Bessie Smith: Bisexual Icon

My piece in Biscuit:



Straight Enough!?

How about instead of asking if we are bisexual enough, we turn that question around and ask the same of the straight community?  Did you ever wonder why no one ever asks for someone’s straight credentials, but bisexuals are asked all of the time to verify if they are bisexual enough?  Sometimes we are asked to provide a history of our relationships to prove we are bisexual enough.  Other times we are asked whether we like men and women equally – as if having a 50/50 answer at any given point in time makes us truly bisexual.

            So what if we had a checklist for straight people?  What would it look like?  Obviously, the person in question would need to be attracted to another gender.   But then what?  We would need to go well beyond that, wouldn’t we, to make sure it was truly a “opposite” gender attraction?  To be truly straight, you wouldn’t be able to choose from the whole spectrum of genders, you would need to be attracted to cis people: a term used to describe someone whose gender identity matches their anatomical gender at birth.  You would need to carefully define what your “opposite” gender is.  That could get tricky.  How female is female enough?  How male is male enough?  And, are they even opposites?  Why?  Why can’t cis males and non-binary people be opposites?  Why can’t cis females and trans* women be opposites?  The possible combinations are staggering.  After all, who is in charge of the definition of “opposite”?  Being able to precisely define what the opposite gender is, seems to me to be a pretty critical part of being straight.  After all, the bisexual community has been going through a lot of self-scrutiny to ensure that all varieties of gender (sexual and romantic) attractions are welcomed into the bi community.  Point being it gets complicated really quickly when you pause to define the line between what makes someone straight and what makes someone bisexual.

            Let’s leave that mind-boggling puzzle alone for a moment and move on to relationship history.  Bisexuals are compelled to provide a history of their relationships to prove to the world that they are bisexual enough, so why not straight people?  If you’ve never been intimate with anyone, then how on earth would we know you are straight?  What about people who have had sex one time with what we assume to be the opposite gender?  Is that enough to prove your straightness?  Shouldn’t we set the bar a bit higher?  After all, one time might be a mistake.  So, who decides how many times you have to be intimate with the opposite gender to qualify as truly straight?    Oh bother, we ran into another ­road block.  Surely there is a way to quantify this, right?  A straight person reading this might respond to all this questioning with a simple: “You’re being ridiculous!  Everyone knows what straight means!  There’s no reason to define it!”  My counter to that would be: “Why not?  We expend all sorts of energy and time on defining bisexuality.  Why can’t we do the same for heterosexuality?”

            Moving on to relationship status before heads explode, there are other questions that come up when defining a sexual orientation or identity.  It would be sort of not-so-straight to be polygamous or polyamorous wouldn’t it?  That’s the special domain of the queers for the most part, right?  At least that’s the rhetoric we often hear from those who oppose same-sex marriage.  If we allow same-sex marriage, they say, then we have to allow polygamy.  Straights probably should remain monogamous to avoid confusing them with the queer community.  That means pairing up with one person for life.  Surely to be straight must mean that you find one partner for life and once found, you stick with them come hell or high water.  That’s what we as a heteropatriarchal society are told from day one – that we must find our one soul mate and our one soul mate will bring us life-long happiness.

            All of these questions beg a definitive answer.  And who would do that? Is the LGBT community allowed to do it?  Are we allowed to examine the structure and the patterns of heterosexual behavior?  If not, why?  I can hear straight people laughing at me right now.  “You crazy queer. You can’t question the NORM.  Now you’re just being obnoxious!”  But really.  Why isn’t there more research around this?  Is it because we’ve been socialized to believe that heterosexuality is the default sexuality?  Is it because we’ve been led to believe that it is a biologically determined part of humanity – that most humans will be heterosexual?  If it is biologically determined, then there is no need to examine it.  Or is there?  Are we afraid we will lose our allies in the straight community?  It is a very real fear, after all.  Every member of the LGBT community has at some point had their own sexuality questioned.  Why not turn that around and see what happens when we do the same to heterosexuality?  What would we see? 

We Are Not Your Afterthought: responding to LGBT Soup

TW for cis gay privilege that could make your eyes bleed. Don’t read this at work unless you have office walls thick enough to withstand obscenities.

There are some phrases that, when you see them in an article, you know aren’t going to lead to anywhere good. “Political correctness gone mad”, for one. “Some of my best friends are…”, for another. “I’m not a ___, but..” is definitely one. One of the phrases that takes the proverbial biscuit (and a lot of other proverbials), though, is this one:

Now, before you run off to compose a face-meltingly indignant email to the editor..

When the writer already knows that they’ve written something to get their readers face-meltingly indignant, things can only go two ways. It could be that they’ve come up with something so new and wonderful that it’ll take the rest of us years to get our heads around. Far…

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An Open Letter to Paula Deen


An Open Letter to Paula Deen:


Photo Courtesy of: Johnathan M. Lewis

Dear Paula Deen,

So it’s been a tough week for you… believe me you I know something about tough weeks being a beginning food writer and lowly culinary historian.  Of course honey, I’d kill for one of your worst days as I could rest myself on the lanai, the veranda, the portico (okay that was really tongue in cheek), the porch..whatever…as long as its breezy and mosquito-free.  First Food Network now Smithfield.  (Well not so mad about Smithfield—not the most ethical place to shill for, eh, Paula?)

I am currently engaged in a project I began in 2011 called The Cooking Gene Project—my goal to examine family and food history as the descendant of Africans, Europeans and Native Americans—enslaved people and enslavers—from Africa to America and from Slavery to Freedom.  You and I are both human, we…

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Excerpt from: The Mole and the Kraken

In winter it became nearly impossible to keep a good grip on reality. The bitter weather choked off any coherent thought. The gray brick wall inside his tiny corner of the tunnel pulsed with cold – dribbling icy water down its surface day after day. The big stack of newspapers by his bed became a solid frozen mass. Every year as the weather turned, he made up his mind to get rid of the stack of papers that now loomed over him. It never happened. He always waited too long and then the huge stack was sealed together again in an icy, soggy pile firmly attached to the side of the wooden chair he’d salvaged many years ago. That’s why he kept scraps of cardboard around. Those were easier to pull apart and use as cover, and no one ever tried to steal cardboard. Bits of cardboard could be used as candle holders; although his favorite candle holder was an old abandoned converse shoe that was beginning to rot and fall apart, except where the wax held it together. The shoe was in a prominent spot at the center of his makeshift table – a piece of plywood balanced on top of concrete blocks. On the rare occasion he managed an old blanket, it was promptly stolen.  A warm, soft blanket was a highly prized commodity and would be yanked right off the top of a sleeping man.  When he first arrived in the tunnels, he hoarded fabric of any sort and fought to keep what little he found.  These days it wasn’t worth getting rolled into the wall by a blanket thief while sound asleep – not to mention waking up with stiff, painful joints and a bloody nose.