On romance, community, and isolation as a bisexual in a monosexual world.

TW: homophobia, sexual violence, rape culture, biphobia, violence against LGBT people.
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Note: this piece primarily speaks from my point of view as a white cisgender bisexual woman, referring to the behavior of other cisgender people. I would love to hear trans people speak on how their experience of bisexuality differs, but as that’s an experience I can’t speak to, I’m not going to claim their experience is similar to mine. Same with bisexual people of color. That’s intersectionalism, the idea that everyone’s story is affected deeply by which “isms” their existence straddles. Bisexuality and Pansexuality, as I use them, are synonymous, meaning “attraction to people who are the same gender, OR who are a different one.” And monosexuality is the attraction to only ONE gender, for instance, gay, lesbian, and straight.
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Normally, when the subject of my bisexuality comes up, my go-to answer is that it only means “that some of my exes, my current partner would also be crushing on.” My current partner is plumb-line straight. But I’ve had my bi-dom on my mind a fair amount lately, with the violence toward LGBT people getting worse, especially the demonization of trans people’s access to gender-affirming bathrooms, the Orlando massacre, and the person who was believed to be targeting LA’s gay pride event, as well as the everyday violence and discrimination leveled at genderqueer or trans people.
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First up, though my bisexuality is a huge part of me, I’ve never found community in it. I don’t do Pride, because I’m antisocial and easily frightened in crowds, thanks to my PTSD. I’ve never found LGBT-specific communities to feel any safer to me than normal ones, in large part because bisexuality/pansexuality gets such a pervasively bad rep even among LGBT people.

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Even among queer/LGBT people, there’s a sense that bi people don’t belong. That we just “haven’t decided” who we are yet, whether we’re straight or gay. Or that we’re untrustworthy, because there’s twice as many people we might be theoretically tempted to cheat on our partner with. Or that we have no standards whatsoever, and can be fetishized for other people’s sexual gratification, with no input of our own, as third-wheel partners in threesomes, or fucktoys to be used and discarded. Straight people pull the same crap many times, too, but the difference is that when you’re in the overall world at large, you expect people to be poopyheads to you. But given the need for queer communities to be safe, it makes this kind of dehumanizing behavior feel that much worse. Our identities become erased, and we become a blank canvas for whatever those around us think about our identities: which often means we’re subject to distrust, negative stereotyping, exclusion, and more.
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For me, it’s easier to steer clear of it entirely. But it takes me to an awkward place, where I’m “not gay enough” to get support as an LGBT person, but “not straight enough” to be able to easily blend in with a room full of straight people and receive support.
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This sense of isolation has hugely affected my identity, and even my livelihood as a romance author. Currently, the two big markets in romance are heterosexual, and  m/m gay romance. There’s more M/M romance than every other LGBT designation put together. Hardly anyone buys books about lesbians or trans people, and even when main characters are bi, it’s usually an “in name only” thing. There’s never a moment of genuine flirtation with a potential partner outside of the gender coupling the main book is considered, and rarely even mention of exes that might flesh out a more complete picture of the bisexual character’s sexuality. There’s no events that reveal other characters showing biphobia toward the bi character. The character doesn’t even think of such a possibility, during their conversations. They have no fear of it. Once again, your characters are either totally straight-presenting, or totally gay, but with the word “bi” tacked on overtop. “Only gay for you” is a hugely popular trope, acted out over and over again without the word “bi” being so much as mentioned. And given that the bulk of the readership is straight women, it’s easy to see why M/M has the edge; straight women don’t have that… spark… with their heroines that they do with their hero, or pair of heroes. As every mainstream romance author worth her salt says, “romance is all about the hero.”
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And that can be something that stings. I find both in my romance reading, and in my writing, I demand different things from my heroine than most people do. So often, people want the heroine to be a self-insert, someone whose shoes we can easily put ourself in: she shouldn’t be too stupid to live (TSTL), or “unlikeable”. She also shouldn’t be too specific, unless it’s in a way that will allow the reader to better empathize with her- for instance, her self esteem issues or insecurities if she’s a BBW, or whatnot. She’s crafted to be an “everywoman”, with the expectation that every woman in the audience can easily imagine being her.
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But I look for something different. I look for her to have just as much uniqueness and charm as the hero. She’s just as special to me as he is, and if I can’t see why he’s falling in love with her- if I can’t find myself getting a girlcrush on her, too- the book can still be a pleasant reading experience, but it won’t grip me the way that it does the straight women who reviewed the book before me. Many mainstream heterosexual romance novels just fall flat with me, because the heroine falls flat with me. The very thing that makes her accessible to the romance-lovers around me prevents her from being accessible to me.
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I don’t find M/M romance to be accessible for me to read, or write, because I look to the heroine’s point of view to anchor it for me. I’ll happily read and write polyamorous romance or menage, so long as the grouping still has a feminine perspective inherent, but m/m just doesn’t catch me. For me, it feels as though my interactions with the story are being erased, with the absence of a woman’s voice. Two men resonate more deeply with me when there’s a woman with them. And seeing the world through only male eyes, eyes that are often devoid of witnessing the past violence, shame, euphoria, and complexity that defines my femininity to me… M/M pleases a part of me, but not the whole. It’s too limiting. It’s looking at the world through sunglasses, when I’m trying to memorize the colors of the sunset. For me, personally, it cuts too much out.
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Perhaps it’s a lifetime of seeing male-as-default in storytelling, realizing that women are trained to easily empathize with men, and PoC with white people…. but not vice versa. Add the defensively uttered line “it’s escapism”, which those who love romance routinely use to dismiss any complaints, a knee-jerk that only exists because of how often the genre’s fans and creators have been misogynistically shamed for their preferences, as though love is a more fantastic thing than light-sabers and dragons, and you have a genre that’s almost uniquely resistant to critiques or changes, whether from within or outside. Mainstream romance, like most mainstream porn, never really feels like it’s created for me, with my needs in mind. When I partake in either, it feels like looking in someone else’s window, rather than my own magic mirror.
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In my own work, that demand for a lustworthy heroine influences how the attraction plays out. It means I gravitate toward heroes finding the moments of beauty in “difficult” women. I gravitate toward tortured, brooding, sometimes unlikeable women just as much as I do tortured, brooding, sometimes unlikeable heroes. I don’t want an everywoman; I want to feel for her as a specific woman. Everyone’s gotta have their own angst and complexity, so that I can feel that spark as they both see past each other’s masks, to the person within. If you give me a blank-slate heroine to write, I stumble. The words hit the page slowly, instead of in a finger-tripping flood. It takes me much longer in rewrites to refine the story so that both characters have, and feel, that spark. If you give me a blank-slate heroine to read, I don’t feel. I enjoy it academically, but without that swooping joy in my heart that a good love story is supposed to inspire.
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This sense that what I want isn’t what everyone else wants is isolating. Even moreso coupled with the danger LGBT people face in daily life. As I was watching my feed fill up with grief for the clubgoers in Orlando, I was brought back to a memory from my childhood. I was hanging out with my best friend, in my teens. Two teenage girls fucking around downtown after school, wandering around with no supervision, as teenage girls are wont to do.  We were leaving a coffee shop. A guy catcalled us, and we ignored him. He started screaming at us. Screamed that we were lesbians. We’d been screamed at by men enough that we continued ignoring him.
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And then he seized my arm. He began dragging me toward his car, screaming that he was going to “rape the gay out of me. Show me what it was supposed to be like.”
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My friend hit at him, though she was even tinier than me, and eventually he loosened his grip as he struggled with the door handle. I got away, and we both ran, leaving him behind, and not fucking stopping until eventually the shakes and nervous giggles overwhelmed us. As it sank in what had nearly happened to us. We- or at least I- had nearly been abducted and raped by a man who believed that our perceived lack of interest in him- in men- gave him a duty to rape us into correcting our behavior. Funny thing was, at that time, we were two cheerful kids. She didn’t come to identify as bisexual until years later, and I didn’t come to identify as bisexual for a few years after her. We didn’t even consider ourselves LGBT when it happened, and yet the violence that LGBT people face had directly threatened our lives.
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I wish I could tell you that was the only time a man insinuated that it didn’t matter how little I liked the D, I’d love his, no matter how I protested with my lack of interest. I’ve heard a number of other bisexual and lesbian women sharing similar stories. Unfortunately, the threat of sexual assault becomes extra pointed when others view themselves as right for ignoring your consent, because you’re just a stupid dyke who doesn’t know what’s good for her. It feels threatening and dehumanizing, even more than many of the other rapey, sexual assault-y experiences I’ve had, because you can’t blame it on a misunderstanding. You can’t direct your blame inward for how drunk you were, or for whether you gave him mixed signals, as counterproductive as those rape culture affirming coping mechanisms are. You know he heard that no and chose to disregard it, because the agency of a lesbian to do her… unnatural… things is no agency at all. But receiving that attention on both sides? Both from queer women, and straight men?
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It’s a horrible, frightening thing, realizing how just “looking” wrong can make a total stranger feel not just compelled to rape you, but entitled to. And worse yet, if you do publicly identify as bisexual, the attention intensifies. Because we think bisexual people are slutty, it spurs those we reject to even more antipathy and violence, if you dare to turn them down. It’s not unlike the sex work stigma that way. When people perceive you as being available, by your very nature, and they are turned down, they think you’re saying there’s something wrong with them, so very wrong that not even a slut like you will screw them.
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Some studies indicate that bisexual people are more likely than both straight and gay people to experience sexual trauma, domestic abuse, mental illness. My experience certainly bears that out. I believe it has something to do with bisexual people being so heavily stigmatized, even among queer groups. Even identifying as lesbian yielded, for me, less overall sexual harassment than I received with one line on a profile page stating “bisexual.”
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In a dream world, there’d be just as much of a market for lesbian and bisexual heroines, and bisexual heroes. Or at least a market that would allow the ones we have to have fully realized sexualities and histories that intersect with that sexuality.  In a dream world, there’d be more communities to uplift people like me, offer us support, and protect us. We wouldn’t be so isolated, both in real life, and in our fantasies. We wouldn’t perceive ourselves as “not gay enough” for the LGBT community, yet “not straight enough” to partake in heterosexual communities.
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But in the meantime there’s this awkward status quo, with bisexual people straddling the line, fully comfortable with neither side. In the meantime, we do what we can to bring our own unique interpretations to the our work, even if it means that our work differs from the commercial standard.

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