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Queer identities are gaining more and more ground in written and visual media. While this is splendid, portrayals often seem limited to gay people. Bisexuality is, in many ways, still an “invisible” queer identity. Way too often, I hear people who don’t know what it is, doubt its existence, or just plain don’t consider it when telling a story.
About the author: I am a bisexual woman in my mid-twenties who has studied gender and queer theory non-professionally for a few years. I’m by no means an expert on anything, but I do have an interest in seeing my sexuality represented well.
Let me start with a disclaimer: There is no one way to be bisexual. This doesn’t describe everyone by a longshot. The best way of learning is to go out there, listen, ask and listen some more. This article is just a starting point for knowledge and questions.
With that in mind, let’s start!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is bisexuality?
Being bisexual means you are able to be sexually, romantically and/or emotionally attracted to more than one gender. Some people make a distinction between being attracted to both genders (bisexual) or being attracted to all genders (pansexual), but for most intents and purposes, bisexual is the term you want.
For some bisexuals, gender is a factor in the attraction, some are genderblind, some fluctuate between genders, some have a preference, etc. Point is, there are many different ways to be bisexual. The one thing they all have in common is the sexual attraction to more than one gender.
Isn’t it just a phase?
While it’s true that some gay people identify as bi before coming fully out, and that some straight people identify temporarily as bi, bisexuality is a completely legitimate orientation. Bi adults tend to stay bi.
Part of the “phase” idea comes from the fact that most bisexuals indeed settle down with a person of a specific gender. This doesn’t make them non-bisexual though. It just means that their perfect match happened to be male/female/whatever.
How and when does a bisexual person know that they are bi?
That differs a lot. Some have known all their lives, some figure it out through experimenting, some only realize when BAM they’re in love with someone unexpected. Personally, up until my early twenties I just figured everyone was a little gay until I realized that hey, maybe it’s just me.
How do bisexuals choose?
The same way as everyone else. We meet someone fantastic, and we decide that we want a relationship with them.
Aren’t you just greedy?
No, no and also no. Bisexuals are not attracted to everyone. We can be attracted to anyone regardless of gender, but we still have taste and standards. The specific standards depend on the bi individual, just like libido, faithfulness, etc. - all things that have nothing to do with the orientation and everything to do with the individual.
Writing a Bisexual Character
The top 6 most important things to remember while writing a bisexual character are as follows:
“Bisexual” is not a personality trait, nor does it say anything distinctive about the character apart from their shipping potential. Sexuality informs personality, sure, but just like you can’t base a character around their hair color, you can’t base a character solely around their sexuality. Flesh ‘em out.
Bisexual people face discrimination from both straight and gay communities. Bi girls are seen as flaky teases or “drunken straight girls”. Bi guys are seen as equally flaky, unable to settle down, or as gays in denial. All bi people are seen as more promiscuous and less trustworthy. Many people will avoid serious relationships with bi people because of this.
Since bisexuals are regarded as more sexual, bi characters (especially female) can skirt the line of Mr./Ms. Fanservice. It’s not fair, but know that a same-sex couple kissing will often be seen as shocking and/or pandering.
Most (Western) bisexuals live happy, well-adjusted lives at peace with our sexuality. The media has a tendency to depict queer characters in a very dramatic and traumatised light, and there is some truth to this (e.g. the suicide rate among bisexual teens is higher than for both straight and gay teens), but the angst is currently overexposed in media. The angsty queer story needs some spotlight, but it isn’t groundbreaking or edgy anymore.
Related to this, be careful about killing off one half of a same-sex couple. It has been done. A LOT. I’m not saying it can’t be done well, but it leaves me a bad taste in the mouth to see just how many storytellers don’t believe I deserve a happy ending.
If your bisexual character is the only non-monosexual person in the story, be prepared for extra scrutiny and criticism (as this character will stand as ambassador for your view on bisexual people). Avoid this by having a broader selection of LGBT+ characters.
How to Out a Bisexual Character
It can be tricky to out bisexual characters, especially if they’re uncoupled by the time of writing. Here are some easy ways:
Casual outing. Mention same-sex partners/exes in passing. “Yeah, my ex always did so-and-so. S/he was crazy!”. Date stories are also good fuel here. This is the most casual way of coming out.
Sexy outing. Let the character join in on “that person is so hot!” conversations, or have them hit on someone of the same gender. This type of outing may be at little ambiguous, at least to the other characters, and it emphasizes the sexual aspect of the identity. But it can be a fun way.
Explicit outing. Let the character explicitly and directly out themselves. This may be in response to some bigoted speech (“whoa dude, you know it’s me you’re talking about, right?”), during a relevant conversation point (“Actually, since I’m bi, I know so-and-so”), or it might be a bigger gesture (“Since you’re my friend, you deserve to know”). There are lots of reasons one might bring it up.
Forced/accidental outing. Someone else outs the character. This might be an enemy throwing it in your character’s face, a friend who slips up and mentions it, someone who comes across old love letters, etc. Depending on setting and other characters, this can be quite the drama fuel.
