Bi Bi Bi
Published February 23, 2018.
Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend. Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere. Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow. Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman. Aminatou: Hello! Ann: Oh my god, I am so excited about what's about to happen. Aminatou: Beyond excited. Okay, here's what's going on: we are turning the show over to Gina Delvac, owner of ginadelvac.com, the website that is still not up. [Laughs] Ann: The yummiest voice in radio and in podcasting Gina Delvac. Aminatou: Oh my gosh, wear your softest cashmere and settle in for this because it's going to be very sexy and great. Gina: This is CYG producer Gina Delvac. My website is in the works and I hope you're very cozy. On this week's agenda we're talking about bisexuality, the letter B in LGBTQ alphabet. [Theme Song] (2:00) Gina: Well before we jump into my sexy episode we have an announcement. Ann: Oh my god, okay, so as you may already know from listening to this podcast or maybe because you follow Amina on Instagram she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in December. Gina: Thankfully her doctors caught it early and she's getting the very best medical care. Ann: But throughout her diagnosis and treatment recently and in recent years she's received lots of blood transfusions which got us thinking, me and Gina, about a blood drive as a way for us and all of you to show our support for her. Gina: So Ann Friedman has coordinated a nationwide blood drive coming this March and April hopefully to a city near you. We're going to be in a bunch of different places. These donations don't go directly to Amina but they help so many people in need and we want to especially give a shout out to our African-American listeners. There's an urgent need for donations from people from all backgrounds and communities and currently there is a preponderance of white people donating blood. Ann: And this is where you all come in. Obviously we need people to show up and give the blood so let's do that. Let's all show Amina some deep, deep CYG love. Gina: Go to callyourgirlfriend.com/blooddrive, there's two Ds in there but no space, to find out if you're eligible to give blood and sign up for a specific date and time to donate. Ann: We're super excited because the slots are filling up quickly for our drives which are in L.A., San Francisco, New York, Chicago, D.C., Austin, and potentially another city or two coming soon. Gina: If you're not in one of those cities or our drive dates don't work for you no big deal. There's a form on our site where you can tell us you gave so we can count that too. Ann: There are lots of other ways to help too if you can't donate blood. Those of us here at CYG, i.e. all three of us, think a lot of the restrictions on who is allowed to give blood in this country are pretty fucking discriminatory especially when it comes to donations from gay men but those regulations are set by the FDA and all of the blood banks that we've partnered with for this drive have to comply with FDA regulations. So it's not our point-of-view, it's not even necessarily their point-of-view, but we all have to comply with the FDA. (4:15) Gina: Once again you can go to callyourgirlfriend.com/blooddrive and if you go with your bestie either to one of our drives or on your own tag your selfie with the hashtag #bleedin4amina, B-L-E-E-D-I-N, the number four, Amina. Ann: Ugh, yes, get a crew, give blood. This is a social thing as well as a good deed which is why we're so excited about it and I know all of you are going to give so much. Get all the info. Sign up at callyourgirlfriend.com/blooddrive. Gina: So Ann and Amina sometimes like to tease me about my public radio voice which is definitely in full effect right now. It's late on Thursday night when I'm normally finishing up editing the show and I'm recording this introduction in my bedroom which feels like a fitting setting for a kind of more intimate conversation that I was really interested in having about the ways in which women express our identities sexually and specifically for those of us like me who identify as bisexual because it's a sexual orientation that is an identity more than say a community. Bisexual people tend to move between queer and hetero worlds so I wanted to hear more about other people's experiences. First we're going to hear from Jenn Vencill who is an assistant professor in the program in human sexuality at the University of Minnesota and quite a bit of her research focuses on bisexual people's experience on a qualitative and quantitative level in terms of health outcomes, in terms of sexual satisfaction, and so we're going to hear more about that from Jenn. And then later I talk to Catie Disabato, novelist, writer, and hilarious human on Twitter about her personal experience. We're both bi. She's in a relationship with a woman. I'm in a relationship with a man so we kind of look at some of the intersecting ways that we think about ourselves and also how differently people might see us. (6:30) Before we get started I wanted to say that this is only the beginning of this conversation. For this episode we're really talking about bisexuality in women and predominately in cis-gendered women but we would love to hear all kinds of experiences you have with your sexuality, with your identity, and as always you can email us at email@example.com or leave us a voicemail, 714-681-CYGF. Okay, now here's Jenn. [Interview Starts] Jennifer: My name's Jennifer Vencill. I'm an assistant professor at the Program in Human Sexuality which is a specialty unit within family medicine and community health here at the University of Minnesota Medical School. So I'm both a professor here but I'm also a psychologist so I see clients 60% of my time, most of my week, and then the rest of my week is dedicated to kind of research and teaching and scholarly work. Gina: Thanks so much for being on the podcast, Jennifer. I really appreciate it. Jennifer: I'm a fan so thank you for having me. Gina: So one of the things that really intrigued me about the abstract that you sent over was a couple of phrases that you use in your research. One of them is a mixed orientation relationship and another one is bi-negativity. And what do those mean? Can you kind of unpack those a little bit for us? Jennifer: Absolutely. So mixed orientation relationship is sort of a newer phrase that I'm really trying to introduce through my research. Historically in the research literature and sort of in the clinical literature as well for therapists we used to hear the phrase mixed orientation marriage or MOMs, M-O-Ms. And what that really referred to and for a long time the definition that was being used throughout the academic and clinical literature was there is a heterosexual or a straight spouse married to somebody who comes out either as lesbian, gay, or bisexual or in some way has some same-sex attraction. And this definition