Bi-Sexuality, Self Discovery, and Sexual Awakening in ‘May’

See me.

bloody May Lucky McKee

In memory of Ashley Lucas (1986 – 2015)

I found my high school years to be some of the most confusing and painful years of my life. I did very little to go out and socialize. Really, I was much happier being a recluse who stayed at home to watch TV or listen to music alone. I may have not been aware of Sartre or his famous line from the play No Exit, but in 2003 I would have wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiment that “Hell is other people.” All I ever felt around others was judgment, tension, and shame. 

It took me until recently at the age of 35 to realize that many of those feelings were me projecting how I thought about myself onto others. Throughout my adolescence, I was in constant conflict with the desire to not be experienced. I couldn’t stand seeing myself in the mirror. And I couldn’t stand talking about my feelings with others. I was too afraid of confronting how I actually felt about anything. I lived in misery.

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Yet, looking back at that time, 2003 was easily one of the best years of my life. I met my best friend, Ashley, that year. Her exuberant energy and “glass half full” attitude was like a shining beacon of joy in my otherwise deep, dark self-imposed abyssal existence. She was a lifeline for me when I needed it most. Most importantly, she never judged me. Not once. She liked me for being me. Brooding, antisocial attitude and all. I still feel to this day that, at that time, Ashley was the only person in my immediate environment that truly saw me.

That was also the year that I first saw Lucky McKee’s May (2002), which changed my life forever. I was just starting to explore the horror section of our local video stores on my own. Up until then, renting movies was a family activity. We all picked out a movie we wanted to see and watched them together.

However, in 2003 I was 16 years old and beginning to build my appetite for horror of all sorts. No one else in the family showed much of an interest in the genre the way I did. So, once the store started offering five older films for a week for only $5, I was given permission to rent five horror films of my choosing to watch in my room that week. We did this each time we went to the video store. Little did I know how much these bulk rentals would end up molding the person I would be today.

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Seeing May for the first time was harrowing. I sat in stunned silence as the credits rolled. The only other time I can recall having felt that way after watching a film was when I first saw The Blair Witch Project. I couldn’t put a finger on what I had just seen. It wasn’t the violence. I was used to that at that point. It took me many years to figure out what impressed me so much about that film. I finally came to the conclusion that it was the characters. Although they were a good ten years older than me and out of college, they were so true-to-life. True to my life, at least.

I made a connection with the character of May (Angela Bettis) from the moment she was on screen. She was also a recluse who had a poor self-image. May dressed down, kept to herself, and awkwardly peeked through her hair in an attempt to completely disappear from the perception of others. She had her interests, which she was extremely proud of, but she could never share them with others without the threat of being mocked or, even worse, abandoned. May’s journey through the film was my journey at the time. We were both thrust into a new social circle. We were both in love. May and I both saw how there were, “So many parts and no pretty wholes”. Especially where we were concerned.

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Still, despite feeling a strong connection to May, her pathway to destruction isn’t what disturbed me. The more I have seen this film, the more comforting I have found May to be. So, what was I finding so disturbing? Simply put: Polly (Anna Farris).

More precisely it was the complex friendship and romantic relationship shared by May and Polly that I found disturbing. The idea of two women in a relationship didn’t bother me at all. I was raised around queer women my whole life. Rather, it was the fact that they were bi-sexual. I had never come across the notion before then. At least, I had never considered what it meant to be able to be sexually attracted to multiple genders—much less the notion that there were genders outside of the normalized binary. 

I was raised by women, mostly. My father always expressed concern that my being predominantly around women would “make me gay”—a “concern” I would end up hearing about from various cishet white men through most of my upbringing. Apparently, I possessed an effeminate side so clear to others that they couldn’t help but bring it to my attention constantly, and, in many cases, abusively.

I had other kids and some adults hurling homophobic slurs at me just to make me cry. That way they could double down on their slurs for extra damage. Adults pulled me aside to check how I was doing, which always resulted in some sort of conversation about sexuality. I swore up and down to my aggressors that I wasn’t gay. I knew I wasn’t, I couldn’t have been. After all, I had only ever been attracted to girls. I thought. At least, based on my understanding of attraction.

