What it means to have a bi community with Neil Aasve and William Burleson

Welcome to our LGBT podcast This Queer Book Saved My Life! In this episode, we talk with fundraiser and philanthropist Neil Aasve (he/him) about the LGBT book Bi America: Myths Truths and Struggles of an Invisible Community by William Burleson. Neil recalls the first time he read Bi America, “I remember my heart pounding. I just remember saying the words out loud: I’m bisexual! Also, we have a special guest! William Burleson joins us to talk about how he saw writing Bi America as an opportunity to preserve history.

Buy the books on this podcast at our Bookshop!

A big thank you to Natalie C., Archie A., Bill Shay, and Paul Kaefer for being This Queer Book Saved My Life’s first Patreon supporters. Their sponsorship level directly supports transcription services that ensure this LGBT podcast is accessible to our deaf and hard of hearing audiences. Patreon supporters help keep us on the air and promote accessibility. They receive a variety of benefits, including shout outs in our episodes, social media mentions, access to live-streaming events, virtual lunch with me, or even better, bring me to work day where I can do a talk and Q&A around queer diversity, equity, and inclusion. You can subscribe at patreon.com/thisqueerbook.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Hey everyone. This is J.P. and a big thanks to Quatrefoil Library for all of their support of our LGBT podcast.

Quatrefoil Library is a community center that cultivates the free exchange of ideas and makes accessible LGBTQ+ materials for education and inspiration. Located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, visit them at qlibrary.org

That’s q library.org

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J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: On today’s episode!

NEIL AASVE: I read that. I had a, it was a physical reaction. I remember the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. I remember my heart pounding. I just remember saying the words out loud: I’m bisexual!

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: I’m talking with Neil Aasve about Bi America: Myths Truths and Struggles of an Invisible Community by William Burleson. For Neil it provided a literal connection to his local bi community. And for Bill, it was an opportunity to preserve history.

WILLIAM BURLESON: At it seemed like in many ways the community was going way and was increasingly less active. I decided I wanted to write a book about this. I wanted to talk about the community. And if nothing preserve this time in history.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: My name is J.P. Der Boghossian and you’re listening to This Queer Book Saved My Life!

[plucky pizzicato music]

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: Let’s meet Neil Aasve. His pronouns are he/him. His favorite book growing up was The Shining by Stephen King. He read it in the seventh grade! It was the first novel he ever read and he was so proud of it. He carried the book around with him everywhere. To school. To bed at night.

I also love this memory that he shared with me. His family was a reading household and they also went on lots of camping and canoeing trips when he was a kid. And while they were packing for each of these trips, his Dad would sit down with him and have him pick out a special book for that trip.

These days, Neil prefers reading nonfiction. When we recorded this episode, he was reading Evicted by Matthew Desmond. It’s a nonfiction book that follows eight families in Milwaukee as they fight to keep their homes during the 2008 financial crisis.

Neil lives in Apple Valley, Minnesota and works for Normandale Community College as a Grant Development Specialist.

Since coming out as bisexual in 2007, Neil has served on the boards of the Bisexual Organizing Project and PAVES Nonprofit. He worked as the Safe Schools Manager for One Colorado – which is Colorado’s leading LGBTQ advocacy organization. Neil’s also a nonprofit consultant with True Summit Consulting. Busy. Busy.  

Now, pay attention to this, Neil is the lead organizer of the Visibility Impact Fund. And this is pretty rad because the Visibility Impact Fund is the first ever grassroots grant-maker to provide dedicated funding to bi+ communities. First. Ever.

The fund launched in 2020. It is setup as a giving circle. Think of a co-op but for philanthropy. Members make a minimum donation of $5 a month and that gets them a vote on what gets funded. So far, they have provided over fourteen thousand dollars in grants dedicated to bi+ communities and they plan to offer another ten thousand this year.

Here’s my conversation with Neil.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: So, Neil, what is the book that saved your life?

NEIL AASVE: The book that saved my life is called by America by Bill Burleson

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: How would you describe it?

