Eastshade: gaming, grief, and lockdown

Mild spoilers for Eastshade within.

One of the few joys of lockdown has been the chance to discover new games and play them for hours on end without interuption. I notched up 10 consecutive hours in Heaven’s Vault one Saturday back in May because it was so entralling, I just couldn’t bring myself to stop. And the light evenings back then meant I could still go for my permitted walk of the day afterwards. How fabulous!

For the past few weeks people have been feeling on edge, knowing lockdown restrictions could become harsher any at moment with little to no warning. For many, this uncertainty and lack of clarity has been some of the hardest aspects of the pandemic to deal with.

Now full lockdowns are happening again in parts of the UK – and it looks like next week the rest of us will join them. It will be harder this time with colder, wetter weather taking away our chance to enjoy time outside coupled with long, dark evenings.

Life has been reduced to trying to similtanously savour and grieve the things you know will soon be taken away from you again. Every weekend I go for what could be my last meal at a restuarant for a while. Or see a friend in a park for what could be the last time for a while. It’s hard to fully enjoy these activities though, because we just don’t know.

Over the past month I also had a grief milestone looming over me. On Sunday, the sad and grief-stricken day arrived where I had lived longer without my mum than with her. As always with grief-milstones, the build-up was very emotional and intense (and always worse than the actual day itself for some reason!). I felt quietly heartbroken and I didn’t have anyone to talk about it with who understood or knew what that day meant to me.

And then I stumbled upon Eastshade. What a beautiful, moving, life-affirming game! It gave me everything I didn’t realise I needed.

A screenshot showing a beautiful, green landscape with some mountains in the distance, and a hot air balloon rising into the sky.

It is very carefully and thoughtfully designed. At the start of the game, you travel to a small island populated with talking, walking animal folk. Your reason for visiting is that your mother really loved this place. You want to find and paint 4 beautiful views on the island that she told you about. She died an unspecified amount of time ago. This is OK though because the grief is quietly there but it’s not so raw it’s unbearable. You have gentle challenges to move the game along but nothing is urgent, nothing bad will happen to you and nothing can hurt you. You can find and complete other quests along the way but they are also small and gentle, like helping someone to find something. Or discovering the source of the music in the woodlands at night.

Exploring is the heart of the game. All the quests are designed to get you look around and discover something more and you are always rewarded for this. Every flower, beach, woodland trail, and sunset is just magnificent. It is so beautifully crafted. For example, the light changes depending on the time of the day. So I often found my way back to the beach, river, or tower top just to appreciate it during a different moment.

The sound design was also exquisite and again, I often found myself visiting places just to hear a particular piece of music, or the waves, or the sound of paddling my raft on the lake.

Another clever bit of design was the way that areas of the island opened up for exploration. At first you are in a small village, then the surrounding area, then the town etc. etc. You always had enough to explore and still feel free to do whatever you wanted without getting lost or feeling too overwhelmed. Just as one area might start to get a bit boring, another opened up. As you began to tire of walking around, you earned enough money to buy a bike or a pulley wheel. Then you could have fun whizzing around on wheels or zooming down ziplines to previously inaccessible areas.

When you return home at the end of game, you see the pictures you painted on the island and the letters you received from new friends made.

A screenshot from a cave on the beach, looking out to the sky, the sea, and a cliff face. A stone column divides the view of the sky into two.

Everything I’ve just described matches the criteria for boosting mental well-being, doesn’t it? It feels like the game was deliberately designed with this in mind.

  • Exploring your surroundings
  • Appreciating nature
  • Discovering new and exciting things
  • Helping others, and being helped in return
  • Overcoming challenges
  • Making new friends
  • Going somewhere new
  • Doing things to remember the people we love

We can’t do a lot of these things in real life right now, so I feel so blessed to have discovered this game at a time where I could benefit from it the most. Thanks to Eastshade, I can do these things virtually instead. I have a wonderful and safe place to return to any time I like.

That’s all great but why are you talking about it here, in your blog on bisexuality?

Good question! Well, one of the quests is to get two erm, female bearfolk, together. They have feelings for each other, but aren’t sure if the other feels the same. Your task is to invite one of them to a picnic so the other can tell them how they feel. So sweet! And I didn’t know it was coming so it was such a pleasant surprise.

This quest really made me smile. It was simple, joyful, LGBTQ+ inclusion in a really nice and meaningful way. The quest was treated exactly the same as any other in the game. That’s all I’ve ever wanted in the media I consume really, to be represented and treated just like everyone else.

Thank you for giving that to me, Eastshade. I love you.

A screen shot of a waterfall, lined by trees either side. Trees with green leaves on the left, and a deep shade of pink on the right. Again, the sun and moon are visible in the sky.

The highs and lows of Life is Strange

Warning: Spoilers within!

I don’t know about you, but I feel permanently exhausted by mainstream media and its heteronormativity. So I’ve been desperately searching for more LGBTQ+ books, shows, movies, and games to consume.