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In hindsight, I can see that my protests came more from a place of self-preservation than any form of self-awareness. The truth was that I didn’t know myself well at all. I saw myself as pathetic, worthless, and uncaring. But I can’t say I agree with any of that now. I now realize that most of the pain I felt came from a deep sense of caring and kindness. For others, but not much for myself. Ashley helped me a lot with that. It took many years without her in my immediate presence, but she laid the groundwork for me to learn to love myself with the same respect and care I had for others. To live one day at a time.

May taught me this early on, as well. The way Lucky McKee crafted the film’s depictions of bi-sexual awakening also helped me realize that my protests of “I’m not gay!” didn’t come solely from a place of self-imposed homophobia. It was just true. I’m not gay. I’m pansexual. My romantic and sexual relationships may have centered around cis women throughout my life, but this does not say anything about who I have been attracted to along the way. Still, growing up in Mississippi, it was nigh impossible to accept being queer without severe social consequences. Like May, I chose to exist quietly out in the world and focus on my interests while at home.

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I share a lot with May, to be honest. May and I both have a morbid fascination with the difference between bodies and consciousness. We are both easily bashful. We have similar issues with understanding “normal” people. Our entire existence has been plagued with an inherent trust in those around us. That trust has caused people to prey upon us, and hurt us when they thought that what they were doing was entirely innocent.

Polly is such a striking character to me because she embodies two people from my life that are intrinsically linked: Ashley, and her ex. For anonymity, I will simply refer to her ex as C. I actually met Ashley through C. There was a concert hosted by a band that was practically local heroes. In a small town mostly focused on country music or classic rock, they were focused on early-2000s indie/alt rock. That night they were releasing their first EP. I was in choir with the lead singer, Chris. So, I was excited to support the band in releasing something you could buy on CD.

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It was a great night of music and joy. I stayed pretty much to myself, but I happened to bump into a dude dressed very similar to myself. As two dark and broody goth kids in an otherwise “proper” town, we got to talking quite quickly. The dude was C. We moshed to the music, danced, and had a good time at the concert. I have often felt strong feelings of joy when making a new friend. Though, there was something different about how I felt about C. He got my heart pounding. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I just knew that I adored the way he made me feel when he was talking. There was something about how he looked me in the eye when I was talking. It made me both bashful and comforted at the same time.

Once things quieted down a bit, C and I went outside to get some fresh air. We stood quietly together in a field next to the venue. This was usually the moment when you would say good night and part ways. I was about to do so when C said that he thought I was pretty cool and that he liked spending time with me. He did so looking me straight in the eyes. The same way he did all night.

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I felt my heart race. The blood rushed to my cheeks. I returned the sentiment with a bashful nod. I started looking at my feet and could see him stepping closer. His tone changed a bit. It softened. He said, “I’d really like to get to know you.” I looked up only to meet my eyes with his once more. I could see the sincerity in his eyes. The rush of emotions I felt at that moment was overwhelming. I couldn’t think straight. I recall stammering a bit and digging the tip of my shoe into the gravel of the field a bit as I searched for a response. Before I could give a proper response we both heard a loud voice call out C’s name. I could see that he was annoyed at someone breaking the moment, but he nodded to his friends and invited me over.

The next time I would feel that wave of confused emotions was while watching Polly flirt with May at work and in her home. The sexual tension between both characters was so strong. Each time I watch that film I think of C. When Polly smirks at May and drifts closer to her, I recall C stepping closer to me. The longing look in both of their eyes reminds me of that piercing stare. For years I hid that from myself. The only one I told until I was well into my twenties was Ashley. Whereas Polly’s advances toward May always remind me of C’s advances towards me that night, Polly’s overall attitude reminds me of Ashley’s.

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Polly’s presence in May’s life is a complicated one. On the one hand, she is responsible for May confronting her insecurities. On the other hand, she also toyed with May’s emotions for her own pleasure. Polly is by no means an antagonistic figure in the film. Rather, she is chaos incarnate. She teaches May to stop caring about what others think of her. She helps May see the badass girl boss behind those strands of hair and thick glasses. It is through Polly’s attraction to May that May is able to believe in herself.

