#readharder2019: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

#readharder2019: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Image description: The cover of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The cover is green, showing part of a face and a torso in an emerald green dress.

One of the benefits of supporting my Patreon is that you get access to first-look posts, like the first draft of this review, which was available to patrons last week.

And sometimes you get access to posts that never make it to the blog! April was such a busy month, and patrons got to read the first draft reviews of the books I read that month.

Will I ever write up full reviews of the books I read in April?

Who knows! If you’re desperate to know what I thought about The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton, A Girl Like Her by Talia Hibbert, and why I stopped reading Attachments by Rainbow Rowell and The Color Purple by Alice Walker, you’ll have to head over to the Patreon! (The three books I finished were all excellent and important, so I’m sure I will write up the full reviews eventually, but I’m not sure when.)

I started The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo at the end of April because I completely gave up on finding an epistolary novel that I could actually finish, and I just wanted to read something queer and feminist and fun. I’ve been making good progress on the Read Harder 2019 challenge, and at the end of April I had finished 9 of the 24 categories. So I figured I could take a break and read something outside of the challenge.

I’ve been in quite a serious Sad Mood since I got back from Australia, and I needed something fun. This review from Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian is what convinced me to give this book a try.

Evelyn is ambitious, hard-working, confident, and cut-throat. She describes herself in this way: “I’m cynical and I’m bossy and most people would consider me vaguely immoral.” She’s also explicitly, wonderfully BISEXUAL. I knew the book had queer content going in, but I had no idea that it tackled bisexual identity so specifically. There’s a specific scene early on in the interview process where Evelyn coolly asserts that she’s bisexual, and not gay as Monique has just assumed. Evelyn makes it clear she loved her husband and then a woman, so “don’t ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box. Don’t do that.” It was such a perfect slap in the face of monosexism. GO EVELYN. This section, as well as more than one other part in the novel, brought me to tears.

Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian

But!!!

It turns out that this book is an epistolary novel, since nearly every other chapter is either an excerpt from the book-within-a-book, or a series of newspaper articles, or a letter.

So I bailed right into exactly the right book. Delightful!

And this book truly was delightful.

The writing is witty and sharp, the characters are nuanced and well-rounded, and there are some really well-crafted moments of emotional intensity. 

I’ll start with what I’m less enthused about… I read this immediately after finishing A Girl Like Her, a book about an autistic Black woman, written by an autistic Black woman, and reading half of The Color Purple, also by a Black woman, also very clearly about race by someone with insider knowledge. The fact that Taylor Jenkins Reid does not have this insider knowledge, and includes two protagonists of colour (Monique Grant is biracial, and Evelyn Hugo is Cuban, though entirely and intentionally white-passing), lent a certain lack of depth and nuance to the discussions of race. It wasn’t that the representation was terrible or stereotypical, but coming immediately after being immersed in writing about race, by Black authors, I noticed it. 

For example, we learn that Ruth, the protagonist of Talia Hibbert’s A Girl Like Her, is Black organically, later in the book, through physical descriptions that refuse to exoticize or dramatize the fact that she’s Black. It was revealed in the same casual way that many descriptions of white characters are done; skin tone is not the most interesting or relevant part of the character’s experience of themselves. And Hibbert managed this without downplaying Ruth’s experience of racism in the majority-white town.

In contrast, Monique’s skin tone and biracial identity are introduced in the very first paragraph. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but the contrast really struck me. When I read that description, I had to pause the audiobook and look up the author, because it came across as someone wanting to draw attention to the capital-D Diversity of their writing.

After that initial impression, I wanted to get a better understanding of what I was about to read. I tracked down some interviews with Taylor Jenkins Reid that specifically addressed her choice to write queer characters and characters of colour when she is white and straight, she acknowledged how problematic this is, and talked about the thought that she put into it. I also appreciate that she’s said she won’t be writing another book like this, and will instead focus on amplifying marginalized writers.

From an interview at Bi.org:

Do you think it’s your place to to tell the story of how these marginalized groups feel when you’re white and straight?

Yes, and no. Most importantly, no. We have a problem, in publishing and entertainment, of not centering minority voices. The solution to that problem is to bolster and support minority writers. There is no replacement or substitution for the incredibly important and, quite frankly, exciting work of reading, celebrating, and promoting minority writers. I naturally read stories of people different than myself but I’ve made a concerted effort to spend the small power behind my name blurbing minority voices and I will continue to spend whatever platform I have to champion the work of minority voices. This is what the majority should be doing and it is, first and foremost, where our energy needs to be spent.

Work written by people who have lived the story is always going to have a beauty and honesty that cannot be matched by someone writing outside of their own life.

