraska at Omaha
BobBI Keppel: [00:41:00] that faculty spouses could take 12 credit hours a year tuition free at the university. That seemed too good to be true. I went and I took a course in the North American archeology and one in clothing construction. This was before I hit the School (of) Social Work.
BobBI Keppel: [00:41:30] There was a Women's Resource Center that was started by women students, most of them middle aged and going back to school. I was spending And it was the rise of feminism, it was the '70s. there was a lot of women's activity going on among middle aged and older students and
BobBI Keppel: [00:42:00] faculty. Women got themselves organized to have this Women's Resource Center, and I was volunteer staff for it.They asked me to be the mediator because there was a real class difference as well as age difference among the students who were using the Women's Resource Center and there were a lot of misfires. Somehow, I got appointed
BobBI Keppel: [00:42:30] mediator. I spent a lot of time there mediating, and I spent a lot of time hanging out with women. There was a women's organization that formed up.It being Omaha and Nebraska, it was unique, I think, in that we had women of all flavors. Older, younger, not much in way of color.
BobBI Keppel: [00:43:00] Big differences in class and straight women, bi women and lesbian women, I-don't-know women, all mixed up together. We would do these weekend retreats, and we all hang out together and do workshops and play and sing and dance and all that.What really turned the tide,
BobBI Keppel: [00:43:30] which you can read about in Bi Any Other Name, because that's my coming out story, is I wanted to take out a wall in our house and remodel the kitchen, I'd gotten interested in doing woodworking. I knew a young woman who
BobBI Keppel: [00:44:00] lives in Maine, and lived in Maine then, who was a carpenter and a family friend. She came to start me on this carpentry project. She kept migrating over to the University to various women's activities. We lived right across the park from the University. Pretty soon she had chummed up with somebody and she came out to me as being a lesbian.
BobBI Keppel: [00:44:30] I went to college and majored in psychology when everybody knew that being queer was sick - before 1972. I thought: "I've known her since she was a kid. I know the whole family. There's nothing sick about them. I think I need to rethink this.
BobBI Keppel: [00:45:00] I rethought it and then I met some women including the woman she was chumming up with, who were bi. I thought, "That's what fits for me," because I certainly knew I wasn't lesbian. As one of my friends said later, it's like I opened the door to another part of me, but I didn't close the door behind me.
BobBI Keppel: [00:45:30] I got a crush on another woman and all that stuff. As soon as I figured it out, naturally the first person I would tell would be my husband. He said, "Well, what's that like for you?" I said, "It's like coming home in my own body." He said, "That sounds wonderful." Okay.
BobBI Keppel: [00:46:00] I came out to the kids separately. My daughter, who was 13, said, "I didn't know there was a name for people like us." Turned out she'd figured it out when she was five. She said the very first
BobBI Keppel: [00:46:30] sexual inklings that she had, it was clear to had she was attracted to males and females. She probably classifies things a little differently now, and she even, when we went to visit the friends where she got this figured out, she said, "This couple are really androgynous and I was aware at five that I was attracted to both of them." Okay.
BobBI Keppel: [00:47:00] I came out to my 10 year old son. He looked sort of grim and said, "I asked you if you were a lesbian and you said no." I said, "Aha." He thought about it, he was a very thoughtful kid, said, "Right. That's what you just explained to me, you're not a lesbian.
BobBI Keppel: [00:47:30] Right." I said, "Yeah, and at the time I didn't know I was bi. Now I do." "Okay, that's fine."
Mason Funk: What made you, just out of curiosity, your kids were 13 and 10 when you came to this realization within yourself, what was the decision making process to come out to them then as opposed to,
Mason Funk: [00:48:00] "Oh, they're young, they don't need to know," or whatever the case might have been, whatever excuse another person might have used or reasoning another person might have had for not telling her children? What led you to think, "This is something that I'm going to share with my kids?" Preface it please by saying, "When I realized that I was bi " just so we know what we're talking about.
BobBI Keppel: When I realized I was bi, it wasn't really much of an issue
BobBI Keppel: [00:48:30] about whether or not I was going to come out to my husband and children. Part of that is that our children are very, I realize now, were very unusual, in that they were way old for their ages. I don't believe in having family secrets. I think it's really, really destructive of families.
BobBI Keppel: [00:49:00] I know it's really destructive of families. I have lots of first hand experience.They were very precocious children. They would We talked about everything else. That would be something we would talk about.
BobBI Keppel: [00:49:30] I don't think that we said anything to them about don't talk about it. I think we did say that a lot of people probably wouldn't understand, but I think they already knew that. They had a lot of thoughtfulness.We lived in a neighborhood where almost everybody was
BobBI Keppel: [00:50:00] Roman Catholic and all the kids in the neighborhood went to parochial schools except ours. The kids already had quite a bit of experience of being out of step with everybody else. This was just another way.
Mason Funk: In terms of the dynamics between you and your husband, you've described him as being possibly the most ardent feminist you knew for a long time.
Mason Funk: [00:50:30] Did it worry you or did it worry him that you coming out as bi might threaten or undermine your marriage, that you might for example fall in love with somebody else to the point where you wanted to be full time with that person? Was that a concern of yours or his at any point? Again, please frame what you're talking about as you answer.
BobBI Keppel: [00:51:00] The question is did my coming out threaten the marriage. No. I think because we talked about it so openly and because we We already were pretty good negotiators. We negotiated about who spends what kind of time with whom.
