Bisexuality in a black and white world by Jo Myles

Hi, I’m Jo Myles and I’m a bi woman. Of course, since I’ve always been in relationships with men, most people just assume I’m straight. I bet, however, that like me, many of the supposedly “straight” female readers and writers of gay romance are in fact bisexual. In fact, I’m also willing to bet that a fair few of the male ones are too.

Yes, it’s true, pretty much everyone falls on a scale of somewhere between completely heterosexual and completely homosexual, and I probably fall a little closer to the het than the lesbian end. However, although I’ve rarely had the opportunity to act on my girl-crushes, I notice attractive women at least as much as I notice attractive men. Sexy people are sexy—I don’t care about their gender.

oitnbBut it’s not easy being bi, not least because the media hardly ever represents bi people. It’s no coincidence that the terms “bisexual erasure” and “biphobia” are often bandied about in the bisexual community. Bisexuals often become invisible—we get defined as either straight or gay/lesbian depending on who we are currently in a relationship with. The first series of the television show Orange is the New Black illustrates this perfectly. Despite Piper’s assertion that she falls somewhere on a Kinsey scale, everyone else is keen to label her as either straight or lesbian. Incidentally, I still think it’s a fabulous show and well worth watching for its portrayal of bi, lesbian and trans women.

torchwoodAnother television show that got it right—for a while at least—was the BBC’s Doctor Who spin off, Torchwood. All the main characters had sexual encounters with people of both genders, and Ianto and Jack were two bi men in a relationship together. Of course, the writers had to spoil it by killing off Ianto and then having Jack assert he was gay rather than bi, but for a while it was gripping viewing. In fact, it was the way Torchwood messed things up that drove me to start writing gay romance.

It’s important for me to see more bisexual heroes in gay romance, which is why I often write them. Robin in Barging In, Perry in Stuff and Jeff in How to Train Your Dom in Five Easy Steps are all bi characters, although as I wanted to reflect the way things are for bi people in the real world, they often end up labelled as gay by other characters in their stories. Unfortunately, even in the gay community bi men and women can meet a surprising amount of hostility. It seems that many people out there aren’t ready to accept that for some us, what’s between your legs isn’t an issue: we’re more interested in your personality and other attractive qualities.

I’d love to hear from other bisexuals in the comments, and for all of you to use it as a space to share your recommendations for gay romances featuring bisexual heroes. I know there must be loads of great ones out there!

About Jo Myles

jo mylesEnglish through and through, Josephine Myles is addicted to tea and busy cultivating a reputation for eccentricity. She writes gay erotica and romance, but finds the erotica keeps cuddling up to the romance, and the romance keeps corrupting the erotica. Jo blames her rebellious muse but he never listens to her anyway, no matter how much she threatens him with a big stick. She’s beginning to suspect he enjoys it.
Jo publishes regularly with Samhain. She has also been known to edit anthologies and self-publish on occasion.

About How to Train Your Dom in Five Easy Steps

Sometimes the how to train your domlittle head really does know best.

Jeff White’s needs are simple. All he wants is a submissive to help him explore the dominant side that his ex-girlfriend couldn’t handle. Problem is, inexperience in both dating and domming has resulted in a string of rejections.
What he needs is an experienced sub willing to show him the ins and outs of controlling a scene. Unfortunately, the only one willing to take him on is male, and Jeff is straight. One hundred percent, never-gonna-happen straight.
Easygoing painslut Eddie Powell doesn’t care that Jeff is younger, working class, and shorter. Eddie likes a bit of rough, and Jeff fits the bill perfectly. The trick will be convincing him to follow Eddie’s five-step training programme—which would be easy if Eddie wasn’t starting to have feelings for the rough-around-the-edges landscaper.
Once Jeff lays his hands on Eddie, things definitely get out of hand. But it’ll take more than hot, sweaty, kinky sex to persuade him to come out of the closet—especially to himself.

Warning: Contains a happy sub, a confused Dom, a high ratio of sex to plot, misuse of root ginger, and a suitcase of kink. Written in Jo’s usual exceedingly “English” English.

