This guest post was first published on the blog: A Little Bit Tart, A Little Bit Sweet.
Learning to Feel Valid
It took me forty years to figure out that I was bisexual. There are many times that I’ve wondered what different paths my life would have taken if I’d worked this out earlier. How many times did I dismiss certain feelings or reactions I had because I’d been taught that those feelings were wrong? Far too many.
CW: I’m going to discuss some of the things I was taught by the church as a child, but I will be keeping the worst of the slurs out of this. However, some of the things I discuss hurt me, and may hurt others too.
I grew up in a small town in New Zealand, Waiuku, whose Maori name translates to muddy water. It’s at the end of a tidal estuary, and most of the time, the tide is out and all you can see are mudflats. People tell me I’m lucky because “New Zealand is so beautiful.” Yeah, not the bit I grew up in. It’s not the gorgeous South Island shown in The Lord of the Rings, it’s just dairy country with some sheep thrown in. The coastal beach nearby… Well, it would be striking in a brutal kind of way. It’s black iron sand, with big west coast waves and grass covered sand dunes. But it’s a road. Yes, people are allowed to drive on the beach I grew up near. If you got caught by the tide, you could pay the surf lifesaving club to tow you out with their tractor, but most people just torched their car and left it there. There was a reason I would ride my horse at the far end of the beach, far from the locals hooning about. Occasionally, you’d see someone take the bonnet off their car, tie it to the tow ball, sit on the bonnet and get towed along the beach. Throw in alcohol, and it wasn’t the prettiest or safest place to be.
But this isn’t about the town I grew up. It’s about how family norms impact on how you see yourself. Now, this is tricky for me to write (and in a public space) because I’m not out to my family, and honestly, I’m nervous about how they would react. Dismissive, most likely, since I’m in a straight passing relationship. Or maybe that’s just me being hopeful… Better to be dismissed than the alternatives.
On the other hand, it was easy to discuss my thoughts about being bisexual with my partner. It wasn’t one conversation, but a culmination of a bunch of discussions because I’d just finished writing Making Her Mark (bisexual heroine), and we’d discussed the themes as I’d been writing it. We’d watched the Bohemian Rhapsody movie for our family movie night and were discussing it the next evening. I told him how I felt it wasn’t queer enough, and he thought it was quite queer. I laughed and said, “All my queer friends think it’s not queer enough, and all my straight friends agree with you.” And from there, we talked about being bisexual, and he asked if the book I’d just finished writing was about me trying to work that all out. Yeah, basically. The conversation moved around a lot, but he was super supportive of me, and at no time did I regret talking about this with him. When we’d first met, (coughs) more than fifteen years ago, I had a friend who had the most marvellous breasts. He brought her up in this conversation and asked me about her in the context of me being bisexual. “I never really understood why you were friends with her.” Umm, yeah, me neither, except for all these feelings that I was repressing.
Over the next while, I was able to go back over different friendships during my life with a totally different viewpoint. Oh, that wasn’t me desperately wanting to be friends with her, that was a crush. And that time too. And that other time. Hmmm. Maybe my confusion was why I tended to work in male-dominated fields, because I didn’t understand myself enough to unpack friendship from lust. I hope I’m getting better at this with more self-awareness. My partner and I have since had really informative questions about the Kinsey Scale, and about the whole insta-lust, demisexual, ace/aromantic range of sexual attraction. It’s helped him understand himself too, and we’ve grown together, which is magical and unexpected and a real gift.
Back to the point I was going to talk about, before I went somewhat off track. Socialisation. For years, I’d always said that my parents have a unique relationship with the church, due to a bunch of factors. My father’s family were Russian Orthodox but switched to Catholicism for political reasons after the Russian Revolution. My mother’s family are Methodist. When my parents got married in the early 1970s, the Catholic church refused to accept my mother, so my father walked away from them. I’d always had this sense that he was ambivalent about church and the Christian God, but I guess the teachings weren’t far from his general world view. My mother took us all to church every Sunday, and I absorbed the teachings of the protestant movement via osmosis. When I was a teen, my best friend was a gay boy*, and I recall a family member telling me, “love the sinner but hate the sin.” Fuck, I hated this comment. It didn’t make any sense to me (and looking back, it’s obvious that I felt this person wouldn’t accept all of me either). This one comment began my journey of removing myself from the church. *We are still very close friends.
Just removing myself from participating in church wasn’t enough. I had to go on a journey of discovery – the separation of church and religion and work out what I really believed? Do I need to have faith in a sky-fairy? Or can I have agency over my own life? And what does that mean for me? What if I’d grown up under a different religion? Why are so many religions anti-women? Which thoughts are me, and which thoughts are taught to me?
But the remnants of those teachings remain, and it’s the work of a lifetime to undo all those threads one at a time. Something that really helped me was the phrase, “The first reaction you have to a situation is what you’ve been taught. Take a breath and think. Your second reaction is what you truly believe.”
I believe I’m valid. It might have taken time to figure out that I’m bisexual and writing books has certainly helped me unpack a bunch of social conditioning from my youth. I have two books due out soon that provided part of this unlearning for me.
Liability (16 June) is my first ff romance to be published. I loved writing this book. It’s just me having fun with writing. It’s a category length romance with a mechanic heroine and an IT billionaire heroine who wants to invest in businesses for marginalised communities. This is the second in a series of books connected by the main characters foster mother. The first book is Betrayed (mf, discusses religion).
Making Her Mark (4 August) features a bisexual heroine who is an aspirational version of me. She’s bold, great at riding horses (I’m mediocre but keen), and fiercely out. Her family live on a farm in a small town in country Australia, and my first drafts of all four books in this series included way too many side characters based on my own small town. It was cathartic to write them, and also very freeing to delete them! Of all my characters, Rachel is the closest to me, but only in the sense that she’s the me I wish I might have been. This is the second in this series, and can be read as a stand alone. The first is Merindah Park (mf).
Bio: Renée Dahlia is an unabashed romance reader who loves feisty women and strong, clever men. Her books reflect this, with a side-note of dark humour. Renée has a science degree in physics. When not distracted by the characters fighting for attention in her brain, she works in the horse racing industry doing data analysis, and writing magazine articles. When she isn’t reading or writing, Renée wrangles a partner, four children, and volunteers on the local cricket club committee as well as for Romance Writers Australia.
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