BobBI Keppel: [00:51:30] Our children say it's good to have parents who are not joined at the hip. They were used to our doing stuff on our own and doing stuff together.If mom goes off to the national Unitarian Universalist convention,
BobBI Keppel: [00:52:00] dad stays home with the kids. That's fine. He's a perfectly competent parent. They don't need to have me there. If he goes off to some chemistry thing, I stay at home with the kids. That's fine.We had evolved, I think, a pretty good working relationship around each of us doing things with other people so we weren't together.
BobBI Keppel: [00:52:30] Bob might be off with friends doing something, and I wouldn't go, or I might be off with friends doing things, and he wouldn't go.We had our own friendships separately, and then we had our friendships together. I think of the women I was involved with,
BobBI Keppel: [00:53:00] they were women that he really liked. That was good.
BobBI Keppel: [00:53:30] That was fine.We tried different things, and then we'd come back and say, "How did that work? How much do you want to know about this other relationship?" We'd try some level, "I want to know more or actually I want to know less." Then we negotiate for difference. We were always in negotiation
BobBI Keppel: [00:54:00] about something or other. I don't think this was It sounds really different to other people, but it wasn't like it was precedent setting for us. We'd already learned how to do that stuff and how to teach our children how to negotiate, which was really important. One of them is a primo negotiator.
BobBI Keppel: [00:54:30] It worked for us. I have no idea what would have happened long term. In 1980, while my husband was away at a summer conference, I got a call saying, "He seems to be having a stroke. We're taking him to a hospital." I got a call from the hospital saying,
BobBI Keppel: [00:55:00] "He's lost consciousness. We can't handle it here in this little town, we're sending him to a bigger hospital."With no warning at all, I found out by midnight that night that he had an inoperable brain tumor, and he died the next day. I was home in
BobBI Keppel: [00:55:30] Nebraska, one kid was living with friends of ours in Canada, another kid was living with friends of ours in Boston, and my husband was in Wisconsin. Everybody was in a different place. This was before the internet. Everything had to be done by phone.The surgeon who operated and found out that he had a
BobBI Keppel: [00:56:00] big bilateral brain tumor said, "He's had it five to ten years, probably more like ten. It's always been inoperable." (The first successful operation for that kind of brain tumor has happened less than a decade ago.) It's nothing that could be done. None of us ever saw him again.
BobBI Keppel: [00:56:30] How much that influenced what was going on in the family, I haven't a clue. I knew he was getting dysfunctional, but nobody could figure out what that was about. He was still teaching. I talked to somebody who was his student the last semester he taught. He died 6th of July.
BobBI Keppel: [00:57:00] She had classes with him up to the beginning of June. She said it was the best professor she ever had, with a full-blown brain tumor.Life is what happens when you're making other plans. Suddenly I was a single mom of two teenage children.
BobBI Keppel: [00:57:30] I have no way of knowing how it would have been different if he hadn't died and we had to work out other stuff. I was in a fairly intense relationship with another woman at the time.
BobBI Keppel: [00:58:00] I don't know that that would have undermined the marriage. It certainly wouldn't have undermined it in a way that a brain tumor did.
Mason Funk: How are we for time?
Kate Kunath: We have 36 minutes on this card.
Mason Funk: Let's just swap cards real quick. We're just We just happened to have some French renters, tenants.
Mason Funk: [00:58:30] Our house manager in Palm Springs is also French. I had said at one point in a short message to our tenant, and I wrote in French, "If you wish you can communicate with us in French." Of course, he responded in French and I'm going, "What's he saying?" I think I can understand the good news and the bad news which is they had a lovely time, but the air conditioning didn't work correct.
Mason Funk: [00:59:00] [French] I think that means it blows air, [inaudible] meaning the air wasn't cold-
BobBI Keppel: Cold enough, yeah.
Mason Funk: [Inaudible] The green, I think-
BobBI Keppel: In the garden.
Mason Funk: The unit in the garden I think is stopped. It's bad. We left at the end of the morning, but overall they say they had, [inaudible] Let me know if I can do anything. They had a good-
BobBI Keppel: [00:59:30] Next time get Portuguese ones.
Mason Funk: Fortunately Marylyn, our house manager is copied on this. She'll understand everything because she's a native French speaker. It's good practice for me as well, a little bit. Kate, tell me when you're ready.
Kate Kunath: Ready.
Mason Funk: We're ready.
BobBI Keppel: You wanted to know about how do you learn to negotiate?
Mason Funk: And this important metaphor in particular.
BobBI Keppel: [01:00:00] What Connie pointed out to me, Conrad
Mason Funk: Tell me who is Conrad
BobBI Keppel: Conrad works as a child psychologist. He and his wife and the Keppels have been friends, have been friends for, I don't know, like 50 years. Close to anyway. They used to live in Omaha when we lived in Omaha. Then they lived in Des Moines and we would get together in Omaha. Then they moved to Maine, and they're a major reason that I moved to Maine because I had connections.
BobBI Keppel: [01:00:30] They were some of the connections.Conrad was teaching me about how to teach our kids to negotiate. He said, "The kid comes in and says, "I'm going to the moon." You say, "You can play on the front porch."
BobBI Keppel: [01:01:00] The kid says, "I'm going to Cape Canaveral to watch the moon launch." You say, "You can go to the end of the sidewalk." The kid says, "I want to go to Florida,"
BobBI Keppel: [01:01:30] and you say, "You can go to the edges of our yard."You keep negotiating back and forth. The parent has to take a more extreme position than where they're willing to end up; and you keep going back and forth. The kid wants to go to some place that's the other side of the busiest street
BobBI Keppel: [01:02:00] in Omaha and I say, "You can go around the block." The kid says, "I want to go as far as the library," and you say, "You can cross the street." You finally end up with, "Yes, you may ride your bike to the library, but you have to walk it across Dodge Street. It's not safe to go across Dodge Street on a bike."
