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Posted in Blog Tour

Excerpt from BRIGHT BURNING STARS BY A.K. Small

I am such a fan of books about competition, relationships between girls, ballet and Paris. That is why I am SO excited that A.K. Small’s fantastic debut, Bright Burning Stars, will be out this Tuesday. I loved this beautiful written, thrilling novel, and I am so excited to share some information about this gorgeous book and an excerpt from it as part of the blog tour.

As a young ballerina in Paris, young adult novelist A. K. Small studied at the famous Académie Chaptal and later danced with companies across the US. Inspired by the dancers from her childhood, Small weaves a vivid story of a fiercely competitive female friendship in her dazzling debut, Bright Burning Stars. Following two teens fighting for center stage and a spot in the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet, this page-turning novel explores the lengths it takes to turn talent into a career. A gifted new writer, Small brings the reader into the passionate world of ballet all while telling an engrossing story of female friendship.

Kate and Marine have trained since childhood at the Paris Opera Ballet School where they formed an intense bond after respective family tragedies. Their friendship seems unshakeable until their final year when only one girl can be selected for a place in the Opera’s company. The physically demanding competition takes an emotional toll, and their support for each other starts to crumble. Marine’s eating disorder begins to control her life as she consumes less and dances more, and Kate discovers the depths of depression and the highs of first love as she falls for the school heartthrob—who also happens to be Marine’s dance partner

As rankings tighten and each day is one step closer to the final selection, neither girl is sure just how far she’ll go to win. With nuance and empathy, the intense emotions of teenage years are amplified in Small’s debut as the girls struggle with grief, mental health issues, and relationships, all set against the glamorous backdrop of Paris.  

Doesn’t that sound FANTASTIC? Now keep reading for the first chapter!


Chapter 1

Marine

We stood outside the circular studio in the apex of the dance annex. Some of us obsessively rose up and down in first position to break the soles of our shoes, while others, like the boys, tucked their t-shirts into their tights and cracked their necks for luck. I didn’t do anything but clutch Kate’s hand. Kate and I always held hands before the weekly générales. But before I could ask her what she thought the new ratings would be, who would outshine whom on The Boards after only a week and four days of ballet classes and rehearsals in our final year at Nanterre, my name was called first. A bad omen: in six years of dancing here, the faculty had never switched us out of alphabetical order before. Isabelle The Brooder always started. I danced third. 

“Break a leg,” Kate said in English before I stepped into the studio, which made me smile because saying things in her mother tongue was Kate’s way of showing love.

Inside the vast round room, three judges—judging deities really—sat erect behind a long folding table.

Valentine Louvet, the director, was on the left, her dark hair twisted into a loose knot and rings adorning her fingers. She would sometimes look up at the giant skylight and I would swear that her lips moved,that she discussed students with Nijinsky’s ghost through the thick glass. Francis Chevalier, the ballet master, an older man with sweat stains radiating from under his arms, was on the right. While you danced, he rhythmically jabbed the tip of his cane into the floor. In the middle sat The Witch, aka Madame Brunelle, in glasses and a tight bun. When she disliked a student’s movement, which was almost always, we all whispered that worm-like silver smoke seeped from her nostrils and her ears.   

I didn’t look them in the eyes for fear of turning to salt. Instead, I hurried to the yellow X that demarked center, taking note of all the mirrors that wrapped around me like gauze. I tried not to criticize my reflection, how I was one kilogram fatter than when I’d last performed in May. I’d found out earlier this morning, courtesy of Mademoiselle Fabienne, the school nutritionist. Weigh-ins here were like random drug tests. You were called and asked to step onto the beastly scale whenever faculty felt like it. Now, all I could do was suck my stomach in and pray it didn’t affect my score. I placed my right foot on the tape, my left in tendu behind, then waited for the pianist’s introduction. 

As I offered the judges my most heartfelt port de bras, I concentrated on the ivory of my leotard, an atrocious color on me, yet a coveted symbol of my new elite rank. Seven other sixteen year-old rat-girls and I had risen to First Division. The variation we were to perform today was obscure, from The Three Musketeers, but I didn’t mind. Actually, I preferred low profile dances. The pressure somehow felt less. I also liked the three-count waltz, the way the notes filled up inside me, the rush of the C major melody, all making me zigzag across the studio. Music was why I kept going, my ticking heart. As the piano filled the air, my arms felt fluid, my balances sharp, and my leaps explosive. Even my hunger diminished. I steered myself from left to right then from front to back. My spirits lifted and my nerves calmed. Vas-y. I can do this, I thought. And then I remembered to give the judges my stage smile. Maybe I’ll rise from Number 3 to Number 2. During a slow triple pirouette, I held my foot above my knee, balanced, and stuck my landing in perfect fourth position, the number 2 floating like an angel’s halo above my head. 

But then I forgot to anticipate the piano’s shift in keys, the sudden acceleration. Realizing I was an eighth of a note off, I skipped a glissade to catch up to my saut de chat. Ne t’en fais pas, I told myself. Adjust. Yet, at once, The Witch stood up and snapped her fingers, silencing the music. 

“I thought you were here because of your auditory gift, Duval,” Madame Brunelle said. “Don’t students call you The Pulse?”

I looked down at my feet. I hadn’t gone through three fourths of the variation.

“They must be wrong. Would you like to have someone else come in and demonstrate? Teach you whole notes from half notes?”

“No,” I whispered. 

“Miss Sanders,” Madame Brunelle yelled. 

Kate poked her head inside the studio. A joke, I thought.

Kate was a dynamic ballet dancer but well known for her lack of rhythm. 

“Mademoiselle Duval needs help with her waltz tempo.

Would you run the variation through for her?”

What? 

Kate nodded. She tiptoed into the studio, setting herself on the X the way I had done earlier.

“Shadow her, Duval,” Madame Brunelle ordered. 

She snapped her fingers and the pianist began again. 

