One day, a very long time (seven years) ago, two queer girls met in a dorm hallway. They kind of, sort of knew they were queer internally, but despite coming fast friends, they did not talk about their bisexuality for many, many moons (five years). Those two girls were myself and one of my best buds, who will remain anonymous here due to privacy concerns.
We decided to chat about our bisexual identities recently over FaceTime. An edited transcript is below for those of you wondering what two queer cis ladies think about Pride Month, celebrity crushes, Wesleyan University and fanfiction.
ELLA: Hello, my friend!
BUDDY: Oh hi!
E: I thought it would be fun for us to have a conversation in honor of Pride Month about how we both quite recently discovered that we were interested in women as well as men, or an array of genders. It’s funny to me that we were friends for years and we never connected the dots, by ourselves or together. So let’s start with Pride. How are you feeling this year, and what does Pride Month mean to you?
B: My personal experience has not been on my mind. I work at a domestic violence agency, and one of the things that sets us apart is we have an LGBTQ program. We serve everyone regardless of gender identity. What I’ve been thinking about pride is: “Oh shit, I need to post this on Facebook. Why didn’t anyone take pictures of staff tabling at Pride?” That has been my Pride. I don’t know if that’s because I’m in a place where it’s not at the forefront of my mind, or because I’m not really interested in people. Or maybe my sexuality is something that I got comfortable with quickly and is now kind of like, eh, whatever, it’s a part of me but not a part that I’m taking a lot of time to… explore my feelings around, I guess.
E: You’re out there doing the work for our community instead. Pride makes a part of ourselves so visible and it blows it up for a month. That can be wonderful, and I’m not against that, but it’s complicated when your queerness is a part of who you are but not at the forefront of your mind. It makes you ask: What does my identity mean for me right now? What does my life look like right now? Am I feeling prideful?
I’ve been conflicted about if I want to go to Pride this year. I went last year for the first time and that was a huge deal for me. This year I want to stay in and watch Westworld and avoid the heat wave. Not because I’m not proud of who I am, but because I’m just not in the mood for a parade.
B: Last year was my first Pride too. What frustrates me is that Pride is so great for some people. Pride isn’t an awareness month, but during these themed weeks and months, there’s so much pressure to perform. That can put a burden on people who aren’t as comfortable in their skin or are just not that kind of person. I hate crowds and being around lots of drunk, rowdy people. Last year was not fun for me, but at the same time, are you a real gay if you’re not at Pride? I also don’t like parades. (Laughs) I feel like we shouldn’t have to go to parades if we don’t want to.
E: It’s like “If a tree falls in a forest.” If a queer doesn’t go to the Pride parade, are they still queer? Conversations around accessibility are worth having too. Why does it always have to be a parade? What if you are not able to go to a parade? I have generalized anxiety disorder, and I can’t always process loud noises and crowds.
I’ve been thinking about it as a cis bisexual woman currently dating a cis straight man. He’s a wonderful ally and is accepting of my identity, but I’ve been conflicted about how to be involved in Pride this year. I’m still queer, and I can go to Pride, but should he come with me? Then I’m like, that’s silly, Pride is also for allies. All of my insecurities creep up on me during Pride. This year there’s been much more of a conversation about bisexuality being valid, and the better representation we’ve been having has helped. But it’s been on my mind.
I went to go see Oceans 8 and found myself profoundly attracted to Anne Hathaway in every scene that she was in, and it was the weirdest moment of, “Ah yes, this is a part of who I am.” And then I tweeted about how I wasn’t sure how to participate in Pride as a bisexual woman dating a straight man, so my Pride Month activity would be lusting after Anne Hathaway. And I got this Tumblr anon who said that I should shut the fuck up because I’m a straight girl and should stay home during Pride. It was a reminder of why bi people are uncomfortable at Pride. It’s that exclusion, that willingness to tell us that our identity isn’t real. Anyway, if you send me anon hate on tumblr, I’m going to use it for content.