Buy links:

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21 CommentsLeave a comment

  • My first romance with a bisexual character was Butterfly Tattoo by Deidre Knight. I stumbled across it years before I started reading m/m. It took a bit of an odd turn to the religious at the end, but the hero’s bisexuality is really addressed in the story, both through his own soul searching and by friends who knew him as one half of a committed couple.

    • I think that’s the only mf I’ve read with a bi character. I liked it too, although it bugged me that he was closeted work and that he didn’t actually identify as bi (although others labeled him).

      • It’s been ages since I read it, so I could be misremembering. But I thought he did finally identify as bi? I’m sure I remember him thinking about different periods of his life, and how his attractions shifted a bit up and down the scale.

  • Nice post on an important subject – thanks! Also, have been hearing very good things about “How to Train Your Dom in Five Easy Steps”, so I’ve finally gone ahead & bought a copy for my Kindle 😉

  • Great post, Jo. I also fall on the “not really hetero” side of the scale. Writing lesbian and bi women has allowed me to explore/explain that fluidity. I haven’t been subjected to any negativity (thankfully) but I hope with more stories representing the range of sexuality we will see an increase in understanding and tolerance.

    Also, I haven’t seen OITNB but soooooo want to :)

  • I’ve always been fond of the word “heteroflexible.” 😉 I read a terrific article in the last couple of years that talked about the difference between sexual, romantic, and friendship orientations. It’s clear to me that if all of those orientations operate on a spectrum or scale, as opposed to binary options, then what we end up with are a million different ways for people to connect with each other and to define themselves, ways that change over time (or don’t). The possibilities are endless and fascinating. Just think of how many more books there are to write!

    One of my favorite bi characters in a queer romance is Jacqs from Lyn Gala’s Turbulence, who ends up deciding that he’s ‘stenosexual’, which is defined within that society as “an individual who is sexually attracted to those who possess particular traits rather than being attracted to a sexuality or gender.” In his case, he’s attracted to people who are strong and competent, regardless of gender. It’s a fascinating bit of world-building she’s written, and a terrific story. :)

  • Bi erasure was always kind of academic to me while I was still married to a dude. I was always pretty openly bi, out even to my family, and it never occurred to me they didn’t actually get it…until I got divorced and started having relationships again, and one of them was with a woman. Suddenly, the narrative in at least some of their minds was that I was *actually* a lesbian. And ergo, that the problem with my marriage had probably been this secret lesbianism all along. Heh…then I happened to cut my hair fairly short around the same time (something I’ve done many, many times in my life from about the third grade on) and this was now seen as confirmation of the lesbianism. Because, you know…all lesbians have short hair, and all short-haired women are lesbians. IDEK.

    It wasn’t even the erasure *in that moment* that bothered me so much. It was the instant and pervasive revisionism, the retrograde erasure. I’d tried so hard to be out, to be open about who I was…but none of that mattered once I was actually with a woman, because that equalled being a lesbian.

    At the time those conversations occurred, I was also still seeing a guy. Neither relationship was exclusive or anything, and at the time I had no idea what the long-term outlook was for either one. They were roughly equal in importance in *my* mind. But the transgressive one, I guess, trumped the conventional one in other people’s eyes to the degree that the conventional one no longer counted as a marker of my sexual preference. If I was also seeing a woman, I was *really* a lesbian. Even though I was patently, actively, practicing bisexuality in the most literal way possible. Baffling.

    I tend to write stuff that’s ostensibly het, but a lot of my characters (particularly the female ones) identify as bi, and many of them have sexual histories with both genders . What saddens me is the knowledge that what I view as important backstory about those characters’ self-identification is probably read by a lot of people as lip service. The straight readers see the character as just wanting to feel edgy or hip. The lesbian readers are probably just thinking of those characters as hasbians, since they’re in m/f relationships *now*. Because bisexuality seems, for a lot of people, to exist *only* as an abstraction. When presented with it as a reality, they simply can’t wrap their brains about it.

    • Can I ask which of your books have bi characters? I’ve read and enjoyed several of your books but I don’t remember reading one with a bi MC.

