The Shelf Life Of A Bisexual Woman

Katherine Fugate
16 min readJul 7, 2021


“The Breeze,” 1909. Photograph by Anne Brigman

“God, I want to kiss her…”

As I watched her sing on stage, in her element, in her wildness, the thought of kissing her startled me.

It wasn’t startling because I wanted to kiss a woman, as that want hadn’t startled me since college when Leura’s hand brushed against mine under the table.

It wasn’t startling because the woman singing on stage was gorgeous, famous, married, unavailable, and not attracted to me. For better and worse, all of those traits had held me spellbound at one time or another.

What startled me was how my thought continued.

“God, I want to kiss her… but I’m too old.”

I turned and told my friend sitting next to me. He said, “You’re a woman in your 50s. You’re at the end of your shelf life.”

The end of your shelf life doesn’t mean you’re dead. It means you are no longer viable.

I was the bottle of milk you sniff before drinking. I was a walking loaf of day-old bread with a bright orange sticker, eyed with skepticism, wariness, and even, perhaps pity.

We all have a tool bag of seduction, items we’ve collected over the years. What worked, what didn’t, learned after trial and error, rejection and heartbreak. Even in my 20s and 30s, I was not “hot.” Every person I’ve ever been with has said some version of, “I wasn’t attracted to you at first, but you grew on me because you’re smart and funny.” So, into my tool bag went intellect and witty repartee. I never relied on my looks or my body. Or so I had thought.


My 20s were the decade of education. I wanted to be smart, so I worked at it. I waitressed at night and went to college during the day. I had no money, but I had a degree. Growing up, I was not given the example of a healthy relationship, so I did not have any. I was not in my body or my authenticity. It took a long time to realize that my childhood was not my relationship.

Still, in my 20s, I weighed less, had a flat stomach, and my breasts were perky. I seduced a straight woman from Texas, who suddenly sat up in the bed just before she came and told me to stop because Jesus was watching. I seduced a gentle, shy man who told me he couldn’t see me anymore because I was too much like Space Mountain and he preferred It’s A Small World. But even when the relationships ended, I was young enough to believe love, at first sight, was still possible.

My 30s were the decade of struggle. I chose to Goethe myself. I left a job as an executive at a movie studio to become a screenwriter. I wish I could say such boldness held genius, power and magic, and that I was instantly rewarded for my bravery, but that was not the case. Success took a long time. Years. I lived off Ramen, drained all my savings, and started delivering flowers for Floral & Hardy.

Once, I delivered it to my old studio. I’ll never forget walking down the executive floor wearing overalls and carrying a dozen red roses. I’ll never forget walking past my old office, now inhabited by a new male exec. I’ll never forget walking into the Monday Morning Meeting seeing my former colleagues around the boardroom. The stares, the fear. There but for the grace of God go I.

Still, despite a decade of struggle, the 30s shelf life was strong! The expiration date remained unchecked. Why bother looking, when the sex was great? There was a male actor who fed me an unbirthday cake in the shower when I was crying because I bounced a rent check. A female musician I spent a wild night within a New Orleans cemetery. After all, who doesn’t love a tortured writer who gave it all up for her passion? The shelf was packed with dreams.

My 40s were my decade of success. I gave birth to my first child and my first TV show. We shot the pilot when I was seven months pregnant. I wrote the second episode, hit send, and, two-and-a-half hours later, gave birth to my daughter in a scheduled C section. Unfortunately, she didn’t take everything with her. She left behind 10lbs and stretch marks, a dent in the Frigidaire.

Also in my 40s, I wrote a romantic comedy that made over $100 million at the box office; I bought a house; I was on the Board of Directors of the Writers Guild of America West, surrounded by the smartest and sexiest minds in my profession. I learned there is nothing more erotic than a good conversation. Shelf life was far from my mind.


I was on a ferry to Catalina Island with my daughter. I was 46 years old and my daughter was four. I watched a man return from the snack bar carrying a box of popcorn. He bent down and started feeding twin girls inside a double stroller. A woman leaned against the stroller, exhausted. The man suddenly turned and looked at us. Probably because he felt my daughter staring intently — not at him, but at the popcorn, the same way our dog stared at a bush where she once found a half-eaten cheeseburger.

“Do you want some popcorn?” the man asked my daughter. An emphatic yes. He smiled at me. “Ask your grandma if it’s okay.” The woman leaning on the stroller jerked upright; my daughter screeched, “That is not my Grandma! That is my MOMMY!”

I got off the Catalina ferry, strapped my daughter into her car seat, and stared at myself in the rearview mirror. I looked closer. I was aging, sure, but I still recognized myself. A top-shelf brand! But the packaging was starting to wear, the vibrancy of the label starting to fade.


I am in my 50s now. The decade of What the Hell is Happening. It started out well. I wrote another holiday movie with an all-star cast. I regularly hosted community dinners in my backyard under the moonlight. My daughter and I walked the Camino de Santiago, the famous pilgrimage in Spain, carrying all we needed on our backs.

Menopause hit. I was rearranged. My ass moved to my stomach. My eyelids drooped. Jowls appeared. I plucked a hair from my chin. My neck started mimicking the folds of my vagina, while my clitoris wanted nothing to do with me. I stopped looking like my mother and started looking like my father. I no longer recognized myself in the rearview mirror. The checker at the hardware store asked if I wanted the senior citizen discount.

My daughter is now a teenager. I am no longer the hero I once was. My cape is tattered and torn. It is a biological mandate that your child pulls away from you and leaves the nest. I understand it intellectually, but no one fully prepares you for how it feels. The loss of the sidekick holding your hand. The loss of tiny arms around your waist. The loss of joy on their face at the unexpected sight of you in the 4th-grade classroom.

It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s subtle. But they “leave” you. The relationship you had with your child is over. You are beginning a new relationship now, with someone who looks like your child, but is not your child anymore. The shelf life of motherhood hits you hard. Being a parent is such a paradox…you have to teach the person you love most in the world to live happily and healthily without you. So when that hideous rip of Velcro comes, and it will splinter your soul, it also means you did your job.

There has been a costume change. The woman on stage is singing a new song, a cover. Even though I am not close to the stage, I can see she is younger than I am. I went to the bathroom, away from her, to think. Inside the stall, I sat down on the closed toilet seat. Contemplating. I recognize desire when I feel it, but when you get older, what do you DO with it?


Prudence, our tortoiseshell cat, never strayed far from our yard, and always came home for dinner. Until she missed dinner one evening, and then the next.

A South African man found her collar on the ground, in an empty lot next to our house. What a kindness to stop, pick it up, and call. We live on a hill in the mountainous Laurel Canyon. The coyotes, owls, hawks, deer, raccoons, squirrels, skunks, rats, opossums, and snakes all live here with us. They were also here before us. New “Lost Pet” signs with photos of pleading eyes and relaxed poses are taped to telephone poles and street lamps almost every week.

I started my search with my hair in braids, wearing baggy pants and a backpack in case I found something. Remains, if any exist, would be nearby. I started up the hill where the collar was found. It is rocky terrain on loose dirt at a steep 45-degree angle. It is not for human hiking. It is a between-street pathway for animals on hills that stretch throughout the canyons. I heard it connects all the way down to the Santa Monica Mountains and then to the sea.

Because it’s so steep and unstable, I can only go up. I cannot come back down. I slid a few times and found a broken tree limb, with several small branches still attached, to help me climb. I have always been athletic, but I have not always been in my 50s. I cursed being older, my limbs not as strong as they used to be. Some close calls, some confusion on why I’m navigating abandoned baby cribs and record players along with tree stumps and poison ivy, but I made it all the way to the top, screaming Prudence’s name — to no reply. At the top of the hill was a new string of houses, the wealthy set who have a panoramic view of our city.

In the search for my cat, I found myself climbing up into the backyard of a house. No. A mansion. A mansion with no back fence. Presumably, no one would be crazy enough to scale up the rocky, weedy hills into the backyard. I stepped right onto their deck with lawn chairs, BBQ and a bubbling jacuzzi. From afar, I could see a man in the kitchen. I could also see my own reflection. A short blonde woman in braids holding a broken tree branch, face scratched and bleeding, covered in dirt, dust and spiders. I waved my hands in the air. Screamed, please don’t shoot me. The man didn’t shoot — or even turn my way. I got closer and closer until I was at the long stretch of glass windows. The man wore headphones, was on a Zoom call. He couldn’t hear me. I quickly chose to abandon his help and walk around his house to get the hell out of there.

On the side of the house, there are more glass windows. Then, I came face to face with a claw foot tub. Thank God, it was empty. But the surprise of seeing it, feet away, gave me a jolting memory of making love to someone in a claw foot tub in Paris. It was a tumultuous, dramatic relationship. The kind novels are written about and movies are made — doomed from the beginning and never end well. We all seem to have one in a lifetime. It was in that clawfoot tub that she had a moment of vulnerability. “There’s something wrong with me,” she said. “When you told me that you didn’t get the job, I was glad. I don’t want you to be more successful than me. I love you but I’m not good for you.” Although I spent years with her, that is the only snapshot that remains.

