Why Not? Writing Bi Fiction and Being Bi
Francis Gideon talks about happy endings in bi fiction and hiding his writing from friends and family.
When I found out that my book, A Winter in Rome was nominated for the Bisexual Book Awards, I didn’t tell anyone.
Okay, not quite. I told my partner Travis (who had a dedication in A Winter in Rome), and I blogged about it online. But in my “real life” world, I didn’t utter a word to anyone. Not to my colleagues, not to my supervisor for my PhD, not to my writing class I was teaching — not even to my family. When I found out that the ceremony was in New York City, and I was invited to be a performer, I read the email and sighed.
“What?” Travis asked.
I told him about the reading in NYC and followed it up with, “But I can’t go.”
“Why not? Weren’t we going to go to the States in June, anyway?”
Travis has an aunt in Boston, and we had vague plans to stay with her (and her three dogs) for a few days. But the simplicity at which he suggested a four-hour detour out of that trip to go to this ceremony still struck me. “Really?”
“Yeah! It’s NYC. I’ve never been and would like to see this. So why not?”
Travis’ simple response of “Why not?” not only demonstrated his support (and why he gets so many dedications in my work), but has also been the best piece of writing advice I’ve been given, especially when writing LGBTQ characters. When I first started exploring queer romance, I had been convinced there was no such thing as a happy ending for anyone who was gay or lesbian in a book. In order for a story to be considered literary, it needed to end in tragedy. But then I started to read Michael Thomas Ford’s books, and I became enchanted. For an entire summer, all I did was read LGBTQ romance novels. It didn’t matter the subgenre or the pairing, I would read it.
Then I looked at my own writing again. Though I had an MA in English Literature and a couple literary publications for spec fic and poetry under my belt, I hadn’t really been writing happy endings — or happy characters. Why? For a couple reasons: Most literary publications wanted ‘ambiguous’ endings over happy ones and most of my academic colleagues looked down on romance. But mostly, I wasn’t writing happy endings because I didn’t think it was possible.
When I explained this to Travis, his response had been to write those happy endings, just like the other authors I’d been reading. When I tried to say I couldn’t and listed a bunch of reasons, he told me “Why not?” for the first time.
So I started to write what I wanted.
Even as I started my PhD and wrote my books on weekends, I still didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t think it was necessary for them to know. My LGBTQ romance writing was my secret pastime, my nice relaxation after a long day of grading and teaching. But then the Bisexual Book Awards happened, and I wasn’t sure what to do.
My secret lifestyle and question dodging about what I had done over my weekend started to remind me a lot of what my life had been like when I was in my late teens and early twenties, and exploring my own queerness for the first time. I’m bisexual, but so often it’s extremely hard to explain to other people. When I was with someone who thought I was straight, I was editing pronouns when I talked about my past. But this continued to happen when I was with people who thought I was gay, because I wasn’t on their ‘team’ or they’d assume I’d cheat. Bi stereotypes are still present in current media — but I was shocked to see my colleagues, those who studied media in an English Department, still repeating the same old boring tropes about bi people.
So I censored myself depending on the audience I was around. Being bisexual — and being a writer of bi characters in LGBTQ romance — became too exhausting to explain, so I funneled my thoughts and feelings into my novels. In a passage from A Winter in Rome, the MC Craig feels torn in two depending on whom he goes out with at night and whom that ends up making him. In my long novella, Cracks in the Pavement, Joe feels alienation when even his best friend doesn’t get that he’s bisexual, and Lee looks back on his life and feels as if his queerness recedes in the distance as he stays happily married to his wife.
My novel, Blank Space, covers a similar theme between Curtis and Adrian, who look back on their lives together and wonder if they made the wrong choice to break up ten years earlier.
Meanwhile, Homesick at Space Camp is a fun sci-fi romp with a pansexual lead who falls for a DJ’s voice.
Basically, I put a lot of myself into my characters — but I also put a lot of the people around me, too. I realized, especially as I thought about the Bisexual Book Awards and whether or not I would go, that Travis was part of these stories as much as I was. He was re-envisioned as one of my characters telling the MC, “Why not?” in some form or another. Or as Craig puts it, “The paths in the woods are always a false choice. If you were smart enough, if you stayed around long enough, I was convinced you could have both. Love both.” Of course bi characters can have a happy ending without suffering — which means I can, too. Why not?
So I went to the Bisexual Book Awards. And it was pretty cool.
I told a handful of colleagues about the ceremony, too, which was like coming out all over again. Even though I didn’t win the award (Megan Mulry did, for the final book in her Regency series, which I adore.), I feel so much better for having gone.
Not to mention, after the ceremony, Travis and I got to play with dogs for three days straight. To me, that sounds like a pretty happy ending after all.
FRANCIS GIDEON is a writer of M/M romance, but he also dabbles in mystery, fantasy, historical, and paranormal fiction. He likes to stay up late, drink too much coffee, and read too many comic books. When not writing fiction, Francis teaches college English classes and studies for his PhD. He has published several critical articles on everything from the Canadian poet and artist P. K. Page, transgender identity in the YouTube community, and character deaths in the TV show, Hannibal. He writes his novels using his middle name, so that his students don’t Google him and ask too many questions. Find him at francisgideon.wordpress.com.
Originally published on 6/20/16.