was used for years. It still continues to be used quite a bit. (8:25) So the work I'm trying to do which really stems from my clinical work is to try to really expand that definition to make it more inclusive. So we know for example not everyone's married so the spouse piece is problematic in that definition. Gina: Sure. Jennifer: We also know that definition of a mixed orientation marriage really obscures sexual minority relationships, so somebody for example who's bisexual dating somebody who is lesbian or gay and that traditional definition of mixed orientation totally erases those relationships. So my work has really kind of picked up in that place. Gina: Yeah, that makes so much sense and especially when you think about who had access to marriage over the years and now to mention how heterosexual rates of marriage are declining. Jennifer: Absolutely. And so what we saw, and you would hear this kind of in clinical conferences too and therapists would get together to talk about cases or things they're seeing but also in the research literature, these mixed orientation marriages back then using that phrase it was really seen as a catastrophe and a trauma. So folks would be married for decades, right? And presumably heterosexual. Nobody really questioned that because usually it was a cis-gendered man or cis-gendered woman presumed heterosexual, right? Gina: Right. Jennifer: Then somebody came out as either lesbian, gay, bisexual, or same-sex attracted in some way and it was seen as this big explosion and how do we save the marriage? How do we prevent divorce? Can these couples kind of work through this sexual orientation difference or these attraction differences? And people have different feelings about whether or not that's possible for sure. But I also think that's not what we're seeing as much of these days so like I said my research is really informed by my clinical work and so a lot of the couples I was saying, I think there's a younger generational difference in this too, but a lot of the couples I was seeing in my office already knew they had differing sexual orientations either before they got together or shortly thereafter. (10:15) Because I'm an out bisexual woman myself a lot of the couples I was getting, somebody in that couple identified as bi. And so this was coming up in session even if that wasn't exactly what they were presenting to therapy to talk about. It would often come up. And when I looked in the research literature to say hey, what do we know about this there was really, really nothing. Gina: And just to get a sense of numbers do you have an approximate sense of how many bi-identified people there are in the US or worldwide? Jennifer: The prevalence rates are really hard to get. There's a Williams Institute research brief that came out in 2011 which at this point is a little bit dated now but they did a nice job of looking at kind of representative studies and estimated it's about 1.8% of the population which is actually bigger than the combined numbers for lesbian- and gay-identified people. So there are several population-based studies that show bisexual individuals as sort of a subgroup of the queer and trans community are actually the largest subgroup which is something I don't think a lot of folks realize. Gina: I think it's so interesting because I mean we've been using kind of academic terms but I think I'm also an out bisexual person in a mixed orientation relationship. I have a heterosexual male partner. I mean I think there's a sense that it's just not cool to be bi. Did you hear that from any of your study participants? Jennifer: Yeah, I mean, you know, I think you had asked me earlier or in your email perhaps about what is -- now that we have more folks identifying as queer or pan-sexual, that certainly came up in these focus groups. And what we found, the research team found, was folks would use different labels depending on the safety of the context they were in. Gina: Oh, that's so interesting. Say more, yeah. (11:55) Jennifer: Yeah, so some folks would tell us "I feel like when I came out to my family my family knows gay, lesbian, bisexual. They sort of have a framework for that even though they may not know exactly what that is. They have an idea. And so when I'm with my family or when I came out to my family I used the term bisexual but when I'm out kind of with my peers or with my friends I use the term queer and that feels better in that context because I know that they know what that means." And whatever that is that that means for that person because I think it's different depending on who you ask. So we heard that a lot where people would say "Well, depending on who I'm with or if it's safe sometimes I won't identify at all. Sometimes I'll let people assume that I'm lesbian or straight or gay based on my partner," so that's something that also happens with these mixed orientation relationships. Gina: Totally. And we connected through one of your colleagues and one of the reasons she recommended I talk to you was the feeling of invisibility that bisexual people can have since we are attracted to people of multiple genders. So if you're in a long, monogamous relationship there is that sense of you are what your partner is or you are kind of what you demonstrate to the world. Jennifer: Yeah, I'll never forget -- and this is many years back -- but I had a friend, a close friend who is fairly knowledgeable about sexual and minority issues say to me "Well you're straight now. You're dating a straight person so that makes you straight." Gina: [Laughs] Jennifer: And I was like no, that's not how this works. My identity is not dictated by virtue of whoever I happen to be dating. That's not how identity salience works. Gina: Right. Jennifer: But this was somebody who was also in the academic world and frankly should've known. And so if that's happening kind of in my ivory tower bubble you can just imagine what's happening kind of in the everyday world. Gina: Totally, and you sort of hit on this but I think some of this is changing really fast generationally. But definitely I think people kind of around our age, 30s or older, there's still so many misconceptions and even still the discomfort around the word queer, the unappropriated sense of that word. (14:00) Jennifer: What I heard a lot from our research participants were ways that they fought for visibility in their mixed orientation relationships and it sort of depended on kind of how out they were in general as you might imagine. But, you know, making sure that they were at queer and trans social events. We in the Twin Cities are particularly lucky. We actually have a non-profit here specifically for bisexual individuals which is something . . . I've lived in a couple major cities across the country and it's something I've never seen before. Gina: Yeah. Jennifer: So there's a lot of bisexual -- out, proud bisexual-specific community resources here. And so folks will talk about going to those events with my