Lani Ka’ahumanu was born in Edmonton, Alberta and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lani is known today as one of the major architects of the American bisexual rights and visibility movement. But in the 1960s, she was married to her high school sweetheart, living in the suburbs, and mostly busy running her kids to Little League games. 

In the late 1960s, Lani got involved with Another Mother for Peace, a grassroots anti-war advocacy group. This ignited a spark of activism in her that could not be quenched. In 1974, after 11 years of marriage, she and her husband divorced amicably. Lani moved to San Francisco, where two years she later came out and spoke publicly as a lesbian mother. She was active in founding the San Francisco State Women Studies Department, and in 1979 became the first person in her family to graduate from college. 

Realizing she was a bisexual in 1980, Lani came out again, and began organizing bisexuals within the lesbian and gay communities. In 1983 she co-founded BiPOL, the first feminist bisexual political action group, with the mission of educating, advocating, and agitating in the growing shadow of HIV/AIDS. Four years later, she was instrumental in organizing what would become BiNet USA, the first national bisexual rights organization, and was a founding organizer of the San Francisco Bay Area Bisexual Network (BABN). In 1991, Lani co-edited (with OUTWORDS interviewee Loraine Hutchins) the groundbreaking anthology Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out, which was listed by the Lambda Book Review as one of the top 100 LGBT Books of the 20th Century. 

For her 50th birthday in 1993, Lani wrote and modeled for Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes. In 1994, her innovative work with the Safer Sex Sluts was recognized by Ms. Magazine in their 50th anniversary “50 Ways to Be a Feminist” issue. That same year, Lani and legendary author Armistead Maupin were honored as co-grand marshalls of the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade. Lani subsequently became the first out bisexual person to serve on the board of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

Today, Lani is hard at work on two memoirs – My Grassroots Are Showing: Movement Stories, Speeches, and Special Affections (her working title), and Passing For Other: Primal Creams and Forbidden Dreams. OUTWORDS interviewed Lani at her rustic cabin in Cazadero, California, tucked among the redwood trees on a high ridge overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Lani was busy preparing for her nine-year-old granddaughter’s birthday. Lani’s life has been about holding onto and honoring her past, while always – always – working towards a bolder, brighter future.
Mason Funk: [00:00:00] Let's start off by just having me tell you your first and last names, and spelling them for me.
Lani Kaahumanu: Okay. My name is Lani Ka'ahumanu. That's L-A-N-I-K ... That's the only capital. K-A-'A-H-U-M-A-N-U. How could I forget to spell my last name? That's great. Okay. That'll take the edge off. Okay.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] All right, as I said before, maybe just tell me about the family that you were born into, and kind of roughly, who was your mom, who was your dad, and where were you born, and in what year? Just kind of give me a little picture of your early years.
Lani Kaahumanu: I was conceived in Hawaii. This is how the story goes, conceived in Hawaii, born in Canada, and in 1943, my mother was an immigrant to this country,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:01:00] and she was born in Japan, raised in Japan. Both her parents died, basically, and she was raised in Hawaii in the thirties. My father is from a Minnesota family, Deluth, Minnesota, and his family drifted out to California, and then he was stationed in Hawaii, and that's how it all began.
Mason Funk: How did your mom and your dad meet?
Lani Kaahumanu: They were next door neighbors. There was-
Mason Funk: [crosstalk] remember to say, "My mom and my dad."
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:01:30] Sorry, sorry. Yeah. Yeah.
Mason Funk: I'll just remind you, because everybody has to be reminded.
Lani Kaahumanu: My mom and dad were neighbors. There was a housing shortage. It was the World War II, and he ended up next door. He was a total romantic, and he totally fell in love with her, and there was a lot of drama, because she had been married before, Catholic family, and she was never to marry again, even though she was only married very young for a year.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:02:00] He romanced her. She fell in love, and they kind of ran away and got married. It's very sweet, yeah. He totally adored her. She was a princess, and my mother, to her dying day, was a princess. She was full of that aloha spirit. She was very loving, very kind, and our house was the house where everybody hung out.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:02:30] I was in San Francisco from about six months old to four-and-half years old, late forties, when people from San Francisco moved to the peninsula, and so in the late forties, moved to San Bruno, California.
Mason Funk: Wow. That's such an amazing snapshot of a time in history, but we'll get back to that. I want to ask you, so you say your mom's parents passed away.
Lani Kaahumanu: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Who raised your mom? [crosstalk]
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:03:00] It's an interesting story, because my ... Let's see. My great-grandmother. Her mom. No, that'd be my grandmother. They were all dad, so I don't have a handle on exactly who they are when I'm talking about it, but her parents were business class. My grandmother sold her Hawaiian land grants to help my grandfather in business in Japan, and they were business class. My mother had servants, all the clothes handmade.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:03:30] When she told us this, when we were kids in San Bruno running around, it's like, what? You had somebody brush your teeth? It was like, what's up? Her mother got really sick, with actually Hansen's Disease, which is leprosy. Her mom went back to Hawaii with the kids, went into a sanitarium. They had enough money that she didn't have to go to Molakai.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:04:00] She was raised by her cousins, my mother's sister, my grandmother's sister, actually, who ran the Hawaiian Cultural Center, and it was all pidgin English, poor, working class Hawaiians. My mother went from having a British accent because of the schooling and handmade clothes to barefoot, running on the beach, and so the class, there was always a class thing with my mom. Manners. It comes through with that.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:04:30] Her mom died, and her dad got TB in Japan, so she never saw her dad again, and her dad died in Japan. She was raised with her auntie, Auntie Emma.
Mason Funk: During this time frame in Hawaii, with World War II going on, and us at war with Japan, would your mom tell you stories about what that was like, sort of ... I would imagine they were seen as an enemy people, even though they were living in Japan?
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:05:00] She was Japan from in the twenties, so it was pre-
Mason Funk: Sorry. Start with, "My mom." Oh, I see.
Lani Kaahumanu: Oh, yeah. My mom was born in Japan in 1920, so it was before World War II, but she went to Hawaii when she was about 12 years old, so the early thirties. She spent the thirties. She was there at Pearl Harbor, and so, yeah.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:05:30] I grew up with stories about Pearl Harbor, and she talked about walking ... She was walking home with a bunch of friends, and all of a sudden, they heard the bombing, and so that was part of her life. She would talk about how in Hawaii, the Chinese people would wear a sign around their neck saying, "I'm Chinese," because the Japanese were so hated. When I grew up, being born in the forties and post-World War II,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:06:00] it was really interesting because my aunt and uncle, my mother's father's sister, my Auntie Mag and Uncle Harry ... Everybody's mixed blood in my family. Everybody's mixed. My Auntie Mag and Uncle Harry were Japanese, and my Uncle Harry was Japanese and French, and my Auntie Mag was Japanese and I'm not sure what else, but visibly were Japanese.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:06:30] I grew up on my mother's side with my Auntie Mag and Uncle Harry who became like my grandparents, who were definitely Japanese. My mother had dark skin, because she was in the sun a lot. As she grew older, she wasn't in the sun as much, and then on my father's side, my grandmother, his mother, my only living grandparent who I knew, she spoke Yiddish,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:07:00] and so I grew up with words like [Yiddish] and all this stuff. It was only because she was a nurse for newborn babies, and she worked for Jewish families, but as an adult, finding out that no, her name wasn't Patricia Ferrell. She married a Ferrell, my father's family. Her name was Hattie Rafke, and she was Polish Jew. I grew up with a lot of secrets. You don't ask about their eyes,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:07:30] my Auntie Mag and Uncle Harry, because people would talk to me about that, kids would ask, because it was in the news. Interesting, when I was working on By Any Other Name, the book, I did some family history stuff, and found out that I grew up with stories of my Auntie Mag and Uncle Harry had to leave California. This is when the concentration camps, detention camps, concentration camps, were happening. They had to leave California,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:08:00] but I didn't know. Nobody talked about the camps in my family, but the story was, and it was true, they went to a ranch in Denver, and raised chickens. These are two business people, my Auntie Mag and Uncle Harry, import, export business with Japan. They went to Denver, and raised chickens, and were the first ones to feed vitamins to chicken, so you have vitamin-fortified eggs,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:08:30] but I found out it was a CIA radio relay station during World War II. Who knew? I know. It's like, when I was researching that, I thought, "Huh. Some of this is just making so much more sense." My life, the secrets, the undercurrent. I always knew I was different. There was no doubt about that, and the other pressure on my father's family was very ...
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:09:00] I wouldn't say very Catholic. They were Catholic. There was a lot of prejudice, and my father brought this beautiful ... My mother was very beautiful, Hawaiian beauty, into the family, and there was a lot of whispers. I've talked to my cousin, my older cousin, and she said that she remembers hearing, because she was nine years old,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:09:30] so she remembers that there was a lot of buzz about, "Oh, what if the baby has dark skin, or what if the baby has the flat nose, the [inaudible] nose, or you know, doesn't look white, basically." There was a lot of talk ruling around before I was born, so there was a big relief when I came out with blondish hair, big, brown, round eyes, and had what eventually my mother and family would call,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:10:00] "Oh, you're lucky to have the golden skin." A couple of my sisters have the dark, olive skin, so in the summer, my sister Vicky had to hide from the sun. Otherwise, she'd be called Piccaninny, because people would think she was a person of color, which we are, but I pass.
Mason: Okay.
Male: Hey, Mason?
Mason: Yes, sir.
Male: When cars pass, you can hear it.
Mason: [00:10:30] Okay. All right, so I'll just be aware of that. Next time a car passes by, we just have to pause.
Lani Kaahumanu: Sure. That's fine.
Mason: I'll be able to hear it coming, and hopefully we'll just say, "Pause for a minute."
Lani Kaahumanu: Sure.
Mason Funk: It's a little bit to jump into this, but it's also so interesting. In the materials you sent me, I gained an understanding of how passing, not passing has been kind of an important part of your journey, the fact that you could pass, where some people are like, "Oh, you're lucky. You can pass," but how that becomes a little bit of its own box,
Mason Funk: [00:11:00] or something like that. I'd love to have you maybe just talk a bit about ... Like I said, it's such a kind of big topic.