Buoyed by my discoveries of Gone Home and Tacoma I moved on to Life is Strange and was delighted to discover that (depending on what choices you make) there’s a romance between the two main characters. And normally you can have something queer or something good but not both so I’m happy to report that it was one of the most beautiful and moving gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

What’s it all about then?

Well, technically it is a game, but it would be more accurate to say that it’s essentially a story that plays out in front of you and in between scenes you explore and interact with your surroundings. During conversations with the people you encounter, various different answers pop up on the screen that you have to choose from. What you choose affects the game in subsequent scenes and episodes. And I mean really affects, like whether people live or die and not just something petty like you eat an apple instead of a banana. As a result you often find yourself sitting in front of the screen for 5-10 mins working out which option you want to take. How cool is it that a game makes you think like that?

The game is comprised of 5 episodes in total. I got all 5 for £15 on Steam and considering it took me 3-4 hours to complete each once I felt like it was very good value for money. The first episode is free so you can try it out without losing any money if you don’t like it.

You play a young adult called Max (short for Maxine), a college student studying photography in a small Oregon town on the coast. The game opens with you just finishing a class. When you visit the bathroom another teenage girl (Chloe) gets shot by a fellow student. In the trauma of the moment you discover you can rewind time and save her. Yay superpowers! (Later you can even use Polaroid photos to travel through time.)

And the young adult you saw get shot? Naturally she turns out to be your childhood BFF who you haven’t seen or spoken to in 5 years because you moved away…

…and she’s your romantic interest!

Neither of their sexualities are stated in the game but to me they both read as bisexual. Both young women are attracted to each other. Chloe has bisexual coloured hair and makes comments about having boyfriends in the past and a male teacher being hot. Max is into Chloe, but depending on how you play the game can be attracted to her friend called Warren too.


 Chloe with purple-pinky roots and blue hair.

Life is Strange has good writing, natural dialogue, and a really intriguing plot. There are two strands to the story. There’s the paranormal where you can rewind time and choose what you use your powers for. But your powers come with a heavy price (don’t they always?) – they will cause a tornado to appear in a few days’ time which will destroy the entire town. Whilst that is playing out in the background there’s also the human drama which propels the story forward. A girl from your school is missing – what happened to her? What’s her relationship to Chloe? Who in the school knows more than they’re letting on? And how does the mystery link back to your classmate who is clearly struggling with mental health problems and being bullied?

And now for the downsides…

It doesn’t take a genius to work out where some of this story is going. This kind of set up always leads to the same things. Naturally everyone is hiding something and no one is as they first seem. If the missing girl were to be found alive by the end of the game I’d eat my bobble hat. And my troubled classmate is either going to kill herself or I am going to have to try and stop her. As a suicide bereavement survivor this kind of content is very traumatic and makes me long for the day when games come with trigger warnings.

Here’s what I texted my friend about the game whilst I was playing:

“OMG the graphic design is so stunning. As is the voice acting. And the soundtrack of cool punk music + beautiful instrumentals is awesome. The friendship between Chloe and Max just keeps blossoming. And it has loads of subtle X-files references, like 10-13 written on hallway posters!”

Followed up by; “This happiness can’t last, can it? :( ”

See we’re all conditioned to know that we don’t get happy endings. Not us queer folk. Not in fiction. So I was bitterly disappointed to find that my suspicions were right. It was all too good to be true.

I won’t reveal the details in case you want to play the game yourself but if you don’t mind a few more spoilers I can tell you the end because knowing that won’t ruin the rest of the plot that much – it’s too separate from it.

End of game spoiler & discussion below

Your final choice boils down to either saving Chloe or saving the entire town from the tornado.

Arrghhhhhhh,” I texted my friend. “The only way to save Arcadia Bay is to kill my girlfriend!

I’d say, fuck the town,” she replied. (Which is understandable. She needs happy endings as much as I do. She’s still recovering from losing Lexa in The 100.)

Many fans feel the same, which spawned the phrase ‘BAE before Bay’.

That’s what I’m going to choose,” I replied. “Because I NEED a happy story. But urgh what a stupid choice. I’m so angry. I don’t want all the characters I’ve spent so long getting to know to just die in the storm. I knew this game was too good to be true!

Now as it happens, the little girl I live with came in to my room at that exact moment the game paused for me to pick between those two end options. She asked me what I was doing so I explained what the game was and how both options were so awful I didn’t want to choose.

You should save your girlfriend. Because…because you can always go and find a new town,” she said, perhaps not realising at the tender age of ‘nearly 6’ that meant people would die, not just that the buildings in the town would be destroyed. But still, I like the way she thinks!

The lowest of the lows…

I felt cheated because I had so carefully thought over every other single choice in the game. Whilst they impacted other threads of the story, it was really sad that ultimately none of them mattered if your only option is to either go back to the very start and erase everything you’ve been through or let the town be destroyed.

