When changing your identity changes your culture


“Total culture shock, am I right?” Nick nods in a way I can only describe as “sagely,” because “wisely” is overused and “pompously,” though not inaccurate, would give you the wrong impression. Nick isn’t a bad guy. And right now, over soup bowl-size cups of coffee, empathy is his goal.

“What do you mean by ‘culture’?” I ask.

“It’s just gotta be a tough adjustment,” Nick says. He’s referring to the fact that I’m open to sleeping with men as well as women now.

“I mean, I’m pretty stressed about birth control.” I take a sip off coffee, tepid, though only minutes old. It’s these Friends-era coffee cups. They expose too much surface area to the air.

“My whole adult life, when my gynecologist would ask what I used for birth control, I’d be like, ‘Sex with women,’ and now I pretty much think I’m pregnant all the time, even when I’m in a horrific dry spell and haven’t had sex in — let’s see. There was the time with the guy who put my iTunes on shuffle and we ended up dry humping to Dar Williams…That may have been the last — why are you humming and holding your hands over your ears?”

“We’ve talked about this.” Nick clutches his cup. “I don’t need specifics.”

“Specifics are the difference between a mediocre story and a good one.”

“I’m very comfortable with mediocrity.”

“I know. I’ve seen how you spend your Saturdays.”

“Hey, Call of Duty isn’t going to play itself. I just meant, whenever one of my bisexual friends switches from dating men to women or vice versa, she loses her peer group.”

“First of all, how many bisexual friends do you have?”


“Well, I went to Oberlin, so…”

“Second, what kind of judgmental creeps are these Oberlin alums hanging out with? I’m pretty sure my friends are friends with me because I’m objectively entertaining, not because I scissor chicks in the bathroom at Berlin. [Editor’s Note: The Chicago bar, not the city.]”

“Objectively entertaining?”

“This morning I spilled coffee in my underwear and I always have really funny come-backs to the hosts of All Things Considered.”

“I’m not sure that makes you —”

“Like today they said something about Hamas backing themselves into a corner and I was all, ‘Nobody puts Hamas in a corner.’”

“That’s not objectively —”

“And OK, I’ve never actually been to Berlin [Editor’s Note: Neither the Chicago bar nor the city], but scissoring is just an innately funny word—see?—objectively entertaining.”

“But what does that word—”


“Do you think you could say that eight more times and maybe a tad louder? Anyway, what does that have to do with-”

“My point is, I don’t form friendships around my sex life. I mean, aside from staying close with all of my exes, which I guess sort of counts as an aspect of sexual culture because it’s pretty much the most lesbian thing ever, aside from tabouli.”

“Wait, aren’t you the one who told me that lesbians don’t really scissor?”

“I said that popular depictions of lesbian sex greatly overemphasize—”

“OK, look.” Nick holds up his hands “Stop in the Name of Love”-style. “I’m just saying that whenever they gender swap, the bisexuals I know end up missing their life—their activities.”

“So, say I break up with a girlfriend and start dating a man. I’d have to quit eating peanut butter and making to-do lists?”

“That’s not what I—”

“Cause those are pretty much my main activities.”

“Come on, you know what I mean.”

I honestly don’t. Nor do I know why this coffee shop uses cups the size of buckets. Or why every indie sucker in the place looks so smug, when right up the street Starbucks charges less, has free wifi and doesn’t throw shade when I ask for steamed soy. (“We think steaming the soy ruins the coffee’s texture,” the barista told me.)

“But what about what I think? I’m the one who’ll be drinking the coffee.”

“I just wouldn’t feel right.” She adjusted her bowler.


“I see,” I said. “It’s like how at Walgreens you don’t have to sell me birth control if you’re Catholic.” (I really can’t stop thinking about birth control.)

Did I mention a latte costs six bucks? That’s what, one dollar for the coffee, two for the milk I can’t drink and three for the inscrutable foam drawing etched on the surface?