Lani Kaahumanu: Can I have a sip of water?
Lani Kaahumanu: Okay. While you're talking, I can sip? [crosstalk] Okay. Thank you.
Mason Funk: Totally sip while I talk, but I'll sip while you talk. No, I'll sip while I talk, but anyway.
Lani Kaahumanu: Whatever.
Mason Funk: I guess my question is, passing is such a loaded, complicated topic. Some gay men who can pass as straight are valued.
Mason Funk: [00:11:30] Lesbian women passing, African Americans, the whole nine yards. In your own life, what has it meant to you that you could pass, and how has that been ... I guess you could call it a mixed blessing, or maybe not even a blessing at all?
Lani Kaahumanu: As far as passing, because I've passed as white, which wipes out my cultural background, a lot of my history, a lot of my family connections. When you come out as bisexual,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:12:00] there's an automatic assumption that makes you invisible, so there's a passing when you're bisexual, because of the outside assumptions being, "Oh, you're with a woman? Oh, you're a lesbian, or you're with a man? Oh, you're heterosexual." There's a passing thing that happens with sexuality, too, but I think everybody passes for one thing or another, but passing for white holds ...
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:12:30] It holds a challenge, because it's easy not to step up and interrupt racism. You can just let it slide by, and I started thinking about it at a pretty young age, and I remember talking to my mom about it, because when I went to first grade, Sister Theophane said to me, "Oh. You can't ... Lani is not a Christian name. It's a heathen name. You have to be called Marjorie."
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:13:00] I was Margie in grade school, and it was like, huh. What does that mean? I remember talking to my mom about that, and she goes, "Oh, they don't know any better. Just laugh it off. Just be Margie at school, Lani at home. You're fine." There was always something there that I couldn't get ahold of, and it wasn't until really the feminist movement in the sixties, and me putting a lot of the pieces of all the puzzle growing up,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:13:30] and realizing, "Oh, my sister was called Piccaninny." All the racist things that happened that didn't have anything to do with me, made me feel separate. I was never quite as good as, I was never as beautiful or as attractive as my sister and mother, who were totally eroticized because of their beauty, but passing for me, ended up, you have to face your privilege.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:14:00] A lot of people don't want to face their privilege. It takes a lot of work to face the privilege you have every single day, and that it gives me the opportunity to interrupt racism. I'll think to myself, "Would they say that if my mother was standing next to me? Would they say that if my sister was standing next to me?" No. They wouldn't. There's a certain level of, "Oh, we're in the same club. We're in the same club, so I can say anything." It's like, no, you can't say anything.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:14:30] Same with the bisexual piece. You have to keep coming out over, and over, and over again, and I think coming out as a person
Mason Funk: I think coming out as a person ...
Lani Kaahumanu: I think coming out as a person of color over, and over, and over again, I had to work through a lot of painfulseparation from my culture,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:15:00] and what I grew up with. As the first child of my mother, I got the most cultural information, and memories, and before she kind of lost it, not being back in Hawaii, and her being here, I was the holder of her passionate
Mason Funk: [inaudible]
Mason Funk: I'm the holder.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:15:30] I'm the holder of her love for Hawaii, and her aloha spirit, and the history, and the family. We had conversations about it, which I don't think my sisters and I did. My sisters did with my mom. I haven't talked to them, actually, so I might be speaking out of turn about that, but I got the strongest sense of the Hawaiian culture, and the aloha spirit.
Mason Funk: We interviewed a man in Ann Arbor last week who was Chinese American, and he was actually one one of the ones who had to wear a sign around when he went to El ... He was born in 1930,
Mason Funk: [00:16:00] so during the war, "I am not a Jap." He was very, very honest. He's been battling racism his entire life. He was very honest with the fact that he took on some racism against Asian people, internalized racism against Asian people ,maybe as a result of his very complicated childhood. To this day, he's never ... He was completely honest about this.
Mason Funk: [00:16:30] He said, "I have not been able to heal from my own internalized Asian phobia," at the age of 86 years old.
Lani Kaahumanu: Oh. He's 86.
Mason Funk: Yeah, so I wonder if you felt like you ever internalized any negative messages about Japanese people, or Asian people, that you had to face, and heal, or come to terms with.
Lani Kaahumanu: I think where, as far as my cultural roots, and my identifying with the Japanese people,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:17:00] Hawaiian people, I've always had a very proud, fierce connection with the culture, and on the other hand, coming out as bisexual, my internalized bi-phobia was just ... I'm not like that. When I was an out lesbian, I fell in love with a man. Whoops. In 1980,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:17:30] that's a pretty big thing, and I couldn't even say I was bisexual. I said lesbian identified bisexual so quick, because I just couldn't say bisexual by myself. I had to prove that I wasn't a traitor. I didn't want to be kicked out. It was my community, but the internalized bi-phobia was enormous. It took years, it really did, to kind of like, I'm not a swinger.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:18:00] I'm not into three-ways. Whatever stereotype I had in my head, I had to live through every single one of them, and as I met more people, as I talked about it, I thought, "Oh, well, no wonder I had to say lesbian identified bisexual. I was so bi-phobic, I couldn't do it." There I was, in love with a man. I was truly in love with this person, and how could that be wrong? What's wrong with that?
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:18:30] There is nothing wrong, and my heart was still home in the lesbian community. It wasn't like all of a sudden, boop, I get a prick in my consciousness, I used to say. All of a sudden, I'm like a balloon that's out of control, and I'd forgotten everything that I learned in the lesbian community, the feminist community, the women's community. I learned who was my friend and who wasn't, and that was a hard time, so I understand working through that.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:19:00] With bisexuals, you have to keep coming out anyway, because of the assumptions of the culture, and sometimes people just give up, which I don't blame them. It's hard, and that you just let the assumption ride, because it's not worth it this time.
Mason Funk: Right. Right. Let's backtrack a little bit, because we're going to come back to that.
Lani Kaahumanu: Yes.
Mason Funk: Which is all good. It's all good, and you seem like you've just completely relaxed. Do you feel more relaxed now?
Mason Funk: [00:19:30] All that nervous stuff just seems to have gone away, so I hope that's true, but you seem great.
Lani Kaahumanu: I'm better.
Mason Funk: Good.
Mason Funk: You have your water. Let us know if you need more.
Lani Kaahumanu: I will.
Mason Funk: You said you knew from an early age that you were different, on some level. Tell us about what that felt like. Just, describe that difference, and what it was like experiencing that sense of difference.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:20:00] As a kid, I always felt different, but there's always something inside me, for as long as I can remember. It's like, being different doesn't matter, because we're all part of the same family, the same ... I'm the same as you. What does difference make? I keep thinking of the Rodney King. Why can't we all just get along? He said that in '92, I think it was, or '91. Why can't we all get along?
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:20:30] I've always had that as my basis as a kid. I was different. So what? I handled that feeling of difference, and I was always trying to figure it out. I always asked a lot of questions. I would ask my mother, I would ask my Auntie Mag. I ask the adults around me, but at that time in the forties and fifties, adults did not talk to children about serious things. They just didn't. My mom would give me little talks,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:21:00] but I've always been curious about why difference is bad, why difference ... cause I was different. My mother was really different than any of the other moms. All the boys had crushes on her, would hang out at her house.
Mason Funk: Tell me about that. In what ways was she different from other moms, and start by saying, "My mom."
Lani Kaahumanu: My mom had that generate ...
Mason Funk: [00:21:30] It's like it sounds like it's [inaudible] that way. [crosstalk]
Lani Kaahumanu: It does. Yeah. The road goes around like this.
Mason Funk: Oh, I see. [crosstalk]
Lani Kaahumanu: Yeah. Yeah.
Mason Funk: It's like a 3-D experience.
Lani Kaahumanu: Yeah. That's it. [crosstalk] Center me. Center me. What am I talking about my mother?
Mason Funk: Oh, just, you said she was different from [inaudible].
Lani Kaahumanu: Oh. My mother was different from other moms. She had exotic stories. Okay,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:22:00] when I was in high school, the Beach Boys were starting to get big. My mother surfed in Hawaii with Duke Kahanamoku, the champion surfer. How cool is that? My mother was the pineapple queen at the Hula Bowl. It's called the Pineapple Bowl now. No, she was the Pineapple Bowl. She was the Pineapple Queen. It is called the Hula Bowl, so my mother had all these amazing stories. Moms don't talk about this, and she's a great ... In Hawaii, you talk story.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:22:30] My mother would talk story, and everybody would just be on the edge of their seats, and she was always very welcoming, and had that great, generous aloha spirit about it. If she heard that you liked something, she'd make sure it was in the refrigerator, when you come to visit the house, so kids just loved it. They loved it. She was different in that way. She was very accessible, and in truth, my mother was a kid, too. She was a kid.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:23:00] In a lot of ways, she wasn't like a grown up person. She was like one of the kids, one of the girls, one of the five girls, with my sisters and I. She was well loved, and not that other mothers weren't, but there was something special and different about her. She had a very different life, and she could talk about growing up in Japan, and some of her adventures there.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:23:30] She was a good storyteller, and welcomed kids into the house, and then had these amazing stories. We'd always have a nice treat. How can you beat that? [crosstalk 00:23:45]
Mason Funk: Did your mom and dad stay in love? Describe their relationship over the years.
Lani Kaahumanu: My mom and dad were totally in love. He totally adored her.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:24:00] He had her on a pedestal. He would sing to her, and very romantic, but he was also kind of ... My dad was kind of a bad boy, too, in his own way, and my mother did not like to be around drinking at all. If he wanted to go out with the boys, he had to sleep somewhere else, and so ...
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:24:30] Did it matter that a fly just went right to my ... Okay, then I'll stop right now. I'm like, also I feel like my eyes went cross because ...
Mason Funk: If he went out drinking, he'd have to sleep ...
Lani Kaahumanu: My dad, if he went out drinking with the guys, which wasn't that often, he couldn't come home. My mother had a pretty strict rule, and I think ... Yeah. He was good. He wasn't good with money. He didn't manage his money well. He died of a heart attack at 46,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:25:00] which was pretty intense for her. She was only 43, two kids in high school, and the only job she had ever held was teaching hula, because she was known for her ... She was a beautiful dancer. Yeah, he had a heart attack, so that ended. Being the total princess, romantic, amazing person,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:25:30] her first husband that I had mentioned earlier, he had to be contacted. It's getting home from work time, maybe.
