Archive for October, 2008

29
Oct
08

What makes a film bi, anyway?

Last Thursday night, I went to The Bi Eye On Queer Film at NYC’s LGBT Community Center. It was a two-hour program of arguably bi-themed short films (or short films with arguably bi characters), with time in between for discussion. And it was, all in all, an interesting evening. I have a somewhat narrower idea of what constitutes a bi film than the person who did the selecting, but the discussion gave a place to say that. And I met a couple of very cool bi women whom I will, with any luck, be seeing at future events (now that I’m all activisty and blogger-like, I’m really making an effort to make time for more of NYC’s bi scene. Further reports on that to come, I’m sure. And as of this coming weekend I’ll be done moving, with all kinds of lovely time to fill up!)

With the caveats that I’m not particularly into film, nor am I any good at reviewing a film without spoiling it, here’s what we saw: Continue reading ‘What makes a film bi, anyway?’

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20
Oct
08

Am I blogging about Lindsay Lohan again? Please shoot me now.

E! Online has a poll up right now about whether bisexuality actually exists. Because the best way to figure out whether a sexual identity exists – the best way to figure out whether any minority exists – is to poll the majority. That’s always accurate, and it never goes badly for anyone. The majority always knows all about the existence, makeup, and needs of the minorities under it, and has absolutely nothing invested in denying any or all of it.

What is this urge to validate (or, usually, invalidate) bisexuality, anyway? Why do people feel the need to go around discussing whether it really exists, and if not what motivates people to claim it does? What possible sense is there to any method other than believing people when they talk about their feelings and experiences? I’m totally baffled. I just don’t get how anyone could believe they understand someone’s motivations, desires, and experiences better than that person does hirself. I live in such a queer, sex-positive, accepting bubble that I’m totally flummoxed when reminded that sexuality and sexual identity are extremely loaded in the outside world, and people in general have a lot invested in the sexual identities of others. The only people in whose sexualities I’m terribly invested are the ones I’m attracted to, and even then I don’t care much if they usually like girls or femmes, or who else they like — I just want to know whether they’re attracted to me. I have trouble understanding why anything else matters. I have theories — that failing to take part in or uphold the heteronormative power structure is threatening; that women who don’t need men are dangerous; that people assume all queers of their gender will find them attractive, and simply being desired or hit on by a queer person will somehow taint them with queerness; that most people are unnaturally preoccuped with controlling the behaviors of others even when those behaviors have no impact on them (but don’t ask me why!); that bisexuality introduces an element of uncertainty as far as who one will be attracted to and what choices one will make that’s simply intolerable to people who need to put others into boxes and be able to predict and understand their choices, and denying that bisexuality exists and assigning people as either gay or straight sidesteps that uncertainty. But on a gut level it makes no sense to me.

And can we talk about the wording of the commentary on Lindsay Lohan that precedes the poll? When will she find comfort in her favorite male body part, indeed. Haven’t we already been through this? Even if cock were the be-all and end-all of sex – which, having had a significant amount of great sex that didn’t involve one, I can assure you it’s not – who’s to say that Samantha Ronson doesn’t have one (or several)? I have no more business speculating on their sex life than E! Online does, but really, people. The straight world needs to remember that cocks are not exclusive to or synonymous with men (another thing I could attest to from personal experience, should the need arise). And as Bitch and Animal point out, most men don’t get the same choice of size, shape, and color that many dykes do. So if that’s what Lindsay Lohan is hurting for (and how would they know that?!), maybe they’re doing it wrong.

Continue reading ‘Am I blogging about Lindsay Lohan again? Please shoot me now.’

11
Oct
08

National Coming Out Day

Happy Coming Out Day, everyone! I’m sorry things have been so slow around here lately; Sarah’s being eaten alive by grad school, and I’m being eaten alive by moving. But I’d like to introduce you all to my shiny new Eee PC, which is my new favorite toy and is also very effectively distracting me from the despair of moving. It should mean that I can continue to keep things running around here even while I have to spend every spare minute at home going through and packing up my belongings. I’ve been writing on the subway (as right now) and during slow times at work, and I’ll definitely be making better use now of those long bus rides to and from DC. Yay!

