DiversifYA: Tristina Wright
|June 23, 2015||Posted by Marieke under DiversifYA, QUILTBAG|
Tristina Wright is a blue-haired bisexual with anxiety and opinions. She writes super epic queer YA SFF, and I can’t wait for her books to hit shelves someday, so you can all experience her amazing words too. <3 Until then, you can find her on Tumblr, her website, and Twitter.
1. How do you identify yourself?
2. What did it feel like growing up bisexual?
In a word, confusing. I didn’t even know the word bisexual existed until I was in college. I grew up in a very conservative atmosphere where anything not-straight was wrong and a damnable offense. It was confusing and terrifying for me when I developed a crush on my best friend in high school or imagined kissing her. I knew I still liked boys. I liked them a lot, but I also thought she was very pretty. I found myself admiring other girls in my class the same way I’d admire a boy. “I bet her hair is really soft.” “Gosh, I could stare at her eyes forever.” “Please laugh again; that’s the best sound.”
I thought I was broken. I thought you were supposed to pick one and, as I’d been taught, there was a right one and a wrong one. So I dated boys and never pursued girls and basically pined quietly, convinced that I was wrong to want such things and I needed to just be content with boys.
College was eye-opening for me. I insisted on going to a non-conservative school and, while the academic experience wasn’t the best for me, the social side became a pivotal point for me and my identity. I kissed girls and I didn’t get struck by lightning! The ground didn’t open up and swallow me into hell! It was amazing.
It wasn’t perfect, mind you. The word bisexual comes with its own mountain of stereotypes and cliches and biases, which is difficult to navigate when you’re trying to figure out who you are. “Well, I don’t want to be known as easy or always down for a threesome or a cheater or or or… so maybe that’s not the right word for me.” It’s actually very damaging for a young person to think that the only reason someone hangs out with you is because they think you’re easy. It puts the sole focus of the entire identity on sex, which is so unhealthy. It took years for me to finally unpack the word down to its basic meanings and find people like me who embraced it and fought hard against the stereotypes.
3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?
The biggest challenges are definitely the stereotypes, as I touched on above. People think bisexual means you’re down for whatever, whenever. They think it means you’re easy and always up for sex. They think you’re automatically okay with threesomes (or more). They don’t think you’re capable of being monogamous. They think bisexuals cheat because we’re always looking at other genders. There’s a sense of implied competition. A girl I know in college told me she’d been told by a gay friend of hers that he’d never date a bi man because he was certain the man would leave him for a girl. And sadly, it’s a common perception. “I won’t date a bi girl because a penis has been there.” “I won’t date a bi man because he’ll leave me for a girl.” It’s this horrible, broad paintbrush that gets whipped across all of us before we even open our mouths.
That isn’t to say there aren’t bisexuals out there who aren’t down for whatever, whenever. Or bisexuals who love threesomes. Or bisexuals who don’t ever want to be in a long-term relationship. But those are all individual decisions and should be acknowledged as such — not used as examples to hold up the evil sex-crazed bisexual stereotype. It’s damaging and horribly offensive to those who do enjoy lots of sex. It tells them that they’re doing it wrong. In the end, it’s no one’s business.
Another common stereotype is the assumption that we’re gay or straight now when we do get married or enter into any type of long-term relationship. As if bisexuality is only a label that can be applied to single people. I might be married to a man, but that does not mean I still don’t tilt my head and whisper damn when I see a hot woman! Does that mean I’m going to leave my husband and pursue that hot woman? No. It just means I find her attractive. It’s no different from my husband admiring a favorite actress. It’s biology and too many people are way to consumed with policing biology.
Perks? So many pretty people! ::whale noises:: Like seriously, there are so many beautiful people of all genders on this planet, and I could stare at them all day long. I honestly sometimes feel sorry for my husband that he’s straight. He’s missing out on so many gorgeous people out there, it’s truly heartbreaking. I weep.
4. What do you wish people knew about being bisexual?
Oh gosh, so much. I guess the biggest thing I wish people knew is that there is no right way to be bisexual. There’s this pervading notion that you have to qualify in order to use the label. It comes from the 50-50 stereotype, I think. The idea that you have to be attracted to men and women equally to be bisexual, which is just false. Or that you have to have slept with the same amount of multiple genders in order to be bisexual, which is also false. Virgins declare themselves gay or lesbian and yet we don’t tell they can’t be until they’ve had sex, do we? We apply straightness to babies constantly: “He’ll be such a ladies man!” “Oh better get a shotgun for all the boys knocking down her door!” So why this idea that you can’t be bisexual unless you satisfy some sexual measurement?