partner who does not identify as bisexual, or if I'm dating somebody straight making sure they're with me at the pride festivals, things like that, or that I'm constantly coming out to people because I don't want to be erased. I don't want to be assumed something based on how people perceive my partner. Gina: Part of this episode for me is motivated by a personal sense of being a queer person in a heterosexual relationship that my queerness, it doesn't . . . not that it doesn't matter but in the fight for civil rights it feels much lower on the list because I know I do experience those privileges of being perceived as a heterosexual woman. Jennifer: Yeah, and I think every now and then you'll hear the term straight-passing applied to bisexual folks. That's a term I struggle with because I think there's some truth, right? There's some privilege as you've acknowledged. But I go back to that's also erasure, right? That's erasure of identities and that can have profoundly negative impacts on people mentally, physically, health-wise. And so I struggle with that, with that concept and that phrase. Gina: Yeah, and what are some of the health outcomes or issues that are specific to bisexual people? Bisexual women in particular. (16:00) Jennifer: Bisexual women in particular, the existing research that we have shows an alarming rate of intimate partner violence. Bisexual women are survivors and victims of intimate partner violence at a higher level than any other gender or sexual orientation which is horrifying to think about. So that in particular. Certainly we have some data to suggest there are higher rates of particular types of mental health concerns, so depression and anxiety kind of top that list. There are also pretty high rates of lifetime suicidality. Ideation, not necessarily attempts, but thoughts about suicide. That sort of thing. Gina: Yeah. Jennifer: So for me as a psychologist that's kind of the foundation of my training. That's really alarming. That's a problem, especially when a lot of the data would suggest that bisexual folks are the biggest kind of sub-component of the queer and trans community in terms of numbers. And we don't hear about them and there are not bisexual-specific resources in most places. And I think it's really important to say, and this is true of any sort of sexual or gender minority that we might be talking about, but it's not that they're having mental health concerns because they're bi. That's not a causal thing. The research would really suggest it's about that minority stress piece, right? It's about feeling erased. It's about feeling rejected from both the lesbian and the gay community and the straight community, right? Like where do you fit in if nobody wants you? That level of rejection has really negative mental health consequences for a lot of people. Gina: Yeah, it sounds like really profound consequences. I want to flip also to a slightly less sad side of things [Laughs] because I think . . . Jennifer: There are lots of resilient and amazing bisexual people doing fantastic things. Gina: Absolutely, and I think there's a lot of joy to being a bisexual person. Jennifer: Yeah. Gina: And we're going to hear a little bit more about this later in the episode as well. One of the things you looked at is sexual satisfaction and that's an area you've been exploring more that hasn't existed previously in the research. Do I have that correct? Jennifer: Yes, yes. (18:02) Gina: And so what are you finding about what bisexual people report about how happy they are getting it on? Jennifer: That it seems to be going well. I mean what we are finding is sort of in-tune with previous literature that if there are mental health concerns, depression, anxiety, and so on, that sexual functioning and satisfaction tends to take a hit which makes a lot of sense. I think if you're not feeling well emotionally or psychologically it's hard to kind of want to be getting it on and feel really intimate. Gina: Right. Insert RuPaul here, yeah. Jennifer: And so we tend to see that correlation. As mental health concerns go up sexual satisfaction and functioning go down. I think that's common sensical in some ways, so that's been sort of replicated in my research. But in terms of satisfaction, regardless of sort of the partner or sexual orientation, we're finding that things are good. People are reporting the ability to be creative and to be experimental and to be focused on pleasure with their partners and part of that comes out of what we heard over and over again which is being in a mixed orientation relationship requires way more communication than I ever thought it would because there is this major difference. It doesn't have to be a bad thing but it is a difference that's -- you know, it's a core part of your identity. And so if you are actively talking about that with your partner it means you probably have a better level and foundation of communication which makes things better in bed if you're able to communicate. [Laughs] This is something that sex therapists have known for years, right? The more you're able to talk about it and talk to your partner and feel comfortable opening up to your partner the better sex you're probably going to have. Gina: Right. You don't have to be into dirty talking but talking will make things better and dirtier. [Laughs] Jennifer: What you love, what you're into. What are your hard limits, right? Gina: Totally. Right, rather than that sense of someone else needs to guess for me or tell me or open me up. You know, you can be clear about and own what you want. Jennifer, anything else that we should talk about either that's salient in your research or that we missed about kind of setting the scene for bi people? (20:00) Jennifer: I would just say this grant that I just submitted, the National Institutes of Health are kind of finally onboard. They use the term sexual and gender minorities which is why I've been using that term today but it was just a year-and-a-half ago or so in 2016 that they said "This is a health disparity population. We know that the LGBTQ community is facing huge health disparities." And so this grant that I'm putting in is sort of saying "Yes, and this isn't just LGBTQ versus heterosexual folks in terms of health disparities but within the queer and trans community we see these major health disparities and bisexual folks are at particular risk." And so that's actually what this grant is about that I just put in. Gina: That's awesome. Thanks so much for being on the show, Jennifer. We appreciate it. Jennifer: It was great to meet you. Thanks Gina. [Interview Ends] Gina: Thanks again to Jennifer Vencill at the University of Minnesota Program in Human Sexuality. More info about Jenn on our website at callyourgirlfriend.com. [Music and Ads] (24:42) Gina: So thanks for sticking with me on this journey into the many multiple experiences of bisexual people. My next guest is writer Catie Disabato who was kind enough to come to my house and sit in my