Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo

I watched the movie Frida my sophomore year of college, with my first serious and one of my most shitty ex boyfriends. His name was Andrew and at that point in our relationship the only reason I was still dating him is that his Dad had died and I had confused the idea, as many women do, of taking care of someone with being in love with someone.

In the Julie Taymor film, Frida’s bisexual escapade amount to about 3-4 minutes of screen time, a montage of breasts and silk sheets and treated as a visual discourse from her life, a palatable for hollywood break intended for the male gaze, rather than a part of who she was as an artist.

According to one critic, the film “Frida” described the same-sex sex scenes as  “lite,” titillating “enough for an R rating, but with little serious exploration of Frida’s bisexuality.” In 2009, watching Frida on my ex-boyfriend’s couch, this same critical analysis could also be an accurate summary of my own queer experiences up until that point.

Previously, they consisted of two instances, the first being my friend Izzie asking me if I wanted to practice kissing, and then trying to practice kissing with me for a second time on our 8th grade field trip to Springfield, the capital of Illinois. I responded by shutting her down & saying, “I’m NOT a lesbian IZZIE.” In high school, I chugged a Natty Light for the first time on top of a suburban Office Depot parking lot and made out with my friend Bessie.

Two years after watching Frida, another stint with a different shitty boyfriend, and, stereotypically, a one or two productions of the Vagina Monologues, I realized I was not really straight. I am not lesbian, and therefore still don’t really feel guilty about that whole Izzie debacle -  but I date men and women. I consider myself queer, and recently have been warming up to the term bisexual as I identify with it more strongly and now and it also saves hours of my life being taken up by explaining what queer means to ignorant acquaintances, who usually follow up the with a joke about me fucking their girlfriends. I don’t want to fuck anyone’s girlfriend, especially yours, Victor Padilla, please stop messaging me on facebook.

In Frida, critics also observe the eroticization of Kahlo’s bisexuality, serving a purely sexual purpose for the viewed rather than a lynchpin of her identity, an aspect of her artistic self that deserves to be explored.

I suppose I should be grateful that they chose not to show Frida and Josephine Baker scissoring instead of being annoyed that there isn’t mimic-ed cunnilingus being alluded too. For Frida Kahlo, a core element of her life down was broken down into this montage, a sexy detour, rather than a core component of her identity as an artist that contributed to her life and work.

I mean, pussy is just pussy, right? Maybe that is how Diego Rivera felt.

I sympathize with Frida, because while that analysis is of is how she was represented on film, it is also how being bisexual often feels like in reality.

One of the cool things about being bisexual means that your sexual orientation is easy to compare to broken things. Oh, your non-profit executive director tells you at a company brunch surrounded by your coworkers, Clare’s just a like a kitchen door - she swings both ways!

Doors, however, typically open one way, like our binary of sexuality (gay or straight). Doors to public buildings are supposed to open outwards, if we’re paying attention to typical fire code regulations, doors in homes open inward to better invite your house guests inside.

Therefore, a door opening both ways defies all expectations and proper behavior, and should probably be replaced by a door that opens one way.  Inward, outward. gay, straight.

Or, in other words, just make up your mind already, Clare. That phrase was said to me verbatim by a nail salon technician. I concentrated on Will Ferrell’s face, animated with manic Christmas cheer in the movie Elf, which was playing directly behind her head to keep my cool.

Bisexuality is the Natalie Portman type manic pixie dream girl of sexual orientations, people like to think you’re quirky and cute, but hope eventually take off that epilepsy helmet a la garden state and swear allegiance to one set of genitalia or the other after you’ve inspired them to finally stop taking all that lexapro. Bisexual people never are allowed to see ourselves on our own terms, but rather are forced to look at ourselves comparative to either side of the binary. We are lucky to receive a 3-4 minute montage with the odd nipple.

Being in this gray area means that you can never really win whether or not you date a man or a woman, if we are to define winning as being taken seriously as an individual human being rather than as an evil, promiscuous she-beast looking to betray either her own gender or someone else’s masculinity through whoever they decide to fuck next.

When you’re dating a woman - let’s say that this in the inward opening door -  you experience all the bigotry that gets undeservedly spewed at lesbians, especially from men, who like to assume something bad happened to you to make you “this way,” aka a vagina that is no longer available as a receptacle for their penis.

Several examples in my experience include a River North banker who asked me point blank “who raped you” when I told him no, I wasn’t interested, and that I had a girlfriend, as if rape is how all lesbians are created.

Another example would be an acquaintance who asked me, within the first two hours of the party in which we met, “Now that you’re a dyke, do you shave your pussy?”

Or a high school acquaintance, David Baskin - known in high school as “Chimpy” due to  his ape like appearance - who, after I left a party with my girlfriend at the time, asked as many of our peers who would listen, desperate to know, just HOW did we have sex?

This story clearly illustrates why, at the time, David had been recently broken up with by his long term girlfriend, Amy, and hopefully she is now dating someone who understands how to eat pussy.

In addition, your girlfriend, if she’s a lesbian, and your other lesbian friends and acquaintances will also question your motives.


One of my ex girlfriend’s continual insecurities was the fact I had dated and slept with men, and repeatedly told me if I ever dated or slept with a man after her, she would be heartbroken. An ironic detail is that at the time of this conversation, she was the one sleeping with other people.

Another key detail she failed to grasp, is that the main difference between a nice (let’s say around $100 pricepoint) strap on and a physical, real life penis, is temperature. Other than being a little cold in the beginning, they feel pretty much the same - nothing a little time in the microwave won’t fix, if you’re picky. I say this as a compliment to the miracles of modern manufacturing; of course, the most important part of course the person to which the appendage is attached, removable or not.

Dating a man, the outward opening door, you immediately invalidate your sexual identity for a vast majority of the queer community while simultaneously giving your ex-girlfriends friends immediate reasons to shake their heads patronizingly and tell her, “I told you so.” Suddenly, you are the one they are referencing in vague facebook statuses bemoaning the straight women they dated who “tricked them” by ending up with a man, because a spectrum of sexuality is only a nice idea in theory, and bad when applied to their own dating lives.

Another puzzle you must continually tackle is to figure out if this guy actually likes you, or is just fetishizing you for the three-some he’s always wanted but his ex would never girl him. He too may harbor the same insecurity as your ex girlfriends, and any time you spend with your female friends now becomes a potential threat to his masculinity. Ex-boyfriends will text you six months later asking, “I hope this isn’t rude but...are you dating a woman, now?” Word will get back to you the last guy you went on a date with with before you started dating your girlfriend is wondering aloud to friends if he “made you gay” as if he had been given the last shot for all men everywhere to keep your vagina on the straight and narrow, and failed.

Last week, several men I considered my friends were overheard gossiping about how “hot” it was that I was “into girls.” This kind of attitude is why the male gaze is garbage and why I also have two less friends.

Being told you are a door when you’re just a person is very hard.

You have to continually remind people that you have thoughts, feelings, and emotions and are real, and that you do not to be need to be “fixed” by anybody. Frida Kahlo has a lot of beautiful famous quotes that describe enduring hardship and defining yourself. Perhaps to sum up the situation she would say “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”

I would say, Fuck doors.

Clare Austen-Smith