Writing bisexual characters in YA has become a little bit of a lose-lose situation. Since most YA books have a romantic component, authors writing bisexual characters are forced to make a choice: who does your character “end up” with? If you write a bisexual girl who ends up with a boy, suddenly she’s accused of being “basically straight” or “bad representation.” If she ends up with a girl, she’s “basically gay” and ends up having to represent all wlw. Either way, the character’s bisexuality is somehow “negated” by their relationship status.
The problem, of course, is that being in a monogamous relationship doesn’t change a person’s sexuality. A bisexual woman married to a man isn’t straight, and a bisexual man married to a man isn’t gay; they’re both bisexual.
I’ve been seeing a lot of posts online about how having a bi character enter an m/f relationship invalidates their queerness. Even worse, I’ve seen people saying that heterosexual relationships in fiction already act as representation for bi people in m/f relationships—but that’s just not true! Bisexuality is not the state of being half-gay and half-straight; straight people simply do not have the same experiences in an m/f relationship as bi and pansexual people. They face different challenges and have different power dynamics.
All of this makes writing bisexual characters feel like a lose-lose situation. Even having a bi character date people of different genders over the course of a single story comes with pitfalls. If my bi girl character dates another girl only to end up with a boy, I run the risk of implying that her sexuality was an experiment, or a phase. If she dates a boy and ends up with a girl, I’m reinforcing the idea that bisexuality is a “stepping stone” identity, a way to keep one foot in the closet until she’s ready to come out as a lesbian. In either case, it makes it seem as though bisexual people in relationships are “choosing” to be gay or straight, rather than just being bisexual.
So maybe choosing is the problem. Why can’t I write my bi character into a polyamorous relationship? Many bi people are also poly. But that, too, reinforces stereotypes about bisexual people: that bi people are greedy, can’t be satisfied by one person, or are promiscuous. If everyone wrote bi characters in poly relationships, bisexual monogamists, which is a larger segment of the population, would be left without representation or a voice at all.
Since there are so few bisexual characters, every bi character is suddenly expected to be representation for all bi people. Not all bi people are poly. Not all bi people enter into m/f relationships. But some do, and they should be able to see themselves on the page, too.
The solution? Write more bi characters! Bi characters who end up falling for someone of the same sex. Bi characters who marry members of the opposite sex. Bi characters who love nonbinary characters. Bi characters who are also trans. Bi characters who date trans characters. Bi characters who are in polyamorous relationships with people of different genders. Bi characters who date multiple people of the same gender. Bi characters who end up heartbroken. Bi characters who end up alone, but happy. And, mostly, bi characters who say “I’m bisexual,” no matter which of the above situations they happen to be in.
There needs to be more bisexual characters, each with different experiences and unique perspectives. Bisexual people are all different, after all. In order to beat this lose-lose situation, we need more of everything. The only thing we need less of is stereotypes.