NEIL AASVE: I would describe it as a look into seeing and understanding that there’s a Bisexual community that’s distinct from a broader LGBTQ community. It really talks about what it means to have a bi community. What that looks like. It also talks about Bisexuality and its talks is a lot of information about what it means to be Bisexual: the complexities and diversity and hearing stories from different people that identify as Bisexual. Learning all about the concept of a community.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: That’s great. So take me to the time before you got the book. What were you doing? Where were you living?

NEIL AASVE: I was living in Burnsville with my girlfriend at the time. One of the reasons I ended up getting the book was that I had come out to my girlfriend as Bisexual. She was the first person that I came out to. It was probably not that uncommon as a lot of people do. I didn’t say hey I’m Bisexual.  I told her about experiences in the past I had with guys and my attractions to men. I didn’t know what that meant. Maybe I’m gay but I also knew I was very attracted to her and I was in love with her. So I just didn’t know. I didn’t really know what that meant I remember being very terrified about that conversation. There’s a lot to unpack on why I had that conversation and when I did but I was very terrified about how she would react. I know I built up the conversation a lot and I don’t know what she was preparing for but I’ll never forget her response. She basically said: Oh that’s it? Well we’ll figure this out.  It just kind of blew me away. I thought she was going to run away screaming or something like that. Right before, I was getting this book. I was in the space of really trying to understand my sexuality. Trying to understand who I was and what that meant for my relationship with my girlfriend. Was it that I was gay? Was this the end of our relationship? Was that going to be what came out of this journey? One of the things we did was to find a therapist. I remember we went together to find a therapist to talk about this. One of her recommendations was you should learn more. You should learn about Bisexuality to help you explore who you are and find some books and so that’s what I did.

I went home and went to Amazon and put in whatever search criteria… bisexuality. One of the books that came up was Bill’s book and this was one of several books I bought That’s how I ended up finding Bi America.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: The coming out process obviously is different for a lot of people. You said there were some things to unpack there. What were the things that were leading you to decide this is the time. I need to explore who I am as a bi person.

NEIL AASVE: Shortly before I had that conversation with her we had been together for about a year and a half and I proposed to her. I wanted to marry her. She first said yes and then a few days later she said she can’t marry me. Her reasoning was she feels she doesn’t know me well enough. There’s still things about me she doesn’t know. There’s not a connection. She loves me but there’s something missing and our relationship after that went south. We were going to break up but I was very much in love with her. I really thought about her saying she doesn’t know me and I was like what does she mean? What is she talking about? The one thing that kept coming back in my mind is my sexuality and it’s something that I had buried: very deep. I decided, well our relationship is pretty much over and I have nothing to lose and so that’s what brought me to have that conversation with her. We did, a few years later, end up getting married. We’re not together anymore but we did end up getting married and it really strengthened our relationship so much. I mean I think about the relationship we had before it came out and the relationship we had after and it was just so much better. It was such a great relationship after I came out. We’re much closer.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: Before reading Bi America how were you reconciling in your own mind, your sexual identity?

NEIL AASVE: I had sexual experiences as a teenager with guy friends. The way I reconciled it in my head was that because I knew I was very attracted to men. Those experiences I had at a young age just messed with my head: messed with my mind. I thought I was really straight but because I had those experiences, things got screwed up in my brain. So I just suppressed those thoughts. I was attracted to women and I had girlfriends. It didn’t feel fake to me. I didn’t feel like I was trying to be straight but I was really gay. So, that’s how I reconciled it. Experiences I had had messed with my head.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: I can’t imagine that was easy. There’s such a dichotomy right? You’re either straight or you’re gay. There’s that stigma which I’m sure you know, that gay people perpetuate that Bisexuality is a stop on the way right? Your true sexual orientation: was that going around with you too as you were thinking and reading books or watching media?

