Shelf Love

Bisexuality in Romance

Short Description

Bisexuality in romance with writer and reviewer Ellie Mae MacGregor (@bisexual_booknerd). When it comes to romance, a genre that explores romantic and sexual desires, what does “good” bisexual representation look like? How can books with or without bisexual representation create worlds that feel safe for bisexual readers?

Show Notes

Bisexuality in romance with writer and reviewer Ellie Mae MacGregor (@bisexual_booknerd). When it comes to romance, a genre that explores romantic and sexual desires, what does “good” bisexual representation look like? How can books with or without bisexual representation create worlds that feel safe for bisexual readers?

Shelf Love:

Guest: Ellie Mae MacGregor

Instagram @bisexual_booknerd


Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Shelf Love, a podcast about romance novels and how they reflect, explore, challenge, and shape desire. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci, and on this episode, I am joined by romance writer and reviewer, Ellie Mae MacGregor, to discuss bisexuality in romance. Thanks so much for being here, Ellie.

Can you introduce yourself?

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Yeah absolutely. Thank you for having me. As you said, my name is Ellie Mae MacGregor. I review romance. This year has not been a particularly heavy review year. But technically that is what I do. I also have two novellas and hopefully will be writing more but as of now I think I can still call myself a writer and reviewer.

Andrea Martucci: Look, you can call yourself a writer even if you're not published, but you are published.

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Only KDP Publishing from Amazon can take that away from me at any time.

Andrea Martucci: But they can't take it out of your heart.

Ellie Mae MacGregor: That's true, they can't.

Andrea Martucci: So when did you start reading romance, and what do you love about it?

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Yeah, so I'm pretty new to romance comparatively I'm not one of those people that stole my grandma's romance at 12 years old or anything like that. My grandma's much more of a thriller person.

I started reading romance actually because of a different podcast I was listening to but the host, Vanessa Zoltan started a romance podcast, called Hot and Bothered.

They were reading like Wuthering Heights and Austen and things that were more like maybe forefathers of Romance is not right. The predecessors of romance.

But her first season was about basically like how to write a romance novel. The idea that writing romance for her was really healing, especially during really hard times. And I was going through a particularly hard time. So this was. I was pre 2020, but not by too much and I was actually living abroad. I was living in Taiwan and I was just really going through it.

I was really lonely and I also was having some bad health problems. I, fell and, shattered my arm.

Andrea Martucci: Oh my god.

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Yeah, I was on a lot of medication, and I, on bed rest, and it was this whole thing, and I was just, clinging to anything for dear life, and she put up this podcast, and she had actually recc'd before you listen to the podcast to watch this romance documentary it interviewed, Beverly Jenkins and maybe Julia Quinn and, some of those other really big names .

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, is it Love Between Covers?

Ellie Mae MacGregor: That sounds right.

Andrea Martucci: a Lori Kahn documentary I think it came out in 2016?

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Would have been... Maybe 2018, that I watched probably is right. And it was basically, I think, if you've been in the romance space for a while, it's not anything, groundbreaking, but I think for people who, aren't, yeah, it was just romance can be feminist, romance can be special, look at all these people that love romance but, yeah I, hadn't read romance before, and I think I was under the impression that most people were, of it's not serious, I need more plot, or whatever, even though growing up, anything with romance I loved. It just wasn't maybe capital R romance.

[00:03:00] And so the that podcast interviewed Julia Quinn at the end of each episode and so I tried to read a Julia Quinn book, and it just wasn't really for me and I was kind of like, oh well, maybe I want to write romance, I want to write something, just for a fun exercise, that's not my thing.

But then the second episode, she interviewed Alyssa Cole and specifically Alyssa gave the pitch for A Princess in Theory. Which the premise is amazing. So it's basically a play on the Nigerian prince scam of I need money, I'm a royal, blah, blah, blah. I don't know what the scam is exactly, but the premise is basically that she's actually a princess and she does get contacted by an African prince and it's all very fun and I was okay, this feels like more my speed and it felt a lot more accessible and that was the first romance I really got into.

I read her whole back catalog, then I think she had Courtney Milan on, and then I read a bunch of Courtney Milan and so that was really what I guess helped me fall in love with romance, and then shortly after that was 2020, where all I did was read romance, and that's where I started my bookstagram and, really found escape and solace and community in romance.

My brain loves that it's formulaic. Not everyone does, but I think that it's really interesting what each author does with the scaffolding that they're given. I think it's a really interesting way to be creative and I think I love that it can give us almost like a mirror, to understand how to love ourselves and how to understand How to ask for better.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So this is a big question. What is bisexuality? Obviously this is what we're talking about today, and on Instagram your name is bisexualbooknerd. This is a big central piece of your romance platform.

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Yes. Two things. Before I give my definition I think choosing that name felt really important to me. I think outside of what I love about reading romance, what love about existing on Bookstagram and in the online book community is that now some people I know in real life do follow me, but initially, for a long time, they didn't.

And so it was really just like my space and it felt like a space that I could just say whatever I really wanted to say and be whoever I really wanted and there wasn't like a pressure to not upset people I knew, not make them uncomfortable, and so I felt like, okay, when you're bi, you're always coming out as bi.

Doesn't matter what relationship you're in, unless you're like, in a triad with an obviously man woman sort of situation, and everyone can be like, all three kissing together at the same time, I know this is a, but other than that, there's not really a way to be visibly bi.

Like, I think when you're bisexual and people don't always know, you can feel like if they knew, what would they think about me? Would they still like me? Would they think something [00:06:00] different about me? And so I felt like if this is the first thing people see, they can stay or they can leave. There's no, how do I tell them? They're here, they can be here and know that, or they can go somewhere else, and I never have to come out. So that felt really important to me.

Bisexuality. The definition that I hear used the most is basically attraction, whether that's romantic or sexual, I guess, so it would be sexual because biromantic the romantic attraction but some people will use them for both, but it's basically attraction to your own gender and then other genders, so it's not necessarily like man and woman only. Especially as a non binary person. That would be confusing and weird.

