Today I am so pleased to welcome Anna Butler to Joyfully Jay. Anna has come to talk to us about her latest release, Taking Shield 3 : Makepeace. She has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving Anna a big welcome!
The treatment of bisexuality, particularly in m/m romance, has been a bit of a hot topic in recent months, specifically in relation to ‘gay for you’ stories where one MC is shown as straight until he finds himself falling for another man. At which point, the MC switches sexual allegiance so fast the head spins, shedding every last atom of their previous straightness for that one special someone.
The idea that the MC may have been bisexual isn’t acknowledged or explored, and in some cases is dismissed by some authors and readers. Indeed, some don’t accept bisexuality as a real thing, but as a phase where a gay man or woman dithers about their sexuality before embracing their gayness. Bisexuals are told that they’re confused. That they’re scared. That they should just get off the damn fence and pick which team they’re playing for.
Odd, isn’t it, how most gay people and their allies would be hugely indignant about a suggestion that being gay is a choice. Yet not in this case, it seems.
The erasure of bisexuality feels to me like fantasy wish-fulfilment invoking the power to ‘turn’ straight men and women, to wish that the power of love is so great it overwhelms binary genders. It’s too… too neat and tidy. There’s none of the messy tormented process people go through to work out who they are and how it affects their lives and relationships. It’s a ‘wham! you’re a man but I love you and the sex is immense, so I’m gay too!’ sort of moment. A sexual fantasy. Objectification.
But the debate made me look again at the way I’ve portrayed sexuality in the Shield series. Both (male) MCs have relationships with partners of both sexes in the course of the overall story.
Bennet, the hero, has had predominantly gay relationships and very few of those. Perhaps he’s best considered as a demisexual, since he doesn’t ‘do’ casual relationships, but tends to want a deep emotional connection with his partner. He goes from a long-term relationship with a man to one with a woman–admittedly with Flynn, the other MC, bridging the gap. But since Flynn and Bennet are forced apart by circumstances (aka a crushing interstellar war) and there’s no realistic way of them being together, his relationship with Rosie is a natural development of who Bennet is and where he is in his life at that time. As with his time with Flynn, it’s doomed to fail when the war tears them apart.
By contrast, Flynn has always been more of a player, and one with omnivorous taste. He has never looked for permanence, is far more likely than Bennet to act on his sexual attraction to whoever has caught his eye. Only with Bennet has he found something he wants permanently, but as circumstances (that war I mention) are against them, he doesn’t live the life of a monk.
Interestingly, though, neither Bennet nor Flynn have a relationship with another man after they’ve been together. Not quite gay for you—perhaps more ‘faithful to you’?
When I looked again at the books, I realised I don’t outright label them as bisexual. Their behaviour must make it clear that they are, rather than a label. I’ve thought hard about that since. Does the label matter? Does not using it = erasure? Or is it better not to objectify who they are, but to write them into situations and relationships that fit with their characters, with the growth they make over the years of the story, with the demands of the story itself, and then let the reader decide for themselves?
I’m not assuming that I’ve got it right, but I hope I write them as attractive, intelligent, brave people being drawn to other attractive, intelligent, brave people; as men who are active not passive, who have agency and aren’t turned back from exercising it, who aren’t defined just by their sexuality. They have dangerous jobs to do to try and keep their people safe so they get on with things: life, jobs, fighting the war, and saving the planet. They aren’t defined by who they sleep with, but by everything they are and do.
As I say, I don’t know if I’ve got that right. I do think it suits the characters they are, and, I think, the kind of story Taking Shield is—that is, not a romance, but a genre science fiction story and a love story with LGBT protagonists. I have to try and be satisfied with that.
But the point I want to make is simply that it doesn’t hurt to have an issue like this blow up and make a writer look more critically at what they’re doing with their characters and question themselves, their privilege and what they’re writing. It doesn’t hurt at all. It might or might not help the characters develop and grow, but it sure as hell helps the writer do so.
And, you know, that’s fair enough.
