Friends in Abstract Spaces

Dec 8, 2023 | 2024 Winter - Bi+ World Wide Web

By Jeiselynn N. Rios Rivera

When I think about internet spheres and communities, I think back to when I was 11 years old, sharing a family desktop in the living room. It was a magical time, where I could chat with others online about the latest novel we were reading. We’d talk about the things we would do if we were characters in these fantastical worlds and, though I was an Egyptian mythology kid, I was talked into reading Percy Jackson and fell instantly for Annabeth.

During high school, the magic of the internet was at my fingertips. I had an iPhone, group chats with friends, and late-night calls with first loves. That’s how I first stumbled upon the word bisexual. I remember it being a strange word to say, to even think about. And still, there was something about the concept, the mere shape of the letters that seemed to beckon more questions than answers. I had wonderful friends who helped me talk it through, and it did not take too long for me to own my bisexuality as a part of me that made me whole—that felt encompassing.

By the time my senior year in college rolled around, I felt unsettled knowing that even though it had been almost four years of pursuing a degree in sociology, I had yet to read anything on bisexuality. It didn’t seem to make much sense; I had read about womanhood, transness, and homosexual attraction. Bisexuality was bound to be in the curriculum somewhere, right?

I had questions. So, when it came time to practice our skills as sociologists by writing a research proposal, I was clear on what my research topic was going to be. As I was born and raised in a primarily Christian environment, and a few times throughout my journey tried to “pray the gay away,” I wanted to know if others in my situation faced the same thing. How long did it take them to understand that being bisexual brought them closer to God? Did they ever? 

Though my professor shared that he’d rather I ask about homosexuality, I endured and went for a deep dive into my literature review to finally—finally —learn more about bisexuality.

I remember coming up empty at my institution’s library, skimming everything I could find with LGBT or Queer in the title, only to be disappointed when it proved to just be a focus on same-sex attracted people. I remember feeling defeated.

That, however, did not mean I was. I sat in front of my computer with a mission to find everything I could find on the internet relating to bisexual theory and the experiences of bisexual people. I searched for forums, magazines, online articles, anything that would expand on the lived and embodied experiences of bisexual people. After about a year and a half of diligent searching, I had compiled a decent digital archive of literature focused on bisexuality—with some general books on LGBT studies and queer theory for good measure. Something in me felt satisfied, but not complete.

Few spaces were engaging in understanding the lived and embodied experiences of bisexual people. I had begun graduate school in the middle of the pandemic, and having these kinds of conversations became way harder than I anticipated. In-person connections and discussions were difficult to make happen, let alone sustain. Something needed to be done for my own research and for my own sanity.

In late 2020, I began a virtual bisexual book club. I shared the information as widely as I could with people at my university and all sorts of online forums and groups. I felt fear that nobody would resonate with my own experience. I felt fear that because I had not been able to find a space to connect and talk about bisexuality, I wouldn’t be able to create it either. I feared I would be alone in my own journey of discovering, revealing, and connecting.

This wasn’t the case. The bisexual book club began with around eight people, and dwindled down to five very persistent, very enthusiastic bisexual folks who wanted to learn more about their own bisexuality and understand how it framed their interactions and everyday experiences. Only two of us shared a time zone.  I grew hopeful in our commitment to ourselves, our journeys and experiences as bisexual people attempting to experience the world in a way that made us feel complete and connected.

During and even “after” COVID-19, I would listen to the mourning of interpersonal connection and intimacy. While there were more conversations happening around accessibility, especially for those of us with “invisible” disabilities, I don’t think we’ve collectively shown the respect and honor for virtual spaces as sites for connection, compassion, community, and liberation.

Just as bisexuality opens a conceptual “in-between” space, where connections and interactions happen based on mutually shared agreements, virtual spaces can present a site for connection and interaction that is less limited by geography and ability. 

Had I needed to find a physical place to meet with others, and been forced to advertise my small book club only to university students, thus increasing my own exposure risk, I would not have had the enlightening conversations and reflections I shared with people from California, United Kingdom, New York, and beyond. Had I not been able to find these people or been pushed to learn about bisexuality on my own, I would not have created a digital archive full of bisexual literature, the study of which has led me to continue academic studies in bisexualities. 

It is this abstraction of a space that has allowed genuine interaction to take place among those who wish and choose to share themselves and their time with others like them. Virtual spaces are an extension of ourselves and our willingness to be vulnerable with each other.

It has been through the World Wide Web that I have been able to grow as a facilitator, active listener, academic, researcher, and professional. The friends I have made “through a screen” represent a commitment that is intentional and actively pursued. The conferences and presentations I have participated in have, once again, affirmed to me that we are a legion of professional bisexuals who know in their bones that our experiences are queer, radical, and revolutionary.

I continue to be impressed by the impact of online social spaces as sites for connection, community, and growth. While bisexual book club is no longer active, I’ve found a group of bisexual writers that use Discord as a space to provide support and encouragement. I’ve made friends with bisexuals who live far away and who have committed to talking regularly about our bisexual projects and revelations. My dear childhood friend from back when I still shared a family desktop (and the first person in my life to come out as nonbinary) writes to me every year on my birthday, and we remind each other that friends are more than just the people you see in class (or work) every day. 

Online conferences and world meet ups have provided a wonderful space to share academic insight and the real-world applications that our bisexual queerness brings. True synergy is made possible when our commitment to showing up is facilitated, and geographic, physical, and economic barriers are removed. It is precisely in our showing up, commitment, warmth, and the transformative nature of our own bisexual spaces as they continue to thrive out of pure passion that I am actively reminded of the power found within virtual spaces and the relationships that grow out of them. We are a large, passionate, and interconnected team that spans across the world—and we’re all the better for it.

Jeiselynn (Lynn) is a Women Gender and Sexuality graduate student at SUNY Albany, a connections peer educator at the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, and a volunteer at the Bisexual Resource Center. They’re always looking for ways to connect with bisexual activism and eager to have interesting conversations. Their work covers a wide range of LGBT topics, specializing in plurisexualities, identity, and non-monogamy.

Featured Image: Lynn (left) with Robyn Ochs at SUNY Albany on International Pronouns Day

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