When you choose to save Chloe it really sucks because all those characters you’ve come to know? You never see them again. You don’t try to call Chloe’s mum or visit to diner to search for her and see if she survived. You don’t even get a short montage of college classmates and townfolk coming out of wrecked buildings to asses the damage or anything. So you don’t feel like you get any resolution and you’re made to feel like you selected the ‘wrong’ choice.

In order to feel like I’ve fully completed the game I know I’m supposed to rewind time and pick Chloe’s death instead. Which I do for completeness, and in another slap to the player only then are you allowed to witness a true kiss between these star-crossed lovers. Followed by a very long montage of heart-wrenching moments showing Chloe’s murder and everyone else grieving.

I hate that the writers have led me down this path and that’s what makes me feel utterly let down and hurt by this game’s ending. (Along with the fact that a lot of it can be classed as ‘torture porn’ as the game features sexual abuse, murder, characters being drugged etc. etc. which is also very upsetting.)

So, to use the name of the last episode, I feel so polarised…

On the one hand the first 3 episodes were some of the best gaming experiences of my life. I was moved beyond words. So utterly taken with these characters and their beautiful friendship and blossoming romance. Yet on the other hand I just felt so used and hurt by the ending. Especially considering that it didn’t have to be that way at all.

So what can we take away from all of this? Well thankfully I took a Polaroid of myselfie just after playing epsiode 3 so if I stare at it now…yes! Reality is changing!

– – – >past me reaches for the mouse in order to click ‘Play Episode 4’ < – – –

Future Me:No, wait! Listen. Don’t play any more. Enjoy what light this has brought into your life and leave it at that. Listen to punk music. Go and kiss women with bisexual coloured hair. Dye yours purple like you always wanted to. Get into photography because it looks so cool in the game. How about lumography?!

Past Me:Oh erm, well…

Future Me:Put a picture of Max and Chloe together on your wall. As your screen saver! Laptop and mobile!! Download the soundtrack. Listen to it everywhere. Dance. Fall in love!

Past me: “You’re kinda scaring me now. :/ Help.”

Me:Find your own Chloeeeeeeeeeeeee.”

– – – – Whooooooooosh. Time Travel!  Future me disappears – – – –

So as I had a sneaky suspicion about how the game would end I decided not to finish it. I’m really sorry as that means I can’t give you a full review but I’d rather not take the risk that it ends badly. The story that unfolded between Max and Chloe was so great I just want to give them a happy ending in my own head and keep it that way. I’ve read that a prequel was released last year and that a sequel is in the works too so I will have to check out their reviews to see if I want to delve deeper into this franchise.

If you’ve played either of the two games available do let me know what you thought of them. Did you go through the same highs and lows I did?

I can’t wait to replay the first few episodes of the game just to relive that joy again, and pick different choices so I can see how the various different outcomes unfold. I also love how it’s really inspired me creatively. I have the urge to write, draw, doodle, and journal.

There is a lot that is problematic about this game which makes me both angry and sad – but I can’t deny there is a lot about it that I love, including the representation of its bi characters. This is a story that is going to stay with me for the rest of my life. And to celebrate that I even printed off a picture and stuck it on my bedroom wall.


Max and Chloe walk along each side of the raised section of a railway track. Their arms are outstretched to keep themselves balanced and they are holding hands over the sleepers.

Bi Erasure in Doctor Who: Clara

If you have the pleasure/misfortune to know me then I’m sure that if you were asked to describe me in 3 words, ‘Doctor Who’ would be two of them. I’ve been obsessed with it my entire adult life. Had I not been born in what fans dub ‘the dark years’ (the period between the late-80s and 2005 when it was off the air) then I have no doubt I would have loved it as a child too.

I always feel guilty about loving something that relegates LGBTQ characters so far into subtext land that you need binoculars to see them (Classic Who). Or blink and you’ll miss it representation (New Who). As much as I live and breathe the show I hate that there is no real visibility for me within it. That it is often biphobic.

Time and time again LGBTQ people are told that we are “rubbing people’s faces in it” at the merest hint of non-heterosexuality, such as when you mention your girlfriend’s name or that you’ve read a Sarah Waters novel in conversation. So it hurts all the more when shows have a heterosexual kiss/sex scene/flirtatious moment in virtually every episode.

And yet a character that supposedly represents bisexuality? Nothing.

Poor Clara doesn’t get to say she’s bisexual. She is only allowed to hint at it through brief sentences that can be passed off as jokes in case anyone gets too worried. Jane Austen is a phenomenal kisser apparently. Naturally we never even get to see her and Jane meet. But she does have a season long romantic storyline with her boyfriend Danny.

Another litmus test for me is whether the cast or crew ever mention it whilst doing publicity. “She had a love affair with Jane Austen,” Jenna Coleman says in one of the Series 9 DVD extras. And whilst it’s awesome that it’s stated out loud and on the record how awesome would it have been to see that story play out on screen!? Why are we denied that part of her identity? What is so wrong and terrible about it?


And what a terrible message it sends out to the audience; that same-sex attraction should be secret. Because it’s too naughty, wrong, and risqué to be shown on screen. Because it’s not worthy of being shown in a single scene.

