The Wine Not the Label

 

Usually, when I write one of these it’s a bold, brash ‘gobby bisexual’ flag-waving exercise. And that’s important. I don’t have any illusion that what I say matters in the bigger picture, but if being a gobby, flag-waving bisexual has helped someone once, then it’s worth it. In fact, a good friend of mine read this first before I posted it, and told me it did. So it’s worth it. 

But I’m not feeling that flag-wavy right now. And maybe it’s the ‘2020’ of everything. Maybe it’s far far too much time in my own head. But I couldn’t write that post this time around. I had a post in my head clearly, in fact, ready to go. But that’s not what I’ve written. Which is a shame because it was really really funny. Really, you all missed out. 

I think like all of us I’ve spent this year having a variety of existential crises. One of which was over what box to tick on a sexuality form for a project I was running on LGTBQ+ identities. Irony, I see you. 

I was thinking about why so many of us are leaning into our own version of ‘Queerness’ right now. And I think there’s a couple of reasons. The first is the world feels like it’s on fire right now. That’s going to make you look inward too. 

So does stepping off ‘normal’ for a while. In the same way that travel or moving makes you reassess. So does this weird stasis. I honestly can’t stomach another ‘how lockdown changed me’ blog. Lockdown made me slightly scruffier slightly chubbier, like any normal person. That’s my ‘transformation’ so don’t worry this isn’t that. But for me it’s just simply removing myself from the previous life I was living day to day has had an effect. 

I feel like I’ve been ‘leaning into’ my Queerness because not having to pretend to be straight for six straight months does wonder for learning about your identity. In my house, I can be as Queer as I damn well like (also I appreciate the word ‘Queer’ isn’t for everyone, I use it interchangeably, especially when I don’t quite know how to describe myself…which might be most days lately). Not that I was ever particularly ‘closeted’ but in the workplace, in everyday life, there’s a certain element of ‘straight until proven otherwise’ and the continual ‘Coming Out’ that comes with that…and not having to do that at all for 6 months is…liberating. 

The cumulative exhaustion of ‘coming out’ or of ‘straight until presumed otherwise’, what we call ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ (there’s a great video here on that). And office spaces are the very worst for this. Or maybe the ones I’ve worked in are. And you know what some days it’s easier to go along with it. But I bet most of us have snapped and either shouted at someone/hidden in the toilets crying/both over it too right? 

This isn’t a bisexual thing, but it sort of is too. Obviously, there’s a certain amount of being able to ‘pass’ as a bisexual. To only reference male partners, to join in (somewhat) authentically in discussions about hot dudes. But it’s always a half-truth. And it gets more and more exhausting. 

And so, stepping off that treadmill had an interesting effect. It’s interestingly, and relatedly one I think many people (particularly, but not exclusively women) have had with body image and body confidence during this time. Taking ourselves off that performative treadmill of daily life has done wonders for lots of women I know- the expectation for wearing make up, looking cute and being thin somewhat diminished by life outside the office…I feel a similar effect with the expectation to be not-Queer. I say this related to body image/clothes/makeup because I find in a strange related way, I’m not bothered about ‘looking Queer’ any more, in fact, I’m leaning into that more. 

So while it seems my aesthetic is part ‘Lesbian Soccer Mom’ and part ‘Did Drag Race throw up on you?’ part ‘1950s Housewife’ there’s also been a shift in my mentality with being ok with ‘looking Queer’…whatever that means to you of course. What I do mean is that I always worried about wearing dungarees places, or considered letting my hair grow out (lockdown let that happen, it was not the one, short hair forever), just in case I looked a bit ‘too gay’. Now I’ve sort of settled on a ‘well fuck it’ approach, which is very 2020. (If we’re honest, at the time of writing I’ve settled on a ‘looks like a Hobbit approach as I’m a week away from a big deadline). But I wore my dungarees to teach. I wore my dungarees to go for coffee with someone I don’t know that well. It’s a tiny ridiculous thing, but it’s important. 

There’s a certain irony also at leaning into confidence of sorts with sexuality at a time when dating is all but off the table. It was recently my Birthday (well ok a month ago, again time means nothing in 2020) and that’s inevitably a time of Bridget Jones-style ‘why am I alone’ reflection (also let’s not open that box too far) which is always a good time for a ‘but really what is wrong with you?’ type assessment of your life right? 

So how does this all fit into Bi Week (side note I keep reading that like ‘Fleet Week and wonder if there’s a bunch of sailors coming a la Sex and the City). Or bisexual identity? Or what? 

The truth is, nothing and everything. My bisexual identity is as mixed up with all these other identities as everything else. Or as for anyone else. It’s messy and complicated because identity is. Sexuality is. 

It’s also fluid. And ever-evolving. And I think that’s what I’m trying to say but not saying. 

