Beyond the Standard Options: Representing Bisexuals in Fiction
by Amy Gaertner
I originally wrote Honor Among Thieves for an anthology call for Storm Moon Press. The working title for the anthology was In Plain Sight, and it was to feature stories of bisexual characters leading double lives. (Thieves, secret agents, superheroes, and the like. My character is an art thief who meets her love interest while posing as a private curator for a wealthy art collector.) Rather than merely hint at a character’s bisexuality, the call asked that it be demonstrated: the main character should have a romantic/erotic liaison with both a man and a woman in the story. So entered an interesting dilemma for me: how to represent bisexuality in fiction.
A common view of bisexuals is that we just can’t make up our minds. There’s a sort of back and forth implied, regularly moving from men to women and back again. (That is, if we’re not enjoying both at the same time!) While that’s certainly possible (and not just for those who self-identify as bisexual), it’s not the only, or even necessarily the most likely, scenario.
A person can know they’re bisexual without ever experiencing love or sex with anyone, let alone persons of each gender or sex. After all: opportunities for sex and dating don’t always line up one to one with sexual preferences. Bisexuals can be monogamous, promiscuous, polyamorous, celibate, or anywhere above or in-between. In short, it’s about who you are: not who you do. ;)
So, when thinking about writing a story for this particular call, I had to ask myself: does writing a story where portraying a bisexual in encounters with both a man and a woman is a condition of that story only reinforce stereotypes about bisexuals and promiscuity? How can I write this situation in a fresh, interesting way and not fall back on these stereotypes?
My main character, Danielle, has a partner in crime: Jay. He runs the tech side of the operation and stays mostly behind the scenes, while she cons her way in to whatever situation the job requires. As one might imagine, the life of a thief is lonely; it’s hard to have a social or romantic life when you’re constantly pretending to be someone else. Jay is not only her business partner and her friend, but he’s the only one in her daily life who knows her for who she really is. The mutually-beneficial arrangement they have as occasional lovers just fits in naturally with who Danielle is and what she needs.
While on the job, she meets Liz: a reporter assigned to write a feature on the very art collection Dani is planning to steal. While Jay is familiarity and comfort, Liz is novelty, excitement, and the feeling of butterflies in her stomach. When Dani meets Liz, it’s clear they’re destined to be more than just friends with benefits.
I was asked to examine the relationships between Dani and Jay and Dani and Liz for a blog that focuses on menage and polyamory stories. I’m glad I was, because it was a fantastic reminder: that even though monogamy is deemed best by a large portion of society, it’s not the only option, and it’s not the best option for everybody. It’s possible to love, like, have sex with, or enjoy the company of multiple partners. It’s not wrong, and it’s not bad.
So yes: bisexuals can enjoy the sort of “traditional” monogamous relationships the dominant culture finds best. We’re just as capable of loving singly and exclusively as anyone else is. But, just like everyone: we have other options. And exploring those options doesn’t make a bisexual slutty; just human.
Amy Gaertner is a debut author. Her short story, Honor Among Thieves is now available in e-book formats through Storm Moon Press. You can follow Amy on Twitter @AmyGaertner or on her blog at http://amygaertner.wordpress.com/