Welcome back to the How To Write LGBTQIA+ Characters series. If you haven’t read the other articles in this series, please check them out:
- How To Write LGBTQIA+ Characters: An Introduction,
- How To Write LGBTQIA+ Characters: Lesbians,
- How To Write LGBTQIA+ Characters: Gay Men, and
- How To Write LGBTQIA+ Characters: Marginalized Identities.
Today we concentrate on how to write bisexual identities. A bisexual individual is a person who is attracted to more than one gender, usually, this means the typical man and woman but it could be different based on the person. This identity is often confused with Pansexuality, which means the attraction to all genders, and we will talk more about it in another article.
To correctly talk about this topic, I’ve reached out to author Cassandra Rose Clarke to help give her insight on writing bisexual characters. Clarke is an author whose latest novel Shadows Have Offended (Star Trek: The Next Generation), a Star Trek tie-in, is coming out this summer 2021.
Her book, Forget This Ever Happened, is a fantasy novel on the magic that transpires in a small town in Texas where Claire is taking care of her Grammy. But it also talks about Claire and her love interest, Julie, and the teenager’s experiences as a young bisexual.
So what are some stereotypes bisexuals are affected by?
- It’s just a phase. It’s really not. For instance, bisexuals might end up in a relationship with the opposite sex, but that doesn’t negate the side of them that likes the same sex.
- They’re actually just gay but won’t admit it. This is very incorrect. As stated above, their attraction for one or the other sex cannot be negated because they are in a committed relationship with someone. If they do end up in a relationship with a same-sex partner, their attraction to the opposite sex doesn’t just “turn off” so they are not going to turn into lesbians. There are some individuals that come out as Bi if they feel like their families or friends will not accept them as fully gay, that’s their prerogative and their choice to make. This is a judgment-free zone and we’re not tearing down their choices made for their own safety.
- If they’ve never had an experience, they’re not Bi. How do you know? That’s a question they get often and it’s infuriating. How do straight people know they like the opposite sex? They just do, so take a bisexuals’ sexual orientation at face value and accept that that’s what they are without questioning them like you would a criminal. It’s their preference, let them be.
- Threesome anyone? Just because they like both males and females does not mean they want to partake in a threesome. They have feelings and are likely looking for love, they are not some sex toy couples can use and abuse for their own pleasure. Refrain from this.
- They’re more likely to cheat. This is incredibly rude to think. Just because they like both girls and boys does not mean that they would cheat on you. If they’re in a relationship with someone, they choose to be with them, and just because they have “more options” doesn’t make them automatically want to cheat.
- Bisexual men don’t exist. Absolutely incorrect. They exist and they are valid and if you’re going to write about a bisexual individual make sure that you’re not doing it from the perverted standpoint of bi girls are hotter. That’s not inclusive and it’s not fair, because at that point you’re just sexualizing them which nobody appreciates. Bisexual men are less likely to come out as such because of the negative connotation it has on them more than on women, so please be tactful when writing this type of character.
Clarke’s experience with queer tropes while writing Forget This Ever Happened had her overcoming the “long history of stories where couples don’t end up together at the end of the book—and usually it ends with one or both of the couples dying.” (Side note: this is called Kill your Gays and it’s another thing authors do that the LGBTQ+ community would like to see gone). She then adds, “I dislike YA books where the romance is implied to be The Last Romance These Characters Will Ever Have, which I find unrealistic. So I had to find a way to give my characters a teen-appropriate happily ever after in order to avoid the more insidious fictional trope of queer love not lasting.”
If, as a writer, you’re trying to write a queer identity without making it the main point of the story, Clarke offers this bit of advice: “I think if you write a story with queer main characters, and you develop them fully, you’ll find that their queer identity will come through. I do think, though, that it’s not enough to just say the character is queer and never show them with a partner or dating or hanging out at a gay bar. Even if you aren’t writing a romance, give them a crush! Let them talk about past relationships, first kisses! Give them a full, rich backstory, with all those facets of human experience, and readers will learn all about their queerness even as they read about the character fighting robot dragons from the planet Xylok.”
So what are some tips for novice writers on writing queer characters?
- Get a diverse array of perspectives. Queer people don’t all magically agree on stuff just because they’re queer, so recognize that one particular person’s perspective is never going to be the be-all and end-all.
- “If you’re younger (under 25 or so), make sure you get the perspective of older people to understand just how bad things were, even as recently as the ‘90s, and to better understand how queer culture as it is now has developed. I’m not sure many young people realize how quickly and dramatically things have changed when it comes to LGBTQ rights.” Cassandra offers.
- “I’m only 37 and I have, for example, heard the word “queer” used entirely as a slur. I remember people losing their minds when Ellen came out on her sitcom. I remember when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was considered the progressive option. People older than me will remember the AIDs crisis, the decriminalization of homosexuality—there’s so much history here.”
- Do your research. There are so many books that have been written on the queer experience and there are individuals out there who are willing and happy to talk about their experiences as part of the community. One idea Clarke offers is to read memoirs by bisexual authors or any other LGBTQIA+ author, there’s “a bounty of lists and recommendations. Read as many as you can to get a wide variety of perspectives. Read memoirs that aren’t specifically about the author’s identity. Don’t steal details from their lives, but use the memoir as a way of understanding how another person experiences the world.” Cassandra offers two queer characters in media that she thought were well represented as an option to look into:
- “I loved Gideon the Ninth. Gideon and Harrow have an epic enemies-to-lovers romance set in a universe that’s just… weird. It’s a great example of a book where the characters are queer, but the story isn’t about that. Instead, it’s about skeletons and gothic mysteries.”
- “I also really enjoyed the early seasons of Orange Is the New Black. Because it’s set in a women’s prison, basically all of the characters are women, and you see so many shades of queerness. It might be a touch problematic these days, but I still love it as a look at all the different ways to be a queer woman.”
- 5 LGBTQIA+ Memoirs To Read
- DOs and DON’Ts of writing a bi character
- 22 YA Books with Bisexual Characters You Should Definitely Read
- 14.03: Writing the Other—Bisexual Characters (podcast)