What Do You Do With A Problem Like Romi Klinger: On Bisexuality, Biphobia and Media Representation

Recently, GO Magazine published an interview with Romi Klinger of The Real L Word regarding the current state of her relationships, her career, and the controversy surrounding her sexuality. In the interview, Romi reveals that she and and her husband Dusty Ray (of dubious Tumblr fame) have separated and are moving forward with divorce proceedings. The interviewer then pushed Romi to declare her sexuality as an absolute percentage, and Klinger actually went as far as to partially blame her marriage’s collapse on her bisexuality. “I would say that half of the divorce is because it wasn’t working out and we weren’t happy. And the other half is because I want to go back to women,” she explains.

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Look, I haven’t eaten an animal product in nearly a decade, but when I see PETA campaigns that make all vegetarians look petty and insane, it embarrasses me on a personal level.  As I read Romi’s explanation of her current situation and her incredulity at the public’s reaction to her prior relationship drama, I couldn’t help feeling personally betrayed in some (possibly unrealistic) way.  I’m an actively queer woman who does not identify as a lesbian, and I date people of all genders without worrying too much about giving myself a label.  It would be easy to gloss over all the difficulties I had in reaching this level of acceptance with my sexuality, but the truth is that from time to time, non-monosexuality can be a pretty lonely place to be.  Ever since I found my predilections  shifting towards this current state of affairs, I’ve been very keen to find others who understand my point of view, and it can be enormously upsetting to see someone who has a major international platform making us all look crazy.

Obviously nobody is denying anybody the right to love who they want – that’s sort of the whole point of this community, right? It’s what we’re here for! However, Romi’s comments about the role her sexual fluidity has played in both her on-screen vilification and her ever-changing relationship status left a bad taste in my mouth.  According to the Advocate, who named “bisexuals” (all of them, apparently) as one of their 10 choices for 2013’s Person of the Year, there’s never been a better time to be open about one’s “in-between sexuality” in the media… So why does it still feel so distinctly uncomfortable?  Romi’s often branded herself as a representative of the bisexual community, but her statements about what it means to be a sexually fluid person do nothing to paint her as any sort of role model – in fact, she drives home a number of unfortunate stereotypes.

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In the beginning of Season 3 of The Real L Word (a real television show that actually exists), Romi is shown “coming out” to her friends as dating a man. She is frightened of the reception she may receive from her lesbian friends, and this is a valid fear that many non-monosexual women know all too well. The risk of being judged or excommunicated for “going straight” or somehow betraying one’s community is a very real issue among bisexual women involved with male-identified partners, as though these relationships somehow invalidate one’s queer identity. However, Romi laughs to her friends that she started dating a guy because she “got tired of [her] strap-on not working,” and it’s here that she began to lose me. I watched the rest of the season with my jaw on the floor, aghast at one of the worst and most disappointing representations of bisexuality I have ever seen on television – which is really quite a distinction.

In terms of media visibility, our options have been pretty limited for quite some time. Remember all the way back in season 1 of The L Word, when Alice was portrayed as the only bisexual in The Planet, not to mention the whole wide world? By the end of season three, her awkward journey along the Kinsey scale was unceremoniously concluded with her admission that “bisexuality is gross. I see it now.” As Maria San Filippo explains in her book The B Word: Bisexuality in Contemporary Film and Television, Ilene Chaiken’s decision to abandon this aspect of Alice’s storyline squandered the opportunity to tell stories that a significant chunk of her audience could relate to, leaving behind a world where the most outspokenly bisexual woman left on television was Megan Mullally’s character Karen Walker on Will & Grace. Bisexual visibility in media has long been a touchy subject, with many characters hesitant to openly refer to themselves as bi (see: Chasing Amy, Piper from Orange is the New Black). Our other options tend to be poorly-developed, problematic representations like A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila. These murky examples don’t do very much to demystify or enhance public perception of those of us who fall somewhere in-between. It would have been lovely to see a sympathetic portrayal of a complex bisexual woman on television, but instead Ilene Chaiken did it again – we got Romi, who threw temper tantrums about not receiving the treatment she felt entitled to as a “celesbian” and lied to her girlfriend about her obvious attraction to her ex-boyfriend before unceremoniously ditching her to marry him.

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Any criticism of her behavior, even when valid, was written off by Romi as biphobia, and while I don’t doubt that much of it was rooted in biphobia, the problem of biphobia in the lesbian community is too pervasive and important to be dubiously employed on national television. Like other forms of oppression, biphobia and monosexism are systemic and institutional, propped up and perpetuated by larger systems that have a vested interest in maintaining rigid narratives about sexual orientation. Biphobia and monosexism aren’t just feeling dismissed by lesbian friends; they’re why bisexual women have disproportionately high rates of mental illness, substance abuse, sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and poverty when compared to both straight and lesbian women, just for starters. What Romi experiences is interpersonal; the feeling of someone being mean to her. While it’s undoubtedly hurtful for her, and would be hurtful for anyone who had to experience it, it’s only the tip of the iceberg when talking about biphobia. A refusal to look beyond Romi’s experiences — whether that refusal is Romi’s or the media’s  — helps us avoid looking at the institutional ways in which bisexual women are disadvantaged, and encourages us instead to continue bickering about whether bisexual women are “slutty” or “greedy.” Focusing the discussion in this way means that all that gets discussed is Romi as an individual. Even if Romi is a bisexual or sexually fluid individual, there’s an invitation to imagine Romi’s personal life as representative of what bisexuality is, and even worse, the negative experiences Romi complains about as representative of what biphobia is. And that’s just objectively incorrect.