BobBI Keppel: [01:02:30] Armed with that, I'd always started with the position where I thought I was willing to end up and drawing a line in the sand. This taught me not to do that, but to start with being more restrictive and then negotiate toward something that's more
BobBI Keppel: [01:03:00] reasonable while the kid who wants to walk around the United States by himself, at whatever age, comes to something also more reasonable.Now that we're all more or less adults, I think it's more that we start with
BobBI Keppel: [01:03:30] a flexible base position. I don't feel like I need to get really extreme, but I also need not to draw a line in the sand, and my kid likewise or my friend or whomever. We just do that until we can come to some They might be, like I can remember,
BobBI Keppel: [01:04:00] my son was here in the middle of winter. He wanted to go to New Hampshire to visit friends of ours and stay with them and I didn't want to go because those friends' house was always freezing cold, and I don't like being cold. He said ... He just finally said to me, "Well, you're dragging your feet about going. I want to go, but I want you to go too. My deal is if their house is uncomfortably cold, I will arrange to have some other accommodation
BobBI Keppel: [01:04:30] for you so you will be comfortable. How about that?"I said, "I'll be ready in 20 minutes." Off we went. What I didn't realize this friend had changed things around at their house. I was in the two warmest rooms in the house which were more than snug. My son got to go and do the things that he wanted to do in New Hampshire. There you go.
Mason Funk: [01:05:00] That's a good makes a lot of sense. I think most people probably think, just like you said, "I'm going to start off where I want to end up," as opposed to, "I'm going to start off in a sense more extreme than where I am happy to end up." That way, when you get to that middle point, both people feel like they've given and gotten I would guess.
BobBI Keppel: Yeah, because they have. I think it teaches all of us to be more reasonable and to entertain
BobBI Keppel: [01:05:30] more possibilities because my son periodically will come up with some solution that I wouldn't have thought of. But since we're in negotiation
Mason Funk: Tell me about Let's go back to Omaha, around the time that you're coming out to your husband and your kids. There are other bi people around. That's one of the ways that you, I guess, found out that this was right for you.
Mason Funk: [01:06:00] There must have also been, I'm guessing, maybe I'm wrong, was there a sense of isolation I guess what I'm leading towards is wanting to have you talk about how a bi community came to be a reality for you and what its importance was for you. Maybe you can take us on a little bit of a trajectory from your first awareness and your first coming out as bi as an individual person and how you moved towards a more community based experience of being bi.
BobBI Keppel: [01:06:30] I wouldn't say that Omaha ever had a bi community. I didn't have any experience of being in a bi community. I had an experience of being in a feminist community where some of the
BobBI Keppel: [01:07:00] people were bi. I finished graduate school in 1979 and I started in practice as a clinical social worker in 1980, actually right after Bob died.
BobBI Keppel: [01:07:30] I had secured the job, I hadn't started yet.One of the things that happened was that I started talking with women, some of them as clients, sometimes just because they knew me in the feminist community. I was talking with women who said, "I came out as a lesbian which means I left my spouse
BobBI Keppel: [01:08:00] and, in some cases, I left my children. All this. My world really changed, and now I realize, now that I've gotten over being angry, that I'm still attracted to men or I'm attracted to men again. I don't know what to do with that." It wasn't like
BobBI Keppel: [01:08:30] I could say, as I could in Boston, "There's a bi community. You might want to go and explore that."I don't have any hard answers about that except these women would say, "I've already given up one family. Now I've got this lesbian family. I don't want to give up my lesbian family. I know if I come out as bi, a lot of
BobBI Keppel: [01:09:00] people will shun me." In some cases, that's certainly what happened. Since I didn't come out as a lesbian, I didn't have to worry about that because I am not now nor have I ever been a lesbian.I guess, I'm just so used to getting through tough times. This was just
BobBI Keppel: [01:09:30] another tough time. I had close friends I had to go through this whole process about who do I come out to, partly because we have a lot of family friends. How we deal with that? Then other people.Part of what was really amazing about this was as I came out to people, both male
BobBI Keppel: [01:10:00] and female friends, an amazing number of them figured out that they were bi too, and this was really funny. It was just like they could never own those feelings until they heard somebody else say it was okay. It's real and you can be like this.
BobBI Keppel: [01:10:30] It's not like bi is a word that shows up very many places, so it's hard to know whether you can even discuss it.It was, and I think it still sometimes is, really difficult to know where and how
BobBI Keppel: [01:11:00] to be out as bi. There isn't really a bi community in Maine. I know bi people in Maine, I know lots and lots of queer people in Maine, and some of them are willing to associate with me even though I'm bi. It's been interesting to me that people who used to sort of
BobBI Keppel: [01:11:30] give me the shun because I was bi, have somehow discovered that that's not appropriate and that maybe there's more understanding now of the fluidity of sex and gender and orientation in a way that there wasn't before.I was down, this is a jump,
BobBI Keppel: [01:12:00] I was down in Boston meeting with students who were, they were getting their certification in clinical pastoral counseling. They asked me earlier this year to come down and spend half a day with them answering their questions about bisexuality, which was mostly tell us your story.
BobBI Keppel: [01:12:30] At some point, forgetting that there was an endocrinologist in the room who is doing this program, I made a rather rash statement which was that, "If you haven't rethought what you understand about "
Mason Funk: Could you backup a little bit.