Unfortunately, this is a wholly misguided and poorly implemented endeavor on Polly’s part. Polly’s very nature is hedonistic. She has no loyalty to anyone because she is loyal to everyone she loves. As her name implies, Polly is interested in having as many sexual partners as she wants at any given time. So, when May is hurt by Polly being with another woman, she is not prepared to comfort May properly. Instead, she uses her sexual charm as a treat to appease a lover, when what May needed most was understanding and a clear explanation.

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May is a lost soul wandering through the mists of various forms of normativity. Sadly, as she expressed herself, she is “weird” and not built for the normative rules of others. At least, she has not been properly socialized to understand that others may live, think, and love differently than her. I was very similar at the time I met C. Fortunately, meeting him led me to Ashley that same night. Ashley was amongst the group of friends he took me to meet. She intimidated me a lot. She was so small and carefree. Yet, she was so interested in getting to know me. It felt like the quieter I got, the more she included me. Like Polly, Ashley noticed a soul drifting through normativity, and she was there to show me the way.

Ashley would later confirm to me that C was indeed bi, and was trying to hook up with me that night. I never knew how to feel about that. For some reason, the idea that another boy could possibly be attracted enough to me to try and pick me up without even asking if I was straight or not was incredibly flattering. With that said, there was also discomfort about the whole thing. Not just because I was finally allowing myself to explore feelings I had been repressing for years, but something about C specifically.

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I came to know him better over the course of that year, and I began to understand what made me so uncomfortable. C and Polly share a voracious sexual appetite. Their relationship with sex is more instant and free than I have ever been able to relate to. I was a May. I was just confused and enjoying these intense emotions this person was able to instill in me. Ashley made it clear to me that C was a notorious player. I would have likely just ended up as another sexual conquest.

Considering how Ashley gave me her number that night and I only ever saw C at social gatherings, I think she was right. 

Both C and Ashley made me feel seen. More fully seen and understood than I had been by any of my peers at that time of my life. I feel that Adam (Jeremy Sisto) and Polly provided the same feeling for May. Both characters try to help a young woman believe in herself more, but neither does so with any real desire to learn how May needed to be spoken to. They take her confusion for granted and end up contributing to her breakdown at the film’s end. 

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Where I was blessed and May was unfortunate was that I had Ashley. She truly, and I mean truly saw who I was. She never asked if I was gay or bi. Ashley didn’t care. She liked me. If I got flustered or shy around her, she always made sure to confront me about it. She loved others so openly that the one thing she simply could not tolerate was someone putting themself down. I often hated myself, but she wasn’t having any of it. How could I be so worthless if she saw so much worth in having me around? I had a lot of trouble understanding her train of thought, but I get it now. Ashley taught me to love myself. Every aspect of myself.

I will always be grateful for the day I met C and was confronted with my intense feelings for another boy. I used to shy away from the situation and call myself “bi-curious”. We never kissed or anything, after all. How could I ever know if I was truly bi, pan, or straight, for that matter? Those eyes said it all to me, though. I could have lived in those eyes forever. 

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I will always be grateful for the friendship I shared with Ashley. We had our ups and downs, and I feel blessed to have been a part of every single one of them. In 2015 she passed away from complications related to her cystic fibrosis. Many people lost a dear friend and an important figure in their lives that day. My heart hurts when I think about all of the things I could have said to her leading up to it. Then I smile because I got to say so many other things to her. Most joyous are all of the things I never had to tell her. She just knew, and she loved me for all of them.

I will also always be grateful for having seen Lucky McKee’s wonderful tale of a wayward soul looking for understanding in an otherwise selfish world. May has had such a profound effect on my emotions. I no longer find it a disturbing film. Instead I find it tragic, haunting, and beautiful. I am still very similar to May. I love her dearly. Through my relationship with Ashley, I am now also a lot like Polly. I am proud to reflect on my sexuality now and no longer see a bunch of pretty parts with no pretty whole.

My whole life I felt like the version of May that hid behind her hair. Once I allowed myself to accept my sexuality and gender identity I became the version of May turning heads in her doll dress with her favorite body parts in a cooler. I once hid from the world. Ashley still saw me.

See me. See me. See me….

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