Stumbling Into Identity: Casey McQuiston on Writing About Bisexuality

Stumbling Into Identity: Casey McQuiston on Writing About Bisexuality

Casey McQuiston

Casey McQuiston’s debut novel is not only one of our most-anticipated reads of the season, it’s also one of our May book club picks! Red, White & Royal Blue follows America’s first son and the heir to the English throne as they go from antagonizing each other to falling in love. Readers who love enemies-to-lovers romances won’t want to miss out. To celebrate the book’s publication, McQuiston opened up about why it was important to her to write a bisexual character just beginning to explore their identity.

It goes like this: You grow up.

You grow up thinking you’re straight. You like the gender that everyone says you’re supposed to, and so, you’re straight. You’re so sure you’re straight that you tell yourself all the time, yeah, that’s me, a straight person. Doing straight things. Definitely straight. No need to panic.

And then: life after high school. Meeting people who didn’t crawl through the nightmare of adolescence alongside you, with smarter words and stronger ideas of who they are. Just by being who they are where you can see it, they rattle your scaffolding of self. And you wonder, what if I had the nerve to be that honest with myself?

Maybe you see it in a movie or read it in a book. Maybe you knew all along that this word existed, but everyone always said it was made-up, that it was for people who are greedy, indecisive, confused, noncommittal, overly sexualized, desperate for attention.

But you sit with it, and it sits with you, and you start to piece together a million things you reasoned away with “but I like girls” or “but I like boys” because it never occurred to you there was more than one option. And the longer you sit, the more it feels right.

So, picture it: the word “bisexual” spelled out like a diagnosis, finally explaining everything.

That was me, almost a decade ago, sitting on one of those crinkly, blue dorm mattresses in campus housing, and it’s also Alex Claremont-Diaz, the protagonist of my debut novel, after a prince springs a kiss on him.

When I set out to write Red, White & Royal Blue, I only kind of knew what it was. I knew it was queer, and I knew it was about the first family and the royal family colliding in the messiest way imaginable. As the pieces came together, I realized I wanted to funnel into my protagonist a lot of things about myself I grappled with my whole life. Anxiety, recklessness, too-muchness, a complicated red state upbringing, a stubborn boyishness, and, yeah, bisexuality.

Alex was bi because I had never gotten to really fall for a big, shiny romance centering on someone who loved like me, and I wanted to create one. He was bi because I was tired of handing my heart to stories in which bisexuality was a punchline or a reason not to love someone or, most often, ignored completely. He was bi because I love being bi—I love the range of it, the ebbs and flows, the way it forces me to spend more time with my own feelings. I wanted to show that.

I have a few bi and pansexual friends who figured it out when they were teenagers, but the majority—ones in whom I first confided, people who were my “token straight friends” until they texted me at midnight with questions—didn’t know until later. It can take a while. Figuring out you’re bisexual is jumping blindfolded through a Double Dare 2000 obstacle course of internalized homophobia, biphobia from people on all sides of the sexuality spectrum, fear of the world you live in, fear of yourself. Sometimes it feels like the best you can hope for is someone to hold your hand as you run it. I’ve been lucky to both have that and be that. I’d be lucky to extend the same to even one person who reads this book.

And so the moment I knew Alex was bi, I knew he didn’t know it yet. Because I wanted to write what I needed to read at his age: the entire process of stumbling into your identity. I wanted some queer person who hadn’t yet come out to themself to read that chapter of the book and go, “Oh, shit. That’s me.” And feel a little less alone.

To quote a tweet thread I did on this topic earlier this year: There’s no right or wrong way to figure out what your sexuality is and how you engage with and express it. There’s no correct timeline or imperative circumstance.

There’s just you, your identity, and whatever clumsy steps you take to find it. I’ve been there. Alex has been there too, now. And if you’ve been there—or you’re there right now—I hope, maybe, when you read this book, you feel seen.

 

Casey McQuiston grew up in the swamps of Southern Louisiana, where she cultivated an abiding love for honey butter biscuits and stories with big, beating hearts. She studied journalism and worked in magazine publishing for years before returning to her first love: joyous, offbeat romantic comedies and escapist fiction. She now lives in the mountains of Fort Collins, Colorado, with a collection of caftans and her poodle mix, Pepper. Red, White & Royal Blue is her first novel.

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