NEIL AASVE: Absolutely. I even remember talking to one of my best friends that I’ve known since high school. I remember distinctly saying to him, I don’t believe bisexuality is real. You’re either gay or you’re straight. I remember saying those words to him. I think that’s maybe partly because I was dealing with my own confusions and not feeling comfortable with who I am. It’s funny BUT when I mentioned it him more recently, he had no memory of that conversation. It was probably a much bigger deal to me than it was to him. They’re not really seeing bisexuality anywhere and honestly the reading of Bi America for me was the first time I ever learned anything about the Kinsey scale. I didn’t know all the different dimensions of Bisexuality I never was exposed to any of that before I read Bi America.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: So you’re on Amazon and searching Bisexuality, then Bi America comes up. Were you like this is the book I need to read?

NEIL AASVE: I don’t have much memory of anything that stuck out. It just seemed it was one of the first. Maybe it was as simple as it was one of the first ones that popped up. I just clicked the first! Many came up on the search. One of the things that’s interesting is that I didn’t know this when I got the book on Amazon. I didn’t know that Bill was in the Twin Cities where I was living! I didn’t know that. That was really interesting to me when I started reading the book and he started talking about Minneapolis and he started talking about the Twin Cities and I’m like whoa, this guy is here. That was pretty cool for me. Because the conference which Bill talks about in the book is for the Bisexual community. He wrote about in the book and that’s how I ended up fighting by the Bi community here in the Twin Cities. I googled the conference and next thing I knew I was at the next conference and then I’m joining the board of the Bisexual Organizing Project that hosts the conference and I just kind of dove in deep like right after I read the book. I was still kind of new to this whole community but I was just so excited and I felt so amazing that I didn’t have to hide who I was. I knew who I was. That was probably even more significant: really understanding for the first time that yes, I am Bisexual! That is who I am. It was really, really powerful for me.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: That’s great that you’re learning about yourself and had an instant community. I imagine that brought up a lot. You’re like, this is happening right here! This is right next door!

NEIL AASVE: It was. I didn’t realize till after I was involved with and engaged with the Bi community in the Twin Cities. It was uncommon. I didn’t know that it was unique. There are other places in the country. There’s some great communities but more common than not, there aren’t. There isn’t a conference. There isn’t a place for other people in the Bisexual community to come together. I feel very lucky that I had this where I lived and I didn’t have to go searching to find the community.

[music]

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: After this short break, I’ll talk more with Neil about the visceral experience he had seeing himself represented in Bi America.

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J.P. Der Boghossian: Do you remember that rad alarm clock you had growing up? I do. Well, guess what? I found that exact clock at Alley Cat Antiques. They have games, pictures, clothes, furniture, kitchenware, pottery, toys, and all kinds of cool stuff. You can shop Alley Cat Antiques within the Mall of St. Paul, in St. Paul, Minnesota, and within Almelund Mercantile in Almelund, Minnesota. Tell them JP sent you. But don’t you dare buy that Thundercats lunch box. That’s mine!

[music]

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: Navigating bi-erasure in heterosexual spaces is one thing, but it is debilitating when bi folx need to navigate it in queer spaces. Here’s more of my conversation with Neil.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: It sounds like you jumped right into the community! I Know there’s some queer folks when they finally find their people, it’s very tenuous. It’s kind of like, put a foot in and then kind of step out. You were ready to go!

NEIL AASVE: I was and I think it gave me a unique perspective on the broader LGBTQ community. Because I wouldn’t have called the LGBTQ community my community prior to coming out. Joining the board of the Bisexual Organizing Project and being more involved with meeting other Bisexual people was important. One of the things that kept coming up was the stigma among Gay and Lesbian people. That was weird. I didn’t understand that. I’m like wait, so there’s an issue around Bisexuality among Gay and Lesbian people? It didn’t occur to me that there was. I didn’t understand it until I started experiencing it. I think that jumping in as fast as I did and getting really engaged with it, I remember having a lot of conversations with people who were making complaints or venting about the Gay and Lesbian community. I remember like wow, that’s… Why are you saying these things? That doesn’t make any sense to me. Now, years later it does but at the time it was kind of a foreign idea.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: How did that feel when you started to learn more about it?