living room and answer my many questions about her identity, her sex life, and some of her favorite depictions and least favorite depictions of bisexuality in media. Check it out. Catie: My name is Catie Disabato, and you mean how I want to be identified in terms of my sexuality? Okay. Gina: Sure, but also in terms of what you do. Catie: I'm a writer and I identify as bisexual or queer. Gina: Okay. Catie: And that's why we're chatting. Gina: Yes, and we're both cis gender white women. Catie: Yes. Gina: We are both extremely privileged people on a social level. Catie: Yes, yeah. Gina: And some of the stuff that we both maybe experience differently or in common would be pretty different with someone who has a different intersection of identities than ours. Catie: Absolutely, and for me not only am I a cis gender white woman but I tend to be pretty straight-presenting. Like if I'm not out literally with my girlfriend or even when I am which we'll probably talk about later I don't come off as queer unless I'm really, really marketing myself as queer which I don't do generally. I just tend to present pretty straight in terms of how I dress and I think part of that is just because there are some pretty stereotypical ideas about the ways that lesbians look out there and it doesn't tend to flatter girls who have big boobs which I do have. Yeah. And I'm not very high-fem, because you see those queer women that are like -- you can tell they're queer. They're queer-marked but super high-fem. It's like a vibes thing. I don't go there either. Gina: I am also a queer person. I identify as bisexual and in that kind of being marked or not frequently feel like a queer person in straight clothing not just by my gender and fashion presentation but also because I'm in a long-term relationship with a man. So I think we are kind of in, as you're hearing us stake out . . . [Laughs] We have a lot of demographic qualities in common. Catie: Yes. Gina: Where we live, what city, our age, our rough gender presentation although I'm a brunette. I love being a brunette. Catie: Yeah, and I'm a blonde. [Laughs] Gina: There's a funny thing about being a queer person or a bisexual person in particular in a closed relationship where you have the piece that is your -- and everyone has this to some extent. You have a piece that is your identity and you have a piece that is your partner. Catie: Right. Gina: And just being so marked by essentially who you fuck versus -- in that moment, versus who you are to yourself. How did you come to embrace the labels you do or don't choose and kind of what was your youthful journey towards picking the unpopular B on the rainbow of letters? (27:55) Catie: Well what's interesting is when I was coming out as bisexual I came out for the first time to anybody outside of my own head when I was 18. I was pretty well aware of it when I was younger and super consciously did not come out in high school because I didn't want to make high school harder for me. I came out when I was in college and at the time I was coming out I had, you know, just made new friends who at the time identified as bisexual. I don't know if they would now. I didn't feel like the only person that was taking on that label at the moment which it was very comfortable to sort of be . . . like I felt like I had a community of not just queer women around me but a community of bisexual women. Some of the people that I've remained closer to, their identity -- their sexuality -- has evolved either . . . has evolved away from bisexuality as a label. And I don't know, I never evolved away from it just due to my nature. I'd really thought through my sexuality before I first came out and it felt right and I can also be a little bit of a contrarian so I'm not the kind of person . . . I'm the kind of person who would dig in my heels a little bit when told -- like when given the cultural feedback that being bisexual is not cool or not real. I'm the kind of person that would dig in my heels, not reassess. So I think that probably to a certain extent a lot of the kind of negative things that people say about bisexuality has helped me to reaffirm that word as the word that I use to describe my identity. I just want to be totally clear that the word itself, bi of course being a prefix that means two, that bisexuality meaning somebody that is sexually interested in two genders -- male or female -- that's not how I define it. To me bisexuality is about being sexually and romantically open to dating people of any and all genders. Gender is not a factor in the way that I develop sexual and romantic relationships. And so that encompasses the entire spectrum of gender rather than just two. So I just want to say that upfront, like that is how I identify, and I do not think there is any problem with using the word bisexual and defining it like that especially considering the way language evolves so quickly. (30:22) Gina: Totally. Catie: Bi as a prefix does not have to automatically mean that you're upholding the gender binary by identifying that way and I think it's kind of like -- it would be an ignorant and reductive argument for people to think that nowadays. Gina: I agree that I think the word bisexual feels like it arises from cis gendered people's approach to sexuality. It's hard for me to picture -- at least for myself it's a label that I feel comfortable in and that I don't know how I would feel if I myself were gender queer because . . . Catie: I know and I totally understand that. I do think that it -- like it's a desire as old as time but as a word I think it has the flare of the '90s. Gina: Totally. Catie: It has the stink of the '90s all over it. Just because a word was born somewhere and was born out of a mentality does not mean the word stays that way. Gina: Right. Catie: As soon as a word is born it becomes flexible. Gina: Yeah, totally. Catie: Just like sexuality. Gina: Eh! You mentioned coming out and the process of coming out multiple times. What's your current feeling on that? Because you have written about this in the past with your girlfriend Anna Dorn, co-bylined. Catie: Yes, that was fun. Gina: By bylines. Catie: Yeah, by byline. Gina: Do you feel that because your girlfriend is also fem-presenting that you are sort of subjected to this reclaiming and declaiming your identities more often? (31:55) Catie: Oh yeah. I mean one thing about coming out that . . . I think the idea of it sort of culturally still is it's like a boundary in your life. It's like you're not out then you are out and you kind of come out and then you're done and you're out. Gina: A little jack in the box. Catie: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. And, you know, I think that actually the process of coming out is something that a lot of people have to do all the time. Not everybody but I absolutely have to come out to every single person that I ever meet, like I'm not telling the people at the McDonald's drive thru "I would like a half meal and I'm bisexual" but