Issue 14: Running Bi-hind 🏃🏻💨
Book postpartum, why everyone isn't bisexual, and writer Haley Jakobson on SOCD. Featuring an excerpt from GREEDY! 📚
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Maybe y’all noticed, but this newsletter skipped a month. My ADHD coach advised that I give myself a break during October to recover from launching my book, and after much consideration, I agreed that I deserve to sit on my ass and watch TV. (Don’t worry, though—this issue is stuffed with extra goodies to overcompensate.)
Last month was an absolute WHIRLWIND, full of the good, the bad, and the ugly. When anyone asks how it feels to have GREEDY out in the world, I always say the same thing: I’m just glad it’s over. The writing process and marketing spree tested my limits, and while I wish I’d had two years for each one of those tasks (rather than having less than one year to accomplish them both), I also can’t imagine still being in the thick of the work itself.
The last year was underwritten by a massive sense of urgency: I felt like this book was trapped inside me and I needed to set it free. I know it’s cliché for artists to make claims like that—to say they were possessed or otherwise compelled to create, to allege that the words “just flowed” out of them. In the past when I’ve heard this kind of statement, I’ve thought, “Cool story bro, but what happens when you want to make something else?”
It’s a great fucking question. And I can confirm it’s a great fucking question, because I’m no longer just the asker. I’m the askee. I’m the one who’s faced with figuring out what comes next. What story should I tell now? Do I even have anything else to say?
For you to comprehend my current existential crisis, I first need to assure you that I don’t take this whole “wrote a book” thing lightly. I’m so damn proud of myself. Writing GREEDY seemed impossible, and finishing it was beyond satisfying—to channel another cliché, it was like peeing in a five-star gas station bathroom after a decade-long road trip with zero stops. I’ve written personal essays since high school, and though a few of those ran in legitimate magazines and publications, I quickly realized the best way to protect my prose’s style, form, and content would be to publish a collection—aka to do the impossible and write a book. I’m not nearly disciplined enough to self-publish (see: ADHD coach) and I wanted people to actually read it, so getting a book deal with an established publisher became my goal. In pursuit of one, I’ve spent the past ten years writing five 80-page proposals for different books, along with 1.5 novels and hundreds of scenes/character sketches. (All of these now live on various hard drives and USBs. For everyone’s protection, the files will never see the light of day. 💚)
I’m so damn proud to have done this, but most importantly, I’m proud of the final product. I think the book itself might actually be . . . good? By which I mean I don’t hate it nearly as much as I expected. And to my absolute shock, critics don’t seem to hate it either. (I’m gonna share a few reviews below, not because press matters, but because my publicist has a gun to my head. ❤️ Kidding—I’m including these because I’m PROUD of them, DAMMIT! It feels so good to have written something other people actually write nice things about.)
Kirkus Reviews: “A well-rounded and entertaining affirmation of gender fluidity”
Glamour: “[A] cackle-loudly-and-send-quotes-to-your-friends chronicle of bisexuality . . . a rich snapshot of one part of queer culture, a story of awkwardness and identity crisis”
Shondaland: “Unflinching, hilarious, and honest . . . a memoir that is as heartfelt as it is educational”
Paper Mag: “An essay collection that's at once relatable, laugh-out-loud funny and refreshingly illuminating. Above all else, Greedy is unafraid of mess, vulnerability, and outgrowing the things we previously considered as absolute”
BOMB: “Greedy inspires readers to rethink and relearn the world as they know and perceive it. By flipping the common bi stereotype on its head, Winston reminds us that being Greedy has always been a superpower—never a flaw.”
Publishers Weekly: “[A] story of searching for love by a writer to watch. In playfully queering the coming-of-age story, Winston has written something wholly original, and entirely delightful.”
</end gassing up self rant>
I convinced Brinley to let me put a copy of the book in every room of our house. (“Even the bathrooms?” they asked, to which I replied, “Especially the bathrooms.”) The hope was that merely glimpsing the finished paperback on a daily basis would remind me of these sweet reviews and kind words, filling me with a sense of accomplishment and inner peace.
