From the publisher of Best Bi Short Stories and the leader in erotic sf/fantasy, Circlet Press, comes LIKE TWIN STARS, collecting three hot stories exploring bisexuality through a fantastical lens. According to Scientific American, bisexual behavior is common in over 1500 species of animals on Earth, including humans, for whom it has greater social and personal consequences than it does for penguins, baboons, or garter snakes. Through worlds of fantasy, we can explore the erotic and social possibilities for a bisexual identity only available in flights of the imagination. Visit a tribal society where the men “dance” with each other in order to attract wives, a fantasy world where sexuality is only awakened by the visit of a succubus or incubus, and a future where the intersex characteristics in fish and other species caused by environmental changes in our day and age finally begin to present in human beings.
The Dancer’s War by N.K. Jemisin
Incubus, Succubus by Neil Hudson
The Travesties by Giselle Renarde
Read an excerpt:
Introduction, by Kelly Clark
Science fiction is a genre of possibilities. Since I was a child, I’ve loved science fiction for the worlds it opened to my mind. From fantastic planets and alien machines to the dystopian futures and alternate timelines of our own human race, the best science fiction explores the far reaches of the imaginary and potential universe, all the while keeping one eye turned to the mirror, bringing to light the worlds inside ourselves at the same time. Given the exploratory nature of science fiction, it seems strange to me that bisexuality — a sexual identity that embodies the celebration of possibility — is so largely absent wthin the genre. The bisexual characters that exist seem to be mostly stock types that, like the “three-breasted whore,” evoke a stereotyped image that fails to acknowledge the complex inner lives of bisexual characters.
In Like Twin Stars, I wanted to collect science fiction stories that focus on bisexual characters as well as stories that play with ideas of sexuality and society. We attempted to collect stories that not only address bisexuality but portray it in a positive and reaffirming light. We live today in a world where bisexuality remains mostly unexplored and invisible; what if a society existed where bisexuality was normal? Science fiction offers us a chance to examine the erotic and social potential of bisexuality on a broader scale. With this anthology, we offer a window into a few of these myriad possibilities.
Excerpt from “The Dancers’ War” by N. K. Jemisin
The Ketuyae had wronged my clan, the Weavers-of-Cloud, some eighty years before. Something about a headwoman’s daughter and someone’s Third Husband; after so much time no one truly remembered. Honor-feuds had gone on for generations in our people’s history. In the end, honor was merely an excuse.
Still, because of it I had spent my whole life training for the day when it would fall to me to defend the clan’s honor. The one love we shared with the Ketuyae was dance. As soon as I could walk my mother’s First Husband began schooling me in the Root, Stem, and Leaf patterns. By the time I was six I had also mastered Flower, Fruit, and Seed. We then progressed into the animal forms; I mastered the basic Twelve before I reached that age myself. The clan’s elders watched my performances and nodded among themselves. “Here’s a true Cloudweaver in the making,” I heard them say. “If he bests the Ketuyae, we’ll gain a worthy addition to our clan.”
So they would, I promised them, and myself.
The gathering was held only once every ten years, so we set out as soon as we’d replenished our stores from winter. We arrived at the Evergreen’s edge at summer’s height, when the great forest was a-riot in color and life. Gathering City had already been cleaned and prepared by the clan which had the honor of hosting that decade’s event. But to our great surprise, the living area to which we’d been assigned was right next to the Ketuyae’s.
Our headwoman and her First were furious; they left at once to carry a protest to the hosts. I was more pleased than upset. I had been a child at the last gathering-of-clans, too young to fully comprehend the currents of anger and pride sweeping between us and our enemies. Now I was a man, albeit an unproven one. I wanted to see the Ketuyae through adult eyes and take their measure.
But the Ketuyae were prepared, having reached the City some days before us. In addition to surrounding their individual pavilas with thick curtains, they had built screens out of hides, each half again the height of a man, and positioned these about the perimeter of their camp. It was an insult, for it meant that the Ketuyae disdained even to acknowledge our existence. There was much murmuring as our elders debated an appropriate symbolic response.
