When I was 14, my dad rented an awful movie called Alien: Resurrection for family movie night.
I don’t have to go through all the ways Resurrection is assuredly not family-friendly, but here’s a few: violence, swearing, indecipherable plot, and bizarre, tantalizing sexual energy especially between Winona Ryder and Sigourney Weaver’s characters. Note that both of these women play a robot and an alien clone, respectively, and somehow throughout the movie both women get within an inch of each other all the time, queer-baiting the audience until one of them gets ripped apart and tossed aside.
Incidentally, the director of this movie is French.
Growing up, my parents weren’t very strict with movies, books, or video games. Rather, they took the American Approach to movies in particular: violence is fine, but sex is bad. So I watched a lot of violent movies like Resurrection with them, but covered my eyes at sex scenes (even if I didn’t, who wants to watch movies with sex scenes if your parents are in the room?). By 14, I was desensitized to a good portion of movie violence anyway, and my brother was in the room but playing quietly by himself on the floor as the movie went on, so we weren’t being too damaged by this dumb sequel to two of the best action films of all times.
You would think.
There’s a brief scene not too far into the movie where Ripley, now a clone, is playing basketball. The relevance of the scene to the plot is unimportant: as I said, this movie makes no sense. As a team of misfit space…um…goons gather around her, she does something badass, walks forward and tosses the basketball up and over her head. It flies in a perfect arc behind her and sinks, nothing but net, through the hoop. Perfect shot! No CGI, no camera trickery, just an actress tossing a basketball over her head and landing a 3-pointer like a fucking boss.
In that second that ball swished through that hoop, something changed in me. A flood of emotions, endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin rushed through my adolescent body all at once. Every hair on my arms and neck stood up and tingled. My heart pounded in my chest. My breath labored in my throat.
It was then I knew: I loved bad movies.
Sorry for the trick bait-and-switch. That was a cheap joke. Let’s go back a bit.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I have a complicated history with sex and sexuality. Prior to the Sigourney Weaver/basketball moment, I wasn’t sure I had any interest in sex or boyfriends or boys in general. In fact, I felt my interest in boys waning as time went on for obvious reasons:
- Boys were gross (loud, burped in my ear, farted and blamed me, talked about their dicks all the time)
- Boys were dumb (like hitting each other as hard they they could with the tether ball, trying to punch each other in the nuts and run away before getting punched back, and other dumb shit)
- Boys were mean (calling me names, demanding I help them with homework, throwing things at me, more dick-related humor)
My girlfriends started liking boys around the age of 11 and this flabbergasted me. When they giggled and cooed over someone’s bowl cut or baggy jeans (this was the ‘90’s), I tried to keep up but couldn’t figure it out. I swear this is not me “not-like-other-girls-ing” myself, this was me at ages 11-13, trying to figure out why I could not like boys the same way my friends did.
The answers were pretty obvious to me: they liked boys because boys liked them. They did not find boys gross, dumb, or mean because boys were nice to them. And boys were nice to them because they were pretty. And I was not, at least according to my self-esteem and body image issues. But that was a battle I couldn’t win — who wants to be pretty for people who slide the goal posts on what pretty is anyway?
So while my friends talked about the boys in school they liked or secretly “dated” (as much as one could in middle school), I stayed out of the wading pool and kicked my feet in the kiddie pool. I had crushes on celebrity guys (notably, Paul Rudd in Clueless), but more as an innocent “oh, he’s a handsome prince” kind of crush and from the safe distance of my television. No one in real life ever sparked my interest or fancy.
Around age 13, my parents started to hint at their concern. Our neighbor’s two sons were around my age, slightly older, and my mom thought it would be important to mention that to me. “Maybe one day you could go out with one of them,” she posited. “Go see a movie, get a hamburger or something.”
My mom perpetually lived in an episode of Happy Days.
I rolled my eyes and made a face. “Ew,” I told her. “No. Never.”
Because essentially I had better things to do than be pimped out by my own mother. But I wasn’t going to tell her that lest I get slapped and grounded. So I said, “They’re not my type.”
Mom didn’t buy that. “Sweetie, you’re thirteen. What is your type?”
Oh fuck. That was a good question that I didn’t have an answer for. So I did what every teenager does and deflected. “Mom, I don’t like boys, ok? They’re gross. I don’t want to date anyone.”
What should have been music to my mother’s ears only alarmed her. “You’re a little young now,” she said, “but when you’re about 15 or 16, you’ll change your mind and want to go on dates with a lot of boys. I bet your dad and I will have to constantly fight them off at our front door! You’ll see!”