Lani Kaahumanu: He had to be contacted after my dad died. He had never married. He was still carrying her picture around in his wallet, and he started writing her,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:26:00] and they ended up getting married two or three years after my dad died. She remarried her first husband who had totally in love with her since 18 years old or something. Amazing. My parents were married like 26 years, so a long time.
Mason Funk: That second marriage.
Lani Kaahumanu: Yeah. She was married to my dad for 26 years, and then when my dad died, two or three years later, they started writing
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:26:30] because legally, there's some reason they had to contact Ralph, and they fell in love again, and married.
Mason Funk: Wow.
Lani Kaahumanu: I know.
Mason Funk: They stayed married?
Lani Kaahumanu: They stayed married, but unfortunately, he died. My mother, she's just got that ... You know how some people just have that kind of a amazing, princess kind of thing?
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:27:00] She's totally loving, and dear, and beautiful, and kind, so not hard to imagine. Good one.
Mason Funk: Did you always feel ... Did you ever have conflict with your mother?
Lani Kaahumanu: Did I ever have conflict with my mother?
Mason Funk: The way you're describing her it sounds like this person you were being ... I'm just curious. It's just so natural, and you're not like a shrinking violet, so I just wonder when you're ...
Mason Funk: [00:27:30] First of all, let's hold off on that for the time being, because we might get to that. We will get to that, but tell me ... I know that you eventually married the captain of the football team, and you were the homecoming queen.
Lani Kaahumanu: No, I wasn't the queen.
Mason Funk: Oh, you weren't okay.
Lani Kaahumanu: No.
Mason Funk: I thought I read that as well. Tell me about who you were, say, by the time you got to be a girl in high school. Who were you in that world of your neighborhood, of your friends, of the high school?
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:28:00] I think, as a kid and growing ... Yeah, people are getting home. As a kid, I was looking back on it when I'm trying to figure things out. I was the kid that organized everything. I organized the Kool-Aid stand. The Kool-Aid stand wasn't good enough for me, so I added a puppet show.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:28:30] Then I'd have a Kool-Aid stand and I had a circus, so I've been an organizer and an activist from day one, when I look back on it. It kind of makes me laugh. As I grew up, it was my MO. Grade school, junior high school, I actually was a really good athlete, so in junior high school, that happened in ... When I graduated from eighth grade, from Saint Bruno's school,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:29:00] I was either going to be sent to Mercy High School, the all-girls Catholic school, or Cappuccino High School, which I didn't want to go to an all-girls high school. I didn't. I will reveal now what I have never revealed. When I had to go be interviewed for the Catholic high school, the all-girls school, there was a question on there. Do you want to go here? I was with my Auntie Mag and my mom, and I looked around, and I wrote, "No."
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:29:30] I didn't get in, and I risked my life, I felt like, saying no, but I stood up for myself in a personal thing. I went to Cappuccino, and I was totally excited and happy to be there. I socially, I looked around, and I thought, oh, those are the people I want to go around with, and that's what I did. I just made friends. I made friends with everybody. Actually, in grammar school, I used to get in trouble because the nuns would have to move me around,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:30:00] because I'd make friends with everybody. I was one of those kids. I've always been "popular," and I'm a people person, and I like people to get together, and get along, and have fun. What's life about, really? In high school, I was a ra-ra. I was in the finals for cheerleader,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:30:30] but then I got a D minus in shorthand. Worst grade I ever got, and I got kicked out of the finals for cheerleaders which was really a bummer for me, but I became rally commissioner. You recover, and do something else. The captain of the football team and I fell in love, and that was pretty amazing, and I wore his football around my neck, because he was all northern California.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:31:00] He was also champion wrestler. Blah, blah, blah. The Baltimore Colts were after him in high school, because he was really good. I know. It was a pretty big deal, and he was a low-key not a jock at all, one of those things. Anyway, so I was raised to have kids, and have babies, and it was like, "Oh, wow. Okay. This is cool. This is what I'm supposed to do." I was never allowed to take college prep classes.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:31:30] I was funneled into business classes, typing, business machines, shorthand, which I hated, bookkeeping, all that kind of stuff, as I was told, "So you'd have a skill in case your husband died, and you would have to raise the children." It was inevitable I was going to have a husband, inevitable I was going to have kids, and so I had business skills. Got married. We went steady from the time I was 16, got married when I was 19,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:32:00] and by the time I was 24, I had been married five years, and had two kids, and he was teaching high school where we met. Unbelievable. We only went to one party. It's too bizarre, when you're 24 years old, to go to a party with all your old high school teachers, and it's the sixties, and we were kind of getting into being hippies a little bit, as much as you can in the suburbs.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:32:30] Peasant dresses, granny glasses, and my husband had kind of longish hair. What a trip. We only went to one party. It was just too weird to see your PE teacher, your math teacher. It was like, what are we doing here? Let's get out of here. Pretty ideal. Pretty ideal. Everything was perfect. Great husband, home, organic garden. It's the sixties, and I started reading.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:33:00] I watched a lot of talk shows, which were different then, and they'd have these feminists that came on, that were talking about the women's movement. My best friend Cathy McGoid and I used to talk about that. I remember she stopped shaving her legs, and that was so revolutionary. I couldn't believe it, and so we started talking about women's rights, and what's going on. I remember changing from Mrs. to Ms., and my father's family was upset with me.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:33:30] It was so disrespectful. Blah, blah, blah, and I'm thinking, really? My husband didn't mind at all. He thought it was, oh, that's kind of cool. He's real laid back, but my consciousness was broken open, and I got involved with the anti-Vietnam War movement. As a housewife, with my limited experience of the world, really, even if I was in my mid-twenties,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:34:00] where had I gone? I hadn't gone anywhere, really, that I saw the Black Panthers being interviewed on the local television about feeding kids, and of course they said, "How are kids gonna learn unless they have a breakfast, a hot breakfast? Kids go to school without food." I thought, "That makes so much sense," so I started collecting food for the Black Panther Breakfast Program. Then the UFW, Cesar Chavez, boycott grapes. Okay. That was a big deal, and I thought,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:34:30] "Oh, the conditions those people are working in." I identified with the people, always, with the people. As my mother would say, with the underdog. That's how she'd always frame it, because she'd always think about that, and I thought, "There's no family housing? What? For these people that are picking the grapes? I don't care if I have to pay more for grapes. This is something they need, so no grapes. There's my son. He was two or three,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:35:00] and we'd be in the store, and he'd see somebody picking up grapes, and he'd just start shouting, "No grapes. No grapes."
Mason Funk: So let me interrupt. That's all fantastic stuff. Fantastic. I love that story. I thought you were going to say that he was going to say, "Mommy, mommy. Get me some grapes," but he was like ...
Lani Kaahumanu: He was all over the, no grapes. Okay.
Mason Funk: [00:35:30] You were always in favor of the underdog. You were always on the side of the-
Lani Kaahumanu: I identified with that.
Mason Funk: You identified. Have you ever wondered what it was that made you always just have this natural identification with the underdog?
Lani Kaahumanu: Hmm.
Mason Funk: So many people don't.
Lani Kaahumanu: I think identifying with the underdog is the product of having a mother who's an immigrant,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:36:00] with dark skin, and saw how she would be treated, or my sister was treated. That was different. Why are they being treated different than me? I couldn't figure it out, and I do identify with people of color. The Black Panther movement, and poor people, actually. I identify with poor people, too. The underdog piece, I don't know.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:36:30] I think it just has something to do with the difference piece, and why, because these people are different, why ... I don't get it. There's just a part of me even still, today, that, why does that have to be? Why do people of color have to be treated that ... I don't want to go into that whole, huge, enormous bite, which I could, but I don't think we have time.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:37:00] My mother always identified with the underdog, and so I was aware of, okay, who's being left out? Who's not speaking up, or who's being singled out? Another thing. Very aware. She was very aware of what was going on in a room, and I picked up on that big time, because
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:37:30] I can go in and sit down, and read a room. I didn't know that was one of my skills. I thought everybody did that, but I could be at meetings, and then during the break, be talking to people, and going, noticing all these things, and people are looking at me going, "How did you notice?" I said, "I don't know." It's just like, I can pick up. I see the power that's going on, and somebody's uptight because of this, and the personal dynamics.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:38:00] I think that when you are not in the privileged X here, and you're in this place here, you have to be aware of what's going on around you. I just put that together. What I'm putting together right now in my life is thinking how my mother ... Hawaii is a colony. You go over there, and it's a ...
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:38:30] I got to stop that. That's too big. It's the colonized mind, how you think. You're aware of the people that have power over you. The people in power don't have ... They don't know what's going on down there. They don't know the personal struggles and all that stuff. They're living their lives. I think that my underdog place comes from my mom talking about, "Oh, yeah.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:39:00] We Hawaiians," she used to say, "We had our own language. We hear what they're saying, but we don't pay attention. We talk. We talk." There's that piece of my mother making me aware of the two, but I never put it together with, oh, colonized people. That's how it works, or people, the privileged and the underprivileged kind of thing, but I know language for it. Am I making sense?
Mason Funk: Totally. Totally.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:39:30] Okay. Thanks.
Mason Funk: Yeah. You're painting kind of a portrait, which is ... That's the best idea we can do, is just kind of giving us a little bit of a sense of how these different threads and themes kind of began to take life, take root in you. In your twenties, you've got the couple small kids. You're the suburban housewife on one hand, but you start to get really active politically.
Mason Funk: Tell me how your husband reacted. I know it's a little bit of a sexist question to even ask,
Mason Funk: [00:40:00] but we've all heard so many stories about husbands like, "Oh, I'm not gonna put up with this," and it sounds like he wasn't quite like that.
Lani Kaahumanu: No, my husband was very kind, and he really loved me. There came a point in our marriage, and this was in the sixties, late sixties, and everything's changing around us. Very exciting,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:40:30] shifting in gender, the peace movement, the civil rights mov ... It was just this time, and we were swept away in that, and he was an anti-war activist, and we were ... It was both of us doing that. There came a time in the late sixties, early seventies where I was just crying a lot. I didn't know why. I just was not happy, crying a lot, just ...
