The theme for BWQ’s Spring issue is “Firsts” and I wrote a personal essay – with soundtrack! – about two of my first experiences: the first time I felt rejected, judged and excluded as a bi-romantic misfit, and the first time I felt how I could claim my place in space.
First explorations // Puppy love revisited // Still cannot conform
“Martineeeeee, who do you want to date?!” the children in the school yard yelled. Scattered, I looked up from my book about female pharaohs and their cats. Date? Like… a courtship? Hmm. Yeah, why not? I was a rather Romantic child, my heart sang of philosophy and poetry, and my mind was starved for travel beyond the road ahead. Connecting with my peers was too scary for me—I preferred to spend my time talking to my cats—but somehow, this idea of sharing a special intimacy, some sort of secret bond, with another human being fascinated me. It was an appealing thought.
My classmates nagged for a name, and I did not have to think hard. Annemieke. A beautiful, blue-eyed, outgoing, active 11-year-old who kept everyone on their toes. She always looked sweet and girlish because of her big blue eyes and her cute freckled face that was often covered by her flowing golden curls. I could draw a map of her whole countenance with my eyes closed—her sea-nymph ears, her dainty nose, and her shiny, halo-white teeth. Among the things she loved were animals, music, video games, bread with cheese and curry ketchup, drawing, dancing, and making others laugh.
I imagined us together, Annemieke and me. Drawing, singing, crafting. Maybe she would also like to go horseback riding and join me climbing trees. On rainy days, I would endlessly brush and caress her long hair. We could take a bath together, like the pharaohs. I would teach her how to talk to my cats. And I would watch when she played on the Sega Mega Drive that she got when her brother grew bored of it. I still remember some of her video games. My absolute favorite Genesis game was Ariel the Little Mermaid. I thought that Annemieke had much in common with the little mermaid. And with Gabriel, the girlfriend (or so I thought) of Xena Warrior Princess. She had a beauty that made those billboard-princesses look as paper thin as they are: she was something robust and real. Somehow, her imperfections made her perfect for me. That was my girl, I just knew it. So, I decided to rule the benefits over the risks and approached her.
Annemieke laughed at me, a ringing laughter supported by her twinkling eyes and the magical quality of confidence. She repeated my question out loud and others started to laugh as well. My first reaction was a happy one, as I did not immediately recognize that they were making fun of me. She did a silly dance around me, and I tried to dance along with her. Then the other kids began to bully me. And Annemieke joined them, calling me a “filthy dyke” and more. Huh? Why would a dyke be filthy? The dyke is old and strong and protects our country from the mighty waters. Although I would like to be a mermaid, I am quite happy with the dyke. But apparently, the other kids were not, as they went on. I remember “retarded,” “crazy,” “dumb,” “ugly.” And then I had heard enough and walked away. Why did they have to be so mean? My cats would never set me up like this.
The deep husky voice of Tanita Tikaram reverberated through the windows, which meant that it was Friday and my mother was home. I still sobbed a bit and she was worried when she saw me so sad. I told her that my “date” had let me down, but I did not correct her when she said something about “him.” Not that I had expected her to freak out: she had friends who were lesbians. One of my father’s best friends was a gay man, no problem at all. But I somehow felt that I had to make a choice: did I fancy boys, or did I fancy girls? And I thought that I was not ready to choose. It felt like such a silly question: how can you generalize who you like better: people with a willy or people with a pussy? To me, that felt similar to stating that you will only date blonde people for the rest of your life. I couldn’t make such a big statement and I was worried that it would be really uncomfortable if my mother now would think that I were a lesbian, while later on I might decide that I was not. Or so. It was confusing—and that made me even sadder. So, after watching some Xena and Gabrielle on the Betamax, I decided to go upstairs to my room and to play some music on my cassette player.
My father had borrowed some records from the library and transferred them to tapes for me. It was Dutch pop music that was aimed at and sung by children, about subjects children themselves had chosen. The topics and lyrics were often rooted in leftist ideology and aimed to transgress and dismantle taboo topics. One of these topics was non-heterosexuality, which I was about to realize. With a pencil I rolled the cassette tape back to a song that I had discovered yesterday, “Joris en Jan,” and began to softly sing along with the catchy tune, written by homosexual songwriter Robert Long.
Two boys, Joris and Jan, are best friends or maybe more. They do everything together, from homework to soccer to holidays. When Joris and Jan are not near, their classmates gossip about them. One of the girls suggests that they might become flat mates when moving out, to which another replies that her uncle shares his bed with his male friend. Immediately, a rather stuck- up posh boy pompously replies that this man is gay and that his dad says that this is “goor,” meaning gross, filthy, disgusting, and revolting. But the girl is not impressed: “Don’t act like an idiot,” she replies, which leads the boy to sing some Dutch swear words for male homosexuals. And then it happens: the girls unite in singing about the attractiveness of both “lads,” calling them a “nice chap” and “a stunner.” Apparently, Joris en Jan are viewed as dating material, both by each other and by the group of girls. Wham.
The song ends with Joris and Jan responding to the gossip, stating that they are not homosexual—although it wouldn’t matter if it were so—and that their classmates can just jabber away because they couldn’t care less. “And whether the whole class is pro or con: my friend’s mate is named Jan—and mine’s name is Joris.” Their lyrics deeply resonated with my experiences just a few hours earlier on the schoolyard. It was on that day that it not only occurred to me that I was a misfit in the traditional steps of courtship display—I simply could not make the “right” dance moves—but also that I was not the only one, and that we could claim our very own places in space using technology and music. Furthermore, it was the first time that I became aware of the lesson my first hurdle taught me: this isn’t going to be easy, but it won’t be impossible, and trust and love are the pillars on which I can create an authentic attitude to life.
And now? I still suck at playing platform games, which doesn’t stop me from liking them. I haven’t quit talking to cats. The female pharaohs continue to fascinate me—especially when they are depicted as viragos (from vir (man) and agere (doing, acting, leading) so: “acting as a man”) with symbols for male power, like beards. And I still refuse to choose between girls and boys. Since that “first time” of mine, I cannot stop wondering about the sense and the sensibilities of this oppressive binary normativity we happen to live in. Therefore, around three years ago, I stopped calling myself “bisexual” —the prefix annoyed me, as my attraction is person-based and can advert me to people of endless genders and preferences. But since I encountered Robyn’s expansive definition, I started to embrace the term.
Since that “first time” of mine, I have been open about my bisexuality. As my current partner is male, it would be more than easy for me to hide behind our relationship, pretending to be your average heterosexual cis-woman. But I do not wish to do so, for I think that every coming-out contributes to better acceptance. Building an authentic attitude to life requires not only philosophical reflection, but above all putting into practice what you learn about yourself, to ultimately become the person who you are.
“I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge in myself the potential to be attracted—romantically and/or sexu- ally—to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or to the same degree.”
You may forget but
Let me tell you
This: someone in
Some future time
Will think of us
– Sappho, “The Art of Loving Women”
Click here to read the whole Spring 2019 issue of BWQ and here to read my first contribution to this awesome grassroots journal.