Truth time. I’ve only ever had serious relationships with men. I have kissed and slept with other genders, but I’ve only ever had serious relationships with men. I have never officially dated another gender. Does that make me less bisexual? No. Definitely not. Even if I’d only ever slept with men and never touched another gender, I’d still be bisexual. Period.
You’ll hear people insist bi means two. Well, gay means happy and lesbian means from the Isle of Lesbos. Language evolves. Obviously. People will use this definition to insist that bisexuality is exclusionary. That we don’t include trans or non-binary individuals in our attraction. And that’s….that’s so not true. Bisexual, at its heart, means attraction to two or more genders. You’ll also hear same and different genders, which also perfectly acceptable; however, keep in mind there are bisexuals who are not attracted to their own gender. You may meet female bisexuals not attracted to men. You may meet male bisexuals not attracted to women. There are all different types and there’s no right or wrong way to be bisexual.
Two or more. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. It’s multi-gender attraction. Period. There’s no sex requirement. There’s no marriage requirement. There are no rules or restrictions or qualifying checkboxes, and if anyone tries to tell you there are, then rub this definition all over their face.
My favorite definition of bisexual is from Robyn Ochs: I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.
I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had with people who basically say, “I’m afraid of saying I’m bi because I’ve only ever been with X gender. It doesn’t feel like I count.” And that’s years and years of 50-50 and bi means 2 stereotyping talking. Of gatekeepers insisting on requirements and regulations. It’s ingrained in us and it’s so hard to break away from.
You do count. You do.
5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?
I’ve sort of answered this one already but the biggest? Threesomes, probably. That’s the one I run into the most often. People wink wink nudge nudge at my husband when they find out I’m bi. Because if I’m bi that means I’ll sleep with whoever, right?
Easy, cheater, one foot out/in the closet, really straight, really gay, really lesbian, threesomes, orgies, sex whenever, no preference OR exclusionary to trans and non-binary individuals, confused, it’s a phase, you don’t count if…., greedy, can’t be monogamous, etc.
Again, the vast majority of stereotypes and cliches reduce bisexuality down to who we have in bed with us. It makes it all about the sex as if it’s a hobby instead of who we are as people. It’s not taken seriously, which is so sad and incredibly frustrating. It’s as if bisexuality is the immature party child of the more grown up serious gay, lesbian, or straight labels.
BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?
You’ll see this advice everywhere and that’s because, I think, it’s the most important piece of advice if you’re writing diversely: Read and listen. Read books and poems and essays and blogs and tweets by diverse people. Listen to what people are saying. I learn so much when I spend a few hours on social media just reading and not speaking. The world is so diverse and you’re doing yourself a huge disservice by not including that in your writing. But to do it as well as you’re able, you need to listen and learn.
Diversity is not a monolith. Even as a bisexual, when I write bisexual characters, I have other bisexuals read them and offer critiques. My experience with bisexuality is not yours or theirs or hers or his. It’s mine and that’s it. You’ll hear differing and even opposing viewpoints on how certain things should be portrayed. People are individual. As much as the media would like you to think there is a baseline individual (straight, white, abled, cis, usually male), there isn’t. And there are countless ways to portray people. You have to learn and listen and do your research.
You will mess something up. Accept that and write anyway. Do the best you can, listen to criticism, learn, and write more. I know that no matter how much I read and talk to people, I will get something wrong. I’m not free of ingrained prejudice. I come from a place of privilege. I grew up in an environment where the other was scary and not to be trusted. It’s taken me years to undo that, and I’m still not completely free of it. I do not experience the same microagressions as someone not me. I will mess up, and you will too. That doesn’t mean you don’t try. That doesn’t mean you give up after being told you messed something up. You learn. You apologize. You apply that to your next project. You grow. Accept that you will never be perfect. You will always be learning and unpacking and shedding preconceptions. Writing diversely is a constant state of evolution.
Some really great resources on bisexuality: