Wait, my friend Alicia texted me, have you ever identified as a disaster bisexual? We’d been exchanging jokes and memes about disaster bisexuals, noting which characteristics described us. (Excessive use of hand gestures? Getting fixated on a subject and dragging it into every conversation? A childhood mermaid phase?)
Urban Dictionary lists several definitions of disaster bisexual, among them “a person whose pure chaos has led you to the correct conclusion that they are bisexual,” “a very chaotic person who is quite visibly bisexual,” and “a person who is attracted to every hot person they meet but is a total mess about it, either by coming on way too strong or being unbearably awkward.” According to my cursory online research, the term originated on Tumblr (of course) in one of those D&D alignment chart memes (you know the ones: lawful good, chaotic neutral, etc). In fandom culture, and on the Internet in general, it has become a humorous self-identifier referring to the “disaster” traits some bisexuals claim to share, like social awkwardness and an inability to sit properly in a chair. According to a random sampling of self-proclaimed disaster bisexuals on Twitter, they are “painfully aware of [their] own flaws but wildly naïve about the flaws of others,” have “an exact 50% success rate when determining if someone is in love with [them] or not,” are “the living embodiment of that Alice in Wonderland quote about giving good advice but literally never following it,” and behave like “a flustered woman in an infomercial.”
To Alicia’s question, I replied: jokingly, I guess? I identify as bisexual, but the disaster part seemed like a stretch. I have my shit together, mostly. I’ve been in a stable, loving relationship for over a decade. I have a career. Fulfilling friendships. A retirement account. A therapist.
And yet, I admit a self-deprecating fondness for the term. Maybe because in addition to all the above I’m also neurotic. Prone to mood swings, anxiety spirals, and face-melting crushes. I can be impatient and impulsive. Also, I’m clumsy and spill stuff on myself. Like, a lot. Once, in my twenties, when I was teaching elementary school, I slopped coffee down my shirt and blurted to a class of fifth graders that I had a drinking problem. Reader, these ten-year-olds did not get the reference.
Recently, I joked to my friend and fellow author Emi Nietfeld that both our forthcoming debut books belong in what I call “the new canon of disaster bisexuals,” along with the TV show Euphoria. Emi’s book, Acceptance, is a memoir chronicling her journey from foster care and homelessness to Harvard and Big Tech, while mine, Sirens & Muses, is a novel that follows four striving artists at an elite art school and in Occupy-era NYC. Acceptance and Sirens & Muses are very different books, but like Euphoria they center flawed, talented young queer people struggling mightily with ambition, desire, and addiction while trying to find love and contentment on their own terms.
Emi had never heard the term “disaster bisexual” before, but she said that “deep in [her] bones” she knew it meant “being a hot mess while you figure yourself out.” My friend Alicia maintains that the original disaster bisexual is Jenny Schechter from The L Word, a sensitive, brooding writer who’s also a manipulative narcissist and a compulsive liar. She’s a disaster because she ruins multiple relationships in her quest to figure out her sexuality, and she’s bisexual because, well, she’s bisexual. Jenny is also a posterchild for all the worst stereotypes about bisexuals: She’s promiscuous, confused, selfish, and untrustworthy.
But it’s 2022 and time, I think, for an update. Less Jenny, more Ilana from Broad City. This new disaster bisexual is chaotic, sure, often awkward, messy at times, but she’s also fun and good at heart. She flirts with risk, makes mistakes, and experiences epic growing pains, but she’s self-aware and trying her best. She’s not a confused disaster because she’s bisexual, but because confusion and disaster are inseparable from the experience of growing up queer — of growing up, period. And maybe those brushes with disaster are an essential part of coming to terms with one’s queerness, at least for some of us.
In any case, my confused disaster of a teenage self could have used stories from this new canon of disaster bisexuals, stories about sexually fluid people in all their imperfections. These narratives would have given me a framework for understanding my own desires, and they would have reminded me to be kinder to myself, to approach relationships with compassion and a sense of humor, and to embrace that infomercial-lady flailing as part of the process of growing older and wiser. Perhaps because I didn’t have these stories when I was younger, I’ve found myself gravitating toward them as an adult. Toward shows like Euphoria and Broad City. Toward books like mine and like Emi’s. Like Sarah Thankam Mathews’ All This Could Be Different, Jen Winston’s Greedy, and Susan Choi’s My Education. Chronicles of the joy, sorrow, messiness, and confusion of stumbling your way through life and love in a state of constant flux. We talk a lot about positive queer representation — which, to be clear, is important — but stories about our flaws and foibles are just as valuable. Stories that tell us: you are not alone, and you are not bad; you are merely human.
So let’s hear it for the disaster bisexuals: the hot messes, the shitshows, the dazed and confused. They’re the spice of life — not to mention literature and TV — and they’re doing the best they can.