Tuesday, February 20, 2007

It’s a bi, bi universe
An interview with co-authors of The Bisexual’s Guide to the Universe
Nicole Kristal and Mike Szymanski

Heather Cassell: What made you think of writing a humor book about bisexuality?

Mike Szymanski: There was nothing funny about bisexuality out there and bisexuality is pretty funny. I have a whole shelf full of bisexual books and I have another two shelves full of gay books. The gay books are fun. They’re the kind of books you can pick up and read. They play off of the stereotypes and things like that.

Well you know there are tons more stereotypes with bisexuality and some of them are true and we want to play off of that and some of them are not true and we want to educate. The [gay books] have a lot of attitude and I didn’t see that in the bi books that I had. I felt that we need something that is like the preppy handbook or some of these really fun gay books.

Nicole Kristal: The gay manual. That is something that we looked at a lot and thought, ‘God why don’t we have something like this?’ Ever since I was in college I was trying to be a bi activist. I wrote about bisexuality in college for our literary magazine. I just felt that there’s nothing out there for me for when I was kind of dealing with this stuff. This was a real opportunity to help people kind of accept their bisexuality and realize that it can be fun and enjoyable, not something to be mad about. A lot of people just get serious because no one believes that bisexuality exists. This was a way to poke fun at that and also help people.

MS: We didn’t want it to be just for the profession bisexual or those of us who are bisexual and wear it on our sleeves and we don’t want it to be a bisexual 101 either for the newbie bisexuals. It had to be something that everyone in the gamut could relate to.

HC: And what are your personal opinions about the younger generation these days not using the word bisexual and referring to themselves gender queer or queer?

NK: I don’t even know if they are even calling themselves that. I mean I feel that a lot of it is like sex is not as politicized as it was. I mean that they are not activist, the younger generation, they are just sexual and they don’t want to be hassled with the labels it seems.

MS: It’s the “whatever” generation so my feeling is whatever works, works. I don’t care what we call ourselves I never though bisexual was really a great word, but I’ve never heard anything that has been better. We actually tried to come up with some.

NK: Yeah we did. We couldn’t. I mean the thing about out book too is that we try to flip those derogatory slurs and make them funny like we’ll call ourselves fence sitters, which is something that people in the bi community won’t do. We’ll joke about it, ‘We’re fence sitters.’ We don’t want it to be offensive anymore.

MS: And the whole thing are we confused. Well no we are not confused about our sexuality, but we are confused about our definitions because even in our own community we can’t even come up with a solid definition of what bisexual means.

HC: Why now a book about bisexuals and more books are emerging like Jennifer Baumgarder’s book, Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics is coming out soon.

NK: I think that bisexuality is perpetually trendy. There’s always a new wave of bisexual trends that come out and Newsweek does a story about it every five or ten years.

MS: The movies always hint on it. TV is becoming a lot more open to understanding it and using it in their plotlines without too much confusion.

HC: Do you think it’s still edgy to be bi? Do you think people are still really confused?

MS: Until people understand it, it is edgy. People don’t understand what it means. They look at Brokeback Mountain it was the “gay cowboy” movie. Those guys were both bisexual. They had very successful heterosexual relationships and but they loved each other. They were on the scale of bisexuality in a time period where it was hard to be very open about your feelings and it wasn’t like they were forced to have these heterosexual relationships. One of them especially had a very successful hetero relationship and yet it was called the “gay cowboy” movie and very few reviewers actually used the “B” word in their reviews it was enlightening to see that the New York Times and a few other big publications did and called it bisexual. But until it’s understood and people actually understand it, it’s going to be edgy, weird, and different.

NK: And another reason this is timely is because of the “Gay, Straight, or Lying” article in the New York Times that came out in July 2005.

HC: So how does someone know if they are bisexual or not? You have those fun quizzes.

NK: Yeah people are taking the quizzes way too seriously. [laughing] It’s like a joke and people are like using it like a Cosmo sex quiz or something.

