“Tell it to a guy, and he thinks “closet gay.” Tell it to a girl, and she thinks… closet gay.’”
I fell in love with Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” on sight. It was the kind of selfish artist love that begins with obsession and ends with “I want to make this mine.” It’s characters were so vivid, its conflicts and its dialogue so familiar, that in no time I had moulded a 21st century update of Hemingway’s early-20th century story. A one act play “The Son Also Rises” was the original result.
The most difficult aspect of conceptually adapting the novel was the love story. In the original, Hemingway present an impossible romance between a classic ‘20s flapper– fashionably androgynous and sexually liberated– and a man left impotent by an injuring in World War I, leaving him unable to consummate their emotional relationship in fashion in which she feel obligated to. One side was easily adapted (women today are still reacting against society’s definition of what “womanhood” is meant to look like), but millennial impotence? What did that look like?
I began by figuring out how Jake was affected by impotence: he was isolated, an invisible other, whose suffering is inflicted upon him. The more I ruminated, the more I began to draw connections to my experience as an openly bisexual person.
I’ve found that I am not the only openly bi man who suffers from the two-pronged prejudice referenced in the introductory quote. Gay men condescend and expect you to renounce your female attraction once you express attraction to the same sex. Boyfriends and quasi-strangers alike have clucked their tongues and cooed, “I was bi once too,” upon learning my identity. Straight women, on the other hand, tend to assume bisexuality is code for “experimenting” (best case scenario) or simply a raging sex-a-holic (not so great scenario). On top of that, any general attraction to men raises a red flag for a lot of straight women. Many of my female friends have confided to me that it is their worst nightmare to date a guy only to realize all along that he was in the closet and their relationship a sham!
This leaves the bisexual men in a strangely isolated in-between: heteronormative society doesn’t understand us, but neither does the mainstream gay community. Bi pride is so fractured by the myriad of other multisexual identities (including unlabeled identities) out there, so buried beneath gay pride, that at times it seems difficult to (and I admit this is cheap) get it up. And thus, bisexuals become an “other” operating in a gray in-between– just as Jake Barnes, a traditionalist yet an expatriate, could not find solidarity in either party alone.
After watching the show, a friend of mine told me they hoped I didn’t think sexuality was as debilitating as a gunshot wound. Yet, when I– someone who prides himself in his level of commitment in any context– have lost so many people for fear of an irresolute heart because of my sexuality, I can’t help but sympathize with Jake’s dilemma. I don’t pretend to have updated the character perfectly. However, when our society sees one’s identity as being so closely associated with “the closet” that it scares people away and keeps one isolated from any sort of legitimate sense of community, perhaps we still have some adapting to do.