I spent the last few days emailing with and talking to Tara Avery about comics, bisexuality, and San Diego's Comic-Con. Originally we were just doing a quick recap of the highly successful panel, Bisexuality and Beyond: New Frontiers in Popular Culture, for those who didn't make it to San Diego a few weeks ago. I quickly got distracted chatting about her work and experiences as a queer artist writing queer characters.
We spent a lot of time talking about the importance of emerging bi communities and the welcoming spaces that they create. When I asked her how she became involved in bi activism, her answer was simple. "I just showed up." She attended a talk given by Lisa Diamond discussing sexual fluidity. She met fellow bi folks from both the LA Bi Task Force and amBi (the world's largest bi social club, with chapters in multiple cities). She immediately appreciated the sense of community. "I had been out as bisexual for years at that point, but I hadn't found anything like a community. I knew I wasn't the only one..., but I couldn't actually find them".
She started out searching in "gay and lesbian" spaces but was soon facing rejection that a lot of bi people are familiar with. "You'd go to certain places because you had to, because that was the only game in town, that was the gay community." This community often ended up doubting her: "You expect that these people will get me, because [we] have something in common. They looked at me as a threat to their existence." Gay men she dated "thought they were playing along", always asking "are you gay? Are you going back to the other side"?
When Tara finally found a bi community in Los Angeles, she soon became active in it. She'd been creating comics since 1990 and started incorporating queer characters in the early 2000s. As part of the Los Angeles Bi Task Force she thought "I'm part of this group and I'm surrounded by academics and long-time activists and all of these people with all of these very specific skill sets. What can I do for the non-profit? How can I help? I can do comics."
Her most recent efforts have included two very successful Kickstarter campaigns for her own Stacked Deck Press. She is currently in the process of sending out the 400 backer rewards for "Alphabet Anthology" and will soon be doing the same for "Primahood".
She was an obvious choice to help BiNet USA's Faith Cheltenham put together the surprisingly well-attended Comic-Con panel.
Traditionally, Sunday at San Diego Comic-Con is family day with parents and their young children packing the convention hall in search of all-ages diversions. Grown-up topics, serious matters, and hot controversies typically belong to the first three days of the show, and by the last day many con goers have already left for home. However, late in the afternoon on Sunday, July 24th, we packed the room to capacity. No one can say now that the interest is not there.
Tara attributes part of their success to the great group of panelists they managed to gather. This all bisexual panel included Bob Schreck (editor-in-chief of Legendary Comics), Steve Orlando (writer of Midnighter), Marissa Lee (activist), R.J. Aguiar (YouTube personality from Not Adam and Steve), Sarah Stumpf (book reviewer, librarian, and blogger behind Bisexual Books), Michelle Labelle (cosplayer, author, and dancer), and of course Tara Avery.
Many of them discussed issues similar to Tara's experiences of having a hard time finding an accepting community.
Orlando talked about his frustrations about both the press and fans assuming that he is gay because he is the writer behind one of comic's most popular gay characters, DC's Midnighter. Stumpf related a story from her school days about how she was denied membership in a gay/straight alliance because as a bisexual woman she wasn't "queer enough". Schreck shared stories of attempting to come out in the 70's before he had the vocabulary to express his bisexuality and also how he felt he had to hide his orientation during much of his time working in the comic business. Aguiar discussed the challenges that he faces as a bi man married to a gay man and the constant pressure to explain that he is still bisexual regardless of the gender of his partner.
Through Prism Comics, Tara regularly does panels discussing representation in comics, she was surprised by how successful this one was, especially considering the scheduling of the panel.
I think this is an experience that a lot of people have, a lot of bi folks have. You get up at a venue and you talk... you're talking about yourself, and you expect that you'll have to say something meaningful. But you don't realize "oh wow these people kind of get it, these are the people that get me, these are my folks", and I think I saw a little bit of that from the panelists at the show. Especially those who had been around the profession a bit longer and had a hard time being recognized for who they are.
If you're interested in seeing some of Tara Avery's work, definitely grab yourself a copy of "Alphabet Anthology" or upcoming "Primahood"; and keep your eyes open for her upcoming Kickstarter for a Trans Anthology, working title Trans Anthology.