Bisexual Romance!

It exists ❤

So here’s a story: I was scrolling facebook and I saw a post on queer sci-fi asking “what topics would you like to see discussed?” and I answered “Bisexual romance” (actually I wrote a bit more than that, basically outlining my concerns over including bisexual characters in a meaningful way, and increasing bi-representation in fiction.)

So then the other day I’m scrolling facebook again and I see that my topic idea got picked! Cool! There was a nice discussion on the queer sci-fi FB page (I thought so anyway) and I was pretty happy to see such a lot of participation on a topic that is so important to me. Nice.

Then someone made a blog post of their own about it (well maybe more than one person but only one I saw) and their post sparked some more heated discussion, and was taken down. I missed the drama of it all (thank the gods) but I would like to add a little bit. Not because I want to make drama (this won’t be dramatic don’t worry lol) but just because I think the problem is worth consideration, and is important enough that it should be talked about and not just brushed aside to keep things copacetic.

My original question was poorly worded (hey it was a facebook comment give me a break!) but my essential question was: what level of representation in a story is “enough” to label it a bisexual romance?

And the author of the drama-inducing blog post touched on this, as well. It is a real problem, and I think they actually pointed out the root of the issue: When we label romance, we do so based on the genders of the main couple, not their orientations. This is a problem, obviously, and leads to massive bi-erasure. So yes there are prejudices against bisexuals, lots of harmful stereotypes, and even outright disdain for bi’s in romance and, well, everywhere. But I don’t think that is the whole problem. In Romance, we also have an issue with marketing, labeling, and even just talking about bisexuality.

One point that blogger made was bisexual romance is a label used primarily for menage. I’m sure that was a hurtful statement for many. Unfortunately, it’s true. The bisexual romance shelf on amazon is pretty much a selection of mmf menage stories. And hey, I love bisexual menage stories (I’ve written some! *shameless plug* Buy my mmf!!) but mmf is hardly the typical bisexual love story, let’s be honest.

Here’s the thing: there are LOTS of bisexual characters in m/m Romance. Lots. Want to find one? Good luck! Because there really isn’t a way to search for them.

Imagine if there was just one LGBT Romance category on Amazon. And when you brought up a search for “gay romance” you automatically got bisexual, trans, gay, and lesbian titles all mixed in with no filtering. Good? Maybe for some, not for others. Well, when you search up “bisexual romance” you get a lot of menage, maybe a few m/m stories where the author tagged it bisexual, and that’s it. All mixed in, and many of the m/m books with bisexual characters are not there at all. When you search for “gay” or “lesbian” you get lots of bisexual in there, with no way to tell which is which. Sometimes, it’s not even clear in the blurb. And readers will call bisexual characters “gay” as well. Rarely is the word “bisexual” even mentioned.

There ARE bisexual characters in m/m. I’ve written them, I’ve read them, they’re totally there I promise you. For an example, Cut and Run’s Ty and Zane are bisexual (right?) and they’re pretty popular with readers. Yet those books are not listed in “bisexual romance” on amazon. Why? Because the main pairing is two males. So it’s m/m. But…m/m does not always mean “gay.”

Yet amazon (like most vendors) does not have an m/m category. You’ve got to pick an orientation. (Did you just cringe a little? Yep, me too.) Do you pick bisexual, and get your monogamous m/m thrown in with menage and thereby miss reaching the majority of your readership? Or pick gay and erase your bisexual characters? (I usually pick both, but to be honest it’s the “gay” list I’m trying to rank on, as it is the bigger market.)

Representation matters. But so does getting our books to the readers who want them. (bisexual romance authors gotta eat, too)

I’m not sure what the solution to this is. How can we spotlight our bisexual characters and still appeal to our readers? How can we change such a big thing as amazon’s categories? How can we openly recognize bisexual characters in romance? I wish I had more answers. As always, I’m open to ideas 🙂

 

10 thoughts on “Bisexual Romance!

  1. You know, your point about labeling romance based on sex/gender instead of orientation raises another issue that I’ve been exploring recently: cross-orientation relationships. There’s almost no discussion of it, and that causes problems. Cross-orientation relationships can happen when someone with a wider span hooks up with someone of a narrower span, like bi/gay or bi/straight. It can also happen when someone falls in love with a person of incompatible orientation, but they don’t want to give up the relationship, so they try to retune it into something both of them can live with. Frex, if a lesbian falls in love with a straight woman, they may not be compatible sexually but might be able to adapt into a queerplatonic relationship. Ace with anyone sexual is another example.

    I think that, if people don’t even realize this is an option then they miss out on a lot of opportunities, and if they stumble into it by chance, it can cause tension because the patterns don’t match exactly. Just as a M/F relationship requires accommodation of the sex/gender difference, orientation differences can take some adaptation too. That’s hard if you don’t know what the heck you’re doing.

    This especially comes up with bi folks, because while the inclination toward bisexuality is common, the number of people actually identifying as bi is a lot smaller. Many bi folks join up with someone(s) who is gay or straight. And some of the problems in bi erasure come precisely from that lack of awareness about cross-orientation relationships; without it, people have a nasty habit of thinking that being with someone of the opposite sex makes you straight, or the same sex makes you gay. It’s a case where labeling can make things clearer: “No, I’m not gay. I’m a bisexual man in a cross-orientation relationship with a gay man.”

    • Interesting. I had never heard the term “cross-orientation” though it makes a lot of sense. That’s actually exactly what I wrote in a novel once (Love You Forever) and it was a problem, slightly, for my characters. They made it work, though 🙂

      I agree the tendency to not identify as bi adds to the problem of erasure. I do think it is getting better, and more people are identifying as bi now. Hopefully, that will help visibility.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! ❤

  2. I’m gay, and my hubby’s bi. As a result, pretty much all my same-sex pairings in my work tend to involve at least one bi person because… well, I know far more bi folks than gay.

    I have never really sold my work under the ‘m/m’ label, because… I associate that with romance, which I don’t market my work as, and also, perhaps unfairly, I think of m/m as stuff that’s written primarily by and for women, which I’m not. I market my work as ‘queer,’ and that seems to work for me… but I’m definitely a small fish who sells my prose as work-for-hire off Livejournal.

    When I start making and selling ebooks on bigger sites, I’ll probably have to deal with these labels, and I’m not really looking forward to it.

    • I don’t think it is unfair to assume m/m is primarily by and for women. It’s the reality of the genre (though there are certainly men writing and reading it!) And m/m definitely denotes romance so I agree you’re on track there.
      I don’t know which labels are preferable. I’ve been thinking about this and I guess I prefer the gender based m/m to “gay” or other orientation type categories. It works to indicate romance, and it works regardless of the characters orientation. Though using gender as an identifier does kind of leave some trans stories in the lurch. (If I were writing a trans guy and a cis guy I’d of course call that m/m, but what about non binary characters? Idk)

      Maybe someday Amazon and other vendors will figure this all out! Lol not holding my breath but a girl can dream 😊

      Thanks so much for visiting and commenting!

      • Haha, funny, I’m trans too! That might also be another reason I don’t use the ‘m/m’ label, it’s pretty cis-oriented from what I’ve heard. (Though not entirely, I have heard of at least one series with a trans lead.)

        It also might just be a personal preference for me. Working to accept that I was queer was a pretty big deal for me, and so the idea of stripping that label from a story genre seems… weird to me. It brings to mind back when I was younger and struggling with my homophobia by going, “Oh, it’s not gay, just guys doing guy things together and sure those things might involve love or sex BUT IT’S STILL HETEROSEXUAL.” Which is likely not what m/m is supposed to stand for, but that’s how it goes in my head sometimes.