The reason why I wrote this book despite not being queer or biracial is because, due to my work writing about straight white women, I have an audience. I continue to be handed a microphone. I have a book deal. And my feeling was that I could use that book deal, that immense privilege, to continue to write about people like myself or I could use it to write about people that often get pushed to the sidelines.

I chose to center my story on women who are underrepresented. I’m able to do that and still be considered mainstream because of my previous work. Which means I’m able to put a queer story in the mainstream and put it in front of people who might not otherwise read one. I am in a unique position to be able to do that and so I chose to do it.

But then I come back to my original point. It’s very hard to parse out, even for me, the line where good intentions can turn into misrepresentation or to a loss of opportunities for people to tell their own stories. I’m very proud of this book but the rest of my energy, for the time being, will be spent in trying to lift up other people to tell their stories themselves.

Zachary Zane interviewing Taylor Jenkins Reid at Bi.org.
You can read that interview here.

There was a lot of racial diversity in the book, and I did appreciate the fact that the cast was more reflective of reality than a lot of books manage. These characters included both of the protagonists, as mentioned, but also many of the secondary characters, including two of Evelyn’s long-term personal assistants, and one of the major love interests in the novel. It is absolutely notable that two women of colour (one Latinx and one Asian American) are hired domestic labour, but I also noticed that the first person introduced as domestic labour is a white woman (which serves the purpose of destabilizing the idea that women of colour who cannot pass as white are relegated to the role of housekeeper, and allows the deep relationships that Evelyn has with the women later in the book to unfold in less problematic ways).

So, having noted that, on to what I loved!

So much.

I loved so much about this book.

I loved that Evelyn is such a complex character, who does horrible things in order to survive, and does other horrible things in order to succeed, and she looks at her own life with clear but compassionate eyes. Early in the book, when Evelyn has told Monique that she will tell her her life story, Monique says, “so you’ll confess your sins to me?” Evelyn is quick and firm in her correction. She says, “I didn’t say anything about sins. I’ll tell you the whole truth of my life, but I am not ashamed.” (Paraphrased because I listened to the excellent audiobook.)

Evelyn is bisexual.

SPOILER ALERT!!!

The love of her life is a woman.

Her best friend, and the father of her child, is a gay man.

The lengths they go to in order to hide their orientations are sometimes extreme, and Jenkins Reid situates these choices in a historical context that includes threats to career and safety (a context that we often believe has changed, but for too many people, has not changed enough).

The core group (Evelyn and Harry married, Celia and John married; Evelyn and Celia lovers, Harry and John lovers) are together in New York during the Stonewall riots, and there are some wrenching conversations (and disagreements between them) as to how best to support their community of fellow queer folks without jeopardizing Evelyn and Harry’s guardianship of their child.

I read this book through the lens of my own anti-capitalist politics, and through that lens, I find the choice to contribute primarily through philanthropic donations that still leave each of them extremely wealthy… frustrating. I recognize that it fits with Evelyn’s character, and I recognize that it fits with what most people do, but it’s not enough. It’s just not enough. Especially now, as we try to figure out how to respond to massive and systemic injustice, I want to see representations of responding to injustice in ways that don’t so neatly align with capitalism and the charity model.

Still though. Overall… I really loved this book.

I loved the moment when Monique calls Evelyn a gay woman and Evelyn corrects her and confidently claims the label of bisexual.

I loved the moment when Monique assumes that the problems between Celia and Evelyn were because of Evelyn’s bisexuality, and Evelyn again corrects her and tells her that the problem was never that Evelyn was bisexual. It’s such a rare thing to see bisexuality represented in ways that are both complex and positive. 

And I also loved the message of unapologetic success, even though it grated against my anti-capitalism. I loved how Evelyn demanded success for herself, and pushed Monique to demand it for herself, too.

I really recommend this book, and I’m glad that I gave myself permission to read a non-challenge book (and in the process, completed a category I had been struggling with!)


You can read my other reviews for the Read Harder 2019 challenge here!

My review of Binti for “a book by a woman and/or an author of colour set in or about space.”
My review of When They Call You A Terrorist for “a book of nonviolent true crime.”
My review of Washington Black for “a book by a woman and/or author of colour that won a literary award in 2018.”
My review of Fifteen Dogs for “a book with an animal or inanimate object as a point of view narrator.”
My review of The Widows of Malabar Hill for “a cozy mystery.”
My review of Circe for “a book of mythology or folklore.”

Bisexual Visibility Day 2018

Bisexual Visibility Day 2018

As part of the research for this blog post, I spoke with a few different people about their experiences of asexuality, bisexuality, and pansexuality. I’ve included those interviews in whole. I highly recommend reading these interviews – there was a lot there that I didn’t include in this post.