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:41:00] It wasn't making sense, since everything around me was so exciting. I was a Little League mom. I ran the art corner at my kid's school, field trip driver, full, amazing, life. Let me figure out how to say this, because it's too much information.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:41:30] We just came to a point where I realized ... I stood up for myself in a way I never had. A good friend of mine was relaying a really moving story that had happened to her, reviewing something, and it was time for me to go home, and cook dinner for the kids, and blah, blah, blah. I made a decision to stay there with her during this time. I'd never done that before, and I called, and told him.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:42:00] He'd go, "Okay. Fine," but then I said, "I'm gonna stay with her. I'm gonna stay overnight," and he just kind of backed away. It was the first time I ever just did so ... Said, "No. You can cook dinner," because he cooked sometimes, too. It wasn't a big deal, like he'd never cooked, or put the kids to bed, or anything. After that, I just remember I was still crying, and trying to figure things out.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:42:30] I'll never forget this. He looked at me, and he goes, "I figured out why you're crying." He just said, "You need to leave." He goes, "You've never, ever had a life of your own." He goes, "I'll have the kids." He goes, "You can't do what you need to do." As soon as I heard him, I knew he was right. It was like, even though I had left the Catholic church by then, divorce wasn't even on my radar.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:43:00] It was like, no. No. As soon as I heard it, it was right, and within six weeks ... We invited my sisters and their husbands over, my mom, and we just told everybody at the same time. We're trying this out, although we knew, and six weeks later, I had an apartment, and I was still the teacher's aide at school. I was still doing it. I was about a mile away from the kids, and that's the hardest thing I've ever done in my entire life, was leave those kids.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:43:30] It was just before their eighth and tenth birthday. At the time, I thought, "Oh, they're so old." Now with a granddaughter who just turned nine, I'm thinking, holy mackerel. My kids were so young for me to leave, and I was a mom that was totally involved in their lives, totally involved with their lives. He stood by me.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor and say, "My husband first."
Lani Kaahumanu: Oh, yeah.
Mason Funk: Start that sentence.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:44:00] My husband, he stood by me, and we worked it out. We had some gnarly times. That's not easy, not easy to ... Our relationship was almost 15 years, including our high school. He stayed in the suburbs, and I, after a year living near my kids' school, I moved to San Francisco, and I had a few years earlier started college. I took a night class, which was huge for me. I was just like,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:44:30] oh, wow, I really like this. I'd been going to night school, and I started going to school full-time at San Francisco State, right when people were organizing to found the Women's Studies Department, so I got involved with all that, and of course, it was complete lesbian, women's, feminist, amazing people. Leaders that I got to meet, and have them as my professors, mentors.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:45:00] I came out as a lesbian. I knew I always loved women. I was attracted to women. I think being raise Catholic, and being so repressed, I didn't connect it with sexuality or anything. It was just like, I really was attracted to women, but kind of the feminist movement just lined it up. There's theory. Oh, my god. It was an awakening, an amazing awakening.
Mason Funk: [00:45:30] Tell me more about that, as kind of a standalone moment in your life. Did you fall in love with a specific woman? Is that what triggered you coming out as a lesbian? The basis of my question is basically, what led up to you coming out as a lesbian, and who did you come out to, and I guess what did that mean to you at the time?
Lani Kaahumanu: I just totally forgot your question. Sorry.
Mason Funk: That's okay. When you say you came out as a lesbian, what triggered that?
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:46:00] What did that mean. I didn't come out as a lesbian right away after I divorced. I moved to the city, and it was the first time in my life that I had eever been on my own. I was 31 years old. I met my husband when I just turned 16. I was a teenager. Everything was an adventure, every single moment of my life was an adventure.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:46:30] I didn't want to settle down. I didn't want to be with anybody. I just wanted to find out, what could I do? Where was I going? What was going on? The feminist movement was swirling around, and I got a job as a waitress in one of the jazz club restaurants in the bay, by the airport, and became friends with a lot of people. I had what I used to call, it's a line from a country western song,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:47:00] my one-night stand in boogie band days. It lasted about six months. It got really boring. Totally fun. I had never done anything like that, and my friend Gloria and I, we'd go out, and just ...
Mason Funk: Sorry. Just say, "My friend Gloria and I would go out."
Lani Kaahumanu: Oh. My friend Gloria and I would go out. Oh, and I forgot to mention earlier that over this period of my twenties, I gained a lot of weight,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:47:30] a lot of weight. Towards the, in the early seventies, because I couldn't be at the beach with my kids, and have fun, and blah, blah, I went on my own diet for a couple years, and lost 100 pounds. That was happening, and I got the divorce. Didn't have anything to do with being fat, not fat, all that stuff. I want to cut that out, because that could be mistaken for fat politics and stuff. Anyway.
Mason Funk: [00:48:00] Right, right, right.
Lani Kaahumanu: Anyway, so going into this job, a job where I'm ten years older than everybody, but my one night stand in boogie band, period, six months. Who do I end up hanging out with is the ... I was the token feminist, and there was a token African American woman who,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:48:30] I would pick her up in Honer's Point, and we would go to work, and then I would drop her off on the way home, in the city, and come to find out she was a lesbian, on top of everything else. There was something about my life that I was ending up being around a lot of lesbians, and going to school, and being a waitress, so it was a whirlwind. And in this whirlwind, It was like, ugh, I've got to stop.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:49:00] What is going on? Am I a lesbian? Am I heterosexual? What's going on? All my friends are starting to come out at school. I don't know what's going on. I need to break for a moment. Okay. I have a hilarious story. I don't know if you want to hear it at all.
Mason Funk: Sure. From this period?
Lani Kaahumanu: Yeah. Do you know who Carlos Castaneda is?
Mason Funk: I know the slightest bit about him. I know that he was a guru, and psychedelic, and [crosstalk].
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:49:30] Yeah. Okay. I had my moment with Carlos. I can't believe I'm going to say this on film. Okay. I was going through this whole period of, I've just got to ... I just won't be sexual for a while, and just clear my head out, and try and figure out what's going on. At the same time, one of my good friends from high school came to live with me.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:50:00] He just kept saying, "Was I the last to know?" We all said, "Yeah, you were the last to know." He was coming out, and he was looking for a place in the city, and living with me. Around this time, I ended up meeting through another good friend, Carlos Castaneda, the writer. My friend calls me and says, "Oh, my god. You can't believe who I just met.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:50:30] I gave him your name and number, because you couldn't stop talking about his books," and she could care less, but he said that he'd call you. I said, "Right," and so out of the blue one day, I'm not kidding, I get a phone call, and it's Carlos Castaneda. I'm thinking, really. Yeah. Do we really have to go through this?
Mason Funk: [00:51:00] It's up to you. It's entirely up to you. There's plenty of other things to talk about as well, so if you wanted to skip it, you ...
Lani Kaahumanu: I know. It's just hilarious, because for two reasons. I won't go into the long story. The short of it is, is that because he was like a spiritual guru for me,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:51:30] and I thought, why am I meeting this man at this time in my life? I decided that it was because I was dealing with my sexuality, and I needed to say no, to stop being sexual, and to be ... Crud. What do you call it when you stop? Oh, celibate. Anyway, and that this would be a time where I could be celibate. That's the lesson.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:52:00] Not of course, he ends up at my place. We're talking. He talks about just meeting Henry Kissinger. I'm talking about being a room mother, and we're laughing, and I said, "Oh, you want to smoke some marijuana?" He goes, "Oh, I haven't done that in years." I said, "Oh, you're kidding me." I roll up a joint, and we go for a walk on the beach. He puts his arm around me, starts making moves, right? I said, "Do you know, Carlos." I said, "I think I met you
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:52:30] because I'm going into a period of celibacy." He looks at me like, no woman is not like that, but he's like, "Shuck, really," but he's still very sly, the hand thing. I said, "Yeah, I really need to do this." It's very late. He's on public transportation. He used to write in different color ink, and listen to conversation, because he ... Anyway, that was one of his things. I said, "Gosh, the [inaudible] has stopped running.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:53:00] You can stay overnight, if you want, but nothing's gonna happen." I said, "I have a waterbed. I hope that's okay." I said, "You can use my toothbrush." This is the seventies. It's really different then. No, or even the eighties. He goes, "Okay, fine. That's good." Here we are, in this king-sized waterbed, la, la, and I say no to Carlos Castaneda. It became a joke between us. It was part of my ...
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:53:30] I knew him for a couple years. He was in and out of my life, and I said, "You know, if I ever need money, I can write the National Inquirer and I can tell them that I was the only woman that said no to you." In that year, I was celibate for a whole year, and when I figured it out, it just felt really good, and I came out as a lesbian. Part of it's attached to Carlos, and being celibate, and saying no to him, and claiming my own sexuality, and figuring it out,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:54:00] and that I came out as a lesbian. I did not fall in love with a woman right away. It wasn't because I left. The reason for leaving my husband, or anything at all like that. It just cracks me up, and then at the end of that time, I came out.
Mason Funk: Pause one second. How are we doing for time?
Male: 28 minutes.
Mason Funk: Okay. 20 minutes to go on this card.
Lani Kaahumanu: Okay. Who knew I was, who knew.
Mason Funk: [00:54:30] [crosstalk] on this card.
Mason Funk: 28. Yeah. Okay. Cool. No, it's always good for me just to keep aware of the time.
Lani Kaahumanu: Yeah, yeah. No, no. I'm just thinking, I just can't even believe that we went there.
Mason Funk: That's pretty interesting. It's kind of cool.
Lani Kaahumanu: My gay guy friend, Carlos rings the doorbell. He comes running up. He stood me up once, so there was a lot of panic, and Carlos knocks on the door. He's never seen me.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:55:00] My friend Dan, who's going off to Polk Street, opens the door, and says, "Hi, my name's Lani." Carlos about plots, and then he turns to me, and goes, "No, really. That's Lani. You gotta fool the stars any chance you get." He leaves. God. Anyway.
