Bi Bookshelf

Go The Way Your Blood Beats
On Truth, Bisexuality and Desire
By Michael Amherst. Pub. Repeater Books, 2017.

In 2013, when the diver Tom Daley announced on YouTube that he had a male partner, he added, “I still fancy girls, obviously.” Columnist Dom Joly responded, “This didn’t seem to be too obvious to me. Whatever, I hope he got the reaction he hoped for and is happy in his life.”
Michael Amherst kicks the crap out of that “whatever”. Joly “doesn’t really care – save for the fact that he obviously cares enough to have written a column about it for a national newspaper, to take the money and to make his doubts about Daley’s sincerity in public.”
Only queer people have to suffer this level of interrogation. Dom Joly clearly knew Tom Daley better than he knew himself, and had the right to make his knowledge public, effectively calling him a liar. The media had the right to demand that Daley reveal his sexuality, and then had the right to twist his words to make them fit a more conventional narrative – that Daley was really gay.
To Amherst, insisting on this knowledge isn’t just wrong, it’s impossible. Sexuality is too fluid, too changeable, too individual, to be fully understood by anyone else; in fact, we’ve got a job on to fully know it ourselves. Labels are an attempt to impose order on something that is fundamentally disorderly, unruly and changeable; “for me, sexuality is a permanent state of not knowing”. To those who are certain of their theories of sexuality, Michael Amherst brings doubt.
He wields his sword of uncertainty against a heteronormative society that imposes a binary view of sexuality upon a far messier humanity, and an idealised view of gender roles that would be impossible to live up to if it was desirable. (I would advise BCN readers not to read this book on a bus, unless they enjoy jumping up, yelling “yes! yes! yes!” and showing passages to the poor bugger on the adjoining seat who just wanted to get home in time for Strictly.)
All of this could be very dry, but the book is intensely personal. Michael (this is the kind of book where you feel on first-name terms with the author) has had to negotiate this territory in his own personal life, and interweaves among the theory a narrative of a relationship in which he had to defend his own truth against the impositions of the outside world.
Go The Way Your Blood Beats is a defence of the individual, that untidy, misfitting and unknowable annoyance, against one-size-fits-all politics. The title comes from a quote by James Baldwin which continues, “if you don’t live the only life you have, you won’t live some other life, you won’t live any life at all.” The book is both thought-provoking and moving, and deserves a place on any bi bookshelf.

The Unlikely Story of the True Heroes of the Miner’s Strike.
By Tim Tate. Pub. John Blake, 2017.

The book of the film that seemed to be everywhere last year, this is the story of a group of gay activists fundraising for striking miners in 1984. As with the film, bisexuality is invisible – very much of the time – and while there’s the odd error in each, here they are flaws of human memory rather than rewrites to suit the camera.
I found an easy, engaging, flowing read – it comes across as the script of a ‘talking heads’ style documentary about the original story rather than being too much about the film. Just ignore the somewhat Hollywood subtitle…

Queer, There & Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed The World
By Sarah Prager. Pub. Harper Collins 2018.

Prager is the collator of history behind the Quist LGBT+ history app. Not surprisingly the book does what it says on the tin: potted biographies of some LGBT people who did great things.
A short read – I mean no disparagement when I say it’s the kind of book to leave next to the loo! Perhaps an ideal stocking-filler for someone who might go on to donate it to a local youth group or pop-up library so it can reach someone who needs it…

By Christina Lauren. Pub. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2017.

Someone asked me recently what characters I identify most with, which books I see myself in. Over the last few years I’ve been devouring LGBT+ themed literature, first for research then for an LGBT+ book club. Even though I have a modest start to my own personal queer library, enough to have different shelves for fiction, non-fiction and reference/academic. My answer is, I see snippets here and there. The awkward feelings of “other” of a queer child in the 1920s, the fear of a 60 year old man being too obviously gay, the journey of coming out as a lesbian of a teenage girl to her parents. However, up to this point there has been no one text that really speaks to me. Part of this has been the lack of good quality bi representation in the works I’ve read.
And then I discovered Autoboyography, a recommendation from Manchester BiPhoria’s bi book club meeting. Just two chapters in we’ve already had the B Word! This is the book, the character, for me. Though our stories are by no means the same, Autoboyography’s Tanner really resonates. His words are the words I would speak, the words I wish I’d known to speak at 17. His parent’s response to him coming out is the response I wish I’d had. His expressions of what bisexuality actually is feel natural and burn bright in my chest; they are words I’ve longed to hear or read a bi character speak.
This book is a lovely mix of easy paced young adult fiction and deep, emotion evoking prose which left me nearly in tears on several occasions. I don’t know much about Mormon communities, so I can’t tell if their depiction is stereotypical, exaggerated, offensive? But it lends the perfect back drop to so many issues still seen in the LGBT+ community. The angst of whether to out to your best friend who seems so liberal but whose response you can’t be certain of? Exploring your orientation but self-editing your life when representing it to others. Realising you are LGBT+ but you live in a family and/or community who would not accept it. Or worse, when coming out may mean losing your home, your family and your friends.
In short, I flew through this book in a matter of days (very fast for me) and loved every second of it.