Because instead of getting the anxiety-free sleep of someone who’s checked off the biggest item on their lifelong to-do list, I find myself lying awake while variations of that same damn question plays on a loop: If this book was the one you were born to write, how will you ever write anything else worth a shit? What if you’re a one-hit wonder (though can you even call yourself that, since a shitty anti-trans book is still outperforming you on Amazon)? Whether you’re done writing for good or you’re gonna suffer through another one, the question remains the same: What the fuck do you do now?
They compare having a book to having a baby, and the metaphor continues to hit. What I’m experiencing is postpartum—a depressive bout triggered by the gap between the magic I expected and the reality of it all. Days filled with wondering where my career goes from here. Immense, immediate, and overwhelming pressure to hurry up and have another kid.
If I do manage to find some semblance of joy, comparison quickly shows up to pilfer it. For example: I’m in an excellent first-time author’s Slack group—it’s been such a valuable resource throughout this process and has even led me to meeting some new friends. But it’s impossible NOT to notice that almost every person in the group is nearly done penning and pitching their next book. If I consider this logically, I realize the majority of these authors likely wrote their first books on standard timelines (meaning over multiple years, instead of barely one year). But who has time for logic? I already felt aimless and empty—now I also feel behind.
This guilt has created a few issues in my relationship. The writing process wasn’t just hard on me—it was hard on my partner Brinley, who had to endure 363 days of me prioritizing writing over showering, not to mention my fragmented attention span. Brinley thought we’d would have more time before I started thinking about the next book, and honestly, so did I! I thought I’d have time to gain new life experiences, to take some fiction workshops for the hell of it, and at the very least, to leave my house for a few days.
But I guess I didn’t, because the worry is here, and it consumes me. How can I bask in the moment of post-creation when I’m stressing over whether my next book should be a novel or a memoir or a children’s book or hmm maybe a collection of short stories or ugh nevermind that’s probably just as hard to sell as a memoir? Damn. Should it be queer sci-fi or queer heist or another genre of queers queering (but of course make it straight *enough* to get on big best seller lists)? Or should I take Jonathan Larson’s agent’s advice and just write what I know? tick, tick…BOOM! was so beautiful & relatable, but also fairly triggering given my state of mind and the fact that I already feel I’m running late.)
I cycle through these provocations even though I know what I’m supposed to do: Relax. Focus on family. Take care of myself. Listen to the late Sondheim and wait patiently, because someday the words will flow from a place of love again.
In couples therapy, Brinley and I learned an important truth about communication: When sharing something with your partner, it can be helpful to state whether you’re seeking a solution or just general empathy. So I should clarify: I share all of the above with you not because I want concrete advice on how to overcome writer’s block and/or how to value self-worth over productivity, but because I crave comfort, an ear to help me feel less alone in my fear that time is running out to make art. I long for a big virtual hug that can remind me capitalism fucks all of us, and assure me that feeling inadequate by its skewed standards is valid (albeit shitty as hell).
By reading Greedy and by reading this newsletter, you’re helping. You’re assuring me that not knowing is okay (which basically means you’re helping me internalize the thesis of my own book). You’re giving me strength to feel confident, irrespective of what I produce today or tomorrow. You’re telling me I’m okay regardless of what (if anything) comes next.
So thank you. I love you. I hope my writing returns the favor and someday manages to comfort you back.
Is Everyone Bisexual?
I’ve gotten this very important question several times recently, so here’s a special lil newsletter module just to confirm that the answer is nope. 🙂 (By module, I mean a link to a TikTok I made that you can send that to anyone who needs to stop asking:
A Queer Love Story
AN EXCERPT FROM GREEDY: NOTES FROM A BISEXUAL WHO WANTS TOO MUCH
Below is an excerpt from my book (this particular excerpt was also published on LitHub). If you’ve already read the book, I am so grateful to you, and I promise that next month we’ll be back to original content in this newsletter. If you haven’t read the book, I hope you enjoy the below enough to pick up a copy and read the rest. 😘
It’s not very 2021/“yes bitch!”/“you do you” to end this book with a love story. For starters, love is often happy, and happiness, as they say, does not stain the page. Yes, it’s important—radical even—to see people of all identities experiencing joy, but unless you’re talking about that blissed-out roller skater on Instagram, watching someone else share their contentment kind of blows. Audiences are looking for drama! Conflict! Pain! The hero should be tormented by a longing, a want—that way, the audience can root for them to achieve it (spoiler for every piece of media ever: They will achieve it, but not in the way they expected!).
