#OwnVoices: Why talking bisexuality in KEEPING HER SECRET is so important

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Reactions to advanced review copies of Keeping Her Secret have been coming in for about two weeks and one small piece of dialogue has been getting a lot more attention – and questions – than I really expected. In summary: Courtney, knowing Riya likes girls, accuses Riya of leading on her friend Trey by flirting with him.

“Courtney, I’m bi,” Riya explained.

But Courtney gave her a blank look, and her head twitched. “Bi?”

“Bisexual.”

Still, Courtney stared open-mouthed.

“She dates girls and boys,” Dee finally clarified for her.

“That’s a thing?” Courtney’s perfectly smooth brow creased.

“Have you been living under a rock?” Dee asked, not unkindly.

Courtney shook her head and twisted her lips. “Kinda. I guess I thought there were lesbians and straight girls and then there were girls who made out with other girls at parties to get guys’ attention.”

Riya bit her lip to keep from laughing again. “That’s a totally different thing.”

Courtney explains she has never known anyone who falls under the LGBTQIA+ banner, and then there’s a short conversation about monogamy vs polyamory.

One reason I, a bisexual woman, wanted to make sure this conversation happened is obvious: to combat bi erasure. More on that later, but there’s another, more heavy-handed reason. That is: a lot of people, well-meaning or not, simply do not understand the very basic facts of bisexuality.

Not just people like Courtney, who grew up in an environment where queer people of all kinds are wholly demonized, but people who have really never heard of the concept of bisexuality as anything more than a joke. People like very-confused 13-year-old me who didn’t think it was possible my attraction towards girls was real, because I also knew I was very attracted to boys. People like Larry King, who asked a married Anna Paquin, “But you were bisexual?”

Book bloggers have asked me how it could be possible that Courtney really didn’t know bisexuality was “a thing.” The answer, my dear, sweet friends, is that those of us who spend our days on bookish/fannish Twitter and Tumblr are far more savvy to social issues than our muggle counterparts. Courtney’s response may seem dumb to us, but she is far from stupid or – in this case, at least – hateful. She is simply uneducated.

Now, of course, part of the reason for this is the lack of solid bi representation in mainstream media. Like it or not, we learn so much about our world through the TV, movies, and books we consume. A straight person or a gay person doesn’t magically become not straight or not gay the second they start dating someone of the opposite or same gender, respectively. The same thing is true for bisexual people, (we’re also not, by definition, sluts or cheats) but you wouldn’t know it by the way we’re represented in most media. I’m now engaged to a wonderful man, but I’m no less queer than I was the day before we started dating.

keeping her secret sarah nicolasThis is why Riya’s insistence that she is still bisexual AND monogamous, no matter who she’s dating was so important to me. Like so much else in this book, they are having the conversation I really wish I could’ve had or heard when I was a teenager.

Plus, Courtney is just so damn cute when she realizes she doesn’t, in fact, have everything figured out. So there’s that.

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Sarah Nicolas

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