DiversifYA: Cait Spivey

CaitToday, DiversifYA welcomes Cait Spivey to the blog! Aside from writing awesome YA/NA fantasy, Cait is an editor at Bear&BlackDogEditing and Curiosity Quills, and offical Awesome Person. Follow her on Twitter and via her website!

(And check back soon, because Cait will also be hosting our very first DiversiTheme roundtable discussion about diversity and sexuality!)

1. How do you identify yourself?

Put simply, I identify as a queer woman, specifically bisexual. I usually just say queer, though—I used ‘bisexual’ for many years, but as I learn more about the limitations of the gender binary, I feel kinda weird using a word that doesn’t really encompass the whole gender spectrum.

2. What did it feel like growing up queer?

My attraction to other girls was something I experienced without much examination. Though I didn’t really give it a name until college, I did realize in high school that I was sexually attracted to girls as well as boys. I never struggled internally with this knowledge. It came to me naturally, and I never saw it as a bad or unusual thing, at least in how I felt about it. Talking about it publicly was another thing.

I fell in love with three girls over the course of my high school and college years. I was too cowardly to ever tell any of them, because I grew up in a very conservative area and I told myself the likelihood that they were bi or lesbian was not high enough to risk it. I was afraid of rejection—not just that they didn’t like me, but that they’d never even THOUGHT of liking me; afraid they’d be disgusted. I was afraid of losing access to their friendship. By the time I finally felt confident enough in my queer identity to be really public about it, I was already in love with my male fiancé.

My love for those girls lasted longer than any actual relationship I had; I loved each of them for over a year, nearly two in some cases. It was very much in a courtly love kind of vein—I loved them, I loved being around them, and since I never quite got the courage to express my love, I contented myself with being the best friend to them I could possibly be. I felt so much more delicate with them than I did with the boys I liked. The boys could break my heart, sure, but being rejected by any of those girls would have absolutely destroyed me. Better not to chance it, in my unsure teenage brain.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

The biggest challenge was getting the courage to own my queerness publicly, to cast down everyone’s assumption that I was simply straight because I dated boys. Even after I knew I was queer, it was difficult to bring up. I had several long-term heterosexual relationships in college, and the people I did discuss my queerness with always looked at me like they couldn’t believe I could date boys and also be attracted to girls. They could imagine it intellectually, of course; but I think sometimes the plurality of bi- or pansexual orientation is hard to conceptualize if you haven’t experienced it.

Another challenge I’ve had is a fear that I’m not ‘queer enough’ to call myself queer. I’m marrying a man, and for a long time I worried that my relationship with him disqualified me from joining queer discourse. I’m mostly over this, but I still have doubts sometimes about how accepted I would be in QUILTBAG circles.

I also, honestly, regret never having a relationship with one of those three girls I mentioned. I love my fiancé with all my heart, but in some ways I feel like part of my identity was never realized, like it’s partially stunted. Sometimes I want to send ill-advised Facebook messages to those girls and say “I loved you, I loved you and I’m sorry I never told you” just to see what they’d say, to know what could have happened. It’s the writer in me, haha. I imagine the scenes playing out and then have to stop myself, because real life doesn’t unfold like fiction.

Quirks or perks? Twice as much eye candy! It sounds crass, but it’s so nice to walk down a street and see someone and think, “Wow, what a beautiful person.” It happens twice as often for me. You also don’t have to explain how your genitals work when you’re with someone who has the same ones. 😛

A lot of people mention how great the QUILTBAG community is, but like I mentioned above, I’m still a little intimidated by certain corners of it, so I’m afraid I can’t really count that as a perk at this point.

4. What do you wish people knew about being queer?

First: being bi/pansexual does NOT equal being horny all the time. My sex drive is perfectly average, thank you very much.

Second: being bi/pansexual does NOT equal being attracted to EVERY single person you see, and coming out as bi/pansexual does not mean all your same-sex friends have to suddenly worry about you trying to sex them up. I have many intimate and fulfilling female friendships in my life that have absolutely nothing to do with sex or physical attraction.

Third (and this may be the biggest one): Being in a serious, monogamous relationship DOES NOT MEAN you are no longer bi/pansexual. If I am dating a man, I am not straight. If I am dating a woman, I am not a lesbian. All it means is that I’m in a serious, monogamous relationship.

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?

Obviously, the ones I’ve refuted above: the nymphomaniac bisexual, the “just has to pick a side” bisexual, etc.

One that’s sort of grown out of the nympho bisexual is this misconception that bi/pansexual people are really in touch with their sexuality and are very sexually confident. (I’ve seen this applied to gay or lesbian types too, less often.) Not always true! Sexual confidence varies from individual to individual, no matter what their orientation is; some people are, some people aren’t, and it usually isn’t related to whether they’re queer or straight. Being queer didn’t automatically make me super comfortable with sex.

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

First: go for it!

Second: don’t be afraid to ask for guidance. It can be scary, I know. What if you say the wrong thing, accidentally offend someone before you even get started? But if you approach your research sincerely and respectfully, I think you’ll find open doors to you. When you’re brainstorming or drafting, find forums or blogs (like this one!) where people discuss these backgrounds (obviously, try to make sure that the people explaining what it’s like to grow up black, for example, are actually people who grew up black). When you look for beta readers, mention that you particularly need to know how your paraplegic character is received and would love to have betas with knowledge of that experience. Seek and ye shall find.

One Response to DiversifYA: Cait Spivey

  1. I’m thrilled that you shared this, Cait. I know what you mean about the QUILTBAG issue. Bisexual folks and other people who are attracted to more than one gender are often erased in queer spaces when they’re partnered in a cross-gender relationship. It’s really frustrating that even in spaces where the people should know better, they still say to you the kinds of things people say to them–about not really knowing your true attraction experiences and accusing you of being appropriative if you don’t get crapped on for your relationship. (For the record, I think bisexual people and people like me–asexual people–deal with a lot of invisibility in these spaces, which is really sad since the heteronormative assumption is hurting us just like it’s hurting them.)