As I dismounted to begin setting up camp along with the other unproven men, I felt eyes upon me. I turned slowly toward the Ketuyae camp and saw a sliver of a person gazing out at me from between two screens.
Startled, I moved away from my horse and walked to the edge of our camp, stopping with the tips of my sandals on their camp border. I could see only a little of the one who watched me — a strip of bronze skin, odd straw-colored hair, and one glowering blue eye.
I smiled, without humor and with everything of challenge, for I guessed at once who this might be: the Ketuyae’s dance-champion. As I smiled, the glowering look changed to one of surprise, then corresponding recognition. I could see only a bit of his mouth but I saw that he smiled as well. How could we not feel delight in such a moment? It can be the fulfillment of a lifetime to meet a worthy opponent, no matter the outcome.
But was this one worthy? I had to know.
So I turned and began pacing along the border, heading for the far corner of the Ketuyae encampment where there was a gap between the screens. My counterpart turned and walked with me, vanishing behind screens only to reappear in tantalizing flashes. I kept my pace measured even though my heart was pounding. Then we reached the gap, and I faced my nemesis for the first time.
The Ketuyae were plainsfolk; I had learned that much of their kind from our elders. Their clan had left the Evergreen many centuries before and mingled with strange folk from the cold lands to the north. It was one of the reasons why we had never gotten along with them, for we Cloudweavers kept to the oldest traditions and our lines were pure. We still lived among the dappled shadows of the Evergreen, and other clans said the forest was in our blood — for we all had dark hair, pale skin, and eyes as green as leaves or brown as bark. We were slim-bodied so that we could run silently through the brush, and we wore close-fitting tunics and limb-wrappings so that we could climb swiftly through the trees.
I had seen already that his coloring was strange, but I did not fully comprehend the difference between our clans until I saw him in that moment. He was huge. Had he been a Cloudweaver, he would have been half useless, for no tree-branch could have borne his weight. He towered over me by a full head, and his shoulders — half again as broad as my own — were partially hidden beneath the mass of curling gold hair which tumbled over them. He had taken no trouble to bind or sculpt it. Or perhaps that was simply not his people’s way, for there were no bindings on his arms, legs, or feet either; he wore only leather slippers and breeches. His torso was bare down to where the ripples of his lower abdomen flowed beneath the flap of his breechclout. No, not quite bare. Each shoulder and pectoral had been marked with stark black tattoos in bold swirls and chevrons whose meaning was known only to the Ketuyae.
He was so utterly alien that for several moments I simply stared. It was clear that I was just as strange to his eyes. I was gratified to see him frown slightly, puzzling over the layered cut and braiding of my hair and the bead-patterns of my short tunic. Then he spied my legs — bare but for calf-and-foot wrappings — and his eyes widened. His expression seemed almost scandalized for some reason. I could not help chuckling at such a foolish-looking stare.
This seemed to remind him of the matter at hand. He pulled his eyes back to my own and smiled again, this time derisively. “I’ve heard the Weavers-of-Cloud called Weavers-of-Grass by the elders of my clan,” he said in a voice as deep as a bear’s, “but I had no idea the men of your kind came this small. Are you a child?”
“Are you a termite mound?” I retorted. “How will you dance with such a lumbering body? Unless you mean to prove yourself by hurling rocks or some other barbarian craft.”
“I dance well enough,” he said. “You will have your challenge, never fear.” Then he stepped closer so that he, too, stood with his toes on the border-line. This put his chest only a few inches from my nose. I was near enough to feel the heat radiating from his skin.
I craned my neck upwards to glare at his chin. “You try to intimidate me like a beast — all size and superficiality. Perhaps you think your shaggy mane helps too.”
“Perhaps you think your beauty makes you a woman,” he said softly.
