Category Archives: Guest post

Knitting and Florida in Shira Glassman’s Knit One, Girl Two!

So excited to welcome author Shira Glassman to the site, this time with a guest post on her brand-spankin’-new release, Knit One, Girl Two! God, does that cover alone not just make you the happiest person alive?

Small-batch independent yarn dyer Clara Ziegler is eager to brainstorm new color combinations–if only she could come up with ideas she likes as much as last time! When she sees Danielle Solomon’s paintings of Florida wildlife by chance at a neighborhood gallery, she finds her source of inspiration. Outspoken, passionate, and complicated, Danielle herself soon proves even more captivating than her artwork…

Buy it: Amazon

A little note on the content, as provided by the author:

Fluffy Jewish f/f contemporary set in the author’s childhood home of South Florida. This one is rated PG and features a chubby love interest and a brief exploration of the dynamic between people with differing levels of religious observance. (Clara is secular, Danielle goes to temple and keeps “kosher-lite”)

And now, please welcome Shira Glassman!

On the heels of trauma, I spent New Year’s weekend at the home of a dear friend who dyes yarn for a living (Caitlin’s String Theory ColorWorks.) We were instant friends the first time I met her at our university’s knitting club thirteen years ago, and I remain consistently fascinated by her work process – thinking up colors, naming them, watching happy customers turn her shop updates into a feeding frenzy. Reaching out for story ideas to bring me back to writing after a six month drought, I realized the perfect subject was right in front of me.

Self-striping hand dyed yarn, “Cygnus” from String Theory ColorWorks, with assistance from Sesamee

Sock clubs are a staple of the knitting world. Sometimes your treats are a complete surprise, other than the knowledge you already have of the dyer’s style. Sometimes, as with Lorena’s HaldeCraft, the club yarns come in themes—she’s done obscure fairy tales, Star Wars, Farscape, and the next one is based on beloved pets. Sometimes they come with little treats, i.e. “swag”, such as miniature handmade soaps, buttons, or stitch markers (little charms attached to a jump ring that you use to mark off sections in complicated patterns so you know where you are. Think of them as the tape on the stage in a theater.)

But before you can get to any of that, you have to have the ideas. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and in my story Clara finds it in Danielle’s paintings.

The South Florida I’m writing about is the Ft. Lauderdale I grew up in. I brought a closed Jewish deli back to life so that my ladies can go where I can’t anymore. The museum that forms part of their date is not only where I volunteered as a teenager but also where I first realized I liked girls. Everything I love and miss about the southern part of my state, 300 miles away, is in this story. Clara even works in the box office of the theater where I took lessons, attended performances, and played in All-County.

I’ve joked to my friends that a good tag line for this story is “what if the Manic Pixie Dream Girls just dated each other instead?” Danielle’s Going Through Some Things, so beside Clara’s sunny placidity the two of them might resemble the Tragedy and Comedy masks. But sometimes sad people don’t want to be alone, and the people who let us be sad and social at the same time make the world go around.

I’ve given you a fantasy Florida in my Mangoverse books, where there are dragons under the palm trees. Now come see the real one, where there might not be a palace—just the ordinary magic of “…I met this girl….”

Caitlin and I at AnomalyCon 2017. The rainbow pride colorway is her “Trifolium”.

*****

Buy Shira’s books here

Shira Glassman is a bisexual Jewish violinist passionately inspired by German and French opera and Agatha Christie novels. She lives in north central Florida, where the alligators are mostly harmless because they’re too lazy to be bothered.

Strong Connections: 5 Books Where Emotions Came First, a Guest Post by Santino Hassell

If you’ve literally never been to this site or its associated Tumblr before, you might not know that I am a huuuuge fan of Santino Hassell and his fantastic Five Boroughs series of m/m Romances, so, lemme set that record “straight” (heh) – I am a huuuuge fan of Santino Hassell and this wonderfully written, emotional, inclusive, hot-as-hell series, and I’m thrilled to have him on the site today in honor of the release of its fifth book, Concourse. It’s a sexy new friends-to-lovers romance that can be read independently of the earlier books, although I promise you are seriously missing out if you skip over the others.

Here to talk about Concourse and five of his fave friends-to-lovers Romances, please welcome Santino Hassell!

*****

Buy now from Riptide!

It’s no secret that I love the friends-to-lovers trope. In Five Boroughs, my queer romance series set in NYC, mostly every relationship has initially stemmed from friendship or a strong bond. Concourse, my newest standalone novel in the series, is not much different.

Ashton Townsend, a former model loved by the paparazzi falls for his best friend (who also happens to be the son of his former nanny) Valdrin Leka. They’ve supported each other emotionally in a friendship that has spanned over a decade, which gives them a solid foundation to overcome all the barriers I threw at them in the book.

The bedrock of friendship, no matter how long, is the perfect jumping off point for a romance, so here are my top five recs for queer romance novels where a strong connection came first:

Roller Girl by Vanessa North is one of the most uplifting stories I’ve read in a long while. Not just because of the romance itself, but because the characters are surrounded by supportive people. There are already strong friendships built into the story, so when Tina and Joe connect, it’s one of many positive relationships, which is excellent. Once Tina joins Joe’s roller derby team, camaraderie and attraction leads to sex hidden from their teammates, but I’ll let you pick up the book before I tell you more.

Goodbye Paradise by Sarina Bowen is the story of two boys who were raised in a cult. That’s right. A cult. They’ve barely experienced the outside world and the only source of joy in Josh’s small world has always been his best friend, Caleb. He kept his feelings a secret for years until they eventually escape the cult and run away together. It’s only then that their strong friendship blossoms into romance and even then, it’s a very slow burn. Their priority is always preserving their friendship as they get through the difficult transition from cult-world to the real world, together.

Where We Left Off by Roan Parrish is a great tale of a connection that blossomed over a long period of time. We first meet Will and Leo in the first book of the Middle of Somewhere series when Leo is a teenager still figuring out who he wants to be, and Will is the surly ex-boyfriend of one of the main characters. The transition to kid-sorta mentor, to crush-sorta friend, to the third book when Leo is older and wanting to pursue a romantic relationship, is spectacular.

Bend or Break by Amy Jo Cousins is a series full of awesome tales of people who forge strong bonds leading to intense physical and romantic relationships. Off Campus, the first book, will always be my favorite, because of the emotional support Tom and Reese give each other as Tom hides from an infamous scandal and Reese recovers from a traumatic assault. However, The Girl Next Door is a close second. You first meet Steph and Cash in book 1, and you instantly grow to love them both. Steph is a queer confident badass, and Cash is the dudebro you just want to hug because he is so damn sweet and likeable. Pick up this series!

Housemates by Jay Northcote is a series packed full of friends-to-lovers stories. What I really love about this series is that the characters are always wary of messing up their friendships because of the value they place on them. The friendship dynamics of everyone in the house is very realistic, and you come to love all the characters. Again—check out this whole series! You won’t regret it.

*****

Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author.

