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Complex and multilayered, March 4, 2019
by SpikeA powerful, choice-based work, Bi Lines manages to weave together multiple hard-hitting issues in just three short acts - and do so pretty much seamlessly, in my opinion. Like a few other works in IFComp 2018, it's hard to say much without giving a great deal away. Iíll start with a few technical comments.
Bi Lines uses an old typewriter font to present the text. Mousing over text indicating a choice blurs the text, although not so much that it becomes illegible. Also, if you leave the mouse in the right spot for some of the choice texts they will switch back and forth rapidly between the unblurred and blurred versions. These are all interesting presentation choices that underline the story, since (Spoiler - click to show)the PC is a reporter who can see and interact with ghosts.
Also, the title is a nice pun.
As I said, it's really hard to discuss Bi Lines without giving much away. Minor spoiler: Bi Lines presents a complex portrayal of the experience of (Spoiler - click to show)coping with sexual assault, particularly the problem of trying to get other people to believe you.
Long, major spoiler, which tries to unpack some of the layers Bi Lines uses to present this experience:
(Spoiler - click to show)It hits hard from the very beginning. The first page of text lays out a difficult scenario: You're a guy on a date with a woman. She's confessing her love to you. Your first choice: Do you trust her with your secret? Do you respond with, "I also like guys. I think."? Or do you hide that?
Then you learn that itís 1981, not 2018, and this raises the stakes on the PCís choice here even more.
The next big twist comes when you discover that the PC can see and hear ghosts. Not only that, the PC has inherited this ability from his mother. Mother spent her life helping ghosts find and complete that one more task (different for each ghost) that was preventing them from moving on from this world. This was her mission in life. As Mom would say, "Always bear the weight of love on your shoulders. No matter how much it costs you." It cost Mom her life. However, even in death (she's still a ghost) this is her motto, and she expects you to uphold it as well.
In the first act you meet a ghost at a party. He kisses you, without your consent. Then he fondles you and grabs your now-erect penis. A desire for this experience must have been what was holding him to this plane of existence, because after he grabs you he fades away, satisfied.
Acts 2 and 3 work out the consequences of this setup. First, there are your feelings about being sexually assaulted: Itís a violation of your physical self, and it leaves you so shaken that you have trouble going about your life for the next couple of days (and beyond). On the other hand, the text indicates that you found this arousing on at least some level. After all, your desire to be with other men isn't something you can be very open about.
Then there are others' reactions to this episode. It's not like you can easily explain to people why you're so upset: You were fondled by a ghost! Who is another male! It's a great dramatization of the frustration and fear of (I presume) many people who have been sexually assaulted: Whoís going to believe me?
There's also your relationship with Mom (and, now, Mom's ghost). You love her and want to honor her memory, but she does not approve of your attraction to other men. In fact, she says the assault would never have happened if it weren't for your (in her words) "unnatural love" for men. There's another aspect of the sexual assault survivorís predicament: Being blamed for the assault. But it's given additional emotional heft by being said by someone you love and who actually uses the episode as justification for her disapproval of a part of you she does not like.
Not only that, there are your conflicting feelings about helping these ghosts move on. Youíre the only one who can, and so you feel some responsibility to assist them. And you do want to help them. But it's also a burden, one that you didn't choose and that feels kind of like something your mother forced on you. Do your responsibility and desire to help them extend to letting them take advantage of you? Even to the point of allowing them to violate you physically and sexually?
Finally, there's Gregor, the ghost who assaulted you. It's clear that Gregor was attracted to men as well, and I don't think it's reading too much into the story to draw the conclusion that what was holding him back from moving on from this earth was a probably never-fulfilled desire to touch another man sexually. So his assault and violation of you itself came from the same source of much of your anguish as the PC: same-sex attraction in a society that does not accept it. From another angle: How else was Gregor going to move on if he hadnít forced himself on you? In his mind, what if he had asked and you said "No"? Would he have been stuck here forever? This line of thinking is heading toward the very uncomfortable conclusion that, in his mind, maybe he felt like he didn't have any choice other than to sexually assault you (!).
All of this is to say that I'm amazed at the degree to which Bi Lines manages to dramatize several anguishing issues in a relatively short work.
In the blurb the author mentions that Bi Lines was inspired by the U.S. Senate confirmation hearings on Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Lest some readers misunderstand this, let me emphasize that Bi Lines is not an attempt to rehash those hearings. Rather, Bi Lines stands on its own as a powerful dramatic work without explicit reference to anything external.
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