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via the Williams Institute

Of course, all we can go by is what we’ve been shown of this person’s public life; we cannot know what happened when the cameras were off. The GO Magazine interviewer does push Romi to quantify her sexuality in a very specific way, and she expresses some frustration with the way viewers of the show received her shifting sexuality. After three persistent questions on the topic, Romi seems to submit to the pressure to identify as “90/10,” more attracted to women than to men. She qualifies with “I don’t care what you want to call me or where I am on the scale, if I’m gay or bi or a fucking idiot.”

She is disheartened by the reactions she’s received from the lesbian community, and rightfully offended by the notion that by opening herself up to dating women, she’s suddenly “back.”  Sexual fluidity is real and it can vary with time, especially with women – I’ve chronicled this within myself over the course of the last several years, and it’s certainly ebbed and flowed over time. For some reason, people do often tend to ask me to define my sexuality with percentages, as though it were a pie chart I could draw up in PowerPoint for them to use as a handy guide to my relationships. What feels right for a person today may not be the same thing that feels right a year or even a month from now, but this doesn’t decrease one’s ability to love or commit to another human being.  It’s frustrating that Romi’s reported experiences with a  fluid identity are being parlayed into a common misconception about non-monosexual people: that they can’t “make up their minds” about what gender they’d like to be with, and that any committed relationship represents a clear choice between hetero- or homosexuality. Undoubtedly, she should be able to pursue the kind of person who makes her happy, but the myth that bisexuals are unable to make a longterm commitment to a single person of any gender is both unfair and unnecessary.

The language that implies Romi has “returned” to an attraction to women (or that she “gave it up” when she married Dusty) is indicative of a larger problem with how bisexual women are perceived in relationships. Regardless of however one personally identifies, we do tend to be defined to an extent by our current relationships.  A pair of female-presenting individuals holding hands will almost always be perceived as a homosexual couple, and both members of a heterosexual-appearing couple are generally assumed to be 100% straight. It’s upsetting to have to explain time and time again that an individual’s sexuality is not always defined by the gender of one’s present partner, and the nagging perception that long-term monogamous relationships can somehow erase one’s sexual preference. To use a pair of famous examples, compare the media’s reactions to Cynthia Nixon’s marriage to Christine Marinoni with the reaction to Evan Rachel Wood’s marriage to Jamie Bell. Whereas Cynthia Nixon found herself forced to explain her sexuality in great depth to a public convinced that she had suddenly become a lesbian, Evan Rachel Wood was criticized for marrying a man, as though her previously much-discussed bisexuality was no longer accurate or valid. “Bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night,” Woody Allen once quipped, but he’s not necessarily correct. The misconception that sexually fluid people are able to move effortlessly between the queer and heterosexual worlds seems awfully rosy, but it’s rarely accurate. Bisexuals often report feeling alienated by both sides of the coin. In straight society, bisexual women are often seen as promiscuous, sexually indiscriminate, up for anything; sexual relationships with women are portrayed as being almost entirely performed with the male gaze in mind (see: Katy Perry’s debut single, most mainstream girl-on-girl porn). On the other hand, there’s also a widespread misconception that bisexuals are all insatiable, inevitable cheaters who use so-called “bisexual passing privilege” to allow themselves access to heterosexual privilege without having to commit to life as fully-fledged lesbians.

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This idea of the bisexual as part-time queers or somehow not fully committed also lends itself to the perception that non-monosexuals are less qualified to be active in LGBTQ organizations, that they are traitors, merely allies, or have less of a right to feel strongly about causes directly affecting their own lives. It’s unfair, and it’s terribly discouraging. Rubyfruit Jungle author Rita Mae Brown spoke for a lot of people who reject bisexual women when she said, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t be tied to male privileges with the right hand while clutching to your sister with your left.” In Sex and Sensibility: Stories of a Lesbian Generation, Arlene Stein explains that early bisexual feminists were seen as “undermin(ing) the struggle against compulsory heterosexuality” and as “an inherently sexual category, while lesbians, feminists suggested, transcended sexuality.” This dismissive attitude creates a hostile environment for bisexuals seeking to form a queer political identity, or even to establish an inclusive community outside of the heterosexual world.

This is not to suggest that Romi or anyone is doing bisexuality incorrectly; obviously as long as nobody’s getting hurt, there’s certainly no right or wrong way to pursue sexuality. Even if Romi does in real life fulfill every stereotype of bisexual women, that doesn’t make her any less of a “real” bisexual, or a person whose sexuality isn’t valid and deserving of respect. That said, when we see sexually fluid individuals in film or television, they’re often unfortunately edited to fit the mold of the clichéd “bad bisexual,” a promiscuous, greedy person who is inconsistent and selfish with partners. Newsflash, guys – there are bisexual people who behave this way, but there are also people of every sexual orientation who behave this way, and if we had more nuanced, fleshed out characters representing non-monosexuals, these characteristics could be seen simply as individual personality traits and not representative of an entire community.  To pretend otherwise is wearisome at best, and biphobic at worst.

This may be the time to wonder why Romi is a primary person we are paying attention to when we talk about bisexuality in the first place.  Why are these kinds of stories that are so often amplified to reach us, instead of more nuanced, empathetic accounts of bisexual life?  As a queer woman who does not exclusively date women, it would be enormously validating to see something even vaguely resembling my story told in film or television. Instead, bisexuality has mostly been shown as a cry for attention, a phase, or an excuse to dodge commitments and treat partners badly – which is bad for business no matter how you identify.   The character of Romi who exists in front of reality TV cameras is indecisive, flighty and impulsive.  When she enters into a new relationship, she makes broad statements about how her new partner’s gender is the gender that’s been truly right for her along, and then often backtracks when said relationship doesn’t work out. Here we have a person whose public persona seemingly defines all the misconceptions that the non-monosexual community are tired of, and yet it’s a story we’re told all too often.

