Biphobia In Slash

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Title: Biphobia In Slash
Creator: azarias
Date(s): August 13, 2003
Medium: Livejournal post
Fandom: focus on The Sentinel
Topic: slash fanfic, bisexuality
External Links: Biphobia In Slash; archive link
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Biphobia In Slash is a 2003 essay by azarias. It was posted to the LiveJournal community badficsupport and received 36 comments.

The Post

No, not fear of the number 2. Fear of bisexuality, and why it annoys me.

A specific example:

A few weeks ago I read a Sentinel slash fic. For those of you who haven't watched the series/poked around the fandom, it's about Jim, a police officer with a genetic quirk which raises all five senses to superhuman levels (as well as encouraging visits by spirit guides), and his friend/roommate/shaman/subtextual goldmine, Blair. In canon, both men like women. They date women. They have sex with women (a LOT of sex, in Blair's case). Jim was married. None of this necessarily means that they AREN'T gay, given that gay men have been sleeping with and marrying women for time immemorial, but it certainly shows that neither of them thinks of girls as "Ew, yuck." Being an unrepentant slasher and bi myself, I prefer to think that it means that they're either bisexual, or that they're heterosexual but the Sentinel/Guide relationship supercedes normal sexuality.

So I read this fic. I found it while hunting for songvids; the author has some truly kick-ass vids for download, and I figured that boded well for her fanfiction. It started off on the right foot, using a classic Sentinel AU premise of Jim and Blair meeting in the Peruvian jungle, where Jim lives with the native tribe that first taught him to control his senses. There was an actual plot in evidence and a decent writing style, even if it tended to veer off into melodramatic romance novel phrasing during sex scenes. Then it all came screeching to a halt when a secondary character -- the evil jealous shrew and the only female character to have a significant speaking part, which should have been my first warning-- revealed that it's taboo for a Sentinel to "spill his seed" inside a woman.

Erm, yeah. Two problems with that.

First, Sentinels are Sentinels because of a genetic quirk. That means that the best way to make baby Sentinels is to have Mommy and Daddy Sentinels. While Jim canonically gets a little less play from normal women than Blair, something memorable happens the one time a female Sentinel crosses his path: they fuck like bunnies because, guess what, they have an instinctive urge to reproduce those lil' Uebermensch genes (and she's evil and fucking with his head, but that's secondary to my point). Second, there is no reason for this taboo in the context of the fic. Neither the setting nor the plot are served by its inclusion; it in fact detracts from both because of the glaring illogic of it. The only reason for its inclusion seems to be keeping Jim's love Pure and Gay, unsullied by icky nasty girl sex.

As I said, the fact that the only significant female character was the evil jealous shrew should have been my first clue. This anti-bisexual trend seems strongly related to the nasty streak of mysoginy that often pops up in slash fic. Both seem to be strongly related to the (probably heterosexual) slasher not comprehendinging what it's like to be honestly attracted to both genders* and to the idea that the heroes are the One True Pairing and any women in their lives are just getting in the way of their One True Love. Other men they may have slept with seem more often to be portrayed as setting the stage for the Big Gay Love, instead of being evil nasty dicks whose very existance threatens it. The issue becomes muddier when you throw in straight guy slash, but since straight guy slash is something I tend to avoid reading at all, I can't really give an opinion on that facet of it.

I had a decent conclusion for this in mind, but frankly I'm turning into a zombie. (Mmm, brains.) I've seen this problem in just about every fandom I can think of, often in the works of very good writers. Am I wrong about its roots? Can anything be done to change it?

* I know that there are heterosexuals (and homosexuals, for that matter) out there who don't have that problem. I'm speaking in general.

Fan Comments

Comments to the Essay at the Original Post

[chibicelchan]:
You're absolutely right about the women being used as the evil whore that wants to break up the two men and their sacred, true eternal love... it never does seem to be the same way with guys... I wonder why that is? If you're going to make a soap opera romance, why bias players' roles based on gender?

That's also a very crude way to force the poor characters into being romantically involved. I mean, wow... don't give them free will and let them DECIDE not to sleep with women in the duration of the fic or anything... no, no no. It must be forbidden, so that even though they didn't have a choice to begin with, they can discover their true and undying love for each other which they can't break because they can't sleep with women anyway. Or at least Jim can't. Urg... how stupid.

Blah, I don't know, either. My fandom, M*A*S*H, is very subtexty and even though everyone's canonically straight (I *guess*), you can't go anywhere without being innundated by Hawkeye/Trapper or BJ or Radar or you name it. Usually, when I'm writing, anyway, I try to have the protagonist have at least a passing interest in women... not enough to throw the plot off, but enough to still get the point across.. because I'm sorry, but it's the army, and these men are some randy buggers!! I personally have an annoyance for fics where suddenly there's a realization that all along the character has been gay, regardless of the multitude of the opposite sex they've boinked during the course of the series. Make it interesting! Let them experiment! There's more to a relationship than "is he gay?!!?! OMG kill all teh women!!!1"
[chaos rose]:
"This anti-bisexual trend seems strongly related to the nasty streak of mysoginy that often pops up in slash fic. Both seem to be strongly related to the (probably heterosexual) slasher not comprehending what it's like to be honestly attracted to both genders*"

Sometimes otherwise open-minded people tend to become very narrow-minded when it comes to matters of sexuality and gender. To some, homosexuality is 'the other white meat' to being heterosexual - and there can be no in between. I've been 'out' as bi for almost eighteen years, and in my experience, people can be very uncomfortable among us or transgendered people - we don't fit into the box and otherwise well-mannered people will do all manner of stupid and rude things to get us in there.

