1. The Pretty One, the sly smirk, soft skin and curves will tempt you, her lips are painted red like the blood of her suitors and her eyeliner is blacker than her soul, with hair falling in waves so curly it’ll confuse you; she is a descendent of Helen of Troy, and despite the pain she manages to maintain an insane complexion but yet she is nothing more than brainless and vain. What an attention whore, you just wear makeup so boys will notice you, because it’s unfathomable for a woman to want to feel good about herself, isn’t it?
2. The Successful Businesswoman, with a master’s degree and a PhD you don’t like it that she won’t make you tea. How can you possibly be content with not bearing children? If your husband stays at home and takes care of the kids, what kind of mother are you? You don’t even care about your family. How dare you have conviction or courage or skill? She slaves, night and day in her office for half the pay you get slacking off. She packs away the anger at every time someone’s called her, “sweetheart” or “honey”. Even with her claws her climb to the top will be that much harder than yours, but don’t you worry, she’ll get there sooner than you ever will
3. The Slut; ruined by all the people you only said she slept with, she is impure, she thanks you for all that you made her endure for she would have never been this glowing idol of sexuality without you. I was taught, don’t tarnish your body, don’t defame your name, your body is a temple and you should cherish it. Have you forgotten who the goddess of this temple is? What about Venus? What about Aphrodite? What about a woman’s right to do what she wants with her body?
4. The Gamer Girl, beware all you gamer guys, this girl stalks the gaming forums and owns an Xbox not because she’s an excellent player than can beat your ass at halo or that she enjoys the gaming, oh no, they’re here to impress you, easy prey for you male rights activists out there. Her big hipster glasses aren’t so that she can see, nor is her ac/dc band tee an ode to her favorite band, they’re accessories of an effort to get your attention, obviously, a woman’s top priority is to impress men, because whatever shall we do without you but prosper?
5. The Bitch, when you see her you better run for your life because she’ll slay you with her witty words and if you piss her off enough, her pepper spray. She’s never afraid to speak her mind and has no time to be kind to you, she’ll rev the engine on her bike and leave you behind in the dust. She’s everything bad about the twenty-first century, because she’s confident, and she doesn’t care less about what you think. She’ everything you’re not supposed to be, but everything you want to be.
6. THIS GIRL STANDING IN FRONT OF YOU TODAY, ME, THAT’S RIGHT, I’M ALL THOSE THINGS AND MORE, CALL ME AN ABOMINATION, CALL ME A FREAK, AND I’LL WEAR THAT LABEL WITH PRIDE AN D RECLAIM ALL THAT’S BEEN TAKEN FROM ME, I AM DISASTER IN MY OWN RIGHT, AND I WILL DESTROY YOU, I AM TOO LOUD, TOO PROUD, TOO OBSCENE, AND I DON’T CARE, DON’T TELL ME I CAN’T BE WHO I AM, YOU MADE ME INTO A FANTASY, A MYTH BECAUSE ATROCITES ARE ONLY ALLOWED TO EXIST IN CONCEPTS AND THEORY, I BECAME A DRAGON, AND YOU THREW ME INTO A VOLCANO FOR GOOD MEASURE BUT YOU WERE ONLY FEEDING ME MY OWN VENOM BECAUSE YOU FORGOT THAT DRAGONS CAN’T BURN.
six women i’m not supposed to be | (S.C.) (insp.)
Inspired by a fabulous discussion on lady-centric episodes with the ussfeministkilljoy crew, here are my Top 10 Feminist TNG Episodes.
In order to help narrow it down I limited myself to episodes that pass the Bechdel Test (for full TNG Bechdel results click here). Other than that, I was looking for episodes where we see strong, complex and/or non-conformist female characters with an important role in the plot; strong relationships between female characters; feminist messages; and general lack of sexism/gender stereotyping.
When episodes felt pretty close on these fronts, I ranked higher the episodes I would most want to rewatch.
“The Outcast,” an episode that was intended to allegorically represent the struggles of lesbian and gay people for equality, but nonetheless fails to really commit to the issue. The facts that Soren is played by a woman, the TNG characters who talk to her don’t get into anything deeper than the most conventional and basic descriptions of sex and gender identity, and that Soren is shown as “cured” - even if it is portrayed as tragic - all prevent this episode from making it any higher on the list. But I had to include it because of the overall theme and the excellent, moving scene where Soren challenges her people’s bigotry and stands up for who she truly is:
And it was written by Jeri Taylor!