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Bisexual women have been doing and saying wonderful things for a long time, and certainly there are far better examples to be found out there. Recently, Maria Bello’s beautiful coming out piece in the New York Times’ Modern Love column discussed her past and current loves in a matter-of-fact, straightforward manner, being clear about relationships with people of different genders without invalidating any of them or making essentialist claims about gender in the process.  She certainly isn’t the first sane, secure person on Earth who’s ever been capable of loving more than one gender, and yet her article’s wonderful reception was a pleasant surprise – finally, someone was getting it right (sort of — the number of headlines that claimed she was “coming out as gay” were disheartening, but not surprising).  These are the kinds of stories we need to be telling. I hope that Romi Klinger finds someone who makes her happy (Instagram suggests that this person is currently Kelsey again, so mazel tov, you two!), but we also need to start presenting more three-dimensional and simply MORE examples of sexually fluid humans — so that one complex, flawed, vulnerable woman doesn’t have be our most visible public understanding of that community. I am hopeful that perhaps in 2014, we can begin to make positive changes necessary to start seeing  a more balanced representation of the bisexual community in mainstream media.


In order to make sure that the comments section on this article is a healthy and welcoming place for our bisexual readers, please note that any comments that question the validity of bisexuality or sexual fluidity as a sexual orientation, question Autostraddle’s decision to publish pieces discussing bisexuality, or make essentialist claims about bisexual people (ex. bisexuals are cheaters, bisexuals turn out to be gay) will be swiftly deleted. 

 

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Stef Schwartz is the Music Editor and self-appointed Vapid Fluff Editor at Autostraddle.com. She's a rock'n'roll jack-of-all-trades, vegan crusader and legit professional weirdo. She lives with her cat Scully in the wilds of Los Angeles, where she writes terrible dance music, drinks quality bourbon and misses New York City. Follow her on twitter.

Stef has written 104 articles for us.

110 Comments

  1. Thumb up 12

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    “Why are these kinds of stories that are so often amplified to reach us, instead of more nuanced, empathetic accounts of bisexual life? As a queer woman who does not exclusively date women, it would be enormously validating to see something even vaguely resembling my story told in film or television.”
    I have a feeling it’s still going to be a while, but I’m hopeful anyway. Thanks for writing this!

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    Wow! I was JUST thinking about the conflict between how I enjoy threesomes/group sex but don’t enjoy feeling exploited or succumbing to the male gaze. Thank you so much for this. I lose my cool with biphobia, yet it is so rampant in the queer community. I’ve been told to my face that so and so is a “real lesbian.” As opposed to me, apparently

    PS: someone already made a negative comment about bisexuality on the Facebook post, driving home how sad it is that your end disclaimer is necessary. Even well written articles like this garner comments about how x would “never date a bisexual.”

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    I’m very grateful for three things in this article’s content.

    1) The disclaimer/PS at the end. It’s nice to see. I think the comments on this site have gotten way better with regards to biphobic since you guys switched to just registered folks commenting, but I like that you are still working toward making the site a safe(r) space for all LGBTQ folks, etc.

    2) I am also grateful that you explained who Romi Klinger is, as I honestly wasn’t sure without resorting to Googling her (the embarrassing part for me is that my girlfriend was even into watching The Real L-Word for a while. I’m just not with it. D’oh!)

    3) I apologize in advance for this, but I can’t resist: eheheheheh, 69 articles written. *snicker* And now my inner immature teenager is amused. ^_^

    All that aside, I did enjoy the article and, as a bisexual woman, will ruminate on the points you’ve presented here. Thank you!

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      hi sarah, i have a lot of responses to your comment:

      1) one of my goals since i came back to autostraddle after a long hiatus was to help make this a more welcoming space for people who may not identify strictly as lesbians, because this is our community too. we’re always workin’ on it. i’m always workin’ on it.

      2) do not feel bad for not having watched this television show.

      3) i’m going to admit i giggled at this myself. more than once.

  4. Thumb up 14

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    “This idea of the bisexual as part-time queers or somehow not fully committed also lends itself to the perception that non-monosexuals are less qualified to be active in LGBTQ organizations, that they are traitors, merely allies, or have less of a right to feel strongly about causes directly affecting their own lives.” <— I internalized that message for a long time and was a huge barrier to me coming out. Really excellent column!

    • Thumb up 6

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      Real reactions that I’ve gotten at LGBTQ things (paraphrased):

      “Why are you here?” (this also got asked of a non-monosexual guy who was engaged to a woman, at the same event, but not, as far as I heard, to straight cis allies who were there)

      “Oh…[my spouse] is okay with you being here? He really is? He doesn’t mind?”

      • Thumb up 4

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        That second one, OH YES. Whenever I come out as bi to people, ‘what does [spouse] think/feel?’ is among the top three questions. Also ‘so you have an open relationship?’ is up there too. and ‘but you’re married to [spouse]‘! Those are the reactions. I spend all my time talking about what it means for my relationship and I never really talk or get space to examine what it means for just ME.

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    Awesome article, Stef! I actually had no idea that Karen Walker was bisexual, but I’m sure there are better represented bisexual characters on TV. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on other well-known bisexual characters like Callie Torres on Grey’s Anatomy or Kalinda from The Good Wife.

  6. Thumb up 17

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    “What feels right for a person today may not be the same thing that feels right a year or even a month from now, but this doesn’t decrease one’s ability to love or commit to another human being.”

    I’m gonna print this and make fliers (and find a way to hand one out to my younger self).