    • I often wonder why people have that almost-compulsive desire to understand the “real” or the “true” version of a person. Not really even to label them–though that seems to be at play, too–but to feel like they know who that person “really” is, and two possibilities are simply not an option. There’s probably a smart-person psychological term for it, but ultimately it’s just a shame that folks can watch and enjoy TV shows with more than one universe but can’t accept a person with a sexual preference that includes more than one gender.

      • Hi Audra: I definitely have that desire to know who people “really are”, but to me that doesn’t mean narrowing things down to one thing or another, it’s the opposite! The complexity of a person *is* who they are. The deeper you go, the more & more & more beautifully intricate :-) Like, you know, you look at, say, a speck of dirt & it’s like, a black dot, but then you look at it under a microscope . . .

        I think the kind of thing you’re talking about is actually more a form of black & white thinking. Reducing things to either/or. You are either good or evil. Flawless or defective. Gay or straight. Male or female. In psychology it’s called “splitting”.

        Wikipedia gives, I think, a pretty good explanation of the reasons for it: “Splitting diffuses the anxiety that arises from one’s inability to grasp the nuances and complexities of a given situation or state of affairs by simplifying and schematizing the situation and thereby making it easier to think about.”

  • Of course Jack was bi! Honestly!

    But yes, people insist on putting one in a little pigeon hole & trying to make one stay there… and some things become so internalised… In the last year or so I’ve finally worked my way round to admitting to myself that I’m somewhere outside the “strictly het” range of the kinsey scale…

    • …and I forgot to say “but that’s probably why most of my stories have at least one bi character in them”.

  • Great post. As a bi woman, this resonates with me.

    Some romances with bi characters:

    Conduct Unbecoming by LA Witt (mm) – she actually has several with unapologetically bi characters

    Dynama: Superheroes Union by Ruth Diaz (ff)

    The first two books in the Promises series by Amy Lane (mm) – the plots are too angsty for my taste but I thought the portrayal of bisexuality was good.

    Snowball in Hell by Josh Lanyon (mm historical – they don’t use the term bi but one hero clearly reads as bi)

    But My Boyfriend Is by KA Mitchell (mm)

  • I really enjoyed Xanthe Walters “Ricochet” which is set in a world where everyone is bisexual and instead orientation is based on whether you are a sub or dom. There’s a small group of people who identify as monosexuals and who are regarded by mainstream society as queer because they are only attracted to one gender. It’s an interesting flip on orientation norms and well worth a read.

  • Sylvia — I was thinking of Cranberry Hush by Ben Monopoli too! Such a wonderful book.

    One of the reasons I am irritated by some books being called “gay for you” or “out for you” is that very often it seems clear to me that the character is actually bi, yet for some reason no-one wants to say that or accept it. Why?

    Delphine — I’ve seen this happen in real life too, with people I know being labelled as “really lesbians” when they got together, even though both had been married to men for years. But I appreciate that what really irks you is that you had told them you were bi, years beforehand, but they chose to ignore both that and the relationship you were having with a man at the same time.

    • HJ, I agree with you on the “gay for you” or “out for you”. Those phrases automatically put a limit on the characters. Sexuality is such a fluid thing, in my eyes, and to assume someone is one way as opposed to another simply because it’s a first, well that just seems false and only serves to hinder the characters.

      As for real life, this all pretty much applies. I know as humans we like to categorize, organize, label, etc., but as varied as we all are is as varied as everyone’s sexual feelings and experiences.

      @ Jo, fantastic, fawesome post. Thank you so much for sharing with everyone. :)

  • Jo, thank you for your post. You write many things that I myself have thought about, too. Even your example of bi-erasure in ‘Orange Is The New Black’ is something I just talked about with my husband.

    ‘Stay’ by Riley Hart also stars a bi character as one of the protagonists.

  • This black&white thing has been driving me nuts for decades. Life is messy. Always has been, always will be. Trying to have little boxes for everything is just messing it up more, because it doesn’t work. And, who wants to live in a little box, anyway?

    Thank you for that post, Jo.

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