9. “Legacy” (4X06)
In “Legacy,” Beth Toussaint plays Tasha Yar’s sister, Ishara, who grew up with and is still involved in the gangs on their home planet of Turkana IV. The Enterprise crew are challenged by not completely trusting Ishara, but also wanting to both trust and like her because of her relation to Tasha. This episode succeeds because Toussaint is compelling and Ishara is a super-tough, complicated character with an arc. By talking with Data, Riker and Picard, Ishara helps them gain insight into themselves, and also comes to appreciate Tasha’s strength and the value of friendship, even if (believably) she can’t give up the way of life she’s always known.
8. “The Emissary” (2X20)
Another awesome female guest-star ep, “The Emissary” is our introduction to K'Ehleyr, a badass, sassy, complicated half-human, half-Klingon diplomat who gets romantically involved with Worf. Suzie Plakson makes K'Ehleyr memorable and manages to convey her self-doubts without making her appear weak or less capable. K'Ehleyr also gets a decent scene with Troi where they talk about the difficulties that come with being mixed-race. Although K'Ehleyr is “Worf’s love interest,” it’s clear she’s much more than that and that’s why this makes the list!
“Who Watches the Watchers” is an underappreciated episode about what happens when the Mintakans, a group of primitive, proto-Vulcan aliens, encounter the Federation anthropologists who have been observing them. It makes the list because A) Troi gets halfway decent stuff to do and B) the Mintakan matriarchal society is portrayed without falling into the kinds of stereotypes and ridiculousness we get in episodes like “Angel One."
6. "Preemptive Strike” (7X24)
Ensign Ro is one of TNG’s greatest gifts to feminism. In this, her last episode, she faces conflicting loyalties when infiltrating a Maquis cell. Michelle Forbes owns the role of Ro and this episode gives us great insight into what drives her. We also get to meet Kalita, a human member of the Maquis, who makes a big impression in a short amount of screen time, being suspicious about Ro but eventually growing to trust her (she later returns in an episode of DS9). Bonus points for “Preemptive Strike” because it also includes Admiral Nechayev.
The only reason I didn’t put this higher on the list is that a big part of this episode is Ro’s need for paternal approval. She initially signs up for the mission to justify Picard’s faith in her, and later changes sides after seeing her Maquis father-figure, Maclas, die. At the end of “Rascals,” Ro draws her mother. It would’ve been cool to see that developed further, maybe by having Maclas’ character be female and a maternal figure.
Doctor Crusher shows off her scientific chops, stares down a Klingon, and solves a murder mystery. ‘Nuff said.
4. “Dark Page” (7X07)
I love Lwaxana Troi, but her earlier “Auntie Mame” persona is problematic because it plays into stereotypes about irritating mothers and necessitates that the audience not see or appreciate her as a whole person. “Dark Page,” written by Hilary Bader, brings them closer together than they ever have been, as Deanna has to help Lwaxana recover repressed memories of another daughter who died by drowning. It puts Deanna in an important position where she has to use her empathic and counselling abilities, and shows us an incredibly deep mother-daughter relationship.
3. “Ensign Ro” (5X03)
All the things I said about Ensign Ro above but in this, her first episode, we get less need for male approval and more Guinan awesomeness.
Also Ro gets to wear her earring, even though Riker has some nonsense objection to it. And in the last scene:
Picard: I think you’ve got a great deal to learn from Starfleet. Ro: I always thought Starfleet had a lot to learn from me, Captain.
Hands-down the best Troi episode, as Deanna finds herself unwittingly undercover as a Tal Shiar agent on a Romulan warbird. Though put in a situation with limited options, she manages to take control, do things her way, and succeed. The ship’s Commander, Toreth, was originally written without any idea of what the character’s gender would be and maybe that’s why she ends up being as great as she is. Toreth is powerful but deeply principled and unafraid to verbally challenge the Tal Shiar for the injustices they have committed.
1. “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (3X15)
Last but not least, often ranked one of the top TNG episodes PERIOD, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” brings us the only female captain of the Enterprise, Rachel Garrett. Garrett is obviously heroic; her first concern being the welfare of her crew, but she ultimately is willing to sacrifice herself and her crew for the greater good.
Just as importantly, this episode gives Tasha Yar’s character a second-chance at an honourable ending after the ridiculousness that was “Skin of Evil.” And she gets there with Guinan’s help.
What do you think? Are there other episodes that would go on your list?
These are the top ten desserts consumed during my travels in 2014. There are definitely a few that I didn’t get pictures of and I wish I could include but this is still a pretty drool-worthy group. First, two honorable mentions:
It’s as good as it looks, maybe even better. It definitely deserves a place on this list but was ousted by the latest Vegan Treats creation that has been making headlines.
Honorable Mention - Sundae from Karma Cream (Gainesville, FL)
Karma Cream is a must-visit spot in Gainesville. In addition to their extensive selection of Coconut Bliss ice cream flavors they also have vegan hot fudge, caramel, cookie dough topping and whipped cream.