      • Ha! Yes. 🙂 There are a few trans characters in m/m that I know of, but yeah, it’s a VERY slim piece of the genre. And all the ones I can think of are actually trans women… not sure the implications of that… 😦

        Your relationship with the label “queer” is really interesting to me. I don’t identify as queer, and as a cis woman married to a man I likely never will, so I am very much an outsider. To me, the word conjures memories of being in high school in the late 80’s and hearing it used pretty aggressively as a slur, so I kind of love the way it is being reclaimed and used positively now. It feels like a great change I got to witness ❤
        I do think there is a fair bit of homophobia in m/m, though not overt and not acknowledged. Lots of stereotypes, a strong focus on hyper-masculine leads, and your phrase “Oh, it’s not gay, just guys doing guy things together and sure those things might involve love or sex BUT IT’S STILL HETEROSEXUAL.” has a strong ring of familiarity to it. I've read m/m books where that could be in the blurb. Seriously.
        I don't mean that in a negative way. I love m/m and I don't write within those lines and yet lots of readers seem to enjoy my work so it's definitely not a "straight-acting only" kind of place. But there is some of that. For sure.
        Then again, m/f romantic fiction has a deep and longstanding love for the alpha male hero, as well. It might just be a Romance thing 🙂

      • There are a few trans characters in m/m that I know of, but yeah, it’s a VERY slim piece of the genre. And all the ones I can think of are actually trans women… not sure the implications of that…

        If they’re one of the romancing leads, then my reaction is hardcore D8<

        Yeah, I use queer for sheer convenience, because sometimes I don't feel like getting into the nitty-gritty complications of my sexuality. (And the sometimes-inevitable bullshit my husband gets about whether he's "truly" bi if he's with a trans guy.) I didn't get called 'queer' in school, I got called 'faggot' and 'shemale,' so I guess I have different slur associations.

        Lots of stereotypes, a strong focus on hyper-masculine leads, and your phrase “Oh, it’s not gay, just guys doing guy things together and sure those things might involve love or sex BUT IT’S STILL HETEROSEXUAL.” has a strong ring of familiarity to it. I’ve read m/m books where that could be in the blurb.

        Yeah. And I admit, when I was younger and first dealing with my gender and sexuality, I found that comforting, but now I am 1000% over it and find it incredibly tiresome. Part of me wants to just grab them, shake them, and go, “JUST ACCEPT YOU’RE A BIG OL QUEER TOO AND GET OVER YOURSELF!” I mean, it was one thing when I was doing this when I was sixteen, and it wasn’t charming then. Seeing it in grown men? Not attractive to me.

  3. Although it’s not romance, I try to include bi or pansexual, as well as gay characters in my work, because I am, and it can be too easy to erase bisexuality, as you say (in fiction and reality). It can be tricky to fit into a narrative, if you’re not having some sort of poly relationship in there. I think usually in my stories it comes out through reference to exes. I often describe my work as “queer” too. It’s a nicely loaded, trans positive label for me. I guess for some couples, negotiating one partner being bi can be challenging for the other partner, if they’re used to strongly identifying with gay/lesbian culture, and the bi person isn’t. I’ve come across those sorts of issues in real life, so I guess those are things that can feature in a story as well.

    I found it interesting to write characters from different historical periods recently (vampires), as they each have quite a different take on sexuality. For the very ancient characters, sleeping with a variety of genders is not that big a deal, they’re quite casual about it, and less hung up than the modern day folk. Whereas for a Victorian character, there’s more of a stigma, and it’s the beginning of the idea of sexuality as an identity.

    These guys are good on tumblr (not sure if you use that): http://bisexual-books.tumblr.com/

    Cool post. 🙂

    • Thanks! That’s a good point about using historical to show varied sexualities and also various reactions. And sci-fi/fantasy would definitely be another place where we can write outside of current social conventions and limitations. I did love the vampire i read of yours in that short a while back… What is he up to theses days? 😉

      Yes I do have a tumblr and I follow bisexual books! They have a cool blog.
      Thanks for stopping by ❤️

  4. I realize this post is over a year old, but I found it while researching bi romance and your thoughts really resonated with me. I’ve been thinking a lot about bi romance lately; I’m writing a f/f romance and one of my heroines is bi. You’re right that bisexual romance has become synonymous with menage, and it really rubs me wrong because it contributes directly to the stereotype that bisexual people are indecisive, confused cheaters. It erases bisexual people who, for the most part, are monogamous and proudly bi. I’ve struggled with this my whole life and I find it frustrating that what could be a beautiful subgenre is mostly a mess on Amazon.

    Of course, that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with menage romance or being in a menage relationship. I just wish—as usual—that Amazon would clean up their categories a bit so that readers can better find what they’re looking for and we authors can better label our book babies.

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