I also want to take this opportunity to highlight that Possibilities Youth is open to registrations! If you are, or know, a non-monosexual young person who would be interested in a six-week facilitated group, head over to the post and register!


It’s September 23. 2018. As I write this, I’m sitting at the kitchen table. Outside, the sky is still dark. The two dogs I’m looking after are snoozing, the furnace is on, the house is quiet except for the hum of the refrigerator and the warm air pushing up from the vents.

When I first started looking for bisexual community in Calgary, almost ten years ago, I couldn’t find what I needed. There were “LGBT” spaces (then, even more than now, Intersex, Asexual, Two spirit, and other queer identities were rarely acknowledged actively or meaningfully), but, as so many other bisexual folks have found, these tended to be “GL” spaces in practice. And even so, there weren’t many of those. A club. Some campus communities (which felt impossible to access as an adult who had never attended post-secondary at that point). Community discussion groups, but nothing that felt like it would be for me.

This is still the case for so many people in so many spaces.

The Bisexual Invisibility Report came out in the United States in 2011, and it was groundbreaking. Shiri Eisner, one of my bisexual heroes and someone I have learned a lot from (their book, Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, changed my life. This is not hyperbole.), noted that the report should have been called The Bisexual Erasure Report. I agree. It’s not that our community is invisible, a framing that consistently leads to hostile demands that we all “just come out and be open” as though that will solve everything. No, it’s not that we’re invisible. It’s that we are erased. Again and again. In so many ways and in so many contexts. And this erasure has real impacts on our lives. The bisexual community, and I include all non-monosexual folks in this umbrella even though we do not have real data on how this works out, is at risk, and our needs are not being met.

To quote Shiri Eisner in their post from earlier today, “We are literally dying. We are the largest group within the LGBT community, and the most vulnerable one among LGBs, with the highest rates of exposure to violence, sexual violence, bullying, poor health and mental health, suicidality, and poverty. We are the also the least talked about and the group most perceived as privileged dispite being at the top of every depressing statistic.”

This is important. Visibility is important! And not just visibility, but also action. We need help. We need community. Dulcinea, a bisexual trans woman, said, “[We need to listen] to people who are excluded – trans people, people of colour, disabled people, both visibly and invisibly – we have to listen, and then we have to figure out a path to more forward together and then we have to be willing to stick to our guns. Because queer communities, just like any community, are willing to cut people off and we need to stop. The world is aligning more and more against us, and we need to become a community. An actual community. Not just a space where we get to feel good about ourselves, but a space that includes everyone. That means we have to change things. We have to be willing to. That sucks and it’s hard, but I don’t think being on the queer spectrum has ever been easy, so we just have to do it.”

We need to center the vulnerable and the marginalized. The non-monosexual community is vulnerable, and is marginalized, in both gay/lesbian and straight spaces. And within our community there are others who are multiply marginalized. Our responses to these challenges need to be robust, meaningful, intentional. Visibility is one part of the solution.

The Bisexual Report came out in the UK in 2012, and was similarly important to understanding issues of bisexuality (and included discussion of the intersections with bisexual community, including race, gender, class, relationship status, ability, and others.

Despite these two critical reports, and Eisner’s phenomenal book, and so many other powerful works of visibility, celebration, resistance, and advocacy from within the bisexual community, we remain marginalized even in many queer spaces. When we are visible, when there is queer representation, it often comes with a “but we don’t need a label” overlay, which serves to further invisibilize and marginalize us.

A glossary-of-terms post on Bisexual.org has this to say about “Anything But Bisexual”:

The ABB phenomenon is problematic for the bisexual community because its use creates a vicious cycle that makes bisexuality invisible, which leads to few role models, which leads to mental health problems, and in turn fewer people willing to embrace a bisexual identity. At the same time though, it is recognized that everyone has the right to self-identify, and the bisexual community, while recognizing that ABB terms are problematic, finds it abhorrent to shame or “police” others for their self-identification. The consensus is mainly to work hard to fight biphobia and promote bi-pride, so it’s easier for more people to embrace the term bisexual.

Stereotypes about the non-monosexual community are still prevalent, and many of these stereotypes have to do with our supposed confusion, or our predatory sexualities, or our untrustworthiness and unreliability.

Linds, a Chinese American/femme/bisexual, said, “I wish people knew that being bisexual means you get stereotyped a lot as being some deviant overly sexual creature.”

Dulcinea said, “I feel like any sort of non-monosexual identity isn’t something to be ashamed of, it isn’t a threat to anyone, it’s not dangerous or predatory, I think it’s really important that we, as hard as it is, continue to strive for visibility and acknowledgement.”

