For Authors: How Not to Be a Dick to Bisexuals Part 2

In Part 1, I covered stereotyping for characters that are recognised as bisexual, or at least implied to be. This time, I’m getting into the meat of another issue: bisexual erasure. Find part 3, summarising how not to be a dick and also how to deal with being called out, here.

As a refresher, here are my other posts on biphobia/bimisia again:

Now, onto this fun topic.

Writing Bisexuality Respectfully

Bisexual Erasure: WTF Is It and Why Does It Suck?

I have a buttload to say on this, so while I touched on erasure in my other posts, I want to say more. This is one way to break it down, but there are likely other valid theories as well.

To my mind, there are a two primary streams of bisexual erasure:

  • Passive, e.g. neglecting to consider bisexuality even when it should be/never labelling potential bisexuals/having no bisexuals exist in the story world
  • Aggressive, e.g. outright saying bisexuals aren’t real/are actually straight/having a potentially bisexual character straight-up deny the possibility of bisexuality

Passive Erasure

This happens a lot, especially when gay and lesbian protagonists are wondering if their love interests are queer. A common phrase is “I don’t know if he/she’s gay.” I used binary pronouns in this example because I’ve yet to encounter it regarding a nonbinary character. Someone who can’t remember bisexuals exist likely isn’t going to remember nonbinary people, either.

It seems like a minor thing, but it happens often. The epitome of that old chestnut: “death by a thousand cuts.” It implies sexuality is a binary. You’re either straight or you’re gay. There are no other possibilities. This also screws over people of other orientations, not just bisexuals.

An alternative is something like, “I don’t know if they’re into [the admirer’s gender].” This is an easy adjustment that makes your story world less hostile to bisexuals and other orientations that don’t fall into the false dichotomy of gay and straight.

Another strain of passive bi erasure is the absence of bisexuals entirely. Now, a given story doesn’t have to contain every single kind of rep under the sun, but it is worth having a think why there are no bisexuals or people with other orientations such as pansexual or asexual. I can’t make you do anything, obviously, but if you never even write a side-character with another orientation outside gay and straight in your entire body of work, that’s a huge red flag.

That said, I’d rather have an absence of bi characters than poorly-written ones, so the absolute least you can do is make sure bisexuality exists as a concept. The bar is that low, and yet so many authors limbo right on under it.

I’ve read books that paid some lip service to bi inclusion, only for the author to turn around and apparently forget they were doing that. This is even worse than just erasing us entirely because it shows the author was, at the very least, trying to dodge criticism and still managed to fuck it up. Inconsistent bi inclusion has an extra layer of annoyance because I never know if I’m going to be erased or not every time I turn a page.

There’s also an unfortunate trend of quietly refusing to label characters who could be described as bisexual. This can coincide with the “Depraved Bisexual” stereotypes I discussed in my previous post. Sometimes, the author may have intended to write these characters as manipulative straight people, but these attempts often fall flat, especially when they are the only characters who interact romantically or sexually with multiple genders. Intent means fuck-all when you hurt real people. This practice can also slip into more aggressive forms of erasure when the character outright rejects labels.

Aggressive Erasure

This could also be called “active erasure” but I’m gonna make a bad joke in a minute that relies on it being called “aggressive” so that’s what we’re calling it.

I don’t often come across outright statements like “bisexuality isn’t real” in-text, but it does happen. (TW: sexual assault, sexual harassment, lesbophobic/lesbomisic slurs, bi erasure) Here’s a review for a book that I bought a while ago, so I will eventually add a review of my own when I can be bothered reading the damn thing. The potentially bi girl is just a “confused straight girl.” That crap needs to be challenged in-text, if it even needs to be included at all. It often doesn’t add anything to the story other than an excuse to upset your readers for no goddamn reason.

If I wanted to be a smartass I could describe “having a potentially bisexual character straight-up deny the possibility of bisexuality” as more passive-aggressive since it has elements of both types of erasure, but I feel it fits there better here because the author is directly flirting with the possibility of bi rep before deliberately ripping it away.

 tv gotham rude alfred bloody rude GIF

Don’t do that. Being erased hurts badly enough without the author dangling rep in front of us before striking a match and burning it to ashes, all the while maintaining creepy, unblinking eye contact.