10 - Chocolate/Vanilla Swirl Softserve from Back To Eden Bakery (Portland, OR).
Ok, this is bound to be amazing because they use Temptation Soft Serve from Chicago Vegan Foods. It’s seriously the best. If I had a pic of one of the many shakes I consumed from Chicago Diner that would be on the list as well because they use the same base and it is the best.
9. Turtle Brownie from Beet Box Bakery (Denver, CO)
OK, so the maple glazed donut in the foreground was delicious but that turtle brownie in the background was the real star of the show. The perfect midpoint between gooey and cakey with a thick layer of caramel and nuts on top.
So this wasn’t purchased at a restaurant or bakery but it is no less deserving of praise. We were gifted several boxes of Dandies vegan marshmallows by the fine folks at Chicago Vegan Foods and our hunt for a vegan graham cracker began. After checking a few stores with no luck we decided to improvise with some cinnamon cookies. Then we really took it to the next level by using a peanut butter cup instead of a piece of chocolate.
7. Lemon Danish from Sweat Pea Bakery (Portland, OR)
Portland is spoiled, they have at least three all vegan bakeries right now. The lemon danish from Sweat Pea is by far my favorite item in their bakery case. Perfectly moist and flakey, not too sweet.
6. Donuts from Dunwell Donuts (Brooklyn, NY)
There isn’t much to be said about Dunwell Donuts other than the fact that they are the best at what they do. Other contenders for best donuts include Ronald’s in Las Vegas and Voodoo in Portland, who both do an excellent raised donut. But Dunwell is a cut above the rest. Not only can they make a perfect classic glazed donut (to me, the ultimate test of a donut) but they have fun flavors like orange basil.
5. Everything from City Cakes (Salt Lake City, UT)
Pretty much everything I’ve tried at City Cakes has been wonderful, but the two items that put them on the list are their tiramisu and their lemon drop cookie. Tiramisu seems to vary as wildly as interpretations of vegan cheesecake but City Cakes creates the embodiment of what I look for in a nice tiramisu. Very moist and flavorful. The cream layer is just flawless. Honorable mention to their blueberry scone.
4. Ice Cream Sundae from Sweet Ritual (Austin, TX)
This all vegan ice cream parlor in Austin offers up classic flavors such as rocky road and peanut butter cup as well as super creative ones like Cinnamonkey Elephantastic (peanut base with roasted bananas). What keeps me coming back is the fact that you can get cookie dough as a topping, and they give you 4 or 5 big scoops of fresh cookie dough!
3. The “Chicken” and Waffles Donut from Vegan Treats (Bethlehem, PA).
In the words of Paul, valued member of the Compassion Crew, “this might be one of the best things I’ve ever had in my life”. Amazingly, despite being cooked/fried long before you consume it, the chicken on this waffle is ridiculously good. It pairs together perfectly with the sweetness of the maple glaze on the donut. If you ever get a chance to try this. Do it, without hesitation.
2. Cherry Cheesecake from Capital City Bakery (Austin, TX)
Capital City Bakery is a true gem in Austin. They excel at most everything they create, I think they have incredible cupcakes, but the true star is this cheesecake. I’ve had some pretty whack vegan cheesecake in my day and this is definitely the best. The flavor and texture is spot on.
1. The Death Star Sundae from Spiral Diner (Dallas, TX)
A warm brownie with one of the best home made ice creams I’ve ever had, topped with whipped cream and then pour a shot of espresso over it. I’m in heaven. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Finally I’d like to give a shout out to Xs To Os Vegan Bakery in Troy NY. Their Smores Bar is out of this world good but I always eat them too fast to get a good picture.
I’m in my therapist’s office, talking about friendship. I’ve been struggling with emotional intimacy and honesty—my whole life, actually, but it’s caused some more acute problems recently, which is why I’m back here now. In more practical terms, I’m here because my therapist is willing to schedule appointments via e-mail; when I’m fucked up, phone calls are insurmountably challenging.
Last week we talked about how hard it is for me to articulate emotions, and how much I obsess over precision of language, and how closely that’s linked to how scared I am of miscommunication, of lying by the sheer act of trying to name something so personal and subjective and dependent on factors more complicated than any sentence or word or idiom can every convey.
I’m a professional writer.
The irony is not lost on me.
My homework this week has been to look at the very few relationships in which I feel comfortable talking about my feelings—especially negative feelings—and find common factors.
The answer, once I stumbled across it, was so stupidly obvious that I cracked up, and then I spent half an hour writing it down and tweaking the phrasing so I could be sure that when I told him he would hear what I meant.
