Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bisexuality and Masculinity: Amber Lin and Shari Slade's ONE KISS WITH A ROCK STAR

A few days ago, I was trying to think of expletives that ring the same gendered vituperation toward men as "bitch" traditionally does towards women. "Ass," "asshole," and the like can be applied equally to women as to men. "Bastard," "son-of-a-bitch," and "motherfucker" are slurs as much against a man's mother as against himself. "Queer," "fairy," "faggot"* and their brethren all are slights suggesting a man is being too woman-like, rather than too something overly male. The only swear word I could come up with that referenced both male bodies and male actions was "cocksucker," a word that focuses less on identity and more on a specific bodily act.

The term kept coming to mind as I read the second book in Amber Lin and Shari Slade's Half-Life contemporary erotic romance series, One Kiss with a Rock Star. In book #1, Three Nights with a Rock Star, Krist Mellas, the bassist of the band Half-Life, had been caught on video participating in a three-way with his fellow band member Lock and Lock's girlfriend Hailey. Kiss opens with Krist attempting to purchase a classic bass in a dive guitar shop in Chicago, only to be turned down after the owners discover the incriminating video online while doing a fan-boy Internet search on Krist. Krist realizes he's broken the "golden rule" of male rock stardom:

   He could have blown up at a fan.
     He could have forgotten the fucking song onstage.
     He could have fucked an underage girl, even. Oops. Didn't know. It happened all the fucking time, and there was barely a blip.... Record sales actually went up. But God forbid he be bisexual with consenting adults—yeah, that was too fucking far (page 5).

"Bowie told the world he was bi and they didn't let him
be anything else for decades," Krist's agent warns him (27).
It's not just the fact of the three-way that has the guitar shop owners, and almost everyone else Krist meets in the following days, looking him askance. It's Krist's position in the threesome: "Rockers didn't suck other rocker's dicks" (5). But Krist had. And for calling rock's ├╝ber-masculinity into question, Krist will have to pay. 

The band's agent informs Krist that he has an image problem. A problem that she's going to fix by setting up on some fake dates with pop-star princess Madeline Fox. Krist understands the hypocrisy of the whole thing—"Image problem. It was such bullshit. His image wasn't the problem. His sexuality was" (26)—and has no qualms about refusing to agree to date Miss Teenbopper Next Door, a girl who's been "packaged, pampered, pandering to the lowest common denominator" (25).

Nineteen-year-old Maddy, former KidMania television star now turned pop singer, is even less eager to partake in yet another image manipulation scheme than is Krist. Maddy knows all about the importance of image; though she's been drinking and having sex with boys and girls since her early teens, contractually she is required to maintain her girl-next-door identity (she's "got that good girl faith in a tight little skirt," just like fellow pop star Taylor Swift). Held together by guile and a smile, underneath Maddy seethes, tired not only of getting the evil eye from rocker boys like Krist—"one part disdain and two parts lust" (12)—but of pretending to be innocent when she's just as experienced, just as drawn sexually to both men and to women, as is Krist. Even though she's nursed a bit of a fan-girl crush on the Half-Life bassist since she was twelve, Maddy's not stupid enough to agree to her agent's plan.

Not until said agent suggests her refusal will condemn Krist's, and his band's, career to the toilet (and tells the same story about Maddy's career being endangered to Krist) do the two finally decide to take their fake-romance show on the road. In public, the two project a slick image of young love, but in private (young lovers will naturally share the same hotel room, won't they?), they yell, fight, fuck, and snarl. And discover that their privates selves are far different from their public personas, and far more compatible than either could ever have dreamed.

I'm not usually a big fan of rock star romance; too often its underlying message seems to be that you need to be validated by being loved by someone famous in order to feel good about yourself. But in One Kiss from a Rock Star, Lin and Slade create two fascinatingly complex characters, two people who project traditionally gendered images in order to maintain their place in the public spotlight, but who underneath the glitter and the tattoos gender-bend like pros (bad-boy Krist turns out to be the sensitive, submissive one, good-girl Maddy the one who gets off on bossing others, including Krist, around). Pulling back the masks of traditional gender, Lin and Slade ask readers not only to see beyond Krist and Maddy's mass-marketed images, but to consider the gendered constraints placed upon their own efforts at self-fashioning.

*Interestingly enough, the Oxford English Dictionary reveals that the use of "faggot" as a derogatory term originated as a term of abuse or contempt applied to a woman.

Photo credits:
David Bowie: Rolling Stone
Taylor Swift: Daily Star

One Kiss with a Rock Star
Half-Life #2
published by the authors


  1. Interesting review. Prick, Dick and Schmuck--I used all three in my latest.

  2. It seems like I keep challenging the premises of books you review here, but here I go again. In high school, my daughter knew two guys who considered themselves bisexual. While as far as I know neither of them were in a same-sex relationship during high school, one was in a polyamorous relationship with two girls and the other goofed on tourists at Disney World by walking around Epcot holding hands with the boy my daughter was dating at the time. (They were there as part of a marching band that had been invited to perform there.) They drew some stares from tourists (mostly foreign tourists, not US ones), probably because they were a model-handsome couple of contrasting looks (same height but different physiques, one African-American, one white). My daughter herself identifies as bi/pansexual. The girls she befriended at a religiously-affiliated sleepaway camp also identified as bi.

    Although I agree about how Bowie was perceived, things have changed since then. Kids my daughter's age and younger are the target market, and polls show they care about sexual orientation and gender expression much less than the rest of us. Fans write a ton (and I mean a ton) of fanfics about their favorite groups, much of it (in my daughter's circle, most of it) m/m, not m/f. I find it hard to believe that fans like that would care if their favorite musicians were bi. They'd be more likely to find it exciting.

    When I read this, the terms "dick" and "dickhead" came to mind. Enrage Femme's suggestions also apply, as does "putz" (equivalent to "schmuck").