And so it doesn't have to be equal attraction, it doesn't have to be the same kind of attraction, it doesn't have to be 50 50. It can. And then like I mentioned, there is biromantic as well as bisexual, and there are people who are romantically attracted to their own gender and other genders but only sexually attracted to one gender, or vice versa, or asexual that are biromantic, so there's like many ways that like, bi ness can play out.

Andrea Martucci: Do you feel that you explicitly identify as bisexual as opposed to pansexual? Like, where, what's the difference for you, or do you see a difference, personally?

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Yeah, that's a great question. And so I just did a live with Helena Greer yesterday on bisexuality. And that was a question that we all talked about that's actually pinned on her Instagram if people wanna watch that. But we all had the same feelings in which a couple things.

So I came out or realized I was bisexual super senior year shout out to all my five year college grads um, and that was really before I had ever heard the term pansexual, and partly it's just the term that I came to first, and if pansexual a term that was out there, that could have been one that I would have identified with.

But another reason is that from my understanding pansexual is basically attraction regardless of gender.

Gender doesn't impact one's sexuality one's sexual interest whereas for me it important. Like how someone's gender is can impact the way that I'm attracted to them, and so a lot of people that are bi, the way that they're attracted to men versus women might feel different, or play out differently, or, you might be more attracted to one than the other, and so I think I go through phases, and I've heard this with other bi people as well, is you go through phases where you're sometimes more attracted to one gender than the other, it's just not always, the same forever and always.

But sometimes pan feels right too. I don't know. They don't also have to be mutually exclusive. What I feel about bisexuality is it is the term that is the best. It is not perfect. I think that labels can be really awesome, but they're things that like humans created to define ourselves and like humans don't fit into neat boxes.

I was having this conversation with Allison Cochrun [00:09:00] ages ago about the idea that like some lesbians are attracted to non binary people, or whatever, and she like, made this joke about how like, Taika Waititi transcends sexuality, and like, lots of lesbians are attracted to Taika Waititi. It's like, you could be a lesbian and find Taika Waititi attractive and be like, okay, this is enough evidence for me to be bisexual. I'm attracted to all women and one man, and that's enough. Or you could be like, no, I'm still bisexual, it's just he looks hot in leather, I don't know what to say.

Sexuality, I think, it's never something that's gonna fit neatly in a box. I think all you can do is pick the label that feels the best, and, if that label changes, that's also okay too, and I think when you're like multi attracted you are so often having to defend yourself I think if you ever feel like you might want to change, it's like you feel like you can't because you've dug yourself in the ground so far that it's like I've defended my bisexuality so hard that the idea that I actually realize I'm a lesbian now or I'm straight would be so embarrassing and so bad because I've told all these people it's not a phase.

It's for some people, it's okay for it to be a phase. It's your life. And I think that That's something we also, I know that wasn't the question, that people forget and it's like labels are only as good as we make them and we are allowed to say whatever label makes us feel good or doesn't feel good.

Andrea Martucci: mhm. Yeah, I think what's interesting about the term, and I appreciate you making the distinction between thinking about the difference between I'm attracted to people of multiple genders, but gender does play a role in attraction or romantic feelings or what have you, as opposed to, I'm attracted to people regardless of gender. Like gender is like not a factor there. So I appreciate that.

And then at the same time, it's such an interesting term because on the one hand we're dealing with breaking out of binaries, and then the term bi is basically saying two genders! I'm attracted to both! You know what I mean? But it's imperfect as you were saying.

And I think also like you were talking about how people evolve and how these terms are imperfect, I think often about how none of us can ever understand how somebody else is experiencing something.

And sometimes I'll see people talking online and they're like, I think everybody else experiences this thing this way, and I don't experience it that way. And often when I see that, I'm like. I think that we may sometimes take what people say a little too literally. Because we have learned to use certain language for things that, we may use figurative language to describe something and it's hyperbolic or it's not precisely what we're feeling but we're like, sure, that's the word we use to talk about this thing when we're talking about like roman because we learn so much the scripts of romance and sexuality from the [00:12:00] world that we live in and the people that we encounter.

I just think so often that I appreciate all of the conversations about this, where people are sharing, and especially in romance novels where you get that ability to get inside somebody's head and multiple people's heads and see how they're thinking through these things.

But even romance novels oftentimes are borrowing language from the existing body of ways to describe those things. Anyways, it's something I think about a lot actually, where we are constantly struggling to express ourselves in the world and constantly limited by the language and ability to fully, will never be able to fully share what we are experiencing with another person where they can understand your experience perfectly.

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Yeah. Yeah. I completely agree. I think one that just, that brings me back to another thing that I love about romance's novels that you hit on the head is that like you do get this really intimate experience of being in someone's head and the way that a character feels attraction, feels romantic attraction, sexual attraction, and I think it can, yeah, make you feel like oh, that is so similar to me, or that's nothing like me, and I think that so many bisexual people often feel like I like this quote unquote opposite sex person, and I have these other feelings towards, other genders, but that must be what everyone's feeling. Everyone must have crushes on their best friends, that must be what everyone's feeling, because you're not in other people's heads, you're only in your head, and if you're not seeing that play out in media, like, how do you know that means something other than... This must be what heterosexual looks like.

And I also think, yeah, the term bisexuality is interesting, and I think, I hear people talk about it as bi, two genders, man, woman, or multiple genders, as my gender and other genders is the bi and truthfully don't know,

Andrea Martucci: Mm.

Ellie Mae MacGregor: what kind of came first. Helena Greer is a sex educator , and she's so deeply knowledgeable, and she was saying that the term came out, I think in like, the 60s, but I think she said specifically in academic literature, so I think she said in the 70s, that's where people really started to talk about there not necessarily just being two genders, potentially but then also that there were these sort of TERF-y people really pushing the idea that bisexuality was like an exclusive sexuality of like, it means only this, not something more than that.

I don't know if I could create a word, if it would be the word, because it does feel like it lends itself to being misconstrued, and, or, in the media, so often I hear, I'm attracted to men and women, so I'm bisexual, and that's the end, and it doesn't mean that isn't what bisexuality means, or it can't be what it means, but even in books sometimes, like even in romance novels, even bi people that are bi people,[00:15:00] I sometimes hear that language which, as a non binary person sometimes feels frustrating.

