A guide to bisexual characters. Excuse all typing errors. I type fast and I’m way too lazy to proofread this.
Source: my existence
What is bisexuality?
Bisexuality is the attraction to people of the same and of other genders. The precise definition varies by person. Some people may call themselves bisexual because they are attracted to both masculinity and femininity while others may call themselves bisexual because they are attracted to men and women regardless of presentation. Bisexuality can be used as an umbrella term for non-monosexual sexualities.
What is the difference between bisexuality and pansexuality?
Here is a good explanation.
Why is it important to have bisexual characters?
Because there are pretty much no bisexual characters who aren’t sexualized and/or written terribly.
And this is what happened to me when there was no representation:
- Neither parents nor media taught me about bisexuality, but the media taught me about homosexuality.
- Because of this, my ten-year-old self was horribly confused when I discovered that I had crushes on both boys and girls.
- In films and on TV, characters who were attracted to both men and women had to choose one or had to decide if they were homosexual or heterosexual because apparently bisexuality does not exist.
- Because of that, I felt the same way, which left me confused, afraid, frustrated, and full of self-hatred.
- It’s just really scary please write some bisexual characters so children don’t have to go through stuff like this.
Can I call my bisexual character gay?
Can you call your character gay? Yes. Many bisexual people call themselves gay or queer. We do this to identify with the movement or the identity as a whole, but some people just call themselves queer instead of using other labels.
Can you call non-fictional bisexual people gay? Please don’t unless you know this person and they prefer to be called gay or are okay with it. A lot of bisexual people are referred to as being gay, which is erasure and disrespectful.
COMMON ISSUES YOUR BISEXUAL CHARACTER MAY FACE
People Assuming We Are Really Just Straight
This one is mostly geared toward women who claim they are bisexual, with a few exceptions. When bisexual people come out, many people believe they are only doing it for attention. With women, many believe they are saying this to get attention from men because girl-on-girl action has been fetishized and is desirable among many men.
Unfortunately, there are some people who claim they are bisexual for the attention. I know this because bisexuality sometimes becomes a trend and I know people who once claimed bisexuality, and then openly refuted this later on and laughed it off as if bisexuality was just a fashion trend. This trend added to the attitude that bisexual people are straight people looking for attention.
People Assuming We Are Really Just Gay
I’ve seen this happen more to men than to women, but it still happens to women. A lot of people assume that bisexual people are using bisexuality as a “transition” to coming out as gay. Other times people assume we’re just gay because they don’t believe that bisexuality is real.
Biphobia From Outside the LGBT+/Gay/Queer Community
This one is pretty obvious. A lot of straight people do not believe bisexual exists or they are biphobic/homophobic.
Biphobia From Within the LGBT+/Gay/Queer Community
There are a lot of people within the lgbt+ community who are biphobic. They may not believe that bisexuality exists or they may be biphobic. Therefore, bisexual people really don’t have safe spaces unless everyone there is bisexual (because there are pansexual people who are biphobic too).
Being Accused of Transphobia
This is really common. A lot of people believe that bisexuality excludes trans people which isn’t true. Bisexual people can be attracted to trans people and still call it bisexuality. This is not limited to binary trans people. A person can define themselves as bisexual because they are attracted to masculine and feminine presentations and non binary people can fall into that.
Another big problem with this is that’s it’s only bisexual people who are accused of reinforcing a gender binary or of being transphobic. The same arguments can be made for homosexuality and heterosexuality.
Feeling Excluded From the LGBT+/Gay/Queer Community
This includes the last three points made above. We are ostracized constantly and therefore a lot of us feel like we don’t belong anywhere or can’t identify with the gay movement.
People Claiming We Do Not Experience Discrimination
I’ve heard some people say bisexual people do not experience homophobia or biphobia. It’s rare, but it happens. This is not true. I experience homophobia, biphobia, and erasure on a daily basis.
The “Half Gay” and “Half Straight” Thing
I could’ve written a better title for this one, but it would’ve been too long. Some people believe that because bisexual people are “half straight”, we are not truly part of the lgbt+ community and we are not “fully queer” and therefore don’t experience as much discrimination.
People Thinking It Is A Phase
This stems from a harmful trope in which a character, almost always female, “experiments” with homosexuality or bisexuality in college as a “lifestyle change” or just for fun. If you bisexual character is going to phase biphobia from family and friends, this is common.