These stereotypes are painful, and they also invite the community into a kind of self-policing that can throw so many of us under the bus. The stereotype that all bisexual folks are “deviant” and “overly sexual” or “predatory” harms a lot of folks, but there are slutty bisexual folks, too! And that’s great! Being sexual is okay. The slut-shaming that can happen when we try to distance ourselves from harmful stereotypes is just passing the harm on down the line, and it often lands on people who are already more marginalized. For example, accessing a “sexually pure” image is something that has been denied to Black and Indigenous women for generations, and when this racist hypersexualization is compounded with biphobic views, it can leave queer Black and Indigenous women with no space to breathe, to just be themselves, to be sexual in the ways that feel right for them. And the image of the predatory bisexual compounds with racist stereotypes about the predatory sexuality of Black and Indigenous men, meaning that they, also, are at greater risk when bisexual communities try to distance ourselves from harmful stereotypes by disavowing the behaviour rather than challenging the belief. (What I mean by that is, when we try to be “pure” rather than challenging the idea of “purity” itself.)

There are kinky bisexuals, and vanilla ones. Bisexual folks who have a lot of sex, and those who don’t. When stereotypes are used to invalidate or marginalize us, it can be tempting to try and distance ourselves from any behaviour that fits within the stereotype, but that means cutting off so many parts of our communities. We need to do better than that.

The UK’s Bisexual Index offers this poem about bisexuality:

Some people say we are confused

Some people say we are confused, because they don’t understand us
But we’re not confused
Or confusing
Some people are only attracted to one gender, and assume everyone else is just like them. That’s a mistake – a lot of people may be like that
But not bisexuals!
We’re attracted to more than one gender
It doesn’t matter how attracted
It doesn’t matter how many more genders
It doesn’t matter who we’ve dated
Bisexuality isn’t about being indecisive, or cool, or greedy. It’s simply this: attraction to more than one gender

BISEXUALITY

This fits with the framing used by one of my role models for bisexual advocacy, Patrick Richards Fink, writer at Eponymous Fliponymous. He speaks about the label “Bisexuality” as a broad umbrella term for people who are attracted to multiple genders. Within this broad label of bisexuality there are infinite variations on what that attraction to multiple genders might mean. Bi is the umbrella, and all the other non-monosexual identities can be sheltered under it. This is similar to what happens with Gay as an umbrella term that includes Bears, for example. This makes sense to me, but because the sharp division between bisexuality and pansexuality has been enforced by so many people for so long, I use “Bi+.” I also use “Bi+” because I think that asexuality, since it is not about attraction to multiple genders, but rather attraction to no genders, is different enough to warrant noting, but similar enough (because they also do not fit the monosexual norm) to warrant including.

I launched Possibilities Calgary in 2010. It was the term project in a feminist praxis course in my undergrad (I did finally make it to post-secondary!), and I was so thankful to have the support of my professor in choosing that project. My goal was to create for myself and others what I had been searching for an not found previously. I wanted a space that could act as a small antidote to the poisonous self-doubt that can creep in over time for those of us who are constantly erased in other contexts.

Now, eight years later, Possibilities is still here, and still trying to accomplish this goal.

I am conscious now of other erasures.

I see how Indigenous queerness is also erased, ignored, dismissed. Black and brown queerness, too. Immigrant queerness. These erasures all intersect with racism and xenophobia, both of which are rampant in queer spaces. So is ableism. Transantagonism. Classism and sizeism. Ageism (where are our elders? Why don’t we see them at events?)

I see the way that the asexual community is erased, dismissed, their self-knowledge invalidated by hostile suggestions that they “just haven’t found the right person yet.”

I see the way the pansexual community is also both erased under monosexual normativity (that idea that attraction to a single gender is the norm and is preferred) and also how pansexuality is used to further erase bisexuality by promoting the idea that bisexuality is inherently trans-exclusionary. This wedge, constantly driven between two parts of our non-monosexual community, is painful to watch and to experience.

Speaking about this split, Dulcinea, a bisexual trans woman said:

I find the bisexual vs. pansexual debates incredibly alienating and very unsettling. Because fundamentally, I do not see what the problem is with someone choosing any of the labels within the subgroup. It doesn’t take away from anyone else, as long as we’re not trying to force anyone else to identify this way. My being bi doesn’t take away from my partner’s pansexuality. I love and celebrate him for all the ways he feels. It feels like nonsensical fighting… The metaphor I use when I am asked why I don’t identify as pan or what-have-you, is that it’s like trying on clothes, and you have a bunch of things that fit, but then you find the right pair of jeans for your body, and it’s like, I could wear these other ones and it’d been fine, but I’d just rather wear the pair of jeans that feel comfortable, and I know I’m going to wear them in really easy, and they make my butt look good.