And getting back to Bennet, Caeden needed to spend time with his elder son. He grabbed a bottle and followed, leaving the rest of his family to Warwick’s mercy.
“I appear to be in trouble with your mother.” He took the chair beside Bennet at one of the small tables set to take advantage of the views of the bay. The evening was cooling as it inched towards sunset, the breeze coming in from the sea heavy with the taste of salt. He offered the liquor bottle. “Again.”
Bennet shook his head at the offer and held up a glass still three-quarters full. “Fast work. You’ve only been home for about ten hours.”
“Not quite my best, but close to the record.”
Bennet laughed. “What have you done this time?”
Bennet stared out across the bay. “Ah. My fault then.”
“Fault? Of course it’s not your fault. But I have to admit the disagreements are usually about what your mother considers my interfering at times she deems I should stay right out of things.” Caeden was quiet for a long minute or two, sipping on the liquor. “Are you angry about that?”
Bennet didn’t answer straight away, apparently intent on the sunset. Albion’s sun was just dipping below the horizon. Caeden twisted in his chair to watch, waiting for the odd green flash, a green the colour of peridots, that slanted across the ocean the instant before the sun disappeared altogether and the bright Albion day melted into twilight. The killjoys who liked to explain everything would say it had to do with the way the light refracted on the horizon line or how the atmosphere scattered the sun’s rays, or something. He’d rather focus on the satisfyingly beautiful instant when the green flash came. It didn’t matter why it happened.
There it was. A flash of brilliance, swiftly over.
When it faded, Bennet said, tone thoughtful, “No. I’m not angry about it. I’d have left Joss eventually. We were heading for a crash. We wanted different things and I was tired of compromising. You added the catalyst to the mix, that’s all. I’m not mad about it.”
“But not happy either.”
“I’m happier now than I was for the whole of the last year with Joss.”
“I suppose that’s some consolation.” Caeden sat back. The last of the sun slid below the dark horizon line. Behind him Warwick’s loud voice drifted out of an open window. He was talking about the Taxos battle. Not for the first time. “And the catalyst?”
He had never asked before. Whatever had gone on with Flynn—and he wasn’t so naïve as to believe nothing had—so far he’d granted Bennet an adult’s privacy about it. He’d never asked, never alluded to it, never hinted. Meriel’s unusual sharpness had him wondering how affected Bennet had been by it, whether Joss had not been the only one to pay a price for Bennet’s freedom.
Bennet reached for the bottle, using his right hand. It was a relief to see how easily his fingers grasped it as he poured himself a drink. He’d got back more dexterity than the medics had predicted, thank the gods. “Catalysts come and catalysts go.”
Returning to duty following his long recovery from the injuries he sustained during the events recounted in Heart Scarab, Shield Captain Bennet accepts a tour of duty in Fleet as flight captain on a dreadnought. The one saving grace is that it isn’t his father’s ship—bad enough that he can’t yet return to the Shield Regiment, at least he doesn’t have the added stress of commanding former lover Fleet Lieutenant Flynn, knowing the fraternisation regulations will keep them apart.
Working on the material he collected himself on T18 three years before, Bennet decodes enough Maess data to send him behind the lines to Makepeace, once a human colony but under Maess control for more than a century. The mission goes belly up, costing Albion one of her precious, irreplaceable dreadnoughts and bringing political upheaval, acrimony and the threat of public unrest in its wake. But for Bennet, the real nightmare is discovering what the Maess have in store for humanity.
It’s not good. It’s not good at all.
- Wilde City
Anna was a communications specialist for many years, working in various UK government departments on everything from marketing employment schemes to organizing conferences for 10,000 civil servants to running an internal TV service. These days, though, she is writing full time. She recently moved out of the ethnic and cultural melting pot of East London to the rather slower environs of a quiet village tucked deep in the Nottinghamshire countryside, where she lives with her husband and the Deputy Editor, aka Molly the cockerpoo.
Anna has brought a print copy of Gyrfalcon, the first in the Taking Shield series, to give away to one lucky reader on her tour. Just follow the Rafflecopter link to enter.
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