Our Sexuality Being Determined By Our Relationship
I get a lot of questions that worry about this. A lot of people assume that a bisexual person is homosexual or heterosexual based on their current relationship, even when this person is openly bisexual. Some people believe that bisexual people in a relationship must give up their bisexual identity and choose either homosexuality or heterosexuality. A bisexual person in a relationship with someone of the same gender is still bisexual.
The question that I often get about this problem is something like: “My bisexual male character ends up with a female character. Does this erase bisexuality?/How do I make it clear they are still bisexual?/Is this a problem?”
No, this is not a problem. As long as it’s clear that your character is still bisexual. There are a lot of ways you can show your character is bisexual, depending on the situation. Being in a “heterosexual” relationship does not make a bisexual person “less gay” or “more straight”.
Feeling Obligated to Be in a Relationship With Someone of the Same Gender to “Prove” Our Queerness
A lot of bisexual people feel like we have to be in a relationship with someone of the same gender or find someone of the same gender attractive to retain our bisexuality. This comes from a lot of the problems I’ve already mentioned.
Being Rejected By Both Straight and Queer People
Unfortunately, a lot of people will not date bisexual people because they are afraid of being cheated on and because of other misconceptions about bisexuality.
Losing Touch With Our Identity As A Queer Person For All Of The Above Reasons
Title is self-explanatory.
This is applicable for all people in the lgbt+/gay/queer community, but coming out as bisexual is different (in terms of coming out as a certain sexuality rather than a certain gender). It’s different because coming out to gay people can be just as scary as coming out to straight people. Both are guilty of biphobia.
MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS
- This is by far one of the biggest misconceptions. Being bisexual does not mean a person is promiscuous. A promiscuous person can be bisexual, but the two are unrelated.
- If you write a promiscuous bisexual character, please don’t relate their sexuality to the amount of their sexual encounters. There have been way too many characters like this and it turns them into sex objects and jokes.
Not Able to Commit
- The second most common misconception is that we are unable to make a commitment or prone to cheating. Bisexual people are prone to cheating just as much as mono-sexual people are. If someone cannot make a commitment, it is not because they are bisexual. It is for other reasons that vary by person.
- If your character has commitment trouble, please do not relate it to their bisexuality. Give them a good reason for it.
Bisexual People Are Equally Attracted to Men and Women
- Nope. Bisexual people may be more attracted to one gender than another. It’s not always equal attraction and it can change over time.
Bisexual People Are Just Confused
- Yeah, I was confused because no one told me that bisexuality was a thing and I was confused because bi erasure in the media taught me that I had to choose either boys or girls and that there was no in between.
- But bisexual people are not confused about their sexuality. We are aware that we are attracted to more than one gender.
PROBLEMS IN FICTION
The portrayal of bisexual women in fiction is a problem. Here is an explanation (tw: rape) for just how bad the effects can be. Click on the second link in the link I provided. Here is more information, not limited to one gender, about the problems bisexual people face, including higher risks of mental health problems.
The most common problem I see about bisexuality in fiction is this one. I’ve seen this too many times to count and it gets really annoying.
A related harmful trope is when a woman starts showing interest in other women. Suddenly, she’s a lesbian. She can’t be attracted to men anymore. And yes, even such gems as Orange is the New Black are guilty of this. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember bisexuality ever being mentioned in that show. I understand what the writers were trying to portray, that you don’t have to label yourself or that it shouldn’t matter what your sexuality is, but everyone had to be gay or straight or unlabeled.
Sometimes, with the trope mentioned above, is when a person is hopelessly confused because they find themselves attracted to more than one gender. This character then spends the rest of the story trying to figure out if they like one gender more than the other because apparently, bisexuality is not an option.
Another problem with bisexual women in fiction is that they are made bisexual purely for the purpose of putting in a threesome scene. And they have to be bisexual because the man needs some action too, right?
The problem with bisexual men in fiction is that there are pretty much none who are mainstream.
But what about Captain Jack Harkness?
No. First, he’s not bisexual. He is classified as being omnisexual. Second, he is full of stereotypes. If you want a good male bisexual character, look up David Alleyne in Young Avengers.
Now, the near absence of bi men in fiction does not mean that female bisexuality is more acceptable. Female bisexuality has been fetishized and sexualized. Men have a lack of representation. Women have sexualized representation. Both are valid issues.
If you write a bisexual character, please make it clear that they are bisexual. We need representation. We need people to be canonically bisexual and not ambiguously bisexual. We need someone to say “I am bisexual”.
We consume fiction on a daily basis, whether it’s on TV or in a book. We get our information from fiction and we learn from fiction. The poor portrayals and lack of portrayals of bisexual people has an effect on our world, and it is not a good one.