While heroes often do seek out love itself, the juiciest parts of those stories will always be the chase. Resolutions masquerade as critical plot points but they’re usually preordained throwaways, driveways that we already know we’re going to pull into. It’s why so many romcoms put the much-anticipated kiss right before the credits: No one wants to see the protagonists cook a healthy dinner and go to bed by nine.
To craft an exciting love story, the goal must remain just out of reach at all times. Maybe that’s why many adults wander the earth like kids who still believe in Santa, searching for True Love, not realizing that the idea is faker than Hilaria Baldwin’s accent (I know that’s not a timeless reference but I couldn’t help myself). I didn’t find this out until I was twenty, and only because I was enrolled in an elective called the Philosophy of Love. Every week, the professor showed us how the romantic sausage got made, taking us through marriage’s economic origins, Aristophanes’s “two halves,” and the poetic bigotry of Don Draper (“What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons”). We read Tristan and Iseult, Plato, and Kierkegaard, charting the centuries-long dawn of a concept that still rules our day-to-day.
Naturally, the only reason I paid attention in this class was to make one of my friends fall in love with me: a creative writing major with extremely flat feet who always had his nose in a book. One day he said my syllabus looked “neat” (he wasn’t being sarcastic—that was just how he talked), and before I knew it, I’d finished every reading. At the end of the class, I asked the TA if he’d write me a letter of recommendation to apply for a philosophy PhD. (He said no and I was fine with that—I never picked up a philosophy book again.)
After I understood basic feminism (which I credit entirely to a rousing listen of P!nk’s M!ssundaztood), I realized how deeply the idea of True Love had manipulated me. For women, the indoctrination starts early and never lets up—one minute we’re watching Sleeping Beauty, the next we’ve finished nineteen seasons of Say Yes to the Dress. The True Love industrial complex feeds us grandiose dreams to occupy our dainty brains, hopeful that wedding planning will distract from thoughts of uprising and masturbation.
One of True Love’s cruelest jokes is that the entire concept hinges on scarcity. According to season one of Emily in Paris, a Netflix show that I definitely did not watch, the defining characteristic of “the one” is someone who exists in close quarters but remains perpetually out of reach. According to more scholarly sources like Sex and the City, “the one” can only be in every fifth episode (you’ll know him when he does show up because he’ll stare at you like he forgot your name). A helpful way to cut through the bullshit is to ask yourself who the characters would be in real life and my favorite method to do this consists of imagining who they would’ve voted for in the 2020 U.S. elections. In SATC’s case, it would’ve played out as follows:
Carrie: Campaigned for Mayor Pete in the primary, then bubbled in Biden but forgot to mail in her absentee ballot
Charlotte: Voted Trump in 2016 but 2020’s BLM protests persuaded her to go blue (also probably shared several infographics to her Instagram story with the caption “now more than ever”)
Samantha: Biden, but only because she had terrible sex with Melania Trump in college
Miranda: Bernie in the primary, then Biden on New York’s Working Families Party line
Steve: Same as Miranda but also volunteered as a poll worker
As Big himself embodies, True Love is nothing without capitalist markers of success. Cognitively, the connection begins with gifts—we’ve been programmed to think that an $18.99 drugstore bouquet of roses on Valentine’s Day means something, while the absence of those roses warrants spiraling out and second-guessing every emoji we’ve ever sent. Romance and capitalism are so enmeshed that our aspirations of love often include aspirations of money. Focus Features even marketed Fifty Shades of Grey with a digital tour of Christian’s penthouse apartment, proving that the fantasy was as much about being rich as it was about BDSM.