people do not assume that I'm queer often even if they meet me when I'm with my girlfriend. They don't assume that we're together unless we're being particularly touchy-feely which neither one of us are super big PDA people. You would be surprised the mental gymnastics that people have to go through to understand that we're a couple even when it's literally in their face. Gina: You have one story about being at a bar and a guy is trying to flirt with you while Anna is there. What happened? Catie: Oh god, this was really funny. He -- Anna was my introduction into this group of people so he was definitely being very flirtatious but he asked me a pretty normal question which was how Anna and I met. And I was like "Oh, we met on Tinder." Which is true. And he paused, computed this piece of information, and then was like "Oh, that's really cool you could make friends on Tinder. I didn't realize people were just out there making friends on Tinder." And I was like no, no, we met on Tinder for dating. We're dating. And so it was really funny that he went through these total mental gymnastics to make it make sense with an idea that he had and I had to spell it out so dramatically because if somebody said they met on Tinder they'd have to really say "But we're friends." (34:00) Gina: That's so funny. How does this come up for you at work? Because I think one of the things that you alluded to in this piece was both the small ways that you choose to or else are culturally obligated to come out all the time versus a more in-the-moment approach that Anna takes which is owning your relationships very much in the way that straight people do, that it's not unusual to insert into conversation especially in clarifying with someone who may be registering their interest in you, "Oh my boyfriend," you know? Catie: Yeah, yeah. Gina: But that common tactic where the casually mentioning husband or girlfriend or partner, I have definitely had the "Oh, when did you come out?" question that is related to that jack in the box. Catie: Yeah, yeah. Gina: I didn't. I met someone I was interested in. We're dating. We broke up. I met someone else I was interested in. We're still dating. Catie: Yeah, yeah. I mean that's the . . . maybe it's just the stories that have been told about it. Gina: Yeah. Catie: But yeah, culturally people just expect you to be like in and then out and you're done. I think at work, if I have a new job I always have to come out at the job. Gina: You've been saying have to. Is that for you or for other people or both? Catie: Oh, definitely for me. You know, sometimes with certain people I can just slip into conversation that I have a girlfriend and it works the same way it does as if I was to say I had a boyfriend. With some people they trip up and a lot of people have follow-up questions. And so it can really derail a conversation and that's what the conversation becomes about. We're talking about something else and it will be weird in this moment to conceal that I have a relationship of any kind but if I say that I have a girlfriend all of a sudden I'm risking the whole conversation becoming about the fact that I have a girlfriend. And sometimes it's like fine, but sometimes I just think I'm tired and don't want to talk about it or we're having an important conversation about a work thing and derailing it means we may run out of time to figure out the work thing. So there's just moments where it feels annoying to have to make that part of the conversation. I don't feel oppressed by it. It doesn't feel like a big deal, and the fact that I live and work in Los Angeles means that I don't feel that I'm ever in any kind of danger of being discriminated against or creating a negative situation at a job. Like I don't feel like there's a thing ever with that. But it's more like an inconvenience rather than a danger. (36:26) Gina: So you prefer to just get it out of the way right away? Catie: Yeah, I get it out of the way or like, I don't know . . . because also if you don't tell people right away they think you've been hiding something from them. Gina: Part of the growing civil rights for queer people overall has been this in the mainstream acceptance of he or she is born this way or they are born this way which is interesting when you might be exploring your own sexuality I think as every young person does in some way. I'm specifically thinking of in my early life having some . . . being a little bit of a late bloomer then having some stirrings of in that 12- and 13-year-old time when everybody's in middle school and just flush with hormones and all making out with people and I was someone who never wanted to play spin the bottle, had really strong relationships with women friends, was just sort of not sure, and I think some of it was a result of not yet having the same overt sexual feelings that people were having. And so I was sort of like am I gay? Am I nothing? Am I just still a kid and no one else is a kid anymore? And I think as I grew older and did find attractions and relationships with men I sort of subsumed some of those curiosity and sense of queerness that I sort of the whole time knew was still developing. The one thing is if you want to sleep with a man as a fem-presenting woman it is not hard. Catie: Nope. (38:03) Gina: It is really not hard. And so I think being socialized to being pursued was sort of like well I guess this is this and I'll worry about the queer stuff later. Did you have any experience of that? Like I think that's the other thing about taking on a label of being queer or being bisexual is sort of whomever you fall for or become sexually entangled with first, like all of us, sets a big legacy in the rest of your life? Catie: Yeah. I had the same thing as you where I started having rumblings of feelings for women and I was like I guess I'm a lesbian. And I had a crush on a guy and I'm like maybe I'm not. And I remember hearing the word bisexuality for the first time used to describe Leonardo DiCaprio. Gina: Amazing. Catie: Rumors about Leonardo DiCaprio's bisexuality. And didn't know what it was, asked my friend, and she was like it's if you're into guys or girls, and girls. That was her definition at the time. And I was like great, that's me. Gina: Pretty serviceable. Catie: And I clung to her like a life raft but I was young. I was maybe 13 or 14. I was in high school, but I think it was freshman year. I was young. And I just remember thinking to myself like okay, you're not going to come out until college. It's great that you're bi and not a lesbian because you can just not think about the fact that you're attracted to women. And I remember very consciously saying just don't let it out, don't focus on it, don't have any . . . don't think. Don't think about it. Don't talk about it certainly but don't think about it. And I thought that that would be totally fine and I would go to college and come out as bi then and everything would be great. But spending your formative years actively