I danced behind Kate. We moved in unison, gliding into long pas de basques, arms extended. Kate seemed weightless, her heels barely touching the ground. A genuine smile fluttered on her lips. Her ivory leotard fitted her long narrow frame like skin. Blue crystal teardrops dangled from her ears as she spun. They glittered like fireflies. All of Kate glittered. The afternoon sun poured in from the skylight, lighting her up like a flame. The variation lasted a million years. At every step, my face grew hotter. The studio door had been left wide open, so I saw in the mirror’s reflection that other First Division dancers were peering inside and watching our odd duo. A wave of humiliation nearly toppled me. Madame Brunelle did not stop the music this time. She waited for Kate and me to finish with our révérence, thenshe dismissed us with a flick of the finger. 

I ducked out of the studio into the stairwell and didn’t wait for Kate. I could have sought refuge in the First Division dressing rooms but that was too obvious a hiding place so I rushed down three flights of stairs and into the courtyard. A mild September breeze blew. I fought back tears. It would have been easier, I thought, if The Witch had picked someone else. Anyone else. But Kate? Pitting me against my best friend? I wished I could keep walking past the trees, alongside the fence, out of the gates, down L’Allée de La Danse, to the metro, all the way home to the center of Paris and my mother’s boulangerie. There, inside with the warmth and the sugary smells, I would find a tight hug, an, “It’s okay, Chérie. You don’t have to do this unless you want to.” But I knew I wouldn’t. I’d have to go back to the dorms to change into street clothes or at least take off my pointe shoes and then I’d see Oli’s battered demi pointes on my bed. Plus, I’d come this far. Hadn’t I? Only 274 days until the final Grand Défilé. Judgment Day: when everyone, except for two strikingly gifted students—one female, one male—got fired in the top division. I plopped down into the middle of the courtyard and found the sky. How could I have messed up on tempo? I closed my eyes and inhaled. 

“Hey!” Kate yelled a minute later.

I started. 

She stood at the entrance of the courtyard, breathing hard.

“Do you think you could have gone a little faster?” she said, crossing her arms. She was still in her leotard, tights, and pointe shoes. Her neck flushed bright red from running. Wisps of blond hair framed her face. “You hurtled down the stairs like a bat out of hell, M. I thought you were going to tumble and fall.”  

Bat out of hell? I nearly corrected her and said that here we used comme un bolide—like a rocket—but instead I replied, voice sharp, “Too bad I didn’t.”

“You don’t mean it,” she said. “Mistakes happen. You’re only human.”

Kate sat down beside me. She smelled woodsy, even after she danced. We watched as pigeons flittered around the bright white buildings. On our left were the dorms with their common rooms at the bottom. In front, the dance annex loomed. It was known for its grand staircase, bay windows, cafeteria, and Board Room where all big decisions were made. On the right was the academic wing with classrooms and faculty offices. Little pathways led from one building to the others with awnings in case of rain. If I turned around, I could peek at the high concrete wall hidden between oak trees. Sometimes I wondered if the barrier was there to keep rats from fleeing or strangers from trespassing. 

 Kate squeezed my ankle then flashed me her best smile.

“The Witch is an asshole. Seriously. Don’t sweat it.”

At her touch, my eyes filled. The tempo mix up hadn’t been Kate’s fault. Only mine. I quickly wiped the tears with the back of my hand.

“Have I told you that I dig wearing ivory?” Kate said. “Last night, I called my dad and tried to explain it to him. How good it felt to parade around in this sublime color. I said it was like receiving the freaking Medal of Honor but he didn’t get it.”

“Of course not.” I shook my head.

And just like that, the weird moment between us, the resentment I’d felt at having to dance behind her, passed.  

I was about to tell her that after what had happened in the circular studio I would probably never wear ivory again, when younger rats came out into the courtyard, disturbing our privacy. Everyone always whispered about everyone else while waiting for ratings. Within the hour, the Board Room would open. Rankings would be posted on the wall. Rats who were rated below fifth place might be sent home. Now and again, I’d see a parent waiting by the school entrance and the wretched sight would make me flinch. But Kate, who was always at my side, would loop an arm around me and say, “Face it, M. Not everyone is cut out for this.” Her thick skin soothed me today.

“God, I can’t stand the sitting around,” Kate said. “Let’s play Would You.”

“I thought you and I banned that game,” I replied. 

Kate laughed. “Things don’t go away just because you want them to, Miss Goody Two-Shoes. Or because the stupid rules say so.”

I slapped her shoulder.

“Ouch. Loosen up. I go first,” she said. “Would you die for The Prize?”  

The Prize. What every rat girl and boy was after: the large envelope with a red wax stamp on the back, a single invitation to become part of the Paris Opera’s corps de ballet. The thought of seeing that envelope made me dizzy with possibility. I almost said yes but she cut me off.

“If I close my eyes,” Kate said. “I feel the envelope’s weight in my hands, the warm wax beneath my thumbs. It’s damn near euphoric.”

I looked away. Kate’s hunger for success, for being the Chosen One was sometimes so acute that it frightened me.

“Are you asking because of Yaëlle?”  

The Number 3 rat from last year, a sweet girl from Brittany, once our roommate, had been found in her tiny single, lying atop her twin bed, in her ballet clothes, bones protruding at strange angles, eyes sunk deep in their sockets, dead a few days before Le Grand Défilé last May. She’d starved herself in the name of The Prize. Ever since, we’d all been on edge. Summer hadn’t changed the mood. If anything, getting back together after a few months away had heightened the sense of dread.

“You’re not answering my question.”

“No,” I decided. “I wouldn’t die for The Prize. Would you?”

“Yes,” Kate said. “Absolutely.”

There was no hesitation in her voice.

“I’ve got another,” she said. “Would you hurt The Ruler for The Prize?”

Gia Delmar, the Ruler. Always Number 1 on the boards, she was our biggest rival but this wasn’t the time to think about her. Not before rankings. “I wouldn’t hurt anyone,” I said, then I added, “Would you rehearse night and day?” 

