Elizabeth Beier’s graphic memoir, The Big Book of Bisexual Trials and Errors, is a bold story of personal and sexual exploration in more ways than one. Starting from a break-up of a long term relationship, the narrative navigates the growing pains of discovering and accepting the various facets of identity. Through a landscape of bars, bad dates, and self discovery, Beier’s work bravely delves into the most personal and painful parts of development while unabashedly portraying the queer experience.
I got a chance to interview Beier on her raw, emotional, and honest book, one that in full honesty spoke to me on a deep and personal level. Anyone exploring new personal or sexual territory will see themselves in Beier’s honest prose and stark artwork.
Nadia Shammas: What was your motivation to write and share your story in this particular way?
Elizabeth Beier: There were two distinct legs of the comic making process — one that happened during the immediate aftermath of my breakup, and one looking back on it. While I was still floundering in my attempts to connect with a woman romantically, making these comics was actually my favorite way to express my queerness.
The original zines put me in touch with other queer artists and instead just feeling lonely and lost by myself, the comics turned my search into A Quest that people could follow. Now that I had more experience under my belt (so to speak) and am a more secure person, I was able to put the whole journey in perspective and tell a complete story, which is when I knew it should be a book.
That’s why I made half the stories in 2014 through early 2015 and the other half in the summer of 2017.
NS: This book goes into really personal and heart wrenching places. It really made me cry and it was very beautiful and honest. Was it difficult to be so open? Was there any chapter that was especially difficult to write?
EB: Thank you!
I actually have a harder time with my negative feelings when I’m trying to bottle them all up than when I express and share them. That being said, there are some chapters that I made this where I was remembering times in the past when I felt real despair and self loathing, and revisiting those feelings was like hitchhiking back to Hell.
To deal, I took a full week off of work to plow through the hardest pages all at once, drew happier pages first and kept them nearby, and listened to Lana del Ray’s “Lust for Life” album on repeat for five days. Normal.
NS: Is there anything that, looking back in order to tell your story, surprised you or made you look at an experience in a new way?
EB: The biggest thing was that in the work I did this summer, I knew I wanted to include a lot of body anxiety to show how I worked through those feelings.
I thought I would have to go back through my 2014 work to add more negativity so it wouldn’t come out of the blue, but as it turned out, I had actually been body-shaming myself all the time — not in a self-aware way for the sake of the story, but because I actually hated my body. It was good because the story required those self-barbs to be genuine in the early stages, but I wanted to give my earlier self a hug and tell her she was beautiful.
NS: A big part of your book revolves around a particular bar, Lex. What made that bar so special to you? Why did you decide to center a chapter around it?
EB: It was a physical safe space for all kinds of queer relationships — decades old friendships, new and enduring love, strange tension between exes, mentorship, and sometimes chosen family for people who needed it. The bright crimson of the walls, the Jackson Pollock like buildup of graffiti in the bathroom, the gorgeous neon sign that lit up the night outside, the familiar banter and laugher of the regulars — I miss it all every time I’m in San Francisco.
I am very grateful to everyone who shared their story with me and welcomed me with my big, awkward sketchbooks on the nights at the end when the bar was so packed. I am so happy that even after the bar closed, those relationships endure and queer San Franciscans are looking out for each other and finding places to gather.
NS: I noticed that you touched on the difference between LGBTQ+ bars and straight bars in terms of aggressiveness. I was also fascinated with the difference in conversations about consent you seemed to have with female and male partners.
Did you notice this while you were dating, or was this something you found in reflection?
EB: Unfortunately I’ve experienced enough sexual violence and danger that I avoid or keep my guard up in many spaces (straight bars, parties, literally anywhere outside after the sun goes down.) I hesitate to draw bright lines around “men” and “women” when it comes to violence and consent because there are perpetrators and survivors of all genders.
I have found in my personal romantic with women and nonbinary folk, I have been relieved and reassured by their familiarity and use of explicit consent language. Unfortunately other people I know have had different experiences and it’s still important to increase awareness of consent in all communities. In the book I tried to explicitly highlight good conversations around consent because it’s so important to move towards a better world where everyone is respected and safe.
NS: As a bi person myself, I was really happy to see how well this book touched on the experience of dating while trying to combat bi erasure.
Was there anything you particularly wanted to get across about navigating the world with this identity? Was there anything you were worried about?
EB: The one concern I have is that the word “bisexual” might be interpreted to mean gender is a binary between male and female, which is not the case. I identify as both “bisexual” and “queer”, and my book includes people with many different gender expressions. Something else I used to experience is being always perceived as straight, even when I was flirting with women in very queer spaces. It was really annoying! But I find that isn’t happening anymore.
NS: Since this is the big book of bisexual trails and errors, what’s your advice to any budding bisexual or queer person looking to explore their sexuality and the dating scene?
In other words, what’s some advice you wish you would have had at the beginning of your journey?
EB: As obvious as this may seem it bears repeating: Nobody actually owes you anything, which means that just because you are out and looking to date, doesn’t mean you are guaranteed a lover or partner. I think in the early days I was so eager to be dating women after the breakup that I thought there was something wrong with me when my first dates didn’t go well, and my expectation may have bordered on entitlement.
It can just take a time to find one’s community and the early phases, making friends and building a network of people that get you can be at least as important as finding people you click with romantically and sexually. Pursue what you love and what makes you “you”, and that will shine through and attract the right people. Also, expressing yourself in whatever medium you prefer can help you feel less lonely and have more fun.
NS: Is there anything we should be looking out for from you in the near future?
EB: I am working on another big book story, but it’s on the hush-hush for now. In the meantime, please follow me on social media for shorter comics, which I will try to post regularly. The links to all my networks are on my website, I am also going on a West-Coast Tour to promote The Big Book of Bisexual Trials and Errors — dates and details are on the event page of the same site.
NS: Thank you for sharing your incredible journey with us. This deeply personal memoir really touches on so many true and universal experiences of loss, growing up, and moving forward. Any final words to our readers?
EB: Thank you! I hope you love my book, and I hope it encourages you to express your truest self and be kind and compassionate towards the experiences of people different than yourself.
Northwest Press’s The Big Book of Bisexual Trials and Errors hits comic shops in November and can be ordered here!