I’ve been wondering how to best participate in #Pride this year as a bisexual woman in a relationship with a cis man, and it turns out it’s having a heart attack during Ocean’s 8 every time Anne Hathaway does anything pic.twitter.com/wdErP0MjTP
— ella dawson (@brosandprose) June 12, 2018
B: That reminds me, I get very upset about Oregon erasure and bi erasure and the combination of the two that is Kate Brown. Kate Brown is the bisexual governor of Oregon. That episode of the Keep It podcast, the one where Louis Virtel didn’t realize there was already an LGBTQ governor—
E: In reference to Cynthia Nixon, right?
B: Yes. I had such complicated feelings around that. I got so upset and it was a weird moment of trying to process what was making me that upset. Seeing Kate Brown in her position as a trailblazer means something to me, as a bi woman who loves, loves, loves politics. We just want representation in our representation!
My executive director told us a story today about Pride. She was tabling yesterday, giving out dental dams and all sorts of fun stuff, and right next to our organization’s table was a table of police cadets. Do police belong at pride? I would say no. Because Portland is Portland, the community comes out for Pride, and it’s this whole thing with lots of different organizations and companies playing their part. But the insensitivity of having police-in-training there…. The way our director described it was an “ick” factor. There were these brash young men taking pictures with not entirely clothed women, and she felt uncomfortable. That’s the one thing we shouldn’t have to experience at Pride. Anyone should be able to come, but read the room. Read the general sentiment of the country right now.
E: Read the historical context of police treatment of LGBTQ people. Like, yikes. It’s one thing to be a police officer at pride, but to be there as a heteronormative bro in that space is just like… get out of here. If you’re here to be an ally, be an ally, but this is not about you. (I strongly recommend reading Kitty Stryker’s article about why the police don’t belong at Pride over at Bitch Media.)
B: Both of us were struggling to articulate it. It didn’t feel quite right to say they don’t belong at Pride. But I feel like there should have been a lot more sensitivity around it. Especially considering they were next to our domestic violence support table.
E: Police have such a high rate of domestic violence and abuse. I have many problems with the police, but their patterns of domestic violence are so disturbing to me in particular.
B: Generally we felt gross about it, and that’s not a feeling you should have to experience at Pride. Otherwise it’s not the space it was intended to be.
E: I’m curious what the police presence will be like at Pride this weekend in NYC. Queer spaces have been under threat, both historically and ever since Pulse. I can understand wanting a police presence genuinely to protect and serve, but what do you do when the community has never felt protected and served? Even at the March For Our Lives in New York, there was all this gun and police presence. We learned so much from the Black Lives Matter activists saying, “We don’t want police at these protests, we are not protected by them.” It’s complicated.
B: The only way this is going to improve is if we get more people in the police force and in local government who should be there.
E: And who reflect the communities they’re serving. I wish everything were Brooklyn 99. That show is interesting to think about in this context. It’s a diverse, fictional police force that cares about being good and directly engages with these issues. But it’s still a fantasy. I hope that it’s what police aspire to be, but we are not there, and we may not be. Anyway, chipper conversation!
B: That took a really dark turn.
E: That took a turn away from my expertise. But this has been a week where we’ve seen ICE separating children from parents, and Pride almost feels… not insensitive but…
B: Secondary, maybe?
E: Yes. Like, holy shit, we need to focus on this other thing. But then again, protections are being rolled back for transgender folks, and the wedding cake garbage just went down. So everything is bad, basically.
We were talking about bisexuality and creating inclusive spaces. I’ve been thinking about the college that we went to: a seemingly progressive place that still had its own issues. When I came out after graduating, I thought about how we went to one of the most queer friendly colleges in the country, and yet I had so much difficulty discovering my attraction to women there because I felt like I wasn’t gay enough for Wesleyan. Part of that was feeling invalid as a queer person because I was attracted to men as well as women, but I think Wesleyan made being gay such a… I don’t even know how to explain it. If you were queer, you had to be a radical, confident, loud, “everything is a socially constructed fraud” super leftist. That’s not to invalidate any of their radical awesome queerness, but it’s a weird twist that my feelings of inferiority made me take a few steps back into the closet.
