Santino Hassell, better known as part of the dynamic duo of Ais & Sonny—writers of In The Company of Shadows, has a new book out. Not to be a spoilersport(this is your first and only warning that I make up words =P), but one of the characters isn’t gay. He isn’t straight either. Technically he doesn’t label himself, which a lot of people don’t do. Sonny, however, does. He identifies as bisexual
I imagine it must be very frustrating to be bisexual in a world where most people feel they need to stick a label on everyone. So, after reading After Midnight, I got curious. I wanted to ask Sonny if he’d find it easier to not identify as anything, or if he felt that identifying, and identifying loudly, was important for him because the gay and straight community needs to know that bisexuality is real.
The most difficult question is about coming out, I think. As you came out to family, what were their reactions?
First of all, the fact that we’re doing this Q&A is fucking awesome. You’re the best. Thank you.
As for the question? It can be answered in so many ways. It’s more like—which time? I’ve been coming out to my family in small doses since I was a little kid. The first time I blurted out something out of the norm was when we were watching Star Wars when I was a kid. Someone made a comment about Leah and I said that I thought both she and Luke were “really cute”. I got the smack in the back of my head by my dad and the whisper from my cousin that it wasn’t cool to say things like that, and I didn’t really get it but I just nodded and got nervous.
I come from this super stereotypically testosterone-driven, pseudo-religious Italian family so anything even a little gay was out of the question and I knew that. At the same time, I don’t think I was too good at hiding it because being attracted to both genders was so natural to me all my life, and I became sexual with both at a very early age so I was aware that it was definitely a real thing and not just a curiosity.
So, I think my parents always had an inkling. When I was 18, my dad caught me with a guy and all hell broke loose. We didn’t have a civilized conversation for years. It took him a long time to deal with it. Even now, he says stuff like being bisexual is worse than being fully gay because I have the choice to be with a woman and I’m choosing instead to just “go the other way”. He tries but even now—nearly sixteen years later—it’s difficult for him to wrap his mind around.
I know you read a lot about being pansexual and bisexual. Where do you identify on that spectrum? What are the important differences between them?
Sometimes I feel, especially in recent years, that the term bisexual gets a really bad rap. I’ve identified as bisexual for a really long time, as soon as I realized that what I was had a name. Until recently, it never even occurred to me that someone would consider the term “bisexual” to be offensive. That’s probably because when it comes to the LGBT community I’ve felt like an outcast and started staying away for the past decade, so my vocabulary was dated in a lot of ways. Until the last couple years, I didn’t even know what pansexual meant.
What I did discover was that with the growing awareness of what it means to be transgender, what it means to be gender queer, there has been more of a microscope on the words gender and sex. Due to that, I think a lot of times people think if I say I’m “bisexual” it means I’m only attracted to cis-gendered men or women but that isn’t the case. Not for me, anyway. I’ve dated transgendered men as well.
For me, the term “bisexual” always meant you’re not one way or the other. You’re not monosexual. You’re both, either, all. Almost like a bucket term. I know some people don’t think that’s correct, but for me it is. It’s the way I’ve always identified, and that doesn’t mean I’m excluding anyone. I suppose if pansexual is used to umbrella an individual who is attracted to all sexes and genders, cis or not, then I guess that would be what I am. But to be honest, I’ve been calling myself bisexual since I was a kid and I’m probably not going to change it now.
I love everyone. Sonny is all inclusive, baby.
What’s the number one misconception that people have about you when you tell them you’re bisexual? Give what different response you get from the hetero community and the LGBT community.
Oh man, it’s always the same shit. “Pick a side” or “eventually you’ll just pick one”. It’s almost like my existence is something people feel the need to correct or school me about, or they’ll debate about it with me. As if my sexual orientation is something anyone else has the fucking right to debate.
The weird thing is, in my experience, the hetero community has been less confrontational about it. I don’t hide it and I don’t lie about it if it comes up, but sometimes if a woman finds out I’m bisexual and not just in spirit (“no really, I’ve actually sucked dick. I’m not just trying to sound cool and edgy”), they’re like “oh boy, you’re gay and don’t want to accept it”, and get paranoid that I’m trying to use them as a beard.
But in the LGBT community, I’ve gotten into arguments about it. I’ve been told that I’m going to inevitably swing one way or the other because that’s the natural flow of things. Some gay men have made the claim that bisexual dudes just claim to be bisexual so that they can seem more socially acceptable to the masses. And that idea, along with how they perceive me (aggressive, a little ghetto), and they think I try to “act straight” whatever the fuck that means.
It’s really irritating. This has been an ongoing argument I’ve had with various people for years. It happened so frequently I started feeling really uncomfortable in any kind of LGBT gathering because I’m just waiting for someone to say it. I don’t think people realize how upsetting it is to be told that their sexual orientation is made up or doesn’t exist. Especially when you’ve identified that way for your entire life.
You told me once about a friend of yours who had some difficulties when you came out to him. We’ll call him Harry? I’d love for you to share that story.
That incident was out of control. So, my friend Harry was this younger gay guy who’d grown up in this religious household with pretty controlling parents. We were polar opposites as far as how we viewed just about everything, including sexual orientations. So, when Harry realized that I identified as bisexual and not gay, and that I was serious about it…well, he just didn’t really know what to make of me. He’d make all of these jokes and comments until me and another friend got into a serious conversation with him about it, and found out where he stood on the issue with all jokes aside.