To this day, that statement makes me angry. Not only is it sexist, but by God, I wanted that to be true. Despite being gross, dumb, and mean, I still wanted boys to like me because they liked my friends and I wanted to be like my friends. I was tired of feeling left out. I wanted to join in the conversations with them. I wanted to whisper and gossip at lunch when a boy walked by. I wanted to hear and give advice. I wanted to pick up a copy of YM magazine and understand at least half of what the articles were talking about.
But I also hated them.
And then…Ripley’s basketball went through that hoop and something transformed inside me.
I couldn’t identify this transformation. I was nothing before, and I was something after. All I knew was that I enjoyed seeing Ripley toss a basketball backwards a hell of a lot more than I could put into words. When the movie was over, I must have sneaked downstairs later that night and fast-forwarded to that particular scene at least twice more. There was an enlightening magic around me that continued glowing long after my parents brought the tape back to the video store. I knew I wasn’t going to be the same, but I didn’t have the words to describe why.
Though the change didn’t happen linearly and progressively, I started to see my small, adolescent world with different eyes. Boys were still gross, dumb, and mean, of course. I wasn’t about to start entertaining the idea of getting close to one. But occasionally, I’d look at a guy in my algebra class and think, Ok, I see what so-and-so sees in him. He’s got a great bowl cut. Or one would say “Thanks for your help with geometry,” and I’d go, “Hahahahahaha….you’re sooooo welcome…” Or, I’d secretly hope that I would get paired with one particular guy in drama class because I knew he would be the least likely to say something about how many freckles I had and mistakenly interpret this as a possible crush on me (please give 14-year-old me a pass as my gay-dar had not yet been fully developed yet).
These were new feelings for me and figuring out how to navigate through them proved difficult. I watched in envy and awe as my prettier, more popular classmates effortlessly danced the teenage relationship waltz. Here I was just now figuring out that I may have crushes on boys. How do I get from point A to point B?
It wouldn’t be a boy that would help me figure that out.
(Before you get your tissues and lotion out, this isn’t a gauzy, weepy recollection of a first love right down to the Blue is the Warmest Color details. Gross. We were minors.)
Here’s what it was: a very one-sided, on-again-off-again relationship between two young women trying to figure themselves out.
“We’re girls,” she assured me one afternoon. “No one cares what we do.”
“Of course!” I concurred. “No one thinks anything of it.”
After all, nothing we did seemed remotely wrong or unnatural to me. It’s not as if we were…um, you know. Plus, we were friends. We hung out. We watched MTV and laughed at Daria. We played video games and did our homework together. We took walks to the lake, we ate pizza, we took pictures and did each other’s makeup and hair.
We talked about boys. She talked about boys. She talked about her boyfriends.
She would go through a roster of boyfriends and I would dutifully befriend them. She was, after all, my friend. I never felt anything but happy for her, but I did question her choice of guys: guys that got suspended a lot for fighting (back when fighting was something for which you got suspended, not expelled), guys that bragged about sneaking out late at night, or guys that didn’t have a curfew. One guy was just ugly, according to my 15-year-old standards. Occasionally, she would invite me along as the third-wheel on her “dates” so I could uncomfortably wait on the curb, slapping mosquitoes while they made out in his Chevy Malibu. All the while, I’d think Did they bring me along so I could see what a date with a boy looked like, or did they feel sorry for me? But I never cared that she dated boys. When I wasn’t on her dates, she’d regale me with the side of dating I didn’t see. “This is what boys like,” she told me, having demonstrated one particular sexual move. “Drives ‘em crazy.”
I was stunned. “Really? Why?”
She thought for a second. “I’m not sure, really. I don’t like it.”
“Then why do it?”
“You get used to it, maybe?”
But when we were alone, it was a different story. I got tired of hearing her rants about her boyfriend not spending enough time with her or calling too much. It would weird me out when she brought him up in conversation apropos of nothing. We would sit at the kitchen table, doing our homework, when she would sigh and mutter his name and rage would rise in my stomach. Why is she bringing him up right now? Why can’t we talk about something else?
Why can’t she pay attention to me for once?
She sensed this discomfort in me. When we were 16, she asked me point blank, “Why don’t you find a boyfriend?”
Shocked, I looked up at her. “Because I would rather hang out with you.”
She groaned. “Yeah, but don’t you want a boyfriend? Don’t you want to hang out with a guy?”
“I mean, sure. But I don’t seem to have much luck in that department. Guys don’t like me.”
“What? Why not? You’re smart, and funny, and have, like, a really sharp sense of humor.”
