Hasbian Pride, Worn-Out Sluts, and Bisexuality
I want to interview you about your bisexuality.
In your memoir, you mentioned a little girl in day care upon whom you had a crush. Your romantic fantasy was that she was Rose Red and you were Snow White. You were already queering fairy tales. What do you make of that?
SB: Snow White and Rose Red seem like an iconic coupling: twins, lovers, best friends, frenemies. Jungian soul mates. I always got the feeling Snow was the virgin and Rose was the wise whore.
Q: Your girl-crushes obviously started early. When was the first time you had a crush on a boy?
SB: Hmm . . . good question. I became aware that it was “cool” to have crushes on boys by sixth grade— as opposed to hating their guts, the previous playground protocol.
The boys I truly adored were The Beatles. I broke with the Church over them. I wouldn't burn my albums.
Kids were so segregated by gender in my day. I never went to birthday parties or events that weren’t “girls only.”
Junior high school upped the ante on flirting. The boys would chase the girls on the ice, where we skated on frozen lakes— and I loved “the chase.” But again, I didn’t fix my hormones on them. I had fantasies about both men and women, not kids my own age. I was like the girl in the "Sound of Music," Looking for Someone Older and Wiser.
Your question makes me realize I was a late bloomer. I didn't appreciate pure masculinity, sexually, in men or women, until after I'd had more a sophisticated lesbian life in my 20s.
Q: When did you realize that not everyone has such wide-ranging attractions and that bisexuality was frowned on by many? What was your reaction to that?
SB: I came of age in a political, “start the revolution”-type atmosphere. I thought that if everyone would relax and liberate their minds, they would realize they were truly bisexual and non-monogamous . . . (laughing)
I’m poking fun at myself saying this. But I also viewed society with critical eyes, as any puberty-struck individual does. I knew most people weren’t anywhere close to living their sexual potential, and that’s still the truth!
My family and best friends at school, we were on the same page. My parents knew a lot more gay and bi people than I did; they’d been in gay intellectual milieus since the 1940s. No one I loved was going to condemn me for bisexuality, far from it.
My bisexual higher education came from becoming familiar with the Kinsey Scale. I realized that liberated or not, people would always have their druthers. Sexual life is a lot more complicated than it looks on the surface.
Q: In your writing, you don’t describe any coming-out process and it appears that you always accepted yourself. Was it because of the era of free love and the sexual revolution?
Q: Bisexual people are often assumed to be gay or straight, depending on the gender of our partner. Have you experienced this? How has it affected you?
SB: Oh, sure. A little less than most people, because my reputation precedes me.
Now that I’m an old lady, sexual invisibility is the greater issue, rather than everyone imagining what a hot chick I am, in either direction. In the final third of one’s life, losing your oldest friends and dearest lovers, changes everything.
From my old-age vantage point, fretting over people getting my “label” right, seems dewy and fresh-faced. If you even get one chance to really love someone, know someone, and have them love and know you in return— it is a gift.
As for opportunities, as one ages and gains sexual experience, you and your peers realize that anything, at any time, could be possible with the right social lubricant. One gets around the block. . . no other label needed.
The peculiar thing I see as a public figure— and many activists know it well— is that when you take an aggressive stand for gay rights, if you champion dyke culture and politics, journalists and scholars will call you “that lesbian” for years to come.
I'm happy to be associated with dyke-identity. I don’t want to "correct" them if they think I am “shying away” from lesbianism— quite the opposite!
The journalists and scholars who make this error tend to be conservative in their thinking. I’m amused they assume that everyone different from them, is homosexual. Let them stay awake at night, trembling with latent flop sweat!
Occasionally, a critic who’s touchy about the integrity of my bisexuality will say, “Who are you to be calling yourself a Lesbian?”
They think I am trying to “wear the crown” without earning it.
Well, lesbian activists all over can tell you the “crown” is no band of gold. We get used for target practice. I’m a dyke for any and all political agendas. In my personal life, though, like everyone else’s, things are more unexpected.
Q: Having a child was a turning point in your life. You say it forced you to take better care of yourself, because of your motivation to protect your child. What things in your life did you change as a result?
SB: I stopped parenting surrogate “adult-children." Who has the time, when you have a real baby?
Real Grown-Ups became sexually attractive to me when I became a mother— a first. It was a bigger deal than being bi-sexual. I got out of the Peter Pan playground. What a relief.
Q: After you had your daughter and left On Our Backs, you wound up partnering with a man. Reading the book, it seems as though you were lesbian-identified at the time. Did you surprise yourself? Was there any backlash from the lesbian community about that?
SB: It’s funny you said “partnering,” like it was premeditated.
I was lovers with several people in those days, as usual. I had friends and sweethearts, and I didn’t think of any of them as my “partner.” Oh no! Some were good friends, which seemed to be as much as one could ask for.
Among my milieu, to be frank, everyone had slept with everyone else, and so there was no shock value anymore. ;-) No one you make love to, is going to question your integrity.
I never feel like I've wound up anywhere except what's happening today. The story ain't over yet!
As time went by in the early 90s, my friend Jon and I spent more and more time together. It happened slowly, without precision. I wish I could remember what day we first kissed, or went to bed, or decided to spend more time, and then to live together. It all happened in such an unfixed fashion, I don’t know any of those dates!
I was not surprised to love or be in love with a man; I had been in love with men before.
I was surprised to get along with anyone in a household together, day after day, that’s what I was surprised at. To have love's endurance instead of love's drama.
I often quote Roland Barthes on this topic:
"I am reduced to endurance.... I suffer without adjustment, I persist without intensity, always bewildered, never discouraged. I am a Daruma doll, a legless toy endlessly poked and pushed, but finally regaining its balance, assured by an inner balancing pin."
Q: According to your book, there was a time that all your relationships were open. Now that you’re living with a long-term partner has that changed?
SB: Nope. It’s just not the way we got to know each other. Nonmonogamy isn’t something you’re “doing” every minute, it’s just one’s perspective.
I know bi-sexuals are under pressure to proclaim that they can be "monogamous" lke anyone else... but that isn't me, nor does it speak to most sex lives looked at over the long haul.
My first sexual experiences were in groups, with more than "2" -- that's what felt normal to me. And it feels natural to be attracted to more than one person at a time, and to perhaps act upon that feeling.
It doesn't change my loyalty to my friends and family. I am bewildered how the two get confused.
Q: I noticed that in your section about your time with On Our Backs, you mostly used the word “lesbian” instead of “lesbian and bisexual.” Did you identify as lesbian at that point? I’m wondering, as a bi woman writer, why you didn’t try to integrate that more in your wording?
SB: I’m a dyke from another era. At this point I’m a generational relic.
Most of the lovers in my life are gay or bisexual, regardless of their gender. There really isn't a button big enough to explain the whole thing.
When I was editing OOB, it was no secret I was bi, or femme, or had varied sex with all kinds of people— but what was the point of mentioning it, like a social security number on every page? I wasn't trying to warn anyone off.
I was publishing a bohemian lesbian magazine. It was the center of my life. We didn’t have conventional sex lives. Most of the lesbians I worked with were sex workers, femmes and butches. It was beyond lesbian, bi, or any acronym you can think of.
We looked at most of the world as squares, the “civilians”— and then there was us. Gay life was still criminalized in so many ways.
OOB ran thoughtful stories about trans life, bisexuality, married lesbians, sex worker dykes, all sorts of things. In those situations, we were detailed in our descriptions. But I wasn’t going to print "LGBTQ+++++" every time I touched the keyboard. We were artists, not sloganeers.
It was a given, if you embraced our philosophy, that we were the worn-out sluts, the unapologetic freaks, the whore diaspora. For awhile, that’s why saying “queer” was a real relief. Then even that became politically correct.
Q: What is your advice to bi writers who want to write bi-themed works and get published?
SB:The best bisexual narrators I read today, present honest deliverance, no agendas. They may not even use that word; they simply tell the tale. I'd say, don't try to win the anyone's approval; it's impossible.
There's so many moments of bisexual life that no one talks about. It doesn't have to be "A Great Rant," although that's tempting. Take a day in the life and tell it well.
Read the world’s greatest authors. A majority of them, I'm sure you'll notice, are bisexual as a three dollar bill. ;-)