As icing on the proverbial wedding cake of horrors, the concept of True Love has always been heteronormative. That said, it’s important to note this flawed ideology isn’t just reserved for straight people—it’s equal opportunity bullshit, happy to ruin your life no matter how you identify. Anyone of any gender can blame True Love if they care more about being in “a relationship” than they care about the person they’re in said relationship with.
While the myth of True Love hurts everyone, it’s patriarchal in nature, meaning it comes for women and femmes especially hard. On top of all the other nonsense we’re supposed to live up to, we’re also supposed to become “the perfect wife.”
I’ve said “I love you” to four men throughout my life, but every time I uttered those words, I wondered if I was lying. In each relationship I had the nagging sense that I’d compromised myself, and that I’d done so because I was desperate for a storybook romance. At the time I sincerely believed that staying silent about my needs and regularly shaving my legs were necessary investments in “us.”
But in each case, I could never maintain this illusion for long. I usually blew my cover with something hygiene-related (e.g., disposable contacts I’d left on their floor), but by the time those slipups happened I’d already been stifling myself for months. For example: My love language is Words of Affirmation, and I feel most cared for when my partner showers me with compliments. But instead of voicing that to my boyfriends (which would’ve set both of us up for success), I simply contorted my personality into something I thought they *might* compliment: an amalgamation of their interests, passions, and visions of “the perfect girl.” I listened to Bill Simmons’s podcast. I took a Skillshare course on cryptocurrency. I left my own calendar for dead in an effort to center their volatile schedules, once bailing on a friend’s birthday because Ian was in town and wanted to watch Westworld. (He fell asleep halfway through.)
Why was I so willing to discard myself? You guessed it: because I wanted True Love, and I didn’t care if that love was fake as fuck. It’s hard to admit but I clung to the hope that one of these dudes would give me jewelry, chocolate, or—best case—a proposal. I didn’t have a Pinterest board (not a public one, anyway) but that didn’t stop me from fantasizing. (The ceremony begins at sunset in a Neukölln courtyard—I step out in a red jumpsuit wearing a graphic Euphoria eye, and the crowd goes wild.)
In hindsight, all my love stories with men had only been performances—one-woman shows furthering the True Love agenda, perpetuating the harmful idea that a woman’s sole purpose is to provide sex and free therapy to her husband until one of them dies. Sure, a feminist can still “fall in love,” but she should do it only if it’s what she wants. But where’s the line? There’s things we want, and then there’s things the world tells us to want. But how can we determine where one ends and the other begins?
If I’d “fallen in love” with a cis man, I’d probably still be out there squashing myself. This book’s ending would consist of sugarcoated essays that spoke to his strengths, concluding with a chapter called “Actually, Not All Men! Who Knew?” A close reading would indicate severe gaslighting on both the guy’s part and the patriarchy’s, but since I’d failed to “hold myself accountable” and call this out, Empowerment Instagram would de-platform me immediately (rightfully so).
This isn’t to say that healthy relationships with cis men cannot exist—just that it seems like they cannot exist for me. Thanks to heaps of internalized misogyny, I tend to make myself smaller—I abide by traditional gender roles until a hip queer person on the internet tells me it’s time to stop. Fortunately the hip queers are usually right—and since systemic sexism has impacted far more lives than just mine, I bet I’m not alone.
But luckily for me (and for you, dear reader), my love story isn’t about True Love. It’s about Queer Love. And that one, I didn’t study in school.
Queer Love, it turns out, is everything True Love wishes it could be, and the same goes for Queer Love stories—they’re the best kind of love stories because they’re forced to self-determine, which means they do their own world- building (Lord of the Rings, but make it gay . . . er than it already is). David Halperin writes, “Love has seemed too intimately bound up with institutions and discourses of the ‘normal,’ too deeply embedded in standard narratives of romance, to be available for ‘queering.’” Queer Love then requires us to create something entirely new—it must be different than the heteronormative, patriarchal tropes from whence we came.
