(Note: A Trope is a common or cliched literary device or theme. They are not always bad or used in negative ways.)
As an author of lgbtq+ fiction, one of the most common tropes I run up against is “gay for you.” Be forewarned: I hate this trope with a fiery and burning passion, probably more than any other bi-erasing plot device in the history of literature. And trust me, there are lots of biphobic tropes to pick from, but this one is the only one that if I’m blindsided by it will make me put a book down and consider whether my own writing career is worth losing over posting a scathing review.
“Gay for you” is when the up-til-then straight cisgender guy or gal (let’s be serious, it’s never, ever anyone trans or of another gender) falls for the BFF or the Sexy Stranger and then goes on to stop identifying as straight and strictly identify as gay because of the gender of their new love (which again, is not ever anyone but cisgender male/female). The relationship is the only time the character has ever fallen for someone of their own gender, and yet they are ready to shed all traces of their straightness as soon as they’ve had Magical Same-Gender Sex. Mr. or Ms. New Relationship makes them forget all about every past lover simply by virtue of their extreme awesomeness, particularly between the sheets.
In true Yoda-like fashion, there is no bisexual—there is only gay or gay not (i.e., straight).
The reason I hate it is not because the main character or love interest doesn’t use the word bisexual or even identify as such. That, for me, is not a must. Just like in real life, sometimes a gay or straight person falls in love with someone of the “wrong” gender, and more often than not, they continue to identify however they did prior to the relationship (though being erased as gay by the “one drop” rule is also a real-life thing). “I’m not sure anymore” is also a valid option, as are any number of other ways to identify: queer, fluid, hetero/homoflexible, and so on. In a historical novel, I would not expect the actual word “bisexual” to appear necessarily—heck, I wouldn’t expect “gay” to appear either, nor any other word in current vocabulary that wouldn’t have been used in the time period.
I’m also not talking about “out for you” stories where one person discovers or acknowledges things they had kept hidden out of fear, shame, or an upbringing that didn’t allow for it. Those stories, the ones about self-discovery, are among my favorite. They tend to have so many solid elements, and I’ve seen bisexuality handled marvelously well, on par with gay and lesbian identity. I’ve even seen it done well with a person who is unsure or ultimately identifies as gay after self-reflection. That’s not what “gay for you” means. If it were, I would not feel such rage.
Besides being classic biphobia/bi-erasure, “gay for you” stories have one other thing in common. They read to me like straight people objectifying gay and lesbian people or gay and lesbian fantasies about turning straight people (yeah, that’s a thing). These are not stories about the very real, messy challenges of finding our identity and learning to live and love as an out LGB person. They are entirely about very masculine men or very feminine women changing their whole identity specifically to gay or lesbian for that one special someone. They require overt denial of any meaningful past relationships and no examination of whether gay/lesbian as an identity even fits. In fact, the label “gay” is frequently imposed on them by others, and they unquestioningly accept it. These are not stories about people working through complex identities; I’m not convinced the authors bothered considering any options other than straight-to-gay.
We need to ask ourselves why this trope only appears in stories featuring characters who epitomize cisgender heterosexuality. I’ve yet to read a “gay for you” story about a trans woman or an agender person or a demiboy. I’ve never seen a butch woman or a femme man in this trope other than occasionally as the out love interest of the “straight” character, frequently played up for the contrast and/or humor. In some way, the hyperstraight characters continue to uphold cisheteronormativity while simultaneously identifying as gay. It reads like a how-to on being gay-but-not-too-gay.
Here’s the deal. Someone cannot be “gay for” their one true love. They were either gay all along and closeted/unaware, bisexual and closeted/unaware, or some other identity, such as heteroflexible or straight but with a single meaningful experience. One cannot be converted, no matter how awesome the literary sex is. A sexual awakening requires at least some thought about where the feelings came from and what they might mean beyond “you were sexy and I was horny but hey, gay now.” Not every character needs to be bisexual, identified or otherwise, but to deny a real identity for the sake of pushing two hot people into bed together does nothing for the broader lgbtq+ community, least of all people outside gender and sexuality binaries. Think of it this way: Would we be happy with a (cisgender) character who only had relationships with same-(cis)gender partners yet continued to say, “No homo”? If not, then why are we so accepting of characters denying potential bisexuality?
I would love to see authors make the effort to consider whether a “gay for you” character could be bisexual. I would also love to see a book where the erasure of non-monosexual identities via “one relationship/experience makes you gay” is at least questioned if not outright deconstructed. There is nothing wrong with identifying as gay/lesbian after previously identifying as straight. There is something wrong with refusing to critically examine why an identity other than gay/lesbian doesn’t fit and why the gay/lesbian community often insists on us erasing ourselves in real life as well as fiction.