NEIL AASVE: Not great.  I remember the first time I experienced it was when there’s a National Conference called Creating Change. It travels around the country. It was in Minneapolis in 2011 or 12. I went to that conference with the Bisexual Organizing Project as a board member. I was really excited to attend. It was my first real time in Bisexual specific spaces. It was my first time being part of the larger LGBTQ community and I was really excited to be there at that time too. I had just recently been engaged to my then-girlfriend. I was feeling really great about myself. I mean I felt better than I ever had in my entire life. I just felt really confident and amazing and really excited to be there. I remember I was having a conversation with various people at the conference and at some point it came up that I was Bisexual. It was an immediate conversation stopper. It was like you they no longer were interested in talking to me. It happened on multiple occasions. It was like, oh you’re not really one of us. You’re not really part of the community. You’re maybe an ally but you’re not really one of us. I felt that for the first time and over and over again at that conference and it was a really, really awful feeling. It also made me start understanding what some of the others that had been around this space a lot longer than me were talking about.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: How did you process that when it was happening?

NEIL AASVE: I do remember what was helpful was there was different organizations could get rooms or suites and there was a Bisexual suite That was really important to me to be able to go there and be able to share the experiences I had and be able to have some support. There were people that understood. They said yes that’s the thing. But I think it also made me realize that it’s so amazing that I have this community. I don’t need to worry about any of that. That’s really the only space until this day I’ve ever been able to feel that way. Very different feeling. A welcoming, validating feeling. You don’t have to worry about how others are going to react. I think it made me understand the importance of being active in the Bi community.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: And being seen as I’ve talked with other folks is such a visceral experience. When you were reading Bi America, was there a section or a passage in particular where you were like, yes, this is me?

NEIL AASVE: Yes, absolutely. There was a section of the book about different people who identify as Bisexual. It described their individual sexuality. There was somebody that described their attractions and experiences. It might have as well have been me writing those words. I remember the moment reading that. I remember it very clearly. I just picked up the book and laid in bed and just started reading some more. I read that and I had a physical reaction. I remember the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. I remember my heart pounding faster. I remember saying the words out loud: I’m bisexual!

It was the first time I said that. I had been saying that with my girlfriend and in therapy and I kind of was using that word but it’s like yeah, that’s who I am! I didn’t really totally feel it. I had doubts in my own mind. I said well I’m probably gay you know. I’m just not coming to terms with it. But I read that and it resonated with me so much. I remember saying I’m bisexual and really felt it. It was just incredible! I just put the book down and I just sat there and I just felt different.  It was really powerful. I read about the Kinsey scale for the first time and also other ways of describing the spectrum of sexuality. There was something called the Flying Grid which is a little less known than the Kinsey scale but it really talks about the diversity and the complexities of human sexuality. It was the first time I really saw Bisexuality as somebody describing themselves in the same way as me. It was very powerful.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: As you look back at that time, how do you feel it’s impacted what you do today?

NEIL AASVE: It changed my life! I think it changed my life! Reading the book led me to a Bi community. The reason why I think it changed my life trajectory in a lot of ways is you know I was closeted. My sexuality is very closeted but I think when I imagine others, it wasn’t just my sexuality I was closeting I think when you hide part of yourself you hide more than just your sexuality. I remember when I was younger, one of the things that I was really passionate about and really thought was someday I would be a teacher. I really had education and teaching was something that would be a career path for me. I was always one of the students that was tutoring my classmates and helping other classmates with their homework. My sexuality took me in a different direction. When I came out as Bisexual and feeling confident about who I was and being able to feel good about myself, it really started making me ask questions again about what do I really want to do with my life? I was doing school part time trying to complete a business management degree and I made the decision. I really love teaching. I really think that is something I want to pursue. Then I enrolled in the urban teaching program at Metropolitan State University in St Paul and I received my teaching degree. I did end up actually going in the classroom because part of the experience of getting my teaching degree was being involved more in the community. I really fell in love more with community organizing and education policy and that type of work. That’s really what my career has been since. So it really changed so much about the direction my life was going after I had come out.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: Tell me a little bit about the fund that you started last year.

