Bi Book Club: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

3/4/2019

Hello there, darlings! Well, it’s time for another review, and as I said in my review for Crooked Kingdom, sometimes I write these reviews by looking back, a la driving in reverse, looking for what I haven’t covered yet.

After reading  Leigh Bardugo’s duology, I realized two things:

1) none of my reviews were about bi+ women, and

2) not everyone has the time to read a full novel these days.

Enter this little article, purporting one of the most iconic literary heroines of the last century was bi. Well, if that wasn’t serendipity, I don’t know what is.

Jennie Roberson as Holly

Holly Golightly is an indelible figure in the American zeitgeist – mere mention of her name conjures up images of style, sophistication, and little black dresses. I always found Holly fascinating – so much so I had a Breakfast At Tiffany’s theme for my 30th birthday party (but I made sure the Facebook invite had the tagline: “Let’s have all the fun of this film with none of the overt racism”). I even had a birthday photo shoot dressed as Holly. I remembered reading the novella in high school and being fascinated by a nude scene (oh hey there, emerging bi-ness), but nothing about her being interested in women. Had I missed something crucial to understanding her character? I had to give the bite-sized tale a reread to find out.

Before I really get going, I think it’s important to set a bit of a jolting mood. Why? Because sometimes when a character leaves such a deep imprint on our culture, it’s hard to take in new hypotheses about them because we are so in love with our previous conceptions of them. (The reveal of Dumbledore being gay throwing some fans off comes to mind.) Heck, I’m sure as soon as most of us hear the terms Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Holly Golightly, a romantic version of “Moon River” plays in the record player of our minds. So I suggest listening to this 90s song instead to help shake up our perceptions as well as our playlists:

Also, I feel I should warn there will be SPOILERS for the 1958 character study. And that there should be a content warning: child marriage, archaic language, and racial slurs.

Now. Is Holly bi? As I started to read, I wasn’t convinced – at first. The first passage the Paris Review article references comes across more as Holly being a casual experimenter – perhaps more “bicurious” than bi, especially considering how blasé she sounds talking about the encounters. But the thing is, that wasn’t the end of Holly’s bi references or same-sex experiences. Later on, Holly even declares “I’d settle for Garbo any day.” (Side note: Greta Garbo was #Bi2, #OneOfUs.) It’s a recurring theme, though a subtle one, throughout the book.

However, I can see why some would argue the bi asides are merely in line with Holly’s work as an escort. Capote described her job, in an interview with Playboy,  as less like a call girl and more like an American geisha, entertaining men for money but only bringing home the ones they want to bed. But I think that makes the argument stronger – if Holly only has sex with the men she wants to bang, then wouldn’t that extend to women, especially considering her era? An important thing to note is the original timeline is during the World War II era, and not as close to the swinging 60s as its film adaptation portrays. This makes the mentions even riskier in a more straitlaced era to divulge in both her bi escapades as well as sleeping with men she isn’t marrying. (Please also keep in mind Breakfast takes place over seventy years ago. That explains some of the hurtful words and attitudes used towards people of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community, but it doesn’t excuse it.)

But reading Breakfast also offers Holly deeper dimensions than that of the Audrey Hepburn portrayal – for better and for worse. Holly is far more blunt than breezy in the way she talks to both friends and strangers. However, she also has more harrowing events occur in her life – including long descriptions of her child bride years and a miscarriage during one of her affairs. And she gives one of the best descriptions for the hot, restless grip of a panic attack – the “mean reds” – in mid-century literature. This makes for a more mixed package, but almost affords for Holly to be a more winning, charming character because she holds those qualities after (and because of) enduring such trauma and heartache.

And yet her nuanced dance around saying she is bi is very much in line with the narrator’s difficulty to entirely pin her down. Holly is described as being past childhood, but not entirely a woman. She is not exactly the prototype of the manic pixie dream girl, since she shows roots in the freedom of the flapper girl generation. But she still has a je ne sais quoi. And that makes sense – both for her sexuality and her way of making a living. Holly has to live on the edges but still charm from the precipice to survive. If she’s hard to describe, then she’s harder still to point at as a co-respondent in divorce proceedings. She was living and thriving in the era of Rosie the Riveter, where the lines of gender roles were finally starting to blur. If she is a creature of the in-between, that gives her more agency – both inside the bedroom and out of it. And that’s just how she likes it. This quality makes her both hard to label and still alluring – both for narrator and audience alike. That makes her appeal not only perennial, but iconic – one does not have to live the way one dictates, or even give labels to things, from cat names to sexual orientations.

So yes, I’d say it’s fair to say Holly Golightly is bi. And her story is certainly worth a reread (with some warnings). She is not in conflict about her queerness, but it is one facet of the diamond of her personality – shiny, surprisingly hard, difficult to see head on, and nearly priceless. That is just how she would want it.

Jennie Roberson
Jennie Roberson is a comedic actress and screenwriter currently living in Los Angeles. She just finished her first novel (a bi coming-of-age tale, naturally) and hopes to share it with the world soon. When she's not busy binging on Star Trek or dreaming of her future cat army, you can find her occasional thoughts between mountains of re-tweets at her Twitter handle, @JennieRoberson.