I covered bisexual stereotypes in 2016, but I’m still seeing books with harmful portrayals of bisexual characters. So here’s another post.
There’s an interesting trope I’ve seen crop up in a couple of books I’m read recently, where a bisexual female character (or one coded as such), shows interest in a lesbian character, perhaps even kisses her, before doing something to break her heart, be it suddenly rejecting or cheating on her.
The two books I’m using as examples are ones that I have read personally, one I’ve reviewed and one I have not. At the time, I tried to look past the biphobia and focus on the story and succeeded to a degree, but I’ve only become more frustrated the more time passes since having read them.
These two books are Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan and As I Descended by Robin Talley. I have reviewed the latter and, to be honest, my review was more positive than the book deserved. I should probably fix that. I’ve already knocked a star off my original Goodreads rating.
In both these books, the heatbreaker isn’t specifically called bisexual but the implication is clear. Both books also carry other forms of biphobia aside from this trope. The endgame love interest of TMAHACSF dismisses the label of bisexual (“Can’t some things just be?”), and the protagonist of As I Descended, while “probably bisexual”, is not “all-the-way gay” like her lesbian girlfriend. In addition, the “heartbreaker” of the latter story is described as “not gay enough” (p. 34 of my edition, provided because I found it while looking for something else). Gross.
So, even if a more charitable reading of the portrayals of Saskia from TMAGHACSF and Delilah from As I Descended is possible, they don’t deserve it.
Saskia is a new student at the protagonist, Leila’s, school. Leila is one of very few lesbians there and, naturally, develops a crush on Saskia. Saskia, of course, strings Leila along, kisses her and then has sex with one of Leila’s male friends. When Leila dares to be upset, Saskia continues to force her way into her life, even kissing her without her consent multiple times, calling her a lesbophobic slur and outing her, all the while calling her a “predatory lesbian.”
In As I Descended, the King Duncan of this Macbeth retelling, Delilah, is the first girl Lily ever kissed. Naturally, Delilah then blew her off right afterwards (pp. 95-97 in my edition). Bonus points? It had just been a “fun little experiment” for Delilah and that she was “flattered” but “wasn’t gay.”
This isn’t to say there has never been a bisexual, or a straight person, who has behaved like this. However, with positive on-the-page bisexual rep in fiction still lacking, these kinds of portrayals are in supremely bad taste. We’re no more likely to manipulate, cheat and break hearts than anyone else. Continuing to write us like this perpetuates these stereotypes, which, as I’ve pointed out in my other posts on biphobia, contribute to real-life issues that we face. Honestly, I never want to see a straight/gay/lesbian author tackle these tropes ever again. Clearly, the majority of them have proven they’re incapable of writing us without stereotyping us. Until an author proves they’re capable of doing that, I don’t trust them touching these kinds of characters, even if they don’t intend to be biphobic, because intent means fuck-all when it comes to harm caused.
I don’t care whether they meant the character to be bi, or just a shitty heterosexual, because the result is the same in the end: the implication that a person who shows interest in multiple genders cannot be trusted. Hell, having a “straight” character (but, let’s be honest, this is rarely stated) behaving like this carries a gross little implication that bisexuals aren’t even bisexual at all. That we’re just confused straight people, hurting the “real queers” on the way. I’ll give a bi writer the benefit of the doubt if they choose to play with this trope, but even we’re not immune from internalised biphobia so it could go wrong even then.
In short, don’t fucking use this trope. Work on writing non-stereotyped bisexuals instead who don’t hide behind “we don’t need labels” or “not gay enough” bullshit. I don’t even want to see a promiscuous bisexual character unless there are equivalent bi characters who are not, and even then I don’t trust a non-bisexual to do it in a non-offensive way.
(Shoutout to Zoraida Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost for not screwing up bi rep. She’s not bisexual, but she seems to have managed to NOT write horrible stereotyped portrayals of us so far. So it’s possible. Far From You by Tess Sharpe is also good bi rep that actually uses the word, and is ownvoices at that.)
What biphobic nonsense (heartbreaker trope or not) have you read recently? Spill the beans in the comments.