“Yes. But would you do drugs?”

“Would you?”

“Rehearse night and day, sure. Drugs? Maybe.”

“Kate!” I said.

“Would you try to suck up to Monsieur Chevalier?”

“No. But maybe Louvet.”

Kate laughed. “I know. Would you sleep with The Demigod?”

The Demigod? I shivered. Like The Ruler, The Demigod was off limits. As a rare conservatory transfer, he’d magically appeared in Second Division one sunny day last February and had outdone everyone. I didn’t want to think about the leaders, the rats most likely to succeed, even if they were supremely sexy. “No,” I answered. “Of course not. Would you?”

“Maybe.”  

“That’s sick,” I said. “Sleeping with someone to climb the ladder?”

Kate lowered her voice. “The Demigod is different, M. You know. Everybody knows. Even faculty. Look how they gawk at him. His talent is greater than the sun and the stars combined. Proximity to him is—” she paused, searching for her words. “The key to everything. Think of it as Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock’s lover, collaborating with him on a canvas. Except that our canvas is four dimensional, made up of flesh, of bodies.Lee’s paint strokes had to intensify, right? The Demigod’s balletic gift, his glow, rubs off like glitter on his partners. Haven’t you noticed? Anyone who spends time with him in and out of the studio shoots up on The Boards. M, he is The King. You know what dance is? The art of the sensual. Electricity, entanglement, ease. You partner with him and you will blow the roof off this effing place. Plus,” she sucked in her breath, kept me in suspense. “He’s got the hottest quads in the universe.” 

I imagined Cyrille flying into splits, his thighs stiffening under silver tights, what his hands might feel like clasping mine if I was ever asked to partner with him. My whole body warmed. Kate was right. The Demigod was like food, like one of my mother’s pastries. You knew that eating it was bad for you, but you just couldn’t help yourself. I was about to warn Kate that the Greek demigods, as attractive as they were, ate their young and their lovers when Monsieur Arnaud, the groundkeeper, walked over to the old fashioned bell and rang it. The wooden doors creaked open and all the dancers scurried inside the Board Room. I still sat outside, frozen. What if I was ranked fifth or lower and got sent home? I thought of Oli. My promise to dance for him no matter what. Failing was not an option. Kate snagged my hand and pulled me up.

“Come on, sweetie,” she said. 

I reluctantly followed her in.

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Posted in Announcement

Exciting Things to Come at Stay on the Page (It’s called a REDESIGN!)

Admittedly, I haven’t been the most active blogger these past two years. Unfortunately, It’s hard to juggle a job, graduate school, working on my own creative writing, internships and a job. But in a few weeks I’ll be graduating and I’m hoping the spirit of change and opportunity will give me the push I need to make Stay on the Page more active and a blogging space where I get to talk about the things that I love.

I’ll be revamping and redesigning my blog at the end of May. I’ll also be launching Mental Health Reads soon, a community resource for MG and YA mental health representation. What you can look forward to is more reviews, but also more posts about writing, theater and mental health rep in books. I hope you’ll all stick around for the journey because I’m excited to get back into the habit of sharing content with all of you.

This means Stay on the Page will be INACTIVE May 21-31 as I re-design the layout and prepare for 30 Days of Pride.

Posted in Blog Series

Call for Posts: 30 Days of Pride Blogging Event

I love to talk to people, about their books, about their lives and about what makes them tick. So what better way to kick off a month of queer pride than to invite friends, new and old, onto my blog so we can talk about what makes us proud to be queer and for the creatives among us, what we’re doing to express ourselves through our work. Every day between June 1 and June 30, I’ll be hosting guests on my blog to celebrate the LGBTQPIA+ community by talking about what it means to be queer, discussing their favorite queer books, movies, musicals, etc.

Here’s the official prompt from the project’s founder, Ben @ Ace of Bens:

This month we’re here to celebrate. What makes you happy to be part of the queer community? Do you have an amazing coming out story about that terrifying moment that ended up being so much better than you expected? Does the recent surge of representation in books, TV, music, etc. make you proud to represent one (or more) of the letters of the ever-growing acronym? Are you a part of a project that helps queer people or highlights queer voices and you want to talk about how awesome it is? Then come tell us all about it. We want to hear about what you’re celebrating this month and what make you proud to be part of the LGBTQPIA+ community!

This is an event meant to reflect on our identities and increase positivity around pride month. No rainbow capitalistic filters here. Just queer peeps talking about their queer selves. This event is also a response to the disproportional amount of, for lack of a better term, “tragedy porn” found in queer media. Posts don’t have to gloss over reality, but we encourage everyone to have an ultimately hopeful or positive tenor to their posts.

Stumped on what to write? Here are some post ideas:

Narrative post — A post in which you retell a story about something that happened to you or someone you know. Maybe you have a story about the time you helped change a policy to create equality in your local community. Or maybe you want to tell us about your first time attending a pride festival. All of those awesome stories are welcome here!

Coming out story — This is a type of narrative post. Considering the nature of the event, I anticipate a lot of people choosing to submit that style of post. And that’s fine! Most of us have at least one coming out story to tell, and this is a great place to tell it.

Highlighting book, album, movie, etc. — This is essentially a review post. However, it’s slightly different because there’s not so much critique in a post highlighting a work. Feel free to mention some down sides or add a warning about something that rubbed you the wrong way. But I’d like you to focus on why you love this book, movie, TV show, music, album, etc. We’re here to talk about what we love and the work you’re highlighting should be something you love!

List post — Examples of this could include, “Shows that Make Me Proud to Be Bi”, “Ten of My Favorite Aro Characters”, “Seven Transgender Artists You Need in Your Music Library”. So maybe you want to talk about all the ways you feel represented in a certain media? A list post sounds like a great idea for you.

Q&A / Interview — This is usually done for authors, YouTubers, and other well-known creators who don’t have as much time to write a post of their own but still want to participate. This isn’t to say that you have to be ~famous~ to do this kind of post. If you want me to come up with some questions relating to a topic you’re excited to talk about, let me know, and we’ll work something out!

Some creative ideas I would also love to see and promote during this event:

  • Queer pride make-up looks and tutorials
  • Video post submissions
  • Queer recipes
  • Any kind of non-traditional or non-linear storytelling
  • Poetry posts
  • Anything else you want to try!

Eligibility

I expect that most of the people participating will be from the online bookish community, but this is not an exclusively bookish event and you do not have to be a part of the book community to participate. The only requirement is that you identify somewhere under the LGBTQPIA+ umbrella.

Identities I particularly want to see posts from: Bisexual, Pansexual, Asexual, Demisexual & Gray-A’s, Aroaces, non-heteroromantic and non-heterosensual peeps, polyamorous peeps, Non-Binary, Trans and Genderqueer folks as well as QPOC, disabled queer peeps, autistic and neurodivergent queer peeps, etc. and any and all intersections there of. I can’t wait to hear from you and give you space to tell your stories. Your experiences matter so much.

All submissions will be accepted and find a home during this series! I have at least 30 spots on my blog and right now, Ben @ Ace of Bens and Kitty @ JellyFable are also co-hosting.

DEADLINE FOR POSTS: May 23, 2019

If you are interested in guest posting, nudge me via email or Twitter with a little about you and what you might want to write. We’ll get the ball rolling from there.

Email: taylortracywrites@gmail.com

Twitter: @tayberryjelly

Hope to hear from you all soon!

Posted in Blog Series

On a Case Bi Case Basis: Me! (Aka Tay)

Well, I hated being bisexual…but I love being biromantic! Besides, there’s a good chance you, my dear reader, know I’m asexual, but not that I’m bi too. Well…demibiro ace to be more specific, but this personal essay is not a vocabulary lesson and if you’re reading this, it means you have access to Google, so…see you back here in five minutes?

Just a heads up, this post is about to get personal, so if you’d rather not know certain things about me, now is a great time to go back to Facebook, Twitter, Buzzfeed, whatever.


The first time I fully felt comfortable being bi, I was on the subway with my friend Cody, talking about nothing because I ramble when I’m nervous and anxious, which is approximately 97% of the time. Please just tell me to shut up when you’re with me. It’s much more effective. Anyway, we’re traveling on an uptown train and I’m talking about how it sucks being bi and how wanting  to have biological kids with my partner is important to me and he laughs and shakes his head, “You’re going to fall in love with a girl and it’s going to be such a disaster.”

Being me means laughing on a subway with someone I care about and knowing they don’t judge me for who I am, letting the slimy self-consciousness I usually swim around in slide off my skin.

Now I’m laughing too and half the subway car is probably staring at us, but I don’t care. This is the first time I’ve openly talked about my sexuality in public without feeling ashamed of myself.

Being me means laughing on a subway with someone I care about and knowing they don’t judge me for who I am, letting the slimy self-consciousness I usually swim around in slide off my skin. The perpetual knot of anxiety untying in my chest, I’m free to fall in love 500 times a day like I always do, with whoever I want, not restricted to a single gender.


Growing up sucked. I was always the weird kid, in so many ways, but it wasn’t until sixth grade that that weirdness coalesced into feelings…about girls, or those who are more feminine more broadly. At the same time, I knew I still really liked boys, or those are more masculine more broadly. And I freaked the fuck out.

Literally.

I cried. A lot. I read a lot of sex education books at the library, begging the pages to just tell me who the fuck I was. To give me a word that felt right. But I didn’t find it. I shoved all my feelings deep down inside of myself.

When I was eleven, being bisexual meant feeling lost, like I was running through the woods five minutes before dusk and I had strayed off the path and couldn’t find my way back home.


I found my way home in college, in a lot of ways. Looking back, I become an adult in college and in grad school, I learned what I really cared about in life, like in an existential sense. Leaving high school behind, I reached an uneasy truth with the bisexual label like you do with a pair of boots that don’t fit quite right, but they get you where you’re going well enough. I got around well enough, but my feet–well, my heart, it hurt. After all, my boyfriend basically broke up with me because I told him I didn’t want to have sex with him.

In college, being bisexual means finding my community…and yet, still feeling like I don’t belong. I felt so loved, so whole and yet so damn empty all at the same time.

I didn’t know why I said it? Well, because it was true. Because I froze and my brain took over and the words slipped out of my mouth. Then, I was like “Oh shit.” And I forgot about it, because the rest of my senior year thoroughly went to shit after that. So I identified as bisexual, even though it didn’t really fit? And I knew I didn’t want to have sex? This was one stop on the train line of “How did Tay not know she was ace?” but I didn’t know that at the time (Dear reader, I have no idea), so full steam ahead.

I found a lot of queer friends in college. We formed a tight crew of gay misfits that all hung out in The Drew Acorn office. I had three friends who were bisexual…and they all seemed so different. In college, being bisexual means finding my community…and yet, still feeling like I don’t belong. I felt so loved, so whole and yet so damn empty all at the same time.


The first time I almost came out to someone, I was hanging out in my best friend’s basement, the two of us sprawled out over the floor with a pile of Lego’s. I forgot what I said, but my best friend looked me in the eye and said, “Taylor, do you have something to tell me?” Reader, I remember wanting to tell him so badly but the weight of my own shame pushing the words back down my throat and I shook my head no.

I shoved the thoughts down deep, but they came crawling back up a year later in seventh grade. I was awkward. I was chubby. I was always emotional. And then that same best friend assaulted me in his room and again, everything went to shit. I self-harmed. I hated myself. And part of that hate was from knowing I was bi—that I was queer. And I hated myself for it. I thought it made me not normal. That it made me a freak. That I would go to Hell for it.

My queer pain was an entertaining game to them, because I was the only semi-out person in our middle school. I was probably the first queer kid they ever met, and they taunted me.

I also had the worst crush on one of my friends in our toxic girlish middle school clique. I’m all for girl love now and love my female friendships, but look, we just weren’t meant to be friends and we were all assholes to each other. No one was innocent.

Still, I was young and naive so they were the first people I came out to in seventh grade. At first, I said I was “bi-curious,” reluctant to commit to a full-time label. Like I was testing the waters, dipping my toe in the queer pool to check the temperature. Oh, the labels that existed in the early 2000s. What a time. My friends teased me and called me “Bi-Curious George” to my face even though I said that nickname hurt me. They wouldn’t stop. My queer pain was an entertaining game to them, because I was the only semi-out person in our middle school. I was probably the first queer kid they ever met, and they taunted me.

Then I came out to them as bisexual. When we had a falling out, as hormonal middle school friends do, that’s when shit hit the fan.

Look, despite everything I’ve been through, I’m an innately trusting person. It sucks. I trusted my friends to keep my sexuality a secret. They didn’t. Sometime in eighth grade, they told people who told people who told people. Soon, I started hated coming to school because I was called a slut, a whore, a freak and a lesbian. There was no room for nuance in the halls of my middle school. Absolutely zero.

It became a common occurrence that when people were alone with me, they would bring it up.

An awkward silence would fall over the conversation.

And then they would say something like, “So I heard you were a lesbian or bi or something. Is that true?” I stopped hanging out with people outside of school.

I had a Facebook account for forty-eight hours. I hadn’t even learned how to use my wall or whatever the fuck you call it because kids from school sent me deeply personal or deeply hateful messages about my bisexuality. So I deleted it. I can navigate Facebook well enough, but I honestly have NO IDEA how it works.

I made an excruciating choice. I forced my way back into the closet. I denied it. Everywhere I went. “You must be mistaken,” I said. “No, I’m straight”, I said, “That’s just gossip.” I became an empty, shameful shell, unable to accept myself.

Back then, being bisexual meant being an outcast and having to be ashamed of who you were, performing the daily ritual of self-doubt and self-hatred wherein I didn’t know there was any other option but feeling this shitty about myself.


Sophomore year of college, I decided to stop identifying as bisexual. I kicked those boots off and ran through life barefoot. It was a freeing choice, but also painful and disorienting. I swore off labels. I’ll just identify as nothing, it’s fine. I don’t need labels.

Not being bisexual means feeling lost and not really understanding who I am.


I’m in the car with my mom and we’re on the way home one night. My mom asks me, as she does from time to time, if I’m straight as if to check to make sure. Tonight she says, “You know I think you’re bi but you won’t tell me because you think I’d be mad, which I would be.”

I don’t respond because I’m choking back tears, but it’s dark so she can’t see me.

“Being gay is just so hard. It’s a hard life and I don’t want you to have that.”

I don’t tell her it’s not a choice. I don’t tell her it’s because of her attitude and people like her that life is harder for queer people. It’s not worth the fight.

Being bisexual means always having an emotional brick wall between my family, wondering when it’s going to topple over and I’m going to be buried in bricks.


The night my boyfriend asks me out when we’re seniors in high school, I decide to tell him I’m bisexual because I panic and worry about not telling him, becoming emotionally attached and then having him dump me.

I tell him…and he says, “Oh that’s hot…so that means you’re into threesomes?”

I’m happy he takes it well. But we’re also seventeen, and I don’t yet know how to explain the difference between bisexuality and polyamory, so I chalk it off as a win and move on.

Being bisexual means feeling pressured to have to explain who you are, even when it doesn’t feel right, even when you’re not totally ready. And it means being misunderstood, all the time, in so many little ways.


When I discover the word asexual, everything clicks into place.

Seriously.

I’m twenty-years-old and I’m sitting on my bed…and I feel…at peace with myself. I just stumbled upon the word that I wish I’d known about eight years ago. A weight I’ve been carrying around on my chest for years has been lifted.

It really was that easy. Once you’ve spent nearly half your life hating yourself because you’ve been using the wrong word to label yourself, dear reader, things get pretty rosy once you’ve found the right one.

But then I remembered something. Being ace didn’t account for all of the feelings I had about people. Then, I found out being “demibiromantic” was a thing, and that was that.

These labels don’t limit me. Instead they help me get around as a person in the world.

Just a note: being biromantic is just as valid as being bisexual. It still makes you part of the bi community, and if you ever feel excluded, I’m sorry. You matter. I promise.

Anyway, I mean, it was all probably a little more complicated than that, but some simple googling and I was done. That much is true.

Identified.

Feeling good.

Being Tay means being demibiromantic asexual. It means using this label to describe myself, because that’s what fits and no one can tell me it’s wrong, invalid or a “made-up tumblr identity.” And being me means laughing so hard sometimes I snort, being clumsy af and always trying to be a kind person. And being demibiro ace feels like my favorite boots once I’ve slipped them on and zipped them up. These words are going to take me where I need to go, supporting me the whole way.

These labels don’t limit me. Instead they help me get around as a person in the world.

Posted in Blog Series

On a Case Bi Case Basis: “A Soft Bi-lanket” by Carolina @ Santana Reads

Carolina is a badass teenager from Puerto Rico. When she’s not tweeting memes and blogging, she is a co-host for the Latinx Book Club, which you should all support.

When you’re a girl growing up in a heteronormative society, you’re instantly put in a box.  A super tight box. The moment you’re born, your genitals define who you’ll be one day. You instantly become daddy’s girl. Your room is decorated in soft, pastel colors, with pink and purple overpowering everything. Your hair gets put in bows, you get called a little princess. If you breathe beside a boy, you get paired up with them, even if you’re just a 5-year old kid. “Oh, look at you two! You’ll certainly get married someday!”