And again, it doesn't mean that's not the way your bisexuality can play out, but often it does feel like that's how they're defining bisexuality.

And like you said, it's like often, I think we're using language we hear in the media, and I think that while romance has a long way to go, and will always have a long way to go in regards to representation and things like that, it is leaps and bounds ahead of TV media, I'm a huge reality TV, not only watcher, but like nerd, it's like one of my weird special interests.

I love the gameplay of reality TV, but anytime there's a bisexual person in reality TV, it is just, I feel like it really exemplifies other people's biases and it immediately gets biphobic, and I think it really highlights all these ways that even just the word lends itself to misunderstanding.

Andrea Martucci: So what's the first romance that you read that had a character who was canonically bisexual?

Ellie Mae MacGregor: That's a good question. Honestly not sure. In A Prince on Paper, which is Alyssa Cole's third book in her Reluctant Royal series, the hero is queer? He does not use the word bisexual. He certainly is attracted to multiple genders but I would say that probably, truthfully, the first one that I read that used the word bisexual that I can think of maybe it's Red, White, and Royal Blue.

Andrea Martucci: Okay.

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Maybe. And I know that people have a lot of thoughts about Red, White, and Royal Blue, but one thing that I will say is I do think it is a pretty good examination of what it means to be bisexual. I think potentially the reason it stuck in mind because it's not just a bisexual character, it's like, really, examining bisexuality is a fair bit of the plot, and so that may be why I feel that way.

I would say either that or maybe one of Talia Hibbert's books. I also went through a really big Talia Hibbert phase. Not that I'm out of that phase, I still love her deeply but earlier on in my romance journey, and so it is possible it's one of those books because she writes bisexual characters absolutely fantastically.

Andrea Martucci: I have not read Red, White, and Royal Blue, but if I understand correctly, one of the male characters is gay and one is bisexual, is that correct? So what it's making me think of is that it is assumed in the heteropatriarchy that people are heterosexual, and that if you are a man, you will be attracted to women, and if you're a woman, you will be attracted to men, and there is no spectrum of gender or sexuality, right?

Again, hetero, heteropatriarchy.

Therefore, it is assumed that people in relationships have the same sexuality, even if they have different genders. You're a woman, but you're heterosexual. You're a man, but you're heterosexual. And what's interesting when you start getting into queer relationships is that gets exploded.

That's no longer an assumption you can make that two people in a relationship share [00:18:00] the exact same sexual identity, and therefore, there is that opportunity for, misunderstanding or need to work through and understand that identity better.

Could you talk about how that's explored in Red, White, and Royal Blue?

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Yeah, so honestly, I don't know that it so that, that's a really important topic because it's an opportunity and a challenge. I think that biness, or anytime you're attracted to multiple genders, I think it really can, not always, but it can force you to exist outside of the bounds of what's expected in a relationship, and so the way that gender norms play out in a relationship I think no matter what the sex or gender of your partner is, can be very different.

And so I think that can be really powerful, but also yeah, there's a lot of room for misunderstanding, or for outsider ness, because I think, bi people are often outsiders both in queer and straight communities, but I think specifically in Red, and Royal Blue, it's a lot more about the one character coming to understand his bi ness and having a lot of, I think there are two definitions to bi panic,

Andrea Martucci: Heh. Heh.

Ellie Mae MacGregor: there are hot people of multiple genders. What do I do? And also which maybe is the more traditional definition. I'm not sure. But also, am I really bi?

And Casey has this moment that I really appreciate where the character is like thinking and thinking and thinking, and has this moment of like, straight people don't spend this much time wondering if they're straight.

They don't spend this much time trying to convince themselves that they're straight. This process I'm going through is it's not for straight people. This process is evidence enough.

And so I think that all really spoke to me at the time. But I think, in general, there isn't a lot of... What does it mean that you are bi and I am not? And I actually think that is maybe more rare.

I am trying to think of a book off the top of my head that does a good job exploring this. Not that I think a lot of books do a bad job, but that it's intentional. And maybe one that I can think of. I don't know if this does this either, and this book is actually not written by a bisexual person, which people have feelings about or not feelings about whatever but so Alexis Hall has Rosalind Parker Takes the Cake.

And I do think that book does a really good job of exploring, how does bisexuality change your relationship no matter what the other person's orientation is.

And so there's one moment I really toward the end the love interests are about to have sex, and the hero is like, oh, I don't have a condom, and Rosalind's like, so we can still have sex, that's fine. Like, Sex doesn't have to mean the thing that you think it means but maybe there is a [00:21:00] little bit of here's what I'm a bi person that you're not experiencing .

Andrea Martucci: What does good representation mean in your opinion? So we can interrogate people may use that colloquially, but what does it really mean to you when you're thinking about it?

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Yeah that's a good question. I guess I think it means two things. When we're talking about queerness, this is a topic that people will just talk circles and circles around on Twitter and things like that, of like, who gets to write queer romance, things like that and like how people shouldn't have to be out to write queer romance and all these things.

I think that to me, there are authors that make me feel safe and there are authors that don't make me feel safe, regardless of what I know about them or what I don't know about them, because I think that there are some authors that, are bi that maybe haven't examined what it means to be bi.

Authors that do really play up this idea of the gender binary and bisexuality and things like that, whereas there are authors who have done research and are writing from like a kind, empathetic, understanding place.

And so I think me, that feels really important. And then also I think, like I mentioned before, that no matter what relationship, what kind of structure, what gender or genders are present in the relationship, that the character's bi ness impacts that relationship. No matter what the genders are in the relationship, it is going to be a different relationship if that character is bi.

And I don't think, always, good representation means there's a line about a character that dated the same sex three years ago, and that's like enough to be representation. I'm not saying that's bad, but I don't feel like that's necessarily representation.

I think that there are some authors that are very explicit about, here's what being bi means, let's examine this. And then there are some authors who are kind of like, let me create this world in which bi-ness is understood and accepted and almost just like the norm, and I think both can be good representation.

