Friday, June 13, 2014

Review: Barriers to Love: Embracing A Bisexual Identity

It is not often that books about and by bisexual identified people are published. Perhaps we get a few essays into an anthology, but rarely do we have access to the lived experiences of those who identify as bisexual throughout their lives.

Marina Peralta, a Mexican psychotherapist and dancer, has written her own testimonio in Barriers to Love: Embracing A Bisexual Identity (Barriers Press, 2013). Born and raised in Mexico City, we follow Marina as she shares her journey to understanding her own sexual needs, pleasures, and identity.

The book is written in English and the Spanish dialogue and phrases are translated. Just under 200 pages, the book is accessible and the story is shared in a writing style that is reminiscent of a novel. This made the book an enjoyable read and one that was actually very quick to complete. I found myself being challenged by much of what Marina had shared, considering how my own ideas and beliefs may be built upon stereotypes, even as a bisexual Puerto Rican who now identifies more fully as pansexual.

For example, this book shares Marina's childhood sexual abuse and early sex play. Much of the childhood sex play I find common and ones that I identified with myself. I have had my share of childhood sexual play and memories. They type of play that is curious and exploratory but innocent and honest as children often are at young ages. What was a challenge for me was the connections I feared some may make with childhood sexual abuse and play, linking them to bisexual identity. We see this happen all too often among folks in the sex work or trade, those who are outside of the heterosexual classifications, and among people of Color in general (see teen pregnancy rates, STI rates, and the like for these connections academics and researchers make all too often about us).

I appreciate Marina's ability to demonstrate her agency within constraints as she explored and became more of herself as she grew and aged. We read about her as a young 12 year old girl who makes choices about her own desires and sexual pleasure, some that may include others and some that may not. We come to understand how she craved a life that would fill her with adventure, love, affirmation, and security. A story many of us a familiar with and desire for ourselves.

Most complicated was her experience being raised by a single mother after her very affluent father was murdered. Her relationship with her mother shifts, as many do, as she ages and becomes a teenager and young woman. We understand how her witnessing her mother's goals to care for her children resulted in some decisions that left Marina feeling isolated or ignored by her mother, but understand her as a complicated woman, very layered, and who cared very deeply for her children.

Following Marina's live through marriage, bearing and parenting a child, and moving to the US is just as engaging and striking as the beginning of her text. Her sharing of the challenges that come with being a parent, dating as a single parent, co-parenting with a man, and finding a life that fills her with joy are honest. This is another aspect of Mexican and Latina women's lives we still do not hear, yet many of us know or are women in similar situations.

There were moments in the earlier part of the text that I thought to myself: this is what all of that early anthropological research by academics who are outsiders wrote about. Meaning much of the work we now understand as connected to ideas of machismo and marianismo, which were often erroneous and misunderstood ideas that were made unique to Mexicans and Latinos today. I began to see how our experiences could still be classified as fitting neatly into those categories they create for us, when we don't see ourselves in those spaces at all!

The book is available for purchase online in many different places. Consider supporting your local independent bookstore first to purchase. There is an e-book version as well if cost is a concern as those texts are often less expensive.

I'm looking forward to hearing the narratives of those who complicate our ideas of heterosexuality, bisexuality, and who push us in new an exciting ways. I hope ya'll are there to enjoy the journey too.