It really upsets me.

Especially, as I’ve mentioned before, when it’s a sci-fi drama where aliens, time travel, monsters, living on the moon etc. exists and is often depicted. But two people of the same gender having a relationship – hell no. Damn you for even wanting it!

Clara Bi Pains

The image shows a portrait of Jane Austen on the left and a publicity photo of Clara on the right. The colours of the bisexual flag have been painted in behind her. A red strike crosses out the image from bottom left to top right, obscuring Clara’s eyes.

And then you come across all the speculation about her sexuality in the media, because after all there’s nothing official that confirms it. Jenna Coleman’s words could be interpreted as a joke or given the meaning ‘was very interested in as a hobby’. And then the press do hurtful things like start an article with “No, we’re not being salacious…!” and I want to scream at the world over and over again to stop sexualising bisexuality.

I know this is nothing new in the show, River Song falls into this category too and there are plenty of other examples outside of Doctor Who. The show has taken some long overdue steps forward with the latest companion Bill (I’ll debate the pros and cons of that character later) but it’s not enough. It’s got a long way to go to make up for all the hurt.


Queer Subtext in My Little Pony: The Movie

I am lodger in a family home and one of the children living there is a five year old girl. Let’s call her Twinkle Bum for the sake of anonymity. She likes the kind of things you would expect a five year old to like, such as colouring in and jumping up and down on my bed when I’m trying to get ready for work in the morning.

One day I noticed a poster for the My Little Pony movie in her bedroom and foolishly said “Hey, I can take you see that when it comes out!”

A well known film critic had implied it was a hot mess of sound, colour, and incomprehensible storylines so I began to wonder if there was any way for me to get out of it. But a promise is a promise and Twinkle Bum was so excited about it so there was no way I could turn her down.

The shocking thing was, I actually really enjoyed it. Whilst the plot was thoroughly predictable for adults, it held up and had a good message behind it. Friendship is important. As is making sure everyone is included. The only way to defeat the bad guys who invaded their land was for all the different animals (Ponies. Cats. Birds. Mer-griffins?!) to work together. With Trump, Brexit, lack of free press in the UK, and a Conservative Government – it was a message that felt very relevant!

The songs were ACE and Twinkle Bum & I danced all the way through the end credits. We sang anything we could remember on the bus back home and then we watched the videos of the song lyrics on YouTube for about another hour later that afternoon.

But one thing that really tickled my pickle was the queer subtext.

Rainbow Dash is probably one of the more well known ponies and the easiest to link to LGBTQ symbolism but I’m actually more interested in Twlight Sparkle. Look at the picture below and you’ll see why.


The photo shows an image of Twilight Sparkle; a purple My Little Pony with wings and a dark blue mane and tail. There are also purple and pink stripes in their hair.

Now as Twilight Sparkle is a purple pony (or unicorn, seeing as they’ve got wings and a horn) with a bisexual coloured mane and tail I’m going to make a bold statement here: this must be a movie with a bi character in the leading role – who is also the protagonist! A rare occurrence in cinema!

Later on in the film the ponies have just fled from the baddies’ clutches yet again and made their escape by hiding on an airship that flies away. This leads to the ponies singing a song which encourages the crew to the free roaming pirates they truly are, rather than the cargo transporters they’ve been forced to be.

But take a look at the lyrics of Time to be Awesome. Here’s a few extracts:

“But there’s a light shining deep inside. Beneath those fears and doubts, so just squash ’em. And let it shine for all the world to see.”

“You’ve no idea how hard it’s been. This dull routine we’ve been forced to do.”

“Don’t let them rob you of who you are. Be awesome, it’s all up to you.”

“I feel the light stirring deep inside. It’s like a tale still yet to be told.”

They could easily be singing about how hard it is when you can’t come out and have to keep up the straight facade here. And that your sexuality is special and amazing – and so are you!

Just in case the subtext wasn’t clear enough already, Rainbow Dash gets overexcited and flies in circles around the airship making spirals of rainbows around it.

At the end of the movie, the song by the pony based on Sia (a bisexual singer), who is actually voiced by the songwriter herself, is called ‘Rainbow’. Lyrics here.


The photo shows ‘Songbird Serenade’; the pony based on the singer Sia. They have the same black and white fringe that covers the eyes like Sia does and a multitude of rainbow -coloured hearts on their side.

So this has been a blog post I never thought I’d write! But that’s just one of the many joyous surprises that living with a 5 year old brings. And do I recommend that you watch this film? Well maybe, if you have children in your life or normally love this genre of movie. : )

Some of the songs are so damn catchy. As with Moana I’ll be singing the soundtrack for a long time to come. I’ll definitely take Twinkle Bum to the cinema again in the future but you’ll have to excuse me for now, it’s time to go and be awesome…


Fanfiction is usually viewed in a derogatory way and is likely to be dismissed as badly written, childish drivel produced and consumed by “fangirls“. However people of all genders and ages write it. Some fiction will be published by the most talented authors you’ve ever encountered, whilst others are so bad you can’t read past their first paragraph but ultimately I don’t think ability is the point. Whatever their sexuality people are being inspired to write and create and I think that’s wonderful. Even if you never post any yourself, fanfiction improves your writing and editing skills just by reading it. It also builds friendships and community as people comment, critique and come together to recommend and discuss stories.

