rainbow coming out of dark clouds

Double-edged Sword: The Erasure, or Harmful Portrayal, of Bisexuality

When it comes to the discussion of LGBTQ+ inclusion within literature, we can see that progress has been made, albeit not nearly enough. With the expansion of queer inclusion in literature and digital media, new issues arise, such as perpetuating stereotypes. Speaking in terms of specifically bisexual characters, these issues often result from them being portrayed as a means of creating a specific type of character rather than for the purpose of positive representation.

It’s fair to say that coming out in any aspect totes along its own unique and frustrating labels and assumptions from those outside of the community. In my experience, the bisexual identity comes with being ostracized, not only from the straight, cis-gendered community, but also from their LGBTQ+ family as well. One of the biggest stereotypes is that bisexual individuals are “promiscuous” and, likely, unloyal. While this is not the case, the portrayal of bisexual characters across different media platforms only serves to preserve these damaging reservations about the orientation.

On the other hand, there is yet another negative form of stereotypes. Where there is no general sexual frivolity in a bisexual character, there may instead be the assertion of “confusion.” This is particularly true in cases where the audience is led to believe (not know, as this usually happens through suggestion instead of saying the words out loud, which is a whole other issue in and of itself) that a character is bisexual, but they tend to end up with the opposite gender. While this is fine in theory, the issue we’re faced with is the perpetuation of the stereotype that bisexuals are just “confused” or “experimenting,” and that when they settle down, they will inevitably choose a “straight” relationship. For a recent example, I think back to the Marvel/Disney show Loki. The Disney+ show led some fans to think that Loki might (finally!) end up in a relationship with another male character (although, I hold my reservations about Owen Wilson being a match with Tom Hiddleston—but that’s neither here nor there). However, what ended up happening was the rug being pulled out yet again for hopeful, queer audience members and pandering to the straight, cis-gendered community (I’m trying to be vague so that I don’t give any spoilers). Even though many people know that Loki is bisexual, there is a blatant lack of that part of his identity in his character’s representation, which is problematic, especially from such a large platform as Disney.

Literature can be just as challenging. Consider the novel Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult. The story revolves around Zoe, a bisexual woman who eventually becomes estranged from her husband. In the resolution, Zoe falls in love with another woman. And while this certainly happens in real life, the problem with this novel is that, rather than restating Zoe’s bisexuality, she is instead described as just being a lesbian all along, or worse, having been “turned gay”—which is even more disheartening.

While it is clear that the world is not the same as it was twenty or thirty years ago when it comes to acceptance, we still have a long way to go. All members of the queer community still have to face external biases against their orientation, internalized homophobia, transphobia, and more; however, there is a double-edged sword that bisexuals face between those inside their community and those outside of it. The stereotypes that come along with the orientation led others to mistrust them, and it negatively affects their ability to have stable relationships. Only through changing the script when we represent the LGBTQ+ community can we come closer to a world where we not only accept, but also truly celebrate, all identities.

Beta Reading: The Pros and Cons of an Outside Editorial Critique

As writers, we’ve all had that moment of doubt. Is my story good enough? Am I missing something crucial? When you’ve spent so long staring at a project, lovingly and agonizingly putting a piece of yourself into that future book or story, it can be difficult to take a step back and see the bigger picture of your piece.

That’s when a beta reader comes in. Beta reading is common in small online communities, from writing clubs to fanfiction groups. Your beta reader could be a stranger across the country hopping onto your Google Doc and looking for grammatical errors, or they could be your best friend crossing out half of your story in red pen.

So maybe you’re asking yourself now, “Should I have someone read this over before I submit?” And then you hit a wall, because you wonder whether you really want someone else’s hands on your baby.

While it’s certainly a personal choice whether you want anyone to touch your story, there are pros and cons to having a beta reader take a look at your piece before you release it to the world or submit it to an agent or publisher. And luckily for you, Mill City Press has some excellent tips.

Pros:

  1. Beta reading is free! You’re not dishing out any money to have someone go over your story with a fine-tooth comb. Instead, you’re usually getting a quick once-over from a friend or acquaintance that’s keeping an eye out for obvious typos or things that don’t make sense.
  2. Having comments on your story can be an excellent motivator. If your piece is unfinished and people are reacting positively to what you’ve written, your motivation and drive to continue writing are likely to skyrocket knowing someone likes the story you’re telling.
  3. A beta reader can turn into a fan. The person beta reading for you is likely to be interested in your story and might even buy a copy if you were to publish it for profit.

Cons:

  1. Some editorial hands can be pretty strong. If you’re not familiar with how a person edits or if you’re unclear about what you’re looking for, you might get a whole lot more than you’re expecting. Beta readers and traditional copy and developmental editors aren’t the same things, but you might get some developmental advice you’re not fond of anyway.
  2. People have opinions. Falling in line with the previous con, it’s not uncommon to get feedback on an unfinished piece about where your story should go. If someone is excited about the ending and trying to guess or suggest how things should play out, you might feel a sense of obligation to meet those expectations.
  3. Beta reading isn’t a traditional editing process. That means if you’re planning to self-publish, you’re getting fewer hands on your manuscript than you would if you’d hired an editor or gone through a more traditional publishing route, and you’re likely to see a few more errors in your published work than the average author.

When it all comes down to it, pick a beta reader you trust. Odds are you aren’t ready to publish just yet, but might need that little boost of confidence or editorial critique. Once you’ve found a good beta reader, you’re likely to come back to them later down the road.

Where Are All the Translated Books?

Translation is a complicated art. Anyone who’s studied a foreign language or taken a handful of linguistics courses knows this: there is no one-to-one ratio of words and concepts, and cognates are not always perfect matches. The fact that English loves to borrow words and phrases from other languages (e.g., c’est la vie, wanderlust, karaoke) should be proof enough that languages don’t match up perfectly. So translation, particularly fiction translation, is a complicated undertaking.

For this reason, translation should not be done by only one person or by AI. As Tim Parks discussed in the New York Review of Books, translation is not always done well. If you speak the original language a translated book is printed in, you may find continuity errors brought about by issues with direct translation. For this reason, translation cannot be done by only one translator. Different translators will have different backgrounds with the source language and different ideas about how things should be conveyed in the target language.

If you want to avoid bias, you might wonder, What if AI did it? No human bias there. But with translation software, there’s a different kind of bias that appears: statistical bias. Translation software is complicated, and the field has grown quite a bit since it first began. Statistics isn’t the be-all and end-all of translation, since language is generative and more complicated than algorithms that calculate statistical likelihood. However, after the structural analysis has occurred, statistics does play a role. Translation software, at this point, uses the most likely cognate for a particular word, or the most likely equivalent for a short phrase. This is great for when you’re in a pinch and you need to learn how to ask where the bathroom is. It doesn’t do so well with ambiguity, figurative language, or slang, all of which may be found in a piece of fiction. Perhaps one day translation software will reach a point that allows for nuance, but for now, translation should be a collaborative effort in order for it to be done well.

Perhaps this is why so few translated novels are published in the US each year. Translation is complicated, expensive, and risky to publishers. Some have even said that Americans aren’t interested in reading translated works—for one thing, there are plenty of books being published locally, and for another, books from other countries may feel too alienating.

Additionally, out of the few translated works published annually, 40 percent come from just a handful of Eurpoean countries. There are thousands of authors’ voices from all around the world that American audiences are missing out on. On the bright side, small presses are contributing to a growing market for translated works. So if you feel like broadening your horizons and trying something new, go out and find a translated book to support small publishers.