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    Great article! I especially like the part about how many times non- monosexual people are seen as unworthy of being a part of LGBTQ causes and organizations. I’ve seen soooo much of this! Hopefully, things get better in future, but, for now, keep on keeping.

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    I love this! One of my biggest rage inducers is when people say “Well is a person is x then they are more likely to y.” That is such crap!!! All people have it in them to do anything. It is a matter of character, of integrity, of how much the person cares, of relationships throughout that persons life that affects whether or not a person will do something.

    Wonderful article Stef. I learning some things.

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    The attitudes and biases you described are something I think a lot of bisexuals feel and internalize. The number of times someone has found out I’m bisexual and responded with hostility, questions about how many people I’ve slept with, or told me I just ‘hadn’t met the right guy/girl’ yet is infuriatingly high.

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    this is in no way the only thing i took away from this article, but when i first read this statement: “(see: Katy Perry’s debut single, most mainstream girl-on-girl porn)” i read it as katy perry’s debut single WAS mainstream girl-on-girl porn and thought i had missed something big about her background somehow.

    i understand parenthetical examples, promise.

    on another note, i enjoyed reading this. i first came out to my friends and family as “questioning,” which most people understood as “bisexual.” i now identify differently, but that has always stuck with me as an example of how quickly people want to label others as something they [think] they understand.

  11. Thumb up 9

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    This was a fantastic article, and I really appreciate the disclaimer at the bottom about comments. It’s so frustrating having to read ignorance about bisexuality, which can even in spaces that are typically positive (like this great site).

  12. Thumb up 10

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    There is so much to love about this article, thank you.

    I’m grateful you discussed the myth that we aren’t as valid participating in LGBTQ+ circles. Kinsey 6 gays/lesbians have their struggles, as do non-monosexuals. There is a lot of overlap from same-gender loving, but gay people and bi/pan/etc people have unique challenges. I’ve read too many unneeded debates on who “has it worse”. In the end, there are too many factors to decide, and no way to quantify discrimination.

  13. Thumb up 19

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    While biphobia in LGBTQ communities is really important (and I commented on it above), I am so glad to see this article bringing up other aspects of biphobia and monosexism as well, like health disparities, economic disparities, and sexual/intimate partner violence victimization disparities. Too many people assume that biphobia is homophobia-lite, when we actually have issues that affect us more severely or differently as well as issues that affect us less severely.

    A related issue: Bi women are more likely to experience intimate partner violence classified by the CDC as severe physical violence than straight women or lesbians, and more likely to have injuries and PTSD symptoms as a result of intimate partner violence.

  14. Thumb up 7

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    Thank you so much for writing this. Bi erasure is something so common (& internalized) that I don’t even notice it anymore. I’m just sort of figuring out that there is & should be a separate non-monosexual community and culture and history and struggle… anyway, great piece, I am with you, excellent.

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    Thank you for this fantastic article. I’ve internalized a lot of messages that my being bi is a less valid sexuality. It seems like the other bisexual people I meet just happen to be bi people that I meet, but there seems little sense of community (this may go back to the notion that “bi people don’t belong in queer community spaces”). It sure wouldn’t hurt to have more bisexual women treated respectfully in the media.

    On a side note, I was just about to start watching The L Word, and then I read this article (I literally have another tab open with episode one loaded up on netflix). It’s quite disheartening to now know the show’s portrayal of bi women.

  16. Thumb up 11

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    I love this and I love you, Stef!

    A couple of stray observations:

    – Homosexual people can call themselves gay/lesbian. Heterosexual people get straight. The best identity bisexual people get is “bi”, which is just a shorter version of that clinical-sounding word that focuses on who we have sex with. I think that’s why I’ve long preferred “queer” – it acknowledges me as a whole person.

    – I also have noticed my attractions changing as I get older. In my case, I’m more often attracted to women now than when I was younger. I think part of that is being married to a lady and having so many attractive queer lady friends.

    – Thank you for saying that Romi isn’t Doing Bisexuality Wrong. Because that shit is awful.

    – I just want to ask people who think bi women can’t commit long term if the last 13 years of my life have been some kind of hallucination.

    • Thumb up 6

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      YES! I’m always so jealous of people who get the sweet gay and lesbian labels. Cara’s piece a while ago about “gay” made me covet it even more. Asexuals get ace, which is a noun that also means expert, awesome volleyball move, and meaningful member of a deck of cards. “Bi” just sounds like a preposition and an endless invitation to call everything we do “BI THE WAY.”

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      The name thing is huge! I don’t feel comfortable with the word bisexual for a lot of reasons, but the clinical-sounding part of it is a big reason why, particularly since calling someone “homosexual” rather than gay or a lesbian is typically used by people who are nottttttttt allies, to put it mildly.

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        I was born in 1985, long after the APA had voted to depathologize homosexuality—their term, not mine.

        My earliest memories are from the first half of the ’90s: The Gulf War (The Original Series); the collapse of the Soviet Union; Sarajevo under siege; April 29, 1992, sitting at home watching my TV; “I did not inhale”; The Velvet Divorce; “work-out tapes by Fonda”; the ”Seattle sound”; Black Hawk Down; Oslo; O. J.; genocide in Rwanda.

        In other words, the hypothetical next verse in Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

        Also somewhere among those early memories is Magic Johnson’s announcement that he had tested positive for HIV. The mass media—practically the only media at the time—“compensated” for a decade of near silence regarding the AIDS crisis by, well, mentioning it. In addition to countless PSAs, I remember a very special episode of Nick News with Linda Ellerbee, featuring guest appearances by Magic himself and a condom—separately, of course.

