The Immortal Bisexual in Fantasy Fiction

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The Kinsey scale was developed in 1948 as part of Alfred Kinsey’s groundbreaking sexology studies. The concept is simple. Human sexuality is not divided into an either/or field with opposing teams, but laid out along a spectrum. 0 is for someone who prefers exclusively heterosexual relationships; 6 is for exclusively homosexual. Someone who’s a 1 or a 5 might never identify as bisexual; someone who’s a 3 is more likely to do so. Another important aspect of the Kinsey scale is that a person’s number can change over the course of a lifetime.

This doesn’t mean that sexuality is “just a choice,” as some reactionaries would have it. It simply leaves room for the incredible plasticity of the human mind. Switching from a 6 to a 0, or the other way around? Not going to happen. But sliding from a 0 to a 1, or a 5 to a 4? That’s a different story.

I buy it. I’d give myself a steady 0-point-something. Aside from a teenage encounter that resulted in fail!sex, plus a long-term crush on Michelle Rodriguez (unrequited and likely to remain so), I’m so close to purely heterosexual that identifying as anything other would be pointless and unethical. Might as well round down.

The Kinsey scale also reflects the reality of many self-identified bisexuals and pansexuals who are not equally attracted to both genders. And, of course, sexual attraction informs, but does not 100% determine, the actual relationships people end up having. Someone might be mostly attracted to their own gender, for example, but end up having relationships with mostly the opposite gender due to homophobic pressure. Or they might be mostly attracted to the opposite gender, but end up in a same-gender relationship because love struck out of the blue, and lasted.

If people keep using “playing for the other team” as the dominant metaphor of sexuality, bisexuals are doomed to be the sneaks, the cheaters, the traitors, which is absolutely not fair, and also just plain stupid. If we have to use a game metaphor, can’t it be something like hopscotch? Or even better, a game where everybody wins?

One fascinating extension of the Kinsey scale concept leads us to the trope of the immortal bisexual. There’s a fair amount of these in fantasy fiction. I think they appeal partly on a logical level. Since the immortal being lives so long, and is too powerful to be subject to restrictions of any human homophobic society, wouldn’t they sort of… slide to number 3 after a while, out of curiosity, if nothing else? Once you throw other fantasy tropes into the narrative mix, like gender-switching and reincarnation, the slide to the middle seems even more likely, because outer gendered bodies become less important than the (possibly ungendered) mind or soul.

I’ll list a few examples, and there are more at the TV Tropes page. Orlando, by Virginia Woolf, is the story of a young man in the Elizabethan age who lives forever, changing genders and lovers with the centuries as he or she passes through history. It was made into a wonderful movie starring Tilda Swinton. Then we have Anne Rice’s vampires, who are pretty much all bisexual. Bo from the television series Lost Girl. Tanith Lee’s Lords of Darkness.

My personal favorite is Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood, a Time Agent from the 51st century, when Everyone is Bisexual. In the Whoniverse, the 51st century is like an individual slide-to-the-middle writ large.

Although Jack Harkness was “omnisexual” from his origin story, he does get made immortal through quasi-magical means, and is then trapped in Earth’s past. The conflict between his 51st-century sexuality and our more codified version is crucial to the character and his stories. He has enough power that he defies the rules. “You people and your quaint little categories,” he says, with a sigh and a roll of his eyes.

Apollo and Hyacinthus

Immortal bisexuals also have a long pre-Kinsey history. The Greek and Roman gods were pretty bisexual. Zeus had a huge number of female conquests (not many were consensual, so the word is appropriate)—Europa, Io, Semele, Callisto, Leto are just a few—but then there was Ganymede. According to Wikipedia, Apollo the sun god counted roughly 60 women, 13 men, which gives him a score of 1.07 on the Kinsey scale.

Using our present-day sexual metaphors—either opposing teams or scales—is anachronistic (though fun) since the ancient Greeks and Romans had a much different conception of sexuality. Their myths have reached far, influencing European and Anglophone stories for millennia. Now we reinterpret them, changing the past in light of the future.

It would be irresponsible, however, not to mention that the trope of the immortal bisexual has some stereotypical implications for real-world bisexual people. The immortal bisexual is often powerful and amoral, like the Greek gods, caring little for “petty human” concepts like, well, consent. In real life, bisexuals are stereotyped as sexually voracious, incapable of restraining themselves, depraved, chronically unfaithful. The Immortal Bisexual is clearly fictional and fantastic in origin, but the trope borders on that of the Evil Bisexual…

When I wrote the epic Celtic urban fantasy The Druid Stone with my cowriter Heidi, it was almost a given that we’d have an immortal bisexual. And we do. King Finnbheara is a real (mythical) figure from Irish folklore, known, like the Greek gods, for abducting women. Our take on him is archetypal inhuman IB: capricious, powerful, amoral, very sexual. He’s evil according to human standards, but he’s not human—his psychology is purposefully alien. And he was incredibly fun to write. He’s also not the only antagonist in the story.

We do have human people “on the scale” to balance things out. Our hero Sean, in the beginning of the story, identifies as straight, but he’s moved higher in number by the end. And even in the beginning, he knows he’s not the “average” straight man, because of certain aspects of his past, which readers will know about if they read his prequel story, “Cruce de Caminos” (Otherwise, you’ll get the backstory anyway, about halfway into The Druid Stone, and I’m sorry for being so mysterious!). We conceived of Sean as someone who hovers around a 1. Someone who might identify either as straight or bisexual depending on a lot of different complicated factors.

