I wrote about bi-representation in noughties film and TV — from The O.C. to Buffy The Vampire Slayer — and how it shaped my sense of self as a teenager.
California Here I Come
I was a shy teenager with a handful of bookish friends, but when I turned 14 I latched onto a girl who was very different to me. She loved talking about boys and make-up and the kind of lives we’d have as adults, all things I hadn’t contemplated at that age. Her defining feature was her long blonde hair, which she’d spend hours straightening until it laid flat down her back in a silvery wave. Our friendship was built around MSN messenger conversations and popular TV. In 2004, that was The O.C.
The O.C. is an American teen drama series created by Josh Schwartz that first aired in the UK on Channel 4. It follows the story of brooding teen Ryan Atwood as he’s adopted by a wealthy family in Newport Beach. His step-brother Seth is nerdy and verbose with a hopeless crush on popular girl Summer. Ryan is attracted to Marissa, Summer’s best friend, who is as troubled as she is beautiful and just happens to live next door. The improbability of it all is part of its appeal. Growing up in a small city in the northeast corner of England, the golden sands of California felt far away. Anything was possible in Orange County.
“Do you fancy Seth or Ryan more?” my new friend would ask over and over. I always picked Ryan because it seemed to be what she wanted me to say. After school I would go to her house. She had an older brother who liked to play Grand Theft Auto and say very little. I observed him from a distance with the curiosity of a wildlife photographer. I was fascinated by the size of his hands, the length of his limbs. I wondered if I was attracted to him. I couldn’t be sure.
By the time the second season of The O.C. came around our friendship had waxed and waned. I’d grown bored of the same conversations, although I was content in our after-school routine. One evening her mother decided to give me a makeover in what I can only assume she thought was a gesture of kindness. “We’ll make you look nice for the boys,” she said. She covered my face in powder, drew lines around my lips. When she finished, my skin was heavy and tight. My friend and I sat on the sofa while her brother and his friends sipped beers. When they showed no interest in my transformation, I was disappointed. Her mother was sympathetic. “Oh well, never mind,” she said. It wasn’t as simple as feeling rejected, there were other emotions too. Shyness, discomfort, confusion. I was beginning to learn about the rituals associated with attraction, and within that, trying to unpick my own desires.
You can read the rest of my essay in The Bi-ble, an anthology of personal essays and narratives about bisexuality, which you can purchase via the Monstrous Regiment website.
Monstrous Regiment are an indie publishing collective based in Edinburgh.