I've written before about bisexual erasure (for example, how bookseller categories erase us by labeling the category "gay and lesbian"). This time, I'm spelling out how it happens in fiction which features (typically cisgender) same-sex pairings. I'll try not to rant too much, but no guarantees---this is something that really makes me angry.
I freely admit to getting excited when there's the possibility of a bi character in a story. I write literary m/m (but not strictly romance! topic for another day), and I tend to have a lot of bi characters. Bi (and other multi-sexual/fluid/queer) characters are so much fun to write, and I'll explore why in a later part of this series.
I've had issue for a long time, even before being out myself, with the way television and fan fiction treat bisexuality, ignoring it for the sake of telling the particular story the writer has in mind (frequently read: "I neeeeeed these two hot people to bang!"). On TV, this is usually in the form of simply not explaining why a character previously in an opposite-sex relationship is now involved with someone of the same sex. This bothers me less for the way it's written and more for the fanbase assumption that the character has "switched teams." It happens largely because the show's writers don't make it clear that the person is bisexual (there are exceptions to this, though they often perpetuate the "slutty bi" trope). Another form of erasure is having an obviously bisexual character who is then expected to "pick a side" eventually, or the writers play the "I don't like labels" card when discussing the character's orientation. I do understand that for all of us, there's a coming out process. That's not what I'm talking about. These poor representations almost universally stem from the desire (good) to have diverse sexual orientation in the characters but is done with no explanation or process whatsoever (bad). Don't even get me started on the multiple ways this all reinforces the "bi means two means binary means NO TRANS PEOPLE EVER" crap.
In fanfiction, it's usually to force characters to fall in love who otherwise are not a couple in canon. Again, this can be okay (for example, the writer makes it clear they are ignoring canon or the writer shows a coming out process) or it can be done poorly. The latter is often done by ignoring the simple possibility that a canon character could be bisexual and it would suit their purposes equally fine. It's almost-very-nearly funny the lengths people will go to.
It disappoints me greatly to see the same terrible tropes and stereotypes used in m/m and f/f original works*. It's most common in standard romance genre, but I've seen it in other genres as well. Nothing gets my ire up faster than bi-erasure for the sake of plot.
Dear m/m and f/f authors: DO NOT DO THIS. Please. I'm begging you. Other bisexual readers are begging you. We exist---for real! I promise we are not magical rainbow unicorns. Well, okay, some of us are, but not for that reason. Please believe me when I say we love your work and think you're terrific; we just don't want to be ignored and erased, especially since we make up 50% of the lgb population.
Now, don't get defensive. I'm not asking anyone to out of the blue start having bisexual characters. Heck, I'm not even asking that the word "bisexual" be used. I understand that in some contexts it would be out of place (a medieval romance, for instance) and in other places isn't necessary (it's just part of the story and no label is needed). I know there are some bi writers and activists who disagree, but I'm as comfortable with characters' identities and words as I am with real people's. It's the tropes and stereotypes I dislike, and even those can be done well under the right conditions. Tropes are not all bad or all wrong, but when an author has an entire body of work in which there are no characters who identify as bi or even so much as acknowledge attraction to multiple genders, that's a serious problem.
I'm going to make this a series of posts, both in the interest of attention span and time. Over the next few installments, I'm going to identify two big areas of concern: Stereotypes and Tropes. I'll have a go at explaining why each one is harmful even though they may reflect some version of "real life," and I'll offer some quick tips on how to fix it. Then I'm going to tell you why writing us non-binaries (sexuality and/or gender) can be fun, interesting, radical, subversive, and beautifully metaphoric. I hope you'll join me for the ride and we can talk together about this.
Happy reading and writing! ______________________ *Some authors are in fact bi and still manage to be erasing. This happens more with women who write m/m. Bi men and trans people often get erased or written poorly, in part due to assumptions about both the communities and the readership.