The Druid Stone is out August 6th from Carina Press

But Cormac, our modern-day druid-slash-paranormal-investigator, is gay and has always identified as gay. He’s had at least one brief relationship with a woman in the far past, isn’t conflicted about it, and doesn’t plan on doing it again. He’s the opposite of confused. Sean isa little confused about his sexuality, but he’s younger, at a very confusing stage of life, and also under a lot of stress… including a magical curse! His confusion isn’t intrinsic to bisexuality; it comes from the outside, from external forces. And he has the mental resources to find clarity, as well. It’s part of his journey, not all of it.

Sexual attraction and love are changeable things. Sometimes frighteningly changeable. The person we thought we’d be in love with for the rest of our lives when we were sixteen, we might barely remember by twenty. Perhaps figures like the immortal bisexual incarnate some of that fear and also help work through it. I think we’re attracted to the idea of limitlessness, of power over sexuality, of the ability to make our own rules. There’s nothing so fantastic that it doesn’t have some connection to our magically complicated, lived reality.

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Do you have a favorite immortal bisexual, either hero(ine) or villain? Or are you just interested in one of the ones I listed? Leave yours in a comment along with your email or a Twitter/FB contact link, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of The Druid Stone. The winner will be announced at the end of our blog tour on August 27th. (ETA: the drawing is for an eBook in your choice of format)

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13 responses

  1. I can honestly say that I know of no other immortal bisexuals! Please include me in the drawing that I might meet one.

  2. Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series seems to have some male bisexual immortals if you count Irial and Niall, the kings of the Dark Court. They’re in a *(dysfunctional) relationship together but include Leslie, a girl they both love. Irial is more fluid, I think, given that he hasn’t run away from the nature of his fae while Niall did for a long time. Irial, probably more than Niall, since Iri seems to embrace all the gains from being Gancanagh.

    I’m pretty straight. I admire a hot woman, but I have no desire for a relationship outside of friendship, but I count myself pretty fluid in that I have no idea what the future holds so I can’t say definitely about much. I bring that up because it’s why I’m interested in your book. The care in making the characters more than sexuality intrigues me. I actually saw The Druid Stone on a list several weeks ago and learning more about it, I’m really excited to see what happens. I like the fact none of the male characters are fixed in any state – in that the story will be more organic, less forced.Like sexuality, power shifts over us are fluid. What may work in one moment may not the next if a new person adds a new element to the dynamic.

      • It’s definitely worth checking out. Wicked Lovely has a lot of dark themes. I really like and recommend the book often. There’s something very…realistic. Not in the fairy theme so much as growing up and being forced to face the reality of choices, the not so pretty sides of adulthood and the journey there. There’s several poly pairs, with Iri/Leslie/Niall and another one with Ani that’s quite unexpected. Everything is fluid and may change.

  3. I love the idea of a continuum, because it fits my reality. I think it makes sense, given how human beings behave.

  4. I’ve just read The Druid Stone and enjoyed it tremendously :) I wouldn’t say Finnbheara was evil, though – clearly by his own standards he’s one of the good guys. (Though the same may be said about most evil people, I suppose. OTOH, how fair is it to judge someone by standards other than their own?) As a fairy king he seems better than the average, to me.

    I have a favourite immortal queer, but I don’t know if Loki counts for this, because he shifts gender rather than orientation. (IE, if he wants to sleep with a man, he turns into a woman.)

    • That means a lot to me that you liked it! Do you see the parallels with Under the Hill now? The stories end up being totally different, but at first, my jaw just dropped…

  5. I think it’s interesting to note that not only are the Greek/Roman gods’ female conquests not often consensual, but their male conquests are also under the age of consent (at least, they would be today; there wasn’t really such a thing in the ancient world). It seems the only real sex between consenting adults happens between the gods themselves. But that was also a reflection of Greek society–sex between men and adult women was okay, sex between men and underage boys was okay. The gods are largely a reflection of this sort-of-bisexual society. It is true, though, that immortals around the fictional universe very rarely seem to stick to just one side of the spectrum–even more rarely than humans do. There’s something other in a god’s perception of a human that seems like it should transcend mere interest in genitalia, IMHO. Favorite bisexual immortal? I suppose I would have to go with Phanes, the hermaphroditic Orphic god who created the concept of creation through “mingling”. ^_^

    • Actually, the Greek myths we know of mostly reflect Athenian takes on sexuality. Other cities had different ideas, but for some reason we have very little in the way of written documents from them.

      My favourite immortal bisexual would be Dionysus, mostly because he bent *all* the rules.

  6. Very insightful post! I am so interested to read your book now. It’s nice to see a new viewpoint. I’ve always thought that we as humans exist more in a state of flux. We are attracted to the people we are attracted to. Sure, most of the time (for the majority), it’s more one sex than the other, but everyone is different. Just look back at these older societies (and even some modern ones), where it is less of a stigma to be attracted to the same sex. Also, it occurs in nature in other species. It’s a social fabrication that we’ve come up with. It’s a very interesting topic!!! =)