Bisexual people deal with a lot of nonsense. Some of that nonsense comes from stereotypes of how we’re portrayed in literature and media, and what people believe about us. Common tropes are that we’re greedy and indecisive, that we can’t stick to just one partner, that we’re cheaters, that we’re untrustworthy, that we’re slutty, that we’re actually gay/lesbian/straight but going through a phase… you get the picture. So how does one portray a bisexual character in a way that provides good representation?
Write a full person.
That’s it, that’s the trick. Have a nice day!
Okay, I’m not going to leave you with just that. What I mean is don’t reduce a character down to nothing but their sexuality. People are more than that. Bisexual people can be monogamous and chaste, or they can be slutty and polyamorous like I am in real life. There’s also everything in between. Being slutty and polyamorous is a bit of a stereotype, but it’s my reality. I write characters who are also polyamorous and a bit slutty. Does that make them bad characters? Is it wrong of me to portray that sort of stereotype? No, because my characters are more than that. They have fears, dreams, hobbies, jobs, and families because that’s what makes for good characters. Who they love/screw is just part of who they are, not all of it. So, you can absolutely have bisexual characters be slutty without it being a negative trope depiction, though they of course don’t have to be.
Now that we discussed basics of writing characters, let’s go over a few ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s I think are important.
DO call your character bisexual.
We want the rep. Seriously. You’d think this was pretty obvious, but I’ve seen writers out there have characters who have attraction and even sex scenes with partners of various genders, but then still call those characters straight, as if they’re ashamed to wave that queer flag, afraid of what it means for themselves, perhaps. It’s one thing if it’s a story of a character’s self discovery, but if that’s not the case then just… just call them bi. Please.
We need to see ourselves in your story and are tired of people hemming and hawing about whether or not we exist. We’re not a gay phase or a straight phase. We’re not an exception or an experiment. Yes, you’re bisexual if you enjoy having sex with women even if men are also involved at the same time or if you enjoy men more often than women (I’m looking at you, Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter). Bisexuality that’s 90% opposite-sex attraction, 10% same-sex attraction is still bisexuality. We want to be acknowledged and accepted in the stories about us, and using our name is how to do that.
DON’T tie together sexuality with poor life choices.
For example, if a bisexual female character starts to date a woman, don’t suddenly also get her hooked on drugs/alcohol, then have her go clean when she starts dating a man. It not so subtly links same-sex attraction with negativity, and we get enough of that in the LGBT community in day to day life.
An example of this is “Thirteen” aka Dr. Remy Hadley from the TV show House. She is a bisexual character, but we don’t really see her having relationships with women until she’s not sober and having difficult problems, and so throwing herself into sex with women as if it’s a vice, like drugs or alcohol. This itself isn’t a problem, it’s that the show doesn’t give her a chance to have any sort of healthy relationship with women until the last season. A simple way to avoid this giving a bad look would be to have her hook up with a man in addition to women while throwing herself into more promiscuous behaviors, so it’s not the women that are associated with the problematic behavior, but rather more indicative of her trying to drown her troubles in general hedonism, which makes absolute sense for her character at that time.
DO let your bisexual characters have friends they are not sexually involved with/attracted to.
The answer to the age old question of ‘can men and women be just friends’ is yes. I know because I’m able to experience attraction to anyone of any gender and have lots of friends I have no interest in sexually or romantically. Friends are important, and it’s great to be able to talk to them about life events, interests, and even romances!
Bisexual characters can have platonic attachments, work friendships, mentor relationships, and all sorts of bonds with other people that have absolutely nothing to do with attraction or sex. As an example, Rosa Diaz is an awesome bisexual character who develops friendships with other characters, as portrayed by Stephanie Beatriz in Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
DON’T make your only bisexual rep predatory.
Some people are predatory, but bisexuality isn’t what *makes* them predatory. I was really uncomfortable with the bi representation in Outlander, for example, because for a while the only representation was of a very, very bad man in the form of “Black Jack” Randall. Like, really bad to the point it was hard to stomach. Not only is he evil, but he’s sexually evil in the most horrible ways, and it very much seems that his sexuality is a significant part of drives his character to be evil, not dissimilar to the cheater trope where a bisexual character cheats because they are bisexual, rather than because they are a cheater.
This was made a bit better later on when another character is introduced. Lord John Grey is primarily represented as gay but professes to be “perfectly capable of carrying out” his “husbandly duties” so possibly is bi, though definitely with a preference for men. He could also be gay and able to ‘perform’ to keep cover. Whatever the case is, he is definitely an LGBT character. Additionally, he is presented as a very good character, caring for others, and generally being a good person.
I feel like the series desperately needed John Grey as a LGBT character to balance the pure evil of Jack Randall, and that took multiple seasons and books before his character showed up. So, not saying bisexual characters can’t be evil, just be cautious when writing them that way so bisexuality doesn’t make them evil and that there’s some other balance for them in the story somewhere, or you might come off as biphobic or homophobic.
So, in conclusion, write interesting characters while taking care not to make people bad because of their sexuality. Identify us, be clear in what you’re doing. Be aware of the personas you’re presenting.
If you’re bi, then I would say you’re probably fine just writing from your heart. You know your experience better than anyone else, after all. If you’re not bi, look for work by bi authors and interact with bi readers so you know what we want to see and what might be harmful.
Do you agree with these dos and don’ts? Do you have some you think should be added? Leave a comment! I’d love to know what you think.
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