I frowned at this, for at first I was not certain it was an insult. I had been named beautiful by others, though none would presume to call it womanlike; that would have been like comparing a pile of mud to finished sculpture. For him to imply that I thought so highly of myself… “Weavers-of-Cloud revere the old ways,” I snapped, “unlike you grass-hopping Ketuyae. I don’t claim to be the equal of a woman, but I’m more than equal to you.”
He nodded, his smile widening as if I’d pleased him in some way. “We shall see on the proving field,” he said then, and — another insult — walked away without so much as a bow.
I stood glaring after him, my fists tight at my sides. I was flushed, breathing hard as if I’d already danced a full Twelve. I wanted to run after him and attack him with my fists like an uncultured child. I wanted to run back to my pavila and laugh into my furs. I felt giddier than if I’d eaten honey-sweets.
Oh, this challenge would be everything I’d waited for. Everything I’d dreamed.
* * * *
The proving tests began promptly at sun-zenith the next day. Not all the young men undertook tests of great importance. Some merely demonstrated a craft or some sort of cleverness, whose worth the Council of Elders would judge. A young man who failed to win the elders’ approval on the first try could make another attempt later during the gathering. He would never earn high rank, but at least he could bring some honor to his clan, and perhaps earn himself a Third or Fourth Husbandhood.
But when a young man sought the ultimate test, he took up the Challenge Staff which stood at the center of the city’s proving field. Any man could claim it, and by throwing it at the feet of another, invoke a challenge to which the other had to respond. When the challenge was between men of different clans, wagers were often made on the outcome. When the clans were at feud, as ours was with the Ketuyae, the whole of Gathering City might turn out to watch.
For the winner would bring glory and wealth to his clan. Women would bid high to have him as First Husband, so that he might sire strong daughters and sons. Mothers would solicit him to train their children in pleasure and craft; elders would gradually groom him for leadership in clan or even the Council. But the man who lost the challenge would damage the whole clan’s honor. At best his clan might relegate him to permanent low status, where he would be forced to perform the most hateful tasks: fighting in battles, winter guard-duty, servicing the other low-status men whom no woman would favor. At worst he might be banished, forced to beg acceptance from another clan — or wander alone until death. There were no second chances for a man who challenged and lost.
My clan liked me; I was unlikely to be banished if I lost. But neither did I fancy spending the rest of my life putting arrows through barbarians or shivering in some remote guard-post. I wanted to be a First, but that was the least of it. What mattered more was that I had always believed myself to be the best dancer in all the clans. This was my chance to prove it.
I walked onto the proving field as soon as the sun peaked. Other performances were going on in the squares around me, but the central square — where the Challenge Staff stood thrust into the earth — was empty. The crowd murmured as I approached, for they knew the history between Ketuyae and Weavers-of-Cloud. There had been a challenge between our clans at every gathering since the feud began. Doubtless most of the City had already made wagers on this one. My heart pounded, but I smiled a madman’s smile as I reached the central square. I would give them their wagers’ worth.
The Ketuyae was waiting for me in the square. He’d oiled his body to make his skin shine, and tied up his hair in a high ponytail. He had traded his breechclout-flaps for long drapes which hung fore and aft, dyed in simple but lovely patterns. His smile was as fierce as it had been the day before.
I stopped at the edge of the circle and cast off my cloak. I heard a collective gasp from the crowd, for I too had taken pains to look striking. I wore no tunic. I’d had my mother’s First wrap my waist in black leather straps instead, leaving my chest bare. Though I yearned to scandalize the Ketuyae further, I’d donned pants of flexible black fawnhide, laced tightly along the sides. My hair hung unbound and unbraided behind me, black as a raven’s shadow and straight as a waterfall. Those who knew the Cloudweavers understood the insult that I sent by this, for we unbound our hair only among the familiar trees of our clan-home — or when we felt otherwise unthreatened.
He knew what it meant, I saw in his eyes. “You still think me a termite-mound?” he drawled.
I flicked my hair and stepped into the square, putting one hand on my hip. “As you said, we shall see.”