I’ve always thought of (my) version of bisexuality as a spectrum. Moving through periods of ‘yeah dudes’ to ‘yeah women’ I’ve always wondered if other people are just 50/50 all the time and what’s that like…but regardless of how I experienced it, I was always also always so sure of it. From the first time I said it out loud when I was 17, (Thanks to Alan Cumming…that’s another blog) I’ve always been utterly unshakable. That was what made sense to me. Even when it didn’t always make sense. Earlier this year I wrote a play about being bisexual and not fitting in. (shameless plug, its here) how bisexual identity has never been an easy road for any of us. But I was always so sure that label was right. 

Not long after writing that play, and after much much harassment by friends (which I am now happily, irritatingly paying forward)  I started watching Schitt’s Creek.

Oh here’s the blog post we expected you to write today Ems. 

And yes, I felt so incredibly seen by the show. And by  David Rose in particular.  His ‘I like the wine not the label’ metaphor was like a revelation. So much so I literally have a print of it on my desk. Likewise his gender-fluid dressing, anxious disposition,  and yes incredibly extra attitude and lovely quiffed hair (what I can’t over-identify there much? especially the quiff I have hair envy). Anyone who has had the misfortune to be subjected to what can generously be described as ‘passion’ for that show fully expected me to write about that for Bi Visibility day right? 

And it did. It really did. It does. I urge anyone to watch that episode alone for an exercise in acceptance and love from friends and family, and yourself. Whatever your preferences. I love that. I cling to that. And luckily my Mum is the perfect mix of the Roses (just mad enough to be Moria, but just sensible enough to be Johnny too) and my friends are all basically Stevie. 

That’s the Schitt’s Creek sexuality blog I was expecting to write. But as time has gone on, as I got further into it (and I’m saving the last season for when I finish my book so anyone spoils it I will hurt you like I’m Moira and you took one of my wigs). 

But time went on, and I started to wonder if I’m not David but Patrick instead. 

(This next section will make less sense for anyone who doesn’t know the show but for now, people go with me and hope it makes a kind of sense) 

When Patrick talks about how kissing David was all the things you’re supposed to feel. And later when he talks about how he never felt ‘right’ before. It was like the exact kind of revelation he’s talking about there. Without real-world payoff. His story on that show hit me hard. The episode where he comes out to his parents hit me really hard. There’s a whole mess of stuff that show has given me I’m still working through in my head. And I’ll write about that one day too. But that enduring thing of feeling ‘right’ I keep coming back to. 

The truth is, for all my bisexual flag-waving. I’ve spent 15 years really only trying to date men. Not consciously, not deliberately, but perhaps with a creeping insidious compulsory heterosexuality and a bit of fear about what the alternative looked like. And when I say ‘trying’ I mean going on barely one date and calling it quits. And nothing has ever felt ‘right’. I always assumed it was my somewhat lacklustre approach to dating. Or perhaps a somewhat lacklustre selection of men. 

But it’s that thing, that thing everyone talks about, knowing that truth somewhere inside you. Because it never felt right. It’s messy and complicated and I don’t have the ability to articulate it here yet. That’s some stuff I need to figure out on my own first. And on one hand, I can imagine people asking if I have to be quite so extra about a TV show. If I have to be quite so literal (point if anyone reads that in the right voice). But what if we flipped that, what if we said, that after all this time, a TV show was able to show me something I’d never seen in myself. 

And I feel…I don’t know what I feel. Like I’m betraying who I am, betraying a community. That I’ve just proved every person who ever said bisexuality isn’t really right. Or who said it’s a stopover to gay town. And I hate that. I’ve never disliked myself in terms of my sexuality before, but for that, I kind of do. Not because I don’t want to be…whatever I might be, but because I feel like I can hear the accusations of ‘you’re a fraud’ or ‘we always knew’ or whatever. I hate that the hate gets to win a little bit because I prove them right. And I hate that this is the first time I don’t like who I am because of it. 

I’ve thought a lot about whether this is the time to say it. Is it wrong to say this on bi visibility day? Maybe. I’ve debated whether to post this. But also maybe it’s the right thing to say. To say, this stuff is messy and complicated and ever-evolving. Maybe it will be the label that continues to feel right. Maybe it was the label that felt right for the last 20 years but doesn’t anymore. It doesn’t mean I didn’t deserve that label. 

To go back to that little TV show. I’ve got a print of David’s quote ‘I like the wine, not the label’ next to my desk. Maybe that still applies. Because what also means is the person counts, not what they are labelled. But also to quote David, ‘Coming out is incredibly personal.’ And before all this, I would say to any person, who feels they can claim ‘bisexual’ as their identity, whether it’s for now or forever, I’d say you’re welcome too. You’re valid too. 

Maybe I have to take down my flag now. Maybe I don’t know what flag is mine for a bit. Maybe I’ve just got some work to do. 

By Emily Garside

Academic, journalist and playwright. My PhD was on theatrical responses to the AIDS epidemic, and I continue to write on Queer theatrical history. Professional nerd of all things theatre.

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