Today I’m going to be talking about something near and dear to my heart: biphobia in YA.
(TW: biphobia, slut-shaming, brief discussion of ableist language.)
a brief note on terminology
Biphobia, simply put, is “fear or hatred of bisexuals, pansexuals, omnisexuals, and anyone who doesn’t otherwise fall within the binary gay or straight” (according to STFU Biphobia). Biphobia often manifests itself as stereotypical misunderstandings of bisexuals, but it goes far beyond the stereotypes and into the structure of our society. (For more on that, I’m going to refer you to Shiri Eisner’s blog, as well as her amazing book, Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution.)
It should be stated that each of these harmful stereotypes has appeared in my life on the (RARE) occasions when I talk to people about being bi—whether they’re said outright or implied. Biphobia hurts—and sometimes it kills.
For the sake of time, I’m not going to argue why biphobic stereotypes are harmful, but rather how I see them reflected again and again, often in books targeted to queer and questioning teens.
#1: Bisexuals are “confused” and/or on their way to coming out as gay.
Somehow, despite the fact that most teenagers are arguably confused about a lot of things in life, the bisexual character’s confusion is seen as some sort of character flaw.
Take Avery, in Maureen Johnson’s The Bermudez Triangle: time and again, Avery comes across as confused about her sexuality, because while she’s in love with a girl, she knows she isn’t gay. Instead of using this as an opportunity to talk about sexual fluidity and how it’s okay to be confused when you’re young, Avery’s inability to embrace lesbianism is treated as a character flaw. Instead of acknowledging that—SHOCKER—it’s okay to not label your sexuality, this is treated as her being too chicken to come out as gay.
Additionally, it implies that it’s “easier” to come out as bi than to come out as gay—which is not only untrue, but drives a bigger wedge between the different parts of the queer community. Coming out is a personal decision. For some people, it’s not safe to come out—whatever their letter is in the LGBTQIA+ acronym. I wish we would stop telling other people how they need to come out a certain way.
#2: Bisexuals are natural cheaters.
Folks seem to really struggle with the fact that someone can be attracted to multiple genders and still be in a committed relationship. There’s this idea that the more people you’re potentially attracted to, the more likely you are to run off with someone of another gender, regardless of your commitments. There’s an implication that bisexuals “can’t help it” which leads people to blame a person’s sexuality for a decision they’ve made.
This trope has gotten super sneaky too. Now, coded bisexual characters don’t even have to claim the label to get branded the non-monosexual cheater: this happens with multiple characters in Sara Farizan’s Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel (for more on that, check out my review).
This is what I don’t get: why is being unfaithful to a partner considered worse when a bi person cheats with a different gender from their current partner? In other words, why is flipping between genders considered worse than same-gender cheating or heterosexual cheating? Oh right! Because the existence of bisexuality is super threatening to the gender binary.
#3: Bisexuals are sluts.
Bisexual characters—particularly female-bodied bisexuals—are often hypersexualized, often to the extent of becoming the Predatory Queer stereotype.
This stereotype often shows itself from the perspective of straight characters, who assume that being attracted to more than one gender means you’ll sleep with anyone. In Nora Olsen’s Frenemy of the People, Clarissa tells her friends that she’s bi, and one of them “jokes” that she doesn’t want to go bra shopping with her anymore and refers to Clarissa as “perv girl.”
The hypersexualized and slut-shamed bisexual character often appears in gay/lesbian stories as well. In Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, the coded bisexual antagonist treats her multiple sexual partners like objects and uses sleeping with guys to manipulate the lesbian main character. This character is treated as “crazy” and “psycho”—because of her manipulative behavior, in part, but also because she’s going around having lots of emotionless sex.
Nobody’s sexuality should be policed by anyone else. Sex should always be between consenting individuals, and it shouldn’t be weaponized or used to hurt people. But for some reason, it’s always the coded bisexual characters who get called sluts and “psychos”—and it’s not okay.
#4: bisexuals have to “prove” their sexuality by dating the genders they’re attracted to.
This is actually the #1 reason I don’t talk to people about being bi: because their immediate response is “but I’ve never seen you dating a girl!” For some reason, when I character comes out as bisexual, it’s implied—or even stated, that they need to somehow “prove” their identity, usually by revealing their dating or sexual history. If said character hasn’t been with one or more genders they’re attracted to, then it’s seen as proof that they’re just confused.
This happens in Frenemy of the People. When Clarissa tells Lexie (an out lesbian) that she identifies as bisexual, Lexie scoffs and proceeds to ask her “how do you really know? Have you ever even kissed a girl?”
Which is funny, because I’ve heard plenty of gay folks talk about how they knew they were gay when they were four, before they had the word for it, before they’d ever kissed anyone of any gender. Yet for some reason, gay and straight people aren’t questioned when they declare their sexuality—only bisexuals have the burden of proof.
This is just the tip of the iceberg that is biphobia—and it’s going to sink our beautiful queer ship if we don’t address it. I could keep going on for another 1,000 words, but instead I’m going to leave you with a couple recommendations for some awesome, bi-affirming books I’ve read recently and bi books that are on my TBR. You can also check out my bi shelf on Goodreads.
bi books I’ve read
my bi TBR
If you are bisexual, pansexual, or even if you don’t label your sexuality: please know that you can always vent to me. You are 100% beautiful and valid exactly as you are, and no one can take your identity from you. I love you.
Have you encountered any of these biphobic stereotypes in queer YA lately? Know of any great bi rep that’s not on my list (especially bi men!!)? Let’s talk in the comments!