Mason Funk: Oh, my.
Lani Kaahumanu: I know. I know. Stop me. God.
Mason Funk: Let me ask you this. Was coming out as a lesbian, was that ...
Mason Funk: [00:55:30] This is just my filling in the blanks. Was that in a way, almost like a political decision or statement, or at least was it a partly political statement as much, or along with, being a sexual statement? I just don't know obviously what it's like, in that era, to come out as a lesbian, with everything that was going on with the women's movement, and the separatism. I just wonder if making that statement in part was kind of a political statement
Mason Funk: [00:56:00] as well as a statement about, "I dig chicks." Can you kind of help me understand that?
Lani Kaahumanu: In the seventies, and it was '76 when I came out as a lesbian, so at that time, women's culture was coming up, and the women's studies department, and the women's movement. Coming out as a lesbian was a political statement,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:56:30] but it was much more than that. You were becoming part of this growing community, this giant wave, and there was so much support, and a cheering section, literally. It was just like, yeah. You're in the club.
Mason Funk: Hold that thought. Just hold that thought. You're in the club. Okay.
Lani Kaahumanu: Yeah. You're in the club. There's like this community feeling just washes over you, and it was exciting, and wonderful,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:57:00] and so supportive. If something hard happened, or you lost your kids, because that was happening, there was support. Everywhere you went, you were supported, and loved, and honored, and the hard part about that is, is that if you were a straight woman, there was that edge of men as enemies. I was a mother of a son, which was very hard then.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:57:30] It was very hard to be a mother of a son. I was in a group of mothers. It was a writing group, Mother Tongue Theater, and we wanted to write about what it was like to be lesbian mothers of sons, because our sons were not welcome in a lot of the spaces, and that was really, really difficult for many of us, many of us. Just because it was political in the sense that coming out, and saying you're lesbian,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:58:00] that's a political statement, but a lot of people, many people I would say ... Interesting. I hear myself say, "people," and as I've been a bisexual, the longer I'm with bisexual, I say people more than saying lesbian, or gay. If when I'm talking about the sixties and the seventies, it would be lesbian, not people. I disengaged from that language. Interesting to me.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:58:30] The politics of the time were so lesbian that if you said women, it equaled lesbian. It was one and the same thing, so it was hard for heterosexual women. It was hard for the bisexual women that were around, that of course, didn't exist. They didn't belong in the dance clubs. I was a pretty bi-phobic lesbian. I remember when a known bisexual,
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:59:00] seriously, came and was dancing at a Little More Dance Club, and I remember just, what is she doing here? She doesn't belong. I was upset that she was there, so there was a, anybody having ...
Mason Funk: Sorry.
Lani Kaahumanu: That's all right. No, no, no, no.
Mason Funk: Just hold that thought.
Mason Funk: Okay. When you're ready.
Lani Kaahumanu: [00:59:30] Anybody who was relating to a man was not treated very well. There was anger. There was shunning. There was ...
Mason Funk: Sorry about that.
Lani Kaahumanu: That's okay.
Mason Funk: There was anger, there was shunning ...
Lani Kaahumanu: There was anger. There was-
Lani Kaahumanu: Yeah. It's the loop. There was anger. There was shunning. Didn't want to be seen with them. They didn't belong. I was one of those lesbians that felt that way.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:00:00] There was no such thing. They have all that privilege. I had the line, that piece.
Mason Funk: Wow. Hold that thought for a second, because I want to just go back to something you just said.
Lani Kaahumanu: Yeah, yeah.
Mason Funk: I've certainly heard stories, and read stories, about women losing their children when they came out.
Mason Funk: Was there ever any threat to you, and to your relationship to your children, when you came out?
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:00:30] When I came out as a lesbian, two interesting things. My ex-husband said, "You're not a lesbian. You're bisexual," and I told him there was no such thing.
Mason Funk: Hold that thought. Okay.
Lani Kaahumanu: I was never threatened with him taking the kids, taking my rights to see them away,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:01:00] or anything, but I did have friends that lost their rights. One friend, the husband kidnapped them, and took them to Italy. That was a huge, the Jean Julian case became a pretty big case, and she was at San Francisco State. That's how I got to know her, so yeah, it was a reality in the seventies, coming out. To leap forward just a little bit,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:01:30] one of the people in By Any Other Name, Kuwaza when he came out as bisexual, he lost rights with his kids. Happens to bisexual people, too, so it's unfortunately common, was common, less so now.
Mason Funk: Right. Right.
Lani Kaahumanu: In 1979, I graduated from Women's Studies, and-
Mason Funk: Can we start that one more time?
Mason Funk: [01:02:00] When you say you graduated from Women's Studies, I think you mean graduated from San Francisco State?
Lani Kaahumanu: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Lani Kaahumanu: Okay. In 1979, I was at San Francisco State. I graduated from Women's Studies, and the first job I got ... I was totally pride, activist, just needing some ... I'm a cook. I've cooked before, and so I became the out lesbian chef at a new age,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:02:30] clothing-optional resort up in Mendocino County. It was called The Village Oz, so structures all over the place, weekend massage weekends, meditation, all that stuff. I was there the first summer, in '79. In the fall, I went to the first March on Washington for lesbian and gay rights, because it just ... I had never been to D.C. I went by myself. It was an amazing trip,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:03:00] and then I had promised myself that if I graduated from college, I'm the first one in my family to graduate from college, I would go to Hawaii, because I had never been there. Every time the whole family was going to go, my mother was pregnant, and then it didn't work out. I went and lived in Hawaii for seven or eight months, and it was a wonderful grounding time for me. I decided that I would call myself a writer. If people asked what I did,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:03:30] I would say I was a writer. Everybody believed me, because why wouldn't they? Oh, you're a writer? I had my journal with me at all times. I was a prep cook at the Aloha Cantina. The first day of work, the cook sliced her hand, and I became the lunch person. The name Lani was everywhere, the Hawaiian culture, the ...
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:04:00] I just felt at home instantly. I went back, and was the chef at The Village Oz, kitchen manager, basically. About in July, this young man comes hitchhiking through. His name was Bill, and by then, I was kind of missing activism, and talking feminism, and all this stuff, because it was isolated up there.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:04:30] The first thing he said, because everybody had come in the kitchen and would do karma yoga in the kitchen, and in the garden, so his first night there, he came, and he goes, "Wow." There's feminist posters everywhere in the kitchen, and he goes, "Have you read Of Woman Born, by Adrienne Rich?" I said, "Yeah." It talks about the institution of motherhood. It was a big book in the seventies that we used in Women's Studies. I said, "Yeah." Here's this young man, 15 years younger than me.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:05:00] His first question to me, he goes, "Oh, I'd love to just discuss it with you. That'd be great." No flirting. Nothing. I'm going, wow, that's totally cool, and it just went on from there. Within a few weeks, we're sneaking around, because the owner of the resort had a cartoon book, and I was one of the main characters in the book, and I didn't want him to know that I was having sex with this young man, because I was the lesbian cartoon character in the book.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:05:30] He caught us one day making out in the storage room, and then it was all in the open. Is there really such a thing as a bisexual in this cartoon book, which is still around. Anyway, I couldn't say I was bisexual. He goes, "Lan, what are you doing? You're not a lesbian. You're a bisexual." No, there's no such thing. We argued. I couldn't do it. My bi-phobia was so deep, and I knew when I went back to my community in San Francisco, this was 1980,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:06:00] I knew what I was facing. I knew I was facing, but nothing had changed. My politics. Whenever that proverbial shit was going to hit the fan, I knew where I'd be standing. Nothing changed, and he was a organizer, activist, strategist, identified as an anti-sexist, feminist man.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:06:30] We talked about doing a book together. We talked about organizing a bisexual feminist movement with men and women, and going for it in the city. We'd find other people, and so when I moved back to the city, it was horrible. It was so hard. It was like the lesbian who fell from grace. I-
Mason Funk: Hold that thought. [inaudible] Okay.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:07:00] It was a fall from grace from the community. I wasn't invited to parties because people thought I'd bring a man. You don't forget. Four years of lesbian feminist, activism, and stuff, and you think I'm with a man, and I'm going to forget everything? No. Really rude things would happen, really, really hurtful things,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:07:30] everything from people just talking like I was not there. The worst thing that happened is that one of the lesbians who ... I have to say that several lesbians did stand strong with me. Bless them, because it was not easy for them to do, but a majority of people that I thought were my friends, after a big march,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:08:00] a NOW march for choice and Golden Gate Park. Everybody's very high. You feel good at the end, and we're standing around, and this lesbian who I knew had this infamous dog, little black lab, very sharp, always had a red scarf on her neck, the dog, was a legendary crotch sniffer. Some dogs just do. This woman,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:08:30] who will remain nameless, told me, made this loud announcement after this exhilarating march, that her dog Natalie was never going to sniff my tainted crotch again. Announced it to everybody there. I didn't know everybody there. It was so humiliating. What do you do with that? I'm just coming out, so my own internalized bi-phobia ...
Mason Funk: [01:09:00] I'm just coming out.
Lani Kaahumanu: I'm just coming out, so my own internalized bi-phobia was so deep, and so confusing. Here's somebody, and I was standing around with all these people that I know and don't know. Somebody says something to you like that. I didn't even know how to deal, and her lover just said her name, and kind of, she kind of withdrew.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:09:30] It was just sitting there. The shunning, people just not looking at me, and just because, here I am. I'm still doing the work. I'm still an organizer.
Mason Funk: Hold that thought. Rush hour.
Mason Funk: I'm still doing the work.
Lani Kaahumanu: I'm still doing ... Whoops.
Mason Funk: I just was teasing, to make sure it was a thought.
Mason Funk: Oh, okay. Go.
Lani Kaahumanu: I'm still doing the work. I'm producing women's dances, lesbian dances.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:10:00] I'm still a member of the community like I was before, and more so, but the only difference is, is I'm naming my lesbian-identified bisexual right away. I dropped the lesbian-identified after a while, because I started realizing it's more than that. I'm bisexual, and at the time, another interesting thing that I learned is that there was a bisexual center in San Francisco on Hayes Street.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:10:30] It was internationally renowned. Support groups, social, therapists, parent groups, newsletter. It was a big deal, and so I went to their coming out group, all women, and every woman there said, "How do you ask a woman to dance? What is it like to kiss a woman?
