Representation of Bisexual Characters
What makes good bisexual representation?
This is a challenging question to answer because bisexuality, by its very nature, refuses to be put in boxes. And yet representation that goes beyond a character briefly mentioning it once on page 37 still tends to be difficult to find. It’s even harder to find good representation of characters using other similar terms for sexuality beyond the binaries, such as fluid or pansexual.
Bisexuals comprise the majority of the queer community but also have the greatest risk of poverty, food insecurity, homelessness, drug abuse, suicide, and intimate partner violence, particularly youth and young adults.* Visibility goes a long way in fighting the bi-antagonism leading to these abysmal statistics.
There’s still an expectation that “queer lit” means a happily ever after with a same- or similar-gender partner, particularly if there are romantic elements involved. Bisexuality is forced into gay and lesbian molds. But just like any other queer identity, there isn’t one correct way to be bisexual or express one’s bisexuality.
Another aspect of bisexuality is that it frequently overlaps with other identities. Many trans and non-binary people are also bisexual, as are many who are neurodiverse. There are bisexual people of color and disabled bisexuals and bisexuals with mental illnesses. Asexual people can be biromantic, and aromantic people can be bisexual.
The best representation is usually written by people who have experienced multi-gender attraction and can capture on the page the feelings that creates. Not to mention that when an author is able to be out and proud, that’s one more visible bisexual person the community can look up to.
When I’m seeking good, well-drawn characters, I tend not to limit that only to those who use a specific term (i.e., bisexual, pansexual). This is partly to avoid lip-service-only stories, but it’s also to leave room for those who choose not to label, haven’t decided on one yet, use something lesser-known, or are questioning, curious, or confused. They, too, deserve to see themselves on page, and perhaps in doing so might understand themselves better.
Most importantly, bisexual youth deserve representation free of harmful stereotypes, erasure, and bi-antagonism. Bisexuality is sometimes used to denote evil/villainy or as a symptom/side effect of mental illness. Myths such as the heartbreaker bisexual, the down-low bisexual, or the pit-stop-on-the-way-to-gay bisexual are too often used as plot devices in books with characters of other identities. Bi-antagonism is more than just a partner’s fear of cheating, and bisexual characters shouldn’t spend the majority of their on-page time as teaching opportunity for non-bisexuals. Romantic storylines shouldn’t end with a bisexual person having educated their partners into loving them.
This list was created to be diverse, with a range of experiences and characters of many types. There’s quite a bit of speculative fiction on the list because that’s often where the best bisexual stories can be found. Mythical and alien worlds aren’t plagued by the rules and limits of our human minds. My hope is that readers can find at least one book that leaves them feeling like they are not alone.
– A.M. Leibowitz