NEIL AASVE: The Visibility Impact Fund.  I started that in 2020. It is the first ever and only community fund to support the Bisexual community. The response has been amazing and overwhelming. It’s really been a lot greater than I thought. I thought it was just going to be a small group of people. We’d pool our money together. We organized it as a giving circle. It’s just a bunch of people coming together and collecting their money and then collectively deciding where it goes. I thought we’d raise a few hundred, maybe a few thousand dollars which would just help. Organizations hold events or do more work to make things by the community visible in different spaces. Like social media or in public events. As of now, we’ve already given out $14000 to seven different organizations! We’re set to give another $10000 later this year. Our fund is growing so rapidly because the need is so great. That’s one of the root cause reasons because there aren’t more conferences. There aren’t more organizations that are focused on preventing discrimination against Bisexual people: Neither from the Gay community or the straight community. There isn’t enough focus on the different, unique challenges of the Bi community. So because there’s no money, it’s not a priority of any foundation to give money to my communities. So I’m really excited that this is taking off and I’m really excited to see where it goes and how much it grows.

[music]

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: For more information about the Visibility Impact Fund you can visit: www.visibilityimpactfund.org. You can become a member by donating $5/month and with that have a vote on the which opportunities the Fund will grant funds to.

After the break, Bill Burleson joins us to talk about writing Bi-America, the lived experience of it and his hopes for the book.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: Bookshop.org mission’s is to help local, independent bookstores thrive in the age of ecommerce. And Bookshop.org partners with over 1,400 independent bookstores to support their businesses to sell us the books we cannot live without. The Chicago Tribune called Bookshop.org the Rebel Alliance standing up to the Amazon empire. And, This Queer Book Saved My Life! is an affiliate with Bookshop.org. That means if you purchase the books discussed on this podcast through our Bookshop page, you will directly support this LGBT podcast as we receive a commission from your purchase. Buy books, support local bookstores, and benefit this amazing podcast, which, come on, let’s be real, we know this is your favorite LGBT podcast. It’s cool. We won’t tell. So, here’s how to get started. Go to bookshop.org/shop/thisqueerbook. Links are in this episode’s description and on our website! But don’t go buy anything until you finish listening to this episode.

A big thank you to Natalie, Archie, Bill Shay, and Paul Kaefer for being This Queer Book Saved My Life’s first Patreon supporters. Their sponsorship level directly supports transcription services that ensure the podcast is accessible to our deaf and hard of hearing audiences. Patreon supporters help keep us on the air and promote accessibility. Patreon supporters receive a variety of benefits from this podcast, including shout outs in our episodes, social media mentions, access to live-streaming events, virtual lunch with me, or even better, bring me to work day where I can do a talk and Q&A around queer diversity, equity, and inclusion. You can subscribe at patreon.com/thisqueerbook

[music]

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: Let’s meet Bill Burleson. His pronouns are he/him. He was a big reader as a kid. Lots of World War Two reading. But his favorite book was A Wrinkle in Time. A guest favorite on this podcast! He told me A Wrinkle in Time is a celebration of not conforming and it probably informed his entire life.

These days he runs a publishing business, so he mainly reads writing submissions. For a long time, all he read was nonfiction and then had a shift. Now, all he read is fiction. He wants a good book you can’t put down. When he finds time he reads a lot of Louise Erdrich and Juno Diaz.

He is a prolific writer. He’s a former columnist for Lavendar Magazine. His work has appeared in The Handbook of LGBT Elders, the Lambda Book Report, and the Journal of Bisexuality. His short stories have been published in over twenty literary magazines. His latest project is a novel Ahnwee Days. Which is a satire on the perils of small town life.

He founded Flexible Press in 2017. Not only does Flexible Press publish well-crafted literature, but they also have a mission to support nonprofits affecting social change. Flexible Press has donated thousands of dollars in this effort.

Here’s my conversation with Bill.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: Hello Bill. What inspired the idea for Bi America?