I walked around to the front of the house. Three sports cars — Ferraris, Lamborghinis, I have no idea. Spoilers, stripes, low to the ground, from a racetrack. It was a long, winding driveway curving down to the street. As I started down, I started jogging. As I jogged, I prayed he didn’t look at his security system and see Crazy Stick Lady running across his property. Stick and I jogged around a curve until we saw a big iron gate. We were locked in. I kept going until I reached the gate. There’s got to be a way out of here. Then I saw the keypad. Hands shaking, I opened it. Randomly hit 1234, then 4321. Nothing. I stared at the keypad. The numbers 6, 8 and 0 were worn and dirty, the rest of the keys were new and clean. I hit 6 8 0 then 0 again and the gate opened. The worn keys set me free. I still have the stick in my backyard.

We lost our white cat Pax to a car, our black cat Margo to cancer, and our dog Abraham was stolen, taken out of my car while I was feeding quarters to a machine at a coin car wash. Prudence was a stray, born under a house. Most cats love their cat life, roaming, killing birds and mice (which Prudence did a lot of) and racing out into the night to prowl. Much like those Ferraris and Lamborghinis. On day six of searching, I found Prudence’s remains. Her death was tragic, and also random. Hit by a car, dying of cancer, taken by a predator. An animal’s death is also a human’s death. It’s very hard to take freedom back from a cat, or a person, once they’ve tasted it. Prudence was 11 years old. She went outside on the wrong night. But until then, she had the comfort and warmth of a loving home, food, and a bed. She was a cat. Living her cat life — until she died.

The show ends. The singer bows. The audience rises to their feet. For two hours, the outside world was forgotten. A line formed. The singer stepped off stage, into the audience and into the arms of the first person waiting. Although she must have felt the euphoria that comes when a show ends and all the hard work has paid off, she wasn’t glazed or showy. She was sincere and kind. She is a good person, I could feel it. I wanted to meet her, but I didn’t go backstage. I had already learned what it feels like to realize you are on a different shelf.


The first time I met “the Veterinarian,” I had just walked off a set and was feeling pretty fancy. Inside the cramped exam room, a woman with long dark hair wearing a lab coat walked in. She was not my regular male veterinarian. She was young, smart, capable, and composed. Completely startled, I blurted out, are you a real vet? Yes, she said. So I dug my hole deeper. What I mean is, you look like the TV version of a vet. A movie star vet. Not a real vet. This was not going well. I had now insulted not only her but maybe all veterinarians everywhere.

The majority of the population is heterosexual. The early years of having a bisexual shelf-life meant trying to figure out if another woman would even consider opening the refrigerator door. Look at the shoes, the nails, the haircut — the directness. Being without limitations in love is freeing, but also frightening. I believe when you connect with another person on the highest level, the soul level, everything, including sexual attraction, is possible. But we don’t always meet another person at the soul level. Sometimes we meet in a veterinarian’s office.

You start your dating life on the same shelf. When you’re in your late teens, 20s to 30s, age differences don’t matter. I would guess she was about 25. I was 40. That’s a 15 year age difference. A 25-year-old does not want to date a 40-year-old, period. (This does not apply to men, however, who at any age can date 19-year-olds.) It was no longer a question of whether or not she was interested or whether or not dating your veterinarian was ethical. It was worse. For the first time in my life, I had left my shelf.

Suddenly, I was a creep. I was that old guy in his 40s, wearing tight black jeans, sitting at the bar hitting on young girls in the club dancing to “Don’t You Want Me” by the Human League.

Leaving your shelf is not voluntary. One day you wake up, meet someone and realize you’re on a different shelf. How many shelves are there? As the years go by, do the shelves merge? Do 40-year-olds date 55-year-olds? Do 60-year-olds date 75-year-olds? At some point, do we all get thrown together in the lettuce bin and make a salad? I do not want to be a crouton.

I did not go backstage and try to meet the singer and make an impression. I drove home. My teenage daughter was fast asleep, so I kissed her forehead, and got into bed. I laid there for quite some time, thinking of my shelf life. I touched my body. The dents, the stains, the scars, the stretch marks, the belly that once produced the child I kissed good night. I wondered if anyone would ever desire it again. I touched even lower, tried to feel something. For the singer, the Veterinarian — the ones I longed for, but would never have. For the lovers in other countries, for the boy who loved It’s A Small World, and even for the girl who didn’t want me to succeed and outshine her. At one time, they were all exactly who I wanted — and I got them. There was no response to my touch. It’s been that way for quite some time now.