Santino writes queer romance that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.

http://www.santinohassell.com
Santino@santinohassell.com
http://www.santinohassell.com
http://www.facebook.com/santinohassellbooks
twitter.com/SantinoHassell
http://www.goodreads.com/santino_hassell
http://amazon.com/author/santinohassell

Why There’s No Sex in My Book: a Guest Post by Dianna Gunn, author of Keeper of the Dawn

Why There’s No Sex in my Book

(It’s not the reason you think)

by Dianna Gunn

When a lesbian romance emerged partway through Keeper of the Dawn I found myself faced with a difficult decision: do I include sex?

This was a tough decision for many reasons, but none of them were fear of censorship. I have always believed my fiction should challenge boundaries and that having your book banned is a great marketing tool (seriously, there are entire banned book reading challenges). I also come from a fairly liberal family who won’t disown me if they find out there are lesbians or sex or even lesbian sex in my book.

I also believe it’s important to have sex in YA fiction, and not just the fumbling first time or the regrettable one night stand induced by underage drinking. As a preteen, I learned almost as much about sex from fanfiction as I have learned from sex in the intervening years. This fanfiction—primarily written by older women, at least on the archives I frequented—taught me about enthusiastic consent, about how to please different lovers, and even about various fetishes. I believe YA fiction is an opportunity for us to teach these same lessons to the people who need them most, because they certainly won’t learn it from mainstream porn.

What bothered me was the idea of writing a sex scene between these two specific characters. At first I thought it was mainly because I personally have no interest in sex with women, and the technicalities of writing a lesbian sex scene are rather daunting from my angle. I prepared myself to go out and read more (probably fanfiction, let’s face it) sex scenes between two women, even started looking at lists—

And then I realized it wasn’t about the technicalities at all. It was about my characters, specifically the main character, Lai. I already knew Lai had never been attracted to anyone but Tara (yes, she is named after a Buffy character), but as I continued writing I realized Lai wasn’t attracted to Tara in a sexual way. In fact, Lai is asexual.

I knew Lai for years before I came to this realization, but it certainly wasn’t a surprise. The only reason it took me so long to discover Lai’s asexuality is that when I originally wrote Keeper of the Dawn, I had no idea what asexuality was. It’s a concept that only came into my awareness about two years ago, which is crazy considering that I’ve been hanging out in queer communities since I was 15.

The world Tara and Lai live in has no word for asexuality, but I have worked hard to make it clear that Lai is asexual. I’ve been lucky enough to have a publisher who insisted I make it even clearer instead of trying to suppress this part of her personality.

With or without the label, I hope Keeper of the Dawn will show readers that romantic relationships can be powerful without sex.

*****

ABOUT KEEPER OF THE DAWN

KeeperoftheDawn_FrontCoverSometimes failure is just the beginning.

All Lai has ever wanted is to become a priestess, like her mother and grandmother before her, in service to their beloved goddess. That’s before the unthinkable happens, and Lai fails the trials she has trained for her entire life. She makes the only choice she believes she can: she runs away.

From her isolated desert homeland, Lai rides north to the colder, stranger kingdom of Alanum—a land where magic, and female warriors, are not commonplace.

Here, she hears tales about a mountain city of women guardians and steel forgers, worshiping goddesses who sound very similar to Lai’s own. Determined to learn more about these women, these Keepers of the Dawn, Lai travels onward to find their temple. She is determined to make up for her past failure, and will do whatever it takes to join their sacred order.

Falling in love with another initiate was not part of the plan.

Keeper of the Dawn is a tale of new beginnings, second chances, and the endurance of hope.

*****

EXCERPT

Lai practiced until well after dark, ignoring the call for supper. She tore a massive hole into one of the dummies with a training sword in her rage, but it didn’t make her feel better. She had spent most of her life training for this day, and Kaiden ruined it with a few words about their father.

Eventually she gave up and collapsed in a heap on the ground, pulling her knees up to her chest so she could rest her chin on them. She forced herself to breathe deeply, using all her willpower to push the rage into the ground. Bit by bit it drained into the soil around her, dispersing harmlessly.

She sat like that in the clearing until clouds engulfed the stars and rain started pouring, one of the last rains before the dry weeks of summer. Lifting the hood of her robes to cover her head, she rose and hurried towards the temple.

Her left foot caught on something and Lai flew through the air, losing her grip on her sword and landing face first in a puddle. Her nose shattered when it smashed into the tough ground, and when she grabbed it to feel the damage her hand came away covered in equal parts mud and blood. Her stomach churned as she picked herself back up, her whole body aching.

Something sharp pierced her back, tearing into her skin and muscles like sharp fire. She screamed and fell face first to the ground. She caught herself on her forearms, avoiding bashing her head against the rocky path.

Lai’s attacker pulled the knife out of her shoulder. She screamed as warm blood flowed freely down her back, mixing with the rain. Fiery agony filled her body, blurring her vision. She gritted her teeth and flipped over to face her attacker.

She froze at the familiar sight of white robes with golden cuffs. Another initiate. Her hood hid her face completely.

Lai gathered her strength with a deep, ragged breath and reached for her training sword. The initiate kicked Lai in the back then stomped on her wrist, grinding bone under her boot, sending sharp waves of pain up Lai’s arm.

“You understand, it has to be me.”

Lai knew that voice, but she couldn’t focus on it through the pain, couldn’t remember who it was.

The initiate seized a clump of Lai’s hair and yanked her head backwards. She knelt and raised her knife towards Lai’s exposed throat.

Something knocked the initiate into Lai’s back. Black spots appeared at the edges of her vision as agony surged outward from her wound. The other initiate didn’t move, suffocating Lai with her weight. Lai tried to lift herself up with her elbows, but a fresh wave of pain knocked the wind out of her. She col­lapsed onto her stomach and closed her eyes, willing her body to die quickly.

*****

Headshot-TouchedUpDianna Gunn is a freelance writer by day and a fantasy author by night. She blogs about writing, creativity and books athttp://www.thedabbler.ca. You can also follow her on Twitter @DiannaLGunn or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/dlgunnauthor/.

 

BUY KEEPER OF THE DAWN

Amazon:
Ebook: http://amzn.to/2nHgqNN
Paperback: http://amzn.to/2o5ZrI6

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/716545
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/keeper-of-the-dawn-2
Google: https://play.google.com/store/search?c=books&q=9781942302476+

Modern Mind, Ancient Heart: a Guest Post by Flying Without a Net author E.M. Ben Shaul

Please welcome E.M. Ben Shaul to the blog today, to talk about the Orthodox Jewish representation in Flying Without a Net, which releases today! As many of you know, I happen to be Orthodox Jewish, so this book and post are of special interest to me, even though I’m kinda lousy about the prayer part. (Though I’m good about the food blessings! And I definitely got a “halachic prenup.” But I digress. You can add the book to your TBR and/or read the blurb here, and buy links are at the end of the post!)

30124943Think about what you did first thing this morning. You probably got up, used the bathroom, got dressed, maybe grabbed something for breakfast. Perhaps you have a favorite coffee shop where you stopped to pick up your usual morning drink. Did you drive to work? Take public transportation? Or maybe you work from home in your pajamas and bunny slippers. Maybe you’re a student with an 8 AM class. (If so, you have my sympathy.)