The common factor, I tell my therapist, is cultural frame of reference. The only way I am consistently comfortable communicating feelings is via broad fictional allegory. The friends who know me best—not just likes-and-dislikes-and-interests, but things more fundamental and less articulable; the friends I’m willing to let see me fucked up; the friends I text at 3 AM when my world is falling apart; are the friends who read the same comics I do.
I tell him that I have a folder on my desktop labeled “feelings” that is mostly panels clipped from comics and Community gifs.
I tell him that I think maybe we should talk about Autism Spectrum disorders.
He tells me he’s been meaning to bring that up for a while now.
The Lady-Friend and I have been binge-watching Community. We love it a lot, for a lot of reasons, but Troy and Abed are our favorites. We have the kind of romantic relationship that is substantially goofy and involves a fair lot of best-bro grade-school-slumber-party nonsense; and while Troy and Abed are about ten years our junior, we are tickled as hell to see our very specific demographic of “adults who are still pretty into blanket forts” reflected in popular media.
Abed is my favorite character because Abed makes sense to me in a way that the other characters don’t. Abed is simultaneously exceptionally perceptive and exceptionally dense. Abed celebrates his interests in an obsessive, minutiae-focused way. Abed talks in pop cultural references and parses his experiences in general and interpersonal dynamics in particular by drawing parallels the structure and terms of fictional storytelling—although when he does it, there’s an extra layer to the joke because he is, of course, a committee-written fictional character on a sitcom.
In the pilot of Community, early on, there’s this exchange: Jeff, the leading man, who’s kind of an asshole, says, “Abed, I see your value now,” and Abed, genuinely excited, answers, “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”
I thought for a long time that the joke was that Jeff only saw people’s value when they were of direct use to him; that he thought he was being snide but actually saying something pretty nice. It turns out that the joke is that Abed interprets it as a compliment.
It’s often hard for me to tell when people are joking. It’s usually hard for for me to tell when they’re making fun of me.
I can’t imagine a more reassuring compliment than being told that someone sees my value.
I don’t tell my therapist this, but I do tell him about the Season 1 episode “Contemporary American Poultry,” in which the study group takes over the school as a chicken-fingers-themed crime family with Abed at the top.
Jeff likes being in charge, so he goes off to try to get Abed to stop. “The mafia movie is over,” he tells Abed.
And Abed, who has an organizational chart behind him listing everyone’s likes and needs, says, “I’m not doing a mafia movie. In fact, I don’t need to use movies or tv shows to talk to people anymore. Before, I only needed them because the day-to-day world made no sense to me, but now, everyone’s speaking the same language: chicken. I understand people, and they finally understand me.”
I thought, Yes. That makes perfect sense.
And then I thought, Man, that sounds so nice.
I like fiction, because fiction makes sense in ways that the real world doesn’t. Because in fiction, I have as much—more, often—interpretive resources as anyone else; because we’re all working from the same basic data set.
“I wish I were a fictional character,” I tell The Spouse, over and over, year after year. Fictional characters are fundamentally functional. They serve a purpose. If I were fictional, I would be of use. I could be everything anyone needs or wants me to be, with no self to get in the way. I could have a world with rules. I could be distilled into language, not lost again and again in imperfect translation.
The Spouse is extremely emotionally fluent. He’s all about those tight personal connections. He falls in love often and easily. He’s a feelings dude, and he uses words broadly and evocatively. He doesn’t get why I’d rather write about feelings than talk about them in person—to him, the personal contact and the connection are inseparable.
When I try to talk about how I feel—about things that matter—spontaneously, I trip over my own tongue. I drop out mid-sentence, go silent, trying to parse my thoughts. Eye contact distracts and panics me.
I’m fascinated by the way people interact, by the subtle languages of movement and physical cues and word choice and contact. I study it obsessively without ever quite managing to bridge the theory-practice gap.
I write out notes for important phone calls.
I write out notes for important conversations.
I practice facial expressions in the mirror.
I practice inflection in the shower.
I have never not done these things.
For a very long time, I assumed everyone did them.
I tell all of this to my therapist, and I also tell him that I’ve realized over the last few months that the experience I’ve always characterized as empathy is not, in fact, the same thing most of the people around me mean when they say “empathy.” Mine is more like very, very well-honed pattern recognition. I am a good listener. I give very good advice. I am very good at noticing and articulating patterns and motivations people don’t recognize in themselves.
I identify with very few of them.
It’s not that I don’t care about other people. It’s not that I don’t have feelings, or that mine are somehow different. I think they’re probably the same as anyone else’s feelings, but I don’t interact with them in ways that make sense by the rubrics I’ve grown up learning, or the ones the people around me seem to apply.
I have trouble with relationships in which I don’t feel like I’m of use—in which I don’t have something concrete to offer. I am much better at the explicit economy of professional relationships than the more nebulous territory of friendships. When it’s not explicit, I find it immensely difficult for me to eke out what’s expected of me.