Fanfiction is important to me for several reasons. One is that there are so few LGBT+ characters in film, books and television it allows you to input something else into a monosexist heteronormative world. With hindsight I’m no longer surprised I’ve consumed so much fan fiction over the years. If writers, producers and television networks aren’t going to portray it then fans are certainly going to take their creations and write their own LGBT+ characters and storylines with them. Hell sometimes we even give them a happy ending too! It makes a nice change from all the character deaths we get lumbered with. I suppose you could view fanfic as some kind of creative, literary wish fulfilment. 

Fanfiction also allows us to have stories where other character’s reactions to someone’s gender or sexuality isn’t the plot. In TV & film the story for an LGBT+ character always seems to be about rejection, discrimination, bullying, violence, fighting for rights etc. If it’s not that then it’s a negative portrayal which, for example, sees bi people as hypersexual, greedy, murdering, cheating secondary characters to be used as a plot device to further someone else’s story.

For bisexuals, even reports on poor representation in the media are erasing. *cough*

So as you can see fan fiction has been invaluable for me. When I was a teenager I devoured it. I was addicted to it. I would do things like pretend to feel ill on family holidays just so I could ‘rest’ in a public library and read it on the Internet whilst my relatives went sightseeing.

For most of my teenage years I didn’t know anyone else who wasn’t straight. In my small town I had nowhere to go to meet other people like me. There was no LGBT centre or youth group where I could get support. I didn’t even know those things existed. So fanfic showed me that there were other queer people out there looking at their computer screens too. Thanks to fanfic authors and websites I knew I wasn’t alone. More importantly, fics taught me that life would get better. It wouldn’t always be about loneliness and isolation, combined with feeling terrified that your parents might find out about your sexuality whilst you were trying to cope with being bullied at school. It taught me that when I would be an adult there would be a scene, a community that I could join. Fics gave me hope I could find happiness and relationships in the future.

Fanfiction was also one to way to find out answers to a curious teenager’s questions. What was it like when two women kissed or had sex? How did two women have sex?! As I’ve written before, my education certainly didn’t provide any answers.

Of course it’s not all positive. When people post LGBT+ fanfiction online (or even just link to it) they face harassment, abuse and bullying. You’re also not going to get a safe, accurate sex education from reading fanfiction! In addition unquestioning minds can absorb the attitudes of the writers of what they read and they might not find, or there might not be, any alternative view points to counteract it. If they only find fanfics saying x, they might begin to think is x true.

Fanfic, like the media, is a reflection of the dominant beliefs and attitudes in our society. One example of bi erasure is that stories involving two women getting intimate are nearly always tagged ‘lesbian sex’, even if the characters in the story are bi. Biphobia might take the form of someone writing a character that pertains to the aforementioned negative stereotypes. People also tend to do things like take straight characters and write them as gay/lesbian. Yes fans are welcome to write whatever they like, and that’s the point I made in the second paragraph isn’t it? Though I guess what I’m trying to say is when the majority of fiction is gay/straight as it reflects our monosexist society, this sucks as it reinforces biphobia and bi erasure both internally for any readers attracted to more than one gender and amongst readers in general. I long for more bi fanfic and bi friendly fanfic!

However at least you can (for the most part) choose, control and contribute to what you read on the Internet. In film and television you don’t have a say about content. Nor can you stop people showing endless hetero kissing and sex yet cut to a shot of lady legs behind a metal shutter because showing two women so much as brush lips will…erm…cause the viwers’ eyes to burn? Send us all to hell? Yes The Good Wife, I’m looking at you!!

shutter shot

The picture is a screencap from the first season of The Good Wife. A kiss between two women is implied by a shot of two pairs of legs very close together. The upper halves of their bodies remain obscured by a partially closed shutter of a storage unit.

So yes, fanfic definitely fills the gaps of what you rarely/will never see onscreen.

So what is being an avid consumer of fanfiction like? How have things changed over time? 10-15 years ago before Google took off it was really hard to find any LGBT+ fiction. Search engines were so crappy! So when I did find some I always quickly copied and pasted it into Word documents. If you wanted to read it you either had to be in front of your own computer, or save it to a floppy disc in order to read it on a different computer. The only alternative was printing it off on A4 paper. This was easily done with a short stand alone story, but a bit more difficult and time consuming when it was written across 70 chapters all posted on different pages of a website! 

Closeted teenage life also meant having to delete all your browsing history and saving documents to floppy discs hidden in your bedroom so parents wouldn’t find anything on the computer. I certainly enjoy the freedom having my own laptop brings now.

