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Sublime 2021  •  10 September 2021

Atomic Bi

By Evlin DuBose
Content Warning: Queerphobia, sexism, sexual references, trauma, mental ill-health, injury
Atomic Bi

A last hesitation before the plunge‭, ‬in confusion so thick it’s calming‭: ‬“But‮…‬the way I feel isn’t the same‭. ‬Equally strong feelings‭, ‬but‭ ‬—‭ ‬different‭...‬”

“Yeah‭, ‬that’s‭ ‬really‭ ‬common‭.‬”

Then it hits you like a boulder to the gut‭. ‬Here‭, ‬in this little bare kitchen‭, ‬with your two queer housemates‭, ‬everything drops‭ ‬—‭ ‬your face‭, ‬your stomach‭, ‬hands flat on the birchwood table‭. ‬Mind shocked white from the seismic shift in everything‭. ‬You just stare at nothing as the world moves a little to the left‭.‬

“‭...‬Holy shit‭.‬”


You’ve wondered before‭, ‬just to double check‭. ‬Ordinary daydreams in the middle of life’s monotony‭, ‬like folding laundry or carrying groceries‭. ‬In the tedium‭, ‬you’ve briefly considered whether or not you could possibly be gay‭. ‬But then you immediately caught yourself ogling a brunet model‭, ‬his shirtless‭, ‬hairless torso splashed across a shopfront‭.‬

Nope‭. ‬Definitely straight‭. ‬

You’ll tell everyone this story for years‭. ‬You tell it when riding shotgun in your housemate’s mud-splattered Forester‭. ‬“Dude‭,‬”‭ ‬she says‭, ‬in almost frustrated disbelief‭, ‬“I could’ve sworn you were bi‭!‬”

“No‭,‬”‭ ‬you scoff‭, ‬perturbed but flattered‭. ‬After all‭, ‬coming from a bonafide lesbian‭, ‬it feels validating that you’re seen as enough of an ally to be confusing‭. ‬Genuinely intrigued‭, ‬you follow up‭, ‬“What makes you think that‭?‬”

“You have major bi vibes‭.‬”

Later at home‭, ‬as proof of your close‭, ‬genuine friendship‭, ‬you tell your third housemate about this car-ride confession‭. ‬“My aura is gay‭.‬”

“Dude‭, ‬you wrote a whole-ass poem about being bisexual‭! ‬You performed it and everything‭!‬”

“I just wanted to be gender inclusive‭!‬”‭ ‬you laugh‭. ‬Thoughts of a Confused Bisexual Virgin‭ ‬was a hit‭. ‬You wrote it on the way home from a festival‭, ‬just for laughs‭, ‬the night you understood poetry‭.‬

She shakes her head‭. ‬“Nah dude‭, ‬it’s more than that‭.‬”

“Then what‭ ‬is‭ ‬it that gives me bi vibes‭?‬”

Your third housemate fires off without missing a beat‭, ‬“It’s the bangs‭.‬”


You stare every time you see her‭. ‬You know her face by heart‭. ‬Befriending her’s the dream‭, ‬but that would be weird‭. ‬You don’t just‭ ‬approach‭ ‬people to be friends like that‭, ‬much less a girl from a different year and class‭. ‬Besides‭, ‬she could be like the other ones‭. ‬Cruel about your Australian accent‭. ‬In Texas‭, ‬we say y’all‭.‬‭ ‬So instead‭, ‬you use her as a muse‭, ‬a face-claim in your fantasies‭. ‬She dances in the moonlight to your favorite Celtic CD‭, ‬embarks on grand adventures through mountains on the backs of winged horses‭. ‬She is the visage of your inner heroine‭. ‬You linger a little too long on her science fair project‭, ‬reading all about that time she broke her arm‭. ‬In the hallways‭, ‬you just stare‭...‬

