As YA author Malinda Lo once pointed out in her wonderful discussion of bisexual characters in YA literature, “representations of bisexual characters remain few and far between.” This, as Lo pointed out, has a lot to do with the perception of bisexuality in contemporary society, where it is often viewed as an “excuse” for admitting one’s homosexuality, or it is viewed as a “lifestyle” embraced by people who are supposedly greedy or that take sexual promiscuity to the extreme. Society has a long way to go in terms of veering away from these stereotypes.
Male bisexuality in YA fiction is extremely scarce. Lo points out Cassandra Clare’s series as one of the only examples of male bisexuality within the genre (that she could think of). In 2011, Alex Sanchez, one of the most known authors of gay YA fiction, published his novel Boyfriends with Girlfriends, which also contains a representation of bisexuality that is designed to directly challenge the preconceived notions of individuals who are attracted to both men and women (and in my opinion, it is a fantastic introduction to the hardships that bisexual individuals face).
One of the lesser known novels that directly deals with issues of male bisexuality is Eddie De Oliveira’s Lucky, originally published by Scholastic in 2004. Taking place in England (as made obvious by the abundance of British slang peppered throughout the text), the novel focuses on Sam, the protagonist, who is trying to come to grips with his attraction to both men and woman throughout his first year of college. This trial is made much more difficult when he meets Toby, a classmate who has dated both men and women in the past, and who is not afraid to admit it.
The novel, in many ways, follows many of the steps that are seen in the coming out story: there’s a moment of ignorance, a moment of realization, the crisis, the trials, the step out of the closet, and acceptance. All-in-all, I thought the novel was an entertaining and interesting read, although I foresee that some readers may have a couple of issues with it.
Many readers of this novel might be upset when they realize that the main character rarely explores his attraction to men through physical means, but rather, he purely deliberates it through thought and emotion. The character makes his attraction to men explicit, but throughout the entire novel, he does not once kiss another man (and I mean a kiss… not a peck on the cheek). It seems that every time he comes close to achieving some sexual intimacy with another male character, “something” happens.
Despite the fact that Sam’s sexual attraction to men is never acted upon, he does express said attraction, and it bothers him to the point of torture. In a moment where he reaches the climax of his sexual crisis, Sam asks himself:
…did I fancy boys and girls?–or did I just like boys a lot as friends, or did I feel closer to them than girls, and does sex define sexuality, and if I wanted to hug and hold hands but nothing more, did that make me gay or bi? My state of mind was as tangled as a bowl of spaghetti. (130)
Sam constantly denies his attraction to men, this this denial is challenged when he begins to develop an attraction to Toby; an attraction that becomes unbearable once Toby begins to date a woman named Lucy. Seeing Toby together with Lucy drives Sam into fits of rage and jealously, and he ultimately comes to grips with his attraction to both genders due to a prolonged series of events (which I’m not going to spoil here).
Personally speaking, I thought the novel was overall touching and funny, although there are times when I felt that the plot became a bit repetitive, especially when it came to the characters uncontrollable frustration as he dealt with his emerging sexuality and the presence of countless football matches (I’m a disaster when it comes to understanding sports). These football matches, however, are important when it comes to highlighting the patriarchal and chauvinistic ideologies that torment the main character, and that influence his decision to stay in the closet.
The novel is designed to actively contest the stereotypes of bisexuality in hopes of providing the reader with a sense of enlightenment. This contestation is mostly illustrated through Sam’s friends, particularly his oldest friend Pod, who is unable to understand the nature of Sam’s attraction to men and women:
“All right, I’ll tell you what I think. I think I’m straight. I’ve always liked girls. I think Oscar Wilde was gay, he always liked boys. I don’t get how Sam can be both. Sounds to me like he’s hedging his bets. Can’t make his mind up. It’s worse than just being gay, you know. It’s slagging.” (156)
In this instance, the novel taps into the sentiments and attitudes that many people present when they directly confront the issue of bisexuality. Interestingly, Pod considers bisexuality to be a greater offence than gayness because according to him, it expresses a degree of indecision and of selfishness. The novel accurately portrays the social hierarchy that exists in terms of sexual expression, in which gayness and lesbianism are supposedly more tolerable than other expressions of sexual identity such as bisexuality and transgenderism.
I thought that De Oliveira greatly handled the representation of bisexuality in the novel, especially when it came to crafting an ending that doesn’t necessarily fall into glamour or unnecessary melodrama that is usually seen in middlebrow fiction. As a matter of fact, the novel’s ending presents the most memorable and emancipatory moment in the entire text, and I think it will help most readers get over some of the challenges of reading the novel (chiefly the lack of overt male intimacy and the overabundance of the motif of football).
All in all, De Oliveira’s text should be approached as a groundbreaking work within the realm of YA fiction, for its portrayal of male bisexuality in a positive albeit realistic fashion–particularly when male bisexuality in the genre is virtually nonexistent. The novel entertains, and it also educates without seeming overly pedantic (which is a plus). If like the main character, you are looking to “trying something new” (239) within the landscape of LGBTQ YA fiction, you should definitely give Lucky a read.
De Oliveira, Eddie. Lucky. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2004. Print.
“On YA Novels with Male Bisexuality – Eddie De Oliveira’s Lucky” was originally published at http://angelmatos.net on June 9th, 2013.