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Sublime  •  10 September 2021  •  Non-Fiction

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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