In recognition of Bisexual Visibility Day, I’m reposting this entry about Katie Kiel from the As The World Dies zombie trilogy.
Katie Kiel is bisexual.
Yet, you wouldn’t know it by the way she is constantly described as a “lesbian” in reviews not only by readers, but professional review sites.
Recently I wrote a post about reviews and how they only bother me when they have misinformation in them. Katie being cited as a lesbian is one of those things that peeves me to no end.
Katie is not a lesbian who is de-gayed by a magic penis. If she was a lesbian, she would not have been attracted to a man. I think its rather insulting when people even assume this. I have many lesbian friends and they have zero interest in men as partners. To assume a good-looking guy is suddenly going to make a lesbian straight is really insulting.
Though Katie was married to an awesome lesbian woman named Lydia and loved her more than life itself, Katie is not a lesbian. She’s a bisexual woman who has loved both men and women in her past. Katie loves people for who they are without regard or preference to their gender.
“But the truth is, I’m bisexual. Always have been. I dated guys and girls all through high school and in college. It just happened that the person—” Katie’s voice caught in her throat and she couldn’t talk for a moment. “—I fell in love with and wanted to spend my life with was a woman. It was her: Lydia.” – Katie in THE FIRST DAYS
Up until this point in the book Katie has not had the need to define her sexuality to anyone. That her thoughts dwell on her dead wife is only natural. She is in deep mourning for the woman she loves.
I assume that people get confused because of this earlier scene.
“I gotta pee,” Jenni said abruptly. The urgent need had hit her suddenly. She was a little surprised when Jason and Katie both said, “Me, too.”
Katie stopped in the middle of the narrow road, lifted the shotgun off the console, and looked at Jenni. “You first. Take your gun. I’ll cover.”
Jenni grumbled as she released her seat belt. “This is fucking annoying. Not being able to go without an armed guard.”
Jason cleared his throat and said, “What about me? I gotta go like right now.”
“I’ll cover for you, too. Jenni can cover for me.”
Jason looked at her warily.
Katie gave him a reassuring smile. “I’m a lesbian. It’s okay. I’m not interested in your boy parts. I won’t look.”
“Really?” Jason’s eyes somewhat lit up. “I saw a movie with lesbians once.”
“I’m sure you did.” Katie rolled her eyes and flung her door open. She slid out, muttering something about all men being alike.
Later on, Katie tells Jason why she told him she was a lesbian.
“I wanted you to pee.” Katie winked at him.
Katie is the type of person who would have said the exact same thing to Jason if she had been straight. She just wanted him to hurry up and urinate before zombies came shambling along.
In FIGHTING TO SURVIVE Katie once again defines herself to Travis.
“So, the point of all this is, I became very used to living in the LGBT community and sometimes it was very difficult. If I identified myself as bisexual, I was sometimes told I just hadn’t fully accepted that I was lesbian. Lydia always defended me, but I eventually stopped telling anyone that I was bi.” Katie laughed bitterly. “After that, this one woman we knew congratulated me on finally accepting myself as a lesbian and not being in denial anymore.” She gazed into Travis’s eyes. “Lydia understood that I had made a choice to be with her because of who she was, not because her gender. “
Yet, despite Katie explaining to the characters in the story and to the reader who she is, people persistently flag her as a lesbian who becomes straight for a man.
In the story being called a lesbian was to show prejudice in the form of Shane, one of the construction workers that Katie runs afoul with when she kills his infected brother.
“I’m her best friend. Maybe I did it,” Katie said pointedly.
“Crazed lesbian kills ex-girlfriend’s almost killer,” a man’s voice said very sarcastically from behind her.
When people want to insult Katie in the story, they call her a lesbian. She ignores them, not allowing them to rile her or define her. Besides, she doesn’t see it as an insult since her beloved Lydia was a lesbian.
But why, I have asked myself, do readers and reviewers persistently peg Katie as a lesbian despite her saying she is not? Why do they insist on making it seem that a lesbian woman is turned straight by a strong, handsome man? A lot of times lesbians are threatened with sexual assault so they can be “turned straight.” Katie endures a lot of abuse from Shane and his pal, Philip.
“Shut up, lesbo bitch! Who asked you to fucking open your mouth?” Phil’s voice was full of hate, and his gaze was hostile.
“Nah, Phil. Let her open her mouth. I got something right here for it,” Shane stated, thrusting his cock at her.
In FIGHTING TO SURVIVE Katie suffers an attack from Shane.
“The lesbo wanted to try sex with a man,” Shane insisted through his bloodied teeth.