WILLIAM BURLESON: it’s a long story. I came up to myself in 1970 on the 17 bus at Twenty Fourth and Hennepin. It’s true. I say I’m bisexual and it rang so true as one of those bands where this guy is opened up like an angel singing or something. I was really gifted to have those words when I’m seventeen years old. Really fortunate. It was at the same time that Elton John was identifying as Bi and other musicians. So I had this kind of model that such a thing existed. I read a lot so reading of all things like Penthouse which was a thing in the 70 s to read and that was very liberating about accepting people of all different sexualities. I didn’t bother to tell anybody for about ten more years and then after that I just told everybody! I embraced it. The LGBT community, although it wasn’t called that then but I really fell into to the gay community and hung out and had a lot of friends. Eventually that became increasingly less tenable because they didn’t accept me at all. They didn’t believe me in any way. They were not supportive of me in any fashion, shape or form. That became increasingly a problem and kind of hard. There wasn’t a supportive community for me so I started getting more involved in the Bi community and every year at Twin Cities Pride, there would be this booth. It said Bisexual. A Bisexual connection. Every year at Pride, I’d go to pride and be hanging out with my friends and it’d be this booth and they’d always laugh and say, Hey Bill, you should go talk to them… ha ha they’re funny. Every once in a while I would kind of tentatively go over there and I never went to any of their meetings but I could tell you everybody who’s buying the booth now and I know all those people and they are all my friends. People that NEIL AASVE knows too and these are people from 1991 and so I get to know all of these people and as I increasingly became more involved, I got to know a community. I got to know a lot of people and found the Bi community. The conference which was already a couple three years old by the time I went to it and time motored on and I became more involved in things and I started writing. I started working in HIV prevention and got to know a lot of people who are closeted and had no idea there was a community and this is my big chance to say hi. Well here I am and that was a wonderful thing. I worked for the Rural AIDS Action Network. I worked for the Red Door Clinic. I worked for Hennepin County and helped facilitate a married men’s group but it was wonderful. I went back to college and got my degree as I became a columnist for Lavender magazine. I did a whole bunch of different stuff and I’m going to write a book because probably the most defining feature of my life is to just recklessly go forward. I call it so. Even though I have no idea what I’m doing, I still do it anyway. So I wrote a book and it was great. At the time there was a real need for the book. I had already a small library of bisexual writing by 2002 when it came out but early 90s there’s a bunch of great writing that came out. Bisexual Option was a real defining book that actually came out much earlier and then the second edition which had the Klein grid was really important and that came after and that was a critical book for me. There’s also Bi Any Other Name. There was Bisexual Politics. So it’s like a small body of really interesting writing happening. But that was 10 years before. At that time not a lot was happening. There was nothing. There were no new books coming out. Very little writing about it happening and it seemed like, in many ways the community was going away. It’s kind of weird to think about, but it felt like it was going away and was increasingly less active. All the conferences and all the meetings that were taking place around the nation weren’t happening anymore. And it was as if the community was contracting. So I decided, I want to write a book about this. I want to talk about the community and I want to, if nothing else, preserve this time in history. Look at what was happening: all the really cool stuff and all the really cool people and all the things that were occurring.

At this time, salvage Anthropology is the term for an Anthropology to save this moment so that is kept for Posterity’s sake. So I wrote a book and since then the community exploded. All kinds of great things happened since and nothing to do with the book by the way. But, that’s the epilogue. Happy days! I was completely wrong about the community going away.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: It takes a lot to write a book when you got into it. What kept you going?

WILLIAM BURLESON: Oh I was I was pretty excited about advocating for the community. I felt again from those earlier days of having friends reject me and losing my community and what I felt was my community, I was pretty active. I was pretty excited to make sure that this voice doesn’t get lost. I really wanted to not have other people have to go through the things I went through: to feel that alone or feel like there’s no community for me. I wanted to really find people, give a resource that they could really latch on to that would help them find their community. I know this takes many different types of writing. This is a very different book than the essays by any other name or Bisexual Theories Queries and Vision. So it was intentionally very different than that and it’s just kind of how my mind worked too is how I wrote it. It was a real intro book. It was meant to be a real intro book for people who didn’t know anything about the community. Maybe something you give your parents. Maybe something that you read for the first time. When I hear Neil talk about how it worked for him. You have no idea how wonderful that makes me feel. If nobody else ever read the book except Neil, that would be more than enough for me. I would never have to write again for the rest of my life.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: That makes me wonder because you’re talking about legacy there. , how have you seen either the audience change over the years or the legacy of the book change over time?