forcing yourself to subsume and ignore large swaths of your identity it turned out had a pretty dramatic effect on my romantic development when I was younger. (40:15) I didn't date anybody in high school. Well, with little things aside. I had a couple of big crushes that I lived inside of because it was safer. I think that I really, really wanted to want to have sex and I think that like I was one of those people that hormonally wanted to when I was younger but I couldn't get over the emotional pitfalls, pitfalls that I created for myself. And it wasn't until I was a senior in college that I had my first truly serious relationship and it wasn't until I was about a sophomore or junior that I really came into my own sexually. And that's not to say that's when I lost my virginity. I had a virginity loss experience my senior year of high school but I didn't really understand myself sexually and I think spending a really long time denying who I was had a really profound effect on how I related to other people romantically and it was just safer to not. Gina: Did you feel comfortable exploring your sexuality with yourself? That's another thing I'm interested in. We get a lot of listener questions about varying from I'm not in a position to date right now for XY reasons or I'm really having trouble enjoying sex. Was that something that you . . . because I think there's a sense of people grow up sexually repressed or not. You are in an open community or not, and there's again so much grey area in the middle. (41:52) Catie: I think -- and I don't really know why -- I felt very comfortable exploring my sexuality solo when I was younger. I felt very comfortable talking about sex. I am very comfortable talking about sex. Part of that is when I went to college I had a very good friend who worked in the sexual information center at Oberlin. I think my friends just encouraged openness and it was natural for me. I don't have a lot of repression when it comes to sex. I have a lot of repression when it comes to emotional relationships, or I had it. I think that I'm in . . . I've gotten to a place where that repression no longer affects me but I think that in emotional relationships, romantic relationships, showing people that I cared about them, that was something where I was a lot more stunted. And I think that maybe -- I'm just thinking of this right now as I'm speaking -- but maybe one of the reasons why it was relatively easy for me to develop a kind of openness about the sex part of my sexuality is because I really wanted to explore it and that was the avenue of least resistance emotionally, mentally. Gina: Yeah, totally. It's always good to talk to a literary-minded open friend about their life experience and I think it's so interesting like money when you're talking about sex you're really talking about emotions and values. Catie: Yeah. Gina: And our sense of selves and how we express ourselves and around whom and how much, right? That it feels like even though I thought oh, we're going to have this kind of smutty conversation now we're talking about feelings. Catie: Yeah. [Laughs] Gina: We're talking about personal stories and life experience because that's how this stuff all gets wrapped up. (43:50) Catie: One thing that's like -- I think that the kids are doing that is kind of on the smut side, just to put a little excitement in it. Gina: Oh yeah? Catie: Is I think that when we were coming up there was a real kind of condescension towards the idea of sexual experimentation, right? Gina: Say more. Catie: Women were considered either foolish for sexual experimenting or it was like for the male gaze to experiment with women. Gina: The I kissed a girl and I liked it version of queerness? Catie: Totally, yeah. The kissing somebody at a party. Having it be a public thing rather than something that's developing one-on-one between people. And I also think a lot of lesbians of our generation were pretty anti- the idea of experimentation because, you know, people can get hurt when you experiment. Two women who think that they maybe want to have sex with each other then one of them is actually like I love our friendship but I'm not interested in women and I discovered that by trying to have sex with you, I mean that sucks. Gina: Huge ego blow. Catie: Yeah. I mean there was a story about that on Six Feet Under. I can't remember the name of the character, the daughter. The main girl. Gina: Claire. Catie: Claire. Claire was the one who, you know, started to get into this sexual relationship with Mena Suvari in art school and kind of discovered that she wasn't sexually interested in women via having sexual experimentation with Mena Suvari. And Mena turned on her afterwards. Her whole friend group turned on her. And of course she was very hurt but the moral of the story is experimentation is mean and bad, but that's how you figure out who you want to fuck and you have to experiment. And I feel like kids these days are experimenting more then that gets wrapped up in the way we talk about sex in the country in general which is it should be normal and chill and cool for teenagers to be sexually experimenting with each other. It should be normal and chill and cool if a teenager doesn't want to. But if you want to you should and it should just feel open and we should try to create a culture where we're like if you are 16 and you feel like you want to fuck you should fuck. Gina: As long as you're not exploiting anyone else in the process or compromising yourself, right? (46:12) Catie: Yeah. And understanding that you may hurt people emotionally which is different than exploiting people, you know? If you genuinely think that you might want to have sex with somebody and you realize you don't and you hurt that person, like that sucks ass but it's fine. Like that's normal and fine. But if you mis-characterize yourself in order to gain access to somebody sexually that's un-chill. That's not fine. Gina: Highly un-chill. Highly un-chill. Catie: Technically a kind of rape. Gina: Yes, yes. Not just technically. Catie: Yeah. Gina: You are a genius at the Internets. Are there great fics, TV shows that you love, movies that are out that you think feature a kind of positive -- and let's be frank -- feminist characterization of sexuality, right? Because I think porn for example can be very fraught for women. Catie: Porn can be fraught. Gina: And especially lesbian porn because it's filmed for the male gaze. Catie: There is a lesbian porn company called . . . I think it's called like Pink Box or Little Pink Box or Big Pink Box, who knows. Something with a pink box, Google it, you'll find it, that is . . . Gina: Safe search off. Catie: Safe search off. It is porn by women for women. I find it a little -- it is occasionally a little soft, or cheesy. It's a little cheesy. Gina: Yeah. Catie: You have to be able to do cheese. But it is porn that is for the female gaze of women who want to have sex with women, so if you've been looking that's where to go