Storify: Bisexual Characters

Storify is shutting down in May and has informed users that we have to migrate our content elsewhere if we wish to save it. This is one of my old threads.

Sitting here getting angry at the idea that bisexuality has to be "established organically" so as to not startle the reader. Bi people cannot fucking win.

If they have a crush on another gender, they're assumed straight and any later bisexuality is treated like a jump scare;

If they have a crush on a same-gender person, they're established gay and any later bisexuality is treated as homophobia.

If bisexuality never comes up, it's erased; if their bisexuality is mentioned in passing, it's "shoe-horned in" or "told, not shown".

There is no way, NONE, to establish a bisexual character that will not ruffle feathers.

I'm still angry about this and here's why. Multiple bisexual people told the person I'm subtweeting that their bisexuality was a "surprise" for them. Their response? "Fine, but that's Real Life. FICTION has to follow NARRATIVE RULES." MY SEXUALITY IS NOT CHEKOV'S GUN.

We are allowed to have REALISTIC, messy, complicated bisexual rep. We don't have to follow Robert's Rules of Order for Coming Out. Bisexuality isn't a PLOT POINT that has to follow narrative rules. Bisexuality isn't a TROPE. Bisexuality isn't a gun over the mantle. Yes, fiction has to follow stricter rules than reality in service to a plot. BUT REPRESENTATION IS NOT A PLOT POINT. Yes, a major plot twist can't be introduced 900 pages in. BUT MY SEXUALITY ISN'T A PLOT TWIST. This person is treating bisexuality as a narrative device that has to follow literary conventions and I am just. NO.

@LabyrinthRat: *nod* If they're established as bisexual and then they end up with an opposite-gender character, then it's a queer-baiting cop-out.

This. THIS IS HOW WE'RE TREATED. Bi character + different gender Love Interest = "settling", "less than", "not queer rep". How many times have we seen a bisexual m/f romance called "straight" or "het"? So many times. As a young adult, I *needed* to know that bisexuality existed. That I could like a boy AND still be bisexual. I needed to know that liking a boy didn't make me straight, that there were other ways to like a boy. So all these folks saying that m/f bi rep isn't what kids need? *I* was a kid who needed that.

"Ending up with a boy means you're basically straight" is WHY I didn't know I was bisexual until I was an adult. I was miserable. I am just so damned angry.

THIS is why we're so on edge and tetchy about bi-bigotry in the community. It's not just bisexuals looking to get angry!! We're worked over for EVERY INCH OF REP we get and treated like we're a bunch of privileged half-straights who have the world and want more. We're not half-straights! And I'm not saying bisexuals have it worse, but don't tell me our erasure is a little thing, please! There is a HUGE amount of difference between a het m/f portrayal and a bisexual m/f portrayal, and we NEED that rep. I didn't need bisexual m/f rep because I couldn't get m/f anywhere else; I needed it to know I could be in an m/f rel AND STILL BE BI.

I have been watching erasure and bigotry against bisexual people in the book community for so long now and I am weary to the bone. I feel like I can, at this point, LIST ALL THE WAYS a bisexual character will be deemed Problematic and/or Trendy in a book review.

1. A boy who has feels at another boy but ends up with a girl? "Turned straight. Homophobic."

2. A girl who has feels at another girl but ends up with a boy? "Turns straight. Lesbophobic."

3. A boy who has feels at a girl but ends up with a boy? "Realizes he's gay."

4. A girl who has feels at a boy but ends up with a girl? "Realizes she's a lesbian."

5. A character whose bisexuality is never mentioned and they end up with someone? Erasure. Straight or gay, never assumed bi.

6. A character who ends up with someone but mentions in dialogue that they're bisexual? "Trendy. Told-not-shown. Jumped on the bandwagon."

7. A character who kisses / fucks people of multiple genders? "Slutty bi trope. Harmful. I thought we were done with this."

Let me be clear: many of these tropes CAN be harmful. Slutty bi IS a trope. Queerbaiting IS a trope. Turned straight IS a trope. BUT there ARE ways to handle these narratives thoughtfully and bisexual people with these experiences SHOULD be allowed to try.

