OK, so this is basically a discussion post, but it’s more specific: these posts will focus on various archetypes in YA books.
What is an archetype, you ask? Well, if you don’t ask, skip this definition from Dictionary.com:
the original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based; a model or first form; prototype.
This definition doesn’t necessarily cover what I plan on talking about in these posts, but I liked the title, so archetypes it is. I’m basically focusing on the “model” part of the definition, in that I going to look at various models or types of characters in YA.
To be honest, this subject wasn’t even inspired by a book, but a TV show – but I think this is a problem across all mediums: the invisible bisexual.
With each consecutive year, it seems like books, movies, and TV shows do a better job of including gay and lesbian characters – sure, they often seem to be side characters that just aren’t in the spotlight as much as the white, straight protagonists, but it’s a start. Unfortunately, bisexual characters don’t seem to get this much exposure – and when they do, they’re often slut-shamed because obviously being attracted to both genders means that you regularly cheat on your partner and just sleep around.
If you can’t tell, the show that really inspired me to do this post was MTV’s Faking It. I really like the show and it’s great that it has gay characters and even an intersex one (which I admit I knew nothing about before they revealed that, so I’m glad to be learning), but it unfortunately has a hard time saying or even thinking of the idea of bisexuality. You see, the premise of the show is that the two main characters are mistaken for a lesbian couple and one of them, Karma, begs the other, Amy, to go with it so that they can be popular – but after they have a public and hot first kiss, Amy starts to realize that she might have feelings for her best friend.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a girl realizing that she might be gay – but the show practically refuses to suggest that she might not be gay out of left field, but might be realizing that she’s simply bi. In the second season, her sexuality gets explored more and they even seem to suggest that she might actually be bi, but they still refuse to say it. I think it was the fourth episode of the second season where they finally suggested that it’s a possibility (although I might be wrong and it was mentioned earlier). Either way, it’s frustrating that they’re so slow to admit that her sexuality might not be so clear cut as “I like boys” or “I like girls.”
Another show had this problem recently – How to Get Away With Murder, which is quite addictive and has a lot of diversity, both with race and sexuality – but they also refuse to use the word bisexual. In an episode last month, a straight, female character found out that her fiance had a brief fling with a boy when he was in high school. She got mad – which was understandable when you consider that they had already had an honest conversation about their exes and he never mentioned any male exes – but things went downhill after that because she got so furious with him because she seemed worried by the thought that he might secretly be gay and could leave her as a result after they were already married. He reassures her that it was just a phase or something, and the whole thing kind of reeked of biphobia. There are many people who have said it much better than me, especially on Tumblr, but my point is that we could have had a bisexual secondary character and it could have shown that someone who is bi can be in love with a woman without his past love or lust for a man getting in the way – but they didn’t do that. Instead, they pushed aside the possibility of bisexuality again.
How is this related to books? Because they aren’t much better most of the time – at least not the books I’ve read in the past. Yes, there are gay characters, but it’s like gay and straight are your only options, which totally isn’t the case. There are bisexuals, asexuals, pansexuals, demisexuals, and many others that I don’t even know about or have forgotten because they get so little representation in our society.
This is me reacting to books and movies and such that refuse to acknowledge that all these other sexualities exist.
There are so many ways that we can improve on diversity in our books (and more). So why are we falling on the same stereotypes over and over again?
Why are bisexuals invisible or slut-shamed? Why can I name gay and lesbian YA book characters off the top of my head but not bisexual ones? Is it because their sexuality isn’t as black and white as simply liking boys or girls? Is it because liking both genders suggests that you might have more sex (which is absurd – you still have the same amount of sex drive or simply the time to sleep with people as you do if you only like the people of one gender, if that makes sense) and sex is bad and scary and teenagers need to stop thinking about it? I honestly don’t know anymore – when we live in a society where gay and lesbians are slowly becoming more excepted and states are finally starting to legalize gay marriage (sorry to all you non-US citizens – I don’t know other countries’ stance on gays off the top of my head), why can’t we also acknowledge bisexuals?
One of the many stories that I’m writing right now is about a bisexual love triangle – the main character has thought she was straight all her life, and genuinely likes a boy, but she’s starting to realize that she has feelings for a girl as well. This is the only real love triangle I think I might ever write because it feels so different and fresh – but why is that? In a world where books love to include love triangles, why does it seem like they’re always between three straight people? It’s so rare to see a bisexual love triangle, and that’s just so frustrating.
I’m imagining that I’m throwing the ball at all the love triangles that don’t dare to be different.
I know this is much more of a rant than these posts normally are – or maybe I’m just starting to realize how much use this feature to rant, not that I plan on changing that anytime soon – but I can’t help it. We’ve reached the point where we’re starting to go beyond the regular old tropes for gay and lesbian characters – you know, the gay best friend who loves the theater and being dramatic and all that jazz, and the butch lesbian who plays softball or whatever – but we’ve barely begun to pull bisexuals out of the shadows, so we haven’t even had the chance to begin fixing the stereotypes that their characters fall prey to.
I hope that I can revisit this post in a year or two to moan about the stereotypes that bisexuals are stuck in – like the aforementioned “slutty reputation” – but for that to happen, bisexuals (and other sexualities) have to stop being invisible first.
Is that really too much to ask for?
There, I’ve said my piece – are you ready to step up and wow me, writers of books and movies and TV shows everyone? I certainly hope so.
The GIFs came from here.