As the web grew and grew so did massive archive sites like Fanfiction.net and Archive of Our Own. It soon become a lot easier to publish on sites and blogs through creating an account rather than through having to make your own website from scratch on somewhere like Geocities. As those older sites disappeared offline over time anything you hadn’t copied and pasted was lost forever. Now you can download nearly anything and put it on your phone or kindle to read anywhere you go. Some fandoms even have communities where people record themselves reading fics out loud (not necessarily their own stories) so others can listen to them instead of read them.

Experiences of finding fiction varies greatly depending on the popularity of the thing you’re interested in. The more well known and liked something is, the larger the fan base and the more fiction produced as a result. I’ve been lucky as the things I love have always had huge online fandoms. It’s nice to know you’ll never run out of anything to read.

I can’t imagine a life without fanfic. My favourite stories will always stir up emotions along with the memories from the period of my life when I first discovered them.

Appropriate Behaviour (Film)

Last month I went to a screening of Appropriate Behaviour held by the Reel Equality Film Club at The Broadway Cinema in Nottingham. The film is very unique in a number of ways. It’s written and directed by a woman (Desiree Akhavan). The lead character (Shirin) is a woman. In fact most of the main characters are women, whilst the male characters are sidelined in the way that female roles normally are. The men have few words to speak and play the bit parts of father, brother, person Shirin has sex with that one time etc. rather than being fully rounded characters in their own right.

All of the above are very rare in the film industry.

It’s also a movie about a bisexual who happens to be Persian which makes the film even rarer. How wonderful it is to have a British movie where the main character is not white and gay/straight! Also whilst being an American-Iranian bisexual is certainly a major part of Shirin’s identity, I never felt that these things were all her character amounted to or were completely defined by. 

Rarer still is the fact that this portrayal is bisexuality is a positive one: the main character doesn’t cheat on anyone!
She doesn’t kill anyone!
*double gasp*
She isn’t hypersexual!
*triple gasp*
She’s a cool, complex, fully rounded character in her own right. She’s not a plot device for the main character’s story!
*more gasps of shock*
She doesn’t have a threesome!
Oh. Wait. Well she does. But it’s her first ever one and there is nothing wrong with showing a young women exploring something new sexually.

Desiree Akhavan as Shirin.

Desiree Akhavan as Shirin.

Shirin has recently broken up with her girlfriend when the film starts. There’s not really a plot or storyline as such, it’s more about how she’s dealing with the break up and how she’s trying to figure out what direction to take her life in next. How she fits and misfits (to reference the name of a well known BiCon workshop) with the various different cultures and identities in her life. The film does this in a warm, witty, funny, sarcastic and very endearing way. It’s the most realistic portrayal of bisexuality I’ve ever seen on screen. I wish there were more films like this.

Appropriate Behaviour portrays the biphobia Shirin faces, but it doesn’t do it in a depressing or negative way. It portrays how her Iranian family reacts to her sexuality when she decides to come out to her brother and her parents. Whilst this isn’t resolved by the end of the film, I certainly left sharing Shirin’s realistic but positive & hopeful attitude towards the situation.

Another thing I like about this movie is the title. I find it very positive and affirming. It’s a nice play on words and the prejudiced beliefs surrounding bisexuality. It’s a nice way of subverting the negative attitudes some people might have towards Shirin’s behaviour in the film too.

I don’t want to write too much here, as I think it’s best to see the film knowing a little as possible about it. However if you’ve seen it I’d love to know what you thought. Did you like it? Did you like Shirin? What did you think about the way bisexuality was portrayed? Let me know and we can discuss it in the comments!

I’ve been tweeting and writing about the film to raise awareness of it and I’ve just bought it on DVD. Appropriate Behaviour is Akhavan’s directorial debut so I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next.

Perhaps we can arrange a screening of it at this year’s BiCon?

Lost (TV Show)

Lately I’ve been re-watching Lost, the TV show which ran for 6 seasons from 2004 – 2010. The show was unfortunately a victim of its own unsatisfactory ending and has never been remembered fondly since. It is also known for having too many unanswered mysteries, despite the fact that nearly all of them were resolved by the end! However I’m finding the re-watch to be absolutely gripping. To get the most out of it, I’d recommend shifting your focus from the sci fi/fantasy aspect of the show and enjoying it as a strong character drama. Some of the themes that run throughout involve love, loss, loneliness, friendship, family conflict (especially absent, cruel, and dead parents), survival, good v evil, science v faith, free will v fate, and the question of what happens to us when we die. I find the show a really interesting fictional format to explore all of these issues.

I was 18 when it started, and a decade later I see the show in a different way than before. I’m only on the second series at the time of writing this, but the female characters are not being written very well in my opinion. Whilst they are many in number they don’t have many storylines outside of their relationships to a man or outside of motherhood. (E.g. Rose, Claire, Sun…) One exception is Kate, a very strong and independent woman who  can rescue herself and others as well as any male character. However, even whilst she’s off roaming the island to move the plot forward with the men she’s caught up in a whirl of sexual tension love triangle. Most of her angst and character motivation comes from the fact that she unintentionally got the man she loved killed. I’m looking forward to seeing how the female characters are written throughout the rest of the series. I hope it gets better, but I don’t think it does! Sigh.

