In October 2006, the bi community cheered at Lambda Literary Foundation's addition of a bisexual category. Since "Bi Any Other Name" was forced to compete as a lesbian anthology back in 1991, bisexuals authors and readers have yearned for a category where our best can be judged against similar books.
Getting the category, it turns out, was the easy part. Charles Flowers, executive director of LLF and a superb ally, embraced the new category and guided us through the inclusion process. It was easy to identify more than a dozen books with "bisexual" keywords. Rather quickly, we had the award. We had the books. Publishers and authors submitted the books. Judges were recruited. What could be easier?
Then the judges began reading... and debating... and struggling . . . (quick note: judges remain anonymous until after the award ceremony. No outings occur in this column). The judges' task was simple. Find the 5 most literate books with the highest bisexual content.
As is always the case, nothing in bisexuality is that simple. Sure anthologies can easily depict bisexuality. But how to you capture the diversity of our experience in a single story?
Does a book that depicts a life long love story between two flawed male characters (one of whom has one night stand with a woman) fit into the bisexual category if no labels are used?
Is a book where a man clearly loves his female high school sweetheart, only to get over her by falling in love with a man, bi? What if the man, in the midst of his relationship with the other man, calls himself gay? Is it not true that many bi men have this experience in their past? Do labels in fiction bear higher weight than in reality?
How about a memoir that depicts a woman having both male and female lovers? What if, years later, the author comes out a lesbian? Does that change the "bisexuality" of that period?
What if a gay romance book has a secondary character who is bi? If the character was well developed and non-stereotypical, would you consider this? What if the secondary character was a complete negative stereotype?
Speaking of negative . . . What if a clearly bisexual memoir depicts an unlikable protagonist? The story's truly bisexual. Do you have to like the bisexual characters in order for them to qualify?
Or what about men who do dishonorable things, like cheat on their wives with other men?
Or controversial topics like describing Jesus as a shape shifting, multi-gender character who has other worldly sex with the holy spirit?
At what point do the "PC" police draw the line? Should they draw the line?
Think about your own life. If I were to randomly pick 2 years in your life, how would it read? bisexual? gay? straight? asexual? Assuming you're currently identified as bisexual, can I find a time in your life when you didn't think of yourself that way? If you consider yourself gay, can I identify a time when you used the bi label - or acted in a "bisexual way"? If you consider yourself straight, can I find a period in your life where you questioned, flirted with the idea of expanding your horizons?
Did that period in your life contribute to who you are today? If so, is the story part of a larger one, characterized by your current identity? Or is it a separate entity, identified solely by the thoughts and actions in that period?
People "read" us every day - making (usually monosexual) interpretations of our life based on our partners, the pictures in our office, who we say is cute. Unless we walk around carrying bi pride flags 24/7, someone will misread us at some point in each day. If we can't be read correctly as 3 dimensional humans, how to we expect to properly read a 2 dimensional character?
I do encourage you to read the nominated books and draw conclusions for yourself. The discussions that come out of these efforts can be quite enlightening. If you can't find someone with whom you can discuss these books, I'll play. I'm dying to chat about all of them. Drop me a line - email@example.com