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Love People, Forget the Plumbing

I am very, very lucky that my experience as a bi woman (and a poly demisexual) has been very, very positive.

I “came out” to my parents, more or less, during an extremely terrifying rainstorm. We were driving down to a university I wanted to tour before applying to the musical theatre training program. Something came up about how I’d turned down a boy earlier that week.

(I feel like a crap-pot about it now, because he was so sweet – brought me a flower and everything! – and I was too distracted to really see what was happening. I said, “I don’t have time” and left him standing at the classroom door with the flower like a putz. The boys inside the room laughed at him. I wish I hadn’t done that. I wish I’d gone on that date. I wish I could have spared him that embarrassment.)

My dad said something about how I would find a boyfriend at university. I said, very casually, “Yes, maybe. That would be nice. Or a girlfriend.”

I didn’t think this admission was a big deal. I mean, I was big into community theatre and musicals, for goodness sake. I had just played Annie.Half of the adult men I knew were gay. I think my Daddy Warbucks was gay. And my mother had lesbian coworkers.

Apparently, though, it was a big deal. The van swerved. Dad nearly ran into the shoulder, then got the van back onto the highway after a little bit of hydroplanning. All I could hear was the truly epic proportions of rain smashing into the windshield. Visibility was nearly zero, the horizon lost in miles and miles of gray water.

“Oh,” Dad said.

Silence filled the vehicle. Rain crashed at us, filling my ears with white noise, like a TV on the wrong channel.

“Oh,” I echoed. “Oh. I thought… right.”

“So, you’re… a lesbian?” Mom asked.

“No!” I said. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I mean… I just… I’ve never had a boyfriend or a girlfriend, so how can I know, right? I mean, I can’t choose until  I’ve tried, right?”

“Right,” they said.

The rest of the trip was pretty quiet. Dad spoke up at one point to say, “We love you either way, hon. As long as you find someone who loves you.”

We toured the university, and nothing else was said, at least to me, on the topic. On the way home from the university we stopped to have lunch with my aunt, my Dad’s older sister. She often shares my bed when she comes for a visit, because I have a Queen sized one. I don’t know when she was alone with my parents -when I was in the washroom, probably – but at some point, they told her what I had said in the van.

My aunt and I got a bit of time alone – possibly when my parents went to go get the van – and she said, “So, you’re a lesbo?” lighting up her cigarette and looking at me sideways.

“Maybe,” I said. “Maybe not. How can I know until I’ve given it a try?”

“But you share a bed with me.” I could tell, she was trying to figure out how she was supposed to feel about this.

I felt my mouth and eyes drop open. “Oh! EW!” I said. “One, you’re my aunt! Two, you’re like… old!”

She burst into rough, smoker’s lungs guffaws. “Yeah, I’m your aunt, kiddo. You’re right, I’m stupid.”

We laughed, and I was relieved. It was the first time I’d really been scared that someone would judge me for who I decided to fall in love with – which was even more terrifying because I hadn’t fallen in love with anyone yet (unless you count celebrity crushes. Oh, Geordie Johnson, our passion was never meant to be).

In retrospect, I have realized that I clearly have a pretty effing cool family.

I never labelled myself “bi”, not then. I’m not even sure that I knew such a label existed. I was just someone who had been too busy with extracurriculars to bother dating while in high school, and was waiting to see who tickled my fancy before slotting myself into any category at all. I was a pupa, looking forward to crawling into my cocoon, to see what kind of wings I’d have when I broke free of it.

*

In the end, I didn’t go to that university. I chose another program, a drama program, where I met some of the best friends of my life.

I dated a boy, and it didn’t end so well. I dated another boy, and that exploded. I fell in love with a girl whose family would never have accepted me as their daughter’s partner, though I was allowed to be her special friend. We never progressed beyond our very intimate friendship because I frankly couldn’t have standed the thought of being able to kiss her without getting to keep her.

I had crushes on some of the upper years in the program, both male and female. I told some. Mostly while drunk at the drama parties. I didn’t tell others. I kissed girls at the goth club to titillate the crowd. I let boys bite my shoulders and leave marks, just above my corset.

I played, I experimented, and I just couldn’t come to a decision. Was I straight? Or was I a lesbian?

I remember having a conversation about this, just out back of my dorm, while waiting in the cold for a taxi to come. My friend Will was there, and I will never forget what he said to me that night. He said, “You know, it’s okay to like both. You can like whoever you want. You clearly fall in love with people, not plumbing. And that’s okay.”

I remember staring at him, stunned. Because that was it. That was it exactly.

*

After I completed university, I moved to Japan. There were bishonen and takarazuka, and I was in paradise. Oh, gender-blurring, how I love you so!

I wrote a novel, as of yet unpublished, about a vindictive blood god who slept with (and hideously murdered) people of both genders.

