A month or so ago, there was an extremely controversial post—which I won’t go into the details of because it has since been removed—about the possibility or otherwise of writing bisexual romance. The original post upset a lot of people because it claimed a lot of things that that, well, this is where it gets complicated as this is now me talking about something somebody else said a while ago and has done their best to unsay and probably didn’t say very clearly at the time.
Basically I think the original post said a number of insensitive things, some of which the poster probably didn’t believe and some of which the poster probably did believe, but in that really problematic unexamined way where you haven’t thought enough about an issue to realise that it is an issue. The kind of mindset that leads to people asking sincerely why there isn’t a White History Month or a Straight Pride Parade to which the sincere answer is “for a lot of reasons it’s not my job to explain to you.”
Anyway, this post isn’t actually about that post. It’s not about whether bisexual romance is “possible”, it certainly isn’t about whether bisexuality is inherently unromantic because Jesus Fucking Christ. It’s about, well, me. Because after the discussion about bisexual romance I started thinking about my own books and the characters in them and I realised that, while I’ve actually written a lot of characters who are, on some level, attracted to both men and women, I’ve managed to completely fail to write a single major viewpoint character who identifies as bisexual.
And part of this is obviously that fictional characters, especially fictional characters who have giant tentacle monsters or crazy killer vampires to worry about, don’t necessarily spend much time expositing their perception of their own sexualities. And part of it is that several of my books are set in historical periods where the labels we apply to sexuality in the twenty-first century just don’t exist (Dil in Prosperity has no gender-based sexual preferences, but ‘bisexual’ isn’t a word he has access to, even if would choose to use it). But, thinking about it, several characters in my contemps (both published and forthcoming) do actually talk about their sexualities and do actually explicitly not identify as bisexual, despite being—as it were—entitled to do so.
I think this comes down to my personal preferred ways of thinking about sexuality. Essentially I tend to lump “bi” in with “straight” and “gay” as labels I consider unhelpfully reductive. So if I’m going to write a character who doesn’t identify as straightforwardly gay or straight, I will tend not to have them identify as bi either because I invest strongly in a fluid understanding of sexuality that isn’t really encompassed by any of those terms. But this does mean that I have, purely by accident, managed to avoid writing any actual characters who define as bisexual and I am, on reflection, aware that this is a problem.
And, obviously, there’s a fine line to walk here and you don’t want to treat people like kale, and I’m definitely not going to sit down tomorrow with a big cup of tea and say “Right, now I shall the book with a bisexual protagonist. It shall be called The Adventures of Billy the Bisexual” because that would be horrible. But I do feel that if you are sincere about taking these sort of issues seriously then you do, on some level, need to consciously address your own thinking. Our minds naturally trap us into patterns behaviour that reinforce themselves. And while it feels disingenuous and faintly patronising to make an effort to do something that should really be baseline we, well, kind of have to. Especially when it comes to words and names and labels because our reactions to these things are so instinctive and visceral that it’s genuinely difficult to imagine other people reacting differently to us. Bisexual as a label doesn’t mean much to me so it’s easy for me to forget that it means a lot to other people.
Unfortunately, books being what they are, and writing being what it is, it’s a problem that I’m not really in any position to fix any time soon, since (spoiler alert) pretty much every book you’ll be seeing from me in the next year or so has basically already been written. I’ve got books lined up with major characters who identify as pansexual, generically queer and Really Not Sure, all of which I feel are valid sexual identities and worth expressing. But I do think I’ve missed a trick by failing to write anybody who is attracted to men and women and uncomplicatedly feels that the word ‘bisexual’ encompasses their sexuality perfectly well thank you very much.
Looking back on this blog post, I honestly find myself wondering whether it’s appropriate to publish it or not. While I think it’s really important to reflect on what you do and how it might be impacting other people, I tend to feel that this sort of thing is best done in private. Because, frankly, otherwise it can look massively self-aggrandising. Even if the conclusion I come here to is that I’ve slightly messed up and should do better in future, I can completely see that publishing this looks I’m trying to score points about how totally self-aware I’m being.
But I’m doing it anyway because I actually do want to get something on record here. And I’m obviously not setting myself a SMART target (must have written at least 3 bi protagonists by 2018) but I think sometimes saying something in public makes you slightly more inclined to follow through on it.
So watch this space. But, um, not too closely.