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:11:00] Why are lesbians angry?" They were coming from a heterosexual place into bisexuality, and I was just like ... I could answer all their questions, but my question was, what do I do with this man? How do I integrate my life? I realized ...
Lani Kaahumanu: Yeah, it's okay.
Mason Funk: My question was ...
Lani Kaahumanu: My question was, what do I ... I didn't ask it, but what do I do with this man? How do I integrate my life as a bisexual,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:11:30] because I'm not going to leave that community. My heart was home in that lesbian and lesbian and gay community, because at the time, the lesbian gay community was pretty separate. During the AIDS, it really came together.
Mason Funk: We'll get to that in a second, because I do want to talk about that.
Mason Funk: I want to take up a couple things you said. One was, I just want to go back to the comment that woman made to you after that march.
Mason Funk: [01:12:00] Maybe just help whoever is watching this understand why, to that woman, your being involved with a man sexually was such an affront. If you can help us understand what her point of view was.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:12:30] When the woman made that comment about my tainted crotch, and her dog was no longer going to sniff me, I think some of it is the blatant bi-phobia that I myself had internalized, and so I was like, "Um." I was in that kind of a place of not even understanding how anybody could say that, but understanding because I remember pointing out that bisexual woman dancing on the lesbian dance floor,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:13:00] and she doesn't belong here. I got it, didn't get it, and I think that the women that really had a problem with it, she identified as a separatist, and so much so that the only men she dealt with was at the gas station or the grocery store kind of thing. If her daughter had a boyfriend or something, they could not come in the house. It was pretty, pretty rigid thinking,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:13:30] and I understood, and still understand separatism as a place to go, as a power place to understand what it means to be a woman in this culture that's so sexist, and so patriarchal, heteropatriarchy, and then there's white heteropatriarchy, if you want to build the whole thing up. If you're inside that, I don't know. For me, your outlook is very,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:14:00] very small. I understand people going through that as a growth process, but I don't understand standing there. I just don't, and I'm a mother of a son, who I adore, who I love, who I love madly, and I had an ex-husband who took the kids. There's a way I could not go there, but for some women,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:14:30] it was an important place at that time to be, and to live, and to live that out. What does it mean? What's the reflection of, when you're totally away from male eyes, culture, building ... At the time, there was women building women's culture. There was communities,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:15:00] and yeah. Some of it was a healing time for a lot of women. For other women, it was a ...
Mason Funk: Sorry. Hold that thought.
Mason Funk: Seven minutes.
Mason Funk: Okay. Good. For some women, it was a healing time ...
Lani Kaahumanu: Yeah, some women, it was a healing time. For other women, it was a strategy, and a philosophy, and a politic. When you do, when you wake up as a woman to what sexism ...
Mason Funk: [01:15:30] Now [inaudible].
Mason Funk: Great, so when you wake up as a woman ...
Lani Kaahumanu: When you wake up as a woman, and you realize how entrenched sexism is, and how you've internalized that, and you make yourself small, or you don't say some ... All that stuff, and you get it. There's a power that you feel inside yourself. I am woman,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:16:00] the whole Petula Clark thing, or the Rosie the Riveter. Whatever it is, or like Gary Aire, the Monique Finig image and words. It's a powerful place to be, and like coming out as a gay man, or coming out as a lesbian, there's a strength and a rightness about it, and so as a woman, I know when I came out, or yeah, came out as a feminist
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:16:30] when I took Ms., instead of Mrs. The flack that I got, it was like, really? Gosh. You're threatened. You're threatened by that. It's like an awakening. I think that there was a time and a place for that, and I know there still are separatists that live their lives, and bless them.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:17:00] There's a lot of us that can't go there, won't go there, and that has to be okay. Back in the seventies, it wasn't. It wasn't okay if you had sex with a man. It was interesting the terminology back then, because about every ... I don't know, in that 40 year period I was a lesbian, maybe I slept with three or four men. Maybe, but the terminology was, "You're just working something out."
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:17:30] What does that mean? If I met somebody, and it's going to be fun, why not?
Mason Funk: Okay. That's fantastic. That was awesome, and now I want to ask about the women who actually came and stood by you. What would they say to you, and of course, set this up by saying, "While some women did this, others did this."
Mason Funk: [01:18:00] What was different about them, or why for them were they able to just go, "You know, we still see you," essentially.
Lani Kaahumanu: The lesbian women who stood by me when I came out, especially in those early years, were less-
Mason Funk: You need to say when I came out as bisexual.
Lani Kaahumanu: Ah. Thank you. The lesbians that stood by me when I came out as bisexual,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:18:30] when I moved back to the city, and I had this boyfriend, they were lesbians who had gay male friends. They were lesbians who had sons. They were lesbians who, it was fine. My friend, still my friend, Sally Gearheart, who was a separatist, but a separatist in, and she had these amazing hands. She was a professor at San Francisco State, and she'd go ...
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:19:00] She would go like this, and she'd go, "I'm a separatist, and there's still men I love that are in my heart, and I always have to figure that out." There's even separatists who would, trying to work it out. When I came out to her as a bisexual and another professor, they both supported me. They both supported me, and Sally said, "You know ... " She had to tell me that,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:19:30] that I'm a separatist, and there's men that I love. The contradiction was there. Dorothy said to me, she goes, "Is this true," and I said, "Yes, it's true." She goes, "You have a lot of bisexual people to pull out of gay and lesbian history." I just was kind of surprised, and she said, "Sappho wrote love poems to men, too." I just started crying.
Mason Funk: [01:20:00] Double there.
Lani Kaahumanu: Yeah. It's people coming home from work.
Mason Funk: It's not nearly as hard as a jet. You just [crosstalk].
Lani Kaahumanu: Yeah. What was Dorothy? Dorothy. Yeah, she said to me that you have a lot of bisexual people to pull out of lesbian and gay history.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:20:30] Sappho wrote love poems to men, too. I had no idea. I'm not well read, but the whole line ... Sappho is the lesbian on Lesbos, and blah, blah, blah, and when she said that, it just made me cry, because I realized part of coming out bisexual is I'd lost so many people out of history that we'd pull out of history. All those people, but then you look at history.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:21:00] What about Walt Whitman? What about Oscar Wilde? What about, what about? There's all these people who ... James Baldwin. Eleanor Roosevelt. Love her. If you look at their behavior, you can't say they're lesbian. You can't say they're gay. If you're alive, yeah, go ask them. It's about self identity. I lost a culture. I lost literature. I lost all the feeling of coming out bi.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:21:30] Part of it was losing that, and so my two lesbian professors, who I still know and love dearly, they stood by me, which was really important. My lesbian friends, two of them. One, we were housewives together in San Mateo. She came out a year before me, and blah, blah, but she said to me ... She's a total blurter, somebody who just blurts. Hilarious. I came out to her, and she goes,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:22:00] "Oh, no. If it happens to you, it can happen to me." I go, "So what?" Then she goes, [inaudible]. It was hilarious, and we kind of laugh about it now. She's still lesbian, but it was the people who still had relationships, good relationships with men. One of my girlfriends, lovers for a few years, she said, "You know, I just don't get it." She goes, "I'm a virgin." She'd never, ever been with a man, and she goes,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:22:30] "And I love men." She goes, "I don't understand it." She goes, "Bisexuality makes sense to me. Why do some lesbians get upset?" It's a real-
Mason Funk: Okay, so what I wanted to ask you about was ... Also, I love to go back to things that just blow my mind, even though they might be common knowledge to others, which is it never had occurred to me that lesbian separatists of a certain era would actually feel antipathy towards their own sons. Maybe antipathy is too strong a word, but that they would actually have ...
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:23:00] They wouldn't have sons.
Lani Kaahumanu: There's no sons in their lives. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay, so tell me about this. I know this wasn't you, but just describe this era where the separatist tendency was so strong. You can't control what gender child you're going to have, so did they just not have children? What if they already had boys?
Lani Kaahumanu: As far as the seventies and having sons, that was a separate camp from the separatists.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:23:30] It was a different part of the community, a little bit of the outsiders. If you had sons, and it was an all-women event, okay, what do you do? Can you bring your son? There was community festivals kind of thing, and sometimes you couldn't bring your son.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:24:00] I know in the eighties, the music festivals, there was an age limit. I would get pretty snotty about it, and say, you know, you have a half inch penis. That's going to bother you? What? It's like, what? This is a little human being here. Beautiful, beautiful person. Happens to be a boy. It just never,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:24:30] never made sense to me at all, excluding. Now with the way gender is, and the way the fluid gender, and all that, this is last century, really. Seriously.
Mason Funk: Okay. Okay. Like I said, that's really illuminating, but we could also spend a lot of time there, and I feel like you want to move ahead with your story.
Mason Funk: [01:25:00] One of the big highlights, jumping forwards a ways now, but that March on Washington story is pretty powerful, the one that you sent me the details.
Lani Kaahumanu: Oh, yeah. The '93.
Mason Funk: Yeah, so we don't have time to probably tell a super long version of it, but the idea that you as the bisexual person got shunted further, and further, and further down the schedule, and finally there was this moment of truth. I think that's just a great illustration of what you guys have been up against,
Mason Funk: [01:25:30] basically, what the bisexual community has been up against in terms of the tokenism. We'll have one bisexual speaker. She'll go last.
Lani Kaahumanu: That was predictable.
Mason Funk: You say it was predictable, so I guess this is just ... Let us inside your skin a little bit, through the lens of that particular event.
Lani Kaahumanu: I'll hopscotch through the eighties, just bing, bing, bing.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:26:00] I was in the lesbian community, and part of our idea, bills in mind, was to organize bisexuals within the lesbian gay community, because the farther I came out, I became a confessional to all these people that were sleeping with the wrong gender, and that still happens. It still happens today. Well, actually, I'm bisexual.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:26:30] That's very common for bisexuals to hear from heterosexual or lesbian and gay people, very common. The farther I came out, I started writing to get visibility, because I knew I wasn't alone, even though nobody's standing around me going, "Yay," except for a small handful of people. I started writing. I organized Bi-Pole, with a bunch of other people, which politically, we started becoming more visible
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:27:00] and loud. In '87, there was the March on Washington. Bisexuals were very visible there, and this is before technology, the real, like everybody's on their cell phone. We didn't even have ... Oh, god. We were excited when we got an answering machine. That just cracks me up. Does anybody know what an answering machine is today?