        Perhaps I have indulged in too much nostalgia. Anyway, my point is that I grew up at a time when public health researchers and policymakers grappled with AIDS, and when, consequently, clinicians ditched terms like homosexual(s) in favor of men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women. So, for me at least, terms ending in sexual never had an especially clinical ring to them.

        I can only speak for myself, but I’m certainly curious to know whether anyone else feels the same.

        I think it’s unfortunate that homosexual has developed negative connotations, because the series of terms ending in sexual allows us to make a distinction—between sexual and romantic orientation—that gets glossed over by gay, straight, and the truncated bi. It’s easy—well, terminologically, at least—to identify as bisexual and homoromantic, for examle, or as heteroromantic and asexual, but the gap left by avoiding the term homosexual leads to all manner of awkward periphrasis.

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          PS I just want to clarify that I still object to the term homosexual—and, for that matter, heterosexual and pansexual—on the basis of the promiscuous intermingling of Greek and Latin elements. Bisexual, for all its supposed shortcomings, at least does not constitute a crime against etymology.

          PPS On the other hand, the term “homosexual”—the rational for my temporary switch from one representational convention for words mentioned but not used to another will become evident forthwith—has value inasmuch as it serves as the point of departure for the punning “Homosexual,” where “Homo” is the genus name adapted from Latin homo ‘human being’ and not than the Greek combining form ὁμο- ‘same’, as a more realistic alternative to omnisexual, because, come on, who’s really attracted to everyone?

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    Stuff like this is why I don’t watch TV or consume any media that has not been pre-vetted by friends. Pretty sure Romi would give me an anxiety attack.

    I went to the Bisexual Short Film Fest last year in Cambridge, and, despite some bright spots, it was mostly terrible. It was frustrating to be there with a bunch of bisexual people, knowing that this is what we got, as a community. I was rage-inspired to write my own script… That was fun.

    I have never seen a bisexual person on film speak to any of my more complicated feelings about gender and community. My feelings are SO COMPLICATED and I wish someone would make a movie about them!!! You would think that bisexuals would make excellent characters in a serious, long-form TV series, because there are a lot of us and we are extra-capable of evolution.

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    This article prompted me to stop lurking on AS and create a profile to say thank you so much for writing this. I never know how to label myself (none of them fit! HA!) but bi-phobia is a shitty real thing that I regularly come up against from both queer and straight people. Nice to feel part of a community, and a million hugs for the disclaimer.

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    Thank you so much for writing this. I haven’t watched much of the show (too cheap for cable and it’s just not that good, honestly), but these are stereotypes that keep being reproduced in the media and it’s pretty disheartening.

    I also really appreciate what you said about Romi not being “truly bisexual” simply because she does fulfill a lot of negative stereotypes. That’s something that gets on my nerves coming from a lot of bisexual and bi-friendly folk: in an attempt to eschew those stereotypes, getting territorial and policing someone’s sexuality is not okay.

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    Thank you for this article! I have been fortunate enough to have friends and family who accept my bisexuality as a legitimate identity, but I still hear them referring to me as a ‘lesbian’ since my last relationship was with a woman. It is uncomfortable to label myself this way sometimes, as I worry that dating a man in the future will cause my friends to view me as betraying, or less deserving of inclusion in, the queer community. I have had a really difficult time coming to terms with the complicated-ness of my sexuality, but articles like this give me hope that I’ll be able to accept and feel comfortable being sexually fluid.

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    What an awesome piece.

    Quick story: I was on a date with a bisexual girl the other day, and at some point her ex-boyfriend came up, and she asked if I was okay with the fact that she is bisexual because she’s gone on dates with girls who’ve been shitty about it before.

    And it just made me really sad that (especially on a first date) she felt like she had to justify her sexuality. As a monosexual I’ve never felt like I had to put out a disclaimer like that before, and I just felt BAD, because a. that’s none of my business and b. that should not matter at all.

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      Kasey – I’ve had similar conversations with girls I’ve dated, along the lines of “will you be disappointed in me if I date a guy in the future?” It’s sad.

      On the other side of things I’ve also had conversations with people who are particularly hurt or upset, and say particularly mean things, when their ex-SO’s break up with them and then start dating men. It’s somewhat understandable — gender is hard for a lot of people, and breakups are hard for everyone. But I for one am going to try harder to not contribute to harmful stereotyping, or to conflate someone’s identity with their decisions, even when people are hurt by those decisions.

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    Ok, if I just point out that lesbians are not in fact oppressing you as the article basically says, and that’s it’s offensive to lump homos and heteros together like we’re on an equal playing field under the term monosexual, will you keep this comment up?

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      hi lezscum,

      i don’t feel like at any point i implied that bisexuals were more oppressed than homosexuals or that being excluded in some way from lesbian culture was in any way comparable to experiencing homophobic victimization, and if that’s the impression you received, i apologize. what i was trying to do (in part) was explain a very specific sort of isolation experienced by people who are attracted to people of more than one gender. a majority of the comments on this article confirm that this is a common issue that isn’t discussed very often, which makes the people who experience it feel even more isolated, which leads to it being talked about less and so on and so forth. it’s a conversation worth having, and i’m glad we’re having it.

      i use the term non-monosexual to refer to people who do not identify as solely heterosexual or homosexual, because “bisexual” assumes a gender binary that i don’t believe in (sometimes it’s a simple catch-all word, but it makes me really uncomfortable as a reference for myself). for these purposes, monosexual implies a person who is attracted to only one gender, and it’s a distinction i do need to make occasionally when i’m talking about people who do not identify as strictly gay or straight. i wish there were more words available, really truly.

      i don’t believe that anyone deserves to be dismissed for their sexuality. if you want to continue this discussion, please send me an email!

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        You’re being disingenuous. It is extremely obvious that by using monosexual the way you did that you’re lumping gay and heteros together as a group keeping bisexuals/non-monosexuals down. I don’t think there needs to be words, I think there needs to be a bit more honesty about the implications of words and respecting the context and history behind words because that is increasingly a problem among people who identify with “queerness.”

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          I’m a literalist, so when I see monosexual, I think “one sex” as a means of drawing a comparison to bisexual, which implies two. In terms of plain language, I’m having a hard time seeing where you’re coming from. What context or history exists with the word that’s being betrayed here? It seems that you reacted to the idea of gay folks and straight folks lumped together into a single category with hostility, but the intent in using this word is to provide language to operate in tandem with the concept of bi — to reflect a similar choice of preferring one over the other, not to suggest that choosing this preference meant similar lifetime struggles. And I think if the discussion is to be one of honesty, it’s worth noting that you elected to put “queerness” in quotes, which implies you consider this a new term that also threatens context and history. While context and history are essential for understanding modern application, there is also modern/present application that can’t be denied. So is it a betrayal of history for new terms and ideas to be introduced to describe groups of people, or can it simply reflect modern times without having malicious intent?

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          lezscum – Denying that the author used the term monosexual to avoid propagating the gender binary smacks of transphobia at worst or ignorance of gender variance issues at best. You would be doing the world a favour if you chose to educate yourself. Thanks.

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          Well I can’t comment on the replies below so I’ll just put it here.

          AmandaSz — I meant to say that there doesn’t need to be MORE words, there are a ton of needless one being created as it is. What I’m trying to get to is that among queer identified people (I used to be one), there is a general lack of respect for the meanings of identities and I thought that was apparent in this article. If this author had more respect for what gay means she would have seen how offensive it is to put hetero and homo people together under “monosexual” in the context of something where she writes about a lot of issues bisexuals have, when gay people and straight people are at opposite ends when it comes to power. We are certainly less privileged than her or any other bisexual, if anything. Why is this so hard to get? I’m sure that if a dyke were to write about how she feels marginalized by both straights and bisexuals because of their shared hetero sexuality she would be dragged for it and called a bigot for erasing bisexual identity and daring to imply a bisexuals could ever have access to straight privilege.

          And I put “queerness” in quotes because I find the word and the politics attached to increasingly ridiculous and out of touch it the lives of people who actually have a right to reclaim “queer.” Meanings of words can change but I’m disdainful of the modern application of this one. A hetero who talks maybe of falling in love with someone outside their sex some day while never having experiences that kind of attraction before can call themselves a queer now. Self proclaimed queers will consider this straight person a queer. It’s nonsense.

          EngGirl — Lol, she doesn’t actually need to use the term monosexual to not be transphobic. Why do gay people have to be talked about in such a dishonest way to avoid transphobia? That’s so fucking stupid. No one should ever use the word bisexual on here then, because wouldn’t that be equally bad? Maybe I’m misunderstanding you though, because I can’t believe anyone would claim there is something binarist in thinking that bisexuals should address and understand lesbians/gay men and straights differently.

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          i find it helpful to think of this use of “monosexual” as a sort of shorthand for a boolean construction:

          = NOT ["attracted to opposite sex" AND "attracted to same sex"]

          (or whatever gender constructions suit for your purposes, the foregoing being a common example). clearly, there are a lot of people who can fall in the NOT category. similarly, though not completely analogously, of course, you could create boolean constructions like this:

          = NOT ["queer" AND "person of color"]

          = NOT ["woman" AND "has a invisible disability"]

          etc.

          a lot of people fall into the NOT there, as well, and they definitely don’t all experience the same sorts of oppression or discrimination. no one would (should, anyway) say that straight folks of color and queer white folks see the same behaviors lobbed at them every day, or should be lumped together in one category, or any other form of negation. but people in that AND area get both, plus something new that exists at the confluence of those two conditions.

          similarly, bi folks get their own set of fun crap to deal with at their AND, plus some of the conditions experienced by people at different poles of the NOT. that’s what makes those intersections so tricky to deal with.

          but for me, it also removes much of my temptation to say, “well, this oppression is worse than that oppression.” (though i think we can all agree that “death” is objectively pretty far into the “worst” category, so i won’t say there’s *never* a situation where we can say someone has it worse.) people’s experiences are different; most of us are dealing with at least one AND, often multiples, and they play off one another in ways that are hard to categorize.

          what does that leave us with? talking about the commonalities of AND, which many of us find ourselves internalizing without a real language for it, and which we’ve too often heard defended to us by those who experience one of the AND conditions, but not both or all of them. just being able to articulate that there is an AND can be a relief. being able to say, “hey, you’ve experienced that too”? a godsend. i think the feeling is familiar to anyone who’s found this site. for those of us with particular kinds of AND, the more specific we can get, the more affirmed we feel.

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          Lezscum,

          I don’t think stef was in any way implying that bisexuals have it “worse” than lesbians. In fact, you are the only person I see who is playing oppression olympics. Each of us has unique experiences and circumstances that inform our identities and the manner in which we interact with the world.

          The major point of the piece (from my understanding at least) that you seem to have missed is to enumerate some of the unique challenges faced by people who do not identify strictly as either gay or straight, and the ways in which media represents their sexualities, and how harmful that representation can be when it reinforces stereotypes without providing any positive points of comparison.

          There are certainly challenges that gay people experience that bisexual people may sometimes be able to avoid (depending on their gender presentation, the gender of their partner, and how out they are in a given situation). But non-monosexual people have their own issues: people assuming they’re seeking attention or they’re just slutty (not that there’s actually anything wrong with being slutty). Comparing the two is useless because they’re just different.