Before I go any further with this and wake the “BuT WhAt AbOuT sTrAiGhT pRiDe” crowd, I should clarify: You don’t have to be an LGBTQ+ person to experience Queer Love. The only thing Queer Love requires is authenticity, and you can have that no matter who your partner(s) is/are. You can also lack it—being queer doesn’t inherently make you down-to-earth (see: Jeffree Star, Rachel Dolezal, or Ursula in The Little Mermaid). I’m no authenticity role model either: I’ve been bisexual my whole life, thus all of my relationships with men were *technically* queer relationships. But was I honest? Did I show up with my full self? The tattoo I got to impress a high school crush says no. (Actually it says “this too shall pass” and I’m in the process of getting it removed.)
People tend to focus on the practical appeal of queer relationships—plenty of think pieces have celebrated these bonds for the way they transcend gender roles. When sexism doesn’t tell you who should cook, who cooks? The better cook. Beautiful.
But as I said, a Queer Love story isn’t just a straight love story featuring queer people—it’s about a love that is rooted in radical, asymmetrical truth. Queer Love is inherently political—an action that bell hooks defined as “the practice of freedom.” Queer Love takes up space—it is earth-shattering and expansive, yet somehow remains vulnerable even in its strongest form.
When I say Queer Love, I don’t mean love in a legal sense. I don’t mean domestic partnerships, divorces, or whatever it’s called when two white gays start a joint TikTok account.
When I say Queer Love, I mean love that makes its own rules. Love that exists without borders and thrives without clean lines. Love that creates more space than it takes up.
So yes—this book ends with a Queer Love story, and that story happens to involve two queer people. Sometimes I wonder if my partner and I were drawn to each other because we both struggle with binaries, each of us viewing the world as overlapping Venn diagrams where everything happens to be something else too. Maybe we shared an intuitive understanding about the power in shades of gray.
Or maybe, like a ditzy girl in a rom-com, I just happened to get lost in their eyes.
Copyright © 2021 by Jen Winston. From GREEDY: Notes from a Bisexual Who Wants Too Much by Jen Winston.
Follow This Bisexual: Haley Jakobson
This section of the newsletter was written & compiled by my amazing intern, Macy Harder! Macy (she/her) is a journalism student at the University of Minnesota—not to mention another bisexual you should follow!
The queer author is a force to be reckoned with (see above!), and Haley Jakobson (she/her) is no exception. The Brooklyn-based writer and theater producer centers her work around queerness, brains, trauma, intimacy, and bodies. Her first novel, Old Enough, is currently in submission and will hopefully hit the shelves sometime in 2023. (We can’t wait tbh!)
Until then, you can keep up with Haley on her Instagram. Read on to learn more about her experiences with mental health and bisexuality, her favorite works of bi+ lit, and more.
You write frequently about your experience with Sexual Orientation OCD. Can you tell us about what this is, and how it impacts your relationship with bisexuality?
H: So you know how bisexuals are hypersexualized, tormented by internalized biphobia and regular biphobia, made to feel that they’re just experimenting, often seen as an accessory to spice up straight relationships, etc etc etc? Well! I have this other v fun thing thrown into the mix! Sexual Orientation OCD is a theme within Pure-O (it means mental compulsions instead of physical compulsions—think obsessive thoughts versus checking the stove 30 times). Basically, my OCD brain—my therapist had me name him Josh—makes me obsessively question my sexuality. This can be common for all bi people, even all queer people, but the OCD component makes it different because it comes with compulsions that can be constant and severely debilitating without ERP therapy—otherwise known as Exposure and Response Prevention therapy.
OCD often latches on to things that are ego-dystonic, meaning your thoughts don’t align with your values. For example, someone who loves kids can have Pedophilia OCD as a theme. This does not mean they are pedophiles, but their brain has latched onto the idea that they might be. There are a million different themes under the OCD umbrella because our brains can get very creative, but the symptoms present the same way: All-consuming intrusive thoughts and other mental compulsions that completely derail you from living a full life. I value my queer identity, my loving queer partnership, and write frequently about bisexuality and visibility. And also I have a disorder that tries very hard to get certainty about my sexuality and encourages me to engage in uncomfortable compulsions that don’t end up helping. Josh can be very unhelpful and distracting, but he is my roommate for life so I have to tolerate him.
