the contextual life

thoughts without borders

On the Shelf: Unicorns Come to Life

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Recently, amidst a slew of publicity for Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America, a book by Christopher Bram, The Rumpus ran an essay about bisexuality called ‘Notes from a Unicorn’ by Seth Fischer. While the two events were purely coincidental, they formed a mini-moment in my mind. We live in a society that now celebrates the contributions of gay and lesbian writers but what about the people who live between the two?

Fischer, who once had political aspirations but has since moved on to teach and pursue a literary career, attempts to express the gray-scale in which his sexual identity sits. Although the motives for his silence in his previous profession raises questions about ongoing discrimination and cultural perceptions, what interested me was his inner conflict.

The title of the essay comes from a woman’s comment to him on an online dating site: “Finding a truly bi man is like finding a unicorn.” Her meaning? They don’t exist. This is a common belief when it comes to bisexuality, the person is either highly sexual and therefore undiscerning (or slutty, if you prefer) or they are going through “a phase” and will one day make a choice. Though many people on the inside of the issue talk about “fluidity,” few people  on the outside rarely believe them.

The first time Seth became aware of his own shifting preference he was in his early teens. A classmate’s gay uncle had just died of AIDS and in the school courtyard, as so often happens, the conversation was flip. “He was totally a fag,” Seth remembers the nephew saying. He went home that afternoon, ignored his hidden pile of girlie magazines, and came to the conclusion, “Fags like boys, so I’m a fag.”

The unsettling nature of this ambiguity haunted him for years, and only recently does it seem as if he’s come to terms with it. A year after the playground incident, while in the locker room, a teammate of his whom he had a crush on called him out for staring. At that moment he decided he would “grow the part of [himself] that liked women and kill the part that liked men.”

But it didn’t hold. Years later, after leaving politics, after acknowledging his continuing crushes on men, he thought, “Why don’t I just call myself gay?” As many can imagine, that wasn’t the answer either.

Seth’s years of torment made me wonder, what if there was celebration of bisexuals in the arts just as there is for their gay cousins? Maybe unicorns wouldn’t seem so mythical after all.

Here are just a few books by known bisexual writers. The comments are open. If you know of any other writers or of any books that engage the subject, please list them below.

The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliott
It only seems appropriate to kick this off with a book by The Rumpus founder.

In this groundbreaking memoir, Stephen Elliott pursues parallel investigations: a gripping account of a notorious San Francisco murder trial, and an electric exploration of the self. Destined to be a classic, The Adderall Diaries was described by The Washington Post as “a serious literary work designed to make you see the world as you’ve never quite seen it before.” [via IndieBound]

She Came to Stay by Simone de Beauvoir
Set in Paris on the eve of World War II and sizzling with love, anger, and revenge, She Came to Stay explores the changes wrought in the soul of a woman and a city soon to fall. Although Francoise considers her relationship with Pierre an open one, she falls prey to jealousy when the gamine Xaviere catches his attention. The moody young woman from the countryside pries her way between Francoise and Pierre, playing up to each one and deviously pulling them apart, until the only way out of the triangle is destruction. [via IndieBound]

The Selected Stories of Patricia Highsmith
In a cruel twist of irony, Texas-born Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) is being recognized only after her death for her inestimable genius in her native land. With the savage humor of Waugh and the macabre sensibility of Poe, she brought a distinctly contemporary acuteness to her prolific body of noir fiction. Including over 60 short stories written throughout her career, collected together for the first time, The Selected Stories reveals the stunning versatility and terrifying power of Highsmith’s work.These stories highlight the remarkable range of Highsmith’s powers her unique ability to quickly, almost imperceptibly, draw out the mystery and strangeness of her subject, which appears achingly ordinary to our naked eye. [via IndieBound]

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
Vikram Seth’s novel is, at its core, a love story: Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, are both trying to find — through love or through exacting maternal appraisal — a suitable boy for Lata to marry. Set in the early 1950s, in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, A Suitable Boy takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a compulsively readable tale of their lives and loves. A sweeping panoramic portrait of a complex, multiethnic society in flux, A Suitable Boy remains the story of ordinary people caught up in a web of love and ambition, humor and sadness, prejudice and reconciliation, the most delicate social etiquette and the most appalling violence. [via IndieBound]

Are You Somebody?: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman by Nuala O’Faolain
Nuala O’Faolain attracted a huge amount of critical praise and a wide audience with the literary debut of Are You Somebody? Her midlife exploration of life’s love, pain, loneliness, and self- discovery won her fans worldwide who write and tell her how her story has changed their lives. There are thousands who have yet to discover this extraordinary memoir of an Irish woman who has stepped away from the traditional roles to define herself and find contentment. [via IndieBound]

Women Photographs by Annie Leibowitz, with an essay by Susan Sontag
The photographs by Annie Leibovitz in Women, taken especially for the book, encompass a broad spectrum of subjects: a rap artist, an astronaut, two Supreme Court justices, farmers, coal miners, movie stars, showgirls, rodeo riders, socialites, reporters, dancers, a maid, a general, a surgeon, the First Lady of the United States, the secretary of state, a senator, rock stars, prostitutes, teachers, singers, athletes, poets, writers, painters, musicians, theater directors, political activists, performance artists, and businesswomen. “Each of these pictures must stand on its own,” Susan Sontag writes in the essay that accompanies the portraits. “But the ensemble says, So this what women are now — as different, as varied, as heroic, as forlorn, as conventional, as unconventional as this.” [via IndieBound]

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Written by Gabrielle

March 8, 2012 at 7:24 am

2 Responses

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  1. Thanks so much. I wanted to put together a list like this, but I haven’t had the time. This is a good one!

    sethfischer

    March 8, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    • Oh man, I’ve been meaning to get in touch. Thanks so much for the essay. It was great. I’ve passed it around a bunch.

      Gabrielle

      March 8, 2012 at 5:24 pm


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