For example, this sort of bisexuality is the norm, I feel like I think of Katee Robert, Katrina Jackson, these worlds that's people bi. The end.

But their biness is still impacting the relationship. Every relationship they're in is a queer relationship. The way that they think. Bisexuality to me, is so much more important than, who have I dated? Who have I had sex with? That to me is almost one of the less interesting things, and so maybe that's your experience and that's fine. That to me isn't something I would recommend to people and be like, this is great rep.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I went to Emerson College, which is known for being a bastion of queerness. But it was a really lovely place where... I think a lot of people from backgrounds that ranged from very accepting to not very [00:24:00] accepting came and, it was just like, you are accepted here, everything is great no judgment, be yourself.

So I had the privilege when I was, I think, a junior to have a class called Queer Identity and the professor was this amazing queer man who, he was just so exacting expected so much in terms of how much we were going to like, learn and understand and expect from us in our analysis of things.

I feel so privileged that I had the experience in college, like a, to be in such an accepting place and then also get this education on queer history and literature and all of this amazing stuff.

So I think that sometimes when I encounter discourse, something that I think about a lot is the rigidity around protecting certain terms, and I think in particular queerness, where I actually, from my education in this and thinking about it in that context of the history, I actually see a lot of value in being really broad about how we think about the term queerness because, you know, particularly, let's say, like, from gender role perspectives.

And you were talking about, a queer relationship even if, it appears heterosexual from the outside, right?

And, really, I think the danger that queerness poses to the kyriarchy and the heteropatriarchy, is that it is invested in doing something outside of what is expected as the norm. It is the other. And there's a part of me that is going to hesitate to say this because I know that some people will choose to misunderstand it, but I feel that I have a queer relationship with my husband because we are really invested in challenging the gender norm roles for a cis man and a cis woman in a relationship, right?

And I do not want to claim that I guess take that identity away from people who have other experiences, especially experiences that are less safe in society? But at the same time I feel like it's a step towards the world we want to live in if we do broaden that term and we think about how can all of us, every single person living in this world, just in everyday life, challenge gender roles, expected ideas about sexuality based on one's gender, challenging ways of thinking.

I believe we are both neurodivergent. There is a certain also policing of, you are supposed to think about this a certain way and neurodivergence in a way is, sometimes interpreted as why are you experiencing it this way? You're not supposed to experience it like that, right?

But as you were talking, I was just thinking about, how I really love the idea of queerness as just like a big group project that we're all invested in and the more that people do that and try to think differently and don't fall into the expected pattern of things, the more accepting the world is.

Like the less assumptions there are about like, [00:27:00] oh I have seen you at face value and now I have a stereotypical understanding of you and therefore I will make all these assumptions about who you are and, whatever.

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Yeah, no, I think that all of that like really resonates with me. Yeah, I think that the term queerness itself is complicated one. Being the age that I am, it doesn't really have negative connotations for me. I know with like other, folks in the community, it can. I think it's one of those things that for many people means many different things.

But I think for me, the way that I understand it and the way I feel it, and, again, this is just my own personal definition, but you can be part of the LGBT community and not really queer, or not invested in queerness and, again, that's my own personal definition. If you identify as queer, you identify as queer, and that's awesome.

But I do feel like there is this inherent kind of counterculture, this inherent, I'm identifying as queer, and so I am invested in living a life that is outside or pushing against the cis hetero patriarchy.

Yeah, it is a group project that I am showing up for and that is valuable to me, and again, this is just my own feelings so anyone identifies queer or not queer, that is fine.

But I also think that is, why I think queer people should be role models for everyone, but it is also why we pose a threat to many people. I think cis people should look up to trans people and non binary people and straight people should look up to gay people and bi people and pan people and allosexual people should look up to demisexual people and asexual people because it shows us what is possible if we allow ourselves to understand a world that is not bound by rules that are sort of meaningless, you know, they don't work for everyone, and it doesn't mean that your relationship, it doesn't mean that someone can't be a stay at home mom or prefer to do the house chores versus the yard chores or whatever, but it's like, if you're doing that, there should be a reason, it shouldn't be because you have to do that.

You know, the world would be so much better if straight people thought about why they were straight,

Andrea Martucci: hm.

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Thought about whether they were really straight, and cis people thought about whether they were really cis, and why they were cis, and even though they're cis, do they still like wearing a dress, or painting their nails, and they can do that,

Andrea Martucci: Mm hm. Mm hm.

Ellie Mae MacGregor: I think that, like we both know, I'm sure, the gender roles that exist for men and women can be pretty suffocating. And so I think that the more room we leave for queerness. Like you said, the better our world is going to be.

Andrea Martucci: Hm. Yeah, and thinking about good representation, I think that sometimes the conversation gets really flattened in romance discourse, A, by [00:30:00] focusing on individuals instead of patterns, I think there is a lot to criticize about the patterns of who is financially in a better position, has more opportunities and privilege in the space, I think that is a conversation. I don't think that's ever an excuse to go point to a particular and start to question their identity, right?

However, I think there is also this assumption that if somebody has a particular identity that by default they will create good representation.

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Right.

Andrea Martucci: that ignores that we all have all of this internalized bullshit that we have to constantly examine and that even sometimes people who are harmed by internalized bullshit from other people, but from themselves, that, regardless we are all constantly, I think, battling that.

I feel like the way you start to address those things is, bring it out into the light, have discussions, right?

Let's talk about this. Not because our goal is to take this book that was written or whatever and say this is garbage and nobody should ever read this and blah blah blah blah blah it's no it's every single thing is just a point where oh this is something we can discuss and hey let's actually think about and problematize this and maybe somebody literally just one person will think about it differently and that is worth it, right?

So on that note I would love to talk about some specific books and maybe talk about a mix of both books that are engaging, in your opinion, like thoughtfully with bisexual representation or not falling into harmful tropes about bisexuality. And then ones where you are noticing, hey, there's an opportunity let's look at this trope.

