[CW: Mentions/discussions of depression, anxiety and mental health, drug abuse, homophobia, biphobia.]
I almost forgot it was Bisexual Awareness Week. I’m serious. For some reason, us bisexuals are the worst at remembering our own holidays. Hell, I don’t even know if I’m holding the flag right-side up half the time.
But the occasion should definitely have more traction in gaming. Video games, I’ve noticed, are absolutely a form of entertainment aimed at capturing and stepping on us bisexuals. For the most part, it works. There are too many hot characters of all genders. It’s a dangerous community to be a part of if you’re thirsty for fictional people.
This isn’t just me thirsting in a 1200-word opinion piece. In my many years of gaming — online and off — I’ve met a lot of openly bisexual acquaintances. Like, a ton from any gender. It’s an anecdote of its own that many of my peers have, and it’s a visible trend if you follow enough people thirsting over characters of all genders all the damn time on social media.
And you know what? We have the damn reasons. Regardless of their sexuality, those characters in our favorite games, especially RPGs, accept us. Sadly, that nearly 100 percent hit rate in the virtual world is far more favorable than the reality. In a way, bisexual romance in games is absolutely a respite from the real-world struggles bisexuals face every day
Bisexuality Isn’t “Easy”
Let’s go back to basics for those of you just tuning into the bisexuality discussion. Unfortunately, it’s not all fun and romance.
Overall, there’s estimated to be about as many bisexual men and women as there are gay men and lesbians. Admittedly, bisexuals are less likely to see it as a positive or negative part of their identities. And that checks out, from my experience. Ironically, though, this perception of our identities is only the start of what bubbles up and boils into very legitimate issues.
For as long as I’ve checked the numbers, study after study has shown bisexual-identifying cisgender people are at a higher risk of unhappiness, depression, and anxiety. Those numbers go up sharply for non-cisgender bisexuals. One recent survey found bisexual women likely have the worst health overall — even compared to their gay and lesbian peers. They’re also more likely to abuse opioids (a crisis typically gendered as male). And there are a slew of other issues that bisexuals are more likely to develop, including STIs and even diabetes.
It makes sense if you look at how many bisexuals feel in and out of our communities. In short, people make a lot of different assumptions about us. Most of them aren’t great.
Namely, because we live in a culture that assumes you only have one partner at a time, when you are seen with that one partner, those assumptions start piling on. From straight people, it’s usually just either confusion or straight-up fetishization. From both sides of the aisle, we’re believed to be “easy,” “slutty,” or even “greedy.” The infamous musical Rent, while it did a few wonders for bisexual rep, engages pretty obviously with that trope. And when we try to date more genders, we face a fresh, unsolved puzzle of how to visually “code” ourselves for the broadest spectrum possible, without appearing to be straight or “entirely gay/lesbian.”
Backlash is often more vitriolic from within queer communities themselves. Biphobia is a different beast than homophobia for that reason. The phrase “not queer enough” is a concern many of us feel when trying to enter what should be our own spaces. Then there are so-called “gold star lesbians,” who believe they’re superior because they have and continue to only hook up with other women. That’s not even mentioning the constant, horrible discourse that rages around us: from whether “pansexuality” is a better word or not, to whether we’re actually just transphobic. (Reminder: “bi” does not only mean “two.”) It trickles down into practical visibility issues; only in 2018 did London Pride, for instance, have any explicitly bisexual groups and/or floats.
When everything finally reaches us bis on the ground level, many of us feel too scared to reach out for help. They worry they “don’t fit in” or “aren’t queer enough.” I’ve seen it among my own peers multiple times. And it leaves many of us, in a way, closeted multiple times over. We have to come out as queer and fear rejection from homophobes, but if we “date straight,” we also face invalidation from sectors we thought would embrace us.
The solution for some bisexuals is to just… stay closeted forever. It’s easier to avoid the pressure of queer dating and the homophobia that follows. (Another reminder: Closeting is never, ever a net positive for anyone who must. See aforementioned depression rates.) So — the less support we feel, the more isolation we get, the more issues we’re likely to face.
Getting Along With Everyone
A lot of bisexuals face stress when embracing our identities because we don’t want to think about the additional footwork of bisexual discourse, the multiple new types of “signaling” required, or the dynamics of dating, romance, and who we love. Most video game characters, as far as I know, don’t engage in these politics and social dynamics. They don’t ask you to “unicorn” or “prove your sexuality” or, like, make out for a random dude who messaged you on Reddit.
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You just take your Sim or Commander Shepard, walk up to some hot person, and pray they’re into you. Sometimes they don’t like you because they’re strictly gay, or lesbian, or straight. Sometimes it’s because you spoke ill of elves and they don’t like xenophobia, you freaking monster. And sometimes you just absolutely bombed the romance dialogue. Let’s be honest: A lot of us gamers are awkward as hell and dialogue options often do not go the way you want them too. It’s just like real life!
Yes, buying video games that let you be bisexual is still a form of pink captialism. Maybe we are handing our money to a multi-billion dollar industry that, for the most part, won’t even defend gender equality as a whole. Forget sexuality. And yes, there is still some discussion going on about what it means to make an NPC or a “railroaded” protagonist explicitly gay/lesbian, straight, or bisexual in the context of certain plots.
But whenever possible, we should know where the “politics” of real life do and don’t belong in our media. For a lot of us, we’re stressed about why biphobia exists from our own peers at all. We’d really rather just try to get along with everyone. There’s little justifiable reason for genuine biphobia to exist in games. Thankfully, most AAA games sidestep the issue entirely. I’ll take that over throwing my very real problems in my face without warning and bungling it any day.
Plenty of us already wish real life were more like video games. If you’re interested in someone, you should be able to let them onto it without fear that it will hamper your galaxy-saving mission of peace. If someone’s not interested in your gender, they should tell you upfront — so we can get back to things like dismantling fascism. And maybe many of us are just a lot less awkward in games than in real life. That would be great to carry over, too.
Games are a space where, yes, we can try to date every single hot character available to romance. Or every single Sim that walks across our front porch, if you’re the chaotic type. Statistically, at least one of them will kiss us. It’s our damn right to try.