for porn specifically. There are so few good depictions of bisexuality in television and in movies. I mean there are just so few that I think really capture the richness of the way that bisexual people have relationships across the gender spectrum. I think The L Word is fun but stay away from the politics around bisexuality on that show. It's a super bi-phobic show. So if you have some kind of internalized shit based on watching The L Word sorry about your life but just ignore them. It's stupid. Gina: It's a soap and it's an old soap. (48:24) Catie: It's an old soap and they were wrong then and they're still wrong. I'm hoping that . . . Gina: Still love Shane though. Catie: A whole generation of women obsessed with Shane. Gina: I had a long conversation with another bisexual woman about how Shane, the actress Kate Moennig? Catie: Yes. Gina: Who played Shane also was this sort of 12th night star of a brief WB series called Young Americans. Did you watch that show? Catie: Oh yeah, absolutely did. Gina: It was a summer series. Catie: They wanted it to be a Levi commercial and didn't quite get there. Gina: It was like an Abercrombie catalog, sponsored by Coke, ran in the summer. Catie: Oh yeah, it was sponsored by Coke. I forgot about that. Gina: Yes. Catie: There was that scene with like Kate Bosworth at a gas station that I remember. Gina: Yes. That's the opening, yes. Catie: Yeah, and I remember she has like a Coke in a bottle that she uncaps like an old-timey attached to the Coke machine bottle opener, and I was like no one drinks Coke like this and I am aroused sexually. That's what I thought. Gina: [Laughs] Catie: There's a TV show called -- that is truly awful but the politics around bisexuality are really good. It is called The Lost Girl. It is a Canadian science-fiction series about a bisexual succubus and her adventures. In terms of execution especially of the like sci-fi plot elements it's really bad. There's nothing at any moment that anyone says that sounds like a person and not a character. Gina: There is no boner killer like bad writing. (49:55) Catie: Yeah, but the politics around the romantic relationships that the main character has, one with a male-identified person and one with a female-identified person, they're pretty cool. I've had some people complain about how some of the sex scenes with the female love interest are a little bit male gazey but what can you do? Gina: Change the ratios behind the camera. We're all working on it. Catie: Yeah, we're all working on it. Gina: Workplace politics benefit us in terms of our lusty gazes too. Catie: Exactly. Gina: Yeah. Catie: But I will say that it was a character who has many sexual relationships with men and with women, a show that valued the relationships that she had with men and with women and considered them with equal weight while not making them bland and samey. Like each relationship had the problems that it would confront, different dynamics. She spent a long period of time dating one of them, a long period of time dating the other, and it was a complicated dynamic and it's five seasons. Gina: Great. Catie: And you can watch all of it I think on Netflix. Gina: Nice. Catie: If you can get past a little bit of bad sci-fi it's really great. Gina: Anything else on your smutty queue? Catie: This is not smutty but I just read a novel called Conversations with Friends. Have you heard of that? Gina: Yes. Catie: The central character is bisexual and goes through a couple relationships I think in a pretty authentic way to the way bisexuality plays out so that's a great novel to look at. I think that there's just truly a dearth of good bisexual content on television and in movies and we just need to get out there and start creating it. Gina: Yeah. Like everything, more representation. Catie: Yeah. Gina: More options. Catie: Yes. (51:45) Gina: I really gravitated towards something you just said about the richness of bisexual relationships and bisexual people and what it means to kind of approach people in your life across genders as potential lovers or partners and a really funny thing that I experienced when I started dating my current partner was having previously been in a relationship with a woman and being like "I don't know if I still know how to do this." Catie: Oh yes. Gina: That is especially if you -- I'm personally someone who goes through . . . I'm sort of the classic serial monogamist. Catie: Right. Gina: So getting really deep and intense with one other person both emotionally and with their bod, and I think this is something everyone experiences of like oh, this is a different type of sexuality with any different person. But to be like do I know how to manipulate your parts to give you pleasure was a very funny re-virginizing kind of experience. Catie: Yeah. Gina: Have you had something like that in the past? Catie: I mean first of all totally. It had been a little while since I had sex with a woman. Not like a super long time but a bit before I started dating my current girlfriend. I think I just candidly was going through a super slutty phase right before . . . Gina: Nice. Catie: . . . I started dating her. It was great. But like the thing we talked about it's pretty easy to pick up men for sex and harder to pick up women for sex and I'm also a lot more sexually intimidated by women and there's no lesbian bars anymore so I can't just go find them. Gina: In Los Angeles. Catie: I'm like I feel like there's no lesbian bars fucking anywhere anymore. There's lady nights, we've got rotating parties, but I think that it was harder for me to pick up women than men. I was more scared. And so I had less sexual experience with women and I was like did I forget how to do everything? And I definitely . . . one of the cultural narratives that I think is probably super skewed and wrong that I sometimes succumb to personally is the idea that it's harder to have sex with a woman than a man. I think probably it's actually like -- giving a blowjob is the hardest fucking thing for me. Gina: [Laughs] (53:55) Catie: Like I understand it conceptually, like I get how to do it. It's just physically hard to like execute. Gina: Execute, yeah. Catie: I think for a while I had this idea that was like fuck, I've forgotten. Like it's so hard to please a woman. And I've forgotten how to do it. But truly every single time you start to have serious sex with another person you have to relearn their body just like you were saying. Everybody's body is different and what people need is different. Gina: Yeah, what they're into. Yeah, yeah. Catie: Exactly. And any time that you're in a serious monogamous relationship with somebody the stuff that they like you get good at and if that relationship ends and you go to somebody else and they like something different you're like I spent five years practicing not doing this so I don't know. [Laughs] Gina: Right. I have a very different area of -- it's like I got hired for the wrong job but how do I gain my skills