I'm sure that if you pointed out the bi-phobia to the writer, there would be ringing, heartfelt, and public denials. In all likelihood, they would be horrified at being percieved as being prejudiced against anyone.

I think that bi-phobia also has roots in the cultural standard of monogamy. Monogamy looks great in theory - but in many cases, the practice has some serious flaws. In fanfiction, the characters - het or slash - live in an idealized and unrealistic monogamous state. Character A has no personality quirks that drive B out of his/her little furry mind. Nobody has a PMS or a bad hair day. Everyone is ever-ready for epic bouts of passionate sex where noses never bump and both partners are as limber as contortionists. It is not hard to follow that in an idealized relationship - though whose ideal it is, I've no idea - that there would not be any need that could not be satisfied by the other partner. A bisexual relationship is a categoric denial of idealized monogamy - something that we grow up with and internalize to such a degree that we think anything else is wrong.

The streak of female-to-female misogyny is also troubling. I find self hatred very disturbing, and from the way some of these female slashers write other women, I do not think that they have a very good image of women as a whole, but of themselves. It is as if they are either seeking to obliterate the 'sin' of being female by attacking women in their stories, or writing other women as they think gay men see them.

Even more disturbing is the proliferation of something that I have been calling 'minstrel show slash.' This is slash that has a homophobic subtext and is laden with gay stereotypes. Frankly, if anyone wrote black people this way, they would be justifiably be called a racist, but since it's about gay people, that seems to defray a great deal of criticism. It's almost anti-slash-slash, with some of the characterizations as bad or worse than the most bigoted of jokes.

I don't know what can be done to reverse these trends. People have to change their own minds, nothing can change it for them.
[rivetcat]:
*nod* good points all around -- i think the term "minstrel show slash" is brilliant, and i completely agree with you about biphobia as related to idealized monogamy. there seems to be a suspicion among some (not all!) monosexuals that bisexuals are only that way because we're "greedy" (slutty, immoral, incapable of "real love," etc) -- that if we really loved any *one* person enough, whatever that means, we'd declare a monosexual orientation and settle down to raise babies with that one person happily ever after. by contrast, i tend to assume that most of the characters i write are, like me, fundamentally bisexual: that, given an attractive enough person of any gender, they'd jump in bed without much worry. fabularasa tends toward that position in much of her fic, too, which is one of the things that makes her work resonate for me philosophically and not just for the hot gay sex.
[bluepard]:
Well, a lot of the female characters that get the Hatefic treatment are sort of youthful feminine visions. They've got some good points but they essentially live to get the Knight. So, maybe some authors are rebelling against that idea of women, rather than against all women.

Of course, you also see this treatment given to women who don't deserve it or stand in anybody's way--say Akari from Hikaru no Go. In that case, it can also be laziness on the fanficcer's part. Like in the Sorcerer Hunters fandom, the treatment that usually is reserved for female love interests is given to the main character. He's demonized so his brother can cry on another's shoulder. You see this a lot when the characters really don't go together--they must be shoved together by something.

I'd say the Sentinel fanfic talked about has the same problem. The author isn't secure in writing the relationship, so they have to reinforce it from the outside. Of course bisexuality is a threat in this case. I'd say it all stems from the same thing, which is just a lack of ability or confidence on the author's part.

It's kind of strange to hear people still equate bisexuality with promiscuity--and sad. But I think more people are more aware now, and hopefully it'll keep improving.
[joanne c]:
Having run into this problem in fandom a lot I wonder sometimes if it's because people truly don't understand what it's like to be bisexual, to truly desire both sexes? And because they don't get it, they don't understand how the characters could feel that way. It's my theory that people understand monosexual desire - homosexuality may squick some, but they can understand better the desire for one's own sex than for both sexes because it's not complicated, it's an easy box for them to file the person in.
[suzycat]:
Do you think it could be a reaction against the "they're not gay, Kirk just likes to suck Spock's cock" style of fic? Also, bear in mind that today's TV and movies are superficially much more "gay" friendly, but they, too, file sexuality into either/or. Specifically, a person is straight until they develop feelings of any kind towards a member of their own gender, whereupon they are forever and for all eternity gay. I think it's the downside of Stonewall, to be honest (and I hope I don't get flamed for saying that). In order to show support for homosexual people, they make homosexuality more normative, if you like, than heterosexuality. I think this happens in fic a lot.
[kimberlyfdr]:
I have often seen two kinds of fic in TS (and other fandoms for that matter).

One is the "I'm not gay, I just love you" line of thinking. OK, so don't be into labels, but I think that really cheapens the experience in the story for me. It leads me to believe that the characters are really homophobic, but they wanna screw.

Another kind of fic is the "the characters are gay, gay, gay." Canonically, Jim beds ALOT of women. Same with Blair. Unless those hundreds were a painful lead up to their true selves, you can't realistically make me believe that J/B are strictly gay. Bisexuality in fanfic is not a bad thing, it's not evil. It's a realistic portrayal of two characters who we've seen be attracted to both genders in canon (some more subtle than others;)
[azarias]:
TS is one of the few fandoms where I'll make an allowance, in the case of well-written fic, for the "they're not gay, just in love" angle, only because of the Sentinel/Guide bond (I actually prefer the fanon that tends to make said bond deeper and more mystical than canon shows, though I gag at certain cutesy fanon conventions like Jim being able to identify Blair's heartbeat in a crowded building). Something of the intensity and spirituality that fanon often gives that bond might just override conventional sexuality. On the otherhand, I find "everybody's gay" fic to be ... cheap. Whatever the fandom, unless they're canonically gay, it's highly unlikely that every character just so happens to be secretly gay.

Comments to the Essay Elsewhere

References