In my first two posts I covered two major ways of hurting bisexuals: stereotyping and erasure. In this post, I’m getting into the more direct business of what you can do to avoid hurting us. At the end of this post, I will also link other bisexual people’s writing for further reading.
Here are my other posts on bimisia again:
- Writing Bisexual Characters: What IS Bisexuality?
- Writing Bisexual Characters: Stereotypes
- The Heartbreaker Bisexual Character
- Tangentially related: The Hypersexualisation of LGBT People (I use a more inclusive acronym within the body of the post, FYI)
- My Favourite Bisexual Books – some books that, in my opinion, get it right
Now, onto the main course:
“So How Do I Stop Being a Dick to Bisexuals?”
On Rep Itself
Reading this post is a good first step. Those cases of problematic representation I discussed in the previous posts? Don’t do them. Some authors claim “but I’m trying to be realistic!” when writing bigotry, but, often, the bigotry is 1. unnecessary, and 2. not challenged in the text. Authorial intent means fuck-all if the result is unchallenged bigotry that hurts real-life people. If you don’t face the marginalisation in question, you should let ownvoices writers handle portraying those issues. They’re the experts.
I will never, ever be comfortable with straight, gay or lesbian authors including biphobia/bimisia in their work, regardless of intent. Other bisexuals may have different opinions, but this is mine. Authors who are attracted to multiple genders but don’t ID as bi still face a lot of the issues we do so I’m not as worried about them.
That’s not to say you’re not allowed to write bisexual characters ever, but you have to recognise there are topics you are not well-equipped to write. Bimisia is one of those. Getting into too much detail about how we figure out our identities is another. Those are stories we need to tell for ourselves.
By the same token, writers are not being forced to write bisexual characters. If you’re the type to whine about being “forced” to include diversity, you shouldn’t be writing marginalised characters at all. So, the bare minimum to avoid being a dick to bisexuals is to avoid erasure. As I said in my erasure post, sexuality is not a binary of gay and straight. Don’t treat it as such.
Furthermore, be consistent in your inclusiveness. Acknowledging us is fucking meaningless if you just go ahead and erase us the next time.
I’d also advise thinking of bisexuality in the broadest, most inclusive terms possible to avoid excluding anyone and hurting readers. That is, attraction to “more than one gender” or “two or more.” I mention this in my bi definitions post but it’s worth repeating.
If you are writing bisexual characters, something else you can do is write more than one in your story. This means the rep isn’t dependent on the one character. While stereotyped bisexuals are not your business to be writing anyway, having multiple bisexual characters with different personalities can help minimise accidental harm.
However, you’ve got to be careful you’re not creating a Model Minority issue where a “bad” bisexual falls into stereotypes while a “good” one doesn’t. Remember there are real people who fit their stereotypes and that promiscuity, a stereotype for bisexuals, is often used as a stepping stone to villainy. Your safest bet is to leave the stereotype exploration to ownvoices writers and be careful to avoid accidentally stereotyping us in your work. This “multiple bisexuals” suggestion is just a way to avoid forcing us to invest our hopes in the one character. I don’t expect everyone to do this all the time, but it would be nice to see.
Also, if you want to write a manipulative straight person, you need to make it clear in the text this person is straight. I mean you should literally say they are not bisexual. This is one situation where I think you need to have a bisexual character as well so the straight person isn’t the only one showing interest, faked or not, in multiple genders. Remember that bisexuals, especially women, are often dismissed as straight. Like it or not, that baggage is going to affect your work. Get over yourself now before it becomes a problem.
Also, avoid using gay as an umbrella term. Some bisexuals use the word for themselves–I sometimes do when talking about my same-gender attraction–but that doesn’t give you license to use it for us. This happens a lot when talking about marriage equality, for instance. It’s not “gay marriage” since a lot of people in same-gender relationships are not gay. We’re still bisexual even when we’re in a monogamous relationship. So, “marriage equality” is preferred.
It’s also worth noting that pansexuals, asexuals, aromantics, trans people and nonbinary people (who sometimes ID as trans) are often erased and misrepresented as well. But that’s not my lane. I think I might fall somewhere on the asexual or aromantic spectrum, but I’m very new to that.
