Nicola Lancaster and Battle Hall Davies.
I don’t speak of these two characters very much or even the book in which I read of them, Empress of the World by Sara Ryan. Which is odd considering the impact they had on me. It was way back when in 2007, I was a sophomore just getting my bearings in high school surrounded by hormones and a critical lack of self-awareness. Nicola, or Nic, and Battle are two teenage girls who meet at a camp for gifted students and begin a summer romance. They were my first encounter reading bisexual characters. With confidence, Nic informed the reader that her romantic attraction to Battle didn’t take away all the romantic feelings she had for boys in the past. She asserts that she still likes boys but she likes girls too, that she’s sure to have feelings for either gender in the future.
At the time, I was aware that I was attracted to men and woman but was hesitant to acknowledge it, even in my own thoughts. So there was something extraordinary about reading that, in print, in a book I took out at the school library. The feelings I had but never spoke of had a legitimacy that I had silently desired. I don’t remember if the word bisexual ever gets used in the book. It would take a couple of years for me to identify myself as bisexual. But Nic’s feelings were my feelings. Battle’s feelings were my feelings.There is something to be said about that emotion one gets when the thoughts you originally thought were unique to you, are mirrored in the characters of a story you’re reading. It’s almost indescribable, that mixture of happiness and relief that I felt in that moment. But boiled down and in the simplest way, I will try to explain. I had received a profound moment of clarification and one of the most hopeful messages I had ever received in my life; that I was not alone.
And that feeling? I began to chase it.
It was always a struggle to find LGBT+ books, even more difficult to find ones portraying bisexuality in a way that didn’t make me feel like being bisexual meant I had to be this uber flirt, make a girl fall in love with me and then end up running back into the closet, breaking her heart and living out the rest of my days as a miserable straight. None of the characters that I looked to for representation felt authentic. None of them gave me that feeling of kinship I had felt when I read Empress. Instead I just kept absorbing all this content and constantly facing this idea that that one day I would have to choose to be gay or straight. Bisexuality wasn’t a real option, it was nothing more than a throwaway punch line to a joke about always having one foot in the closet. I had to constantly remind myself that Empress wasn’t a fluke. Nic wasn’t real but her feelings were real, they were mine.
And apparently they were also Evan Rachel Wood’s and Anna Paquin’s feelings too. Of course, both actresses were on my radar as a teenager and hearing them say the word, you know the one. Bisexual.
It was a revelation of a new sort. I loved the word. I loved hearing it. Hearing what bisexuality meant to bisexuals. What it meant to me. That experiencing attraction to a person regardless of their gender, happened often enough that it had a word to describe it. Bisexual. That the attraction to one gender didn’t negate the attraction to another. Bisexual. It was then that I claimed the label fiercely, identified with it proudly, in a way that would have been impossible without bisexual people speaking for themselves and for the people who, like me, could not yet. I am bisexual.
Being comfortable in my identity helped me to understand what I wanted to find in books with bisexual characters. Specifically I was looking for books with a bisexual point of view. Fortunately for me, the last couple of years, have been pretty good for bisexual representation in young adult books.
Just a quick glance at my bookshelves, I can name at least four books featuring the point of view of a bisexual character. There is Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst. A fantasy novel that I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in where two princesses become reluctant allies, friends and eventually more in their mission to save the alliance between their two kingdoms. Another in the fantasy genre, is Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova, which has a special place in my heart for being the first and so far only book I’ve read with a bisexual Latina main character. An intersection between two of my own identities that is so rarely represented that I could shed actual real life tears just thinking about how blessed I am that that book was randomly recommended to me on Twitter.
Then there are contemporaries I’m in the middle of reading now, Ramona Blue and Queens of Geek. The first title by Julie Murphy is about a girl, Ramona, who initially identifies as a lesbian until she falls in love with her best friend, who happens to be a boy. A touchy subject to some, although personally, I don’t think it should be. But it’s done so well and with so much care by Murphy, who writes with genuine emotion and candid honesty. The second title by Jen Wilde, is about three friends who go to a convention. So far, a super relatable book, for anyone with even the slightest of geeky interests and so-far I am finding the romantic relationship between two of the characters, Charlie and Alyssa to be pure fun and yet affirming at the same time. Which is just two great things to be.
Seeing myself represented in such authentic ways is a comfort. It’s a satisfaction to a craving I always had but never knew how to voice. Queens of Geek and Ramona Blue, I believe are especially important because the bisexual main characters are being written by bisexual authors. Our stories are so rarely told and never with as much as care when they’re told by us. This recent progression of bi people sharing their thoughts and experiences and perspective of their sexuality through the accessible lens of young adult fiction and it’s nothing short of revolutionary. And although there is a part of me that feels that tinge of disappointment that I didn’t have these books available to me when I was teenager, I’m overcome with a swell of righteous content that they exist. That they can exist and that I get to experience them.
So that feeling I was chasing?
I’ve finally been able to catch it, but I don’t think I’ll ever get enough.
Cait is a bisexual bruja and writer. You can find her ranting on her twitter
@itsbrujabitch about her passionate love for books, fandom, astrology and tarot. Visit her blog where she shares her book reviews and personal poems and essays.