It’s hard to say exactly what my coming out story is; it happened over so many years to so many different people. And I’ve talked about some of it here already. I don’t really remember when exactly I came out to my friends. I know that, with several of my friends, I was talking about it as I figured it out and so was already out by the time I realized myself. I waited much longer to come out to my mother; I put it off until I had my first girlfriend at 20 (even though my sister had been out to her since she was 12, when I was 16). I still feel a little bit badly for springing it and my polyamory on her within a week of each other, but I was dating a dyke couple, so both were really relevant to understanding my life. She took it pretty well, too, although she did ask me if I had any other bombshells to drop on her. And these days I’m out to pretty much anyone I interact with meaningfully – I used to slip in a mention of my ex-girlfriend, and lately I talk about my girlfriend or this blog. A friend and I call this the slip-out, and I absolutely love it. With people who haven’t known me my whole life, my sexuality is just not such a big deal that it needs a whole announcement and production. An off-hand mention suffices to let people know where I’m coming from. I love that the world has changed enough to allow for that.

At the same time, there are people I’m not out to, for various reasons. Most of my clients, because I don’t generally talk about my personal life with them. Really, in my line of work it’s better if my clients don’t think about me *having* a personal life. I’d rather they never think of me and sex/sexuality in the same sentence, in any context and for any reason. On the other hand, I wonder how much of not “coming out” is about it being inappropriate to talk about myself to clients I don’t have a long-standing relationship with (and many of my oldest clients do know) – and how much is a worry that male clients will be inappropriately intrigued, while female clients might no longer see me as “safe” in whatever way requesting a female massage therapist makes them feel safer. Still, while it’s a good part of my life’s work to combat that kind of sexism and homo/biphobia, I just don’t think while I’m at work is the right venue. I’m out to my employers and coworkers, but coming out to most of my clients feels inappropriately personal in a way I just can’t get past. Maybe because it is inappropriately personal, or maybe because even I am vulnerable to societal pressure to stay closeted. I honestly couldn’t tell you.

I’m also not out to most of my father’s family (specifically my grandmother; I’ve been mentioning it to aunts and cousins whenever I have the opportunity), and that’s definitely about societal pressure to stay closeted. This is a woman who still doesn’t know that my parents lived together before they were married – not because they didn’t tell her, but because she didn’t hear them. And she’s old, and it would make her unhappy, and it just doesn’t seem worth it. I’m fairly certain she’s pro equal rights for queers in general, and just wouldn’t be terribly pleased that her granddaughter is one. But I wonder about this impulse in myself, whether Kant would say that if everyone stayed closeted just to their own grandparents, no staid old people would realize they know any queers (and as little as I think of Kant, the universal imperative always made sense to me. I just thought he applied it too broadly.) And there’s an uncle on the other side I also need to do the slip-out around, and that’s going to lead to one of those conversations where family members question my choices and my knowledge of myself. In that case, though, I’m ready and just waiting for the right conversational opening, so I can be casual about it and don’t have to do the big announcement. So I’m still thinking, still in process. I strive toward being totally out with everyone, and maybe someday I’ll get there, but right now there are still things holding me back.

Here’s my favorite coming-out story: I was working in a bookstore in one of NYC’s gay gay gay gay gay neighborhoods. My boyfriend at the time had come and picked me up earlier that day to have lunch with me, and I’d greeted him with a quick, chaste kiss – pretty indistinguishable from the way I greet some of my platonic friends, really. The event that night was for a photography book of male nudes, and *all* of my gay male coworkers (who were legion) were standing behind the audience watching. “Wow,” I observed, “all of the fags who work here have found some excuse to be at this end of the store.”

“You know,” a coworker scolded, “in the south where I come from, that’s really not a polite word to call someone.” I responded that I’m allowed ’cause I’m queer myself (it’s since been pointed out to me that the way we talk in public around people who aren’t intimately acquainted with our identities and politics still matters, and I buy that, but that’s neither here nor there.) To which this charmer responded, “You’re not queer – I saw you kissing your boyfriend earlier!” Um, yeah. Can’t fool you, you’re sharp as a tack. If you’re not careful, you’ll cut yourself. A quick “Yeah, he’s queer, too” shut him up, though – he suddenly had something to do at the other end of the store. I was amused. And that was always my major frustration in that relationship; as indviduals and as a couple we were about as queer as it’s possible to be, but people looked at us and saw one boy and one girl, and that makes a straight couple.

How about you? I’m totally going to use today as an excuse to get to know some of our lovely commentors. It’s Coming Out Day – what’s your story? Your coming out story, or anything else about yourself you’d like to share.