Harry’s take on bisexuality was that it was basically an affront to gay men who struggle with acceptance. His rationale was that bisexuality ruined the long-standing debate of whether or not people were born gay and that it was not a choice. He said the idea of a bisexual man throws the whole argument off balance because now you have a man who is admitting “yes, I can be attracted to both and can make a choice between either.” On top of that, he told me that he is bitter towards bisexual men because we have the option to have a more socially acceptable relationship with a woman, and if we have a family who will disapprove of us being with a man, well—we bisexuals can easily just go the other way and make everyone happy!
I mean first of all, it’s just fucking absurd. If you fall in love with someone, why is it assumed that a bi dude can just be like “you know what? I’m not gonna go down that road. I’ll just go love a chick instead because that’s easier!” If you want to be with someone, you want to be with them. That doesn’t change just because you could potentially be attracted to the opposite gender.
That’s yet another obnoxious stereotype that bugs me. That bisexual people just fuck everyone any time and any day and can’t stay with just one person because the temptation is always there, and it’s just so easy to switch back and forth and we can’t control ourselves. As if being bisexual is like being in a buffet full of genitals or something. That was disgusting. Whatever. No retractions!
Like I would let you retract anything. Pft.
I note there is a lot of bi-erasure in books. Or jokes. I know we both talked about this, but I think it’s important to hear from someone directly affected by it. How does it affect you when books crack jokes/stereotypes about being bisexual, or labeling someone gay or straight when they don’t identify as that at all?
It’s really frustrating. I don’t necessarily think that any author is obligated to write a bisexual character, or that any reader is obligated to want to read a story about certain things, but the absence of the option at all is just bizarre to me. For example, GFY. I’m not gonna hate. I like me a good GFY story. I’ve WRITTEN GFY in one of my most popular pairings in ICoS. Fuck, in high school I tried to make tons of dudes gay for ME. But, what starts to bug me is that it’s very rare that a character realizes “hey, you know what? I’m into both”. It’s always just like “whoops, guess it’s strictly dickly for me from this point on”. Like, what? Why? There’s really no in between ever?
Even though After Midnight is my first published book, I’ve been writing free online fiction for over a decade and a few of my LGBT characters have been bi or pansexual. They just developed that way—I didn’t go in with the intentions of making a statement about labels or sexuality. The character Adam in After Midnight fits that mold. He’s pansexual but he doesn’t identify with a label at all. He had only been with women well into his adulthood, but then he was ordered to have sex with a man for an assignment. Though he’d never seriously considered being with a man before that point, he enjoyed it, and then he was completely open to other experiences.
In the book, you will only see him with a male character but that doesn’t make him any less pansexual. He has not “chosen a side”, he’s simply found the person he wants to be with and that person happens to be male.
Even so, I don’t think people should feel pressured to write characters they don’t feel comfortable writing just for the purpose of diversifying their own writing. Every book doesn’t have to be a crusade, and people should write what feels genuine to them.
But on that note, I have to say that whenever gay characters in books joke on bisexuals…it really sets my teeth on edge. The same way the community would grit their teeth at an offensive joke to gays, lesbians or trans, it shouldn’t be acceptable to dismiss and flat out insult bisexuals. I think it’s one thing for someone to prefer to read or write about a specific type of person, but it’s totally different when my sexual orientation becomes the butt of a joke WITHIN the community that I’m supposed to be part of.
It really sets a tone that makes me feel unwelcome and defensive. I think it’s a shame any time someone has to feel like an outsider in the group that they should feel safe around. But that will probably never change. People will always find a reason to draw lines in the sand.
Lastly: What would you like readers to come away from this article knowing and learning?
That I’m cool as fuck. Nah, joking. (no, I’m not). But seriously, I just want readers to know that it’s totally okay to have reading and writing preferences—I’m definitely not trying to change that. But just err on the side of caution when making statements about “bisexuals being transphobic” because it’s really really not always the case. Definitely not for me.
And also, to just be aware that bisexuals can also be treated like the redheaded stepchildren of the community and it’s never fun to always have to defend who you are. So, you know, be nice. Let’s all love each other. Or fuck each other. Or just be friends.
Thanks, Sonny. I’m not gonna hug you, because you and me don’t do that =P. So *fistbump* and possibly *playful armpunch that was too hard*. (subject too serious to tell you to drop your pants while you’re all into obeying questions and orders =P)
LOL. Aww. I won’t reject your hug. Maybe we can do a side-hug. Those are less awful.
Thanks for having me!
(okay, it’s just me and the no hugging then >8( )
Santino’s new book After Midnight is available for $3.99 on Amazon, All romance Ebooks and Smashwords! Check it out if you want to read (blurb and links below).
You can also find him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/santinohassellbooks), Twitter (https://twitter.com/SantinoHassell), or at his website (www.santinohassell.com).
Gordon Frost is a survivor. He survived a war that ravaged the nation, and he made it through the orphanages and crime-ridden slums that followed. With few prospects for the future, Gordon carved out a niche for himself in the expanding drug trade of Lexington, PA. It’s not pretty, but it’s his, and it beats what he was doing before. But a classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time results in a brush with death, going by the name of Adam. Afterward, the life that seemed good enough before, isn’t quite the same.
Adam Blake is an assassin on the brink of being terminated by the very organization that controls him. He completed his mission, but not without being seen. With his secrets in danger of being exposed by Gordon, Adam knows he should kill the smart-mouthed redhead, but finds himself intrigued by the troublesome civilian instead.
When Gordon’s knack for finding trouble combines with the dangerous consequences of Adam’s indecision, their worlds intertwine in an explosive way.