Rhiannon, a pansexual trans woman, said:

I was struggling as a transgender woman in the bi community. I found a lot of bisexual people that I encountered preferred binary gendered people. I was feeling very frustrated so a friend told me about Pansexuality and how pansexual people are open to all gender varieties. There seems to be this misconception that Pansexual people are against the Bisexual community for not being open to non-binary genders. I obviously can’t speak for everyone but this is not the case with the Pansexual people that I know. I acknowledge that there are many Bisexual people who are attracted to Non-Binary or Transgender people, like myself, but I felt it removed any confusion if I identified as Pan rather than Bi. To me that is what is at the core of Pansexual Identity, it is a way of letting people know immediately that you are open to all Gender Variations. We love our Bisexual Brethren, we just choose a different identify for ourselves.

And it’s important to keep in mind that just because bisexuality doesn’t inherently erase non-binary folks, or imply a lack of interest in trans folks, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t specific bisexual people who do. I was speaking with someone recently about bisexuality, and that person’s definition of bisexuality does not include attraction to transgender people. There are also lots of folks who do still speak about “both” genders, and bisexuality as an experience of attraction to “same and opposite” genders, language that erases non-binary identities (like my own!)

That’s not how I experience my own bisexuality, and that’s not inherent to bisexuality as an identity, but it hightlights how Rhiannon’s experience is valid and real. The “jeans” that fit Rhiannon are not the same “jeans” that fit Dulcinea or myself, and that’s informed by her lived experiences. There has to be space for that within our community, or else we will just perpetuate more harm.

We can (and should) talk about how the idea that you can just “have a preference not to date trans people” is inherently transantagonistic, just like having racial dating preferences is inherently racist, and we also need to validate the experiences of folks who have been excluded in these ways. We can talk about the problem, but we need to make sure that we are centring the experiences of folks who are actually suffering because of it. As Latin-Australian sociologist Dr Zuleyka Zevallos says in the second link, says, “[T]he fact is, as soon as you start to exclude people, then you’re participating in the broader pattern of exclusion that people from minority backgrounds face. That’s what people from White backgrounds don’t understand – that “I don’t have a preference towards X, Y, and Z groups,” they are contributing to the daily experiences of racism that those groups already face at work, at school, when they’re walking down the street. So this is just another form of discrimination that minorities are facing that White people don’t have to deal with.” The same is true regarding cis and transgender experiences.

One thing I really appreciated about both of the comments from Rhiannon and Dulcinea is the intentional inclusion of other identities even while strongly identifying with a specific label.

I want more of that – inclusion that holds space for difference. And in order to get that, we need visibility. We need to be able to see ourselves and to see each other.

Rachel,  a cis biromantic asexual, speaking about ace-inclusion, highlighted that difference. She said:

Other than just the basic awareness that asexual people exist, the biggest mistake I encounter among people who are trying but not necessarily succeeding to be ace-friendly is that they don’t translate that into awareness that ace people’s experiences of attraction and romance are actually meaningfully different than non-ace people’s. Which sometimes leads to this usually well-intentioned but kind of awkward and inaccurate perception that aces are just their romantic orientation, but G-rated…  I find that people attempting to be welcoming of ace identities tend to over-emphasize language, while I’d rather people put their effort into not assuming that allosexual (non-asexual) experiences are universal. Ace experiences aren’t intuitive to most non-ace people, and I understand that – there’s plenty of non-ace experiences I find extremely counter-intuitive – so not making those assumptions takes a lot of work, and I understand that and it’s okay to be confused by things that are confusing. But I’ve had several experiences in spaces that claimed to be (and seemed to be making a good faith effort to be) ace-friendly where they’d use all the laboriously correct language and then have discussions where it was assumed that all primary relationships were inevitably sexual, or that consent to sex that isn’t driven by sexual attraction/desire in the moment couldn’t be genuine, because they were so focused on inclusive language they just hadn’t thought about anything else.

What Rachel highlights is how we need to think broadly about our efforts towards visibility. It can’t just be language. And it can’t just be “coming out”, either.  We need the kind of visibility that challenges systems of exclusion and marginalization, and we also need this visibility to happen in ways that don’t shame folks for “not being visible” – we need to take away this pressure that currently exists towards the non-monosexual community to “come out for the good of the community.”

I am not entirely sure how we will do this. I know that my own efforts exist within a rich history of bisexual activism and advocacy, and I hope that in this coming year, I can learn more about how to do this work.