MS: The problem with that it’s all by self-definition. Unless you call yourself bisexual you’re not so Anne Heche who’s now married [recently separated], but had a very wonderful long relationship with Ellen is straight. And Rock Hudson who was married to a woman, and according to her biography had a great sexual relationship with him, is considered a gay icon. People who are bisexual don’t necessarily like to use the name so it’s a very weird definition.

NK: You know if you’re bisexual if you get that tingle between your legs for a man or a woman. You know if you are with a woman or with a man you can still get that tingle for whatever the opposite sex and the same sex. You just simplify it based on physical attraction and desire and are honest with yourself and realize it doesn’t have to be one or the other. That’s how you can know if you are bisexual.

HC: What do you think is the hardest part about being bisexual?

MS: Explaining it to people.

NK: Yeah I feel like bisexuals don’t necessarily have a date on a Saturday night. I think it works against us more than it works for us. You know people assume you are really promiscuous and I’m not. You know I’m a pretty prudish bisexual. I don’t have sex parties, I don’t go to sex parties, and I don’t have orgies. I had a group thing in a hot tub in college like everybody else but I’m not running around having tons of sex. So what does that say about me? You know, it makes me almost feel that I’m not living up to everyone’s expectations which is ridiculous because the expectation is that I will be irresponsible and get STDs and you know be perpetually horny.

HC: Talking about having a gay side or straight side, you bring up in the book that bisexuals get accused of not understanding queer issues, like gay marriage, and straights just don’t understand why we support gay issues. What is your response?
MS: I’ve been on panels with that where people have gotten up and screamed at us saying that bisexuals don’t understand the gay community and lesbian community problems. I say you know when I come out of a gay bar and get bashed for coming out of a gay bar I don’t get half bashed as a bisexual. I don’t get half discriminated against. So even though there’s some thought that we have some sort of privilege.
NK: They think that we undermine their political agenda. That’s the bottom line. A lot of the gay movement is founded on that it isn’t a choice that we’re gay. They think that bisexuals make it look like it’s a choice and that’s the problem. What’s so funny is that they think we don’t understand this prejudice. We suffer so much prejudice from them that I would almost argue that we’re more discriminated against because we’ve got the straight people and the gay people coming down on us.
HC: What is it about recognizing bisexuals that’s so difficult to do?

NK: The problem with mainstream America is that they look at preference and they use that to define your sexual orientation. We don’t agree with that. It just doesn’t work.

HC: What about bidar? You had that fun quiz about bidar in that section. Do you believe bisexuals can create indicators to identify each other?

NK: For clothing we have to have community in order to do that and we don’t. So I don’t think that the clothing thing is going to happen anytime soon. People do pick up on it. It is a distinct type of energy. It’s sort of a melding of a male and female energy.

MS: That’s good. That’s good actually. It’s also an ease and a comfort that some people don’t have. Like you can tell when a straight guy is uncomfortable or something and I think that bi guys and women tend to be a lot more easy going and a lot more comfortable with things that may otherwise be shocking or uncomfortable either sexually or even in conversations.

NK: People who are comfortable with their bisexuality have sort of down to earth quality and they are not usually super obsessed with fashion I’ve found that’s just kind of – I don’t know a defining characteristic. But I don’t know may be that generalization is not fair. I’m sure there’s a lot of very well dressed bisexuals out there.

MS: We just don’t know any.

HC: And why is it that bisexuals just can’t get it together in the “What not to wear category”?

NK: I think it’s the androgyny. It’s like you don’t know if you’re going to go tomboy butch or femme one day and you end up mixing it all together and that’s what you got a weird look. I mean sometimes I’ll put an outfit, but it’s never totally femme I’ll always wear some big shoes or something that fucks it up and I’ll be like damn it why can’t I get this right?

MS: My gay friends have tried to dress me for years. They’ve just given up. They always said, ‘We can tell you have a straight side in you look at the way you dress?’

The Lambda Literary nominated Bisexual’s Guide to the Universe is coming to San Francisco.

The Queen of bisexuals Carol Queen is hosting a book reading and signing with authors Nicole Kristal and Mike Szymanski at Good Vibrations on Friday, February 23 at the Valencia Street store (603 Valencia Street at 17th Street) in San Francisco at 7:30pm.


No comments: