Jen Winston Talks About Embracing and Pushing Against Bisexual Stereotypes in “Greedy"

By Alex Dueben

December 09, 2021



Photo credit: Pexels/Artem Beliaikin

In the new book Greedy: Notes From a Bisexual Who Wants Too Much, Jen Winston writes about herself and her own journey but the essay collection tries to do a lot more than talk about herself or just explain bisexuality.

Winston is very funny and wants to make the reader laugh. From mocking New England foliage, referencing Kim Possible and Ella Emhoff, to asking how many times can one watch Blue is the Warmest Color before losing your attraction to men. She’s also interested in exploring what bisexuality means, how coming out as a bi woman differs from coming out as a lesbian, about the spaces she feels comfortable in and those she feels excluded from.

Winston also tries to open up that conversation outside of herself and her own experiences. I told her at one point that the book is similar to many memoirs and essay collections about being young and romance and sex, which Winston is very aware of, but she is equally interested in telling her own story and in trying to ask questions about bisexuality, as she is in exploring what a rejection of binary choices and accepted norms and limits can mean for us all.

Greedy is a book that is deeply personal, but it treats growing up and coming to a larger understanding of oneself as tied to understanding the world and power structures and how that affects everyone. Like her book — and her newsletter The Bi Monthly — our conversation ranged from the silly to the profound, and about the barriers that continue to exist for bisexuals and bisexuality in culture.

Jen Winston resting her head on her hand smiling wearing a checkered shirt.
Photo by Landon Speers

ALEX DUEBEN: Where did the idea for the book start?

JW: I wish I could say a long time ago, but it was only recently that I realized bisexuality was actually something worth talking about. For most of my life, I thought being bi didn't warrant coming out — I assumed “everyone” was bisexual, thus no one would care if I was.

But after I finally did come out (three years ago), I got such an incredible response. Tons of people sent me messages saying that they were bi, and that they didn’t know how to talk about it either. That’s when I first realized how much bi+ people are deeply underserved and underrepresented, and how, in some small way, sharing my story might help remedy that.

AD: I keep thinking that I've read similar memoirs and essay collections about being young and friendship and sex, but I can't think of another that centered on bisexuality and what it means in the way that you did with Greedy.

JW: In books (and all media, really), characters often “behave” bisexuality usually by hooking up with multiple genders. But those characters rarely ever describe themselves as bi. That means bisexuality hardly ever gets positioned as something distinct from sex, which makes us dismiss its validity as an identity.

But that word was so important for my personal journey, so I wanted this book to name it outright. I set out to make the label more accessible, and to show people that you’re allowed to actually be proud of being bi.

AD: What were the books that spoke about bisexuality, that named it, and helped your own understanding of gender and sex?

JW: My biggest inspiration was Shiri Eisner’s Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution. That book completely reframes bisexual stereotypes like confusion and promiscuity, pushing readers to ask why we see those things as so bad in the first place. Eisner’s work helped me realize that bisexuality often gets stigmatized because it challenges so many dominant systems and binary ideas, and that's actually pretty rad if you think about it! Learning that my sexuality aligned with other aspects of my politics helped me embrace my identity more fully.

Book cover for Notes from a Bisexual by Jen Winston with the words greedy large and colorful.

AD: As you were writing it, I'm curious about your ambition as a writer because you kept changing structure and approach in different chapters in interesting ways. Correct me if I'm wrong but only one chapter of the book had been previously published?

JW: Correct — and that one chapter (“Crush on a Couple”) was published in a much shorter form, without most of the bisexual commentary that’s now in the book. I work full time in marketing, and though I’ve always written personal essays, I’ve found that sharing my work on my own terms — via Instagram and through my newsletter, The Bi Monthly — helps me preserve creative choices (and get more readership).

As for this book’s structure, I thought of it as a memoir-in-essays, where the chapters work together but also can stand alone. I have ADHD, so to keep myself interested I aimed for variety in form —that’s why there’s a script, poetry, and more. (Also, while doing my press tour for Greedy, I’ve talked to SO many bi people who also have ADHD. Can someone please do a study on this?! I think it's a thing.)

AD: Were “Girl Crush: Clinical Observations” and “Boundaries: A Fairy Tale” the hardest chapters to write?

JW: Actually those were some of the most fun to write! Probably because they both played with form, and in each, the form was related to the concept: “Girl Crush: Clinical Observations” takes the form of a medical report to highlight how difficult it can be to “diagnose” a queer crush as a romantic one. “Boundaries: A Fairy Tale” uses a fairy tale device to skewer aspirations of storybook romance, since those are often what make it difficult for people socialized as women to demand the respect we deserve in relationships.

AD: Talk about naming the book Greedy. I'm sure some people will think it's a book about sex (or maybe the book being about bisexuality makes those people think that), but it's not really — it's a book about how do we understand ourselves and how do we come to orient ourselves in the world. And the ways that queerness and bisexuality can open up possibilities.

JW: The book is about all of that, yes, but I also wanted it to be about sex. Eisner’s work helped me realize that the stereotype of “greedy” implies promiscuity, and in order for promiscuity to be bad, we have to assume that sex is bad. I wanted to underscore that you can be a self-proclaimed slut and still be a deeply valid bisexual — especially if you were socialized as a woman and taught that seeking sex for your own pleasure was "wrong."

Of all the bi stereotypes, I chose to reclaim greedy because reclaiming it required me to also destigmatize sex, and sex positivity is a huge part of my politics. My relationship to sex also played a critical role in my own self-discovery process — I thought that sex (of all kinds, with all genders) might help me unlock my own identity. I put myself in those situations because I wanted to figure out my sexuality — if it had been easier for me to claim the label "bisexual", I might not have slept around so casually or put myself in vulnerable situations again and again.

AD: You have a great line that really resonated with me: "queerness isn't about individual answers as much as collection questions."

JW: I’ve found such liberation in sitting with my own confusion. What a beautiful thing to keep asking questions, and to interrogate the world as it’s presented to you!

This quote is about the tendency to equate LGBTQ+ identity to any LGBTQ+ person's coming out journey, but true queerness requires us to step outside our individual selves and strive for a better world for all. The essay this quote comes from (“Out of the Woods”) explores my journey through those aspects of bi identity, leaning into Jose Esteban Muñoz’s idea of queer utopia through the lens of Audre Lorde: Only when we use queerness as a tool to make the world better for everyone can any of us actually be free.

AD: In talking about how you felt the first time you went to a lesbian bar, you acknowledged your feelings, but you make a point of then pivoting to talk about social justice protests, about community. You chose not to center yourself and your awkwardness, but to open up those questions in really interesting ways.

JW: I wanted to show that, while it’s easy for bi people to get caught up wondering whether we’re “queer enough” (spoiler: we are), the core issue powering that sentiment is a lack of community. But once we find community (in whatever form), we’re able to get outside our heads and focus on bigger things.

AD: And this is a complete aside, but I did start imagining what a bisexual bar would look like. What's your ideal bisexual bar?

JW: I love this question. Bisexual bars need to exist! But because they don’t, imagining one involves creating something out of thin air (which ironically has a ton of parallels to bisexuality).

My ideal bi bar doesn’t fall for the bisexual lighting trope — instead of purple, blue, and pink, it’s lit with ring-light-style bulbs that make everyone look amazing. There’s a live DJ every night, and sets range from minimal techno to Destiny’s Child. Oh, and there’s tons of bookshelves — in fact, let’s just say this bar doubles as a library. That way you can meet hot bi people who read!

AD: One line has continued to echo with me: "Talking about bisexuality felt performative, but staying silent felt like self-erasure." I feel like that's a very common sentiment that a lot of us deal with in one way or another.

JW: It’s such a dance. Because you can’t see bisexuality, we often have to claim our identity out loud, which, of course, means coming out over and over again. I used to dread those moments, but taking pride in my bisexuality has helped me actually look forward to them.

AD: There are a number of great lines in the book. I don't want to make it sound like you wrote a very serious tome. Because the idea of DUMBO as Queer Switzerland, neither gay nor straight, is going to keep echoing in my head. And I especially love the term "BiFi.”

JW: Thank you! Humor is a powerful tool for truth-telling, and bad puns are also a very important part of bi culture. Glad I didn’t let my fellow bis down here.

AD: I think a lot of us understand wanting someone to want us and to shepherd us into bi-ness, especially, because of what it means and how it's represented. (And I would imagine it's more so for people who don't like lemon bars or iced coffee in winter or those who always sit correctly).

JW: I often hear gay and lesbian people talk about the gay and lesbian elders who helped escort them into their gay and lesbian lifestyles/final form. But I never hear bi people talk about that.

Maybe that’s because right now, bi culture primarily exists as a meme — it’s not exactly a bar scene or culture in the real world. That makes it hard for many bi people to even find another bi person to hook up with in the first place. And sometimes, even when we do, we don’t think of those relationships as “queer enough.”

I’ve come to identify as thoroughly bi4bi, almost prioritizing my sexual attraction based on sexuality over my sexual attraction based on gender. My partner is a nonbinary bisexual person, and my book talks about two meaningful past relationships I had with bisexual men. It’s easy for two bi people in a relationship that presents as “straight” to feel like those relationships aren’t actually queer. But they are! Queer as heck.

AD: I have to ask about the last section of the book where you write about your partner and your relationship. At what point did you know you had to write about the two of you, and did writing those chapters differ from writing the other parts of the book?

JW: Well, I had to think of how I was going to end it from a plot perspective. And the arc of the book was clearly bending toward the protagonist FINALLY getting into a thriving queer relationship. I realized that was a bit cliche, so I tried to queer it up as much as I could.

The book-writing process was hellish and definitely took a toll on our well-being as a couple, so I didn’t want to ignore that. I wanted to be honest and write about the fact that we were fighting. Brinley and I both were a little nervous about how that part might be perceived, but ultimately, I think it showed people we were sharing our truth, and our relationship looked stronger for it.

I did a virtual event at Bluestockings with the legendary Robyn Ochs last month, and she asked me an incredible question: Did I think that I would’ve been able to get this book deal if I’d been in a relationship with a man? It breaks my heart but my honest answer is no — and I don’t think I would’ve gotten one if I’d been in a relationship with a queer woman either. There’s still so much erasure for bi people in straight — or gay — presenting relationships, and the fact that I was (and am) dating a trans nonbinary person definitely helped convey that 1.) I wasn’t straight, and 2.) Bisexuality includes all genders.

It's such a damning misconception that, because "bi" means "two" in Latin, bisexuality only endorses two genders — and I should note that many bi people perpetuate this misconception). But any publisher who was going to sign my book would have likely been cautious about protecting the nonbinary community (which, as a nonbinary bi person dating another nonbinary bi person, I sincerely appreciate!), so seeing that my relationship existed outside the gender binary definitely helped me tell this story.

AD: That is depressing to think about. Because for all the ways we can laugh about bi being about memes and puns, many people do think of us as confused and greedy and then we "pick a side." And sometimes the only thing we can do to push against that is to name what we are and what it means.

JW: I totally agree — there's so much power in the act of reclamation. Especially for bi people who are often told that we need to be the opposite of bi stereotypes. For me, being a “greedy bisexual” means looking beyond the binary ideas that society puts forth and living your own truth instead. And it means sitting with multiple truths at once. That multiple truths thing is also where we get the notion that bisexuals are “confused,” but even confusion is a fun stereotype to reclaim! Like I say in the book, maybe confusion is as queer as it gets.

AD: I keep thinking that one way of saying greedy is simply, this is what I want and need and I won't be ashamed of going after it. I think some people will only see the surface meaning, but that is a radical notion.

JW: I love this and wholeheartedly agree! For me, being a “greedy bisexual” means going beyond the ideas of success that society puts forth and tapping into that ability to live your own truth. And it means sitting with multiple truths at once. That’s where we get the notion that bisexuals are “confused,” but as I say in the book, maybe confusion is as queer as it gets.


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