I realised this morning that I couldn’t remember seeing any LGBT characters in the show. It’s always a great shame in any sci fi/fantasy show when this happens. It subconsciously conveys the idea that things such as smoke monsters, seeing dead people, and tropical islands that travel through space and time are all more normal and easier to understand than the fact that someone isn’t straight. Double sigh. This is an especially big fail in Lost’s case when you consider the sheer number of characters that must total up to several hundred. Surely more of them could by gay, lesbian, bi or trans? Surely there could be more same-sex characters and couples as background extras and minor characters? WRITERS, IT’S NOT THAT HARD TO DO!!

What makes me doubly sad is that a decade on, they still haven’t changed. A lot of the same producers and writers for Lost went on to work on the show Once Upon a Time. Sadly it’s still a case of creating a world where murder, mass murder, dragons, magic, torture, children being the same age as their parents, being able to travel between worlds… etc etc. all regularly occur BUT GOD FORBID WE HAVE AN LGBT CHARACTER! Once is also just as bad for not casting BME people in anything other than small supporting roles. Though oddly the show does a lot better than most shows in terms of awesome female feminist characters…BUT IT SHOULD NEVER BE EITHER/OR IN THESE CASES. A SHOW SHOULD BE ABLE TO HAVE A DIVERSE CAST, DIVERSE CHARACTERS *AND* WELL WRITTEN FEMALE ROLES!!

And breathe.

So how many LGBT chracters are there in Lost? According to this website there are two gay males and one assumed bisexual (Hurley’s sister in law). Who leaves Hurley’s brother for another woman.

*throws laptop out the window*

Please excuse me whilst I go and sulk in the Swan Station with a poler bear and dream of representation in the media.

Something Simple I Learnt From Stonewall’s Bi Consulations

Since I attended the Bi Consultations held by Stonewall in February 2015 I’ve wanted to do a write up of my thoughts and feelings on how the event went. I deliberately waited a few weeks for the adrenaline, excitement, and euphoria to wear off so I could write something more balanced. However by that point I felt really hurt and angry at the charity again and still haven’t been able to face doing a blog post about it yet.

However once thing that has stayed with me was something Ruth Hunt (chief exec of Stonewall) mentioned, which was this idea of what sucess looks like at the end of the day. An example she gave was an experience of going in to speak with a large construction company. This is not a quote, just my recollections of what she said! On that occasion sucess was getting them to realise that some people are gay or lesbian. Some of their staff could be gay or lesbian. That it’s not ok to call another man a poof when they do something like drop a load of bricks, and even if there were no lesbian employees it is still offensive to have a calendar containing lesbian porn hanging on the wall.

Now this was obviously a humoristic over-simplification of what she discussed with the company (though I’m sure the B word would’ve been left out a lot. : p) but the idea stayed with me. It reminded me that whilst some people are clued up on LGBT issues, most people aren’t. That for some it will take a long time to change their prejudices and negative attitudes. Others never will. You might want to walk in and talk about LGBT rights and issues and have everyone on your side, but sometimes you have to start with the basics such as what LGBT actually means.

One memory that came to mind was when I came out to a close Japanese friend. She had no concept of bisexuality at all, and after I had explained it to her, and then explained that I am one of those bisexuals, she told me that it was very interesting but there are no bisexuals in Japan. “Well when I lived there for two years, there was at least one!” I quipped before explaining that there are many LGBT people in Japan, but because it’s not socially acceptable most LGBT people don’t come out so live their lives in secret. It was a lot for her to take in, and I had to leave it there and tell her about other bi related things in my life later on. At that point sucess was just being able to come out, and being able to tell her what I was coming out as.

Another example comes from when someone new turned up at my group, and I unintentionally overwhelmed them by speaking about bi related things too much. They were at a bi meet for the first time, and just realising that they might not be straight for the first time. Sucess should have been me not making any assumptions about them and remembeing how scary it is when you first venture out into the bi scene.

Remembering these things has helped me recently, such as when I called up prisons in Nottinghamshire and asked them to display a rainbow flag on 17th May. I only had a few minutes to explain the whats and whys of my unusual request to people who had never heard of IDAHOBIT. It has also made me realise how little I know on topics such as racism and white privilege. That I will get things wrong sometimes. Do stupid or hurtful things sometimes. That people will have to explain things to me and/or correct me (if and when they want to).

However one simple thing I learnt from the Stonewall consultations is that some people are confusing bisexuality with complexity. So they are either mis explaining it or not including it at all as a result and this is a really harmful and hurtful thing to do. I didn’t consciously realise people were conecting the two until then. In addition it was great to hear an apology for doing it from Ruth/Stonewall during the consultations. One of the many reasons why the consultations were a sucess for me was being able to hear the apologies that I’d waited years for. (Along with statements that in time, Stonewall would change and do better in the future when it comes to bi issues and bi inclusion.)