BobBI Keppel: I said, "If you haven't rethought how you understand sex in the last three years,
BobBI Keppel: [01:13:00] you're terribly out of date because what we understand about sex and gender has changed so radically in the last couple of years." Then I thought, "Oops, there's an endocrinologist in the room. I didn't see her doing anything negative. When we had a break, I said to her, "Was that too radical a statement?" and she said, "Absolutely not.
BobBI Keppel: [01:13:30] If you're not reviewing what we know about sex and gender and orientation, essentially on a daily basis, you're out of date because the science of understanding all those things is just amazingly different. All these things, we couldn't find out about before. Now we know."
Mason Funk: What are some examples of that?
BobBI Keppel: [01:14:00] A lot of it has to do with fluidity. When I took biology back in the middle ages we knew about two sexes. You're male or you are female. Or, if you got really radical, you also understood there was, you could be an XO which means essentially one of the genes isn't
BobBI Keppel: [01:14:30] active and the other one takes over for both positions.About maybe ten years ago I was talking with a friend of mine who's a genetic counselor and I said, "How many sexes are there? I hear two, three, five, seven, give me a clue?" She said, "Infinite number." I was just amazed. She said, "Just for starters you can be XX or
BobBI Keppel: [01:15:00] XY, but you can be XXYY, you can be XXXYYY, all these different permutations and combinations." I had no idea. That works up until you have five, you can have five extra chromosomes, X or Y or both, and then at six the fetus is not viable.
BobBI Keppel: [01:15:30] I used to be a statistician. I started thinking about how many combinations there were. Then I thought about, she said, "We're just talking about the genetic material. Then we have to talk about the hormones." That's where a huge change in our understanding has happened now, is understanding, and we're still working on it,
BobBI Keppel: [01:16:00] what's happening in the hormonal bath in which this fetus is developing.If you want to get the quick and dirty about this, there is a family in Maine whose last name is Mains. There's a book about them called "Becoming Nicole." They thought they were adopting identical twin boys,
BobBI Keppel: [01:16:30] one of whom is now a young woman. The person who wrote "Becoming Nicole" whose last name is Nutt, N-U-T-T, writes very clearly about what we understand about how even what we think of as identical folks from the same egg
BobBI Keppel: [01:17:00] are developing in utero and could have differences in the hormonal bath.It depends on where are you in the uterus and, I don't know, whether you turn right or left or something. There are all these possibilities that we never could understand before which now we do understand. There are other factors
BobBI Keppel: [01:17:30] besides and there's environmental stuff, and we don't know about that either.I can't anymore think about either/or for sex or gender. I know people who are all over the place in terms of how they think about their own gender, and then they are all over the place about how they
BobBI Keppel: [01:18:00] express their gender, and those two things are not the same. I sure didn't get that when I took biology.I think more and more people are understanding that not only is there all this variation, but it's fluid. How I express my gender when I'm going to some fancy
BobBI Keppel: [01:18:30] dinner is probably different from how I express it when I'm, as I was, being a carpenter remodeling my house or building my friend's house up in New Brunswick.
Mason Funk: That' great. That's really fascinating. I actually did a documentary 13 years ago about female to male transsexuals as we call them in that timeframe. I profiled a woman
Mason Funk: [01:19:00] who was transitioning to male, but who was an identical twin. That was 13 years ago. Even then there were little inklings about how, as someone I think explained to us, hormonally in utero she could have experienced, because from day one they popped out. One girl wanted to be a cheerleader. She just was your prototypical, stereotypical female, and Rachel who became Ryan was a wrestler. Day one.
BobBI Keppel: [01:19:30] It's fascinating to me. I was sitting next to a woman I know whose now-daughter transitioned fairly recently. She's a young adult. We have somebody in our group who has identical twin great grandsons. I said, "We have twins in our family now because my cousin just had
BobBI Keppel: [01:20:00] one generation down, just had twins." Then I said, "One boy and one girl," and I turned to this woman and I said, "So far." She just cracked up because, yeah, you don't know.
Mason Funk: So far. Interesting. Tell us about the importance then of the book that eventually,
Mason Funk: [01:20:30] I'm not sure what, let's see, when was it, '91 when it was first published, Bi Any Other Name?
BobBI Keppel: I don't know, it's over there, something like-
Mason Funk: They just celebrated 25th, they just reissued it for its 25th anniversary, so it would have been '91. Tell us about the importance of that book in terms of the formation of a nationwide awareness and the beginnings of a bisexual community in the states.
BobBI Keppel: I don't know a lot about the bi
BobBI Keppel: [01:21:00] community. I hear bits of history from friends, particularly friends from northern California where there seems to have been the biggest groundswell of bi activism. By the time I met Lani Ka'ahumanu and Loraine Hutchins,
BobBI Keppel: [01:21:30] I think that was probably in '88, at an East Coast Bi Network conference that was in Boston. ECBN was the organization which later became the Bisexual Resource Center.Lani and Loraine were there because they were trolling for folks to write their
BobBI Keppel: [01:22:00] coming out stories for Bi Any Other Name. They heard me talking with somebody, and (I) it made them decide they should ask me to do that, and I did. There were already networks, there was a Boston It was Boston Bi Women. There was the East Coast which you'll find out all about from Robyn Ochs, because she's a founding
BobBI Keppel: [01:22:30] mother. There was the East Coast Bi Network. There certainly was a lot going on in San Francisco. Particularly for the west coast folks, there were a lot of people I actually never got to meet because they died of AIDS.By the time I was getting into the scene, AIDS was rampant.