WILLIAM BURLESON: It’s a great question. It was never a big book as far as sales go and that had some publisher problems. The initial publisher was purchased by another publisher. It was a kind of quasi, pseudo, make believe academic sort of thing became suddenly an academic thing. So they jacked up the price enormously and sold it only to college campuses! So while that’s nice to still get my royalty checks because the occasional LGBT studies class uses a book, that was very discouraging and I wish that it had more of a legacy and I wish it had more of a commercial legs on it but that’s life in the publishing biz. Let me tell you that’s how the publishing biz works. It’s too bad that happens. As far as what the legacy of the book is and could it have done more if it didn’t become $45 or some outrageous price. On the bright side of things for the next year after the book came out, I did a lot of touring around it and was able to do a lot of speaking at college campuses and at conferences and that was wonderful. I really enjoyed the heck out of that. As for the other part of the question, how has the community changed since then well, the community’s completely grown into a different direction than I could ever have imagined twenty years ago and it is wonderful. I think it’s wonderful to have people identifying all different ways and really embracing themselves as to who they authentically are. I write a lot about Frisk Klein and Kinsey and all these different measurement scales. All this stuff to try to somehow quantify who we are and I don’t think there’s a lot of eighteen year olds who identify with having to quantify who they are anymore. They’re just them, Hallelujah! That’s the right answer. We are who we are. We don’t need to be quantified. We don’t need to have a number assigned to us. We don’t need any of that stuff just embrace who you are if you’re a good person doing good things and supporting each other and having love in your life, Hallelujah. Congratulations you have now graduated. That’s like stuff that makes me happy and we see it all the time and as people embrace new labels as great as it as a language changes, then  spectacular. It’s a living breathing community of people doing new things that I could never have imagined. Now I get to be old and I get to fumble it once in a while. I embrace it. I couldn’t be more excited for how things are growing now and how the communities change and what’s how sexuality has changed. Our descriptive our way of understanding it in America.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: That’s great. I’m curious. Did you feel like you were being changed in the writing process as to who you are becoming?

WILLIAM BURLESON: That’s a great question. Yeah it does. It does codify things that I have to write it down and own it but it’s been so long ago now I can’t hardly imagine that that ever felt any other way. But yeah I had to but really on it but I was incredibly out by that point in time anyway, come out in an Equal Time article in 1991 It was a whole article about me. I had a business name to sell ads. They talked about me being Bi and that was this great big coming out experience. So I was pretty out there by the time this this book came along. I don’t know that it changed me that much. You really did this and it was like the first end of a long process. And like the first end of a long process. It was a watershed moment and then other things happened after that.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: So Neil, what’s coming up for you as you hear Bill talking about this process and sharing part of the story of the book?

NEIL AASVE: It’s really cool to just hear him talk about what the community was like while he was writing it. I keep thinking about how things have changed since you wrote the book and there’s definitely so much that has changed but….

In my view, I still see a lot of work that needs to be done to keep things moving forward. A lot of research and data that comes out sort of talking about the Bi community or talking about the LGBTQ community. There seemed for a while to be this moment of showing the differences between gay and lesbian communities and bisexual communities. There seems to be more of the LGB community and the Trans community. I’m just wondering how you see Bill where things might be going from where we are now? What do we still need to be focused on and what do we still need to be doing as a Bi community?