quick? Catie: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Gina: Totally. Do you have strategies when you were seeking . . . I don't know if you and Anna are in a closed relationship. Catie: We are, yeah. Gina: But if you were seeking to pick up a woman versus picking up a guy do you have tactics? Catie: Oh god. Gina: Do you flirt the same? What's your approach? What's your steeze? Catie: Oh god. I'm like -- Anna would tell you that I am my least sexy or appealing when I'm trying. When I have any intention to be sexy I just can't do it. I'm sure there have been plenty of moments in my life when I have been sexy. They were 100% not times that I've tried. I think for me the only thing that works for me is being open and straightforward with what I want. I'm not emotionally capable of playing any kind of game anymore. It's too potentially painful. And so I'm . . . Gina: Also 30s, no time for that. (55:55) Catie: Yeah. I don't have time for a fun will we or won't we crush so I'm pretty straightforward. I ask for what I want. That's my only move is basically being like -- to the point where my only move is being like "I want to have sex." Like truly . . . Gina: But boldness! Catie: Yes, so boldness. Here's the thing is boldness totally works with the right people. It's a really hard thing to do. For me personally one thing I discovered is if I'm not bold and I'm rejected by it not happening I'm just as sad as if I've been bold and been rejected. It is not worse when I've explicitly asked and been told more than when I kind of angled towards it and was given no. And in fact I'm a lot more full of regret if I didn't ask them, like what if they rejected me because they didn't know that I wanted it? Then I string myself along emotionally and that is when I get into bad patterns with romantic relationships. So my only . . . this got serious but my only thing is just I would love a world where people are just like "I would like to fuck." Then be like I wouldn't or I would, you know? Gina: Right. Catie: That'd be great. It'd be painful sometimes but it's already fucking painful. Gina: This is a show where we talk a lot about friendship and the deep friend intimacy between women. Have you had an experience or just in your general advice for someone who may be uncertain about whether a relationship with another woman is a friendship or if they're developing romantic feelings, how you broach that? Because I do think that the intimacy that is platonic between women is a really special thing. (57:50) Catie: Oh yeah. It is very scary, a very scary proposition to transition any deep, close friendship into anything different. And I think that no matter what it's not easy and there are no tricks. I think that if somebody is starting to feel that maybe they have more romantic feelings towards a close friend I think it is worthwhile to go and explore whether those sexual feelings are present with other women. I think that you can -- even if you think one day you might come back to the person you're close to, there's truly no harm in going out and dancing with women or just being in queer spaces. If you're not like . . . if you're living in Los Angeles and you're not like a club person, you don't like dance nights, there's this great coffee shop on the east side of L.A. called Cuties Coffee. There may be other spaces like that springing up in other cities I don't know about. But just putting yourself in queer spaces, especially if you're a person who's identified as straight who hasn't been in a lot of queer spaces. Like you're allowed to go in there. It'll be really scary but that's where you go to explore and see if those communities feel right to you. And it may be that you are experiencing the beginning of romantic feelings for someone of the same gender and they've automatically gone on to the person that you're closest to. And if you genuinely and deeply explore that part of yourself you may find oh, yeah, I have a real crush on my friend or you may find that you don't want to change your deep, close friendship with your wonderful female friend but you want to pursue romantic relationships with other women. I think that the thing that ruins dynamics more often than anything else is a person suppressing their own desires, their own needs. And I think that if you explore that need you're going to get to an emotionally better place with it so that even if you get to a position where you're like I'm truly in romantic and sexual love with my best friend and they don't reciprocate you will be in a better place with yourself where your friendship is more likely to survive it. Gina: Catie, thank you so much. Catie: Thank you for having me. This was so much fun. Gina: Where can people find you on the Internet? Catie: I'm best on Twitter. My Twitter is @catiealert, C-A-T-I-E-A-L-E-R-T. Gina: And read your book The Ghost Network. Catie: Yes, my book is called The Ghost Network. You don't have to believe me. Believe Gina. Gina: Read it. Catie: Yeah. [Interview Ends] Gina: Thanks so much to Catie Disabato. There are a ton of links to stuff we talked about on our website callyourgirlfriend.com. I would love to hear more from you about anything that we talked about in this episode, whether you're trying to figure out if your bestie is a romantic interest, the queer media that you love to consume, how you figure out stuff that turns you on without turning off your feminist brain, how you identify your sexuality, what you like or dislike about the letter B. But also particularly stuff that we didn't talk about, and most particularly if you're not a cis white lady like me and the people I talked to on the show we want to hear more of your experiences and would love to pepper in some of your voicemails. So that number again is 714-681-CYGF. And you can find us so many more places on the Internet, on our website callyourgirlfriend.com. We're on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook at @callyrgf. Don't forget about our blood drive for Amina. You can sign up at callyourgirlfriend.com/blooddrive. Like we said there are some discriminatory rules about who can give blood and who can't. Those come from the FDA and unfortunately our blood bank partners must adhere to them but there's other info if you'd like to get involved in some other way. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and like I said leave us a voicemail and tell us about something sexy or something personal that you think other listeners might be interested to hear. 714-681-2943. 714-681-CYGF. Our logos are by Kenesha Sneed. All original music was composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs. Our theme song is by Robyn and this podcast is produced by me, Gina Delvac. Amina and Ann will be back next week and we'll all see you on the Internet. Ann: Oh my god, thank you Gina. That was the best! Aminatou: Gina, you are the best. Cannot wait to have you in the host seat again. Ann: See you on the Internet. Aminatou: See you on the Internet. Bye!