A Dyed-in-the-Spandex Bisexual Manhattanite

Jun 26, 2021 | 2014 Fall - Intersection: Geography

By Rev. Francesca Bongiorno Fortunato

To most people who have never lived in New York City, Manhattan is New York. I was born in Manhattan but have spent many years (on and off) living in other places, including the “outer boroughs” of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, as well as some other towns and cities. I live in Brooklyn now, having moved here when the relationship with Lynn (now my wife) got to the point where we were ready to live together.

I often describe myself as a “dyed-in-the-spandex Manhattanite.” I use the word “spandex” to contrast with the wool of “dyed-in-the-wool.” Wool is natural. Spandex is synthetic. Wool is country. Spandex is city. And that is how thoroughly urban and Manhattanite I am: born this way (almost to the same extent that I was born bisexual).

Living in Brooklyn again has reminded me that there are real cultural differences between Brooklyn and Manhattan, and it is in these differences that I recognize the intersection of sexual orientation and geographical location in my life. Manhattan, even those parts outside the known queer enclaves of the Village and Chelsea, is safe space for queers of all stripes. When Lynn and I are in Manhattan together, we feel free to hold hands, walk arm-in-arm, or kiss each other in public. In the section of Brooklyn where we live, though (ironically named Dyker Heights), the majority of residents are Republican Roman Catholics and there is definitely no sense of queer culture. When we walk the streets near our apartment building together, people most likely assume that we’re sisters or “just friends.” I think that’s probably for the best. Lynn seems to think I’m a bit paranoid and that there is less homophobia than I perceive, but I’d rather not risk it. Manhattan is home. I can be me there. When I go there (several times a week, for various reasons), I get off the subway and take deep, sighing breaths. I feel safe and authentic and good. I feel free and easy. Honest and real…

But this is the Bi Women Quarterly and I’m supposed to write about being bisexual, specifically; not just about being queer in general. So…if my queer identity is mostly erased in this section of Brooklyn where we live, my bisexual identity is completely erased. There have been two places in the neighborhood where I have been partially out (that is, out as queer—in a same-sex marriage—but not out as bisexual). The Assisted Living home where I serve as Pastor is one of those settings. The people there know that Lynn is my wife. I’m guessing that, if any of them even know the word “bisexual,” they would not connect it with me. I haven’t used it there. Honestly, I wish I could, but it feels safer and simpler to just let them see me as a “normal married lesbian” (like their beloved Ellen DeGeneres). The other space in which I was partially out (for the same reasons) was the after-school program in which I taught drama during the school year just past. My boss and co-workers there were all very much in the mold of this neighborhood’s stereotypes (Italian or Irish Catholic, married, with big houses and lots of kids). Unless there were some closeted queers amongst them (which there might well have been, but I’d never know), I had to assume that they might just barely be able to wrap their heads around the idea of me as a married lesbian. Bisexuality would, most likely, be beyond the scope of what they could consider acceptable. I think those co-workers considered me sort of snobbish because I didn’t join in the conversation when they went on about husbands and children. I was just trying not to stick out like a sore thumb and make people uncomfortable. Had I been teaching at a Manhattan school, I would have felt fine about being thoroughly out, even if most of my co-workers were straight. That’s because Manhattan is pretty much the queer capital of the world. People who live in Manhattan know that homophobia is unacceptable. Probably most even know that biphobia is unacceptable. If you don’t like us, go back to fly-over country!

As I write this, Lynn and I are contemplating a move to Philadelphia. Not because Philadelphia is a first choice place to live for either of us (though we both like it there), but because Lynn will be retiring in a year or so and believes that Brooklyn will be too expensive for us once her income is reduced. (Manhattan is already unaffordable; if it were not, I would have an apartment there and Lynn and I would have a part-time commuter marriage!) So…why Philadelphia? Well, we do like it. We have friends there. Pennsylvania has marriage equality now, so we wouldn’t lose our rights as a married couple. But the main reason is that, while being a much less expensive place to live than New York, Philadelphia is “city enough” for our purposes. It is sufficiently urban to have the sort of reliable public transportation that I, as a lifelong non-driver, require. It is also sufficiently urban to have places that are definitely safe for us to be out as a couple, including a section that is actually called “the Gayborhood.” Really. It says that on the rainbow-painted street signs! But again…it’s “Gayborhood”; not “LGBT Land.” The use of the word “Gay” as an umbrella term for lesbians, bisexuals and transgender folk, as well as gay men, is irritating to me. But that’s a subject for another day…

The fact remains that I can’t think of a better place in the world to be my whole self (of which bisexual identity is an essential aspect) than my native Manhattan. I wish it were not so expensive to live there. If I won the lottery, I’d buy an apartment there in half a heartbeat. I am, indeed, a dyed-in-the-spandex bisexual Manhattanite, and I always will be, no matter where I happen to live.

Rev. Francesca Bongiorno Fortunato is an Interfaith Minister and dance teacher. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her wife, Lynn, and their feline employers, Alice and Gracie.

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