          If you really are seeking to have a productive discussion I think there are quite a few of us who would be willing to continue to talk it through. However, if you’re just looking to pick a fight, there are other places on the internet where you can do that. For a lot of us, autostraddle is a safe space where we can have a voice in a world that doesn’t always give us a space to speak. And where we assume that people have positive intent; that if they say something insensitive or problematic, they weren’t trying to offend anyone. Most of us try really hard to be receptive of feedback, and to admit when we are wrong, to maintain the safety of this space. However, it’s getting really hard to keep giving you the benefit of the doubt.

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        “i use the term non-monosexual to refer to people who do not identify as solely heterosexual or homosexual, because “bisexual” assumes a gender binary that i don’t believe in”

        But bisexual does not assume gender binary any more or less than gay, lesbian or straight does?! And quite frankly I don’t understand why people are hung up on the bi=2 meaning; nobody asks lesbian identified individuals to prove their greek citizenship or gay folks to be smiley and happy at any given time. Etymology is not be all end all, there are plenty of bisexual people who identify outside of the gender binary and/or are attracted to non-binary folks.

        On the other note, there are problems with the term “non-monosexual” when used as an umbrella term for bi/pan/omni/queer/etc. people: For one it is always problematic to refer to a group only in their relation to another group. Further, asexual people are technically non-monosexual, as well. Therefore I personally prefer “plurisexual” over “non-monosexual”. And I´ve seen some discussion about “multi-spectrum” within the bi-community that I liked. So you might fancy those?

        Overall, great article, Stef! I especially appreciated the part where you came back to Romi and said that there is no “wrong” way, no “bad” way, to be bisexual.

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          hi red – i still do feel like the word bisexual implies two genders and being attracted to both in a way that has always bothered me since i first considered it (i wrote a long article about this a while ago), but never liked the other words i saw either (pansexual, omnisexual, etc).. it just seems too limiting to be a word i’d ever use to describe myself. i like the idea of using the word “spectrum” somewhere in the terminology though! but your points about usage of the word “non-monosexual” do make sense – thanks for the information and those suggestions and i’ll try to use them next time i write about this stuff.

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          just to add to your comment, red, one of the more popular and accepted definitions of bisexuality (and what i personally identify with) is “attraction to both the same gender and different genders,” and/or “attraction to more than one gender,” which don’t in any way imply a gender binary and also make sense in the context of hetero/homosexuality (different/same gender).

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          I agree with red she said. I don’t take exception to people who reject the word bisexual as a label for themselves, because they are more comfortable with a label, again, for themselves, that explicitly rejects a gender binary. The problem I have is when that gets universalized to, “bisexual means two genders.” For some people it does mean they are only attracted to binary people. But for some people it means attraction to more than one gender. I don’t have a binary gender identity, and for a lot of complicated reasons that involve access, history, community, and visibility, I do use the term bisexual (along with queer) for myself. So, I find no fault with people who prefer any other label, or no label at all,because everyone should use whatever term feels true and comfortable to them, as long as they don’t seem to be policing my choice of labels by making generalized and absolute statements about what “bisexual” does or does not mean.

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    I’m forcing myself not to quote just about everything you have awesomely stated in this article. I have to admit that it bums me out a bit that in 2014 we are still having this discussion but at the same time glad that there’s people like you who can articulate it all so well.

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    I am also going to address the issue of Romi. I wasn’t going to, because I am a lesbian, not bisexual, and might not have the right to, but, here goes.

    Romi is a real person. She has the right to lead her life as she sees fit, no matter what stereotypes she might be re-enforcing. Could The Real L Word have done a better job of casting here? Perhaps. However, with all the nastiness floating around about bisexual women, fault would have been found with whomever was cast, and I think we all know that.

    The other uncomfortable truth is that there are women out there like Romi. There are women who fit the nasty stereotypes. I dated three bisexual women, all of whom left due to something surrounding their attraction to men/not wanting to live the queer life. Does this represent all bisexual women? No, of course not. I grudgingly admit that, for awhile, it made me into a bit of a biphobic lesbian, but, when I realized what I was doing, I quickly made a concentrated effort to stop. Know what hurt more than what those women did to me, though? The fact that my lesbian friends treated me like some kind of traitor for dating them in the first place. THAT is the face of biphobia. I actually lost friends in my darkest hours over these relationships and breakups, all over the sexuality of my girlfriends.

    The problem isn’t Romi or women like her. The problem is biphobia amongst gay people.

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    I don’t watch this show either but the article is AMAAAAAAAZINGGG, Stef. I was like who is this lady?? I never thought I’d have so many feelings about bisexuals and sexual fluidity. Personally I find it sad that people stereotype other people because of one bad or not so role modelish person. Like you know how sometimes you see a lesbian and they act kinda weird then you say you’re a lesbian and suddenly it’s like OMG she’s crazy like that other lesbian!! I’ve met some bisexuals who are REALLY REALLY good people and it’s really not fair that people of the heterosexual team see them as promiscuous while the homosexual team sees them as some sort of two faced person who can turn at any time.

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    Hi Stef. First of all I just want to say that as someone who tried to start a petition against having Katy Perry at Dinah Shore years ago, I completely understand your frustration. The policing within the community, the exploitation and judgement from the heterosexual world…sigh… it can be a lot to bare. Thank you for opening up a discussion on the topic, I think its a very important one for us all to have.

    I want to tell you that it is PERFECTLY okay to feel the conflicted way that you feel….to know in your heart that, as you said, “There’s certainly no right or wrong way to pursue sexuality. Even if Romi does in real life fulfill every stereotype of bisexual women, that doesn’t make her any less of a ‘real’ bisexual, or a person whose sexuality isn’t valid and deserving of respect.” AND to at the same time feel really REALLY icky about the way she was portrayed, and/or the way she describes herself or acts.

