The Fence Sitter
I never read comic books while I was growing up. I remember a moment in high school when my guy friends went to go pick up some new Magic cards at our local shop and I tagged along, idly curious what I could find.
However, when I entered the store choked with aisles of plastic sleeves and a few tables for playing, I was greeted with a little more than cold stares. I had entered a boy’s club, where I was regarded with little more than contempt for invading a sacred space. Like they had one collective mind, the teenage boys in black trench coats turned back into their card tournament. The cashier didn’t even bother to look up. Looking back, it was a real shame, because since I read everything I could get my hands on, I would have been a good candidate to become a lifelong reader. But I can still remember the feeling of an intangible outsider label stamped onto my chest when those boys’ eyes clapped on me. (Ironic, considering most superheroes are outsiders by nature or cultural pressure.)
Growing up in America, by the time the new comic book movie renaissance burst forth, I already knew a lot of the basic stats of the superheroes. I had absorbed their very basic stories and superpowers knowledge by cultural osmosis. But what surprised me as the Marvel movies rolled out was not only the excellent writing, but the depth of characters the stories contained. And in further research on Tumblr and other sites, I discovered a lot of the characters I was drawn to – Captain America, for instance – were either canonically bi or exhibited enough behavior it was plausible they could be bi. I felt cheated all over again, robbed of a chance to have a hero I could have related to and help me find answers within myself as I started off my life.
As I looked up at the larger-than-life heroes darting across the silver screen, I wondered what kind of hero I would have liked to have growing up as a bi girl. I started to picture someone who could have held my hand during my most trying moments.
I imagined her with a bold, declarative name.
She is strong. She is gorgeous. She is kind.
She is … The Fence Sitter!
Oh, yeah. She takes that hurtful, pejorative term and makes it all her own, while evoking the image of a perch, where she could watch over her people. She would peer down and jump to action when our people needed her. She would save the day and help out queer lives, like a far, far more colorful Batman.
The Fence Sitter would welcome me into my bi identity when, at eight years old, I saw a woman in a red-and-black bikini on TV, and quietly realized that I liked girls as well as boys. My heroine would take me under her iridescent wing in high school, when I would lie awake at night, doubting myself. She would protect me from the locker halls with stinging conversations, where calling Lilith Fair “Lesbo Fair” was par for the course. She would sit next to me at seventeen, when I sat cross-legged on a worn-out couch in my Unitarian youth group, trying to come out through shaking, jagged breaths. And she would gently squeeze my hand when I finally lifted my head, and said out loud to my friends: “I … am … bisexual.”
I wonder what kind of superhero powers she would have. Maybe she couldn’t fly like other superheroes, but she could throw a glowing sphere of protection around my bi support group in college, where we met in secret out of fear of being targeted. The Fence Sitter could run so fast she could turn back time, so when my identity got dismissed with yet another stinging phrase – “double dipper,” “just greedy,” “going through a phase” – I could come up with a perfect, feisty rebuttal. She could wrap herself around my heart and melt into it, instilling me with bravery the first time I ever went all the way with a woman.
And the Fence Sitter would infuse me with the emotional stamina I need to come out every. single. time. I start dating someone new.
But the Fence Sitter wasn’t there.
I never told a soul how the girl in the bikini made me feel.
I kept quiet during those Lesbo Fair jokes.
And I quivered in fear at the bi support meetings.
But because she did not exist, I became my own beacon. I raised my voice and told my family what is in my heart. And I have corrected anyone – anyone – who tries to erase or dismiss an essential part of who I am.
A few months ago, I was telling a good friend over the phone about a great first date. She tittered with delight and asked: “Ooh, who are they? Tell me all about them.”
No judgments No assumption of gender. Just joy in response to my own joy. Something so simple that I had looked for my whole life.
The Fence Sitter wasn’t there that day. But in that moment, I covered the receiver, tilted back in my office chair, and wiped away my own tears of joy.
And I held my own hand.