BobBI Keppel: [01:23:00] There was a lot of stuff about prevention. There was a lot of pullingtogether to try to get enough I think farsighted people like Lani really saw how important it was to build a community because that's the way you get people to work together to do, among other things, to do prevention.
BobBI Keppel: [01:23:30] The thing about that book was first of all it was-
Mason Funk: Say, "The thing about the book Bi-"
BobBI Keppel: The book Bi Any Other Name-
Mason Funk: Start fresh.
BobBI Keppel: The thing about Bi Any Other Name, it was very timely and they made a very conscious decision to try to get representatives,
BobBI Keppel: [01:24:00] as much variety of representatives as they could. I know that somebody I met in Maine said his therapist handed him this book and said, "I want you to go through and read all the men's stories before you see me again, and then come back in and we'll talk about your identity." Duh.He said, he was just blown away.
BobBI Keppel: [01:24:30] They did rural and urban and north and south and east and west and male and female and so on. The luck of the draw for me was I wrote about ageing. That made two of us who wrote about ageing. The other one is actually somebody that I knew; died a long time ago.
BobBI Keppel: [01:25:00] That made me the point person, unbeknownst to me, "if you want to talk about bisexuality in ageing talk to Bobbi." That's worked really well for me because people ask me. I remember somebody saying, "What do you do about children if you're bi and poly and blah, blah, blah? Nobody ever writes about that."
BobBI Keppel: [01:25:30] That's when Anything That Moves was a magazine that was out, a bi magazine. I wrote about how do you handle relationships, children and your partners, blah, blah.Like everybody else I keep ageing. I'm on the edge of the oldest people that are out and bi
BobBI Keppel: [01:26:00] which works really well for me because I get to go and help people understand about what's different about being older and being bi. A big piece of that, not surprisingly, is lack of community.It's not just that we lack community. It's also that
BobBI Keppel: [01:26:30] we have to deal with other people who are not bi, but are our age mates and our activity mates. For instance, if I move into a retirement community, does that mean I have to stay in the closet about being bi? Even if I move into a retirement community that has lesbian and gay folks in it, that doesn't mean that anybody's
BobBI Keppel: [01:27:00] going to accept the fact that I'm bi. "What does that mean?" I've had to make a decision about being in senior college, and I'm not very out at senior college. There are a bunch of people at senior college who know that I'm bi because they know me other ways, but in the whole history of our local senior college, there's only been one course that has
BobBI Keppel: [01:27:30] dealt with homosexuality, and none with anything else.That continues to make it very, very tough. For people like me, being able to go to Boston and to hang out in a community that essentially is all bi is wonderful, and is a good reason to take Amtrak
BobBI Keppel: [01:28:00] and get the 50% senior discount and go to Boston and hang out with my bi friends and acquaintances and meet other bi folks. Again, I don't meet many people who are anywhere near as old as I am.I think that Bi Any Other Name was sort of the
BobBI Keppel: [01:28:30] It was a connector for a lot of people. People went to different conferences; there would be book readings and that kind of thing. I found my essay was titled "Gray Hair and Above Suspicion", which described an incident - me and a friend in Provincetown on the beach.
BobBI Keppel: [01:29:00] Beach patrol just ignoring what we were doing because we were gray haired and, therefore, above suspicion.I would be introduced to people as Bobbi Keppel; complete blank, and then the person (introducer) would say, "Gray Hair and Above Suspicion" Everybody knew who I was. Still happens sometimes. We also, there are
BobBI Keppel: [01:29:30] some very enterprising people, organized international bi conferences and regional bi conferences.I think that helped a lot of us feel like we had more of a community and that it wasn't just where we were. This is before the internet. I think now it wouldn't be, it certainly wouldn't be anything like the big deal
BobBI Keppel: [01:30:00] it was then, but to actually I remember going to the North American Bi Conference and Robyn Ochs was my roommate and another roommate was from Seattle. I've forgotten the other one, but anyway we all were connected and we stayed connected.That's important part of feeling like it was okay to be bi,
BobBI Keppel: [01:30:30] is there were numbers. To encapsulate that: we had one of the international conferences was at Harvard. It was organized by Wayne Bryant who wrote the book on how to organize international conferences, and we had almost 1,000 people there.I contacted a friend of mine who lives up north in Maine and is bi and
BobBI Keppel: [01:31:00] said, "You need to go to this because you may never get another chance like this. I will arrange some place for you to stay so you won't have to pay for board." A couple of days into this conference, I was walking back to Harvard to the next session, so I said, "How's it going for you?" He just looked at me and he said,
BobBI Keppel: [01:31:30] "It's the first place I've ever been where I felt I could just open my mouth and say what I thought without stopping to think about it."That was in a workshop of bi married men. He said, "The other thing - I walked in." There were probably 700 people in a room at the time, "And I realized however
BobBI Keppel: [01:32:00] I presented myself, I would still be about in the middle of the group in terms of people's gender presentations." He said, "I never thought I'd see the day." He said, "I could be the most exotic I know how to dress; I'd still be more or less in the middle of this group."
Mason Funk: [01:32:30] Sorry, one second.
Kate Kunath: That you needed to have that relationship with a woman.
BobBI Keppel: Where do you want me to start on that? You want me to rephrase that or is that a question-
Mason Funk: If you can say when I was still married and essentially began having relationships or began a relationship with a woman.
