It baffles me how many people still don’t see bisexuality as a legitimate phenomenon. Bisexual women are either accused of trying to sound more interesting (if they’re with men) or of being insufficiently committed to lesbianism (if they’re with women), while bisexual men are often viewed as “not ripe yet”, and are assumed to be on the path to coming out as gay. Straight people look me, an out bisexual woman, in the eye and state a fictional character’s history with women as evidence of the implausibility of slash. That’s how bisexuality works. History with one gender does not invalidate the possibility of future relationships with another!
When I set out to write Climbing the Date Palm, the sequel to my queer feminist fantasy novel The Second Mango, one thing I very much wanted to do with Prince Kaveh was to create a character who was unmistakably bisexual. I didn’t want readers to be able to argue it away or ignore it. I also didn’t want to give in to the idea that in order to be unmistakably bi, you have to be in a relationship with more than one gender at the same time.
What resulted was a story about a bisexual man who rises from the ashes of his father’s verbal abuse, his anxiety, and his former fiancée’s biphobic rejection to forge not only a strong, passionate romance with the man of his dreams but also a great friendship with the bisexual woman who teaches him that he’s stronger than he thinks he is.
Date Palm may have a lesbian lead, Queen Shulamit, but from the very first paragraph, bisexual characters are front and center. The queen’s bisexual girlfriend and personal chef, Aviva, discovers Prince Kaveh unconscious and bleeding on the back of a wandering horse. When she brings him back to the palace, she and the queen find out that he’s come to them for help because his father threw his boyfriend in prison and scheduled him to die. This is a story about queer people helping other queer people and becoming a family of choice with them, about women rescuing men for once, and about learning to overcome anxiety.
The world of the Mangoverse is a reflection of lots of elements present in my real life that I don’t often see reflected in mainstream media fiction. My spouse is gluten-intolerant and one of my best friends is allergic to chicken (and apples, and cheese!) Finding a safe meal, especially in other people’s homes or in restaurants, is a constant worry. Queen Shulamit, the series’ lead, can eat neither gluten nor chicken, and it’s been very fulfilling to be able to express some of these very practical, real-life issues in a fantasy setting. In fact, they’re the germ seed of the f/f romance at the series’ core – Aviva was the first person to figure out why Shulamit was spending most of her time sick and miserable. As a side-effect, it’s also been extremely rewarding to use Aviva to show a bisexual woman being selfless, caring, and competent, in contrast with the flaky, unreliable, and selfish tropes we’re often told we are.
Another soapbox of mine is body diversity. Aviva is not thin, and Kaveh’s boyfriend Farzin is unmistakably fat (as is the secondary lead of book three, A Harvest of Ripe Figs, which comes out in January.) My fat characters are never greedy, smelly, or the butt of jokes. Prince Kaveh’s own views on fatness evolve through the book, as he moves through “handsome on the inside” to “wait, why can’t a fat guy be handsome on the outside, too?” Farzin, like Esther from book three, is depicted as worthy of love and there is no “dieting” or “weight loss” narrative for either one of them.
Date Palm also has aromantic, polyamorous representation. There are two shapeshifting witches in the book, and one of them, Eshvat, is a business-owner in her late forties who has fun with random men but forms her close attachments with her platonic female friends. She was created as a foil for the book’s two monogamous bi characters, so that my insistence that bisexuality doesn’t have to equal polyamory didn’t come off as a rejection of polyamory.
I can’t tell you how good I feel when I get notes from readers telling me “thank you for writing a brown, busty, bisexual caregiver, because that’s me and I never see that”, or “thank you for writing Jews who aren’t imprisoned in Holocaust narratives”, or anything else like that. I’m just celebrating all these real things that I see that aren’t celebrated enough – lesbians who are friends with other lesbians, strong women who are platonic friends with other women and protect them (as Shulamit’s bodyguard Rivka protects her), fat people who are far too awesome to be shut in a box marked “fat character: contains these three tired traits.” Intellectual labor activists who get in over their heads because their hearts are in the right place. Bisexual people who are still bisexual even when they’re monogamous, because that’s how bisexuality works.
Oh, yeah, and there’s a dragon ;-)
Shira Glassman is "a bisexual Jewish violinist passionately inspired by German and French opera and Agatha Christie novels. She and her agender same-sex spouse live in north central Florida, where the alligators are mostly harmless because they're too lazy to be bothered."
- The Second Mango (2013, Prizm Books) Golden Crown Literary Society finalist for Young Adult
- Climbing the Date Palm (2014, Prizm Books) - "The Artist and the Devil" (2014, Vitality's free minizine, online only)
- A Harvest of Ripe Figs (2015, Prizm Books — due out 1/21/2015)
- Tales from Outer Lands (included free with the Figs paperback, but available as a separate eBook 2/11/2015)
She says "It's worth noting that every single one of those works has at least one bisexual character, and that "The Artist and the Devil" directly confronts and punctures biphobic stereotypes where one of the two short stories in the Tales, "Aviva and the Aliens", stars a bisexual woman rescuing herself and keeping her girlfriend safe, too. I am currently working on book four of the Mangoverse series."