You get put in dresses and get dolls as birthday presents, and are forced to live in a  castle. A castle you can’t ever get out of. Until, one day, a handsome, royal prince comes to rescue you and change your life. Love you forever.

But what if, somebody doesn’t want to get rescued by a prince? What if they ache for a queen? Or most importantly, what if they don’t care and just want out of the castle? What if, whoever comes, they be prince, princess, or a knight that just lives their life, they just want to love somebody?

According to Google, bisexual means “sexually attracted not exclusively to people of one particular gender; attracted to both men and women.” But I disagree.

And yet, no matter what, the choice of who this princess loves will get judged and spat on. Criticized and picked apart. Why would you want a princess when mighty princes are right there? Why waste energy saying you want a prince when you end up settling down with a gorgeous girl? Why say you long for a royal when you end up loving somebody who is neither and doesn’t fit into the two stupid, fragile boxes?

It sort of feels that way when the people around you ask if there’s a boy you like. Because everybody has to have a boy crush, right? Because if you don’t have one, there’s obviously something wrong.

In all honesty, what does bi mean to me, really?

Is it liking boys and girls and nonbinary folks? Is it passionately waving around a flag with three stripes of the colors pink, purple, and blue? Is it having to resist your screams when somebody says being bi means 50% gay, 50% straight? Is it laying in bed every night wondering who you’ll end up with someday? Is it daydreaming about having accepting parents who don’t give a fuck about who you marry? Is it screeching when you find out a celebrity uses the same label as you and you cry happy tears because you know you’re valid and you matter? Is it having to stand people confusing bisexuality and pansexuality when both labels are equally valid and important?

The truth is, I don’t know. Or at least, not yet.

According to Google, bisexual means “sexually attracted not exclusively to people of one particular gender; attracted to both men and women.” But I disagree.

There has never been, there isn’t, and there will never be a right or wrong to be bi. Some bi people are not attracted to the binary genders. Others are attracted to women and nonbinary femme folks. Some like men and nonbinary masc folks. And that’s okay.

Because to me, being bi is just a label. A soft blanket I can wrap around myself to find comfort, happiness and validity in myself. It’s warm and made of cotton, and I adore cuddling with it. And whether some poor, ignorant soul doesn’t like or understand the pattern of my blanket, it won’t matter. Because this blanket is my favorite and no one is going to snatch it away from me anytime soon.

I might grow tired of it. The cotton may start to itch my skin someday. Maybe the pattern won’t be my favorite forever. But this blanket, right here, is the one that helps me sleep at night, shields me from my nightmares. And I love it.

Posted in Blog Series

On a Case Bi Case Basis: Esmé @ Esmoogle Reads

Esmé is a UK based book blogger who blogs at Esmoogle Reads, where she is the creator of #TheBookRecLottery. You can also find her on Twitter.

What does it mean to you to be bi?

For me, in straightforward terms, it means this: I like men. I like women.

However, it never actually is that straightforward, is it?

When I first came out to a few people, their first response was to ask ‘but how do you know you’re bi when you’ve only ever been with men?’.

I guess it’s a valid question; throughout school I giggled with my friends over crushes on boys, had few semi-serious boyfriends through my late teens and am currently coming to the five year mark of a relationship with a pretty wonderful guy. We moved away from home and in with each other, have discussed marriage and kids, and are fairly certain that we’re going to be together for life.

So am I allowed to be bi if I’ve been so biased (pardon the pun) to one gender? And how do I know I’m bi if I’ve never been with a woman?

I didn’t and don’t get mad when people ask me this because the truth is, I’ve asked myself the same questions over and over. Anytime I have a crisis of sexuality – maybe I am straight? Maybe I’ve just confused myself? – I constantly question whether I have a right to claim the label of bisexuality and flag my lack of experience with women as evidence to undermine myself.

But the thing is – I do like women. My boyfriend and I discuss our celebrity crushes and our taste in women (Emma Stone, Lily James) overlap. An attractive woman walking down the street catches my eye as much as a fit guy does. When someone asks me my ‘type’ I think of long blonde hair and narrow waists, as much as I do strong jawlines and biceps.

There are a few things that have knocked this thought process out of my mind and they were all a part of pop culture. Bi representation is scarce, but a few areas of it helped me come to terms with my specific situation; what I identify as versus my experience in the real world.

Stephanie Beatriz’s phenomenal GQ article where she points out that marrying a man doesn’t make her any less bi. There was every possibility that Beatriz could have met a woman and married her, but it turned out in this life her partner is going to be a male. Since she identifies as bi and under that umbrella is interested in women and men. Therefore by being in a romantic and sexual relationship with a man, she’s meeting her own terms of attraction and it doesn’t change her sexuality.

Another was the novel Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy. It is by no means a perfect novel, but I really resonated with the main character. Without giving away spoilers (because I thoroughly recommend this novel!) she believes she is a lesbian then develops a relationship that leads her to doubt that label. This is confusing for her, because she has always been insistent that she likes girls and girls alone – but she can’t deny this new attraction, even though it is towards a guy. Ramona decides not re-label herself, but understands that her sexuality is fluid and she is the one who chooses

When the CW show DC’s Legends of Tomorrow came out, I was a big part of the Captain Canary fandom, a ship which included a bisexual woman and a man who at the time didn’t have a canon sexuality but was championed as pansexual. There was uproar as Sara Lance, the aforementioned bi woman, had previously had a relationship with a woman. So many tumblr arguments broke out that she shouldn’t be with a man because she’s bisexual and honestly it made me want to bash my head against my desk. I’m really proud that the CC fandom, or at least the little branch I was a part of, remained collected and constantly pointed out calmly that Sara had expressed interest in men and women before – the current ship wanting her to be with a man didn’t cancel out her bisexuality. In fact, it suited it because, uh, she liked men too so dating a man was consistent with the sexuality she’d represented so far in her time onscreen.

Bi means an attraction to more than one gender, so if you find a person that fits the categories you like, whether that is cis, trans or fluid, then hey – you nailed it!

