//Johanna Pietari, founder of Bi Women’s Social Club, at a meet-up at Edgewater Market on Jan. 28. Photo by Polina Saran | firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional reporting by Nika Anschuetz.
After more than a decade away from the dating scene, Johanna Pietari felt rusty as she swiped on dating apps. After opening her marriage to outside relationships, she was ready to explore dating women, but still, she had doubts. “No one will want to date a married woman,” she thought.
She was worried women might think she was “unicorn hunting,”—when a couple looks for an unattached bisexual woman to join them in a threesome— or trying to trick them into sleeping with her husband. She was nervous they might question her authenticity as a queer person.
“I guess there’s just a part of me that thinks they’ll think I’m less than, or not good at gay sex or something or using them for experience or just like a fun side thing or a distraction,” Pietari said. “There’s just something about it that makes me even doubt my bisexuality.”
For as long as Pietari can remember, she’s been attracted to women. But through the lens of heteronormativity, she didn’t feel entitled to the label of bisexual. Pietari said she should have been able to own her identity from when she was 19, as “it was obvious.” But at that time, she thought she couldn’t claim the label until she’d had an experience or relationship with someone other than a man. But she said reading the work of Jen Winston allowed her to own her bisexuality. Her self-realization eventually led to opening up her marriage to non-monogamy.
“I feel like owning my bisexual identity helped a lot more because [Winston] talks about how it kind of just changes the way you view the world,” Pietari said. “Like you get to look at things through a different lens. I feel like I’ve been reinvented. I just started thinking about what my ties were to monogamy and [society’s] view of relationships.”
At first, she wasn’t sure how to fit into queer spaces. She browsed Facebook and MeetUp for events that fit what she was looking for but didn’t find the perfect niche. She attended a few Hip Chicks Out and Later In Life Lesbians events, but she found herself censoring the language she used about her husband and kids for fear of judgment. She was also met with biphobic comments about bisexuality being “a pit stop” on the way to being gay.
“I get that, especially from lesbians who came out later in life, because I think a lot of them did say they were bi in the beginning—They thought it was more palatable,” Pietari said. “It let them hold onto their marriages a little bit longer, whatever relationships they were in. I don’t hold it against them. I would still say, by and large, the LGBTQ community is way more accepting of bisexual people than the straight community. It just kinda stings in a different way.”
Around the time of the vaccine rollouts in early 2021, Pietari took to MeetUp again—only this time to create her own group called Denver Bi Women’s Social Club. The inclusive, bi+ community she longed for was born.
“I wanted to know more women who were married or dating men who identified as bi,” Pietari said. “I just wanted to hang out and talk about gay stuff but not be afraid to mention my kids or my husband.”
According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2020, 5.6% of U.S. adults identify as LGBTQ+ with more than half of that group identifying as bisexual. Also, in 2020, after a push from bisexual advocate Robyn Ochs and GLAAD, Mirriam Webster updated its definition of bisexual to be less binary. Bisexual is now defined as romantic or sexual attraction to people of one’s own gender identity and of other gender identities.
“I think a lot of people are reluctant to take on the bi label cause they view it as just two things: men and women,” Pietari said. “That’s not my definition of bisexuality. I just wanted to make sure pansexual, omnisexual and polysexual are included. I also have a lot of lesbians in the group who most of their previous relationship experience has been with men. So they don’t feel like they quite fit in with the average group, I guess. It’s a really big umbrella. I say the more the merrier.”
One of the lesbian members is Kristine Sieger, who said the word “lesbian” haunted her before she came out, oftentimes inciting a visceral reaction. She watched as her cousin Pietari leaned fully into her sexuality. And after getting engaged to a man, it hit her—She longed to be herself. So she ended the relationship, and less than a year later, she moved to Denver in search of her community.
“I’m in a queer space. I’m in a new town, and I’m now identifying as a lesbian. For so long I’ve been avoidant. It’s great to hear about other people’s experiences,” Sieger said.
After moving to Denver, Angela Zippin, like Pietari, was looking to find her community and meet new people. Like most millennials, she turned to the internet and logged in to her previously dormant MeetUp account. She wasn’t specifically looking for LGBTQ+ organizations, but a Denver Bi Women’s Social Club event drew her in—a mural walk through RiNo. Pietari said any member can host a meet-up, which greatly diversifies the activities: a stargazing party, drag bingo at Hamburger Mary’s, weekend trips to Mount Princeton hot springs and Santa Fe. One member, Savannah, brought the group to the Selfie Museum to take dating profile photos.
Zippin is no stranger to queer circles, but this was the first time she saw an organization specifically for bisexual women.
“[Queer spaces] can be a little alienating if you date men or are in a relationship with a man,” Zippin said. “There’s sometimes a feeling that it’s not for you.”
But this was different. Zippin felt connected. Soon after her first outing, she returned. And weeks later, she found herself laughing alongside a community of bi+ women, cutting out pictures of Dolly Parton at Pietari’s home.
“It’s clearly for us, but it’s not exclusive,” Zippin said.
While the group is inclusive of multiple sexual identities, Pietari is hoping to make the group more intersectional as it grows. She hopes to get more group leaders who belong to other marginalized groups who she acknowledges will know how to appeal to and accommodate them better than she can.
“I think that’s gonna be a work in progress,” Pietari said. “I feel like we’ve had a decent diversity of ages, races and abilities. I do everything I can to make everybody feel welcome, but I’m definitely not perfect and am definitely open to feedback.”
Pietari translated her desire for a bi+ space for women into a club that appeals to the masses. The club now has more than 300 members, and Pietari hopes the space will continue to inspire members to think outside the box—in all areas of their life.
“Once you question your sexuality, it makes it a lot easier to be more imaginative,” she said.
“It can kind of be a window to question all binaries.”
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