“But I’m not pretty like you are. Guys like pretty girls.”
“Maybe you should be nicer to guys, then.”
I stared at my hands. “I try to be. But they’re not always nice back. And I don’t know who to be nice to.”
“You can’t think of anyone? Seriously? Not a single guy?”
I scanned my mind for faces: teenage boys with frosted tip haircuts, wearing cargo pants and Aeropostale t-shirts. Guys who played guitar, guys who drove their dad’s car on the weekend. Guys who said “please” and “thank you” and waved when they saw me in the hallway. There weren’t many of them, but they existed. I had classes with them. A few of them, yeah, I crushed on. Sometimes I even thought, Yeah, I could see myself holding hands with that one. Maybe I’d let him kiss me if he asked nicely.
“I guess,” I said. “But he might laugh at me.”
One weekend, we had a fight. Not a screaming match, but a passive aggressive, teenage girl snipe-a-thon where either of us took offence to every sentence that the other said. I can’t remember the details, but I think it started off with one of us asking “So what do you want to do?” and the other going, “I don’t know, lets just hang out.” And the other saying, “I don’t want to hang out. I want to do something else.” And then it escalated into the pissy snipe-a-thon.
The next day, I went home and stewed in my anger. I punched a few pillows, kicked the blankets and wondered, why is she being such a bitch? Is she on the rag? Am I on the rag? Am I not good enough to hang out with any more? Maybe if I had a dick I could tell her to suck it. Then she’d really want to hang out with me.
Later on that week, I saw her in the hallway talking to my Aeropostale crush. They were both close and smiling. She was giggling. It played out like a teen melodrama. Again, thanks to retrospect, it’s funny how Degrassi the situation looked. If there had been a camera on me, the music would have swelled and I would have run home after study hall, thrown myself on my bed and cried and vowed never to show my face at school again.
But that’s not what happened.
In real life, things are less dramatic. Truth was, I was hurt and pissed off, but I kept it together. I’ve always been the picture of controlling my emotions, so I just kept on walking. She and I didn’t hang out much after that. I still maintained my crush on that guy because he was the literal walking representation of what I found cute in the male species in the 90’s/early 2000’s, but like all crushes, that faded.
I think I saw her three more times after that: once was at her graduation party when we were 17, once was during the summer before she went to college, and once was when we ran into each other when I came back home after getting married. Nothing huge or remarkable. No awkward feelings and no feelings of lost love — no she was the one that got away bullshit. Just, “oh yeah, hey! Nice to see you again! Anyhoo, gotta go! Bye!”
Weirdly enough, it didn’t dawn on me that this could have been considered more than a friendship until years later. This knowledge was also the catalyst that propelled me from Well, I don’t like to put labels on who I am — I just love who I love! Into nah, I’m definitely bisexual.
Women get a lot of shit for discovering late-in-life (that is, in their adulthoods, not when they’re adolescents or teenagers) that they’re sliding on the queer spectrum, especially presumed heterosexual women married to heterosexual men. I’ve seen articles poke fun at women for it, as if they’re so bored with having sex with their husbands that they now want to try sex with other women. On the flipside, their husbands take the brunt for not being “man” enough to sexually satisfy them — an example of toxic masculinity making men feel both lesser and the focus of the narrative at the same time. Sometimes the safety and comfort of a secure relationship, free of judgement, can make a person feel at ease enough to reveal a piece of themselves.
It is a privilege to understand the nuances of your body and your feelings immediately upon discovery; I carried around a lot of shame and confusion for a majority of my youth, which resulted in me not figuring myself out for a while. Regardless, it’s not something I broadcast because I don’t always know how people will react. My closest friends know. My spouse knows. But not all of my family members know, even immediate family. That’s partly because I fear their reaction and rejection of me, and because it gets fucking exhausting being a fucking advocate all the time.
Finally, life isn’t an afterschool special. Not all sexual desires manifest as plainly or as clearly as the aforementioned Degrassi or wherever Netflix is showing over the summer. Nor do all relationships follow the same format of meet-cute, date, fall-in-love, trials-and-tribulations, split-up, miss-each other, try-to-get-back, misunderstanding, split-up-even-more, declaration-of-love, and happily-ever-after. Sometimes you hit some of those beats, sometimes you hit a few, sometimes you barely hit one or two.
That’s the end of my story and soapbox speech. I have time for a few questions.
Q: Wait a second, how can you call yourself bi if you’ve only been with one woman? That doesn’t count! You have to have [arbitrary sliding goalpost number] before you can be considered bi! Also, teenage experiences don’t count. You are clearly a heterosexual woman who did some experimenting as a teenager. Stop kidding yourself.