Kate Kunath: Or after I came out to my husband or something like that.
BobBI Keppel: [01:33:00] Pardon me?
Mason Funk: Or after I came out to my husband as-
BobBI Keppel: After I came out to my After I came out to my husband, I was still very much in love with him, and I was interested in exploring
BobBI Keppel: [01:33:30] being sexual with other women or another woman. It's not all about sex. I got kidded a lot at the time by my close friends.
BobBI Keppel: [01:34:00] It was a good fit. I think, for me,
BobBI Keppel: [01:34:30] it's really not so much about gender as it is about how do we fit together. Let me say, it's like having a shopping list and when we're born our parents are worried about They assume we're probably (maybe not anymore) they used to assume we were going to grow up and get married and we were going to get somebody the same race,
BobBI Keppel: [01:35:00] same class, same religion, blah, blah, blah.Over the years we make our own list, and very often it doesn't have any or many of those towards the top of the shopping list, and I'm looking for somebody who is very compassionate, has good sense of humor, all the things that are Musical, smart,
BobBI Keppel: [01:35:30] all those kinds [of] things, that's what matters to me. Somewhere in there is sex and gender, but that isn't The deciding factors are other.
BobBI Keppel: [01:36:00] I have close friends with whom I'm not lovers, but we're just a good fit for each other. Does that answer your question?
Kate Kunath: Not exactly. I'm wondering how the two relationships compare to one another. What were you getting from your relationship with the woman that you were not getting from your husband and vice versa? I understand that they're a good fit with you, but I wonder how they
Kate Kunath: [01:36:30] complemented each other and that you were seeking out different types of relationships with different people. They have a lot of similarities, so it makes sense that you would be in love with both of them, but what are the distinctions between What were they both giving you?
Mason Funk: The complementarity is a great way to say it The complementarity, maybe
Mason Funk: [01:37:00] In other words, this is just to rephrase Carry on. I don't need to rephrase Kate's question.
Kate Kunath: Maybe it was just the sex. Maybe you wanted to have sexual relations with a woman and that was it.
BobBI Keppel: [01:37:30] No, I think what I wanted was to have This is true of both men and women. I'm not interested in being sexual with somebody that I wouldn't have for a very, very close friend. I've always been that way.
BobBI Keppel: [01:38:00] I never was particularly interested in sex parties or one night stands or any of that kind of stuff. I think I've always been about relationships first.The person who introduced me to a woman who became my lover introduced us to each other because she said, "You two have the same wild, off the wall, sense of humor.
BobBI Keppel: [01:38:30] I think you should at least meet each other." I think that being with a woman fitted in with being part of the whole feminist movement, and hanging out with a whole bunch of women which we could do comfortably. The conversation changes when even a feminist man gets into the conversation.
BobBI Keppel: [01:39:00] I really liked hanging out with these women, especially because I had a really lousy relationship with my mother. Fortunately, my father was very nurturing, but it gave me a chance to explore relationships with women in a lot of different ways that I hadn't had before.On the other hand I passionately loved my husband, I really enjoyed
BobBI Keppel: [01:39:30] family life with him, I enjoyed having kids with him. He was a much better parent, I think, for young children than I was, so I learned a lot from him about that. We did a lot of things as a couple. We hung out with other couples, or not.
BobBI Keppel: [01:40:00] One thing that was very important to us was having
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, say one thing that was very important to my husband and myself.
BobBI Keppel: One thing that was very important to my husband and myself was to have an extended family. We lived in the middle of the country and our biological relatives lived on the coasts, fortunately. We had this whole succession of young adult types who
BobBI Keppel: [01:40:30] became part of our family. We had several people who were in the air force who were interested in folk music -- that's how they found us. They ate with us, they visited with us, they played with our kids, they took care of our kids, they gave us a lot of intellectual stimulation.
BobBI Keppel: [01:41:00] For our family I think it was one of the most important things that we gave ourselves as well as those people. I caught up with one of those people a couple of years ago who said, "I felt like I'd found my true family when I'd found the Keppels." I don't think it would have happened any other way.
Mason Funk: Do you have another question? Anything else?
Kate Kunath: No.
Mason Funk: [01:41:30] Then we have four short wrap up questions. First is you certainly had a lot of experience with the coming out process. To a young person or a middle aged person or an older person who was just about to come out in any way, shape or form, step into the water, whatever metaphor you want to use, what advice or insight or wisdom
Mason Funk: [01:42:00] would you offer that person? Please incorporate my question into your answer.
BobBI Keppel: The question is what kind of advice would I give to somebody who's thinking about coming out in some way. I think it would partly depend
BobBI Keppel: [01:42:30] on their age and where they're located. I wouldn't give the same advice to somebody in rural northern Maine where it could be dangerous, very dangerous, physically to be out that I would give to somebody who lives in Cambridge Massachusetts or even Portland (Maine) probably.Let me talk about that specifically in terms of their coming out
BobBI Keppel: [01:43:00] as bi because you're going to get plenty of answers about gay and lesbians. For an older person I would say you need to be really careful about who you talk with. Do some reading about that. There is more information out there. I wrote a chapter for Ron Fox's book on Affirmative Psychotherapy for Older
BobBI Keppel: [01:43:30] Bi Women and Bi Men; I think that's the name of the chapter.[1]I have a lot of caveats in there about the difficulties for older people. I think it's really important to think about those things. Where are you going to be able to live that you're going to feel safe? Who can you talk with? Would it be a better idea, if you lived around here say, to go to
BobBI Keppel: [01:44:00] Boston and meet up with some people at any one of a number of bi venues and talk with people there and see what that's like?For younger people, my cleaning person came the first time, and she dusted the books in the living room. After she got through going on those
BobBI Keppel: [01:44:30] shelves of books over there-
Mason Funk: Hold one second please for the siren. There's a siren going by. Can you start over with, "My cleaning woman came."
