Bisexual Awareness Week Series: Day 1 – Previous Posts: Introduction to Bisexual Awareness Week Series
by Shira Glassman
When I was a little girl, it took me until I was fourteen to realize that the way I liked girls counted as that way. Looking back, it was pretty obvious; I was obsessed with the cute blonde detective on Mathnet at age six and the Egyptian princess in The Ten Commandments at seven; at nine I talked about boobs an awful lot (my name for them, at the time, was “blossoms.”)
But I had no idea that counted as anything – because of a highly attractive male opera singer I’d also noticed as a youngster. You see, I hadn’t been introduced to the concept of bisexuality at all. Somehow in a lack of bi visibility it literally never occurred to me that you could like more than one gender at once.
The reason this is bad for bi kids is that we grow up in an environment that teaches that as long as you like the “appropriate” gender, your other attractions don’t matter and shouldn’t be acknowledged, explored, celebrated, or inform your choice of eventual serious long-term partner or spouse.
CAN I GET A NO, PLEASE.
YA literature can play its own part in establishing–or refuting–the idea that clear evidence of a boy liking a girl or a girl liking a boy is inherent proof of straightness. If a bi kid is reading a book and the book acts like bisexuality doesn’t exist, it reinforces that lack of awareness. “Maybe,” says the kid while turning the pages, “what I feel doesn’t matter, and I’m straight.”
An otherwise excellent book throws out a line implying that a boy flirting with another boy automatically means he won’t be interested in women ever… and a bi kid absorbs that. (And so do the straight and gay readers!)
I love how the bi girl Brianna in Dahlia Adler’s recent summer release Under the Lights knows exactly what she is — she’s bi, and she’s in a relationship with a girl. This provides modeling for scared bi kids that they, too, can be confident that their other-gender attractions don’t negate, invalidate, or sully their same-gender ones. This also provides a much-needed reminder that bi girls can and DO choose girls.
That’s the same kind of reassurance I’m going for by frequently writing bisexual characters in same-sex relationships. If someone picks up Climbing the Date Palm, they’ll see in Aviva a reminder that bi ladies can choose ladies and that some women in f/f relationships are bi, and they’ll see in Prince Kaveh a reminder that a man’s past girlfriend doesn’t rule out the chance that he might be interested in a boyfriend in the future. I hope Yael, the bi trans woman in my upcoming The Olive Conspiracy (2016, Prizm Books), will give readers the hint that trans people, like cis people, come in all orientations.
There also needs to be representation in YA for other bisexual experiences – bi girls who have boyfriends, bi teens who have a boyfriend and a girlfriend at the same time. I’m sure these books are out there but I haven’t read every book yet; bisexual-books on Tumblr can hopefully help you out if that’s what you’re looking for. Naturally, of course, we need more of them, and beyond that – and in the meantime – we need our “girls who love girls” and “boys who love boys” books to try if possible to stay away from bisexual erasure or narratives where attraction to more than one gender ONLY appear in connection with flaky, untrustworthy, backstabbing characters.
(Disclaimer that I’m definitely not asking for every same-gender-attracted character to be bisexual. That would make me really uncomfortable and be its own type of erasure.)
My goal would be a world where people who experience other-gender attraction feel just as justified pursuing their same-gender attractions (romantic, sexual, or both) as people who only experience same-gender attraction. And of course, people who only experience same-gender attraction should feel completely justified. After all, the straight world is largely telling BOTH groups to shut the hell up and be straight. I feel that healthy representation in YA literature is one of the ways we can create that world, where a girl will see it modeled for her by fictional girls just like her that her all-consuming crush on a male TV star doesn’t mean she shouldn’t ask out Sarah from biology; where a boy won’t assume his crush on the same celebrity is just “something that happens to all boys” and should be ignored, because a bi boy in a book he read liked more than one gender.
Have you read a book that unexpectedly reassured you that yes, there was someone else out there like you, that your feelings were real, that you were telling the truth about yourself after all? I’d love to hear about it. Whether it’s lesbianism, bisexuality, transness, nonbinary identity, an intersection between gender/sexuality and your ethnicity, ethnoreligious group, or disability, or another issue of marginalization, please comment and tell us!
Shira Glassman is a bisexual violinist living in North Florida with her agender same-sex spouse and the worst-behaved but prettiest cat in the world. (Seriously, stop eating cardboard boxes!) She draws on her Jewish heritage, her childhood in South Florida, and the German and French operas she adores for writing inspiration. Shira’s Climbing the Date Palm was a double finalist in the 2015 Bisexual Book Awards. Her next offering is a short f/f paranormal story, “Wet Nails”, in which a bi lady of today hooks up with the ghost of a bi lady of the past, contrasting the different ways the times they live in has affected their ability to express their love for women. “Wet Nails” appears in Torquere’s Haunted Hotties Anthology Vol. 1 on October 14, and will also be available as a separate eBook download.