All of these elements made me understand that my lack of experience doesn’t negate the potential for it; there is no reason I haven’t had experience with women other than I haven’t met one I’m interested in romantically or sexually! I went to Catholic school where relationships of any kind were scrutinised; my teenage friends weren’t against other sexualities, but it was never an open discussion either; same with my family – we just kind of mind our own businesses despite loving each other madly.

I naturally drifted towards men, despite fancying female celebrities to the same degree, which was really my only indicator that I had an interest. Even then, it took me a couple of years to realise that that was a valid indication I liked girls too, my lack of experience in the real world and the term ‘girl-crush’ being thrown around making me feel that I just admired or looked up to those women. I mean, I did that too, but I also kind of wanted to kiss Captain America and Peggy Carter, y’know?

I know that in another scenario, where I was single and looking, women would be on my radar just as much as men. If I had more mainstream representation of bisexuality when I was younger, I probably would have joined the dots earlier and actively sought out relationships with both genders.

But just because I haven’t doesn’t make me any less bi than the person dating women and men.

Bi means an attraction to more than one gender, so if you find a person that fits the categories you like, whether that is cis, trans or fluid, then hey – you nailed it! It doesn’t make you straight to meet the opposite gender and end up with them. You identify as bi and you are bi.

Despite all my worrying and the world’s narrowed (but hopefully and slowly widening) scope of representation confusing me I know one thing: I like men. I like women. I have been in a relationship with a guy for nearly five years, but I still find women attractive. I’ll maybe never experience dating or sleeping with a woman, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want either of those things.

Sometimes I just need the reminder, that actually, yes, it is that straightforward.

That’s what it means to me to be bi. And I’m pretty proud of that.

Posted in Blog Series

On a Case Bi Case Basis: Shelly Jay

Shelly is a queer writer, disabled Jew and non-profit professional. I am so excited for their #BigQueerFuneralHomeNovel to be a thing one day and even more thrilled to share this post they wrote with all of you today. You can find Shelly on Twitter.

I come out as bi to my dad in a moving car, on a rainy day in 2003. The station wagon smells like the cigarettes my mother no longer pretends not to know about and the stale salt of fast food. I watch the blurred lights of the road pass by as I say the words.

This is what I remember: We are sitting side-by-side in the front seat, not making eye contact. We come to an intersection. I am acutely aware of the hum of other cars around us. I have my fingers on the handle of the door. I am not fast, but I am, in that moment, at thirteen, in some primal way, aware that there may be a need to escape.

My father’s response is so noncommittal that it has faded from memory, as if what I have told him (worldchanging, a shift in identity and personhood and a realization of self) is as insignificant as a reminder about a homework assignment, an extra rehearsal. I take my hand off the door.

The light turns green. We drive.


When I talk to other bisexuals about what it means to be bi, the most common thing we share is not how we define our attraction but that feeling of existing on the fringes of communities: included, but just-slightly-unwanted, just-slightly-other. Too straight to be properly queer, too queer to be properly straight, too trendy to be genuine, too flightly to be monogamous, too sexualized to be respectable, too privileged to be marginalized.

When I talk to other bisexuals about what it means to be bi, the most common thing we share is not how we define our attraction but that feeling of existing on the fringes of communities: included, but just-slightly-unwanted, just-slightly-other.

If we are loud, we are trying too hard. If we are silent, fading into the background, then we are straight-passing, invisible.

One month, in college, I keep a count of the times I come out in a single month: through references to past partners, entrances to queer spaces, to the doctor who asked about my sexual history, in classes, at parties. I still have the notebook.

Twenty-four times in a month. An average of just under once per day.

And yet:

“Shelly considers herself part of that community,” my mother-in-law says at a Passover seder, after I have read a passage from the Stonewall Seder haggaddah, integrating it into our ritual discussion, when one of the other guests asks a question about why I’ve used the word queer instead of “a more politically correct term.”

I don’t think she sees me flinch. My husband does, and he puts his hand on my leg. Peacekeeping. Respectable.

Silent.


My mother is supportive. She sends me links to novels she thinks I’ll like, written by queer authors. She sends me links to events during Pride month. She sends me articles about queer culture that her friends send to her that she thinks I’ll find interesting.

I have never heard her say the word bisexual out loud.


I meet the boy who will become my husband when I am twelve years old. At first glance, I think he’s a girl, with his long hair and his big eyes and the features he hasn’t yet grown into, ears and nose still too big for the rest of his face.

Then he dives across seven feet of grass to catch a frisbee. Boy, I think, and, still set in the gender divides of childhood, I dismiss him. He and I will be summer camp acquaintances, orbiting in vague awareness of each other for another seven years. Friendly, but not friends.

(My strongest memory of him, in these years: The end of summer banquet, 2004. He comes down to dinner in a borrowed denim skirt, a spaghetti-strap top, flip-flops, the height of camp fashion. His hair out of its usual ponytail. The camp director makes him change, and he goes up to his bunk and returns in an orange prison jumpsuit.

“Why did you have that?” I hear someone ask.

He shrugs, unrepentant. “It’s a protest,” he says. “I’m a rebel.”

I give him a high five at dinner. My reputation at camp: one of the gay anime girls. In those years, at Jewish camp, that was enough to make you an outsider. An inadvertent rebel. Maybe it’s solidarity.

We share a grin.)


Studies have shown that bi people report twice the rate of depression as straight adults. We have higher rates of binge drinking. Compared to both lesbians and heterosexual women, bisexual women report high rates of emotional stress as teenagers, higher rates of drug use, and low levels of emotional well-being.

Compared to both lesbians and heterosexual women, bisexual women report high rates of emotional stress as teenagers, higher rates of drug use, and low levels of emotional well-being.

Bisexual adults are three times more likely to report thoughts of suicide than heterosexual adults. According to the Bisexual Resource Center, over 40 percent of bisexuals have considered or attempted suicide.