B: Can I make a potentially controversial statement? From my perception, that was pressure was mostly put on female-identifying people. Maybe that was just the folks I knew and the circles I traveled in, but I feel like there was a completely different burden of queerness on them.
E: Do you think it was easier for men to explore that side of themselves?
B: I think there was less of this unrealistic “mega queer,” expectation, I don’t know how to describe it. It was this very specific identity that a lot of us don’t fit into, and I thought it was so much more loosey-goosey for men at Wesleyan. Maybe that’s unfair of me to say?
E: A lot of my male friends were bi or have come out as bi since college, and they definitely had hard times on campus. My bi male friends were in traditionally masculine spaces like the frats or the sports team, where their sexual identity was much less okay. They still faced stereotypes. But they had more wiggle room in the a capella and theater scenes, where there was less pressure for men to conform to any one identity. So it fluctuated depending on the crowd you ran in. Meanwhile, I was a Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies major, and the people I studied with—predominantly women, some queer, but all definitely feminist—were amazing. None of them were discriminatory to me. I just felt like I never measured up. I think it was partially because my attraction to men was very public as the girl who ran the sex magazine. I clearly liked men so much, and that made it harder to claim a queer identity and be believed.
B: The issue of bi erasure and the fact that you don’t have to like both genders equally to be bisexual… there is such an unfair standard. You like who you like, and who you’re attracted to evolves as you evolve. That argument has always frustrated me, like I’m sure it frustrates every bisexual-identifying person. It’s just another attempt to pigeonhole and say, “Well you’re not actually, because…”
E: Because you haven’t done this, or because you’re more interested in this. It gets in your head. For bi people, the path of least resistance is to date people of the “opposite” gender. You’re taught to do so from birth, you’re socialized that way, and so you understand your feelings for the “opposite” sex. I was attracted to women as a teenager and it was so much easier to pretend those feelings weren’t there, or to misunderstand them. That doesn’t make me weaker or less than—that’s a result of the heteronormative world that we live in. It may take you a while to realize that you’re bi because it’s easier to go a certain direction. It also doesn’t invalidate the relationships with the opposite sex that you’ve had. You weren’t being brainwashed into liking them.
When did you realize you were interested in women as well as men? The first conversation I had with you about being bi was about how you had a crush on your guitar teacher, and I don’t know if it was just selective editing on my part and I never realized you were bisexual before then.
B: I identified as bisexual when I was fourteen-years-old, but I had a traumatic relationship with a girl. We were both teenagers, and it was, to this day, probably the most overwhelming, emotional intensity that I’ve ever experienced in a relationship. She was coming from a place of a lot of abuse, and I was coming from a place of different abuse, and we found each other and just clung. It was almost like it was too big for us as we were then. I got scared and doubted so many things about myself and my ability to handle it. I was like, how am I supposed to be there as a fifteen-year-old for this girl with years of sexual and physical abuse? I didn’t feel prepared to do that. It completely threw me off for an entire decade. I associated relationships with women… she was my experience that I would go back to, and it’s still upsetting to me now. I tried to shut it off, or ignore it. I felt so scarred by that experience.
I don’t know how unusual that is, but it was something I was super comfortable with when I was much younger, and I had a really complicated experience, so I quashed it for years and years. And then it popped back up with my fucking guitar teacher because I can’t have a crush on an appropriate person. I went around in circles for weeks or months being like, “I like her so much and I don’t know what to do, because she always complains about how men hit on her when she’s teaching them and I don’t want to be that predatory person!” I remember my dad said to me, before I even realized it, “You know, it kind of sounds like you want to date her, not be friends with her.” It felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders, because even though I was in my head about it, the stakes were super low. I got to have a silly crush again, and I think that was what I needed to remind myself that it’s about the person. That’s how it’s always been for me. When I’m attracted to women, it’s so different. It’s a completely different experience. At first I’m like, I like them so much and I want to be their friend!
E: Or I want to be like them.
B: Yeah! And not really understanding at first where that impulse is coming from and why it’s so strong. Things have been complicated in the past few years with my history of sexual trauma, so I’ve been in a weird place. I feel this pressure to have sex to be part of the community but my attraction to everyone has been so, so low.
E: We don’t ask straight people, “How do you know you’re straight if you’re not having sex?” You can be queer or bi or whatever else and not be in a sexual place. It’s about who you’re attracted to or who you are drawn to, not who you’re literally having sex with. When I went on SSRIs a few years ago, my sex drive evaporated, and I wouldn’t say that I was no longer bi because I had no sex drive.
B: There’s also this new focus on not labeling identities or relationships. It’s kind of nice to just say, fuck it, it doesn’t matter, I’m going to be me, or we’re going to do us, and claim that kind of freedom to figure your shit out. I think that’s a very millennial concept. You’re welcome, world.
E: Absolutely. There was a study that came out last week that showed the percentage of people who consider themselves bi and queer is going up dramatically, and we’re out-weighing other parts of the LGBTQ community. Not having a definition is becoming more prevalent, especially among Gen Z. Gen Z does not give a fuck about labels. There’s been a reactionary panic about the idea of there being nothing, no labels at all, but I think it’s great. There was this wave of people identifying as bisexual on television, and now we’re in this new wave where people aren’t even identifying any which way. Petra on Jane The Virgin is suddenly attracted to women too, and there’s no conversation about how she identifies. Now she’s really attracted to that lady, and everyone is really supportive and a little confused, and it’s fine! It makes me happy that there is space for that now, for discovery. For learning about who you are as you get older and discovering new things about yourself.
B: Can we talk about fan fiction and sexual identity? The first sex scene I ever wrote was between two women.
E: What fandom?
B: It was Harry Potter. Hermione and Ron were dating, but Hermione realized that Ron was meh and Harry went off with Draco. So I think Hermione got it on with Ginny?
E: I like that pairing. That’s the opposites attract vibe that J.K. Rowling was going for with Ron and Hermione, but Ginny’s so much smarter than Ron while still being kind of a jock.
B: I would appreciate some in-depth research into women who read fanfiction. I wonder if fan fic readers are queerer than the population at large. I stopped reading heterosexual fanfiction when I was fourteen and now read a lot of gay male fanfiction. Why? I couldn’t really tell you. Part of it is seeing a side of men that I don’t feel like I see in real life. This sensitivity and loyalty and romance. You get a lot of very well-written happy endings, and I’ve had such negative experiences with men that it’s like a balm, even though it’s not real.
E: It’s a form of romantic escapism. I read this great book by Maya Rodale about hetero romance novels and why progressive women read them. In her surveys, she found that it’s escapism, it’s a break from your daily life, it’s seeing a relationship rooted in respect and desire and challenge. You know there’s a happy ending coming, so you’re allowed to get invested knowing it won’t break your heart. Gay fan fic is also an escape, it’s offering you this different experience of men. The other interesting thing to about gay male fan fic to me as a reader is that we get to check our sexist daily reality at the door. That daily oppression that I deal with, I don’t have to worry about it here. It’s a break. It’s kind of sad that we have to go read about two men falling in love so that we don’t have to worry about sexism in our entertainment. I don’t have to worry if their relationship is PC: no man is mistreating a woman here.
Fanfiction is such a queer friendly space. We had a conversation a few months ago with some friends about if reading fanfiction makes you more open-minded, or if you’re open-minded and thus you’re open to reading fic. But through fanfiction as a teenager, I learned about queer life and sexuality and pleasure. Especially women’s sexual pleasure. Fanfiction taught me about identities I wasn’t around and I wasn’t seeing represented in mainstream pop culture.
B: The issues that plague us in our lives and in our relationships do not have to play into the fan fiction we read, and that’s one of the purest forms of escapism. I don’t have to shut this off, it’s just not there. There’s also an intersection between social justice and fan fiction — thanks Tumblr! I don’t want to generalize this to every fandom, but it feels like there’s so much more awareness of social issues in fanfiction than there is in general published works. It’s a specific population writing fic, and by and large, maybe a more open-minded and informed one.
E: It varies from fandom to fandom. I’m not into Star Wars but I follow folks who are, and the crazy shit that happens in that fandom… Almost everyone who ships Kylo Ren and Rey is nuts. That relationship in the film mirrors non-consent and emotional abuse. And then you have everyone shipping Rey and Poe and Finn, both men of color, and they’re just trying to be their best woke, kind selves. But in some fandoms, any kind of political fandom especially, the quality of fic is so good. Every time someone sniffs about how explicit consent will kill desire, I think about the very consensual, incredibly arousing fic out there. Fic engages with consent in an interesting, nuanced way, and characters learn what they really want.
B: Not all fandoms are created equal. One Direction might have been the most diverse fan base coming together to write fanfiction, because you had all the pre-teen girls but also a contingent of women from their mid-twenties to late thirties. Of course the adults wrote good fan fiction. For the fandoms I’ve been involved with, they’ve brought up interesting conversations around desire and consent and even kink, the specifics of communication around that.
E: I learned so much about kink and responsible play from fanfiction. I have a theory that when it’s characters you already know and feel an attachment to, it’s easier to read about new sexual topics because it already feels safe. You have an entry point. Fanfiction is the gateway drug to being an open-minded person. For example, I read so much Hermione/Draco when I was a teenager, bless me, I was so innocent and had no idea how racist it was, but I learned about kink from those fics.
B: It goes both ways. A lot of women who read gay male fan fiction are accused of fetishizing homosexuality because for some, that acceptance doesn’t translate to their real life, like they’re not as tolerant when it’s real gay people. That’s an accusation that I see thrown around a lot. Again, I really want someone to do a big research project into fan fic readers.
E: I hadn’t heard that before, that’s interesting.
B: That’s the only negative stereotype about us beyond the general “ew you read fanfiction, that’s weird.” Fanfiction can get you to read anything, because if you fall into a niche fandom like a podcast or radio personality fandom, you’re at the mercy of the fic writers.
E: Slim pickings!
B: You wind up reading some wonderful stuff, and some stuff you probably would not have read if it weren’t for this really specific set of circumstances. I think people who read fanfiction are more fun that people who don’t read fanfiction.
E: There’s a certain willingness to just see how it goes when you’re a fan fic reader. And fanfiction has eliminated gatekeepers, so you have a lot of people writing because they enjoy writing, and writing whatever the heck they want because they don’t have an editor. Sometimes that leads to an incredible writer depicting water sports very well, and you’re like, this is not my fetish but I appreciate the craft and I am impressed! Fanfiction builds off the idea of the next generation living without labels. It’s a space where you have so much freedom.
B: There are very few rules in fanfiction. Actually, there are no rules. For better or for worse, it has created this amazing community that we’re all privileged to be a part of.
E: This wound up being a conversation about fanfiction, and that’s totally fine.
B: We did a deep dive into pride, a little bit into the politics of the police and the LGBTQ community, and now fanfiction. No one else would have made those same three boops, but we’re special snowflakes.
E: It just shows that there are so many conversations that we don’t have about sexual identity. We talked a little about discovery, but we didn’t talk about coming out very much. I think that’s great, because that’s the only story that gets told. Jon Lovett went on a great rant about this on his podcast: Stop giving me movies only about coming out! We can have representations of queer identity that aren’t just about identity, but about people living their lives. For us, being queer is doing our day jobs and reading fanfiction and being very attracted to Anne Hathaway. There are so many other parts of the conversation that we don’t have.
I’ve been thinking about Wildfang. Wildfang is a store that sells suits, but I feel so connected to the queer community when I shop there because of its founders and its values. I went to the new New York location and I felt so queer in that space. Queerness is not just about who you are having sex with, it’s your whole self.
B: We’re in our mid-twenties and we have a lot of life to live and a lot of growth to experience. I think you’re right, it’s refreshing that the biggest part of our conversation about our sexual identity was not how it was revealed to other people. That’s important but definitely not what’s most important to me, or to you.
E: I feel my most queer when I’m watching queer media or messing with my gender presentation. There are other ways to tap into that part of yourself, and that can be alone too. It’s being your most authentic self at the end of the day.