When I moved back, I did a MA in Communications Culture, and began writing what eventually became my debut novel, Triptych. I won’t detail everything about what went in to my choice to make the central protagonist a bisexual gender-fluid polyamorous alien (but it’s all here if you want to read it), but I will say that I made a point of adding Will’s fabulous line about plumbing to the novel:

 

“They just shot him,” Basil said against Gwen’s lips, shaking like an addict, pulling back just a fraction to give his mouth just enough mobility to form words. “There was nothing I could do. Aitken panicked and just… just shot him.”

 

“Kalp sold us out,” Gwen said back, a bitter, chiding reminder.

 

“He didn’t, you can’t think–“

 

“Can’t think what?” Gwen hissed. “They knew that we started training the microsecond after the first assassination. Somebody told them what kind of training we were doing.   Somebody was selling them information.”

 

“That doesn’t mean it was Kalp–“

 

“Well who else?” Gwen snarled. She pressed her hands against his shoulders, trying to push him away, but he wouldn’t let go, fisted his hands in the fabric of her shirt. “There was the letter. He was found with the keycard. All that time he was with us–“

 

“No.”

 

“All that time he was in our bed–

 

“No, Gwen.”

 

“All that time he talked about units and ‘it’s the person, not the plumbing’. He made us look like fools.” Basil kissed her temple, the top of her head, her cheek, pleading her to stop, silently, desperately. “The Institute stood up on international fucking television and condemned the protesters for being such racists, such goddamned homophobes, for him, defended what we had for him, and he… he…”

 

She buried her face in his neck again, and her shuddering grief was palatable in the night air.

*

 

 

The book was published by Dragon Moon Press in April 2011. It was acquired and edited by Gabrielle Harbowy, a queer activist and woman, and garnered several very important and prestigious reviews and accolades. One, from out Publishers Weekly’s genre editor Rose Fox; another, from Lambda Literary; and lastly, a mention on the Advocate’s Best Overlooked Books of the Year 2011 list.  My absolute favourite review, however, comes from the Birary Bookslut. That review is most precious to me because it was the first time a person whose job does not involve reviewing books, and who is not a friend or related to me, reviewed the book.

I am very humbled by the accolades and the nominations I’ve recieved (Triptych is nominated for both the Bi and the SF/F categories in the Lambda Literary Awards), but I didn’t set out to write an award-winning issue book. I just wanted to write a book where the realities of my own sexuality were accepted and explored.

I was a bit confused by the Lambda nomination at first – was the nomination because the book featured two Bisexual characters (Kalp and Basil) or because I, myself, was Bisexual? I mean, I keep my love life private – I don’t often bring dates to events, and if I do it’s because the date is an actor friend of mine, or my editor, etc. I know I’ve been snapped with men on my arm, but I’ve also been snapped with women, too. And I know for a fact that nobody called me up and said, “Hey, fucked any women lately? Yes? Great! You qualify for this category!” I found out later that the awards categorize their books on the characters within them, and not by the authors, which made me especially pleased. Just as men can write female characters, I love to see writers of one sexuality being praised for writing characters of another.

*

When I sign my books, I try to add a little note for the purchaser. If I don’t know them very well, or if we haven’t just shared a little joke, I fall back on “Love people, forget the plumbing. Best, J.M. Frey.”

*

Several months ago I was privileged enough to be invited to attend the Season 2 Launch Party of the award-winning webseries OUT WITH DAD. We watched this episode. Not to give too much away, but in the episode Rose finally comes out to her father. There was a conversation that went on in a van while Nathan, the titular Dad, drives Rose to school.

So much of the episode echoed my own experience with my parents – the stumbling questions, the parents being unsure how to handle the confession, the flat out love – that I began to weep. Sort of ugly gross sobbing kind of weeping.

I jammed my mouth over the lower half of my face to muffle the sound as best I could, so everyone around me could enjoy the show. When the lights came on at the end, producer/writer/creator Jason Leaver, who had been sitting near me, turned to me and said, “Hey, are you alright?”

I grabbed him by the front of his tee-shirt, stood up, and buried my face in his chest and cried.

“Jeeze,” he said, patting my shoulders, “really, are you okay?”

“Did I tell you my coming out story?” I asked, words smearing into his shirt.

“No. Why?”

“It was that,” I said, gesturing at the screen. “Just like that. Thank you!”

He hugged me back and let me cry. “No, thank you. I didn’t know that you… but thank you for sharing.”

“No, no,” I replied. “Thank you.”

*

Further Resources:
~24th Annual Lambda Literary Awards – Short List
~Bi Writers Association
~Bi Lines V: A Celebration of Bisexual Writing in Reading, Music and Culture, organized by the Bi Writers Association, at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.
~Buy “Triptych”
~The Birary
~Out With Dad
~PFLAG

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