I was walking my dogs in the park, when I paused to watch the co-ed Senior Softball League. I was smitten with one man in particular. He had to be 80. Hunched over, he stutter-stepped to the plate and gave it his all. I cheered him on, when Morty walked up. Judging by his shirt, he was a Dodgers fan. You play, he asked. Yes, I replied, in school. Were you any good? I was good — back in the day. Morty said this is a “Senior” league, you have to be over 45 if you’re a gal and 55 if you’re a man. Forty-five, I said, loudly, incredulous. He laughed. What are you, he asked. 26? I laughed. I am in my 50s. Take off your sunglasses, he exclaimed. I did. Oh, said Morty. He told me he was 84, switching topics.

He pointed out a tall platinum-haired woman in pigtails. She used to play for the Canadian National League. She has a daughter who needs 24/7 medical care. It turns out the man I was smitten with is in fact 80 years old — and he’s dying of cancer. Morty pointed out each player. There were prosecutors, doctors, a brain surgeon, a chef, a former NFL player, a proctologist, and a once-famous TV star. There was even a story about a man, Bernie, who died on the field during the game — and none of those doctors or surgeons on the field could save him. I went home, asking myself, am I ready to play in a “Senior” league? Is that accepting my shelf life?


We are born into a society that thrives on making people feel shitty about themselves. From our gender, our skin color, our country of birth — to the brand of clothes we wear, the car we drive, where we sit on an airplane. We are always jockeying for position in a game of superiority versus inferiority. Yet, there are no winners in this game because we all feel there is something wrong with ourselves no matter who we put down or who we lift up. Now, add aging to the mix.

When we say we’re getting old, we are not fishing for compliments. This is not about hearing how good you look “for your age.” We’re scared. Our outsides no longer match our insides. We’ve been talking to 20, 30, and 40-year-olds for years, thinking we are on the same playing field — and we have just found out, we are not. We are old for the first time in our lives and we need to learn how to play a new game.

I told myself I didn’t want to join the Senior Softball League because I was insulted that a 45-year-old woman was considered a senior. But, truthfully, I didn’t want to get out on the field and find out I suck. I was on the All-Star Team. Who wants to ruin that image of themselves? I didn’t go backstage to meet the singer because I didn’t have the looks or body I once did. I didn’t want to spoil the memory of who I once was, swinging naked from chandeliers, to find out the person I am now is not worth loving.

What happens when something expires? When it reaches the end of its fresh date? Do we become sour milk, rotten eggs, moldy cheese, day-old bread? Or do we get better the longer we are on the shelf like fine wine or a good whiskey? Some things do get bitter and rancid as they age, but other things get sweeter and better. Some shelves don’t suit us anymore, but others welcome us.

There is comfort in knowing whatever I wanted to do, I did. Sure, there are the ones who got away and the ones I should have let get away sooner, but I have no regrets. There is comfort in going to bed at 9 pm and no longer fearing I am missing out. There is comfort in knowing I have reached the age where I can want to kiss someone — and not have to do anything about it.

I went back to the softball game and watched the team play. The batter hit a hard fast ground ball toward the shortstop. That was a hardball to catch and your best shot was running, stretching low, throwing out your glove, and catching it on the hop. If I tried that move now, I’d trip and fall over. The shortstop was an Asian man, in his 70s. He did not try to field the ball on the run and catch it with his glove. Instead, he got in front of the ball and stopped it with his foot. Then he bent down, picked up the ball, and threw it to first base. You’d think those extra steps would mean the runner was safe on first base. But he wasn’t. Because the runner had slowed down, too. Morty, this team. They all know they are on their way out but they found a way to keep playing the game they love until the very end.

Aging is here. We can’t stop it, so we have to embrace it. We have to laugh our way through it. Find the humor in it. Moving from shelf to shelf is still moving. You’re growing older, but you’re moving forward, too. Leaving your shelf, and leaving behind anything that doesn’t serve you anymore.

We have to believe we can stop the ball with our feet.

We have to believe we can climb mountains and swing from chandeliers.

We have to believe we can kiss a famous singer or a beautiful veterinarian — or someone else entirely new. Because somebody is going to buy that day-old bread on the shelf, it just might be somebody different than you think.

When they say the best is yet to come, I believe that. Your best laugh, your best work, your best kiss, your best love, your best you. Is still out there. Waiting for you. On your new shelf.



Katherine Fugate

Writer. Director. Activist. Mom. Creator/EP of "Army Wives." Films “Valentine’s Day”, “NYE.” Sports Illustrated's Best Journalism 2017.