Today, I’m hosting the Bi+ Visibility Event and putting up this blog post. Next year, who knows?! I have big dreams, and now that I’m dipping my toe back into event organizing (once I hit publish on this, I’m flying out the door to do final prep for the Bi+ Visibility Day panel, open-mic, and info-session today!), maybe we’ll come up with something spectacular.

In the meantime, I would love to hear your stories.

And if you’re struggling and need professional support, I would love to work with you in either my role as a narrative therapist, or as a community organizer.


Asexuality. (This interview was over email.)

There is so much variety within the non-monosexual community. How do you identify?

I identify as a cis biromantic asexual, but day-to-day I usually just say ace, because it’s the thing that comes up the most, and I very rarely see the need to give the full explanation. Usually I only bother to clarify my romantic orientation when I have a specific reason to. This is mostly internally driven, I’m fairly private by nature, it’s not that I’ve felt external pressure to do that.

How did you learn about your identity? Did you see representations of people like you?

This is a tremendously embarrassing story because I found a link to AVEN from TVtropes, and that was the first time I encountered asexuality as an identity term, which was in my early twenties. Prior to that there were a handful of characters I found which seemed to share the experiences of romance, and of lack of sexual interest that I had, but none of them were described specifically as asexual.

What do you wish more people knew about people who share your identity?

Other than just the basic awareness that asexual people exist, the biggest mistake I encounter among people who are trying but not necessarily succeeding to be ace-friendly is that they don’t translate that into awareness that ace people’s experiences of attraction and romance are actually meaningfully different than non-ace people’s. Which sometimes leads to this usually well-intentioned but kind of awkward and inaccurate perception that aces are just their romantic orientation, but G-rated. And there are people who identify strongly with their romantic orientations, but they’re a distinct minority. Romantic orientations are not even universally used.

What misconceptions do you encounter from people?

Mostly I encounter people who just have no idea that being asexual is even a possibility. Beyond that there’s also a degree of conflation of asexuality and aromanticism, which are of course, separate and orthogonal. And again there is a massive overemphasis on romantic orientation by non-ace people talking about ace people, as compared to how ace people, in my experience, talk about it, as more of a handy point of reference.

What can people do to be more inclusive of non-monosexual folks in general, and of people of your specific identity?

I find that people attempting to be welcoming of ace identities tend to over-emphasize language, while I’d rather people put their effort into not assuming that allosexual (non-asexual) experiences are universal. Ace experiences aren’t intuitive to most non-ace people, and I understand that – there’s plenty of non-ace experiences I find extremely counter-intuitive – so not making those assumptions takes a lot of work, and I understand that and it’s okay to be confused by things that are confusing. But I’ve had several experiences in spaces that claimed to be (and seemed to be making a good faith effort to be) ace-friendly where they’d use all the laboriously correct language and then have discussions where it was assumed that all primary relationships were inevitably sexual, or that consent to sex that isn’t driven by sexual attraction/desire in the moment couldn’t be genuine, because they were so focused on inclusive language they just hadn’t thought about anything else. And, also, being scrupulous about ace friendly language requires a lot of both moment to moment self-correction, and often longer more complex sentences, and that can be an accessibility issue for some disabilities or for people speaking in a second language. It’s nice when people remember to verbally acknowledge ace people (by saying for instance, things like “sexual attraction is important to those who experience it”, rather than just “sexual attraction is important”), but it’s much easier to correct and just be understanding of the occasional language slip-up, than it is to try and decide if it’s worth the energy to redirect a whole line of thought.

Are there any resources, books, articles, tv shows, movies, video games, or other pieces of representation that you would like to recommend?

If you’re looking for 101 level resources about asexuality the AVEN FAQs remain a good place to start. The online ace community has got a lot more distributed but if you’re looking for more complexity and detail than the basics I like the blog The Asexual Agenda. The book Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire is probably my go-to for being a nuanced, but also accessible, representation of an asexual character.

Is there anything else you want included in the blog post?

Not that I’ve been able to think of, although, knowing me, I’ll come up with something just after the post is published.

You were involved with Possibilities from very early on, and you brought a new perspective to the conversations. I really appreciated that, and I wonder what that experience was like for you, to be in a bisexual and pansexual space, bringing something else to the table?

Possibilities was one of the first specifically queer spaces I ever spent time in, which has now given me irreversibly high standards, because it was a fantastically well-moderated space. And at the time I’d only just come out to anyone about anything, and it meant a lot at the time to have that space. My experience of being in Possibilities was that I sort of brought my community-member hat and my ally hat and switched them out at high speeds, depending on the topic, and the direction of the conversation. At the time that took some doing, but I really think it’s a key skill for interacting well in queer spaces, especially when, like me, you’re fairly privileged, and in retrospect, Possibilities was a great place to learn it. Because it was very well managed, so people weren’t just allowed to go on making mistakes, but it was also forgiving enough, I wasn’t worried about being instantly banished when I put my foot in my mouth.