Oh, and one last thing: If you think queer people don’t deserve the same rights as allocishets, DO NOT WRITE QUEER CHARACTERS EVER. That includes rejecting marriage equality, bathroom rights for trans folk, other laws that are designed to protect us from discrimination, and the fact we have Pride for a goddamn reason. We’re not so desperate that we need table scraps from people who hate us, regardless of whether that hate is out in the open or couched in bullshit rhetoric. Your fake allyship is not wanted.
Oh, and let me be clear: if you’re the kind of person who feels the need to argue with me on that last paragraph… I mean you.
I’m probably leaving things out, so I encourage any bisexuals to add their thoughts in the comments. Other marginalised folk are also welcome to share thoughts on avoiding pitfalls in representing them as well.
“I messed up and people are mad at me! What do I do?”
First things first: If you’re being called out by bisexuals about bi rep, they are the experts. You are not. Accept that. This extends to other marginalisations, as will the following points.
Second of all: That means you don’t get to ‘splain our marginalisations to us, tell us we’re wrong or dismiss us. You hurt us. You don’t get to play the victim now.
Third: Some bisexuals won’t be offended. That does not give you license to use them as a cudgel against those of us who are. Our opinions are just as valid as theirs.
Fourth: It is bad etiquette to respond directly to reviews or engage with a reviewer who has not engaged you first. There is a difference between a reviewer posting a review publicly on a review site and an author specifically singling them out, which can leave them open to harassment. I recently had an author name me and link my review of their book in a post talking about some issues I brought up. This author removed my details when I asked, but it doesn’t always work out like that.
There is a power imbalance between author and reviewer, and publisher and reviewer. Respect that. Books can live or die on the basis of reviews. We serve an important function within the industry and can only do that if we feel safe to do so. And it should bloody go without saying that you should never threaten us, even if we are critical of your work.
So what do you do?
First: Listen to our concerns. Figure out why we’re hurt. If someone offers to explain why people are upset, take the opportunity, but do not demand that we educate you when you’re the one who hurt us.
Second: Process. Don’t go off half-cocked. If a response is requested before you’re ready, say you’re taking the time to process what’s been said because you want to understand before you make any decisions.
Third: Apologise. Once you understand why people are upset, you need to apologise publicly to those you’ve hurt. If you’ve hurt someone directly with something you said to them, make sure you give them an apology as well. Some people will be okay with doing this privately, but many will not. So if you want to apologise privately, ask first. And make damn sure you’re focusing on their hurt and not your own feelings. None of this “I’m sorry you’re offended” bullshit either, because that just blames them for having feelings. Also, you may not be forgiven and you need to live with that. Nobody owes forgiveness when they have been hurt.
Fourth: Fix it. Is it still possible to change the offending piece of writing?* If so, do it. If not, it might be worth putting up a warning on whatever pieces of information about the writing that you control. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen.
*If it’s something you’ve said on social media, you should delete the post or edit if applicable. But don’t do this quietly. The apology part is important. People need to know you care about the fact you hurt them.
Fifth: Make sure it doesn’t happen again. Educate yourself. Learn more.
“How do I learn more?”
A lot of what I’m saying also applies to marginalisations. This is no different. I’m simply focusing on bisexuality because that’s my experience.
The easiest way to get a steady stream of information is to follow bisexuals on social media. You should follow a variety of marginalised people, especially those who talk regularly about issues pertaining to their marginalisations. Book reviewers are good for this, especially if you’re interested in issues of rep. Ava @ Bookishness and Tea has a huge list of marginalised bloggers, many of whom have their social media accounts connected to their blogs. They’re grouped by umbrella terms rather than specific identities but there are some bisexuals in there, plus a whole lot of other marginalised folk who are worth following, including Ava herself. Also check out who they themselves are following, retweeting and speaking to.
The point is to soak up information they give out freely. Unless they specifically offer, it’s considered bad form to throw questions at marginalised folk about their experiences. Dealing with unsolicited questions can be exhausting; we don’t know whether the person asking genuinely wants to know, or if they’re trying to invalidate us or wear us down. If you have specific questions, try a Google search or check out marginalised people’s backlogs of blog posts and social media feeds to see if they’ve covered it before.