Social rules don’t come instinctually to me; I look for patterns and cobble together crude rubrics based on them. In school, I got teased a lot, often under the loose pretense of friendship; as a result, I don’t really trust most people who seem to like me unless I can also discern a concrete reason that they’d value my company.
This clip is from Season 3, Episode 16 of Community, “Virtual Systems Analysis”:
They’re in the Dreamatorium, which is where Abed and Troy and now Annie play make-believe. The Dreamatorium is Abed’s territory—he’s the one who comes up with scenarios, makes the rules—but Annie, in a fit of pique, fucks with the cardboard engine so that instead of his mind, it’s filtered through other people’s feelings and needs.
Abed interprets the result as a world without Abed.
This is a theme that will come up again. In Season 5, Episode 6, Abed screws up his budding relationship with a girl named Rachel (whom I mostly think of as Coat Check Girl because the fact that a character I identify that closely with is dating a character with the same name as me messes with my system). Near the end of the episode, he offers a “third-act apology”—complete with a pal providing the trope-requisite rainstorm via a watering can and stepladder. It’s a pretty recent episode, so I couldn’t find embeddable video, but here’s a screencap of Abed being sincere and damp:
And here’s the dialogue:
Coat Check Girl: Abed, this is adorable.
Abed: Just because it’s adorable doesn’t mean it’s not important. Listen. I’ve been accelerating our relationship because I’ve been worried I wouldn’t pass a lot of the tests. I wanted you to move in because I thought if Annie was around, I’d have less chance of screwing things up.
CCG: You’re not screwing things up, though.
Abed: That’s good to know.But the problem with me will always be that I can never know for sure. There’s not a huge amount of people in my life that haven’t eventually kicked me out, and I don’t always see it coming. I don’t want it to happen with you.
CCG: Well, don’t manipulate me and don’t keep secrets from me and we’ll probably be okay.
CCG: It stopped raining.
Abed: Yeah, it sure did.
The pop-culture characters with whom I most closely identify—the ones in the panels and screencaps I employ as emotional surrogates—are Scott Summers, post-death-and-resurrection Doug Ramsey, and Abed Nadir.
Here are some things they have in common:
They’re outsiders. They don’t really—click—with the people around them, even when they’re central to organizations or storylines.
They’re bad communicators; or they’re good communicators in ways that serve them well under only very specific circumstances.
They’re bad at feelings and overwhelmed by intimacy.
They’re pedantic and precise.
They’re often demanding and difficult, and as often paradoxically socially naive.
They’re utility-oriented. They have trouble adjusting to or relaxing in scenarios in which they don’t fill a specific function.
They bond hard and fast. They’re fiercely loyal and protective—
—and they’re rarely the ones to leave.
Like Abed, I have trouble imagining a place for myself in any world not of my own making. I see other people’s tolerance of and interest in me as a finite resource, one I can renew to a limited extent by being of use, but which will eventually and inevitably run out. I have a long and serial history as a flavor of the month. I assume—based on precedent, although the individual countdowns can vary significantly—that most of my friendships are running on borrowed time.
I am aware of the things that make me an appealing companion. I’m very smart and passionate. I can be fun and whimsical and weird and wildly creative. I’m generous and loyal.
I’m even more aware of the things that make me difficult to tolerate in more than limited doses. I’m too intense. I fixate: if we both love the Wachowski Speed Racer, I will be baffled when you don’t want to watch it again immediately, and again after that. You will realize that the eclectic-but-surprisingly-in-depth frame of reference that first impressed you is both badly uneven and the product of a compulsive tendency to get swept away in minutiae. My enthusiasm will go from charming to smothering. That smart, incisive analysis you admired will get in the way of your ability to just fucking enjoy things. What looked like whimsy will turn out to be weird and sometimes weirdly hostile compulsion and pickiness. The appeal of passion and conviction will be offset by extremely rigid ethical rubrics and a tendency to be ruthlessly judgmental and dismissive. I’ll goad you into arguments, and I won’t trust you unless you push back. You will realize that I am not scintillating when I don’t have the luxury of a delete key, or pithy without a forced character limit.When we talk, you’ll notice how often and how long I pause mid-thought. That I don’t really make eye contact. You’ll try to hug me, and your feelings will be hurt when I flinch.
You’ll realize that you don’t really know me as well as you thought you did, and you won’t really see a clear path from where you are to where you think the next landing ought to be. You’ll try to understand me, and I’ll push back, hard, like you’re trying to take something away. You’ll try to comfort me when I’m hurting, and I’ll either lie or run.
Many of these are not things I’m capable of changing. I know this because I have tried so hard, over and over, in every way I can find, nonstop, for thirty-one years. I can fake it, sometimes, but if you value genuineness and emotional intimacy, that’s going to get old, too.
Eventually, you’ll get fed up. You’ll leave. It’s okay. I probably would, too.
That’s why I keep you at arm’s length.
Well, it’s part of why I keep you at arm’s length. I’m not a people person.
People interest me. I care about some ferociously and passionately. I care about most in at least an abstract humanitarian sense.
But people also baffle and exhaust me, and I don’t trust most of them. They generalize and assume based on very limited data sets. They touch me. From behind. In crowds. They ignore the words I have so carefully arranged to say exactly what I want them to say and project their own insecurities and needs and prejudices. They treat me like an extension of them; they subsume who I am and what I say into whatever role they want or need me to fill and then punish me when I fail to follow a script I can’t see.
I wish I were better at being what people want me to be. I wish they’d tell me what that was.
I wish I knew what the rules were.
I wish there were rules.
“What you’re describing sounds a lot like the experience of someone with Asperger’s Syndrome,” my therapist tells me. I point out that according to the DSM-V, Asperger’s Syndrome no longer exists as a discrete disorder.
I’ve been reading about AS, and what I read resonates with eerie specificity. This makes sense in ways that attempts to parse myself almost never do. It’s like I had a huge volume of conflicting and confusing data, and suddenly, somehow, stumbled across the equation into which most of it plugs: Einstein making the connection between the transit of Venus and the theory of relativity.
Under the circumstances, the idea that there is a system that makes sense, even one that’s still theory at this stage, provides an intense but very tautological sort of relief.
We talk about diagnosis, and decide there’s no real reason to pursue an official one.
My therapist doesn’t do diagnostic testing, and it’s not a process I trust anyway: my last experience, in college, was grounds-for-a-complaint-to-the-APA horrific. An official diagnosis wouldn’t confer any real advantages: it’s not like AS is medicable; I function on a level that makes it highly unlikely I’d ever seek the kind of services that require an official diagnosis; and I’m self-employed, so reasonable workplace accommodations are kind of a moot point—my career is basically a reasonable accommodation. It’s also really, really expensive. And while I’m acutely aware of the cliche of semi-self-diagnosis, and the attendant baggage, it’s kind of a drop in the waterfall when it comes to social awkwardness.
Ethically, my therapist can’t say “probably” or “I suspect” in context of anything that sounds like a diagnosis, but he says that it seems like it would be a good idea to proceed as-if, which is good enough for me.
This is how I explain it to The Spouse:
“Imagine I’m a computer—I know, I know, just embrace the cliché—and we’re in a world where the overwhelming majority of computers run Windows, and we’ve all kind of always assumed that I’m just kind of buggy, because while a lot of things function the way you expect them to, some things don’t or require weird workarounds, and some things just don’t run at all.
"And then, imagine figuring out that oh, shit, I’m not a Window’s box. I’m a Mac with a Windows skin. And there’s enough UI overlap that people who go in assuming I’m running Windows will just assume that I’m buggy. And, again, there’s overlap—a lot of the functions and skills translate—but not all.”
My therapist likes the operating system analogy because it implies deviation more than dysfunction, which also fits with my read. The catch, though, is that disorder and dysfunction aren’t just intrinsic qualities: they’re also contextual. It doesn’t really matter how well your OS runs if you make up less than a tenth of a percent of the software market.
This is what scares me: If this is real and right—which I’m fairly certain it is—there are probably things of which I’m fundamentally incapable.
I mean: there are plenty of things of which I’m fundamentally incapable. I am not ever going to be an elite athlete or the CEO of a fortune-500 company. But those are exceptional things. These are normal things—things most people assume to be universal. Things that are supposed to be universal.
I always assumed that if I tried harder and longer, if I approached those problems from enough different angles, someday something would click.
It’s frightening to realize that fake-it-‘til-you-make-it may not apply. That there might be functions I can’t replicate. That there are gulches that can’t be bridged.
I’m not usually a very jealous person, but the idea that there are common terms on which the Spouse and the Lady-Friend can relate to their other partners but not to me fucking wrecks me.
That I’ve come to terms with the idea of people leaving doesn’t mean I’m not also scared of being alone.
The Spouse and I have known each other since we were eleven. We’ve been together, in some form or another, for more than half our lives, and we’ve grown up shaped by that mutual proximity. We speak a common language of decades of shared experience and inside jokes; of the books over which we first made friends; of movies and games and comics; of our shared sense of humor, which is weird and oblique and so deadpan that other people sometimes have trouble picking up on it.
The Spouse is a sysadmin; when I tell him the operating-system analogy, he thinks for a minute. “No,” he ways. “They’re Macs, and you’re running Linux.”
Oblique approaches and elaborate metaphor aren’t that intuitive for him, any more than feelings are for me—but he understands how much the precision of the analogy matters, even if he doesn’t quite get why.
This is how he explains: “You’re not something totally foreign to other people: you’re based on the same core. Maybe your interface isn’t intuitive for most users, and you can’t run all the same software, but for someone willing to put in the time, you’re more versatile and better oriented for a lot of specific advanced functions and customization.”
I was born onto a bed of privilege. I’m of white European descent, and my immigrant ancestors came over the ocean long enough ago that my parents could speak the exact same dialect as the teachers at my well-funded suburban public school. They both had graduate degrees, and our home was full of books. I was encouraged towards intellectual pursuits.
My dad ran his own company when I was growing up. We weren’t super rich, but we never went hungry. By virtue of that business, I played with computers from an early age, and learned the basics of strategy and sales as far back as I can remember.
I wasn’t abused or disabled. In fact, for an extremely nerdy kid, I didn’t even get picked on all that much.
I knew that I was a straight boy, because I liked girls. A lot. Boy, oh, boy, girls were great.
My TV education on human sexuality was clear. There are 5 sharply defined categories. Lesbians, straight girls, girls who liked to fool around with other girls sometimes but are actually straight (aka “bi” or “AWESOME”), gay men, and straight men. Straight men go with women, and gay men don’t. So obviously, I was straight.
And just as obvious as my straightness, I knew that some of our culture’s beliefs about straight people were off base. Straight men are also attracted to men. As a straight guy, any argument to the contrary was obviously wrong, because I knew from my own experience. I’d had full-on crushes on male friends of mine, which was clearly a normal thing for normal straight people to do, as evidenced by me, a normal straight person doing it.
They said in vicious teasing that boys who liked boys were gay, but I knew that I wasn’t gay, because gay boys don’t like girls. Therefore straight boys also like boys sometimes, and the people doing the teasing are just misguided or something. But I feared the teasing, so I didn’t point out their error.
I always felt like it would be an easy thing to “switch teams”, and be gay if I wanted to. The fascination with the “born this way” meme in queer activism never made sense to me. Of course we have a choice in the gender we pursue, doesn’t everyone? Isn’t choice great?
I never did switch, because I didn’t want to be gay. That would mean I’d have to give up dating women, which I enjoyed.
Heterosexuality carries the privilege of not having to explain why I’m inviting someone out on a date. You’re a woman, I’m a man, we just follow the script that society has handed us.
It’s easy to remain only partly visible.
It took an embarrassingly long time to stop erasing, and become ok with calling myself “bisexual”, even in my own mind.
The realization didn’t come in High School when my crush on another boy had me following him around like a weird giddy puppy. Or in college, when I first kissed a boy. Or the second or third time that boy and I made out.
The scales started to lift from my eyes when I had a conversation with a good friend about the movie “Troy”, well into my 20’s.
He said, “That movie was kind of boring.”
I was shocked, and then I realized he was talking about the plot.
“Well… I didn’t really pay attention to the plot, tbh. That movie’s just lots of Brad Pitt being gorgeous and half-naked.”
“You’re not as straight as you think you are.”
“Yeah, like you’re not attracted to guys sometimes.”
“Not even Brad Pitt?”
“Not even a little. You’re bi, dude.”
I figured he was fucking with me. But a lot of things did start to make sense.
My life since then has been significantly more interesting.
I tried on the label like a new pair of shoes, awkward, and uncertain.
Like a good nerd, I dove into the research, but found it surprisingly lacking. Bi Men Coming Out Every Which Way was a great read. I learned about how pervasive the erasure of male bisexuality is, even among academic studies of LGBT culture. It’s as if the B isn’t there. A man who has sex with men is gay. If he then has sex with a woman, he’s “closeted”.
But how can it be a closet if you go into it and out of it repeatedly, with lovers and families on both sides? That’s not a closet, it’s a room with a revolving door.
Privilege is hard to give up. I can’t overstate how easy it is being straight in public, just letting people think whatever they want. But in the years since I’ve come out to myself, this bugs me more and more.
When meeting a new person, I try to say “partner” rather than “girlfriend”, and sometimes even “they” rather than “she”. The shape of my lover’s body is no business of theirs, after all.
But when I slip, and drop her name, or use female pronouns (which, to be fair, she does use, female as she is), I can’t help but wonder if they’re relieved to find out that I’m not gay, or perhaps just relieved to know which mold I fit into.
I find myself resenting being cast in a mold at all. Even if I say “partner”,
and they assume I’m gay, part of me feels so put upon by that idea. And then here I am making assumptions about what assumptions someone else might be making. It’s a vicious cycle, and there is no escape from the hypocrisy.
I’ve tried since then not to make assumptions about others’ sexual preferences. Yet despite my best intentions, I consistently find myself mentally putting people in the “straight” or “gay” buckets once I find out the gender of their significant other.
The habit of bi erasure is silent and pervasive.
The first time I kissed a boy was almost a dare. In a dorm room, sitting around drinking, as you do. The two girls, roommates, said to the 5 of us boys that they’d both wondered what it would be like to kiss a girl. But, they said, they’re not lesbians, so they wanted to do it in front of people, so that it wouldn’t get too serious, or go too far.
You can imagine the reaction.
YES, LADIES, YOU HAVE OUR ATTENTION, PLEASE PROCEED
Afterwards, one of them remarked, “See, that’s why women are better. Guys would never be secure enough to do something like that.”
He and I both replied, “Bullshit,” and before I knew it, sparks were flying. The other 3 boys in the room were shocked, making the socially required homophobic anguish sounds. I barely remember them being there. I’d been looking all day for an excuse to touch him. It ended too fast, but endures in my mind to this day.
What a shock it was when I learned, 14 years later, that he has a boyfriend now! I don’t know why it should’ve been a surprise. Back then, making out just seemed like a thing straight friends did with each other once in a while.
Again and again, I catch myself being surprised like that. I try to remember that, in fact, a significant portion of men are bisexual, perhaps even a majority, depending on how we decide to define things. I try to yank my thinking out of the mold, but it frequently slips back.
You don’t notice erasure until you stop doing it.
And then you don’t notice when you start again.
I’ve been told by people in the LGBT community that “bisexual isn’t a real thing”, that I’m “actually straight” because I’m with a woman, or even, “men aren’t bisexual, just closeted.” Bi-curious is code for “about to leave the closet”. “Bi now, gay later.”
I have taken to referring to gay and straight people as “monosexuals”. I respond by explaining that they’re just going through a phase. Once they meet the right person not of their stated preferred gender, they’ll grow out of it and realize that they’re actually bi.
But I know, that old “everyone’s bi” story is just another way to push us into the background. If we’re not nonexistent, we’re unremarkable. Either way, nothing to see here. Move along.
Or worse, if we are visible, we’re sex objects. Dating gay men confirmed every awful thing I’ve heard (and, let’s be honest, perpetuated) about how straight men treat bi women. Qv the “bi for male pleasure” meme implicit in my first gay kiss experience. They’re happy to fuck the SAG, but anything more than sex is off the table. We can’t be trusted, after all. We’re tourists. Unicorns. We don’t exist.
Maybe the strangest part about growing up a closeted bisexual is that I’ve been practicing dating girls since puberty. I’m very good at it. Confident. Respectful. Sensitive. Witty. Hungry and giving. It’s not talent or PUA bullshit, and there isn’t any one weird trick. It’s the result of many years of conscientious practice, with loving patient teachers who were learning from me as well; the occasional broken heart that didn’t kill me, even when I felt like it was trying to.
But my experience with men is still so elementary. Men and women are different! Turns. Out. I am 13 all over again, confused and stumbling, sending the wrong signals, and reading every situation backwards. And they are grown men with adult expectations who very reasonably want a peer, not an apprentice. So that’s been tricky.
I don’t have it nearly so rough as the newly-out “baby gays”, celibate well into adulthood. At least I’ve had some relationships, enough to learn that the emotional bruises heal. My heart goes out to them.
At first, I was very careful about who I told. I didn’t want to draw scandal or trolling to my online communities. I didn’t want the drama. I still fear the schoolyard teasing.
Mostly, I didn’t want anyone else telling me how to feel about something I was only beginning to accept myself.
Eventually, I’ve come to see my queerness less as a “thing” to be disclosed, and more as just another part of my private life. Something that friends probably know, and strangers probably don’t, no more scandalous or secret than my address or my allergy to shellfish.
I envy kids growing up today, as the sharp lines between straight and gay finally begin to blur in the cultural consciousness. Straight boys in love today might explore that feeling, without suffering an identity crisis. I wish those lines would blur faster. I wish it was a big deal because love is awesome, instead of being a big deal because of the genders and stated identities of the actors.
My home is technology. This is My Culture, rotten though it can be at times. As a privileged and visible person in it, I feel obligated to try to make it a little better in the ways I can. That’s why I’ve decided to publicly tell this story, so that my presence can add weight to the claim that bisexual men exist.
Maybe this can also be a reminder of the multitude of other things we casually erase from the people around us. There are so many ways we make our friends invisible, unwittingly nudging them into a corner that denies important parts of their identities, by perpetuating memes we don’t even notice.
Erasure isn’t healthy. And we are all unaware that we do it.