Becky Albertalli chats Imogen, Obviously and all the bi memes
Becky Albertalli is back and we can't be more excited
Becky Albertalli is back and we can’t be more excited. She has graced our platform multiple times before and today she is here to chat about her latest book, Imogen, Obviously. Imogen, Obviously follows Imogen who is the World’s Greatest Ally (as trained by her queer little sister and her two queer best friends) but is heterosexual (obviously). When she finally visits best friend Lili on her college campus, she of course is as supportive as ever, even going along with the lie that she and Lili used to date. Even if she might be straight… Or, is she? As she spends more time with Lili’s friend Tessa, things don’t seem to be as obvious anymore.
First of all, loving all the pop culture references! How did you decide which ones to include?
I’m so happy to hear this! I know pop culture references can be polarizing, but my characters always seem to pull me in the direction of including them. As a teen, I felt so passionately about my favorite pieces of media. In Imogen’s case, I loved poking fun at the fact that so much of the media she loves is so overtly queer. I was like that, too—I was very invested in queer media long before I understood why. In retrospect, it was the biggest neon sign.
Imogen mentioned that Sweater Weather is a bi anthem. Why do you think that is the case?
I’m with Imogen on this one—it’s just something I’ve seen people talk about on TikTok! But I love the song a lot, and I can play it on ukulele.
In fact, how did you come across the things that people say are ‘codes’ for queer people? And did you have any eureka moments when you first came across them?
I don’t actually know where any of these memes come from! Like Imogen, it’s just something I’ve seen stated in various corners of the internet, and I think I took it all a little too seriously. I didn’t wear cuffed jeans and eat lemon squares, so was I really bisexual? But how could I be straight if I liked Sweater Weather and sat weirdly in chairs? With Imogen, I tried to capture the joy and humor of these memes, but I did want to honor the fact that they were a bit alienating when I was in the throes of questioning.
Imogen’s friend Lili identifies as panromantic demisexual. The distinction between romantic and sexual attraction is rarely addressed. Why do you think it’s important to address it in Imogen, Obviously?
You know, I don’t actually see it as an issue I addressed! It’s just a part of who Lili is, and it’s a framework she finds helpful for understanding herself.
What would you say to those who think queer people, especially bi people, are over-labelling themselves?
I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to weigh in on other people’s identities and how they discuss them. Labels are complicated—they mean different things to different people, and their meanings can shift across time, place, and context.
Imogen’s other friend, Gretchen, always educates Imogen on how to be the best ally. How do you think friends can navigate this without causing too much tension?
For me, it always comes back to making space. I think Gretchen is fundamentally well-intentioned, but at times, her rigidity causes her to miss the mark. We all deserve allyship, and it can be really helpful to communicate the specific types of support you need. But when it comes to queerness—or any other type of potentially invisible marginalization–we have to hold space for the possibility that the “ally” in question could be a member of our ingroup.
And finally, biphobia is a problem both in the straight and queer community. Any advice for those who feel like they need to justify their identity?
This is such a tough one. I feel very strongly that we don’t owe anyone our identities, nor should we have to justify them. But, of course, I’m very familiar with the ways this truth gets undermined by our own community discourse. The pressure to prove our own queerness can be very real in many spaces, and the invalidation comes from all directions. I’ve been really lucky to have close friends who see it and get it (and have likely even experienced it)—those group chats have been such a lifeline.