WILLIAM BURLESON: That is such a great question. We did a needs assessment a decade ago and that had a lot of answers for me. I led a little effort to do that and we had groups and we had a lot of discussion and research and sessions. I think there’s a no shortage of old dudes like me talking about the past. We could have a meeting just for that and meanwhile people who are 18-20 years old seem to be embracing fluidity of sexuality in a way that would only have been a dream for me to be able to do that. So the reality is an organic change is happening and in a really positive direction. That said, you’re absolutely right, NEIL AASVE. There’s a ton of things that have to get sorted out and there’s lots of things to discuss. For example, what is the role of Bisexuality capital? It’s in the title of my book. It’s like what is that? What does that mean in the context when people say well I don’t identify that way, I identify as omnisexual or pansexual and those are great discussions to have and how to find space in there for ourselves too. I still identify as bisexual and where does that belong that is not in reference to something else? Where are our spaces within that? That said I don’t think it should be a giant language exercise either which it sometimes degenerates down to very quickly. It’s this giant semantics exercise. It’s not semantic. It’s people’s lives. It’s there where your feeling for the community lies. It’s your ability to love whoever. However, they choose with other consenting adults. It is all these things. So how do we have those discussions in a way that’s supportive of each other that’s a huge thing I think that’s the Holy Grail and we haven’t gotten there yet.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: And for both of you. What would those conversations look like?

NEIL AASVE: Conversations around different identities.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: Was that the conversations that Bill was just speaking to?

NEIL AASVE: Yes. Unfortunately, sometimes it gets down to kind of too much in the weeds about should we use this label? Should we use that label? I think it is unfortunate when it gets down to really kind of having the label war is the phrase that I’ve heard.  I think that that is unproductive as Bill said we’re talking about people’s lives. We should be embracing the labels that allow people to be empowered in their own lives and that’s basically what it comes down to. If their label allows them to live their full self and be empowered, that’s it. That’s the goal. That’s the objective. That’s what we should be doing. There’s no hierarchy. Labels. There’s no this one’s better than that one. It’s just does this label allow them to be their full self and be empowered? I do wish there was more conversations and that the conversations took place more in that area. I think we have a little ways to go. I think we’ll get there though because I think it is really amazing now that this sort of change in language and there are more ways people identify themselves in embracing the diversity and spectrum of sexuality I think that. That will happen. I think that’s the first step. Really just getting the language out there and it’ll lead hopefully in a positive direction.

WILLIAM BURLESON: I’ll say everything you just said I agree completely. I would like to see you come to Label Wars. I’ve never heard that. It’s spectacular. I love that, label wars.

I would love to be that in a space of support, mutual support, because you would think that those are communities that would be mutually supportive of each other. It’s difficult. It’s hard coming out. It’s hard finding our space in this crazy world of dualistic thinking; of gay straight which still goes on today. Maybe not in younger people but there are still a lot of older people who are where they’re stuck in their ways about seeing the world in a simplistic way of everybody’s one thing or the other which is never a valid rule about anything involving human beings of any kind so I don’t know why it would be here. I would love to see that be a more collaborative way of doing things.

All these things are labels or descriptors and not prescriptive right? They’re not telling us how to live our lives. They’re describing something about our lives to help educate other people so they can go, okay, I guess I kind of have some kind of an idea of stuff about NEIL AASVE. Because he said he was Bisexual. Okay I kind of have some sort of idea but that should never be prescriptive of you. You should never be prescriptive of me to say Bisexual, these are you because you’re on a Kinsey scale wherever you land in the Kinsey scale shouldn’t tell you one thing about how you spend your afternoon. Those are the kind of discussions we need to have more and more and more and I wish it was a more supportive larger LGBTQ community. There’s a reason why we can never come up with a single name for the LGBTQ community because it is a coalition of many acronyms. And I wish it we could avoid I’ve always wished that it could have been a larger supportive community between the Lesbian Gay and the Bisexual and the Transgender community. And all the other communities. I wish it could be more supportive. It has not been and it continues not to be in many ways when it comes time for certainly the hate to say it oftentimes within the Lesbian and Gay community who still judge people who are not firmly young. One side or the other and that lack of support continues to this day and I still see it but largely amongst older people. So maybe it’s like Sears shoppers. Every day, one disappears. You will be replaced by people who get. Can you use any acronym newspaper readers I don’t know what with it.

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J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: I want to thank Neil and Bill for their time. As a reminder you can find out more about the Visibility Impact Fund at Visibility Impact Fund.org. Be sure to make a one-time donation or becoming a member by donating at least $5/month. You can follow all of the updates on Bill’s writing at williamburleson.com and the new titles from Flexible Press at flexiblepub.com

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