But the fantasy becomes a preoccupation‭. ‬It starts to scare you‭. ‬You can’t stop thinking about her and that strikes you as abnormal‭, ‬‘cause girls don’t become obsessed with other girls‭. ‬Not ones that aren’t‭, ‬y’know‭...‬gay-zos‭.‬‭ ‬And you’re desperate to be normal right now‭, ‬far away from home and between countries‭, ‬you cry most nights as is‭, ‬and you like boys‭, ‬anyhow‭! ‬So you sit on the floor of your room and try to explain to your patient mother that it isn’t a crush‭, ‬but you can’t stop thinking about this girl you don’t know and you don’t know what’s happening inside you‭. ‬You’re only nine and words have utterly failed you‭. ‬

Your mother doesn’t berate you‭, ‬doesn’t provide clarity‭. ‬Just tells you it’s okay‭. ‬And the next time you see her in the hallway‭, ‬you let her go‭. ‬Shame no longer vicelocks your throat‭.‬

Once spoken aloud‭, ‬it’s all okay‭... ‬


After being told you give off bi vibes‭, ‬you’re weirdly proud of it‭, ‬like you’ve been bestowed a rainbow badge of honour by the League of Extraordinary Gays‭. ‬But you’re also confused‭. ‬You remember some of your fascinations in the past and begin to question the paradigm‭. ‬You know you like boys‭.‬‭ ‬You’ve tortured friends with your obsessive crushes and pining‭, ‬and you’re the one‭ ‬to whom‭ ‬people feel they must come out‭. ‬Your best mates have brought you aside in the orchestra instrument room‭, ‬on the bus‭, ‬at sleepovers and Christmas parties‭, ‬and confessed to‭ ‬you‭, ‬only for you to reply with some quip about why it’s okay and why you don’t care‭, ‬they’re still your friend‭. ‬

You text your last-standing American friend to unriddle the riddle‭. ‬She won’t hold it against you‭; ‬y’all wrote novels together‭. ‬Then you do research‭ ‬—‭ ‬lots‭ ‬of research‭. ‬You ask your therapist in an offhand manner to make a diagnosis‭. ‬After all‭, ‬it’s only fair that you give it a fair shake‭, ‬just to know for certain‭. ‬Your therapist simply deems you straight‭. ‬

The internet teaches you about different kinds of attraction‭: ‬platonic‭, ‬aesthetic‭, ‬romantic‭. ‬Powerful platonic attraction to girls‭: ‬that must be the answer‭. ‬You decide it’s your secret superpower‭. ‬After all‭, ‬you want to be a screenwriter and screenwriters need muses‭, ‬and you want to be a feminist‭. ‬You need fantasies about girls‭.‬

“But if you’re questioning this hard‭,‬”‭ ‬your American bestie writes‭, ‬“maybe there’s something in that‭?‬”

“Idk‭,‬”‭ ‬you type before flopping back in bed‭.‬

***‬

Your uni housemates constantly tease you about being the token straight friend‭. ‬They claim they’ll bully you into bi-dom‭. ‬And you enjoy being in on the joke‭, ‬being seen as cool and easy or perhaps just not a threat‭, ‬toting your rainbow umbrella for stormy Sydney days‭. ‬After all‭, ‬y’all’s life could be a sitcom‭. ‬A trans girl‭, ‬a lesbian‭, ‬and a hetero share a Sydney flat—you’d watch the shit out of it‭.‬


Your first year of film school‭, ‬you attend a Sydney Writers Festival poetry performance for a class‭. ‬It features an array of queer poets who write anything under the sun‭. ‬When Yrsa Daley-Ward performs‭, ‬dark and glistening in the stage light like mahogany‭, ‬earnest as an actress and lilting like a Londoner‭, ‬you suddenly‭ ‬get‭ ‬poetry‭. ‬Nothing else has ever clicked it all into place‭. ‬