You were one of the volunteers who really headed up the original FAQ handout project. What is important to you about sharing good information about non-monosexual identities?

The unfortunate fact of the world we live in right now, is that you can’t necessarily assume most people know anything about non-monosexual identities. And its fundamentally not reasonable to expect people to spontaneously research and learn about identities that they may not even have heard of. But on the other hand doing the sort of basic 101 level education that the pamphlets were supposed to be able to sum up is just terrible. It’s boring, repetitive and emotionally fraught if not out right dangerous in some situations. But I’m also simultaneously aware that the people who do the educating set the curriculum, and there is a risk that if you decide that teaching someone the basics of what it means to be bi or ace or trans is just too much for you, the person who does do it might not have your best interests at heart. Which is a hard set of problems to balance.

So, the basic idea of the pamphlets was an attempt to separate the basic education process from the coming out process, something you could give to someone who needed educating and then just walk away. They’re short and their intended audience is someone who has basically no knowledge, so they’re not hugely nuanced. They were only ever going to be a starting point for people to either go and do their own follow up research, or to ask a slightly more informed class of question. But if they can at least remove having to do that initial hurdle of “before we continue I need to stop and give you a lot of basic information about myself and then hope you take it well” then they’ve done a pretty good job.

I’d happily come back to them and do more, or update them with a slightly wider contributor base at some point if there was interest.

What does your orientation mean to you? (This is intentionally vague, and you can answer however you want – what’s important to you about it? How did you discover it? What does it look like in your daily life? However you want to answer this is great.)

I think the most key part of my orientation to me is just, the way I perceive things. I might feel very different about this if I was actively dating, but because I’m not most of the ways I really experience being ace day to day in that I don’t default to thinking about things as sexual. I don’t necessarily notice sexual subtext. Things like that.


Bisexuality

Dulcinea, a bisexual trans woman with settler and educated privilege. She also deals with mental health issues and invisible disability. (This interview was in person, and these are my notes. Most of the quotes are direct quotes, but there is some paraphrasing.)

Why do you identify as bisexual?

Because I feel attraction to my gender, and other genders, and that is the term that feels right. And for a very long time, I didn’t have a term that felt like it fit.

Why is bisexuality important to you?

There are a few things, like just because I’m married to a woman doesn’t mean I’m not bisexual, or just because I’m bisexual doesn’t mean I don’t have need for women only spaces.

What’s important to you about your bisexual identity?

I feel like, in contrast to trying to live up to a monosexual ideal, which I have done for most of my life, I just like being free to feel attraction and feel how good that feels. Just how good it feels to be attracted to someone, and connect with that honestly and authentically rather than questioning it.

I came to bisexuality as an understanding of who I am and how I was already operating, rather than through seeking an identity or a marker.

The metaphor I use when I am asked why I don’t identify as pan or what-have-you, is that it’s like trying on clothes, and you have a bunch of things that fit, but then you find the right pair of jeans for your body, and it’s like, I could wear these other ones and it’d been fine, but I’d just rather wear the pair of jeans that feel comfortable, and I know I’m going to wear them in really easy, and they make my butt look good.

How do you feel about the perception that bisexuality enforces a gender binary of “man and woman”, and the debate about “bi vs. pan”? 

I think it really shows just how lacking education is, and how people just aren’t willing to listen. If anyone spends any time talking to bisexual people, or accessing any kind of resources, you’ll realize that this isn’t the definition used by the community, but people just don’t listen. And it’s exhausting.

It’s an added layer on top of a marginalized marginalized identity (trans and bisexual).

I find the bisexual vs. pansexual debates incredibly alienating and very unsettling. Because fundamentally, I do not see what the problem is with someone choosing any of the labels within the subgroup. It doesn’t take away from anyone else, as long as we’re not trying to force anyone else to identify this way.

My being bi doesn’t take away from my partner’s pansexuality. I love and celebrate him for all the ways he feels. It feels like nonsensical fighting. It feels illogical and petty, and it doesn’t make sense to be having this fight. Especially because all of these communities are marginalized as non-monosexual people.

I have seen it happen within communities, and I think it’s also egged on sometimes by people who are not in the communities. For example, there seems to be a trend of homosexual men sometimes really investing in these debates. The egging on ends up looking like soft critiques or questions, things like, “oh, so do you believe gender is binary then?”