The minutia of coffee culture, apparently, is of more interest to me than the culture which springs up around queer sexuality. Of course this means I’m privileged, eschewing the thing from which I benefit, like those crazy bitches on the Women Against Feminism tumblr that I can’t even let myself look at because if I punch another hole in my dry wall, I’ll never get my security deposit back. My fore-queers didn’t have the option not to be interested. Politically, they needed to march in parades about who they slept with. But now those parades are crashed by straights and announced on Kiss FM. They’re sponsored by Subaru and attended by Rahm Emmanuel. This is all fantastic and forward thinking, but could it be that sexual orientation no longer requires a concomitant culture?

Right, of course mainstream culture is all about mainstream (i.e. straight) sexuality. Turn on the radio and there’s Robin Thicke sonically stalking his ex, flip through GQ and here’s Kanye’s ranting about how Kim’s Instagram pic of their wedding makes her an artiste or a dinosaur or something. In both examples, the trappings of heterosexual sex (provided Kim is a female dinosaur) represent the backdrop of normalcy against which all of our lives are set. And if I accept that, why rail against being assumed part of a sexual subculture?

Plus even if pride parades and lesbian bars are no longer politically necessary–and I’m not saying they aren’t—there’s also the issue of, well, convenience. Locations or events associated with LGBTQ folks or even with typically queer cultural signifiers provide a place for queers to readily socialize, like if you’re a gay man, it’s going to be much easier to meet another gay man at say, The Abandoned Land of Oz Theme Park than at The Cheesecake Factory or Kirk Cameron’s weekly poker night.

And what if you’re Poly? Different than queer, I know, but they’ve got their meet-up groups where they get together and, I don’t know, eat chicken or watch 3-2-1-Contact reruns—whatever it is Poly people like, and that’s great because that way they don’t have to cringe their way through a first date, waiting to drop the whole, “I actually want to date multiple people at once, not because I’m some asshole who posts on pick-up artist forums, but because I truly believe in egalitarian non-monogamy.” Much more convenient to socialize with other openly Poly people, just like it’s going to be simplest for a lesbian to find another lesbian at the Dinah Shore White Party, especially now that Celine is putting Birkenstocks on runway models.

So, I get the sometime-necessity of creating culture around sexual orientation, but I didn’t gravitate to the accouterments of lesbian culture even when I slept exclusively with women. No, those rainbow suspenders were an homage to Mork, I’ve told you that, so for you to assume that just because I sleep with men as well as women now, my friend group will abandon me or I’ll suddenly enjoy The Notebook or beer pong, well, that’s just a giant assumption on your part, Nick?”

“Sorry. I was in the bathroom.” Nick resumes his seat.

“Wait, you just walked away while I was talking?”

“It didn’t seem like you needed me for any of that and I had to pee, so.” Nick shrugs.

“Well, do you take my point about the activities I enjoy and the cultural events I attend being separate from who I have sex with?”

“Totally. I’m getting hungry. Wanna grab a pizza and watch Orange is the New Black?”

“Oh right, since I’m bi I automatically want to watch a show with a bi-protagonist.”

“No, since you’re a human being in 2014, you automatically—”

“Also? You know I don’t eat dairy. Or wheat.”

“And you say you’re not a part of lesbian culture.”

“Anyway, I can’t. I have tickets to see Tegan and Sara. I’m trying to get this guy I’ve been out on a couple dates with to go, but he’s being kind of a dick about it—says he’s never heard of them.”

“Did you tell him they’re lesbians? And twins? And lesbian twins?”

“I’ll walk out with you. Just let me bus my coffee-trough. Can we maybe just go to Starbucks next time?”

“You didn’t like your foam design?”

“I couldn’t identify my foam design.”

The barista leans in as we pass the counter.

“It was a pair of scissors,” she says.

“Hey,” I say. “You wanna go see Tegan and Sara tonight?”

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