Warning: this is not a "sunshine and lollipops" post.
Biphobia and bisexual erasure are rampant in popular media. From Phoebe's "The Bisexual Song" on Friends--"Oh, sometimes men love women, and sometimes men love men. Then there are bisexuals, though some just say they're kidding themselves..."--to Willow's total conversion from straight to lesbian in one fell swoop on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to even supposedly LGBT-positive shows such as Queer as Folk suggesting that if you aren't totally straight or totally gay, there's something wrong with you--the implication is that bisexuals simply don't exist.
In my own personal experience since coming out, I've had people suggest that I'm only faking it to titillate straight men, or I'm deluded in my attraction to women, or it's "just a phase" that I'll eventually get over, or I'm really a closeted lesbian. The assumption is that I can't possibly be sexually and emotionally compatible with people of both sexes. And oddly, this assumption seems to me to be more prevalent in the LGBT community than anywhere else. It may be no more common there, but because that community is supposed to serve all the letters in the acronym, it is more...noticeable.
Well, I'm not particularly interested in what straight men think of my sexual orientation--other than to say how infuriating that straight-guy eyebrow waggle is. If I'm deluded, I've been deluded for my entire adult life (and my adolescence and much of my pre-adolescence) and by now, at age 38, I think I can safely say it's not a phase I'm going through. As for being a closeted lesbian? I just find men too damn hot to give any credence to that.
I'm bisexual. Get over it. And please, please, please stop telling me I don't exist!
So what does this have to do with f/f erotica and romance? It comes into play when making a distinction between f/f romance and lesbian romance. This is a distinction both lesbian and non-lesbian f/f authors have been known to make. Many lesbian romance authors shudder at the very thought of that slash-tag being associated with their work, and rightly so. Lesbian romance is a specific genre with specific tropes that are common to it.
According to Rory, a lesbian romance aficionada, bisexuality seems to be virtually non-existent in the f/f romance published by LGBT presses. Women who were once married tend to end up total converts to full-on lesbianism, often accompanied by references to how their ex-husbands were inattentive, inconsiderate lovers, or simply didn't know how to fulfill their needs. An egalitarian power dynamic is also common in lesbian romance, a dynamic that simply does not work for me as a reader. It's a rejection of the D/s power dynamic inherent in male/female relationships in favor of one where no woman has to be on the bottom.
Now don't get me wrong. Lesbian romance can be whatever it wants to be. I'm not going to tell authors what kind of stories to write, or what kind of tropes to include, or that they must give me what I want. And frankly, lesbians (and everyone else) can think what they want about my sexual orientation (and my opinions as I express them here. Feel free to strenuously disagree if you like--discussion is good).
But I do believe that lesbian fiction--as immersed (subtly or not so subtly) in gender politics, lesbian ideology, feminism and the casting off of patriarchy as it can be--is a very specific niche, and it's one that does not serve my needs as a reader. So whenever someone chimes in with a "What are you whining about? There's f/f romance all over the place!" I end up gritting my teeth until my jaw hurts.
I'm not particularly interested in reading romance fiction that supports a world view of either/or. I'm not interested in reading romance fiction that does not acknowledge I exist. I'm not interested in reading about how sex with a woman is always better than sex with a man, how a relationship with a woman will always be deeper and more loving and more fulfilling than one with a man, or that a man can never truly appreciate a woman.
I'm not interested in closing a door and leaving men on the other side of it. I'm about opting into the possibility of a same-sex relationship, not opting out of the possibility of an m/f one. I'm interested in sexual fluidity in all its forms (whether that's bi- or pansexuality, gender-bending, polyamory, whatever), and lesbian romance fiction doesn't seem to address this much or at all.
I decided to write this post after Teddypig did a blog post on Bold Strokes Books (and I should really give him kudos for posting about f/f considering it's certainly not his area of interest, lol), and the comments turned into a debate about whether there's a difference between f/f romance and lesbian romance. He holds that there is such an enormous overlap in readership between gay romance and m/m there's no distinction to make between the two, and that this holds true for f/f and lesbian.
I think he's mistaken.
Gay and m/m may be all but interchangeable because the readership does overlap. Women will happily read a gay romance, and gay men will happily read m/m.
This is not true of lesbian and f/f. Lesbian romance is often entrenched in a feminist ideology in a way gay romance (which still enjoys a degree of male privilege) is not. The issues in gay romance are gay issues. The issues in lesbian romance are not just lesbian issues but feminist issues.
Women will read gay romance because gay romance doesn't make them feel bad about themselves. Gay men will read m/m because m/m doesn't commonly contain tropes that subvert their ideology, their sense of self, and the long battle they've fought, and are still fighting, for acceptance.
The same can't be said about men and lesbian romance. Lesbian romance is often written from a perspective that makes the male reader feel like an interloper, or even an oppressor. What man wants to read fiction that often tells him he can never understand or please or sexually gratify a woman the way another woman can? What man wants to read fiction that makes him feel like he's only there to keep women down, thwart their success and happiness, or in the best case, help them achieve a happiness that can never include him? And I'm not saying lesbian romance should have to concern itself with making men feel okay about themselves, either. It shouldn't need to include men at all. But it isn't a genre targeted at men.
The same can't be said of straight women and lesbian romance--no woman wants to read a book that implies you're either/or (therefore, if she's getting turned on, she must conclude she's a closeted lesbian), or that she's a chump for being with a man. And judging by the het romance most popular today, straight women also tend to like the D/s dynamic (whether it's subtle or in your face), and complain there's no fire in a relationship without an alpha and a beta.
The same can't be said for lesbians and f/f. Bisexuality and sexual fluidity are not topics much explored in lesbian romance--for a reason. Whatever individual lesbians might feel, lesbians as a market aren't interested in reading about them--at least not in a romantic context.
Add to this the age-old co-opting of f/f sexuality for the titillation of straight men (and the resentment that must accompany that), and it's not surprising to see that female bisexuality is pretty much a no-show in lesbian romance. Lesbians (and most women) rightly protest the depiction of f/f sensuality as two women in bikinis rubbing against each other at a Nascar race. When such images are so pervasive in the media, it's only logical that many lesbians don't want men to own or have any part of their sexuality or the genre of fiction they've developed to serve it.
Female bisexuality invites men back in. Sexual fluidity invites men back in. Maybe not into the bedroom, but at least into the house. And that's what I like to read, and what I write. As a bisexual, I want to read characters who are like me, fiction that acknowledges f/f sex and f/f love are different from m/f, but not necessarily better. That I can be with a man and still be attracted to women, and it isn't a concession or a defeat or a compromise--it's just love. That I can be with a woman and still be attracted to men, and it's not the end-all and be-all or a rejection of maleness--it's just love.
After a certain amount of searching, Rory went on to recommend two romances to me where the characters are bisexual. I'm pretty stoked to find something to read that might satisfy my longing for girl-on-girl love while also accommodating my bisexuality--even if the m/f sex is minimal or non-existant. But the point is, if Rory hadn't recommended those books, I'd have never known they existed, because they're marketed as lesbian romance.
I don't read lesbian romance. I read f/f romance. The two are different. What say you all?