A: I’m sorry. You’re absolutely right. I didn’t realize there was an entry requirement before I could get into Bi-town. Next time, I’ll get a punch card to keep track of all my encounters.
As far as the whole het-girl running an experiment thing goes: goddamn it, you blew my cover! Now what do I do?! Continue to not have sex with people who don’t want to have sex with me based on their definition of what my sexuality should be? Gahh, fine! You sure showed me!
For real though: stop gatekeeping bisexuality. It’s harmful, biphobic and cruel. You can be bisexual and have only been with one gender, you can be bisexual and have been with multiple. There is no requirement for entry (pun partially intended).
Q: Also, why bisexual? Isn’t that, like, so binary? Why not pansexual?
A: Ugh. So I love Big Mouth and think it’s raunchy and sweet and gets a lot right, but it missed the puck in that one episode about bisexuality (the creators apologized at least).
I’m not going to sit here and split hairs over the definitions of bisexuality versus pansexuality. Ultimately, what what fits a person better is a deeply personal decision for them, but bisexuality is the attraction to more than one sex or gender. Pansexuality is the attraction to people regardless of sex or gender. I fall into the former category because it is the best definition for me. That’s it; it’s not a political statement.
Q: OH MY GOD BISEXUALITY IS TRANSPHOBIC AS FUCK! HOW DARE YOU NOT BE PANSEXUAL!
A: No…? First, I am attracted to trans folks, but that’s not relevant here. Second, bisexuality isn’t anymore transphobic than heterosexuality. There are some bi folks out there who are just as transphobic as straight folks and that has nothing to do with attraction and everything to do with them being assholes. Don’t conflate the two.
Q: How can you be bi if you’re married to a person of one gender? How does that work?
A: This is SUCH a tired question. It assumes that bi people are just riding the Sex Fence1 until the right person comes along and then we fall into either the Gay Yard or the Straight Yard. That’s not how it works.
The truth is, it’s more like a game of Press Your Luck, where you stand at a buzzer, bite your lip and hope and pray the person you’re talking to won’t reject you for being bi based on stereotypes and fetishes. Are you a bi woman dating a man? Is he going to fetishize me? Is he going to think I’m super-sexed up and horny all the time? Is he going to expect threesomes with random women? Is he going to think I’m cheating all the time? Are you a bi woman dating a woman? Is she going to think I’m gross for having been with a man? Is she going to think I’m comparing her to a man all the time? Is she going to think I’m cheating all the time? Now, smack that buzzer! Maybe you’ll win the grand prize of an accepting partner! Ok, let’s see how this goes…maybe they will at least not leave when I come out to them…keep going no whammy no whammy…big money…STOP!
Fuck, you lost everything. Maybe next time, loser.
1As much fun as the Sex Fence sounds, don’t ride it. You will get bruised. I speak from experience.
Q: Ok, so if you’re bi and in a relationship, does that mean you —
A: I’m going to stop you right there because I know what you’re going to ask. Bisexuality does not mean polyamory. It’s another tired stereotype that bisexual women are always DTF and threesomes spring up like dandelions anytime, anyplace. Worse is that bi folks are “secret gays” or will always look for ways to cheat with the same gender.
None of that is true, obviously. All of these situations are separate from bisexuality and just another way to either erase bisexuality or perpetuate biphobia. It’s gross and frustrating and I’m tired of hearing about it.
Q: Actually, I was going to ask: if you’re bi and in a relationship, does that mean you dress like a bisexual?
A: …I’ve actually never heard that one before.
A: Look, I’m already an Old Millennial. I barely have time to keep up with the dankest of memes. I didn’t realize I had to keep up with clothing now. Don’t make me feel bad for being an Old Bisexual.
But according to that, I’m surprised to find out that a lot of my fashion choices are decidedly bisexual. Unfortunately, some of my straight friends need to be informed that they’re sending out some bi-vibes.
Q: Are you absolutely sure it was a movie — a shitty one at that — that caused you to be bisexual?
A: Ha, no. If only it were that easy though. Movies have told me a lot about myself over the years, but they certainly didn’t cause me to be bisexual. Nothing causes a person to be any sexuality — gay, straight, bi, trans*, nonbinary, ace, demi, or anything else. You just are. If anything, the basketball scene in the movie just jump-started my dormant, repressed, teenage hormones and I’ll forever associate it with my transition from childhood to pre-adulthood.
Sigourney Weaver still does it for me, though.