It also helps to read bisexuals’ reviews of books regarding bisexual rep. I regularly pick apart bimisia when I see it, as do other reviewers I know. Goodreads is a frigging goldmine for this, but you will have to sort through a lot of bullshit to find the diamonds. Gold. Whatever.
I’d also suggest reading work by bisexual authors to see how they approach writing their own marginalisations. My favourite book so far this year is HOW TO MAKE A WISH by Ashley Herring-Blake. I also have a special place in my heart for FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe. I include other suggestions in my Fave Bisexual Books post, but not all of my suggestions are ownvoices.
Reading bi authors writing bi characters is possibly the best thing you can do to improve. Sure, read the theory and listen to us, but you’re not gonna get very far if you don’t know how we write ourselves. You need both.
Also, if you’re writing bi characters, it’s worth getting a sensitivity reader. A sensitivity reader is paid to look for problematic representation of their marginalisations. While following bi folk on social media, you will find some of them offer their services. This also applies to other marginalisations. Ownvoices writers will often use sensitivity readers for their own marginalisations as well. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you. They’re not cheap, but many will negotiate rates if you’re low-income or a student. You’re paying for their time, labour and psychological risk. They are putting themselves in harm’s way to help authors improve their work. They deserve to be paid.
As I’ve said before, a lot of the advice I’ve given above also applies to other marginalisations. It’s best to follow a lot of marginalised folk and read a wide variety of marginalised authors.
Some of these posts move beyond basic 101 stuff, so you might want to take a gander at my other posts linked at the top of this post, before delving into the more nuanced posts I’m linking down here. Some of these were sent to me through Twitter when I made a post asking for posts to link. Others, I found myself.
- Shira Glassman @ GayYA – Bisexuality in YA, why bi rep is important and the impact of bisexual erasure and stereotyping on young people.
- Bisexual Books – What Bisexual People Need from Authors, on correcting misinformation, researching, and trusting bisexuals to form our own language rather than using the bimisic “bi means two” language used against us.
- Bisexual Books – Advice for Straight Authors of Queer Characters, in a similar vein to my posts but with more gifs, snark and focus on growing the hell up if you make a mistake and get called on it.
- Miles @ Mile Bi Mile – Monosexism is Real, We Just Don’t Understand It, covers what the term ‘monosexual’ means (a catchall term for people who experience attraction to only one gender), the furore surrounding it, and unique challenges bisexuals face (some I’ve covered but bear repeating).
- Joyce @ Completely Booked – Regarding Ramona Blue: Brought to You by the Letter “B”, on the bisexual-erasing furore about a formerly lesbian character deciding she might actually be bisexual instead.
- Chelsea @ Romweasley – Ramona Blue Review: Thoughts from a Bisexual Reviewer, an alternative view on this book that led me to take it off my TBR. However, I think Joyce’s article is still important so I’m sharing both. Also a reminder that marginalised people will often have different opinions. Chelsea’s hurt is no less valid simply because other bisexuals loved the rep.
- Olivia Gennaro @ Books and Big Ideas – A book review on Grasshopper Jungle, and on stereotypes and remaining confused about one’s identity. The paragraph in question starts with the sentence: “The best part of Grasshopper Jungle was Austin’s struggle with and exploration of his sexuality, but I still found that to be disappointing.”
I ultimately decided to keep my “further reading” restricted to bisexuality because this post is getting massive already, however, marginalised folk in general are welcome to share their posts on rep issues in the comments.
That’s everything I wanted to include in this little trilogy of posts. When I first started writing, I had intended to keep it all to one post. The wordcount quickly ballooned, however, and I realised I would have to break it up for the sake of readability. So, “little” may be inaccurate.
These posts were born out of frustration as I read book after book with basic-level mistakes from authors I honestly think should know better. Some of these authors are really nice people, usually on top of their game when it comes to rep issues. I want them to do better. Other authors seem a lot more vindictive about the way they’ve treated bisexuality, but the result is the same in the end. Regardless of intent, pain is pain.
Everything I’ve said in these posts has been covered by people far smarter than I am, but I wanted to condense it all into something easy to find and share. It’s my hope that as the bookish community becomes more savvy about representing marginalised people, these issues will slowly fade out of existence. We’re not there yet. Not by a long shot.
Let’s do better, people.
Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments.