Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Jessie J, particularly one song from her debut album, titled “Who You Are”. We appear to be living in an age of anthemic songs about “loving who you are” from pop divas, gay icons at their finest: Katy Perry with “Firework”, my beloved Mama Monster Lady Gaga with “Born This Way”, and this smaller, more intimate offering from my new favourite, Jessie J, a queer English singer-songwriter. My fresh-faced, musical snob 18-year-old self would be appalled by the amount of commercial pop I’ve been listening to ever since I left the yeasty, beer-stained dorm halls of my former glam-punk princess self behind, and she would be especially appalled by the fact that I am finding meaning–of all things!–in the lyrics of such saccharine bubblegum tripe. She would scream at me to resist mainstream stupidity and write POSEUR all over my face and arms in black biro pen while I slept, painting an Aladdin Sane lightning bolt over her eye while hugging her Libertines and Clash records to her chest.
The truth is, I’ve always had a soft spot for dancehall pop, the sort of relentlessly manufactured easy listening perfect for dancing the night away with my best fags in NYC’s gay clubs as well as pounding out a few miles on the pavement. (Funny how my Gay Clubbing playlist and my Workout playlist are remarkably similar.) But at 18, I wasn’t allowed to admit this, because I was a biracial, bisexual glam-punk princess, and biracial, bisexual glam-punk princesses weren’t supposed to listen to commercial music. Pop music was the antithesis of actual musicianship because it was soulless, or so I believed. I thought that declaring my 18-year-old self like a college major was the culmination of a lifetime of striving for authenticity.
I grew up in very privileged southern California neighborhood, where I attended small private schools for the majority of my primary school education. By small I mean small–there were 36 of us in my graduating junior high school class, and the majority of us had gone to school together since kindergarten. In some ways, this intimacy was very freeing; I was never pigeonholed into any sort of label by my peers (it’s hard to when you’ve literally grown up with your classmates) and therefore never felt any pressure to conform to someone else’s idea of me. But in the absence of someone else’s preconceived notions, I had to form my own, and there behind all the uniforms and dress codes, I was constantly questioning and refining and searching for my “authentic” self.
High school, of course, is a horse of another color, and my particular horse was of a very rare and unfamiliar hue. I went to an all-girls prep school, where social hierarchy and social labels were considered moot. In the absence of labels, I had many different identities, but didn’t have others like me to direct me, to form an entity against which I could hone my thoughts, feelings, and emotions. In many ways, I graduated high school without having a clue as to who I was: as an Asian girl, as a white girl, as a girl with a boyfriend whom she didn’t like to f*ck, as anything other than the amorphous idea of “JJ”-ness that I was still in the process of defining.
Perhaps it was the reason that when I got to college, I became AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE. In nearly every way. The label didn’t matter as long as I wore it with conviction. But to wear a label with conviction, one has to have confidence in it. And I didn’t have confidence in nearly anything about me. Why couldn’t I make friends with other Asian kids? Why wasn’t I good at math or science? Why, as a “straight” girl, did I find myself attracted to other women?
I made peace with my Asian-ness (or lack thereof) fairly quickly, but being bisexual was a label in which I had little to no confidence. The problem was I had no idea what being bisexual meant. Oh I could recite the textbook definition to anyone who asked, but “bisexuality” came with a lot of baggage. I had a lot of lesbian friends who doubted my queerness because I “acted too straight”. I had a lot of straight friends who seemed to think I was going through a phase. I had a lot of gay friends who claimed that sexuality was always fluid when plied with a little alcohol. There were still others who claimed that I wasn’t a “real” bisexual because I had never been in a relationship with a woman in my life. (To be fair, I hadn’t really been in a relationship with a man either.) And that bias against me has never gone away, especially as I’ve been in a 5-year relationship with a man whom I love very dearly. The other remark I often hear–not from Bear, thankfully–is that I’ll inevitably dump my boyfriend because I, a bisexual, just “can’t make up [my] mind”. In the words of Jessie J, “I’ve forgotten how to fit the mold”, mostly because I don’t understand it.
There persists a myth in our collective social conscience: that to name something or to know someone’s true name was to have power over him or her. I thought that if I could just find my sexuality’s true name, I could finally stop refining and defining that part of myself. I thought that I could finally be brave and true to myself, that I would suddenly find it easy to step into the “B” letter of LGBTQ. In all honesty, that hasn’t been the case.
Being true to who I am is in some ways easy; it’s living truthfully that’s hard. To live each day with conscious conviction, to know that I am a girl who happens to like both boys and girls, and who happens to be in love with a boy right now, and will perhaps be forever?
Living and writing the truth is always hard. How often have I read representations of bisexuality in YA as a convenient stop on the way to heterosexual happiness? Or complete gay happiness? Or complete lesbian happiness? Bisexuality as a sexuality isn’t just a pit-stop on a sliding scale of gayness; it is a valid identity on its own. Because “gay”, “straight”, “lesbian”, “bi” are labels to describe an identity, but the identity is what each person makes of it. Identities and labels are useful in YA, and I think it would have helped me form my own ideas about my sexuality had it been around when I was a teen, but behind the label there is always a three-dimensional person. One who wears many labels.
S. Jae-Jones (called JJ) is an avid skydiver, an editorial assistant at St. Martin’s Press, and an aspiring writer. Visit her at http://sjaejones.com/