I think it’s fine to simplify if you need to. Sometimes the sucess of your goals depends on it. However bisexuality it itself is not too complicated to talk about or understand!

Bisexuality in The Sims 2

The Sims franchise is a series of four games where you get to build and create your own neighbourhoods, houses and characters (which are known as sims). The artificial intelligence turns the game experience into a wonderful, interactive, large scale doll house. Instead of four separate games, think of it as one gameplay experience that gets updated every 4-5 years with infinitely better graphics and game play mechanics.

The Sims series has always been good in its attitude towards all things LGB. (Sadly I can’t include the T here, because so far in the franchise sims can only be male or female. There’s no reason why sims can’t change between the two or be genderqueer, so EA/Maxis should change this. Although you can have hair, make up and clothing however you want for any sim male or female.)

Right from the start of the series you could direct your sim to romantically interact and fall in love with any other sim regardless of gender. Whilst same-sex couples couldn’t marry in the original Sims game (launched in 2000), they could move in with their loved one and adopt. If they went down this path both partners were listed as parents.

The second instalment was released nine years ago. In this game you can still make your sims interact, flirt, kiss, date and have sex in exactly the same way regardless of gender. They can now have a “joined union”, which is the same as a marriage in terms of game play mechanics. They can adopt and both be listed as parents just as before too. Also when you call a matchmaking service that first appears in Sims 2, you can choose the gender of your date.

One day a few years ago I discovered something that made me love the franchise even more. It’s known as the “boolprop testingCheatsenabled true” cheat. When turned on you have a wide range of benefits, such as being able to fulfil all your sim’s physical needs in the click of a button. Another possibility is the option to show a sim’s gender preference. (Ignore the fact that it says debug in the picture below. There’s nothing buggy about it. You just can’t find out the gender unless you use the cheat!)


One of the pre-made characters in The Sims 2: Mary-Sue.

When you click on this it makes a little box appear in the corner of the screen. It has a statement from the sim saying “My autonomous gender preference is for females/males/males and females.” This is what makes the game awesome for me, it doesn’t just do the usual gay/straight divide. The fact that this cheat exists is proof that bisexuality is programmed into the game. If you wanted to, you could still make a sim romantically interact/have sex/adopt etc with a sim of any gender (and therefore have a neighbourhood made up entirely of queer families and couples!), but this programming means that if free will is turned on, the sim will romantically interact and develop relationships with sims of their preferred gender if left to their own devices.

I’ve just done a bit of reading on the gameplay mechanics and they’re quite complicated…but apparently in The Sims 2 nearly all the characters start off with a neutral attraction to either gender (which effectively renders them bi by default). They then go on to develop an attraction to one gender depending on the gender of who they interact with. So for example, if a female sim flirts with a woman, she will become more attracted to women. If she flirts, kisses and has sex with a man later on, she will become less attracted to women and more attracted to men.

However in the pre-made neighbourhoods that are installed with my game, many of the characters start off as LG and B rather than all B. In addition, some characters that have only interacted with one gender still have a preference for the other. About a third of the kids my sims have grow up to be LG or B regardless of how I play them or who they interact with. So who knows what’s going on!?

A bisexual sim that is already living in the town when you install the game.

Mary-Sue is already living in the neighbourhood with her husband and twin daughters when you install the game. My game lists her as bi despite only romantically interacting with her husband. Also in my game both of her daughters are in relationships with men (no reason, I just happened to play it that way), but one is straight and one is bi.

My criticisms of The Sims 1 and 2 (apart from the erasure of trans people and identities mentioned above) is that there are no pre-existing LGB familes when you install the game. Also whilst some sims have been coded to already be in love with someone when you start playing (such as Darren having feelings for Cassandra, despite the fact that she is engaged to Don), no one has a pre-existing same-sex attraction for a specific individual. I suppose one reason why the game was designed that way it is to prevent it from being banned or given a higher age limit in other countries, but it’s still unequal, still a shame, and still a missed opportunity.

In The Sims 2 there is a pre-existing sim who starts the game with a positive attraction to both genders, (rather than no attraction to either gender). Disturbingly she is a someone who uses another character for cruel scientific experiements and in the PSP version of the game she’s cheating on her husband. SIGH.
The person she experiments on is a pre-existing character who starts the game with a negative attraction to females, which would make him gay. In addition, He was also taken away from his mother by social services as a child. This is a bit to close to the “abuse makes you gay/bi” myth/stereotype for comfort.

I will write about The Sims 3 and 4 in another post, though I will mention briefly that “joined unions” have been scrapped and any sim can now marry a man or a women.

The Sims has been such a huge part of my life and I’ve now been playing the game for over half of it. It’s very enjoyable for me because it doesn’t force me into a heteronormative or biphobic gaming experience. My characters can be with who I want them to. I also love using the cheat to find out what the sexuality of my sims is as soon as they grow up to be teenagers. It’s exciting to find out who they are!