The myth that a lesbian will go straight if she just has sex with a man is even promoted by the media. The Jennifer Lopez film Gigli, the lesbian character inexplicably falls in love with Ben Affleck.
The website Mutant Reviewers from Hell has even named this romance movie cliche.
Where No Man Has Gone Before
Movie lesbians are disgustingly easy to “convert” to heterosexuality when the possibility actually presents itself. This is, of course, total crap (unless, of course, they’re bisexuals in disguise).
Katie is in disguise to the people in the fort. She’s hiding her sexuality because she knows of Travis’s interest in her and she needs the time and space to mourn Lydia. Yet, she is out as bisexual to the readership throughout most of the book.
But if she is defining herself as bisexual, why do readers (and reviewers) continue to call her a lesbian?
I actually think Katie herself answers this question.
“I often tell people I’m a lesbian so they’re comfortable.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Well, people like absolutes. And it blows most of their minds to try to think that I could find men and women equally attractive. It just freaks them out. They want me to be one or the other. So, since I was with Lydia, it was just easier to say I was a lesbian.” Katie held the phone against her chest and tried not to cry.
“So you could end up with a guy or a girl?”
“Honestly, Jason, right now, I can’t imagine being with anyone. I just . . .” She rolled onto her side and faced the wall. “I just miss her.”
One of my proudest moments was when Three Dollar Bill Reviews (a LGBTQ) review site, said this in their review of THE FIRST DAYS about the scene above.
In one part of the book Katie is explaining to Jason about being bisexual and why she has often told others she is a lesbian. What she says to the young man rings so true and many readers will find themselves nodding along in agreement. There’s an honesty to Katie’s character that makes her easy to identify with and creates a solid connection with the reader.
Note: The reviewer is bisexual.
People do like absolutes. Even in Hollywood, out bisexual actresses like Amber Heard and Kristanna Loken are constantly questioned about their sexuality.
Recently Amber Heard had this to say, “It makes no difference to me, personally. I’ve always been a private person and valued my private life. That being said, a lot of the media attention surrounding my relationship has been frustrating, simply because I’m a private person. But I think there’s an important moment happening in our society right now, and I had to do the right thing. At the end of the day I don’t label myself one way or another. I come from a place where I find it hard to identify with the label. I’ve dated men in the past. Now I’m dating a woman, and I see it as ultimately no big deal.”
Sounds like Katie, huh?
Actres Kristanna Loken had an enormous impact on Katie. As a straight woman, I didn’t know much about bisexuality. I knew the really bad stereotypes about them such as they are promiscuous, they can’t make up their mind and just be gay, they have to have both sexes or they’re not happy, etc… I didn’t have the bisexual friends I have now, so I was fairly lost. I ended up googling bisexuality and did a whole lot of reading. It was actress Kristanna Loken that actually gave me the best insight into bisexuality.
“I have dated and have had sex with men and women and have to say that the relationships I have had with certain women have been much more fulfilling, sexually and emotionally, than those with certain men. I connect with an aura, with energy. And if the person with whom I connect happens to be a female, that’s just the way it is. That’s what makes my wheels turn.” – Kristanna Loken
Kristanna, by the way, has a lesbian sister. She knows the difference between bisexuality and lesbianism. At one point she married a man, and suffered the outrage of a few in the LGBTQ community. In her defense, she said the following: ”I’m married to a man now. I think I was ready to be in a committed relationship and it could have been with a man or a woman. It just so happened to be a man, but it doesn’t make me not attracted to women.”
She did later divorce and end up with a woman, but even when questioned after her divorce, she still adamantly stated her bisexuality. I spoke with Kristanna at the Austin ComicCon a few years ago and she was not only beautiful, but very open about her sexuality. I told her all about Katie and even gave her the book. I thanked her for being so open because it helped me create Katie. She was thrilled and signed a picture for me that reads: “Rhiannon, I am so happy that my honesty could help you create your character!!! Good luck! Kristanna Loken“
Another major star that recently came out is actress Anna Paquin from True Blood fame. She married her True Blood co-star Stephen Moyer, but still maintains she is bisexual. Marrying a man did not suddenly make her straight. A lot of bisexuals do end up marrying straight people, but the statistics are in the favor of that happening. There is a much larger pool of straight people than gay people. Just because a bisexual person marries a person of the opposite sex does not automatically them straight.
“There is a lot of prejudice against us but the more people talk about it, the less of a deal it will be.” – Anna Paquin
Even in the LGBTQ community bisexuals are often regarded with suspicion. On the iconic lesbian show The L Word bisexuality ended up being portrayed in not so flattering a manner. Afterellen.com discussed this in an article called The L Word’s Vanishing Bisexual.