BobBI Keppel: The first time my cleaning woman came, she dusted the books in the living room, and after she finished a couple of shelves over there, which are loaded with books and journals about bisexuality, she said to me, "Could we talk about bisexuality,"
BobBI Keppel: [01:45:00] and it turned out she was bisexual, but she'd never had people that she really could discuss that with, certainly not her family.
Mason Funk: Carry on.
BobBI Keppel: It's a really different experience for young people who are much more comfortable They
BobBI Keppel: [01:45:30] might not use the word bi, they might say they're heteroflexible or homoflexible or poly blah, blah or there's a zillion different terms now. Mostly I use queer because that seems to be a handy umbrella term. People my age, by and large, just flinch if I use the word queer because they associate it with being teased and being pilloried and so forth.
BobBI Keppel: [01:46:00] I think there are lots of places you can be fairly comfortable being a bi young person. It gets way more complicated as the age goes up.
Mason Funk: Great, great. That was very helpful. What is your hope for the future?
BobBI Keppel: For the bi movement?
Mason Funk: However you interpret that question.
BobBI Keppel: What is my hope for the future?
BobBI Keppel: [01:46:30] I'd like to live long enough to live in a society where being bi is just okay for old people like me. I'm 83. I don't know how long I've got, but it would be nice to see that. It's been a lot of improvement,
BobBI Keppel: [01:47:00] but there's a lot further to go. I would like to be able to live as a retired person, in a retirement community or assisted living or if I have to be in a hospital, and not have to worry that my being bi is going to cause me to get poor medical care, or to have everything attributed to my sexuality
BobBI Keppel: [01:47:30] when maybe I'm just anemic or something. It isn't gender based or sexuality based or anything like that. That's part of it.I'd like to live in a really integrated society and a society where race and class and orientation and gender are just not issues
BobBI Keppel: [01:48:00] because we could be, the society could be as flexible about that as all of those identities actually are. I think about my freshman college roommate. People would say she was black, or, in those days, they would say she was a negro,,but she was very clearly of mixed ancestry. At some point, she said to me,
BobBI Keppel: [01:48:30] "The trouble with you is you're colorblind." I think it's just what color she was didn't seem to be nearly as important as a whole lot of other things about her. I'd like to see a society where that's true for a lot of identities.
Mason Funk: Why is it important to you personally to tell your story?
BobBI Keppel: [01:49:00] To give people hope. I graduated from social work school in Nebraska. After I moved to the east coast, I was going back out to Nebraska for a visit. By then, thanks to friends of mine, the curriculum of social work school had included lesbian and gay.
BobBI Keppel: [01:49:30] I wrote to the professors, there were two of them, and said, "I'd like to come and talk to graduate students about bisexuality." That was because I'd heard so many horror stories from people, primarily in Boston, who'd run into therapists who just made things worse for them.I thought, "I ought to be able to do something about that.
BobBI Keppel: [01:50:00] I'm a clinical social worker, and I know how to give workshops, I just haven't done it about this." I was driving across Iowa when I had this brainstorm about making a three dimensional model of sexual orientation, and if there's anything I'm known for, that's it. It's all over the place including in the Unitarian Universalist sexuality curriculum.I made this three dimensional model, I got back
BobBI Keppel: [01:50:30] to Omaha. I said to my daughter, "How do I put this up on a chalkboard," and she said "like this." (showed me how) I went over to the School of Social Work and I did this presentation about sexual orientation. People knew where to put bisexual in the picture as well as homosexual and heterosexual. That people who have different identities for different parts of them, whether it's your social group
BobBI Keppel: [01:51:00] or your sexual partner or your dreams or whatever.It was all the graduate students in the School of Social Work, and the two professors whose classes would have been at that time. At the end of it, these two professors came up to me and said, "You've totally changed my understanding of how this works. I'll never teach the same way again." I thought, "Okay, I'm going back to Maine.
BobBI Keppel: [01:51:30] I'm going to go do a workshop for social workers in the National Association of Social Workers."Which I did. At the end of it, a therapist I know, who's a lesbian, came up to me and said, "You've got to keep doing this. Every mental health professional in this state needs to hear this presentation. Here's how you go about teaching for continuing education." I was off and running. Then I went to colleges, and I did a lot of the things that Robyn Ochs is
BobBI Keppel: [01:52:00] doing now with a different knowledge base because we're talking 25 years later.It was really important to me, and still is, to people not be wounded by their therapists or by their college instructors or their high school instructors.
BobBI Keppel: [01:52:30] I guess it's the same part of me that my dad says that black folks and red folks and Jewish people and probably Muslims now all deserve to be treated fairly. To me this is the issue that I'm the most passionate about.I rethought that at one point and thought, "I've done enough of this, I'm going to stop."
BobBI Keppel: [01:53:00] I talked with somebody I thought would be very supportive about this who was a lesbian therapist who said, "Oh no." I said, "What do you mean no, no, no?" She said, "Do you have any idea what it means when you, with your white hair, walk into a bunch of college students and say it's okay to be like this. It's fine to be queer." She said this probably 15 years ago,
BobBI Keppel: [01:53:30] and I hadn't really thought about that. My granddaughter says, (she's my adopted granddaughter), she says, "It's really important to have grandmothers who say it's okay to be who you are."