For most people, their morning routine is completed without really putting much thought to it. But for Orthodox Jews, many of those regular morning tasks come with an extra level of thought, because they each have a blessing or prayer associated with them. When an Orthodox Jew opens their eyes in the morning, they say “Modeh Ani,” a short prayer thanking God for, basically, returning their soul to them so that they could wake up in the morning. Then they get up and go to the bathroom. There’s a blessing for that, too, in which we thank God for keeping the various systems of our bodies working. For men, when they get dressed, there’s a blessing associated with putting on the tallit katan, a four-cornered garment with ritual fringes.

Eating breakfast involves at least one and possibly as many as five (or six, if wine is part of the meal) blessings over the food. Each blessing takes less than 30 seconds to say, but there’s still an extra moment of thought that is necessary. But breakfast has to wait, anyway — first you have to say Shacharit, the morning prayer service. It is preferable to say the prayers with a minyan, a religious quorum, which Orthodox Jews interpret as ten males thirteen years old or above. So not only do you have to be in a proper mindset for prayer, you also have to build time into your schedule for about 45 minutes of prayer before you go to work.

When you stop for your usual cup of coffee, there’s another food-related blessing to say. Again you thank God for creating everything in the world, including your half-caff soy latte. You say so many food blessings in a day that your co-workers no longer worry that you’re talking to your mid-morning snack.

And that’s just the simple stuff.

What if something in the teachings of those ancient rabbis go against your modern lifestyle? What if your modern brain cannot reconcile the ancient beliefs and your modern sensibilities? For example, a lot of the religious traditions assume a male-dominated culture and lifestyle. In the twenty-first century, Modern Orthodox communities are working to balance the traditions established thousands of years ago with the more modern role that women play in day-to-day life. One example of this is the marriage contract. The traditional wedding contract was originally codified in the first century CE and has not changed significantly. By Jewish law, a man can divorce his wife, but there is no way to force him to give her a get, an official document of divorce. Without a get, a woman is considered an agunah, an anchored or chained woman, as she is still anchored or chained to her ex-husband, even if she has been granted a civil divorce. To give more power to the woman, in the 1990s the Orthodox rabbinate instituted the “halachic prenup,” a religiously and civilly valid contract that allows civil courts to punish the ex-husband financially until he grants his ex-wife a get.

In Flying Without a Net, Avi, an Orthodox Jew, is faced with a dilemma. He has recently come out to himself, and he is now starting to explore the idea of dating men and perhaps starting a relationship with another man. However, everything he has been taught by his religious upbringing tells him that acting on his attraction to men is amongst the biggest violations of Torah law possible. Yet his heart knows that he will never be happy following the community norm of marrying a woman. He struggles to find a path that allows him to be true to both his religious beliefs and his yearning for a relationship with Dani, an Israeli who is not religiously observant and who has been out to himself and to others since high school.

Dani cannot fully understand Avi’s struggle, having never been in his position, but he hopes that he and Avi will be able to find a way to be together while Avi stays true to his beliefs.

When faced with a contradiction between one’s religious beliefs and one’s modern reality, it can be very difficult to stay true to both. Many make the difficult choice to leave the religious life behind, knowing that for them it will be impossible to reconcile the two. Some make the opposite choice and retreat from the modern world. But others find a way to live in both worlds. It requires flexibility, and it’s important for everyone facing such a choice to discover where their flexibility ends and what is too important for them to compromise on. For each person this point is different, and therefore one person’s willingness to compromise may be anathema to someone else. So is there a way to blend the ancient and the modern? Everyone has to figure that out for themselves.

*****

 Buy it:

Interlude Press: http://store.interludepress.com/collections/flying-without-a-net-by-e-m-ben-shaul

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2fxy7Ae

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/flying-without-a-net-em-ben-shaul/1123885961?ean=2940153056104

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/flying-without-a-net/id1121128562?mt=11

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/641542

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/flying-without-a-net-3

 

All Romance eBooks: https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-flyingwithoutanet-2166406-149.html?referrer=55feb862851f8

 

Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.com/Flying-Without-Net-E-M-Ben-Shaul/9781945053115?ref=grid-view

 

Indiebound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/%209781945053115&aff=InterludePress

Exóticos: The Badass Drag Queens of Lucha Libre – a Guest Post by Luchador Author Erin Finnegan

Today on the site, please welcome Erin Finnegan, author of Luchador, an m/m Contemporary NA about a guy named Gabriel who becomes enthralled with the lucha libre, which releases today. (Buy links at the end of the post! And you can read the blurb and add it to your TBR here.) To learn more about the lucha libre, read on!

luchador-900px-front-tumblr
Scroll down to find purchase links for Luchador!

Grab a seat for the Sunday evening lucha libre matches at Arena México and you get a great show: Cheap and abundant Victoria beer flows; laser lights blaze; heavy metal blasts at ear-splitting levels; and bikini-clad ring girls ignite the testosterone-fueled weekly wrestling event.

It isn’t the first place people would look for an LGBTQ crowd in Mexico City—and they’d be wrong, especially if an exótico is on the fight card.

In the macho world of traditional lucha libre, exótico luchadores are flamboyant, gay, and out.

They have also become heroes of sorts in Mexico City’s LGBTQ community, to the extent that they have been credited with helping to advance Mexico’s equal rights movement. (While portions of the conservative country still fight marriage equality battles, the federal district of Mexico City approved marriage for all in 2010, five years before the US Supreme Court paved the way for nationwide marriage equality.)

The exóticos represent something not commonly found in professional sports, even “performance sports” such as lucha libre—an arena where gay athletes perform openly with their straight peers. As exótico luchadores like Cassandro and Pimpinela Escarlata gained fame on the lucha libre circuit, empresas found themselves with a new legion of dedicated, rainbow flag-waving fans.

Exóticos are the flamboyant and brutal drag queens of lucha libre, dressed in bedazzled leotards, skirts, and glittery makeup instead of luchador’s traditional tights and mask. They flirt with the refs, bump and grind to dancehall music, and are as likely to attack an opponent with a kiss as with a flying scizzors kick to the neck.

And this is where their story gets complicated, and why I was drawn to this world as the central conflict in my new book, Luchador. Because in lucha libre, gay is welcome to play—but it is often played for laughs.

It isn’t a simple matter of the costumes or makeup. Exóticos are the vamps of the ring, and they play to a crowd that is at once imploring them to attack their opponents or the referees with besos (kisses), while at the same time taunting them with homophobic slurs.

Máximo Sexy, one of the few exóticos who identifies as straight, has said that he decided to wrestle as a gay character for the money. His signature move is the kiss, meant to distract his competitor, and the skirted singlet he wears in the ring is often topped by a t-shirt that says, “KISS ME”. The moment he enters the arena, fans cheer, ¡Beso! ¡Beso! ¡Beso!”

Other exóticos like Cassandro—gay men who wrestle as campy characters—call their stage personas liberating and inspirational.

This is the issue for Luchador protagonist Gabriel Romero, a rising young star in Mexico City’s professional lucha circuit who is committed to being open about his sexuality both in and outside of the ring without trapping himself in a role that he does not identify with. Respectful of lucha’s traditions, he is also wary of the stereotypes it promotes.

The counterpoint to Gabriel is his mentor, Miguel, a successful exótico nearing the end of his career, who views his colorful ring character of La Rosa as a valuable outlet. He also believes that embracing lucha’s traditions have helped him get ahead as both a wrestler and a businessman.

Exóticos in lucha libre date back to the 1940s, when luchadores dressed as dandies handed flowers to female fans and preened as they entered the ring. Today, exóticos are far more sexualized—and athletic.

Do not mistake these luchadores for clowns. Their approach may be camp. Their secret weapon may be the beso planted on a supposedly unsuspecting opponent or referee. But they’re also skilled wrestlers who take down opponents with lucha libre’s signature acrobatic moves: flying scizzor kicks, spinning tornillos, and planchas.

Last winter, I had a chance to watch Cassandro wrestle at Lucha Va Voom, a Los Angeles-based burlesque-meets-lucha show. Lucha Va Voom should not be mistaken for the lucha libre of Arena México or Arena Coliseo. It is abbreviated, and even more showey than the lucha of the Sunday afternoon shows broadcast across Mexico and the US.

Cassandro demonstrated the skills that have earned him championship belts: high kicks, spins, and a swan dive from a balcony that—it was later reported—resulted in a cracked rib.

Though their technical skills can be overshadowed by their characters and costumes, exóticos fight with the same strength and finesse as other top luchadores.

As Miguel tells Gabriel, exóticos’ costumes may be loud, but their actions in the ring speak louder than any Lycra or glitter.

“We give people hope. … We’re not just entertainment. We give people something to rally for, and against. Lucha’s been a part of politics and our social order, always has been,” he said. “Do you know how many men have come up to me after a match and thanked me? How many kids have said we’ve given them courage to come out? We may not be your picture of the perfect postmodern gay or whatever your generation calls it, but we paved the road for you with our glitter and makeup.”

***
Buy Luchador

Interlude * Amazon * B&N * iBooks * ARe * Kobo * Smashwords * Indiebound

* * *

1408250364231Erin Finnegan is a former journalist and winemaker who lives in the foothills outside Los Angeles. A lifelong sports fan and occasional sports writer, she has had to dive out of the way of flying luchadores at matches in both the US and Mexico. Luchador was recently named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2016. Erin’s debut novel, Sotto Voce, received a PW starred review and a Foreword Reviews Indiefab Silver Book of the Year Award.

Connect with author Erin Finnegan at Erin-Finnegan.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/ErinGoFinnegan and on Twitter at @eringofinnegan.

Guest post: Speaking of Us by Rachel Davidson Leigh

hold-900px-front-tumblrLuke Aday knew that his sister’s death was imminent—she had been under hospice care for months—but that didn’t make her death any easier on him or their family. He returns to school three days after the funeral to a changed world; his best friends welcome him back with open arms, but it isn’t the same. But when a charismatic new student, Eddie Sankawulo, tries to welcome Luke to his own school, something life-changing happens: In a moment of frustration, Luke runs into an empty classroom, hurls his backpack against the wall—and the backpack never lands. Luke Aday has just discovered that he can stop time.

*****

The first time it happened, I thought the conversation was a fluke. I was at a backyard party, loose after hours talking, eating, and laughing with people I had known for years. I was happy and relaxed, so I told someone I was writing a book. “It’s LGBTQ YA,” I said quietly, and my voice actually shook.

I didn’t think that happened in real life.

The fear, to be clear, had nothing to do with queerness or writing for young adults; these facts remain points of unproblematic pride. I love writing queer YA for myself, for teen readers, and for the teen reader I used to be. I wasn’t freaked out about the subject matter or the audience; it was the investment in creative writing. For years, I hardly talked about what I, euphemistically, called, “my hobby.” Some of my closest friends didn’t know that I wrote outside of work until I—probably too casually—mentioned that I had a novel coming out in a matter of months. It’s not an ideal publicity model, but it’s all I have.

For a long time, I wasn’t ready to be a writer-in-public. I didn’t know how to answer well-meaning questions about my work when I could hardly push past the imposter syndrome to write it in the first place. I didn’t want to answer questions at all, and maybe that’s why I was unprepared for that first day.

When I shared, I didn’t get questions; I got answers.

More than that, I got stories.

When I told that first friend what Hold was about— grief, queer community, and identity— she lit up and told me about her three-year journey of coming to identify as a bisexual woman. This is a person I have known for more than six years. We are circle-of-trust level close and I had no idea, not because either one of us felt uncomfortable talking about sexuality, but because, as she put it, “it just didn’t come up.”

I’d like to say that we had a deep and nuanced conversation about the nature of bisexual invisibility, but we mostly spent an hour grinning at each other and flailing about all the things we didn’t know we had in common. Then we traded AO3 accounts. It was delightful and I thought of the day as a marvelous accident, until it happened again, and then again. At this point, I’ve stopped counting the number of times that a friend or acquaintance responded to learning about the book with some version of, “Oh my God, you too?” and then the inevitable, “Wait, you didn’t already know about me?”

No. I didn’t know, but writing Hold opened the door to those conversations and they were so excited to share.

Several friends in long-term relationships talked to me at length about identifying as bisexual, pansexual, or queer, and how they knew some people assumed they were gay, lesbian, or straight. They responded to bisexual characters in the book but also to me as a bi author. Readers of early drafts of Hold also talked to me about their own asexuality, PTSD, and the  intersections between disability and race in their lives. For one reader, a note about pacing turned into paragraphs in the margins about the stigma around mental illness, so we dropped the book talk and traded life stories long after we should have gone to bed.

Conversations about Hold became the gift that wouldn’t stop giving, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that in most cases the lack of disclosure had nothing to do with shame or fear. Instead, I heard over and over than it had simply never “felt like the right time.” Most of the people who spoke to me were happy to talk about their identities, but that didn’t mean they knew how to start the conversation. One friend said she felt “exhausted” at the thought of fighting expectations just to exist in public.

I nodded. I’ve been there. Sometimes I’m still there.

Bringing up the book created an opportunity, nothing more and nothing less. It created a space for recognition that my friends didn’t have to make for themselves, and I love the fact that the specific book is, essentially, beside the point. I could talk about how much I love Not Your Sidekick or Radical or Labyrinth Lost. I could gush about someone else’s review of an LGBTQ book or talk about the guidelines on Disability in Kidlit, and I’d still offer one more chance for someone to be seen. As authors, bloggers, and readers, we constantly create opportunities for recognition. A book creates an opportunity for a blogger, who creates an opportunity for another author or reader, and the conversations multiply. This is our gift, our superpower. We hold up the stories we love and give someone the chance to say, “Really? Me too.”

*****

rdl_hrRachel Davidson Leigh is a teacher, a writer and an avid fan of young adult LGBTQ fiction. Her hobbies include overanalyzing television shows and playing matchmaker with book recommendations. Currently, she lives in Wisconsin with her family and two neurotic little dogs. Hold is her debut novel. Her short story “Beautiful Monsters” was featured in Summer Love, a collection of short stories published by Duet Books, the young adult imprint of Interlude Press.

Hold will be published by Duet Books on October 20, 2016. Connect with author Rachel Davidson Leigh at racheldavidsonleigh.com; on Twitter @rdavidsonleigh; and on Facebook at facebook.com/rdavidsonleigh/

Buy it:

Interlude Press Web Store: store.interludepress.com
Amazon: http://amzn.to/2dAWKMo
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hold-rachel-davidson-leigh/1124079244?ean=2940153117676
Apple iBookstore: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/hold/id1148322903?mt=11
All Romance eBooks: https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-hold-2058760-145.html?referrer=55feb862851f8
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/648932
Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/hold-7
Indiebound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/978-1-945053-11-5&aff=interludepress

Guest Post: Aging, Romance, and Sexuality in Extrahumans, by Susan Jane Bigelow

extrahumans4_extrahumansfrontcover-1Being “The Sampler” isn’t easy. As the weakest member of the Extrahuman Union, Jill is overlooked by just about everyone. After all, no one cares about an Extrahuman who possesses every possible superpower, but can barely use any of them. Jill is a nobody, on the run and out of a job, with no home and barely any friends to her name.

To make ends meet, Jill turns back to one of her favorite jobs: stealing. When her latest job goes terribly wrong, Jill is left with a mysterious alien artifact–one that starts whispers to her, unlocks impossible powers, and shows her incredible things.

Now Jill is on a quest for answers that will take her from the high mountains of Valen to the depths of interstellar space; from a bizarre prison planet where old friends and enemies are held captive, to the roots of St. Val’s mysterious letters and decade-spanning plans. The fate of her friends, her world, a vanished alien species, and the entire Confederation will rest on Jill’s shoulders.

Extrahumans is a tale of superpowers and long-forgotten mysteries, and the fourth and final book in the critically acclaimed Extrahuman Union series

“Come for the superheroes, stay for the characters and world-building.” — A Fantastical Librarian

Buy it: Amazon US * Amazon UK * Smashwords

*****

Warning! This post totally contains spoilers for Extrahumans, so if you’re not in to that sort of thing, stay away! Otherwise, onward:

I didn’t start off this book intending for there to be a romantic relationship of any kind between the two main characters, Penny Silverwing and Jill Silver. Really! I was thinking at the very beginning that this would be a novel focusing on friendship between women.

And then the characters started bouncing off of one another in a way that suggested there was definitely more there, and, well, I decided to roll with it. The relationship grew so naturally, and seemed so right for both characters, that it wasn’t until much later that I realized I’d been writing a same-sex romance between two women who aren’t young—Jill is 38, Penny 51. And that really doesn’t happen much, anywhere.

Women over the age of 35 almost never get to be the heroes in fiction, much less have romantic lives and real character development. I love reading stories with young women as protagonists, but as I head for 40 I feel like I want to see more about women my age that isn’t pigeonholed into the usual stereotypes. I always think of Paladin of Souls and Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, both by Lois McMaster Bujold, as incredibly satisfying examples of books with older women as protagonists.

It’s also rare to see stories featuring LGBT people—bisexuals especially—who aren’t young, as well. And yet these relationships happen all the time. I remember reading a book of true stories by women about the relationships they’d entered with other women after the age of 40, often after having been married to a man for a long time.

Again, I didn’t set out to do this, though I did want to write about both of them aging. The story takes place at a certain time, and the characters are all a certain age. Jill is established as bisexual in The Spark, but it’s one of those blink-and-you-miss-it moments that doesn’t get followed up on in the rest of the novel. As for Penny, her own romantic priorities are largely subsumed between her quest to find her son and get past her relationship with Sky Ranger. By the time the story in this book begins, though, both are ready for something new.

They’re ready to find one another. And I’m so glad they do.

*****

About the author

susan-janeSusan Jane Bigelow is a fiction writer, political columnist, and librarian. She mainly writes science fiction and fantasy novels. Her short fiction has appeared in Strange HorizonsApex Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine’s “Queers Destroy Science Fiction” issue, and the Lambda Award-winning “The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard,” among others. She lives with her wife in northern Connecticut, and is probably currently at the bottom of a pile of cats.

Visit her website The Extrahuman Union.

About the artist

Kirbi Fagan is an award-winning, Detroit based cover illustrator who specializes in YA and MG fiction, fantasy and comics. Her illustrations are known for their magic themes, nostalgic mood, bright colors, and powerful characters. She received her bachelor’s degree in Illustration from Kendall College of Art and Design. Kirbi’s work has been acknowledged by organizations such as Society of Illustrators Los Angeles, ImagineFX, Art Order and the International Writers & Illustrators of the Future.

Visit her website www.kirbiillustrations.com

 

 

Ways to fill a gap: LGBTQIA representation in Australian YA, a Guest Post by Emily O’Beirne

what-are-ya-coverEvery time I’m crouched in front of my bookshelf, and my eye wanders over that gloriously Aussie eighties title, What are Ya?, I wonder how many queer teen reading lives Jenny Pausacker saved. I unearthed this book in a second-hand bookshop sometime in the late nineties. I’ll admit I bought it more for the fabulously kitsch value of its cover art than anything. And after finishing it, I had to agree with the reviewer on Goodreads who claims it reads like an episode of Heartbreak High (a nineties Aussie teen drama). But it’s not the book’s literary merit that makes this book important. It’s the fact that a YA book featuring a lesbian as one of the main characters existed at all in 1987. A prolific author and YA stalwart, Pausacker claims to be Australia’s first openly gay YA writer. And she was certainly one of only a tiny handful of Australian writers bringing queer YA characters to life through the eighties and early nineties.

A dearth of LGBTQIA YA in Australia thirty years ago is unsurprising in itself. Especially in a country that’s still dithering on marriage equality. What’s more surprising is the fact that it’s really only begun to get better very recently.

If I wanted to pinpoint the moment when I think the tide first started to (very) slowly turn for Aussie LGBTQIA YA, it was the second half of the nineties. Because any archeo-literary dig for signs of guilt about a lack of diverse literary representation in Australia almost always end with a good old-fashioned short story anthology. It’s almost as if publishers suddenly realise, “We don’t have enough [insert minority here] voices! How socially irresponsible. Quick—an anthology!” Then they flood the gap with short stories. In the late nineties not one but two LGBTQIA collections featuring short stories for young adult readers appeared. This was accompanied by about 9 or 10 novels (a bunch of them written by Pausacker) published in the period. Slowly LGBTQIA teens were being allowed to see themselves in printed existence.

Young adult fiction is popular in Australia. New titles are released every week by major publishing houses. The LoveOzYA movement, a community of aficionados, bloggers and industry folk, vigorously supports emerging and established YA writers. Entire panels and afternoons are dedicated to the demographic at major literary festivals. And good LGBTQIA YA books appear to enjoy the same enthusiasm as the rest.

But until recently there haven’t been that many to celebrate. The creator of the AUSQueerYA list on Goodreads has unearthed at total of 91 LGBTQ YA books published in Australia between 1975 and 2016. While 91 is not an awful number, only a proportion of these book feature LGBTQ main characters. Others simply offer a queer minor cast member or those nebulous LGTBQIA “themes.” Of those 91 books, roughly two thirds were published in the last decade.

the-flywheelIt’s really only the last few years that could be described as banner years for LGBTQIA content. Not just in terms of abundance (okay, abundance is erring towards hyperbole), but for visibility, too. Eli Glasman’s 2014 A Boy’s Own Manual to being a Proper Jew was widely reviewed in Australian publications, celebrated for its storyline centering on issues of faith and sexuality. Erin Gough’s The Flywheel, about a young lesbian trying to save her father’s café, won the the 2013 Ampersand prize for emerging writers. Will Kostakis’ highly successful 2016 novel, The Sidekicks, has recently been sold in the United States.

So what’s taken so long?

It’s hard to say, exactly. Whenever there’s a lack of representation of minorities in fiction, the first fingers tend to be pointed at publishers. For they are that tricky intersection where creativity meets economic imperative meets social responsibility. It’s like the good old ‘good, fast cheap—pick two’ project management triangle. Only with representation at stake. But is the notion that publishers are not progressive or willing to risk money on minority voices a reality? Or is it just a leftover from a recent, less liberal, past? It’s hard to know. But that apprehension does exist. For example, despite its eventual success The Flywheel author, Erin Gough, was doubtful about the future of her novel even while she was writing it.

The Flywheel was for many years a fun personal project that I worked on without any real intention of publishing. I didn’t think it was the type of book anyone would publish, partly because of the main character’s sexuality,” she says.

Instead, Gough would be awarded an Australian Council emerging writer’s grant while working on the book. Then she would go on to win the publisher’s prize that would land her a book deal and place her vivid novel into the limelight.

Award-winning YA author, Fiona Wood believes she has seen evidence of a shift in publishing attitudes over the span of her career. “I have noticed things are much better in terms of representation, even compared to seven years ago, when I was looking for a publisher for Six Impossible Things,” she says. “I got a reader’s report back then, not from my eventual publisher, but from someone else I was talking to, and it actually said that Dan’s father being gay would affect school sales in Queensland, were the book ever to be published. I don’t think you’d hear anything like [that] these days.”

But the slow growth in this country may not just be about publishers. Gough suggests there a number of other, complex factors might have potentially inhibited an increase in Australian LGBTQIA YA, such as LGBTQIA writers’ initial need to be comfortable with their own sexuality (something she claims to have struggled with), the desire not to be pigeonholed as an LGBTQIA writer, gatekeeping by parents and librarians apprehensive to expose young readers to LGBTQIA voices, and a possible reluctance of straight writers to write from an LGBTQIA perspective, feeling they don’t have an authority to do so.

songs-that-sound-like-bloodOne Australian author who has experienced this last apprehension, but who also felt compelled for both personal and political reasons to plough on, is Jared Thomas. Thomas recently brought one of a few recent, sorely-needed, LGBTQIA YA novels featuring Indigenous main characters to the Australian YA landscape. Songs that Sound like Blood traces a year in the life of a young musician, Roxy May Redding. The novel, published by Magabala Books, an Indigenous publishing company, is a tumultuous and affirming coming-of-age story about being young, ambitious, Indigenous and queer.

“I was apprehensive about writing this story as a 40-year-old man,” Thomas admits. And to ensure he was doing his character and story justice, Thomas sought critique and support from LGBTQIA friends, family and colleagues. But despite these doubts, Thomas was compelled by a need to address what he sees as a very particular and “huge” gap in LGBTQIA YA fiction about Indigenous lives (as well as one in YA in general), one that had become far too crucial to ignore.

Thomas cites his concerns about the cuts in funding to services and programs, and high suicide rates among Indigenous youth as imperatives for him to provide rich, positive representation for (and of) young Aboriginal people.

“I started to think more about what it means for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are also same-sex attracted and dealing with stigma associated with this on top of the more general racism and bigotry directed toward Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

This sense of a kind of double stigma is constructed as an inevitable part of Roxie’s life in Songs, when she says her support worker at uni, “I was paid out for being Aboriginal, and that was bad enough. I didn’t even realise I was gay.”

Both Woods and Gough have also had issue of the nature of LGBTQIA representation on their minds as they write. Woods books are purposefully peppered with a spectrum of queer characters, in a way that mirrors the contemporary cosmopolitan society her characters exist in. There are inner-suburban two-mum families. There are dads who come out late in life. There is the best friend who designates herself a “lesbian-in-waiting” because she can’t come out while living under the same roof as her strict, Vietnamese parents. In Woods’ novels LGBTQIA characters range from being the subject of a character’s passing thoughts to solid, finely-drawn characters. Either way, they are always there. This ubiquity is part of a conscious project on Woods’ part to promote the idea of “inclusive normality”. Something she says is done “very much in the spirit of ‘diversity = life’, as opposed to ‘diversity = issues’.”

For Erin Gough, the desire to increase LGBTQIA representation in Australian YA started first from personal experience. “I thought about how much I had needed to read such a story as an undergrad, and how I hadn’t been able to find one to read.” But Gough is not just seeking to fill a gap. She is also hoping to broaden the spectrum of representation in LGBTQIA storytelling, starting with a decision to make her main character aware and comfortable with her sexuality from the start of the book.

“I’m hopeful that we’re getting to the point where we can tell stories about LGBTQ characters that are not just ‘coming out’ stories,” she says. “The LGBTQ experience is far richer than that.”

There is certainly something reassuring in the way that these writers all consciously share an awareness of the need for LGBTQIA representation in Australian YA, but see different needs to be filled. It’s hard to know which project has more urgency: representing minority queer voices, normalising LGBTQIA through constant, no-big-deal representation, or broadening the scope of stories told about young LGBTQIA people.

That’s because the answer is all of the above.

Australian YA fiction needs lots of no-big-deal gay characters. We also need big-deal coming out stories. We need LGBTQIA representation for all minorities. We also need to up the representation of trans, queer, intersex and asexual experiences. Because from here on, diversity is not just about Australian YA needing more LGBTQIA content. That’s clearly starting to happen. Now young Australian readers need a rich palette of experiences from which to draw recognition and affirmation. An array of stories to find themselves in. And these books need to keep coming until there is a story that resonates for every single one of them.

heres-the-thingEmily O’Beirne is an Australian writer of LGBTQIA young adult fiction. Here recent novels include Points of Departure and Here’s the Thing. Thirteen-year-old Emily woke up one morning with a sudden itch to write her first novel. All day, she sat through her classes, feverishly scribbling away (her silence probably a cherished respite for her teachers). By the time the last bell rang, she had penned fifteen handwritten pages of angsty drivel, replete with blood-red sunsets, moody saxophone music playing somewhere far off in the night, and abandoned whiskey bottles rolling across tables. Nowadays she (hopefully) writes better stories.

***Some recent Australian LGBTQIA YA Fiction***

 

Guest Post: Recommendations for Polyamory in Fiction, by Shira Glassman

For those unfamiliar with Shira Glassman, she’s not only an author of some of the queerest fantasy around, but also my super go-to person when it comes to tough-to-find queer rep. (Her encyclopedic brain for indie queer lit is unmatched. Seriously.) So when I was getting requests for poly fic, I knew who to beg for a guest post of recs, and as always, Shira delivered!