Let's look at this thing that's and just call attention maybe to people who are not realizing that they've internalized something or they've just never thought about it from somebody else's perspective, because we are all living in our own default perspective, right? So the only way we can learn about other people's experiences is to talk about it or to hear about it.

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Yeah. No. Absolutely. I think that all feels. I think really important and well said.

One thing I think that feels so important and is basically impossible to talk about on the internet is the fact that, basically every book is somewhat problematic in some way.

We are problematic people. We all are unpacking our own stuff, whether it is identities that we do not hold or, like you said, identities that we do hold. Internalized biphobia is so deep and I think that's something that I think bisexual people, at least myself, I feel like it's not something I've conquered or gotten over. There are still moments where I'm like, oh, that was a shitty thing to think or a shitty thing to feel or whatever.

And so I think that, yeah, we all have the capacity to say things that are shitty.

Occasionally, I sensitivity read for[00:33:00] queer issues, neurodivergent issues, things like that. And I think I once had a conversation with someone who was like, definitely let me know whatever you find. But obviously, I hope you don't find anything. And it's like, there's not a world in which I don't find anything.

Like. I have gotten the opportunity to read books by some of the best, most thoughtful people. And there are moments where I'm like maybe we could use a different word here. Or I think the thing we're implying right now is X, and I know that's not the intention, but I think it could be read that way. Every single book I read.

And I'm sure, anyone who does the thing that I do, if they read my work, they would think the same thing. Because it's like, we are coming from one perspective, and it's very hard to know every single thing. And certainly the books that I have sensitivity read, if another person with a different perspective read them, they probably would catch other things that I didn't catch, literally none of us can be perfect. And so I think accepting criticism with grace important, and then also accepting criticism of work that you love. Also feels important.

People love to just be like, that's my favorite author, that's my favorite book, how dare you, whatever. And it's like, no, so I'm not saying don't read that book. I'm not saying the book is bad. I'm saying, I wish we didn't do this particular thing and maybe that person didn't know about that. Maybe you didn't know about that.

How are we going to improve?

But it's a hard line to walk, I think, especially on the internet.

Yeah, so I think books that to me feel particularly well done, I have a huge list of authors I'll try my best to point out some specific books.

I already mentioned Katee Robert and Katrina Jackson, I think they do a really good job, they write very high heat, I like to think that they both write in the dream space of um, just like what's happening, what we're feeling. They both can be a little bit bonkers occasionally in different ways, but I feel like they both are writing worlds, I believe they're both bisexual. I'm not sure, some sort of multi gender attraction in a way that, like I said, it's very normalized.

So it doesn't necessarily feel like, oh, this is what it means to be bisexual in the real world, and here's all the baggage I'm carrying, but here's what it means to be a bisexual in a world where biness is really accepted really valued.

One specific book I think of that does a really good job, I think, of examining someone's own biness and someone's own kind of commitment and participation in compulsive heterosexuality is Ashley Herring Blake's Ashley Parker Doesn't Fail.

So Ashley Parker starts the book thinking that she's straight, has a lot of baggage, but has been taught to live up to a certain expectation, and one of those expectations is participation in a very specific way in a heterosexual relationship.

And so her journey, I think is really fantastic.

Cat Sebastian and Anita Kelly do really great jobs of capturing the bisexual experience and in, in really kind [00:36:00] ways and also Cat has a huge back catalog and she writes mostly historicals mostly m/m, and then she's just now starting to write, more in the early 20th century, But obviously a lot of historicals, and not necessarily something that I'm like, yes, I know that this is a representation of what bisexuality feels like, but I think does capture it, again, in a really kind way, maybe in the way of Katee Robert Katrina Jackson, of here's the most ideal way being bisexual could be understood.

I think Rebekah Weatherspoon, everyone loves Xeni as being like the fun bisexual manifesto, but even, before that she has, a back catalog of many bisexuals and I think she does fantastic job as well of creating space for what it means to be bi.

I think one of the reasons so many people resonate with Xeni specifically, is a bi for bi romance, so both characters are bisexual, but I think in really different ways, and I think that can be a really great way for representation to happen, because I think so often bi-ness plays out in one way and in, in Xeni, like the hero has had more same-sex relationships, whereas Xeni has not.

But she recognizes that she is attracted to women, has the capacity to be attracted to women. And so the queer relationship create, I think is really unique. And so I think that feels particularly special.

And then, like I said, Talia Hibbert i s fantastic. Take a Hint, Dani Brown. Dani is bisexual and, again, I think that she is also someone who creates a very safe space for bisexuality, one where it's really understood, but also one that, it doesn't not exist from the world of sometimes people are shitty and sometimes people will not understand you.

One more. Okay a couple more I don't want to forget people though. I While I think there is so much that I think is lacking in some way. I also think that there are so many people doing fantastic things. And like I said from before, in regards to my reviewing, not only have I not been reviewing that much this year, I haven't been reading as much.

And new stuff that's been coming out I may not necessarily be on top of. But I think Adriana Herrera also does a really fantastic job. Not only writing queerness, but I think writing sapphicness and writing sapphic like high heat. Same with Katrina and Katee.

I think that there is this misconception that like, sapphic romance needs to be lower heat, is inherently lower heat, women are inherently less sexual, or the ways in which women have sex are less sexual because they're not necessarily, sometimes they're penetrative sex, sometimes they're not. And that can mean it's like less sexy, quote unquote, which is not true, but think those authors do a really good job of capturing that.

And the last person I will say is Anna Zabo. I want to say Anna is pan potentially, but writes really diverse queer experiences in a way that I think is like deeply thoughtful and researched and educated.

That was a huge list of people. But I think that [00:39:00] those are all people I think that are, capturing a diverse and interesting bisexual experience.