10
Oct
08

What I’m Reading: Empress of the World

In one of those feats of coincidental timing that the world is so good at, I read an article about YA fiction (in the newest Bitch magazine) that interviewed Sara Ryan, just after I posted my last book review here and several people recommended Empress of the World to me. I borrowed it from a friend, and really enjoyed it.

I’m starting to wonder if I’m getting too old for YA fiction, especially the kind that takes place in high schools (as opposed to the speculative fiction kind.) I realize some people never get too old for YA fiction, but I might be. The past few books I’ve read have just felt like sketches rather than novels, without the level of character and plot development that I look for. And I like lots of denouement, with all of my loose ends neatly tied in, while very uncertain endings seem to be in these days. But that said, I quite liked Empress of the World, and I especially like how Sara Ryan handles her characters’ sexuality.

The book takes place over the course of a summer, at an academic summer camp similar to the one I went to. Our protagonist, Nic (short for Nicola) meets and quickly develops a crush on a girl named Battle. The two of them and the rest of their group of friends deal with loads of academic work, various family drama, and their attraction to each other.

One of the things I like most about the book is that all of the characters (save one, who seems to be pretty much a plot device) are real people with real troubles, things other than their sexuality. This is not one of those books that takes place in a world where the trials of being queer happen in a vacuum, and I appreciate that. There are trials to being queer – Nic and Battle’s friend Katrina has an oh-so-familiar reaction to Nic’s interest in girls, rushing to make clear that she’s totally straight even while she’s being supportive, just in case Nic should interpret her hug as a come-on – but it’s nice when needing to come out doesn’t define a character’s relationship with her parents, or consume all of her attention, because she’s real enough to have other things going on in her life.

In fact, Nic and Battle approach their sexuality with refreshingly little angsting. Nic seems confused for a few pages, wondering how she can get so tongue-tied and awkward around certain boys <i>and</i> certain girls, but she accepts it pretty quickly. She seems to have had an inkling even before, watching a girl change costumes during the school play (right before a major crush on a boy.) And even when she’s confused, she’s not horrified or disgusted with herself. She’s anxious about her crush on Battle, but because she has no idea if Battle likes girls, not because she’s appalled that she herself does. That doesn’t seem to strike her a impossible or undesirable. My favorite moment is probably when she’s musing on the heteronormativity of her surroundings, and wondering if anyone else could be anything other than straight – “and there’s another boy i’ve seen, i think he’s in katrina’s class, who often wears long velvet skirts and lots of black eyeliner. but i believe this to be fashion statement rather than a declaration of sexuality, since i have observed him making out with various angst crows.

“i suppose he could like boys, too, though.

“i of all people should remember that.” Indeed. I think we’ve all caught ourselves thinking that one, and having to stop and point it out to ourselves. And yay, acknowledging the possibility of male bisexuality.

And when Battle runs into the arms of a convenient boy when things goes wrong between her and Nic, Ryan never gives us reason to think that it’s because he’s male, rather than because Battle needs a rebound and a distraction. Battle is avoiding her problems, but those problems don’t necessarily involve being attracted to girls. We never observe her internal monologue, and I won’t pretend to know whether she’s ever been attracted to a girl before or what her sexuality is and how she feels about it, but it’s neat to have two character in the same book come across as bisexual. It’s lovely that, even while she’s making out with a boy, the reader isn’t given the impression that Battle’s actually straight after all and was just trifling with Nic’s heart – I am so over that, and so glad it’s not the moral to this story.

I did find Battle to avoid her problems in a way that I don’t find admirable but the book seems to. I’m just not that into the take-home message of “Words don’t always work.” As a queer woman, I’m a champion processor. And while I recognize that the amount of talking I and most of the people I know do about our feelings and needs can be a little excessive, I’m not ready to swing that far in the other direction. I agree with Battle that one shouldn’t assign narratives to people because one doesn’t know their stories, but not that words are so imperfect that it’s better not even to try to communicate meaningfully with the people one cares about. Nic and Battle might have had a much easier time of it if they hadn’t spent a good chunk of the book avoiding each other, while Nic repeated to hersef Battle’s motto of “Words don’t always work” (which one assumes Battle was doing, too, since she was the one who ran away when something went wrong instead of trying to talk it out. That strikes me as excessive armor, not wisdom.)

So: A+ on bisexuality, and solid story and storytelling, too, despite my quibbling. It seems The Rules for Hearts catches up with the same characters several years later. I’ll definitely be checking it out.