*****

I don’t seek out poly specifically for its own sake, but I have nothing against it, so when it pops up in my LGBT reading searches I’ll read anything that suits my plot, demographics, and setting preferences just as I would with a two-person romance. For those unfamiliar with me in general, my preferences tend toward f/f, fiction with trans people, older men, cultural diversity (especially Jewish stuff), “found family”, costume drama, high fantasy, science fiction, and anything having to do with Central Europe or Florida. As such, here are the top recs from my poly shelf on Goodreads, at least two of which were finalists in the most recent Bi Book Awards:

She Whom I Love by Tess Bowery. Configuration: f/f/m triad; all parties involved with each other, although one of the women is pretty explicitly described, in period-appropriate equivalent terms, as homoromantic bisexual and is in love with the other woman whereas she’s only sexually interested in the man. The setting is Regency England and the book is unusual for a Regency romance not only in its poly triad but in the fact that all three characters are members of the working class: you have a corset maker, a lady’s maid, and an actress (which back then was not treated like royalty the way it is today.) Two women who have been friends since girlhood realize they’re in love with each other just about the same time they start a flirtation with a certain man. When they realize it’s the same man, they play a trick on him for revenge and then the next thing he knows he’s got two girlfriends. This is that story you want if you’re that person who gets frustrated at love triangles and says “why can’t they just ALL DATE?” The book’s main conflict comes from everyone trying to figure out how to make sure they’re being treated with as much respect as they deserve as human beings despite living in a class system that denigrates actresses or people born of sex workers, rather than bullshit manufactured conflict and misunderstandings. I was also impressed by the fact that it had actual adventure and action in the plot instead of just the romance. (Buy it here.)

Kneel, Mr. President by Lauren Gallagher. Configuration: m/m/f triad where all parties are involved with each other. I initially assumed a book with a title this outrageous would be unabashedly silly, but no, far from it — this is actually a fully fleshed out complicated triad romance novel, complete with all the realistic turbulence and angst that any throuple (I’m sorry, I know that’s an awful word but I can’t help myself) would go through while navigating their beginning stages. This is a President/First Lady/Secret Service Former Boyfriend When They Were Navy SEALs Together setup. I was really impressed by how well rounded the book was in terms of character interaction besides the sex, of which, predictably, there is lots. I didn’t get bored by the extra sex scenes, either, since each one introduces a new angle (either within the D/s setup, or a new configuration of how all three of them will interact, since the wife initially starts out just watching, etc.) (Buy it here.)

Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver. Configuration: f/f/f triad including trans woman; all parties involved with each other. Chameleon Moon is temporarily unavailable due to the publisher closing down, but the author will be reissuing it in a new self-published format to be quickly followed by several short stories and a Book Two. The male lead is a lizard man named Regan who will be on-the-page ace in the second edition as the author originally wanted. The female lead, a trans woman lounge-singer-turned-superhero named Evelyn, is involved in a f/f/f triad of all superhero women. They even have a child together of which she is one of the biological parents. The book is a “hopeful dystopian” (the author calls it a dys-hope-ian) taking place in an American city that was quarantined by force when everyone there began developing mutant superpowers in response to an overpresecribed wonderdrug. Evelyn and her superpowered girlfriends and the rest of the characters are fighting to bring happiness and justice to the inhabitants of the city. This isn’t a book with sex scenes; the poly representation is focused on love and family. Warning for deadnaming (which Evelyn defeats like a champ) but it’s possible that may not reappear in the second edition. (Buy it here.)

Midnight at the Orpheus by Alyssa Linn Palmer. Configuration: poly V, a bisexual woman with a girlfriend and a boyfriend. This is 1920’s Chicago gangster noir, and that means it comes with a lot of genre conventions: plenty of violence and death, and an ending that’s happy but highly unstable since her girlfriend and boyfriend are not involved with each other and are both violent people. The setting is very bi-normative in the sense that in this particular underworld culture it’s just accepted that some of the women are dating each other and never assumes that a woman who likes women is uninterested in men. There is also a gay cop antihero who is not part of the triad, so all in all a very queer take on a well-established genre. Warning for Irish and Italian slurs. (Buy it here.)

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi. Configuration: Multiple interlinked poly V’s as part of a found family. This is a book about queer disabled women fighting Big Pharma in space, with strong themes of found family, and the link between bodily autonomy and tough medical decisions. The main character is shown coming to terms with the idea of polyamory as she starts a relationship with a woman who is already involved with someone else, who is also involved with someone else. Warning for loss of family members and also a graphic mutilation flashback. (Buy it here.)

One final note: the Fierce Family anthology is a wonderful collection of sci-fi and fantasy shorts written on the theme of “positive depictions of queer families.” It has plenty of nonbinary representation and families with two moms, and cis m/m isn’t the majority of the stories. I’m mentioning it here because of the story about the space pirates–both the pirates and the ship being attacked have a crew of a bi, poly family. That was just so remarkable that I think it deserves special recognition. The whole anthology is worth it, though. (Buy it here.)

I don’t really have anything of substance of my own to offer as far as poly representation goes, except for a tiny piece of erotica about three Chanukah fairies (Eitan’s Chord.”) Also, I’m told my witch/tavern owner Eshvat (Climbing the Date Palm) is “solopoly” because she’s aromantic and doesn’t form romantic connections with her casual sexual partners. But maybe some day! (Buy Shira’s books here!)

*****

romanescoShira Glassman is a violinist living in Florida with a very good human and a very bad cat. She is best known for writing fluffy queer fantasy that draws inspiration from her tropical upbringing, Jewish heritage and present life, and French and German operas. She believes that we need infinite princess, dragon, and superhero stories for all the demographics who never got to play those roles when she was little; some of the ones she’s written have made it to the finals of the Bi Book Awards and Golden Crown Literary Society awards. Her latest is The Olive Conspiracy, about a queen and her found-family saving their country’s agriculture from a foreign plot.

Goodbye, Bad Bi: The Lose-Lose Situation of Bisexual YA, a Guest Post by Casey Lawrence

You may recall Casey Lawrence from her recent cover reveal for Order in the Court. Now she’s back to talk about the tricky business of writing bisexual YA. Without further ado, Casey Lawrence!

Young Adult literature is often characterized by discovery, by firsts. First crush, first kiss, first loss, first love. YA is a genre that helps generations of teens find their place in this world and discover who they are in it. For this reason, it is extremely important that YA novels reflect their demographic; most of the readers in dire need of that help are young members LGBTQ+ community.

For young queer teens, the world can be a scary place. YA books can be an escape, but also a mirror: for many queer teens, their first taste of what it might be like to actually be queer comes from the media’s representation of queerness.

LGBTQ+ YA is a growing market. More and more authors are taking the leap to publish stories with diverse characters. My own book series, The Survivor’s Club, has a bisexual teenage protagonist. Today I’m going to outline a major problem I’ve encountered with writing a bisexual character: it’s a lose-lose situation.

Because YA usually has some kind of romantic element to it, authors writing bisexual characters need to make a choice: who does your bisexual character “end up” with? (Since I write bi girls, I’m going to use bi girls as examples, but the same goes for bi boys.) If your bi girl ends up with a boy, your character gets accused of being “basically straight,” “bad [queer] representation,” or “reinforcement of compulsory heterosexuality.” If your bi girl ends up with a girl, she ends up having to be representation for all wlw (women who love women). She’s “basically a lesbian.” Either way, the character’s bisexuality is somehow “negated” by their relationship status. Sure, in Chapter One she’s a Bi Girl, but by the end she’s Basically Gay or Basically Straight—in either case, thinking this way is Bisexual Erasure.