Mason Funk: Lastly what is the importance of OUTWORDS, of projects like OUTWORDS?
BobBI Keppel: [01:54:00] I don't know exactly where OUTWORDS is going, but I have-
Mason Funk: If you find out tell me, okay?
BobBI Keppel: I have very strong feelings about the importance of preserving our history. I think it's been made more acute to those of us who are queer who've lost people primarily to AIDS, that
BobBI Keppel: [01:54:30] I think about the people that I never got to know and the histories that I don't know, and I would like to know what happened in people's lives. To document that and put it now in a way that we never could before, to have it available The media is so much more accessible now that somebody
BobBI Keppel: [01:55:00] could go and find out about what life was like or how things are or aren't working or maybe to think about, "What are the next steps?" Next steps always come from some combination of what's already there
BobBI Keppel: [01:55:30] and somebody's new thinking about what to add to it or how to change it around.I think OUTWORDS makes that possible. In a way, what you're doing isn't available anywhere else. The reality now is it's unlikely that people are going to sit down and read a book.
BobBI Keppel: [01:56:00] My hope will be that OUTWORDS gets to do a TED Talk because I think that would get you on the roster of, "There's a source I want to know more about." TED Talks seems to be the way that people find out.
Mason Funk: [01:56:30] That's funny, my uncle Mason was the other person who said, "You should do a TED Talk."
BobBI Keppel: Really? Good, yes, I think you should do a TED Talk.
Mason Funk: He's just about your age exactly. I love that idea, I've pictured it in my mind. Needless to say, I haven't started-
BobBI Keppel: You're too busy.
Mason Funk: A little too busy, but there will be time.
Kate Kunath: Just one more question.
Mason Funk: Okay
Kate Kunath: What advice would you give to someone who I should preface this by saying that you seem to have
Kate Kunath: [01:57:00] successfully negotiated a way to make yourself happy in your marriage, which meant having, I'm going back to this because I think it's so interesting. For having multiple partners, which is basically polyamory. I think a lot of people get frustrated in their relationships trying to figure out, "I want this other thing, but how do I do it? I don't want to upset my partner." What would be your advice to somebody who's trying to negotiate basically
Kate Kunath: [01:57:30] not just for bisexuals, but for anyone trying to negotiate a polyamorous environment for themselves to thrive in?
BobBI Keppel: How to negotiate a thriving polyamorous relationship?
BobBI Keppel: [01:58:00] I think partly you need to be a good negotiator about a lot of other things that are less risky, shall we say. It's like whether or not you can go around the block or go to Cape Canaveral. That
BobBI Keppel: [01:58:30] learning how to negotiate all kinds of things about how two or more people live together is really, really important.I don't know how we got this way exactly, but it seems as though our American standard
BobBI Keppel: [01:59:00] straight white society has the idea of who you have sex with is a determinant of your relationship. A lot of that comes from hundreds or more years of women as property; women who were owned. A man couldn't be sure who he fathered, it's only, you know, the child came from that mother.
BobBI Keppel: [01:59:30] You have to control that mother so you know who your offspring is.I'm hoping we're getting away from some of this owning women things or owning partner things. I think it also, it takes a lot of work about
BobBI Keppel: [02:00:00] jealousy and competition and a whole lot of other stuff which really has to do with learning to like ourselves. For me, that I'm okay with my husband having female friends; it doesn't have to threaten me. It's not a competition
BobBI Keppel: [02:00:30] between me and those friends, but that needs to be out clear. Also, when it's not comfortable, we have to know each other well enough to talk about what's not comfortable.The reality is that it's always going to be fluid. I think that was the hardest part for me to understand.
BobBI Keppel: [02:01:00] I used to think that relationships were That they were supposed to be symmetrical. That we would both want to be really close at the same time and then we would want to be further apart, and then we'd want to be close again and all this stuff.It took me a long time to realize that, "Oh no, that's not the way it works." That I might want
BobBI Keppel: [02:01:30] to be close and this other person might want to be further away and by the time he wants to be close I might want to be closer, but on the other hand I might not. That we have to work that out so that we every now and then again, at least, it's symmetrical for a bit.That may sound a little weird, but to me, I'm a visual learner. That's how I see it.
BobBI Keppel: [02:02:00] I don't think there are any guarantees. Maybe we wouldn't have worked it out long term. Maybe we couldn't have worked it out if we had been with different people. I said to my daughter once, "It seems to me that all the people I know that are
BobBI Keppel: [02:02:30] in poly relationships are really having a hard time." My daughter looked at me and said, "Do you know anybody who's in a relationship who isn't having a hard time with it, at least some of the time?" I said, "No, I guess I don't." She said, "Let's face it, relationships are really hard." Mostly we don't have very good models.
BobBI Keppel: [02:03:00] Go look for better models.
Mason Funk: Or create better models.
BobBI Keppel: Or create better models or all the above.
Mason Funk: Fantastic. We have to stop.
Kate Kunath: Thank you.
Mason Funk: Thank you so much.
BobBI Keppel: Did that answer your question?
Kate Kunath: Yeah, that was great.
Mason Funk: Really enlightening.
[1] The name of the book by Ron Fox is Affirmative Psychotherapy with Bi Women and Bi Men. The name of the chapter written by BobBI Keppel is Affirmative Psychotherapy with Older Bi Women and Bi Men.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Kate Kunath
Date: August 13, 2016
Location: Home of BobBI Keppel, Portland, ME