In real life, most bi people are acutely aware of how we mention our dating lives. We have made active decisions about whether we’re out or not, and who we’re out to. Very few bi people are careless about this.
That said, please out your bi character to, if no one else, then at least to the reader. Representation only matters if it is, you know… represented.
Tropes and Caricatures To Avoid
There are lots of weird and harmful tropes and stereotypes regarding bisexuals. Namely:
The sex fiend. Yes, some people like sex a lot, and sometimes those sex lovers are bisexual. But there’s nothing inherently promiscuous about bisexuality, and the world doesn’t need any more sex-crazed bi characters.
The straight-then-gay. A person who has genuinely enjoyed sexual relations with the opposite gender, then starts dating someone of the same gender, is probably bi. Don’t erase their identity, and the genuineness of their previous relationships, by proclaiming them suddenly gay. Or vice versa.
Crushing on the straight person. While this can make a compelling story, and it certainly happens in real life, it has been done to death. It also tends to cast queer love as inherently more tragic than straight love. Maybe not avoid outright, but certainly tread with caution.
Too Good For This World. While it is a nice gesture, killing off your queer character to make a point about the world’s cruelty has been done. To death, if you’ll pardon the pun.
The Tease. Especially common with female characters. It’s a bisexual person, often very sexy, but her orientation is never stated outright. It’s played with, alluded to, flirted with, but she never crosses the line of plausible deniability. Almost always overlaps with the sex fiend or Ms. Fanservice. Just… just don’t.
The most important part is: It’s not hard! As long as you build an interesting, three-dimensional person not relying on stereotypes (the way all characters should be written), you can’t mess it up. And the world sorely needs good bi characters, so you will be doing both the queer and the writing community a solid by including us.
Also: Please remember that there are as many ways to be bisexual as there are bisexuals on this planet. Sexuality is fluid, and complex, and just a small part of one’s identity.
If you’re interested in reading more, here are some good starting points:
Diversity Cross-Check, a tumblr introducing writers to marginalised people that they can ask questions (find the “bisexual” tag)
I will also be delighted to answer questions through my own blog or this post’s notes.
Now go forth, and write great bisexual characters!
talk street magic to me
drawing power from the metro lines
illusionists busking illegally, shimmering lights disintegrating as they run
plant mages tending tiny rooftop and windowbox gardens
elementary school kids learning basic sigils on the playground
wixen taking a while to key into the magic in new cities when they move
alchemists dealing on the side to support their experiments
middle schoolers making friendship talismans and amulets for everyone
numerologists who’ll do your math homework for $5 or divine your fortune for $10
kids mass-texting luck and speed spells when their parties get broken up by the cops
Hell yeah, let’s talk about magic.
Like elementary kids learning silly (or inappropriate) charms from each other on the bus, the same way we learned our first swear words. Clapping games across the bus aisle, but with spells instead of rhymes.
Worrying that your friend is getting into dark magic, but not knowing how to talk to them about it. Intervention programs for kids abusing hexes and runes, because magic has given them control over something for once in their life, and they’re starting to make some dangerous choices.
Psychic teachers knowing when you’re cheating. Knowing when you’re having trouble with homework. Or at home. Knowing when you need tutoring or an AP course because you’re just not being challenged or a different teaching method because you can’t process what you’re learning in class no matter how hard you try, and the teacher tells you it’s okay, they know. They know.
Magic graffiti. Graffiti in wild places, and graffiti that vanishes when certain people roll by like the police. Or graffiti that only appears when the police walk by to insult them. Murals. Swirling, living murals on the sides of buildings. Murals that—if you listen closely—can be heard, not just seen.
In the evenings, kids hiding out in someone’s backyard or an alley passing around a joint and casting minor illusions to watch while high.
Chalk artists making works that are so realistic, they come to life off of the sidewalk.
One man bands in the park, with instruments floating around playing themselves.
Punk concerts in empty lots with amped out music and lights, but noise-cancelling spells and illusion hide them in plain sight from anyone outside of the lot.
Mediums predicting people in need, and making sure to be there at just the right moment to lend them a helping hand. “You seem upset, do you need to talk?” “Oh, you’re a dollar short? No, don’t put the milk back; I’ll cover you.” “You really ought to try taking your resume to this store. Trust me.”
Necromancers in forensics speaking with the dead to solve homicides and cold cases. Living lie detectors as beat cops and detectives and DEA agents.
Strangely cheap five star food diners that bake actual love into their apple pie, and they always know your dietary restrictions without being told.
Service golems in various sizes and shapes, making sure their magic users aren’t crowded, get medical attention, go where they need to, etc. They don’t get distracted, they can be hollow to hold things like medications, and in rare instances, they seem to develop loving attachment to their users despite not being alive.
Little old landladies who dabble in witchcraft brewing homeopathic remedies for people in their apartment complex.
Street magic is an amazing concept.
Cars with paintjobs covered in sigils, protecting them and others from harm.
Churches that are literal sanctuary, backed up with wards to prevent violence being done within their walls.
Practitioners of Sympathetic Magic using company logos to invoke the associated concepts - a nike tattoo makes you faster, something stamped with “Nokia” is more durable.
The old leylines don’t work, but the highways, train lines, water mains and high-tension cables do the trick.
just. Magic Conventions.
All of this please.
Oh man. Cops facing the Rule of Returns Parrot familiars that learn new languages faster them their witches. Grocery stores that alter prices based on what can be afforded. Carnies that are so used to traveling that being on one line makes them itch.
Pirates and sailors of the past were a very superstitious bunch! Here are just a few of thing they believed would get you a safe journey across the ocean and probably a nice bit of loot at the end of it.
1.) Women or no women?
It was traditionally believed that having a woman aboard a ship was unlucky as she was thought to distract the sailors from their duty and therefore anger the sea. Ironically, having a naked woman aboard was lucky because she would calm the sea. Ships tended to have a bare breasted figure of a woman on the front of the vessel as it was believed her bare breasts would “shame the stormy seas into calm” while her open eyes would guide the sailors to their destination safely.
2.) Which day to sail…
There was a whole host of days where a superstitious sailor would refuse to take to the seas here are just a few of them…
-Never sail on a Friday, it was the day Jesus was crucified on.
-Never sail on a Thursday, it was named after the Norse god of thunder Thor and therefore associated with bad weather.
-Never voyage into the seas on the first Monday of April as this is the day when Cain slew Abel.
-Don’t start your journey on second Monday of August as this is when the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.
-Never sail on December 31st as that day is associated with Judas Iscariot hanging himself.
…So when can a sailor actually set sail you ask? Sunday! Sundays were thought to be the only safe day to start a voyage on and this was further tied in with the Christian ideology, as this is the day Jesus was resurrected.
3.) The Secret Language of Tattoo’s
It’s thought that European sailors getting tattoos originated after Captain Cooks voyages to islands in the pacific ocean after learning the skill from the island’s native tribes. Ever since tattoos have always acted as sign post for where a sailor had voyaged and as a lucky omen. For example, a pig or a hen tattoo was thought to bring luck a sailor in the midst of ship wreck. Despite neither animal being able to swim, sailors believed God would look upon the wreck see and animal who couldn’t swim and therefore take mercy and relocate the sailor to dry land
4.) So no pets?
Animals were a sore issue for sailors, some were lucky while others marked instant disaster.
A few of the good ones were…
Dolphins - Man’s best friend (at least at sea). Dolphins were thought to have the good fortunes of man in mind and their presence meant you were under their capable protection.
Swallows - With swallows being a land based bird, they signalled that land was close by and therefore your destination.
Black cats - While on land they were often thought to be unlucky at sea they were quite the opposite. As well as keeping the rodents at bay and food stocks safe Black cats were thought to posses miraculous powers that would protect ships from terrible weather. Sailors wives would often even keep a black cat at home in the hope it would help their seafaring husband. (You can read more about cats in a later post!!!)
And a couple of of the not so lucky ones…
Sharks - Sharks were thought to be able to sense death so if there was a few sailing around the ship things weren’t looking so good for someone or other in the crew.
Albatross- The albatross and other sea birds were thought to hold the souls of dead sailors, so to kill one was a bad omen. The albatross is one of the most well known after being depicted in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
6.) Don’t Whistle while you work
…Or you’ll whistle up the wind and cause a storm. To whistle on ship was to challenge the wind itself
7.) Say no to bananas!
Bananas were considered to be an unlucky cargo to have aboard your ship which probably links back to the 1700’s and the then Spanish-Caribbean trading route. Apparently the majority of ships carrying bananas mysteriously never finished their voyages…
There could be several reasons behind the evil of bananas though…
-Poisonous spiders got mixed in with the bunches of bananas and one bite would instantly kill the sailor.
-If the bananas were on board for a while and began to ferment they would release a deadly poisonous gas that would kill the crew.
-The banana transporting ships travelled so quickly that fishermen on the boat could not catch fish, which was no good for the fishing side of the business!
8.) Dead Red.
Sailors weren’t big fans of ginger haired people. Seeing a red head before you started a voyage was thought to bring bad luck to the ship but if you spoke to red head before they spoke to you, the unluckiness was averted.
9.) And its probably best to avoid saying….
-Thirteen, sailors had to say 12 and 1
-“Drowned”, “drowned at sea”, “goodbye” all these were said to tempt fate and an early death.
-Good luck, it was thought to bring bad luck instead and to reverse it you had to draw blood. So expect a punch or a knife wound if you wish a sailor from history good luck!.
10.) Mermaids and Monsters
The seas were thought to be racked up with a whole host of mythological creatures (so many another post would be needed to cover them all!), including sirens who would lure sailors to their death with their enchanting tones, legendary sea monster like the Kraken and of course sea hell, Davy Jones’s Locker. The locker was an idiom for the bottom of ocean where all shipwrecks ended up so it became associated with death in the sailing world.