To be clear, I’m not talking about characters who are still figuring out their sexualities, as long as it’s made very clear that’s what is happening. There are real people who never take on labels because nothing quite fits them. However, writing label-free characters does not happen in a vacuum. If you never write a character who uses a label such as bisexual or pansexual, that is yet another red flag.

Furthermore, putting lines like “Can’t some things just be?” (that’s real) or, my fucking favourite crock of shit, “We don’t need labels,” into characters’ mouths will cause harm. Straight people have said a variant of that second line to my face in order to dismiss me. My first (and only) case of drunk-crying* happened because of that. Don’t fucking do it. Don’t be that asshole.

*Note: I was already drunk when this happened. I was not drinking specifically because of that. We were at an after party. I am purely a social drinker.

The aggressive erasure of bisexuality requires a certain level of awareness and, often, malice. The bisexual-rep-burner is still staring us down, telling us right to our faces that we don’t exist and if we say otherwise, we’re lying to make ourselves look trendy or special or whatever bullshit buzzword is making the rounds this week.

Fuck you, rep-burner.

Also, don’t fucking use the word bi-curious unless you’re bi and know what you’re doing. I’m just gonna quote myself from the linked post because I do what I want:

As a bisexual, this is a word I never want to see again because it is used to invalidate bi women’s queerness as just a phase she’ll grow out of once her so-called curiosity has been sated.

It ties very neatly into the “confused straight girl” fuckery. Just stop it. It’s not cute.

This shit pisses me off. It’s gross and unnecessary. I’d much rather bisexuality never be mentioned at all than this shit, but that sucks as well. How about we all just make a pact to at least acknowledge bisexuality is a thing, okay? Enough with the low-bar-limbo.

One last thing: One big issue with no-labelling potential bisexuals is the fact we live in a heteronormative society where people are assumed to be straight until proven otherwise. Ownvoices authors can sometimes play on this expectation to make a statement in their work, but if you’re not affected by erasure (bisexual or otherwise), I wouldn’t advise doing it yourself. It’s very much a tightrope walk and if you get it wrong and fall off, people will get hurt.

My next post will go into more direct detail about how not to be a dick to bisexuals. I will probably repeat some of the stuff I’ve said in these first two posts, but let’s be frigging honest: some people need the repetition.

So, see you next time.

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7 thoughts on “For Authors: How Not to Be a Dick to Bisexuals Part 2

  1. THIS IS EVERYTHING.

    No seriously. I’ve had a lot of these thoughts rattling around in my head, but I’ve never been able to put them down on the page in a way that made sense. You accomplished it. And you’re writing more on this, which is amazing.

    I especially like what you said about non-labeled characters. They (generally) bother me, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. It’s within an author’s rights to have an un-labeled queer character, and that’s fine. But what bugs me is exactly what you said: “writing label-free characters does not happen in a vacuum.” It’s the whole intent vs. impact thing. Again, you said “intent means fuck-all” and you’re absolutely right.

    Anyway, I could go on and on about how much I appreciate the work you’re doing with these posts, but yeah. Just…just take this hug from me, ok? You’re wonderful and you’re not alone. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. *hugs back*

      This stuff has been brewing in my head for a while and I took a long time to refine these posts before publishing them. That’s probably why they make any kind of sense, because they were definitely more ranty in their original forms.

      Intent =/= impact is something I wish more people understood. I don’t exactly have a problem with someone saying “I promise this wasn’t intentional but I am sorry for causing harm” as long as they own the fact what they did was hurtful. A lot of people try to let themselves off the hook because they didn’t “mean to” hurt anyone but it’s weak and, quite frankly, comes off as blaming the people who have been harmed. Screw that.

      I’ve got one more post in this series which focuses more heavily on the “how not to be a dick” part of these posts. It’ll probably be up tomorrow (my time zone) as long as I’m happy with it upon going over it again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • God, yeah, it is SO HARD for people to admit when they’ve hurt someone even when it wasn’t intentional. I get it, because I’ve messed up plenty in my time, and it’s really hard to acknowledge that we’re imperfect people. But the reality is that by not apologizing because they didn’t mean to hurt anyone, it’s like you said, it makes it seem like it’s the hurt party’s fault for having feelings – which is just messed up on so many levels.

        Liked by 1 person

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