One thing I actually find is stereotype I can even forget to write outside of... I saw this thing on Twitter ages ago that was like, why in bisexual lesbian romances is the bi person always fun and the lesbian always like uptight and boring? I think there are, like, even these, really niche things that it's like, Yeah, bi people can also be uptight, bi people can also be, like, stressed out, and lesbian people can be silly, there's so many, niche stereotypes that it's yeah. Ashley Herring Blake, Astrid Parker Doesn't Fail, Astrid Parker is uptight, she is not fun, and that's great, too, because, yeah, sometimes we can be sticks in the mud, too, we're not all wearing frog t shirts and cuffing our jeans and, not knowing math, those are, like, things that, people maybe find community in but they're also , like, not always what we're like,

Andrea Martucci: yeah, isn't it funny how stereotypes can get reclaimed by communities. It's interesting, okay, so for example, romance readers, a bunch of lonely old cat ladies, and I'm like I do love cats you know, and or like romance novels, they're just trash. And it's like, I love my you know? but it's interesting because I think that sometimes stereotypes are not wholly wrong they're just not wholly right.

I've done a lot of research in stereotypes specifically around romance readers, but there's basically a framework. And basically the framework is built upon the way society is structured, right?

It all starts with the way society is structured, and then basically we're like, Okay, how do we make people fit into the way we expect them to be based on these big understandings of what that identity means? And, negative attributes for the people we feel are less cooperative, or less warm, or more cooperative and more warm, like those people we give all the good things, these people we give all the bad things, or a mix between depending on those traits. But the whole point about stereotypes is that they are this flat, group based understanding, right?

And so, when you get down to the individual level, it can never be accurate.

What are the stereotypes about bisexuality that again, maybe individual people who are bisexual are like, Yeah, I mean, that's true about me but, but that's not the whole story.

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Yeah. That's really interesting. I think there are many stereotypes that come from outside and then there are stereotypes that bisexual people can create, in the way to find sort of community. Because I think, For queer identities, there are certain stereotypes I think that can, sometimes for some people to be fun to play into, or help them find identity. " I'm a masc lesbian with my flannel, or I'm a bisexual with my cuffed [00:42:00] jeans, and it feels fun to, yeah, find a community, especially for bisexuals, In that, we often don't have visible community.

There's not, oh, you can tell by my partner, and so we're gonna show up in this space where we know everyone is bi. You really have to ask or be told. Other than these, things we've created and decided that are bi, there's not really a way to identify quote unquote, bi people.

I think that a lot of the negative stereotypes are, bi people are promiscuous. They can't make up their minds, they're more likely to cheat, they're secretly straight or secretly gay, those kind of things.

This isn't actually negative, but more likely to be polyamorous, but in a way that's like more promiscuous like it is like I think poly-ness isn't good or bad but I think in those stereotypes by the people making them I think they can have negative feelings about it.

And I think coming from inside the community, there's a lot of bisexuals are bad at math, bisexuals all have ADHD, we're always late, we love frogs, and cuff jeans, and Doc Martens, and crop tops, and all of these sort of things,

Andrea Martucci: Some of these, I'm like, isn't that just like Gen Z stereotypes also?

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Yeah, I think Gen Z, maybe millennial, like young millennial stereotype. To be fair, I do think there is also a stereotype that a lot of Gen Z people are bisexual.

So there is that. And I think that those can be fun because use them to find community, but I also think they can be isolating because they also define a small subset of bisexuals.

Even the things we are defining as, in a community are often very white US-centric people from all cultures and all races and ethnicities be bi, and, what that means in community, people f rom whatever country that are whatever ethnicity and whatever, they're not necessarily being like, my Doc Martens make me bi, I mean maybe. People from lots of places wear Doc Martens, but it's not necessarily the connotation.

And so sometimes I do worry or think about the space that we're creating and I want bi people to find community and to feel like they get to participate in bi ness. Regardless of what relationship they're in or not in, but I also don't want to give other bi people the impression that because they don't do these silly things that they are not bi or that, their community of bi ness is less valid or visible.

Andrea Martucci: right. So what are some of the tropes? And again, when talking about tropes that pop up in romance like focusing on that they can be harmful. Not that they always necessarily are, but probably not every reader, but certain readers, it would be harmful to read that. So yeah, what can you think of that might fall into that?

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Yeah so one that I come across a lot and I mentioned already that always specifically gets me is, and sometimes this can be in romance with a bi character, and sometimes it is just in [00:45:00] heterosexual romance, the characters have done something that many queer people would define as sex, but they are saying, oh we haven't had sex yet, or we've done everything else, or we haven't done the big sex right?

Like we arere putting this, penis in vagina penetrative sex on this, platform of the ultimate thing. And I think that's, one, harmful, because, again, that's not the way many people do have sex with the parts and the partners that they have. But also... It makes me mad because that kind of sex really prioritizes one specific type of person, and it is, usually a cis dude with a penis.

And so that kind of I feel like it's, again, where it's if we queered our writing and reading more, we would kind of be benefiting everyone.

But that's when that really gets me. Again, this sort of thing of I'm bi because I've dated men and women, or I'm bi, I like men and women equally, or whatever. And it's that can be true. That can be how your bisexuality manifests. But when we are using that as a definition of bisexuality, especially again and again, one, that feels alienating as a non binary person, but also it feels like we're perpetuating false information.

And there are, other people that are going to be reading that and taking that information in and I think along those lines, when characters feel like they need to Like saying I'm bi, comma, I've dated women or whatever, like, so because I've dated women, it is validating the fact that I am bisexual and I think that there is so much unpacking that bi people have to do of, I don't have to have had some certain sexual or romantic experience to be bi.

And so when writers are trying to prove to the reader that this is a real bi person, and they're playing into these things that we ourselves are often filtering, or thinking like, oh gosh, I think there's so many people who come out after they're married, after they're in committed relationships, and they're not interested in non monogamy or an open relationship, and they're like I'll never really be bi, and it's like, no, you will, that's okay, you prove that to anyone, but when books are pushing this, let me prove to you my character is really bi, I think that it can be harmful not only to other people, but to bisexuals themselves who are trying to unpack their own identity.

Those are some I can think of off the top of my head.

Ooh, one thing I'll add to the sex thing in regards to, lower steam, lower heat, we haven't really had sex because we've just used our hands or whatever. I think the reverse, or the opposite side of that is, like, oh anal or things like that is, higher heat, it is like more taboo, more deviant , and I understand that for some folks, that does exist a taboo space for them, but it is also the way that many queer people have their normal sex.

So I think when we act like it's something inherently different, or more deviant , or more whatever, it is also alienating what is a very normal [00:48:00] experience for some people and so I think it's on both the like lower quote unquote or higher Quote unquote steam or intimacy or whatever. It's like maybe that is a more intimate moment for certain characters and that's fine depending on their story, but I think assuming one thing is inherently sexual and one thing less sexual think it does paint queer experiences in a certain light that I don't really think is fair.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. When you were talking about that I was thinking about Jack Harbon's books, and I think particular I was thinking about Parker, which if I am remembering correctly, I believe one of the characters is a cis gay man, and the other is a bi man, and I think that book does a great job of portraying sex between two cis men in a way that is extremely normalized, it strips away the otherness of it. It's still very sexy, but doesn't fall into, I think, some of the othering traps that work like that could, in the romance space.

But I was also thinking, you were talking about the idea about, penis in vagina sex as the ultimate consummation in romance and how it has become that, and I've written and talked about this a little bit before, but again, thinking about patterns and thinking about even like straight romance, and particularly straight romance here, something that I think is incredibly normalized through straight romance is this idea that if you are in love with your partner, that penis and vagina sex is this amazing, beautiful, fulfilling experience.

And like statistically, if you look at the real world, it's something like 30 percent of cis women orgasm from penis in vagina sex. Now. That does not mean that, cis women cannot also enjoy penis in vagina sex, even when they don't orgasm.

However, in thinking about like breaking down that norm, if I think about early romance, like from the 70s and 80s that I've read, where there is on page sex, right?

Basically, in those books, the cis women orgasm just from the fact that, their cis man partner has put their penis in them, right? There's no foreplay. And then I feel, the closer we get to now, the more we see, even in straight pairings, much more foreplay, where there's, an acknowledgement that the clitoris exists, and there is a wider range of sexual activities that kind of breaks down that, central role of penis in vagina sex.

And, in my opinion, I think that is a space where every author can continue to do more work, no matter the relationship that they are displaying on page, to think about ways in which [00:51:00] portraying the same sexual script enforces that it should be pleasurable. It's the only thing that should be pleasurable. That if you don't find it pleasurable, maybe you're not in love. Or, there's all of these things to break down there. And it's something I would love to see played with more. Beyond even just, I feel like the like new quote unquote feminist thing is oh, he goes down on her and it's like, I'm like, okay, cool we can do a little bit more we can go a little farther than in exploring again even you know relationships between cis men and cis women.

That is that queer project that we could all engage in even if the characters do not identify as having a queer identity, it's kind of like, yeah, but let's really just break this down in our minds.

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Yeah. I completely agree. I think we've come a long way, and I think that the work that is being done is really important. Even in cis, straight, allosexual romance. I agree, we've come a long way, but it still feels yeah, like the big thing is he goes down on me, he knows where my clit is. Maybe we use a sex toy, which is awesome! But, does still feel like, there is something inherently emotional tied to, he put his penis inside of me.

it is we are bonded in souls or whatever, and you might feel that way sometimes, some people may feel that way but it, like you said, there is evidence that shows that may not be, compared to other things, the most pleasurable aspect of sex to, cis female readers, and as much as I don't like the romance is by women, for women, etc., I think we can acknowledge that a lot of romance readers are cis women.

Mmhmm. And so it's like, why are we creating this narrative of penis must make me feel good. A penis is the best feeling.

Mmhmm. Mmhmm. Mmhmm.

Let's maybe be a little more honest with ourselves.

And I also think that, not only does that kind of sex often prioritize, the penis owner, a lot of cis women report pain with penetration. Okay, one, you should go to the doctor because that may be evidence of something going on, but even if that's true there are just as many ways to feel good, for your partner to feel good, for you to have emotionally connected sex in all the things. It is not like, you can't have sex, or don't have a condom, so you can't have sex. That's the end, and there's no other way to connect with each other.

And think even like the term foreplay, I feel complicated about because I think that, even the things that are so on the edge of foreplay, of it's not like, oh, we're like finger banging and so that's not sex, it's foreplay, but even the things that are like, dirty talk or whatever, it's sex, and I think it's like, what we define as sex or not sex is always gonna be a personal [00:54:00] thing.

But I do think even having a category of this is foreplay, this is sex, makes it like this is optional, this is required. And it's none of it should be optional, none of it should be required. Like, It's whatever each person wants, whatever the people involved decide optional or required, that's the sex, and so I think, yeah even those, terms sometimes, I think, can devalue certain things and value other things that I think can only perpetuate prejudice, but like you said, perpetuate this idea of what most readers feel and would enjoy is not necessarily the ultimate thing.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, I think there's a reason that Jennifer Crusie's work has been so special for many readers and talked about even many years after, some of this work came out because I think that is something that Jennifer Crusie works to unpack is idea that if you really like somebody, that the sex is going to be amazing, off the bat, no work needed.

Or thought, no additional kind of thinking about it. And and again, it's almost, at this point, what's groundbreaking about it is that it even is thinking about and trying to talk about it, and I think this is a place where the structure and the formula of romance is in conflict with more authors breaking this down. Because I think there is this pattern in books that are exploring sexual relationships between characters.

There's this pattern of like escalation moving towards conceptually greater and deeper intimacy. There's lots of signs and romance has a language of talking about that and it becomes a shorthand and I think that when authors who are like, that shorthand doesn't work for me, start to try to play with or change that, I think that there is this kind of huh, this doesn't, this isn't matching the pattern I'm expecting from a romance book.

I would love to see more people play with that and find new patterns or like new ways to signify these things to the reader but I do think that from a romance reader perspective that it's just a place where you're asking the reader to rewire these patterns that have been mapped when they're like, but this is how a romance works, this is how this relationship works, and not just in romance, this is also how a lot of popular media portrays these things, right?


But I think that is just like a challenge, literally, for portraying any queer relationship in romance novels, is that the romance genre, I don't know, people may disagree with me on this, it started very much tied to cis heteropatriarchy norms, right?

I think it's hilarious, Kathleen [00:57:00] Woodiwiss was, like, literally not a feminist.

Kathleen Woodiwiss was like, women should not be equal. Like, So I think that it's like the genre was started this one way and set the pattern. And so yeah, like every work that tries to break out of that is going to feel other to romance readers.

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Yeah. if understanding correctly, what you're getting at is the idea of, the typical escalation of feelings. It just matches the escalation of heteronormative sex acts, like at whatever percent we usually get a kiss, whatever percent, maybe we'll get a little frisky but it won't be like THE sex then we'll get THE sex and that kind of lines up with this like emotional climax.

And that's what readers expect in the formula of romance, is that what you're getting at? I guess I'll ask.

Andrea Martucci: Yes, yeah, and some of this has literally been codified into writing guides, right?

Where people are like, okay, this is what people expect

I think that even if that doesn't line up with reality, it has become the pattern expected to signify that evolving emotional relationship.

And it has become figurative more than literal. I'm talking about like romance readers, like people who are familiar with the conventions and the patterns of romance and they've read enough that they've internalized these patterns. Where I feel like that understanding of the patterns becomes this symbolic journey

That is what tropes are. It's just like pinging against oh, we know what that means, it's like building on a larger body. It doesn't even literally have to do anything, but it's like pinging that oh, okay, the character said an endearment in another language. What that tells me, I don't even have to know what the means.

What that tells is that this person is now unique to this other person, right?

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Mmhmm.

Andrea Martucci: and I guess, this is like the... The friction I think that like the romance community is constantly finding itself in is that you have this formulaic genre and not saying there's anything bad about formula, but when that formula is tied so strongly to these cis heteropatriarchal foundations and structures,


That the moment you step away from that the slightest, there is this, I think, friction in like romance readers, quote unquote right?

Where they're like, what's this?!

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Mmhmm. No, I think that's completely true. And I don't think you have to divest from the formula to divest with what you are putting in those placeholders. Because I think that what we have [01:00:00] tied to the figurative and literal climactic moment or the emotional intimacy building moment are specific sex acts. but they don't have to be those sex acts.

You can have, characters having sex earlier, but the actual climactic moment be, why is this sex more intimate? And the act does not have to change.

What is more vulnerable about this? What emotions are going on? That can change. Or like it doesn't have to be the specific acts that are aligned to the emotional scale.

And so one, I hope more authors divest from that, but I also hope more readers can be self critical and really evaluate their reactions to when that's happening.

You know, do you think that this is a less steamy book because the emotional, intimate moment doesn't have anything to do penetration, or a less emotional book because of that, or is that because that's true, or is that because that is a stereotype that you're holding and actually is not at all what is happening? Because I think there so many people like queer people, that are doing that same scale, but they're just doing it a little differently. I think to some real success, but also I see, certain books get a lot more negative reviews

I don't necessarily think that has anything to do with the quality so much as, yeah, that book is subverting what the reader is expecting.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I think it is harder to subvert what the reader is expecting and get the reader on board and this is what I think what is difficult about it. Like I think that it is fairly easy to write a book that hits all the beats and can give the reader the feeling that they are expecting and not be very good.


Ellie Mae MacGregor: Mm

Andrea Martucci: I've read books like that where I'm like I don't think this book was very good, but I think it just pinged enough of existing things in me that okay, cool. I think that it's unfair and a critical reader, and I believe I am a critical reader, I am able to acknowledge where I'm like, that book objectively was not very good,

But I was able to read it, it was fine. But I think it is a much steeper challenge, which is unfair because it's like remapping, it's like forging new territory, like cutting through the brush, and it requires skills.

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Yeah. I think that sometimes I love a book that I don't think is good. Sometimes my brain is ping, ping, ping, thank you, I didn't want to think about that

Andrea Martucci: yeah,

Ellie Mae MacGregor: And it's fine, and I think that it would be naive to say that, we are all raised in this society that values certain things and devalues certain things, and, there are reasons that we find specific things [01:03:00] attractive, there are reasons that we are interested in certain things, and it's, like, not to say that, like, well, you know, you love reading romance with a masculine hero with, a big dick. There's something wrong with that. It's like, no, like, I think there's maybe something problematic with the system that has created those pings in our brain, but it's enjoy the pings in your brain. That's

Andrea Martucci: mhm. Mhm,

Ellie Mae MacGregor: fine. But I think what you're saying feels so real and important because, it feels like the study that was, like, basically the idea that, we find the faces we see the most most attractive.


And so when we are only looking at thin white people. Like yeah, like that's maybe we need to start looking at other people. Maybe we need to start like it's not saying that oh you dated a guy named Brad and that's bad you and problematic. It's Maybe you need to think about and actively cultivate the media that you are consuming so that you can free your brain and I think that's important.

And so I don't want people to read books that they're gonna hate. I don't want people to read books that they're gonna negatively review because

Andrea Martucci: Mm

Ellie Mae MacGregor: You know there is like evidence that we are more critical of certain people than people and if you are gonna read a bunch of books by queer authors, by authors of color, by Black authors, and then give them three stars every single time while you are five starring these other books

Andrea Martucci: mm

hmm, hmm

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Just don't. Don't do but you also don't have to review everything. Read a book for the sake of... Yeah, like rewiring your brain. Other things are good too.

Andrea Martucci: Ellie, thank you so much for coming on Shelf Love to talk about bisexuality in romance. Where can everybody find you online?

Ellie Mae MacGregor: Yeah, so am basically just on Instagram, I technically have a Twitter, I am never there, but my Instagram is @bisexual_booknerd. I also have two novellas, The Naughty List and The Witches Wolves. The Witches Wolves is a very bisexual romance. The Naughty List is not on paper bisexual. I think Santa Claus is canonically bisexual though. Do with that what you will. And those are all on Amazon Kindle Unlimited if you have that, and I've also been on a few other podcasts if you like hearing me talk and those are all I think on my Instagram well, so you can go check those out.

Andrea Martucci: Cool we like podcasts here.

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