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:27:30] All the organizing was done on the phone, phone trees, that kind of thing. I'd been doing all this organizing with people all over the country, and in 1987, there was a pre-march gathering. I walked into that room, and on my gut, in my gut, I thought, "We have a national movement. This is a national mo ... " I just got goosebumps, because it was that, I think the word is visceral.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:28:00] There's this moment. It's just like, oh, my god, but when you're isolated at home, talking to people all over the country, you don't get it, and then all of a sudden, I walk into this room, and here we are. Marched as a contingent in '87, and two things happen. One, I stayed with Lorraine, who I met in '85. I wrote her a note, and I said, "Let's write the ... "
Mason Funk: I stayed with Lorraine Hutchinson.
Lani Kaahumanu: Oh, sorry. Yeah. In '87, I had met Lorraine in San Francisco.
Lani Kaahumanu: Okay. In '85, I met Lorraine Hutchins. She was traveling through, had heard about me and my organizing. We talked. I stayed with her in D.C. for the March on Washington, and at the end of that, after coming into this room full of people and understanding we have a movement, this is a national movement, I left her a note, and said, "Let's write the book we always wanted to read."
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:29:00] The other thing was, we have a national movement. Let's organize a national movement. Part of what happened in that room that day, there was a flyer. Are we ready for a national organization? Bi-Pole, the organization I helped found, our address was on there, and Boston women put the flyer together. Between '87 and '90,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:29:30] or late eighties, we got so much mail saying, "Yes," people sending money. Cash was coming in, 500 or 600 bucks. My friend Autumn Courtney and I, another Bi-Pole person, we planned the 1990 National Bisexual Conference, so that was huge, another huge step. It was during that time that the right wing started recognizing bisexual people. The fight the right people,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:30:00] the radical right, was recognizing bisexual people, so ... We're going to the march now. There was a call for another March on Washington. With the right wing, we were in their sights. I realized,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:30:30] I'm a good strategist. I didn't know that about myself, but it just made sense to me. It's time. This march, I'd been to the last two, we can get our name in the march this time. We're visible enough. We're organized enough. We have enough visible people in big cities around the country. I organized a 12 city endorsement campaign, and I wrote up this little thing, "It's time for bisexuals to be recognized. We're being included in the veterans' organization. We're being included in campus groups."
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:31:00] I just made the list, and it's time, and then I organized, on-phone, 12 cities, and had people go get signatures from well-known people, lesbian and gay people, because my idea was, the strategy was, is that they've been doing a lot of talk, but they haven't done any walking at all. It's time for them to put their name on a piece of paper that says, it's time to endorse,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:31:30] for bisexuals to be in the name on the March on Washington. We got 52 people, everybody from Phyllis Lane, to Dill Martin, to David Schonders, who was a councilman in Boston, to the head of P Flag. It was all over the map. Jerry Studs. I could name a lot of people. We went to the meeting, the Name the March meeting, and we got there early so that we could do the packet for everybody there, and we put the endorsement campaign right on top.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:32:00] Anyway, this is a great thing. We were successful, but we had to remove "sexual" from it, so when you see it, it's, "The 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation." They couldn't deal with sexual. What is our movement about? Sexual liberation, hello, but they couldn't deal. No, we got to take the sexual out. Got the bi in, and so bisexuals were active in every city. We were carrying the banner in the front.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:32:30] We were on the stage, the small day stage, and I was asked to be a speaker for the day. There were 18 speakers of the day. Guess which one I was? 18. I was the eighteenth speaker of the day, and the stage was not produced. What they did is they let a lot more people on the stage, the stars, the whatever, this, that, everybody.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:33:00] By the end of the day, I was supposed to go on at 5:30, and it was 6:45, and I still wasn't up. Reggie Williams, representing People with Aids, who was speaker 17, and I, were told, and he was told as he's walking to the podium, and I was down ... It's two flights of stairs up on this massive stage, that we have to make our five-minute speeches two minutes. Two minutes. All day, we're behind the scenes.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:33:30] I'm handing out my speech. Bi-phobia everywhere. Nobody's saying bisexual. A few people did. Phil Donahue, of all people. Yay, Phil. By the end of the day, totally worn out because of the incredible bi-phobia, so when I'm told this, I'm going in to look in the mirror, to see, okay, and one of the co-chairs comes to me and says, "You have to make your speech two minutes." I'm going, what? The park is going to turn off the speakers at 7:00.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:34:00] It's less than 15 minutes, by that time. I'm furious. I tapped an anger inside me that I don't get angry that easy. I like to get things to work, because I believe you can make things work with ... It's just true. That's how I operate, but I was angry, and I came out of that trailer, and another co-chair comes up, and, "What's wrong?" I said, "They just told me my speech is two minutes," and she was always an ally, Nadine Smith.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:34:30] She said, "That's wrong. Let me go see what I can do." Within ten seconds, I'm not kidding, they said, "You're on." I had my speech in my hand, and I'm going through security, really interesting, because Lani Ka'ahumanu, Lani Ka'ahumanu. Check, check, all the way up two flights of stairs. I get up there, and then Robin Tyler, who I knew from the eighties, West Coast Women Music Festival,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:35:00] gets on her knees to me, and says, "Please make your speech two minutes." I'm thinking, if I only had a camera. If iPhones were around then, I would've just like, snap. That would've been a beautiful thing, but I said, "No." She goes, "We have to shorten your intro." I said, "It's two sentences." She wanted one, and I wanted the one that was more radical, saying I had been a housewife, I had identified as a lesbian, and I'm bisexual now.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:35:30] It was literally, the media tent had already collapsed. There was no media, the press. The cameras were still all there. C-SPAN was still there, and the TV cameras were there, but the media tent that met you after you left the stage for blah blah, that was all gone. Everything was being broken down. In fact, the stage is being broken down, and here I am, going, oh, yay, yay. I walk up there,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:36:00] and I had ... A five minute speech isn't that long, and I knew it was a little too long, and I just trusted myself to edit as I went. It was longer than two minutes, but as she's introduc ... People are leaving the stage. The musical group, Minaj, is leaving. I'm walking up. Robin is at the podium, introducing me, and I'm on. That's maybe a minute and a half after I was told. Seriously, it was that quick.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:36:30] I just said, "Aloha. It ain't over till the bisexual speaks," and then I launched into my speech. They were breaking down the stage around me, literally. I watched a video of my speech, and the rough of it, and it was just like, I started noticing. It was going on behind me, but I didn't see it,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:37:00] but you could see that things were being broken down. There was over 1,000 people in the bisexual contingent alone, and bisexuals in all the other contingents. I stood up for transgender people, too, in my speech. We were in that together, and I know when I got home, Connie Norman called me at Trans Activists, who had AIDS, and was dying, and she said,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:37:30] "I waited all day to hear somebody, somebody recognize transgender people, and speak to that issue, and thank you." I just got goosebumps again, because she died shortly after that. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Is that what you would call kind of a ... Had you already been galvanized, or was that a galvanizing moment, or what does that moment mean to you in retrospect?
Lani Kaahumanu: Which moment?
Mason Funk: [01:38:00] The moment of that whole, I guess you could call it fiasco, speaking while they take the stage down around you. It's a powerful, almost symbolic, it seems, representation of the uphill battle.
Lani Kaahumanu: Oh. It was the beginning.
Mason Funk: That moment [crosstalk].
Lani Kaahumanu: It was a beginning, because we ... Oh. The March on Washington and getting our name in that title, at that time, was,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:38:30] we were at that national table. We did the work. We got the votes. We were there. Up until that point, we had been there. We had done all this work, and many people have asked me, "Well, why didn't you get transgender in there?" It was the transgender movement at the time didn't have the visibility, didn't have the community,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:39:00] and we fought to get transgender included into the delegation, into the name, but we couldn't, but that was a starting off point, as far as being at the national and taking, you've got to take us seriously. That was the '93 March on Washington, and just two years, one or two years earlier, men meant to in Colorado. The ... I have to thank you. I'll probably sit down and write my book now.
Mason Funk: [01:39:30] Good. Good.
Lani Kaahumanu: Before the March on Washington in '93, the buildup to that was the religious right, radical right, was targeting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in their amend ... Amendment two included bisexual in the verbiage. In Oregon and Washington,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:40:00] it included transgender, and transsexual, and transvestite, even in one of them. Yet, the lesbian and gay movement could not recognize us. They did not recognize us, would not even ... Even with bisexual in the verbiage of amendment two in Colorado, they didn't recognize us as part of the movement.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:40:30] It's completely frustrating, completely, and we've been there all along. Still, we're left off the table. Even now, you hear people say, "LGBT, LGBT, LGBT," yet when they're talking, they'll say lesbian, gay, or they will say lesbian, gay, and transgender. There's something about bisexual.
Mason Funk: The other thing I wonder, and that I think, is that they may even say ... Now it's become commonplace for people to say LGBT.
Mason Funk: My sense, because I guess I represent this, which is that I said that phrase many, many times with zero awareness. Just sticking a letter in the thing doesn't mean anything.
Lani Kaahumanu: Right.
Mason Funk: I would like you to address basically, where do you feel like we're at, and then I'm going to go back in time a little bit, but where do you feel like we're at in terms of the fact that yes, LGBT, or LGBTQ has become a commonplace acronym,
Mason Funk: [01:41:30] but that doesn't equal true visibility, or true understanding, or true communication. It doesn't represent really anything if it's just a letter in an acronym that people ... It rolls right off the tongue.
Lani Kaahumanu: I think it's important that the B and T got added to LGBT, because it represented all the work that had come before, but it doesn't mean
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:42:00] that everybody understands B or T at all, and what the connections are, and what the history is, and especially the history. Especially, I would think, the history with LGBT people, that bisexual people have been around. The two big examples are the first homophile, student homophile group at Columbia was founded by a bisexual man. Does anybody know that?