You write in your head all the way home‭, ‬composing prose poems like free verse‭. ‬Songs meant just for you‭. ‬There’s an image Yrsa painted that you can’t get over‭: ‬she’s sitting at the table‭, ‬waiting for Father to beat her sparkless‭. ‬Bleeding memories like gemstone droplets‭, ‬the agony of alienation and electric flash of kissing girls‭, ‬and how all this will give her poetry‭. ‬

It’s given you poetry‭, ‬too‭.‬

A year later‭, ‬your poetry comes out‭. ‬Your housemate brings her ex‭ (‬and her ex’s current girlfriend‭) ‬to be your personal cheer squad‭, ‬and‭ ‬fine‭, ‬you relent‭. ‬We’ll mingle at‭ ‬Vertigo’s‭ ‬open-mic‭. ‬What’s the worst that could happen‭? ‬

Blood thumps thick in your ears as you take stage‭. ‬Voice a quaver‭, ‬not nearly rehearsed enough‭. ‬Drowning in horror when you discover you’re too tall for the mic‭. ‬God‭, ‬just let them laugh‭.‬‭ ‬You stand stock still and recite a tongue-in-cheek poetic suite to thirty faces‭, ‬serene and listening in the fairy-lit ambience‭. ‬Lo and behold‭, ‬it‭ ‬kills‭. ‬By the end‭ ‬—‭ ‬beyond any good notion how‭ ‬—‭ ‬you have the audience eating out of the palm of your hand‭, ‬and after you stagger off‭, ‬you learn from one of the editors that you’re going to be published in print for the first time‭. ‬

The after party hits like a giddy high‭. ‬This can’t possibly be you‭. ‬Probably not what you deserve‭, ‬all these enchanting‭, ‬creative people shaking your hand‭, ‬so raggedly attractive in secondhand clothes‭. ‬The evening makes you real as a writer‭.‬

The night changes everything‭.‬

‭***‬

The Force Awakens‭ ‬comes out and you become weirdly fixated on Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac‭. ‬The latter is nothing new‭. ‬The former isn’t either‭, ‬but you’re more embarrassed to admit it over nachos with friends‭. ‬You stay obsessed with Daisy for a lot longer than Oscar‭. ‬She captivates‭, ‬becomes your muse and role model‭; ‬you watch anything with her in it‭. ‬You’d love to direct her one day‭. ‬

Later‭, ‬when studying film‭, ‬you watch‭ ‬Blue is the Warmest Colour‭.‬‭ ‬You get away with doing the bare minimum‭, ‬just watching The Scenes in question‭, ‬so you can argue in class whether they’re blatant examples of the male gaze ruining lesbian love‭. ‬

You watch The Scenes three more times than you have to‭.‬

Not gonna lie‭, ‬when you’re young‭, ‬it bothers you that the guys on TV stare when two women fight or wrestle‭. ‬They don’t intervene‭. ‬That’s the joke‭. ‬They like watching a moment that isn’t about them‭. ‬Inara kisses a feminine diplomat in the bay of‭ ‬Serenity‭, ‬and an intensely staring‭, ‬voyeuristic Jayne declares he’ll be in his bunk‭. ‬

Your father and brother think it’s hilarious‭. ‬You’re dying of revulsion‭. ‬


You rankle with annoyance when on‭ ‬Sex Education‭, ‬a character realises they’re pan because they’ve been having‭ *‬intimate‭* ‬dreams about a girl‭. ‬Everyone has those dreams‭, ‬you gripe‭. ‬It doesn’t‭ ‬mean‭ ‬anything‭! ‬Though you don’t say this out loud‭, ‬because you know your housemate will wryly ask‭: ‬Who’d you have them about‭?‬

And after sulking‭, ‬you’d admit‭: ‬Helena Bonham Carter‭.‬

‭***‬

You come out to your closest friend and cousin first‭. ‬It’s so strange‭: ‬you‭, ‬coming out‭. ‬Confessing‭, ‬revealing‭, ‬trusting‭. ‬But both adore you for doing so‭. ‬Team Evlin‭, ‬100%‭. ‬It doesn’t matter the specifics‭, ‬you are what you say you are‭, ‬and that’s enough‭. 

You could cry‭. ‬Euphoric‭, ‬ashamed‭. ‬You’re not as bi as you want to be‭. ‬

You wonder if you’re faking for attention, to alleviate the guilt you feel for not being good enough or progressive enough or diverse enough or unique enough — especially for an Arts student. Especially one with suicidal, depressive anxiety and already too much trauma.

You think you should tell your family. That would make it more real.

Your brother just laughs and texts back, “Nice! So you also like boobies.” You grimace then head into class — crude, but not wrong. You decide to tell your parents in person. But you put it off and wait, and wait, and wait, and an intense fear bubbles up in the silence. Every time you think about just spitting it out, you realize you’d never be able to take it back, like a year zero smashing the timeline into ‘before’ and ‘after’.

Never ‘again’.

Costco curry on a scratched up table. Winter in Texas is only dreary and cold, but your mother looks you in the eye over warm dinner and tells you point-blank that if you ever decided you were gay, it’d be okay. She and dad would still love you. Didn’t matter if your partner had stripes and blue spots, so long as they loved you and treated you right, your parents would accept them. They supported gay rights, after all, and if they caught wind of you bullying a classmate, the police would never find your body. But bi people? They’re just greedy, mum laughed. She made that joke over and over.

And you once floated the ‘what if’ by your eighty-year-old grandma just to test how truly progressive she was. “Grandma, what if I were a lesbian?”

And Grandma clipped back rather firmly, “But you’re not.”

“But what if I was?”

“But you’re not.”

Pancakes on a spring morning. You think this might be the time to do it. You can feel it coming, like a creature creeping closer. It makes your heart come alive with thunder, throat raw, eyes prickling. Twisting your guts inside out because you’re still not entirely convinced you’re not lying. You might just be pretending.

But every time you think of taking it all back and just being straight, that feels more awful. Straight is such a disappointment, an ill-fitting old hat. And if straight is not the teensiest bit accurate, then you’re technically bi, right? But if you end up marrying a man anyway, perhaps you’re just wasting everyone’s emotional time. They’d call you a fraud, someone who tried on a phase. You already feel like the weirdo...

You set the table and sit down with your parents, dining on pancakes and bacon and berries. You’re chatting about normal things and stewing in fear. This is hard. This is suddenly way harder than you thought, more vulnerable and more of a risk than you’re comfortable with and you suddenly can’t believe how anyone does this without the guarantees you have.

Your mother catches your pale look but says nothing.

So you say something.

***

After lockdown, you crave a haircut. Trim the bangs, lop off your straw dead ends. You book at a salon you’ve been eyeing to treat yourself, rug up in your favourite Nordic sweater, blue linen overalls, and black converse, and hike down through sunny Annandale. The day is blindingly brilliant, windswept, blossom-fresh and pink-cheeked. Frangipanis fragrance your path.

You are bisexual. Queer as folk. Suddenly you grasp how fucking amazing everything is. 

​You’re a part of something larger than yourself—the cerulean domed sky, the hip young city, and a kaleidoscope of people who love you for being you.

There are ancestors you don’t know about, traditions and cultures. You’ve never felt like you had a culture. You’ve never had a wholeful home, your heart rawly, raggedly torn between cities across the sea. But the seismic shift in everything has shocked it all into place and the sun is shining and it’s all just so clear. You want to scream out. You want to dance. You skip to the salon and feel a desperate urge to tell your hairdresser to give you the ‘bi-girl bob’. Tidy up that fringe, please. I want to date girls.

I want to scream it out loud.

