Archive for the 'bi books' Category


Bi Lines II: Erika Kate McDonald’s “Fluid”

Following the Putting the “B” in LGBT Summit was Bi Lines II, an evening of readings and performances by bi writers, musicians, and one playwrite. It was a pretty well-put-together evening, it was neat to see Edmund White read, and I’ve decided I like bi songwriter Rorie Kelly and would like to check out more of her work. But the highlight of the evening was the excerpt from Erika Kate McDonald‘s one-woman show, Fluid. In fact, Erika Kate herself was one of the highlights of the Summit. She’s great company, and I was delighted to learn she lives in Brooklyn.

I first saw Fluid over a year and a half ago on a date with Girlfriend, Esq. In fact, when I started this blog I was disappointed that it had been so long that I didn’t feel I remembered it well enough to write about it. So it was great to get to see a bit of it again — my favorite part, no less! Play-by-play after the cut, with pictures. I apologize for the quality of the pictures; I took them on my phone on the spur of the moment. Continue reading ‘Bi Lines II: Erika Kate McDonald’s “Fluid”’


What I’m Reading: The Salt Roads

I sat down to write this tonight and spent two hours following links in RaceFail09 instead. Oops. But I’m glad I did it, even if it did come directly out of my sleepytime. There’s still a lot of good stuff happening out there, and the best thing I read tonight is Cat Valente’s piece on the power and importance of stories. (Yes, I am seriously author-crushing on Cat Valente right now. And what? I just wish I hadn’t lost my brand new copy of Palimpsest on that otherwise extremely awesome trip to Hartford.) There are also lots more things open in tabs. I will look at them tomorrow. Yes I will.

And speaking of RaceFail09, one of the things it brought to my attention is this LJ challenge to read 50 books by people of color in a year. There’s no way I’m going to read 50 in a year. My adolescent self would be appalled to hear me say it, but with all of the time I spend using my Eee PC on the train and being glued to the computer most of the time that I’m home and awake, there’s no way I’m going to read 50 books total in a year. But reading reviews of books by authors of color led to thinking “Hey, that sounds like something I’d enjoy!” and adding things to my library list, and I am being more conscious about where my attention goes and reading more stuff by people of color. And it is good.

Last week I read Nalo Hopkinson’s The Salt Roads (this part cross-posted to 50books_POC). I’ve been meaning to read Nalo Hopkinson for ages, particularly but not only because every time SF/F authors of color come up in conversation, her name is one of the first mentioned. I borrowed Brown Girl In The Ring from a friend last year and loved it. And even knowing I liked Hopkinson’s writing, The Salt Roads blew me away. Continue reading ‘What I’m Reading: The Salt Roads’


Fort-nightly Round-Up, Part 2

Whew! This should be it on everything that happened in the past month. We should now be back to our regularly scheduled weekly round-up.

It’s been a fun couple of weeks for me. My sister is in town between a semester in Russia and her last semester in Wisconsin (she should have something to say for us about that soon!), and I’ve been spending tons of time with her. We hosted a dinner party last weekend, spent this week getting my apartment from mostly-moved-in to fully set up and looking like a home, and two nights ago broke it in with a housewarming party. It’s been lots of fun, but blogging and spending time with my other friends have been falling by the wayside a bit as I try to stock up on time with her enough to last me the next three months. They say that how you spend the New Year is how you spend the next year, and I would be so okay with spending this year in people’s living rooms with a few close friends. Eating homemade soup, tearing apart neocon craziness, and laughing til it hurts. Bring it on.

Meanwhile, in the world:

Continue reading ‘Fort-nightly Round-Up, Part 2’


What I’m Reading: A Map of Home

I just finished Randa Jarrar’s A Map of Home, which I heard about here. I really enjoyed it, as a novel as well as for its probably bisexual protagonist.

Nidali Ammar is born in Boston to a Palestinian father and an Egyptian-Greek mother. Family circumstances call them back to the Middle East not much later, and Nidali spends her childhood in Kuwait before Iraq’s invasion causes her family to flee to Alexandria, and from there, eventually, back to America. Her attraction to girls is presented very much within the larger context of this life — her parents’ rocky marriage, her father’s rages and determination to keep her from hanging around with boys, her sadness and struggles to acclimate and make friends every time circumstances drag her to a new place. Nidali is a whole person, and her attraction to girls is not the only thing in her life that’s difficult or confusing. It’s so refreshing that queerness, and particularly bisexuality, can be contextualized this way, that there can be a book about a most likely bisexual character that is not only about her sexuality. Nidali as a character doesn’t exist for the sole purpose of being bisexual, and I’m glad that we’ve reached the point where that’s possble. I understand the need for the coming-out narrative, and those are also powerful books, but I’m glad they’re not the only books that exist.

Which is not to say that her feelings about girls aren’t upsetting to Nidali; the few times they come up, they certainly seem to be. After an unexpectedly sexual wrestling match with her friend Rama, the two ignore each other and read magazines the rest of their visit, and Nidali cries all the way home. She’s crying about her bewilderment about the war in Kuwait and the need to leave her home, but I got the impression she’s also bewildered about what just happened and why, and that might be what tipped her over into tears. Later, she finds herself thinking that she’d like to give her friend Jiji her first kiss. She manages it by offering Jjji practice with kissing so she’ll know what to do when her boyfriend kisses her, and she describes the minutes of kissing that follow in rapturous detail. Afterward, she dwells on that kiss and wonders how she can like both girls and boys, what it means that she does. But it doesn’t consume all of her attention; she has a whole life to attend to, and this is only part of it. I appreciate that visibility. Queer presses are very important, but so is having believable, sympathetic queer characters in more mainstream books that people will read for other reasons. The same way I got a look into what it might be like to grow up with Nidali’s ethnic and religious background, other readers will get a glimpse of what adolescence might be like as one discovers one is queer.

Bisexuality is not the only thing Jarrar handles sensitively and well. Nidali’s father’s feelings about Palestine, and the way Nidali herself feels going through an Israeli checkpoint, are presented simply and movingly, allowing the reader space for a reaction rather than telling hir what to feel. I have a bit of a blind spot on the subject of Israel, and the way the narrative refrained from preaching and instead simply shared the characters’ experiences gave me room to sympathize and empathize. This is the same thing I think Jarrar did well as far as Nidali’s sexual experiences with girls, reporting her feelings and actions and confusion and not telling us how to react to them. She’s similarly restrained about Nidali’s masturbation and sexual experience with boys, her struggles due to being mixed-race and never quite feeling she fits in, her mixed feelings about her nerdiness and good grades, the friction in her parents’ marriage, etc. She doesn’t preach about any of them, and it gives the reader a chance to really consider them.

I was about to write that if you’re only reading A Map of Home for the bisexual content, you may be disappointed. But that may not be true; I read it for that reason, and found many other things to like. Nidali’s sexual orientation is nowhere near the focus of the book, and only comes up a handful of times. We know that she never saw Rama again after their experience, since shortly afterward Nidali’s family fled Kuwait for Alexandria. I would have liked to know more about how her friendship with Jiji changed (or didn’t) after they made out; what Jiji’s reaction was, if they ever talked about it, whether and how they justified it to themselves. I would also have liked to observe more of Nidali’s thoughts about these experiences – she seems to struggle with it more than she does with her frequent masturbation or her sexual experiences with boys, both of which are also supposed to be beyond the pale, and it seems reasonable to assume she gives it more than the few pages of thought we see. I’d like to know what she’s thinking, and what if anything she concludes about herself. Given her background, it would make sense for her to decide that regardless of her feelings for certain girls, she will of course eventually marry a man — after all, she likes them. She doesn’t necessarily have to give up her chance at happiness in order to be normal. But we don’t know if that’s how she’s framing it for herself, or whether she’s framing it for herself at all.

I do wish we could have stuck with Nidali a bit longer. As the book closes, she’s getting ready to go to a small liberal arts college in Boston. If she’s going to encounter queer ideas and develop an identity and ethos around or in opposition to them, not to mention finding queer girls to befriend or date, she’d likely do so there. And she’s rebellious enough and willing enough to challenge herself and the expectations of others that it seems a strong possibility. It’s a pity we don’t get to know. But the soft focus on Nidali’s sexual orientation, and the lack of politics around that and everything else, are among the things I enjoyed most about this book. While it would also be fun to watch a character go through the process of becoming politicized, I suppose in this case I can’t have it both ways. And by not following Nidali until she’s partnered, we avoid the conundrum of discovering whether she’s “really straight” or “really gay” based on her partner’s gender, and she has the space to feel of what she feels and be all of who she is. All in all it’s a beautiful, engaging book, and I enjoyed the time I spend with Nidali.


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.


Stuff I’m Reading: Split Screen

I just finished Brent Hartinger’s Split Screen (Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies), this year’s Lambda Literary Award winner in the Bisexual category. It was cute, but I have to say I was disappointed. I have trouble believing there wasn’t a better bisexual book published all year. Especially since I’ve read three of the other nomineesLook Both Ways, Landing, and Baby Love — and liked all of them better.

Split Screen is two books in one, following two different characters through the same story – Russel, the 16 year old gay protagonist of two of Hartinger’s previous books; and his bisexual best friend, Min. They work as extras in a zombie flick, and each have romantic trouble along the way – Russel in choosing between his long-distance boyfriend and the ex who wants to get back together with him, and Min deciding whether she can date a girl who won’t risk losing her cheerleader friends by coming out of the closet.

I read Min’s book first (my own little feminist statement), but it felt like an afterthought: “Look how funny it is that so much can happen when Russell’s attention is elsewhere!” Hartinger seems to understand what should make up a teenage girl’s inner life, and many of the sentiments expressed were dead-on, but it didn’t seem to flow. It felt like an illustration of why writing teachers harp on “Show, don’t tell.” On the other hand, his politics are pretty good (even if he did title the book about a boy with the title of the movie it’s about, and the book about a girl “Bride of” same – why, horror genre? Why?), and I appreciated the presentation of bisexuality. 9 pages in, we find Min thinking to herself,

Most people really don’t understand bisexuality. I hate it when people talk like bisexual people are indecisive, unable to make up their minds. It’s not a question of being changeable, like a sea anemone, able to switch genders.I don’t shift or waver or change, and I’m not on my way to anything other than being bi; I’ve always been bisexual, and I always will be. Why is that so hard for people to understand?
It’s also not the case that I’m attracted to all guys and all girls — “anything that moves,” as some people like to say. Like anyone, I’m only attracted to some people — some of them guys and some of them girls.

Thanks, Brent! That’s pretty awesome. As is the way Russel also accepts Min’s bisexuality as permanent and meaningful, when he’s narrating. But I was disappointed that Min is presented as being sanctimonious and uncompromising because she doesn’t want hide who she is to be with her closeted girlfriend. Not wanting to sneak around and misrepresent your politics and desires seems pretty reasonable to me, so the way the book pushed her to take chances and be more open-minded felt a little off.

Russel’s book read much better. Unsurprisingly, Hartinger seems to have a much better idea of what it’s like to be a gay high school boy than a bisexual high school girl, and either I’d gotten used to the woodenness of the writing by then or the writing on that side was just better. It seemed pretty clear that readers were expected to read this half first, but you didn’t have to — it made sense the way I read it — and I’m going to chalk that up to the series being about Russel, rather than everyone always putting girls second. And Russel’s dilemma (stay with a boy who lives 800 miles away, or dump him for the guy who 8 months ago joined in with his friends to call you a fag rather than come out, but has now come out to win you back?) seemed much less clear-cut to me, so I didn’t find myself thinking he was handling it horribly wrong. And his parents’ reaction to finding out he’s gay was a believable side plot. All in all it wasn’t a bad way to spend two days’ worth of train rides, but I thought Lambda could have done better.

Did anyone else read this? Am I totally off base here – is it fever brain from this nasty cold making everything seem wooden?