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:42:30] Does anybody know that Brenda Howard, his name was Steven Donaldson, does anybody know that Brenda Howard was at Stonewall, and organized the first month after Stonewall gathering, to have another march to commemorate it, and then organized, helped organize and conceived, we'll do a yearly parade, and that was the birth of all our pride parades? No. There's a way in which there's an erasure that happens.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:43:00] It's overwhelming, makes me cranky a lot of times, and a lot of people burn out. I don't know what the resistance is, really, but the LGBT, hooray, but it's a whole other thing. Here we go. We've got to educate, and educate, and educate, and on the other side, the researchers were only researching gay and lesbian people, and including bisexual, or throwing us out, but there was never any research on bisexual.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:43:30] It wasn't real to vast numbers of people, and now, we have research that is showing in the GLB community, there's more bisexuals than gay and lesbian put together. What does that mean? It means a lot of things, but it also shows that our suicide rates are higher. All the rates are higher because of the invisibility, the mental health issues, drug ...
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:44:00] All those issues are much higher, and we now say, "This is what we've been saying all along," and we now have the research. It's happening, and the education is happening on all the levels that it needs to. Some people are still so stubborn that they just ... They're so stuck in this either/or, either/or kind of thing when ... I was thinking about that. It's like, I've never lived in an either/or world in my whole life.
[01:44:30] My life has always been both/and, and the other day I'm driving, because I do my best thinking when I'm driving. It's beyond both/and. It's all and. It's all and. That's it. All my life, my organizing, my activism, it's all of us, and it's just annoying. I'm so glad I'm mentoring, and there's so many young bisexuals coming up, and transgender people,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:45:00] and pansexuals, and sexuals, and fluids, and whatever you want to call yourself. Yes, do it. Just push it all. Please.
Mason Funk: Yeah. I had a wonderful experience at the last show, the cruise for TV earlier this year ... I guess I was talking about OUTWORDS just a moment too, and a young woman, twenties, came up to me. I could tell it was a big moment for her, because in retrospect, she said, "Well, I'm bisexual." I was like, wow. Go.
Mason Funk: [01:45:30] I could tell she kind of screwed up her courage, and that was probably the first little awakening for me, before I started talking to all of you all, but I could tell that was a big deal.
Mason Funk: We skipped over AIDS, the AIDS crisis, but I want to talk ... Probably this is kind of the last big topic, about what happened, how bisexual people were ...
Lani Kaahumanu: Still are.
Lani Kaahumanu: Scapegoating.
Lani Kaahumanu: Yes. As far as AIDS, I was in San Francisco. Caster was my neighborhood. I lived about five blocks away, and it was unbelievable how quickly people died. One day you see somebody. Two weeks later, they look like gaunt,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:46:30] and then they're gone. We'd open the newspaper, the BAR, and the middle section was memorial. What do they call those? Obituaries of people with their picture, and it's just like ... It was so horrific that it's almost unbelievable now. It was so horrific, and ... I'm going to get choked up.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:47:00] The bisexual experience that happened during that time, seven of us were in Bi-Pole. David Lauriet was sex educator, Dr. David Lauriet. Allen Rockway was a psychologist, did AIDS work. Maggie Rubenstein, an RN who was also involved with AIDS, and three more of us. As sex educators,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:47:30] and as people who were active in the community, the gay community and the health community, they were very vocal, very out there, and part of what they would talk about, because everybody was afraid of sex. There were a lot of overwhelmed, a lot of sex negativity, and one thing that the bisexual community brought was, there was this thing, safe sex.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:48:00] Safe sex. Sex isn't bad. There was this thing, in the gay and bisexual community, that feeling bad. The homophobia and sex-phobia combination was horrific, and so they did a lot of education, and David Lauriet was on ... He was appointed to Diane Feinstein's commission, HIV commission. I think it was called HIV by then,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:48:30] but he and a couple other folks were going into the SM clubs and stuff, and talking about safe sex, and trying to figure it out, getting it in the open, getting people engaged. Maggie was the first co-chair of mobilization against AIDS, so we were involved in what was going on, and on one hand, we were dying of HIV, AIDS, GRID.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:49:00] The names kept changing, and then on the other hand, we were told we didn't exist, literally. Bisexuals don't exist, so David fought with the Department of Public Health for two years, and he finally got bisexual men included in this stats, the weekly stats, so at least there was a visible something that said, yes, we're dying, too.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:49:30] It's not just gay, gay, gay. It's bisexual people, and looking at behavior and identity.
Mason Funk: Hold that thought.
Lani Kaahumanu: Because there is a big difference between behavior and identity. There was gay men. Gay men have sex with women. Not just bisexual men. Gay men have sex with women, and that the sexual education,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:50:00] and the safe sex stuff, they always included women in it, but the misogyny in the gay community was so enormous that they pushed it away, and didn't want to face that fact, number one. God. It's such-
It's such a hard time, but what happened, the scapegoating of bisexual men, especially, was ...
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:50:30] I became a safe sex educator much later, late eighties, early nineties and stuff, but during that time, trying to get people who were doing their very best, because there was ... Nobody was doing anything. We, the community, was doing the education, and ...
Lani Kaahumanu: As far as the education that was happening, nobody was saying bisexual, so how do you educate a community? It-
Lani Kaahumanu: Yeah. No, no, no. It's fine.
Mason Funk: You said scapegoating, but then you kind of went off into a different ... I guess I want to get the piece that was just about the scapegoating, the blaming. The blaming for bisexual men for ...
Lani Kaahumanu: Everything.
Mason Funk: Bringing the disease into the heterosexual community. I think we've covered, like I said, there's much more to say, but I'm obviously going to have to get this from more than one person.
Mason Funk: We have three traditional wrap-up questions, and the first one is, to a young person, and because these are going to be sort of like ... It's viable to keep these answers sort of short and to the point. To a young person who is just about to step out of any type of closet, out onto the stage of him or herself,
Mason Funk: [01:52:00] as a kind of out person, what advice, or guidance, or wisdom would you give to that young person, and kind of incorporate my question in your answer.
Lani Kaahumanu: Mind just went blank. Just give me a snapshot of what you said, not the long ...
Mason Funk: Yeah, so to a young person who's just about to come out, what advice, or wisdom, or insight would you give? Coming out in a literal sense or sort of a [inaudible] sense?
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:52:30] To somebody who would be just coming out, risking yourself, because that's what it is. It's risking yourself, is, I would say ... This sounds not quite right. Oh, god. Wait a minute.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:53:00] Just want to go, "Go to somebody's safe. Make somebody," but ... I think for somebody coming out, find a supportive space.
Mason Funk: Thats okay because there was a car.
Lani Kaahumanu: Yeah. That's what I-
Mason Funk: Yeah. That was your host.
Mason Funk: Oh, okay.
Lani Kaahumanu: I hate these pithy things, because it's like, you want to be profound.
Mason Funk: [01:53:30] I know. I know.
Lani Kaahumanu: It's like, meh. Are you going to have a blooper tape on this? [crosstalk] The outtakes? That would be good. Anyway, for somebody that would be coming out, is make ... I think that's hard. Coming out is so different
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:54:00] if you're isolated in a place, like rurally, or whatever it is, and you don't have support anywhere around, it's very hard to come out. I know people come out online, and then it's a safer kind of a thing. I think it's important to come out. Risking yourself is one of the most important things, and I guess I've been really privileged to be able to have done that in my life,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:54:30] because there wasn't violence around me, or the possibility of violence around me, when I came out, and I came out twice. There was emotional violence, and I had to deal with stuff coming out as bisexual that was not nice. It was wrong. But it was basically safe for me to come out, and I think for somebody young coming out, and trying to figure it out, if you don't feel safe, and you don't have anybody to talk to
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:55:00] that could help you, or protect you, or give you advice, I would check out the internet, and find a safe place there to come out, and connect with people. Holding something like that back in is not so good. Love yourself. Love yourself for exactly who you are. That's the most important thing.
Mason Funk: [01:55:30] Great. Great. Great. That was awesome. Secondly, what is your hope, and I don't define what I mean by the future, but what is your hope for the future?
Lani Kaahumanu: My hope for the future is to have ... I think it's time for us to get beyond, start identifying each other as human beings. All this identity stuff is getting in the way of us taking care of the mess this world is in,
Lani Kaahumanu: the environment, everything, and that my hope would be that we could start taking ... Be grown up. Get to the point where we can communicate with each other, and really see what needs to be done, and it doesn't matter if I'm bisexual. It doesn't matter if I'm gay, lez, whatever, African American, Asian American, Native American. It's just like, we're human beings here together,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:56:30] and we need to start identifying ourselves as human beings with other living things, because our world is in big trouble. If we don't gather, we might not be here.
Mason Funk: Great. Pretty true. Lastly, what is the importance to you of a project like OUTWORDS?
Lani Kaahumanu: For youth out there in TV Land.
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:57:00] OUTWORDS, when I first saw OUTWORDS, I thought, that is the greatest, most clever, at the moment thing. OUTWORDS. Perfect. It explains exactly what it is. It's being out and giving yourself to a camera. The bank of information, the resources of people. This is going to live longer than me,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:57:30] and it's history, and I find that history is really important. We live in an age of cameras, and iPhones, and selfies, and all this wild stuff that certainly wasn't around when I was growing up. If I could just go to Outwards, say, and see the people in the forties, and see them interviewed like this, and what it was like for them to be out,
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:58:00] what a gift that would be. What a learning, I learn by visual. This is how I learn. I don't learn so much by reading, so it's a gift. It's such a gift to the community, and it's a gift.
Mason Funk: That was actually perfect, unless you had more to say.
Lani Kaahumanu: That's good. No, that's good. That's fine.
Mason Funk: Could you say that last sentence again, because the phone ... I think I [inaudible]. If you just want to say, "It's a gift."
Lani Kaahumanu: [01:58:30] It's a gift. OUTWORDS is a gift to all of us who love history, and especially visual and oral history. Thank you.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Goro Toshima
Date: July 25, 2016
Location: Home of Lani, Ka’ahumana, Cazadero, CA