How not to make your bisexual character an evil, hypersexual person

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As a writer, you hear it all the time: Raise the stakes. Torture your characters. Make sure you bring everything to the highest possible emotional point. Make it matter.

So somewhere back in the mists of time, a writer wondered: What’s was worse than getting left by a spouse or lover? Getting left for someone else, of course. And then a few centuries later someone wondered what could possibly be even more horrible than getting left for someone else? Aha! Getting left for someone of the wrong gender!

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And thus the sneaky lying cheating voracious homewrecking bisexual character was born, and she’s been tromping all over our movies and TV shows ever since. She lies. She cheats. She seduces. She cheats. She has indiscriminate sex. She cheats. She leaves a beloved character and cheats. Her most important trait, other than the individual heartbreaking, is that she drives a backhoe through any relationship she can find. The film and television bisexuals main progress over the last few decades is that now she breaks up lesbian couples too.

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Enough is enough, screenwriters. You are putting a serious cramp in our real-life bisexual love lives. People who are easy prey to stereotypes flee immediately, essentially punishing us for being honest about who we are, and the loonbaskets who are looking for High Drama in Crazytown can’t be peeled off with a paint scraper. Do you know how many mixed feelings are involved in the process of boring a bad date out of your life?

Look, everyone loves a deliciously evil character—epecially if that character has sex a lot. I’m not saying that no bisexual characters should ever lie, cheat, murder, or get questionable haircuts. It’s just that taken as a whole, over time? This is some tired, weak shit.

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Think of it this way, screenwriters: Remember how mad straight dudes got a few years ago about how every sitcom dad was an oaf who couldn’t manage to sew a loose button on without accidentally burning the kitchen down and offending an important foreign diplomat? (You probably got a little mad yourself, screenwriter, either because you prefer good, original jokes or because, since you are a working screenwriter, odds are you are a straight dude.)

The straight dudes got mad because the goofy-incompetent-dad trope was all over any family sitcom you could find and most of the commercials—no competent funny dads to look at! And eventually the straight guys actually felt wounded by it. You saw the Facebook rants. And this great howling of the wronged straight dude soul came about in spite of the fact that they had competent, forceful, in-the-right straight guy role models on the dramas and the cop shows and the educational shows and the news and the talking head shows and the medical shows and the fantasy shows and the comedies that weren’t about families and the pay-per-view shows and the cooking shows and those weird shows where they just poke piles of low-rent gems around and alllll, literally all of the movies.

Imagine how mad the straight-dude population would have gotten if they had an actual dearth of positive representation around.

Got that feeling in your head? Welcome to the world of the bisexual who likes visual entertainment. At this point, I’m almost grateful when the bisexual character only screws around and breaks up a marriage. Half the time they end up murdering people with ice picks.

Oh, and apparently the movies think we smoke a lot too.

So how do you, as a screenwriter, write better bi characters? I have a few suggestions.

Remember that sexual orientation is an aspect of character, not a plot point.
Take a look at movies and TV shows from, oh, forever through the ‘80s. Notice how almost nobody seemed to be able to write decent gay characters? That’s because the characters were treated as events rather than people. The whole deal usually revolved around either worrying that the character was gay or discovering that that was the case. And what you get is a clanking bag of stereotypes instead of a person.

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So write real characters who just happen to be bi. Like how the girls on Pretty Little Liars are mostly doing normal stuff like tampering with evidence and getting murdered, but some of them just happen to be lesbians while doing it.

You don’t have to worry so much about showing a character’s bisexuality all at once.
I know: It’s stressful. You can show a monosexual character’s orientation immediately by having her casually refer to a boyfriend or girlfriend. The audience knows, and you can take care of fleshing the rest out later. But if you have a bi character do that, it feels like you’ve misled the audience for a bit. (p.s. Welcome to our lives.)

I understand that there’s a temptation to illustrate the point by having your bi character immediately mack on anything that has a face, but please, at least occasionally, resist it. If your character dates a man, has a (normal, noncheating, non-ice-pick-adjacent) breakup and then dates and marries a woman, we’ll get the idea.

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Bisexuality isn’t just about having sex.
I had an ongoing argument with one of my dearest friends for a few years in a row. He’s gay, and was out first, and was one of the first people I turned to when I couldn’t keep suppressing the fact that I seemed to keep falling for women. He was terrific, except for one little thing: He wouldn’t call me bi. He kept pointedly calling me a lesbian and giving me lofty lectures about how I couldn’t truly call myself out until I stopped pretending to be bi and “admitted” that I was a lesbian.
And that went on for a year or two until he did it one too many times and we had a fight and I yelled at him that he had to deal with all of me or we couldn’t be friends. And then we dropped the argument and didn’t bring up the topic again and were fine, because that’s how we do.

And then two years later we were sitting at some prime real estate in a gay bar and out of nowhere he threw up his hands and snapped “OK, fine, you’re bi!” And when I blinked at him, he said, “Your eyes track both men and women when we’re out. I’m only looking at the men. I get it.”

A lot of my bi friends describe being bi more in terms of potential, and I think it’s a really useful way to look at it. Your bi characters can be bisexual without being sexual. Not that anyone on this site has any major objections to ladyloving. Most of us have cringed our way through Room in Rome for chrissakes. It’s just that you have a bigger bag of tricks than you may have thought you did.

Bisexuality doesn’t always have to be shocking revelation.
Hey, I’ll admit it: It can be a shocking revelation sometimes. It was certainly a shocking revelation to me once. But after that, I sort of got used to it, you know? And so did my loved ones. I knew that one of my straight friends had really, truly gotten it when I mentioned that I was interested in someone new and she dropped “Boy or girl?” into the conversation without missing a beat.

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I know that writing is all about giving your characters things to freak out about, but I would love to see just one group of bi-adjacent friends truly not give a rat.

So, yeah. I guess this all boils down to the fact that you can spiff up your bi characters by making them real, complex, fleshed-out characters instead of voracious sextaurs who would cheat at Chutes and Ladders if they were given the chance.

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If you work with these principles in good faith, you’re probably going to do more than just break down nasty stereotypes and thus make the world a slightly better place. You’re also likely to enjoy the pleasing side effect of putting out better movies and TV shows. And we will watch the daylights out of them. We won’t even mind the occasional kitchen utensil massacre.

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