Your first date with a girl doesn’t wholly convince you that you aren’t a fraud. She shuts down when you admit you like boys too, as if a magic disembodied penis has entered y’all’s space, hovering above your table in that cosy Glebe restaurant, flaccidly harshing the vibe. You’d swat it away if you could. But y’all are vulnerable and funny and talk for hours otherwise, and when you walk her to the station, you wonder whether it’d be appropriate to kiss her.

Your second date (different girl) goes much better. Easier chemistry, less confronting. She pays for your coffee, you buy her lunch. Y’all stroll around the glistening Blackwattle Bay and bond for hours. She doesn’t mind that you’re bi; she loves that you (used to) write fanfiction. She thinks your unusual pairing of Doc Brown and an of-age Lorraine McFly would be really fucking great, actually, and can she read that story? You laugh. She doesn’t understand the lesbian aversion to bi girls. You can talk about being queer endlessly and you feel so seen, it’s such a relief. Y’all snuggle on a bench and admire the waters.

You later work up the nerve to kiss her at the bus stop during magic hour, and it’s totally indelibly incredible, outta this world, the cat’s knees and bee’s jammies. You realise as lips meet that now you understand why people kiss. As you once read in a ‘research’ article: you just want to put your face on hers. You once kissed a boy on a couch in the dark and he stopped so he could laugh, and you laughed with him because yes, it is oddly mechanical and clumsy and just strange as an act when you really think about it. But five years later with a girl, no questions about what you’re doing or anything, it just rocks.

You decide for other reasons not to see her again, but it does clear up any doubts you had. You can now say to anyone with alacrity and no compunction:

I am bisexual.

Your father just stares at you, and for a terrifying second you can’t read him and wish to take it all back. Oh god, what have you done?

“So?”

That’s all he says. Like you’re making a big deal of nothing. Pancakes concern him more than his daughter coming out. Mum gushes of course, oh darling it’s okay, thank you for telling us, and asks if you’re seeing someone and that’s why you now know.

“No,” you answer, “I just spoke with some friends.”

Later that night, she vulnerably worries that you’d been keeping it bottled up inside, afraid that you couldn’t tell them. That tortures her more than the idea that your life might be harder, gayer, whatever. But you can honestly say you’ve only been sitting on the epiphany for a few weeks. Your brother knows. A few other people know. You might never come out to your grandparents, but that’s fine.

So long as your immediate family knows and still loves you, the rest will be fine.

***

You’ll spend the next year unraveling the knot of what it all means, meeting the new experience in every facet of your being. It occurs to you how little about queer culture you actually know, and you feel like a fraud all over. You worry about percentages of attraction, chasing every thought objectifying a man with one equally desiring a woman in the name of fairness, or perhaps legitimacy, like if you don’t operate in ‘queer mode’ all the time then you have no right to claim it anytime. You worry other colonised, selfish things, too, like whether you’d be seen as butch or unwomanly, or that you couldn’t be the vulnerable one in need of protection in a same-sex relationship because of your imposing height. You worry you’re not sexy or sexual enough. You worry all the time, devoting at least ten minutes a day to remembering and pondering and worrying over this new-you fact. You worry that no one really wants to talk about it, not even your family (who love you, but don’t always understand). So many of your queer friends weren’t as lucky as you; the world hurt them. They can’t always talk about it so easily. And you desperately want to talk about it. Announcing it out loud makes it seem real. You want people to know all the time now so they don’t assume otherwise, like you did for so many years, in school hallways and on your childhood bedroom floor, with your friends or all alone, wandering scenes of Sydney, and listening to Yrsa in the darkness, picking apart the secret knot inside you...

Maybe it’s queer, you wonder, to finally understand that the silence is loud. And that speaking up when (if ever) you’re ready — that’s euphoria.

During Pride Month, when the rains wash the coastal blues with iridescent hues, Stephen Colbert declares “love is love”, and you go on a rant to your new housemate. It’s not always about love! you declare. Why do you have to love someone?! Must it be romantic to be legit?!

Sometimes you just wanna put your face on someone else’s face.

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