I almost didn’t write this post on the controversy surrounding Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy. I really didn’t have much of an idea of what it was that I wanted to respond to because I didn’t see that much of the visceral, angry discourse that constitutes the norm on book Twitter – because folks start talking real crazy to other people whenever certain topics get brought up – because much of the conversation on Twitter focused on the novels setup which has the titular Ramona, who in the beginning identifies as a lesbian, developing feelings for her male childhood friend Freddie.
Murphy herself identifies as bisexual and stated that she wrote Ramona Blue with her personal experience in mind. That, however, did not stop the spike of 1-star ratings that subsequently showed up on the book’s Goodreads page. Lesbians understandably voiced their issues with the novels vague synopsis on the bookish website, which only ever ID’s Ramona as a lesbian, but there were also those calling Murphy a lesbophobe and claiming that the novel does not deserve to see the light of day. That sentiment is what took my passive awareness of the controversy to an active interest, because that is quite a leap to make about a book that doesn’t deal too explicitly with sexuality in the first place and specifically echoes a bisexual experience when it does.
I wanted to get a better understanding of the negative reactions to the book, so I looked through some of the Goodreads reviews and searched for some articles from lesbian blogger’s with their opinions on this issue. I didn’t find too many, but one I did find I thought really encapsulated all the problems I’d started having with the fervor around Ramona Blue. It’s a piece from Bilitis Magazine (which no longer exists) called “The Lesbian Backlash Against Ramona Blue” by Journey Joyner-Mayr, who is also one of the outraged lesbians on Goodreads. The piece is majorly a point-by-point refutation of common defenses of Ramona Blue wherein Joyner-Mayr accuses Murphy and her book of perpetuating the “lesbian finds the right guy” trope.
Now, I would have agreed with Joyner-Mayr on the tropish nature of the novels setup if she had actually identified a trope. The “lesbian falls for a guy” trope is not a trope, but the “lesbian finds the right guy to make her straight” is a trope, but Ramona never “turns straight.” Joyner-Mayr and several other angry women suspiciously omit that portion in their railings against the book. Joyner-Mayr’s piece and the angry typings on Goodreads are presenting themselves as trying to have an honest discussion about the degradation of lesbian sexuality in fiction, but what they think they’re saying and what they’re actually saying is incongruous. What’s happening here is yet another example of the erasure and discrimination that bisexual people experience within the LGBTQIA+ community that is often aided by the same anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric used by straight people.
Much of the Bilitis piece and “reviews” on Goodreads focus on the lesbian label given to Ramona and completely ignore that many people who currently identify anywhere on the spectrum may have identified as something else earlier in life. Joyner-Mayr states at one point in her piece:
[…] there is no equivalent pressure to identify as gay.
Which is a lie. (click to enlarge images)
You notice the theme of “choosing” or “having the option” when it comes to sexuality is the same rhetoric that gay/lesbian activists have been fighting against for decades being used against bisexual people?
There’s SO MUCH pressure and policing for people to identify as either gay/lesbian or straight that gays and lesbians often resort to harassment of bi (as well as pan, poly, and ace) individuals, but the former are often very quick to recoil and cry homophobia when something doesn’t center their experiences. And these are just a few posts that repeat the same anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric that straight people use, but this parallel is lost on many, including Joyner-Mayr.
Later in her piece, referring to the argument that people who ID as bisexual may have identified as gay/lesbian earlier, Joyner-Mayr states with nauseating incredulity :
Are you kidding me. This was actually said to me.
It may be hard to admit, but yes, there are many people who change labels based on what best fits them and what information is available that allows them to confidently make that decision. Acknowledging that and putting it in a book is in no way harmful or causation for issues like hyper-sexual lesbian pornography and sexual assault, which is a correlation that someone attempted to make. You can have a conversation about those things and the problems it creates for lesbians and other queer women, but that is not the fault of Julie Murphy or her book and it should not come at the expense of denying bisexual people’s experiences.
Another common thread among these comments is the Oppression Olympics hoops that these women jump through to somehow say that bisexuals have enough representation in comparison to lesbians and Ramona Blue is therefore a non-essential narrative. Check number three on the “using the language of your oppressor” list.
In recent years, there’s even been a spike in female bisexual protagonists in YA books…again, I know I’m missing some–these are just the ones I’ve read within the last couple years [; t]here absolutely can and should be more, of course–but the point is that we are not lacking in this narrative like people claim…[n]ow, try finding me a YA book written in the past 10 years that has a lesbian protagonist who has no canon relationships or sexual attraction to men. I can count them on one hand.
Never mind that comparative oppression games do nothing to gain equality for either group, and that this only demonstrates Joyner-Mayr’s lack of well-rounded reading habits, it’s statistically incorrect. According to a 2015 breakdown of Gay YA’s speculative fiction master list on Tumblr, of the 662 books on the list 203 had a protagonist who was a lesbian compared to 81 books where the protagonist was bisexual. The numbers provided by GLAAD’s 2016 Where We Are on TV study shows that representation for lesbians and bisexuals across broadcast TV, cable, and streaming is about the same give or take a few percentage points.
But even if that were not the case, Joyner-Mayr and the other women on Goodreads seem to lay all the blame on the degradation of lesbian sexuality at the feet of bisexuals, as if bisexual women don’t also have to deal with the consequences of that degradation as women who love women.
Bisexual people are always being told that we have to “pick a side” or otherwise be ostracized by the LGBTQIA+ community – if it can even really be called that. Time and time again we’re told that we “benefit from ‘straight passing privilege’” as if having to deny part of your identity isn’t another form of oppression.
The accusations being made against Ramona Blue are more examples of the constant policing that bisexual people face within the LGBTQIA+ community. The insinuation of many of these argument is that there’s a “correct” way to talk about bisexual identity and that the only track to identifying as bisexual is going from straight to bi. There are many people who change labels – some only once, some several times – based on their experiences and an ever evolving understanding of the sexuality spectrum (I’m one of those people), so to suggest, as several comment on Goodreads do, that there’s a singular, “tasteful” way to express the myriad experiences of bisexuals, is damaging erasure.
Not only is this another example of the exclusion of bisexuals from LGBTQIA+ spaces and narratives in general, but also our dismissal in the fight for representation. There’s this prevailing notion within the LGBTQIA+ community that the existence of bisexual people specifically and the concept of “sexual fluidity” means that something is being taken away from gays and lesbians and that bisexuals are attempting to co-opt the struggles of the former groups while also maintaining our “straight-passing privilege”, but that simply isn’t true.
It’s not that no one needs this story, it’s just that it’s inconvenient to lesbian politics.
More readings about Bisexual erasure and Ramona Blue.
- Daily Beast | Are Bisexuals Shut Out of the LGBT Club?
- Alternet | Biphobia: The Author Strongly Argues That Bisexuals Face Their Own Discrimination, Especially From Straight Populations
HuffPost | Bisexual Invisibility: The LGBT Community’s Dirty Little Secret
- Seanan’s Tumblr | A (NOT SO) QUICK WORD ON RAMONA BLUE
- Book Riot | Ramona Blue and the Battle Between Bi, Fluid, and Lesbian Representation