From the article:
The L Word’s representation of bisexuality reflects popular and sometimes opposing ideas about bisexuality. One belief–represented best on the series by Jenny–is that those who identify as bisexual are merely experimenting with their sexuality before they choose to identify as strictly heterosexual or homosexual, thus suggesting that a “bisexual” identity is at best a transitional identity, and at worst a false one.
The second is the belief that everyone has the potential to be attracted to people of either sex; in other words, everyone is at some level bisexual. This has been most clearly expressed by the character of Shane (Katherine Moennig), who stated in the second episode, “Sexuality is fluid, whether you’re gay or you’re straight or you’re bisexual, you just go with the flow.”
Third is the stereotype that bisexuals are sexually promiscuous or indecisive, with the added threat that a bisexual woman could, at any moment, leave her female lover for a man.
All of these are damaging stereotypes to bisexual people. Even Katie relates this pressure in the series.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by the confusion (or denial) of Katie’s sexuality. People want absolutes. We want things to be black and white. No in-betweens. Katie lives in the world of gray and in-between. She is attracted to both men and women. She has fallen in love with both men and women. She has found happiness with both sexes with no regrets. Katie knows her heart and her mind, but the world around her continually tells her she’s wrong.
Though I am frustrated when Katie’s confession of bisexuality is ignored, I am always touched when bisexual readers thank me for her representation. They rarely see themselves depicted in a positive light.
Being challenged all my life for acceptance of my in-born bisexuality I had such excitement and pride in how you presented Katie. I FELT her indecision and challenge in her relationship with both Jenni and Travis (lets not forget Lydia). Your complex inclusion of individuals searching for love, tenderness, and meaning in the arms of others is quite an achievement. Particularly in such a wild horror story of zombies with their mindless natures and hideous cannibalism. These three books deserve to be nice hardbacks. – from a fan email
Katie is most likely the first bisexual character in the zombie genre (please correct me if I’m wrong) and probably the first bisexual character many have read about. In her own way, she is not only breaking ground in the fort, but with the readers as well.
I guess in the end my own frustration stems from the fact I want to defend her. I want Katie to be able to define herself to her world and the readers and have them accept her. Whether people are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or straight, everyone should have the right to define (or not define) themselves and be accepted for who they are.
AN UPDATE 2/2012:
This was posted on the AS THE WORLD DIES Facebook page:
I understand Katie’s sexuality and it makes sense that she would fall in love with Travis. However, when I was first introduced to The First Days I was excited that Katie was a strong “lesbian” character. I felt a sting of disappointment when she admitted to being bisexual. I still love the series and you as an author. I just feel the “bisexual” woman had been done many times before. It was new and fresh to have a lesbian in the forefront.
This was my answer:
I have yet to read a story with a bisexual lead, but I understand your disappointment. Katie is not my only LGBT character, nor my last. THE VAMPIRE BRIDE series has a lesbian character starting in book two, and the upcoming PRETTY WHEN SHE KILLS has an ass-kicking lesbian couple. The point of my artcle is that Katie is not a lesbian turned straight by a magic penis. My characters tend to pop into my mind fully formed, so when Katie said she was bisexual in my head I had to reaearch her sexuality. I also feel that in no way does her bisexuality take away the beauty of her love for Lydia. Lydia is the love of Katie’s life.
Update: 9/24/2014 To this day, Katie continues to be described as a lesbian in reviews and by readers. It saddens me that her self-defined sexuality is ignored and erase. The term bi-erasure exists for a reason.
Update: 9/23/2016 Bisexual representation is slowly growing in the media, but we have a long way to go. Damaging tropes do continue to occur in our entertainment, and lack of support of the B in LGBTQIA persists. I have had quite a few bisexual readers tell me how much Katie’s positive representation meant to them, and how she helped them come to terms with their sexuality and coming out.
Meanwhile, as I strive to write more diverse characters, I have come to question my own sexuality. I have come to the conclusion that I exist in the asexual spectrum as demisexual. As an adult, I often forced myself to mimic my friends. I even tried to force myself into relationships because I was convinced it was the thing to do. In all honesty, I can count on one hand the number of people I was truly attracted to in a romantic or sexual way.
Because of my very obvious disinterest in romantic relationships when I was younger, my abusive father told everyone I was a lesbian (which to him was a slur). When I married a man, I actually had one of my brothers react with shock even though I hadn’t had a girlfriend or shown interest in women.
That being said, I’m now hesitant to describe myself as heterosexual. Because of my lack of sexual or romantic attraction to others throughout my life, I realize I can’t really make that call. If my husband had been another gender, I hope I would have fallen in love just the same. Classify me as questioning in that regard.