In in-person spaces people seem more willing to listen and hear, and in online spaces people seem more willing to jump in and ignore what anyone else says.

There is also a kind of rejecting the elders that happens, seeing bisexuality as an older and outdated way of seeing or doing. It’s often not malicious, and part of it is just not having the tools to have that discussion effectively because they haven’t had to develop them in the same way.

Having queer spaces is so rewarding and affirming, which means that confronting the antagonism in those spaces is hard because it’s a space you love and care about and you get some kind of affirmation in, and having to be critical you love is something human beings aren’t good at. It’s easier to pick on a marginalized group, you just want an easy fight and you want a fight that you can win. I think that’s why we fight each other so often.

I feel like the most valuable thing I’ve learned throughout my entire life is a willingness to be wrong.

I think learning how to be in community together is a process, you have to listen and then follow up that listening with action.

Listening to people who are excluded – trans people, people of colour, disabled people, both visibly and invisibly – we have to listen, and then we have to figure out a path to more forward together and then we have to be willing to stick to our guns. Because queer communities, just like any community, are willing to cut people off and we need to stop. The world is aligning more and more against us, and we need to become a community. An actual community. Not just a space where we get to feel good about ourselves, but a space that includes everyone. That means we have to change things. We have to be willing to. That sucks and it’s hard, but I don’t think being on the queer spectrum has ever been easy, so we just have to do it.

I feel like any sort of non-monosexual identity isn’t something to be ashamed of, it isn’t a threat to anyone, it’s not dangerous or predatory, I think it’s really important that we, as hard as it is, continue to strive for visibility and acknowledgement.

***

Linds. This interview was over email.

First, how would you like to be identified in the blog post? 

I am a Chinese American/femme/bisexual

There is so much variety within the non-monosexual community. How do you identify? 

I identify as bisexual.

How did you learn about your identity? Did you see representations of people like you? 

I am still learning about bi-erasure from straight allies and the transgender community, to be honest I haven’t fully affirmed myself yet in regards to sexual orientation due to my emphasis on community for helping gay people (in formal and informal ways such as Gay-Straight Alliance leadership and my very best friend is a gay man), and supporting other cisgender women through their #Metoo experiences via emotional labor (friendship support).

What do you wish more people knew about people who share your identity? 

I wish people knew that being bisexual means you get stereotyped a lot as being some deviant overly sexual creature when you’re really just a person who has the capacity to love people of both genders.

What misconceptions do you encounter from people? 

People think I must have had a lot of sexual encounters and am lying when I tell them I’ve hardly dated.

What can people do to be more inclusive of non-monosexual folks in general, and of people of your specific identity? 

Please treat us as equals within the queer community.

Are there any resources, books, articles, tv shows, movies, video games, or other pieces of representation that you would like to recommend? 

Steven Universe 🙂


Pansexuality. (This email was over email.)

First, how do you identify? 

I’m Rhiannon, a Transgender Polyamorous Woman with Female Pronouns, I am also a proud Immigrant to Canada (twice now).

There is so much variety within the non-monosexual community. How do you identify?

I identify as Pansexual.

What does visibility mean to you?

Being open and honest with people about my identity and seeing myself represented in the media.

How did you learn about your identity? Did you see representations of people like you?

I was struggling as a Transgender Woman in the Bi community. I found a lot of Bisexual people that I encountered preferred Binary Gendered people. I was feeling very frustrated so a friend told me about Pansexuality and how Pansexual people are open to all gender varieties.

What do you wish more people knew about people who share your identity?

There seems to be this misconception that Pansexual people are against the Bisexual community for not being open to non-binary genders. I obviously can’t speak for everyone but this is not the case with the Pansexual people that I know. I acknowledge that there are many Bisexual people who are attracted to Non-Binary or Transgender people, like myself, but I felt it removed any confusion if I identified as Pan rather than Bi. To me that is what is at the core of Pansexual Identity, it is a way of letting people know immediately that you are open to all Gender Variations. We love our Bisexual Brethren, we just choose a different identify for ourselves.

What misconceptions do you encounter from people?

That Pansexual people have a fetish for Kitchen-ware. I cannot count the amount of times I have been asked that. Also, as mentioned above, we get a lot of anger from Bisexual people because they think that by choosing a new identity we are in some way saying that the Bi identity was not enough for us, when it is merely a different way for us to identify.

What can people do to be more inclusive of non-monosexual folks in general, and of people of your specific identity?

To not make rash judgments. Everyone is walking their own path and what is right for you, on your path, may not be what is right for me, on mine.

Is there anything else you want included in the blog post?

I’d like to thank the author for all of their hard work they have put into this blog and the Bi Visibility Day. (Noted, and appreciated!! <3)