    I know you already know this, but unfortunately my queer sister, no matter how much personal frustration we feel, at the end of the day, we must choose to pin that frustration on “the game” not the “player”, because the truth is that if Romi wasn’t a queer person, nobody would be talking about any of this. The fact is, if “alternative” sexualities were not judged and exploited, and if all non-heterosexuals were not lumped together into some artificial homogenous category, we wouldn’t feel responsible for OR at the mercy of how other people conduct themselves. We are robbed of the ability to be individuals or to be perfectly imperfect human beings, and that’s what must end :)

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    I got a deep whiff of Romi during whatever season of the Real L Word where she was laughing way too hilariously about some Obgyn joke related to LGBT before she went to a party dressed as a monkey and a banana. Being the captain of a bi flagship might get her more media attention, but I’d rather sink with the boat than paddle that mess.

    Let me be more specific/clear: in previous episodes/seasons, Romi had openly discussed her struggles with mental illness. She had also discussed her struggles with alcoholism. The keyword for Romi’s role in the L Word was always “struggle”. By transitioning to a discussion revolving around her struggles with being bisexual, the producers seemed to be subtly communicating that bisexuality was her latest “problem” or “defect” to overcome. This was exacerbated by her rationale for keeping it under wraps, and her desire to report the relationship to her friends in a way that begged for drama. Yes, I know it’s a reality show, but I don’t need yet another loud public example that suggests that bisexuality is a vehicle for attention, and is something women experience until they recall their passion for (real, live) penis. Seriously: ew.

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    I read that interview @ Go Magazine. I think Romi tends to fall fast and hard when she dates(with things burning out at the same pace), and that’s why her relationships tend to be a bit of a mess. She really needs to pace herself IMO.

    I believe her when she says that her scenes were heavily edited to make her look like more of a jerk than she actually is; however, I find it problematic when she claims that she is being discriminated against because she is bi. I don’t think that is the case.

    From what I read in most blogs/articles, most people seemed to take issue with her behaviour on TLRW, which isn’t reflective on anyone person (or “community” for that matter) besides herself.

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      She wasn’t discriminated against for being bi anymore than she was ostracized for quitting booze or emotionally invalidated for having mental illness. The response on the show was a response to her being melodramatic about everything – not her bisexuality. This is why I prefer to focus on Evan Rachel Wood, who has sculpted 13 into a far different movie and managed to date Marilyn Manson without ruining her career.

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    I have so many (positive) feelings about this piece. Too many, really, to make for a short, coherent comment.

    So, for the moment at least, I’d just like to point out that, while promiscuity and nonmonogamy are qualities stereotypically associated with bisexual-identified persons, and while stereotypes are bad qua stereotypes, neither quality is bad per se.

    I don’t mean to suggest that the opposite was implied in the piece, only that this is something worthy of explicit affirmation.

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    awesome article, stef. until you pointed it out, i didn’t realize how many biphobic things were baked into traditionally queer narratives/literary touchstones.

    (also awesome disclaimer… i want to steal it for genderqueer-related posts.)

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    Great post! One thing that I hadn’t thought of until I read this was how internalized biphobia can contribute to some of the “bad” bisexual behavior, especially the tendency to treat the gender of the person you’re currently dating as The One True Gender.

    I’ve always found that to be one of the more grating elements of how some people have described their own situations, and while I never made an issue of it with them (their lives, their call), I def. grumbled inside my head a fair bit about how they were “making us look bad.”

    But thinking of it in the context of internalized biphobia makes me a lot more sympathetic. In a new relationship, you’ve got lots of happy endorphins and an inclination to be more drawn to people who remind you of your new sweetie. If you also feel uncomfortable with being bi (pan/omni/etc.), you may shift over to a more monosexual place without really thinking about it to relieve some of that pressure.

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    I sent this to my girlfriend who openly admits to being Biphobic. She used to live in the LA area and personally knows Kelsey and Romi, and she agrees that Romi isn’t a great example for bisexual women.

    I don’t like labels, and I wouldn’t call myself bisexual, but at one point in my life I definitely loved a man. Since being with women, I do feel a stronger connection to them, but I don’t know what that makes me. I’m just afraid of the title “Bisexual” as it does turn off potential partners. I adore my girlfriend, but I wish I could change her mind about bisexuality. This article only seemed to strengthen her argument.

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    The writing on autostraddle is just so damn good. Also, thanks for believing and advocating that the “B” in “LGBT” counts as much as the other letters. Ours is a big tent. The more the merrier, for fuck’s sake.

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    Folks, I’ve got major respectability politcs-related issues with this piece. I think Romi was articulate, open and insightful, especially in light of the shittiness of the interviewer. I’m glad she appears to be in a more zero-fucks-to-give place re: the haters in her post-TRLW life.

    Also, this.
    https://www.google.ca/search?q=bisexual+doesn%27t+mean+binary&oq=bisexual+doesn%27t+mean+binary&aqs=chrome..69i57.6653j0j4&sourceid=chrome&espv=210&es_sm=91&ie=UTF-8

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    This article was great, your writing is awesome! Your attitude reminds me of one of my best friends:

    Once upon a time my roomies and I acquired another roomie whom we all believed to be gay. She wasn’t at all offended and said most people think she is but she had a boyfriend. She made no official statement saying she was straight, gay, bi or anything. She would talk with my roomies about dates and sex with guys and she would talk with me about how hot Katherine Moennig is. She loves reading, hanging out, reading more and doing silly stuff. She is one of the best roomates I ever had and definitely one of the best role models and friends I’ve ever had. I miss her so much!

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