Going into therapy for OCD has been one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. It has made me a much less fearful person, helped me to live in uncertainty, and allowed me to finally stop running from a very scary thing inside my brain. I know it might sound crazy, but the most empowering thing I have ever done to fall in love with my queer identity is to say, “maybe I’m not gay,” and live my beautiful gay life anyway.
What advice would you have for bi+ folks who may be struggling with Sexual Orientation OCD?
H: I validate your experience. It is soul-crushingly hard. It is nothing to be ashamed of. I do not judge your thoughts or compulsions. And if you are not getting help, It is crucial that you do. I encourage you to begin ERP (Exposure Response Prevention) with a licensed OCD therapist. ERP is life changing, and I don’t know how I ever survived without it. OCD is wildly misunderstood, and talk therapy can make OCD so much worse. While I still have a talk therapist, I do not enter into OCD territory with her. I see my ERP therapist and am in group therapy for OCD weekly. In ERP, you do exposures so that your brain can become accustomed to the things it fears the most, hopefully lessening the terror you feel about those things with time and repeated exposures. If you’re afraid you might be a pedophile, you could walk by a playground as an exposure. If you think you might kill your spouse impulsively, you could sleep with a knife by your bed. For me, I’ve watched YouTube videos and media that have really triggered me, written out “imaginals” where I describe in detail how my life might blow up, then recorded those and listened to them every day. And guess what?! Even this interview is an exposure for me! I’m actually quite activated by it, but I’m really happy I’m doing it because it aligns with my values.
The thing about exposures is that for folks with OCD, nothing is scarier than OCD itself. You face your worst fear every single day. You dream about it every night. Exposures are scary as fuck, but [people with OCD are] already the bravest people out there. I know this because of everyone I do group therapy with. Group has made me feel so much less alone, and it’s amazing to be with people where you can say your most fucked up intrusive thoughts or work through the urge to perform a compulsion and not feel judged or misunderstood. There’s no threat of being triggered by reassurance (reassurance = the compulsive need to be told everything is fine or having someone assist your compulsion because you tell them it will help you). My group makes me feel so emboldened to double down on my exposures and live my life without shame. It allows me to remember that the content of my thoughts is irrelevant, and that my values are so much more important than whatever Josh throws around in my head. So if you’re a bisexual person who thinks they might have SOOCD —maybe you do! You probably hate that I said that! You’re probably a little freaked out or you are convincing yourself you’re just a terrible straight person gaslighting everyone into thinking you’re gay. Let me tell you babe, if you’re thinking about it morning til night and deep in a Reddit thread about “solving” your sexuality, try ERP instead. It’ll give you your life back. IOCDF.org is a great place to start.
In what ways has writing about themes like queerness, mental health, sex and trauma impacted your own journey with them?
H: Writing has been the journey itself. I understand everything through writing. I believe in narrative medicine, the idea that you can write trauma out of your body. The more you write, which is a bodily practice as much as it is a mental one, the more you know yourself. The more you believe yourself. The more you honor yourself. I believe that everyone should write, even if they don’t deem themselves a writer (but I’ll challenge you on that). It is so impactful. Sometimes writing speaks secrets that your body has been keeping from you. I learned that I was a survivor because I wrote it first. I affirm my queerness through writing. I advocate for mental health awareness through my writing, therefore advocating for myself. And while, at first, what I wrote about this topics was really just for me, it has now morphed into being for others too. To be able to empower folks through my writing, to make them feel seen and understood, to encourage them to celebrate themselves for all that they are—it’s huge. It is entirely special. They are entirely special.
Do you have an all-time favorite piece of bi+ writing or literature?
H: I honestly don’t know if Melissa Broder wrote her protagonist as a bisexual human, but Milk Fed was brilliant and life changing and felt very bi for me!
Thank you so much for reading and subscribing to The Bi Monthly! I love you and I’m so grateful you’re here!
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