Today we are pleased to welcome Interlude Press author Carrie Pack to speak about how realizing her sexuality at a slightly later age inspired her new 90s punk rock F/F book, Grrrls On The Side. Be sure to check out the tour-wide giveaway at the end of the post!
Coming out at 35
I came out as bisexual just after writing my last book, In the Present Tense, so it was important to me to write about another bisexual character. But this time I knew it had to be a girl. In fact, Grrrls on the Side features several bisexual girls because when I was growing up, a book like that didn’t exist and it should have.
A lack of representation not only kept me in the closet, but it prevented me from even realizing that I’m bisexual.
Looking back, I always knew I wasn’t straight. But I also knew I wasn’t a lesbian, so where did that leave me? All of the movies, television and books I saw confirmed that gay or straight were my only options. Unless I just “don’t like labels.” And maybe that last one would have resonated if 12-year-old me had any clue what that phrase meant. Bottom line: I didn’t know bisexuality was an option. What I needed was an example. A girl who gushed over the cute boy in her class but also got butterflies when that girl with the awesome hair smiled.
When I finally did learn about bisexuality, I still didn’t know it wasn’t an equal attraction to all genders. It’s much more fluid than a lot of people realize, and that’s probably because we haven’t seen it in media. Just like seeing gay couples on TV made it easier for people to accept same-sex marriage, seeing bisexual characters could make it easier for people to understand bisexuality. I know because it happened to me. It happened to a lot of women my age.
Did it take us that long to realize we were attracted to more than one gender? In most cases, no. It’s simply the label that eluded us, and with it, the ability to claim our queer identity. How can you recognize your bisexuality when no one you know is bi? When no one will even say the word? When TV characters “don’t like labels”?
So I wrote the book I needed. One character has a near-equal attraction between genders. Another prefers male-presenting and non-binary partners. Another dates a femme girl and then a butch girl; her attraction to guys is secondary and almost non-existent. These are all valid forms of bisexuality. They’re all still bi. They’re all still queer.
In Grrrls, characters don’t have to “prove” their queerness. They just are. I wrote it that way to reflect reality. It’s important because I’ve always been queer. It just took me 35 years to figure it out and I’d like others to have the chance to figure it out sooner.
Summary + excerpt:
The year is 1994 and alternative is in. But not for alternative girl Tabitha Denton; she hates her life. She is uninterested in boys, lonely, and sidelined by former friends at her suburban high school. When she picks up a zine at a punk concert, she finds an escape—an advertisement for a Riot Grrrl meet-up.
At the meeting, Tabitha finds girls who are more like her and a place to belong. But just as Tabitha is settling in with her new friends and beginning to think she understands herself, eighteen-year-old Jackie Hardwick walks into a meeting and changes her world forever. The out-and-proud Jackie is unlike anyone Tabitha has ever known. As her feelings for Jackie grow, Tabitha begins to learn more about herself and the racial injustices of the punk scene, but to be with Jackie, she must also come to grips with her own privilege and stand up for what’s right.
Just because we’re girls doesn’t mean we can’t change things.
Cherie does her usual spiel calling the girls down to the front, and the crush of bodies closes in on us. It’s hot and sweaty, but I don’t care. Jackie squeezes my hand, and we share a smile just as Shut Up rips into their first song.
My friends are cool. They’re in a band and they are legitimately, undeniably cool. And not in an abstract, I-like-this-music kind of way. But in an own-the-stage, make-you-want-to-start-your-own-band kind of way.
Dancing comes easier this time. I raise my hands over my head and thrash with the crowd, not caring what I look like or who’s watching. This is my territory… and theirs. In this moment, girls own this place and that’s powerful. For the first time in my life, I’m part of something bigger than myself. It may not solve world hunger, but it matters. Just like Kate’s obsessive need to protest, and Marty’s passion for Riot Grrrl, and Cherie’s unapologetic femininity, everything has its place. Even “Flabby Tabby” dancing at a concert is part of it.
I look around to take it all in. Jackie and I are once again front and center, but this time we are surrounded by dozens of girls who came to see Shut Up play. I recognize a few of them, but most are just here because they heard about a punk girl band and want to be a part of the moment. I can’t believe it. I’m part of something, and it’s not dorky or cheesy. It’s real. I’m real.
The club is dirty and small, and I have to stand on my tiptoes to see the stage, but I don’t care because these are my people: the hardscrabble freaks and losers who are angry at the world for their lot in life. Dramatic? Sure. But no one here looks at me like I’m some sort of zoo animal. An elephant with too much hair. A rhinoceros missing her horn. Here I am just a girl with cool boots, who maybe looks like she could kick your ass.
Mike seems in his element, too, and taller somehow, protective almost. When a guy with a safety pin through his left eyebrow bumps into me during the opening act, Mike shoves him back. At first I think we’ve won, but Eyebrow Piercing continues to thrash. I step to the side and let him go crazy. Who cares? This band is shit anyway. Mike lifts his brow as if to say, “Want me to kick his ass?” But I shake my head. No point in getting kicked out before the good bands start. We make our way to the other side of the venue where I can see the stage a little better.
We stand there for a while, taking in the scene. The opening band continues to suck. I’m not even sure the bass player’s amp is on. Their sound is top-heavy, like a car stereo with the speakers blown out. Mike nods in the direction of the merch tables. Looks like all the bands are selling CDs and a couple of girls are handing out flyers. We sidestep the thrashing masses to get a better look. I pass up the CDs; I don’t get my allowance until Monday, and I already blew my savings on the boots. A girl about my age catches my eye and smiles. Her brown hair is barely past shoulder length and much shinier than mine. Bright pink barrettes frame her pale face near her forehead. It should make her look childish, but instead she looks cool. I smile back.
“Hey, you interested in doing some shit?” she asks. Her pale green eyes sparkle with determination.
“About all the bullshit in the world that girls have to put up with.”
Thinking she’s joking, I laugh. “That’s ambitious.”
“Just because we’re girls doesn’t mean we can’t change things. Here.” She hands me the flyer I’d noticed her passing out. “We meet on Tuesdays.”
Kate props herself on her elbow and looks at me. “Are you questioning your sexuality, Tabitha?” It sounds very after-school special to me, but Kate is dead serious.
“I uh… Well…”
“It’s okay,” she says. Her smile has turned into a smirk. “I have an idea. You don’t have to answer. Just close your eyes.”
My heart is about to beat right out of my chest, but I comply. I don’t have a choice. My body is acting on its own. I no longer have free will. I’m only doing what I’m told. I can feel Kate coming closer, but I don’t move, not a muscle, not an eyelash. I am frozen in time, waiting. For what I’m not sure.
Then her lips brush mine. Softly at first and then more firmly. My whole body is feverish as she cups my face in her hand. I don’t know what else to do so I try to kiss back, but she’s gone. When I open my eyes, she’s still hovering over me; her hand covers her mouth. She’s blushing, too.
Neither of us says anything, and Kate stands up and takes the tape out of the stereo. “I should probably get this back to Cherie.” She looks at me lying on the floor. “I gotta pee. I’ll meet you outside.”
She climbs the stairs, and I lie there like a dumbstruck statue. I bring my hand to my lips, but they feel unchanged. And yet something is completely, irrevocably, unavoidably different. Something so life-changing, I don’t know what to do with the information.
Plain and simple: I have a crush on Kate.
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