Saturday, 20 January 2018

Purple Prose

I realise I have been exceedingly absent from blogging since the beginning of this year. Going to get back into the swing of things by mentioning a book I feel very guilty for not having mentioned a long time ago.

Purple Prose is an anthology of bisexuality in Britain, edited by the lovely Kate Harrad of All Lies and Jest fame. It was originally launched in September 2016. I contributed to the Indiegogo campaign, but so much got in the way that I didn't get around to reviewing it. I'm having an almighty clearout of my in-box this January, and seeing the update by Thorntree Press (who published it) reminded me to get the hell on with telling you about it.

Purple Prose: Bisexuality in Britain is the first of its kind: a book written for and by bisexuals in the UK. This accessible collection of interviews, essays, poems and commentary explores topics such as definitions of bisexuality, intersections of bisexuality with other identities, stereotypes and biphobia, being bisexual at work, teenage bisexuality and bisexuality through the years, the media’s approach to bisexual celebrities, and fictional bisexual characters. Filled with raw, honest, first-person accounts as well as comments from leading bisexual activists in the UK, this is the book you’ll buy for your friend who’s just come out to you as bi-curious, or for your parents who think your bisexuality is weird or a phase, or for yourself, because you know you’re bi but you don’t know where to go or what to do about it.
Thorntree is itself quite interesting: independent publishing company based in Portland, Oregon. We specialize in non-fiction books on relationships, love and sexuality, with particular focus on non-traditional relationship models. 

As the blurb suggests, the impressive thing about Purple Prose is that it's all things to all readers. From a British bi perspective, it is extremely refreshing to read a book that is specifically about bisexuality. It really is unusual. Bi is often an addendum to books about gay people and lesbianism, rarely focused upon in its own right. 

And whereas, yes, labels are restrictive in many ways, as the book points out - they can be useful sometimes. We need some form of language to talk about sexuality. Unfortunately, that language has largely been fed to us by disapproving bigots over the years, from the playground to mainstream media, but things are changing. I know this, because I learnt a lot of new words through reading the book. Metamour, for instance - the partner of your partner. Which you wouldn't know if you weren't in a polyamorous relationship or knew people who were. Which goes to show the breadth and diversity of the bi community. 

It was nice to read so many stories from people I strongly identified with:

For me, it is that I am missing a little bit of wiring that allows other people to discriminate between the genders when it comes to attraction. Not that I consider it a deficit - it is a little like the unusual brain symmetry that allows someone to be ambidextrous. - DH Kelly

If one day I feel attraction to a woman, I don't have to think "Does this mean I'm gay?" or "If this carried on, would it mean I was a lesbian?" If one day I feel attraction to a man, I don't have to think "Does this mean I'm not gay after all?" or "If this carries on, at what point do I lose the right to call myself lesbian?" If one day I feel attraction to someone who identifies as neither binary gender, I don't have to think "What does this mean about me?"
None of that noise exists in my life. As far as gender-linked sexuality is concerned, there isn't some territory over here where I'm officially supposed to walk, and some territory over there where I'm not supposed to walk. It's all one whole, and I already live there. - Jennifer

Something I really appreciated about the book was the humour. Kate and her colleagues have a wonderful way of phrasing things which draws you in and makes you feel welcome.

Specifically, there is an idea within the gay and lesbian communities that bisexuals are 'slumming' or 'pretending' or 'going through a phase' - that they will leave their gay/lesbian partner eventually and 'go back' to the heterosexual world. If your date has this idea entrenched, there may not be much you can do to get rid of it, since the only way you can absolutely prove you won't do this is to stay with them until one of you dies. Which is a bit of a commitment to make if you're just trying to prove a point. 

I'd say this book really does work on all levels. It's the kind of book older bis, like myself, will enjoy for the solidarity, and the linguistic education if we haven't kept abreast of vocab developments. It's also a warmly written, informative introduction for people just starting to explore sexuality, as well as being the type of book you could leave on the coffee table for your parents to pick up.

You can find some more reviews at Gscene, The Bookbag and BookFangirling.

I want the day to arrive where it doesn't matter to anyone what your sexuality is, so I act as though that day is here. - Iain Lowson

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