I am a bisexual woman, and have been for as long as I know, even before I was explicitly aware of it.
I have been in a long-term relationship with another woman for fourteen years. This does not make me a lesbian. This makes me monogamous and committed. I am still bisexual, and always will be. Being with a woman for over a decade doesn’t make me gay. I do consider myself very much a part of the queer spectrum – I am not straight. I’m not heterosexual. But I’m not a full-on lesbian. I exist.
Not long ago, there was a certain kerfuffle in our literary blogosphere regarding the presence of het sex in gay fiction, and one of my first reactions was “wait, are they pretending bisexuals don’t exist?” Because, believe it or not, that happens. A lot.
There is a broad, wide market out there, a rapidly-expanding niche that–I thought–was becoming ever more inclusive across the QUILTBAG spectrum. Now, preference is one thing. I understand expressing a preference for a certain type of story, or a certain kind of erotica, and that’s all well and good. Where it becomes unfair, insulting, and even harmful is imposing that standard on the genre as a whole. Because, really, are we just the M/M genre now? We don’t make room for trans*? We don’t abide lesbians? We do not suffer the bisexual women and men to live and love?
It’s one thing to state “I don’t like reading scenes with heterosexual sex.” That’s totally valid, and I support that. Depending on the characters, I may not enjoy it and would skip it myself.
It’s another thing to state, “heterosexual sex doesn’t belong in the M/M genre.” It should be labeled. It is a squick. It is an insult to M/M readers. Get out of my sandbox, you have your own.
Okay, wow. So what about your bisexual men?
They don’t exist, detractors cry. That brings us round to my point to begin with–once again, supposed allies are erasing the bisexuals.
One of the things that made it so difficult to come to terms with my sexuality, personally, was the complete dearth of bisexual representation anywhere. Media, news, conversation, you name it. Growing up, the concept of bisexuality was not shown to me anywhere as something I could be. You were one or the other, straight or gay. What I wanted, what I was, did not exist. It’s been important to me, as a writer, to show that yes, we do.
Out of the three novels I’ve had published so far, two of them feature main characters (men) who are bisexual. In one of those, it’s something of a plot point, even, with Lucas’s struggle to come to terms with the fact that he can be bisexual and committed to another man. In the other, Alex is so fixated on Nik that no one else matters–but he has a past with women, and at one point it does come under scrutiny.
I’m guessing that this has been deemed acceptable, that this has passed muster in the genre, because there weren’t any scenes that depicted the men having graphic goings-on with anyone other than their love interest, who was also male. But what if they had? What if that had been an essential element of the story? Cut it, these reviewers would say. Your audience doesn’t want to see it. The audience doesn’t want a graphic relationship between a man and a woman. There’s already a robust market for that; it’s the hetero romance genre. Your het sex scenes are not welcome here.
Does this sound familiar? “You can do _____, so long as I don’t have to see it.” “Well, it’s your business if you like _____, as long as it’s in private and you don’t rub it in my face.” That doesn’t sound like tolerance, to me. That sounds like veiled hate speech. You can do that thing I find repulsive, but it doesn’t make it right. So do it somewhere else. When you consider this may apply to bisexuals and their relationships, it starts to sound like bi-phobia to me.
Where is the market for the people who swing both ways? The recent outburst from the reviewing sphere suggests that “het scenes” have no place in the “gay market.” That makes it amply clear, once again, that I and people like me don’t exist, or we’re not supposed to. Or we can hook up with opposite-sex people, so long as it happens out of sight. If we want to have sex onscreen, it had better be with the partner whose genitals match up with what our audience is expecting.
To me, this kind of thinking is not only unnecessarily stifling, creativity-wise, but it’s exclusive. We are so much more than a narrow slice of uniformly handsome white men getting it on with other equally handsome white men. We are disabled trans*men, and capable bisexual brown women, and devout Muslim men who sleep with women but fall in love with other men, and chubby girls with vitiligo and a penchant for polyamory saving the world with their adoring wheelchair-bound genderqueer sidekick, and androgynous asexual vampires finding their one true love in a girl with PTSD. We are women falling in love with men falling for men who OTP women and so on, ouroborous unending.
Or maybe we’re not there yet. But authors ought to be able to write it, if that’s the story they want to write. And it’s still queer fiction.
Blanket directives to keep certain content such as–dare I say the blasphemous concept, heteronormative erotica–out of the genre are oppressive and they exclude those of us who cross genre constraints, whether we’re bisexual or not. They exclude certain types of characters, including bisexual and trans*, and erase or otherwise heavily edit those characters’ experiences.
When I was younger, I thought the story of Casanova was that of a bisexual man, who romped through the ranks of the attractive men and women of court. Boy, was I disappointed to find that he kept his charms solely distributed to women. I was young and ignorant but even then, looking for portrayals of someone whose attractions transcended sex or gender. In this day and age, we ought to be able to get that bisexual Casanova. And if someone from the QUILTBAG genre were to write his story, it should be the whole unedited glorious romp. Messy, “undesirable” girl parts and all.
Because we exist, and our stories deserve to be told, too–including the sex we enjoy on both sides of the “street.”