It is comforting to know that my experience is within a standard deviation of the norm.


Identity comes in layers, and I drape mine on, one after another. Disability is a marker and Judaism is another, both just another step away from the norm, but both just invisible enough to go unnoticed.

But does marginalization count, asks the queer community, like a barb, if you can pass on the street? If you can walk hand-in-hand with your partner, or kiss them or smile at them or marry them, and no one wants to spit in your face? Why even say you’re bi, when you might as well just be straight?

(How many times can you ask, what’s the difference between passing and hiding, before it’s too tiring to bother?)


The second time I meet the boy who will become my husband, we are eighteen and in the same summer camp dining hall. I have grown past the defensive first bloom of queerness, of throwing up walls at the slightest hint of any desire that might threaten my credibility in the community. Grown into a sense of bisexuality that acknowledges the fluidity of attraction.

He has grown into his features, and into his smile.

I greet the flutter in my chest with open arms.


The questions I have to wonder about, but never ask out loud:

Would my parents have helped pay for this wedding if I hadn’t married a man?

Would my family have come?

Would my grandmother have made that speech that made everyone cry?

Would…

“I don’t get why you drive yourself crazy like this,” my straight, cis husband says, when I tell him I still wonder these things, years after the ketubah has been framed. “It’s all hypothetical, right? So does it even matter?”

How do I say, it matters to me?


My sexuality is never a secret in our relationship. I wear it on my sleeve, but I make it clear that it is a part of me to be loved, not fetishized. The girls in my past will not be reduced to anonymous sexual encounters, to be whispered about in bed as a spice. They are my first crush, the first girl whose hand I had to convince myself to hold, terrified and sweaty-palmed, the first girl I kissed and the sticky-sweet taste of Smackers lip gloss.

Each of them real and whole.


I meet the girl who will become our girlfriend through an online writing group, and like my husband, she is my friend first. We exchange Tumblr messages and then Snapchats and then texts until I finally admit that the whole queerplatonic thing isn’t quite so platonic, and bring it up to my husband.

He’s known about her as a friend. He doesn’t, to my surprise, object to the idea of putting the word girl first. We have talked circles around polyamory for years. It’s never actually clicked into place like this.

“Dating your friends is queer culture,” she and I say, a running joke, and my husband will make a face, just to the left of excluded.

One of us will ruffle his hair, then, comforting. “You’re queer-adjacent,” I’ll remind him. “With your nonbinary bi wife and your bi girlfriend. No one would kick you out of Pride.”

“You can go without me,” he says, a little bit joking, but mostly not.

Over his head, she looks at me, and I look back. A moment of eye contact, a scrunched-up nose, and we move on.


I have forgotten, in the years with my straight husband, what it is like to be with another queer person–specifically, another bi person. The shared experiences, the tiny jokes, coming together into a sensation like a weighted blanket, comforting and safe.

(“Are you a flannel bi or a hoodie bi or a leather jacket bi?”

“Stop trying to make me choose things!”)

Why can I apply this loud and proud bisexuality, this open-hearted it’s who you love, not who you’re dating, this your bisexuality isn’t invalidated by the gender of your partner soulfulness to anyone but myself?

My marriage is a blessing but parts of the queer community has made me feel like it comes with barbed wire–aren’t you straight now and you might be bi but you’re in a straight relationship, and bi hets don’t belong in queer spaces, a thousand papercuts that sink into the skin. I shout like a champion for the other married bi people I know and dissolve into a molten pool of internalized biphobia when it comes to myself.

It hurts that I feel more valid now, with her hand in mine on the New York sidewalk or her head on my shoulder as we read on the couch, than I did a year ago. Why can I apply this loud and proud bisexuality, this open-hearted it’s who you love, not who you’re dating, this your bisexuality isn’t invalidated by the gender of your partner soulfulness to anyone but myself?

I huff. She looks at me. Her hair gets in my nose, and I move it away. “What?” she says.

“Internalized biphobia,” I say, “is a bitch.”

“Oh, yeah,” she agrees. “Mood.”

She puts her head back on my shoulder. A few minutes later, my husband comes back from walking the dogs, face wind-kissed. He grins at us like we’re made of sunshine, and my heart feels too big for my chest.


“It’s Aesop’s Bat,” my friend Jaime says.

We are in Bryant Park, sharing a bowl of mac and cheese. I have just finished telling her about this essay, about boiling what being bisexual means to me down into words, when it is so many layers of love and sex and attraction and frustration and teaching and hate and trauma. She has a cup of coffee. I have had three of those already, and have moved onto bourbon.

“Say more,” I say.

We have just wrapped up a somewhat furious, somewhat intellectual conversation about gatekeeping in queer communities. I don’t think the people around us enjoyed it.

I wrote a song about it,” she says. “The bi metaphor of it. In the war between the Birds and the Beasts, the Bat doesn’t know who to join. He has fur, so he could join the Beasts, but he also has wings, so he could join the Birds. At first they both want him, but then they see what he has in common with the other side, so they both push him away. So finally he’s like, oh, shit, I’m my own thing, and he flies off alone.”

“That,” I say, “is grim as fuck.” I consider the saturated cherry at the bottom of my drink. “Presumably, somewhere,” I say, “there are other bats.”

“Oh, sure,” she says. The afternoon sunlight glints off the ruby in her engagement ring. Like me, she is married; like me, to a man. She knows, as well as I do, what it feels like to be erased. “But you’ve gotta find them.”


What does it mean to me, then, to be bisexual? It’s a crowded room of strangers, uninterested in talking. Some of them glaring, some of them with closed fists, armed with brass knuckles. Some of them reaching out to touch, careless of any no. Some of them smiling, open hands concealing sharp tongues.

And then, across the room, sudden and unexpected and delightful–eye contact. A sense of being seen. Known. Shared. Of a common history, of community, of humor and connection and shame and love.

A flock of bats, in a room of birds and beasts.