Bi characters in m/f relationships are “bad representation” because they’re basically straight.

Who one is in a relationship with does not define one’s sexuality. A bisexual woman married to a man is not straight. A bisexual man who has only dated men is not gay. In both cases, these people are bisexual—both in real life, and on paper.

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts lately about how having a bi character enter an m/f relationship somehow invalidates their queerness. Bi women suddenly must have their wlw cards revoked because they love men, which makes about as much sense as saying a person can’t enjoy both chocolate and vanilla ice cream. For bisexual women in particular, this idea reinforces the patriarchal idea that men can fundamentally change a woman’s identity.

Here’s a conversation I recently had:

Them: You mostly date men, right?

Me: Yeah, so?

Them: So you’re mostly straight, then.

Me: I’m bisexual.

Them: Oh I know, but I mean, you’re not 50/50. You’re more on the straight side. More straight than gay.

Bisexuality is not the condition of being half-gay and half-straight. A bisexual person is entirely bisexual, not fractions of other things. When a bi person of one gender dates a person of another gender, their sexuality doesn’t change, in the same way that being single doesn’t make a person asexual until they start their next relationship. The number of relationships one’s had with different genders do not fill in a pie chart that somehow can determine the percentage of their queerness—they’re bisexual, completely, irrespective of their relationship status.

But heterosexual relationships already act as representation for bi people in m/f relationships, don’t they?

Nope. Bisexual people in relationships with people of a different gender can have a very different dynamic with their partner than a heterosexual couple. They face different challenges, one of which may be being told that they’re basically straight because of who their partner is. A lot of real bi girls do end up with guys and they deserve better than to be told that relationships that look like theirs are the “disappointing” option, or “not real queer representation.” It’s not fair that they aren’t allowed to have representation of how to conduct their lives in different-gender relationships because of how those relationships are perceived.

These assumptions have real world consequences. People say things like “Bisexuals in het relationships don’t belong at Pride.” This is equivalent to parents accepting their bisexual children only as long as they date the opposite sex. Why is the latter abhorrent but the first tolerable in the LGBTQ+ community? Accepting someone as long as they act like you is not okay. Conditional acceptance is never okay. This is true of the LGBTQ+ community as well as outside of it. Both of those statements are example of biphobia. They make it seem as if a bisexual person can “choose” to be gay or straight—rather than being bisexual, which is a sexuality in and of itself.

Can’t you just let your bi character have both an m/f AND an f/f relationship over the course of a book/series?

Sure I could. But that leads to a whole ‘nother conundrum: which relationship gets the HEA (happily ever after)? No matter which order I choose, there are going to be complaints. This is where the lose-lose situation comes into effect:

If my bi girl dates another girl only to later date a boy, I run the risk of implying that her bi-ness was just a phase or an experiment. I’ll get all those accusations about bad representation outlined above; my bi girl can’t end up with a boy, because then readers will think she’s straight (no matter how many times she tells the world she’s bisexual).

If my bi girl dates a boy first and then dates a girl, it reinforces the idea that bisexuality is a “stepping stone” identity on the way to declaring oneself a True Homosexual. This is more prevalent in m/m stories, but holds true for female characters as well. Bisexuality is considered by some people a way of keeping one foot in the closet.

Why does that happen?

There’s something called the One Drop rule when it comes to m/m romance: one m/m attraction or relationship is enough to call a male character gay, despite having been in m/f relationships in the past. One drop in an ocean is enough for that male character to be considered queer, negating an entire history of attraction. For bisexual female characters (and real bisexual women!), the opposite is true. Often, any evidence of opposite-sex inclinations is cause for exclusion from wlw spaces.

Bisexual men are assumed to be gay and performing bisexuality in order to cling to heteropatriarchy’s idea of masculinity, while bisexual women are assumed to be straight and performing bisexuality for heterosexual male attention. Thus bisexual women are in the unique situation of being “too gay” or heterosexual spaces, but “too straight” for queer ones, creating a need for bisexual women’s spaces, whereas bisexual men are, for the most part, welcomed into gay spaces with open arms—assuming they consider to “perform” their queerness. The same holds true with literature.

Romantic or sexual relationships with men are seen as bad representation for wlw because it appears to adhere to the patriarchy, or compulsory heterosexuality. One reasons why gay men do not feel betrayal toward bisexuals in “het” relationships to the same degree or in the same way as lesbians do is that to them, bisexual women in relationships with men are choosing to adhere to the heteropatriarchy, despite the capacity not to.

Can’t you just write a bisexual character in a polyamorous relationship then? Why does she have to choose?

Ah, now wouldn’t that just be the perfect solution! Many bisexual people are also poly. But the thing is, most bisexual people aren’t. Writing bisexual characters as poly  unfortunately enforces the stereotypes that bisexual people are greedy, can’t be satisfied by one person, are promiscuous, more likely to cheat… the list goes on. If everyone wrote bisexual characters into poly relationships, bisexual monogamists (of which there are many) would be left completely without representation or a voice.

Bisexuality and polyamory are different things. The first is a sexuality—to whom one is attracted—and the second is a relationship style—how one performs their sexuality in the context of a relationship. A person or character can be both bi and poly, but not everyone who is bi is also poly, just like everyone who is a pianist is not also left handed. I’m sure there are left handed pianists, as one certainly doesn’t negate the other, but one does not necessarily mean the other. They are completely separate.

So while I’d be excited to read (or write) a bisexual/poly romance, that’s not going to work with every character, just like it wouldn’t work for every bisexual person.

So why can’t you just write your characters as individuals making personal choices? Why do they have to represent all bisexual people?

And there’s the real reason for the lose-lose situation: since there are so few bisexual characters, every bi character that makes it to the published page is suddenly expected to be representation for all bi people. Gay people want bisexual representation that is “queer enough” to fit onto the existing LGBTQ+ shelf at the library, straight people want to see bi people that look like them or someone they could date / have dated, and bi people—well, we all just want to see ourselves on the page. With so few examples, it’s no wonder that no one is satisfied. There aren’t enough bi characters to go around.

What’s the solution, then? Is it hopeless?

Hopeless? No! Of course not. The only thing to do is to keep writing bisexual characters. Bi characters who end up falling for someone of the same sex. Bi characters who get their HEA with a member 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. Poly bi characters who date multiple people of one gender. Bi characters who end up heartbroken. Bi characters who end up alone, but happy. And, most of all, bisexual characters who proudly say “I’m bisexual,” no matter who their partner(s) is.

The only thing we need less of is stereotypes. If we create enough unique bisexual characters and stories, hopefully we can beat this lose-lose system. Each and every bisexual person is different, with different preferences and experiences. Why should bisexual characters be any different?

Casey Lawrence is a 21-year-old Canadian university student completing an undergraduate degree in English Language and Literature. She is a published author of LGBT Young Adult fiction through Harmony Ink Press and has been actively involved in LGBT activism in her community since she co-founded the Gay-Straight Alliance at her high school. Her first novel Out of Order is available through all major online book retailers and its sequel, Order in the Court is currently available for preorder.

Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.