Writing Bi Characters
Hello and welcome back to Queering the Narrative! This week, we’ll be talking about writing bi characters — but not just any bi characters. Today’s discussion will focus on writing believable, authentic, and respectful bisexual characters!
What is bisexuality?
The most important aspect of writing any queer-identifying character is to learn more about their identity. Even just a cursory attempt at research can give you a good idea of what is and is not acceptable in your portrayals. Because bisexuality is often erased or invisible in pop culture, it’s doubly important to do this research when writing bi characters.
Bisexuality is commonly defined as an attraction to two or more genders; or, alternatively, your own gender and different genders. It is similar to pansexuality, which is typically defined as attraction to all genders. Which of these labels someone uses generally boils down to personal preference, and there’s a lot of overlap between the bi and pan communities.
Contrary to popular belief, bisexuality is not inherently transphobic — there is no “Either/or/both” inherent in bisexuality, and it does not assume that everyone exists on the gender binary. I myself identify as both trans and bi (though I have in the past identified as pan), and do not consider the “bi” in bisexuality to be problematic. It doesn’t just mean “two genders.“
What it’s like
Being bisexual is distinct from being monosexual (attracted to just one gender/sex), regardless of whether the monosexual person is straight or gay. It is not just “half gay,” nor is it necessarily static or predictable — bisexual people often experience their attraction to various genders differently. When writing bi characters, consider how their attraction might vary between masculine, feminine, and androgynous love interests.
If you yourself are not bi, a good way to help you relate to this variation in attraction is to think of how you might find people attractive based on various traits. The attraction you feel toward someone for their sense of humor is likely distinct from the attraction you feel toward their intellect or their beauty. Though this isn’t EXACTLY the same, it’s a good place to start to relate to characters you might not have something in common with! Also, try to contextualize this as a sliding scale, rather than a binary switch
Bi folks can often experience attraction to a wider breadth of people than a monosexual person might expect. Some bi folks are also specifically attracted to androgynous people, or to those who break gender roles, which can confuse folks who are very distinctly not attracted to these types of people.
Since people don’t always expect a bi person’s attraction to vary so widely, bisexuality is often invisible in our society — even if people know that bisexuality exists, they rarely acknowledge it. To them, if you’re dating someone of the same gender, you’re gay; if you’re dating someone of the “opposite” gender, you’re straight; and if you’re dating someone outside the binary, you’re on Tumblr, because those people don’t really exist, do they?? (Note: they do.)
Because of this, bi folks are often grouped into either gay or straight, which might persist even after you’ve specified that you’re bi. Conversely, though, bi folks sometimes forget that everyone else isn’t bi. There are so many wonderful, different kinds of people to be attracted to — why do monosexual folks limit themselves???
This is relatively common in the bi community, but the reason for it is the fact that we’re largely invisible in society. When you’re in that situation, you know that it low-key sucks to be sorted into groups that you don’t identify with just because no one thinks of your identity, and so you tend not to do that to others. It’s less assuming that everyone else IS bisexual, and more being open to the possibility that anyone could be.
How bi folks talk about bisexuality
When writing bi characters, it can be helpful to consider how bi folks talk about themselves and approach their own identities. There are, broadly speaking, three main approaches to this that I’ve seen during my time in the bi community:
- Some bi folks — especially in less accepting communities — choose to use their societal invisibility to “pass” as straight to avoid difficulties and persecution. These people are still bi and still valid.
- Others are neutral toward it — they aren’t trying to hide their identity, but they also aren’t flaunting it. These are the folks that will drop casual anecdotes about past partners or make comments about their attraction to folks of various genders, but probably aren’t out advocating.
- Some decide to be “out loud and proud.” I really respect these folks. They’re the ones who are on the front lines of improving the visibility of bisexuality, and the reason I can comfortably be casually bi. They’re the sort that will wear bi flags at Pride, espouse the virtues of bisexuality, and otherwise just ensure that no one ever mistakes them as straight (or, for that matter, gay!)
No matter what, though, just about all bi folks can agree on one thing: we want to be more visible. We don’t want society to assume we’re either gay or straight, or ignore that we exist. Bi folks want everyone else to see their identity as normal — because it is.
Writing bi characters isn’t complicated. Bi folks are pretty much the same as their monosexual counterparts — they just experience a wider breadth of attraction. When writing bi characters, treat their sexuality as normal and make sure that you’re making it explicitly clear that they’re bi. And, if you want to learn more about bisexuality before you write it, check out the Bisexual Resource Center!
Note that there are some harmful tropes about bisexuality that you could stumble into if you aren’t careful — but this discussion is already running long, so I’ll save that topic for next week! Until then, stay safe, stay healthy, and keep writing!