When we say "but that was my experience!" the answer is always "well, fiction isn't reality and you can't do these tropes because harm." You know what else is harm? The TOTAL ERASURE of my sexuality and experiences because non-bi people don't like bisexual folks.

About the only time I see bi/pan rep allowed is when the romance is with a trans person. Which is a side-shoot of anti-trans bigotry. People don't have to be bi/pan to love trans people! Stop assuming straight, gay, and lesbian folks don't want us.

We need to talk about how m/f bisexual rep is NOT THE SAME as m/f heterosexual rep. Bisexual people in m/f relationships face constant erasure. They're told they aren't *really* queer. They're made to feel they "settled". Bisexual people in m/f relationships are made to feel "basically straight" despite the bigotry faced--and the book community reflects this.

I see a lot of talk about why we even need m/f bisexual rep when, if you WANT m/f, you can pick a book off the shelf at random. But bisexual m/f rep IS NOT THE SAME as heterosexual m/f rep. Yes, we need it. I needed bisexual m/f rep as a kid to understand that I could BE in an m/f relationship and STILL bisexual. I needed bisexual m/f rep as a kid in order to recognize that liking boys didn't make me straight. I needed bisexual m/f rep as a kid to show me that my sexuality wasn't "turned off" or "straightened" because I held a boy's hand.

"Why d'you need bisexual m/f when there's so much m/f already?" assumes we're hungry for m/f sex scenes rather than THE BISEXUAL REP ITSELF. We know that Exploitation and Representation are different things. We know context and nuance are important. Or, if we don't know that, we need to learn.

Gay m/m books written to titillate straight women readers isn't the same as gay m/m representation.

Lesbian f/f books written to arouse straight men reading along isn't the same as lesbian f/f representation.

Trans narratives written for chasers to jerk off to are not the same as trans representation written by/for trans readers.

We need bi and pan representation that is GOOD and reflects our real and messy experiences for real, messy bi/pan readers.

We're not "half-gay, half-straight" (the original meaning of the bi in bisexual) in need of gay and straight books. WE NEED BI BOOKS. We need bi books to be reviewed by bi readers. Takes from other folks about whether the bisexuality was "established correctly" = NOPE.

And because this keeps coming up: No, I do not think all bi rep is equally good. That's ridiculous. OF COURSE there are badly written bi characters in fiction. Do you know who gets to critique them? Bisexual people! What we do not need or want are generalized rules (esp. from non-bi people!) about how bi characters have to be written!

"They have to show an experience of an attraction to two genders." No! I am bi all the time, not just when attracted to people.

"They have to say 'bisexual' on the page." Look, I prefer that too, but sometimes it doesn't work in the story. Case-by-case basis.

"They have to show more attraction than just a fleeting 'girls are hot'." No, they literally do not have to meet an attraction bar.

"They have to experience bigotry against bisexuals." Hahahahahahaha, NO. We're allowed to write bi fluff, closeted bis, wev we want.

"They have to differentiate themselves from straight characters." NO. You can *stop* assuming straightness is a default we deviate from.

"They have to be canonically bi, not just authorially so." Look, the Dumbledore effect is a thing, BUT perhaps you are not the best judge.

I have written bi characters attracted to multiple gender in CHAPTER ONE and still had people surprised when same-gender sex happened later.

So, again, the Dumbledore Effect (vs. On Page Rep) is a case-by-case thing that BISEXUAL PEOPLE get to discuss. Everyone else gets to hush.

I keep saying this, but allyship includes *being quiet* when something isn't your lane. Let the bi people thrash out the reviews.

"They have to be attracted to someone with opposite genitals, not just opposite gender trans people." Step on Legos if you think this.

"They shouldn't call themselves gay." Look, some of us do and realize later we're not and/or some of us use it as an umbrella term.

And, look, you don't HAVE to READ bisexual books! No one is saying (I hope?) that they're mandatory reading. Just that, by gum, we're allowed to write our own messy rep and non-bi people can please be quiet while we have our bi conversations.

I honestly don't know why non-bi people are invested in this AT ALL or @-ing my thread. If you're not bi, you don't get to judge bi rep. I feel mean saying that, but why would someone not in this identity BE a good judge of the authentic representations of said identity?


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