He nodded, then assumed the Seed Growing position to begin. I raised my eyebrows; he moved gracefully for one so large.
“My name is Elan,” I told him, and to his Seed I offered Leaves-in-Autumn to signify that I meant to smother him.
He laughed and struck another opening pose: Sapling Rising, in spite of my leaves. He turned as he did it and I saw that his tattoos met between his shoulderblades and tapered down into his breeches. Oversized or not, his body was magnificent. I almost wished this were not a challenge, so that I could just watch him move.
“I am Ansheara,” he replied. “There’s no real need for one of us to throw the Staff down, is there?”
I laughed and flashed a Choking Ivy that made my hair whip like a ribbon before it settled around me. I saw his eyes widen slightly. “Of course not.”
The drummers took this as their signal, and we began.
From the beginning he took the lead — he had such natural power, such aggression, that I knew better than to contest him on that level. His muscles rippled like ropes as he rammed Trees up from the earth, slapped Leaves from them like a hurricane, stamped Seeds with such force that I felt the ground vibrate. His loin-drapes sliced the air like a swallow’s tail. Before he was halfway through the Forest Cycle he was running sweat in rivers, his pale hair whipping in strings — and he had only just warmed up. But the true spirit was in him. I saw that in his outflung arms, his thrown-back face; a smile of pure joy was on his lips.
And I shared that joy. Since I could not best him in power, I countered with intricacy and speed. I flowed through the subtleties of Root and Stem, then rippled my whole body in patterns his larger frame could not have mimicked when I Flowered. Before long I was controlling the dance, though he led, for he had to shape his force around my gentler grace or the dance’s beauty would be marred. So I stroked his arms like wind through his Branches, and he bent and swayed, helpless. He spun with me, entranced, as I Vined around his taller Trunk.
It was glory. Ecstasy. I knew that my own face reflected his joy, for I had never danced like this, with a partner who was my equal, my completion. When we drew close to begin the earthforms and rippled together in Rivers, I heard him moan very softly into my ear. The sound sent liquid heat through me. It was natural that I then flashed Lightning and sparked Fire in the Forest, for there was no other outlet for my feelings. It was a difficult posture, our legs intertwined, but we wove together perfectly. My thigh between his, his calf against mine, our torsos flickering back and forth as the Fire rose higher and higher… oh vessels of Earth, I could not think! It felt too good, his body against mine, this perfect melding of flesh and spirit. It came as no surprise that within my pants I was hard as stone, and when his breechclout brushed me I felt the same underneath the leather. The Fire raged in us both, and it sought more than one outlet.
Focus! I commanded myself, and drew away to take us into Fleeing the Fire, which would begin the animalforms. I could not help groaning as I put distance between his body and mine. I saw anguish on his face as well.
And so it went, for how long I could not have said. I lost myself somewhere in the beat of the drums and the pounding of my feet against the sand. I was lost, too, in the Ketuyae Ansheara. He was so perfect! I have no doubt that the Earth Herself moved through both of us on that day, a blessing in sweat and flesh.
But at last the glory ended, for we had gone through Forest, Beast, and Sky, and when we danced Moonset there was nothing left to dance.
For a long time afterward there was silence. Or rather silence was all I heard, for I gazed at Ansheara and for an interminable span I yearned to dance with him again. I saw the same hunger in his eyes. But then the spell faded and I became aware of the crowd, which was shouting and whistling and stamping and screaming around us as if they had been possessed by demons. My muscles began to tremble as soon as I relaxed from the final pose, and if my mother’s First had not suddenly appeared to wrap me in an ecstatic hug, I might have collapsed right there.
Across the square, I saw Ansheara do just that, flopping onto the sand with no sign of his original grace. He looked dazed as three women who looked much like him — siblings, perhaps — descended on him with congratulations.
He did not take his eyes from me. And I gazed back over my Firstsire’s shoulder, wanting to weep.
Then the crowd began to hush. I leaned against one of my girl-siblings as we turned to the elders who had sat nearby throughout our dance. There had been no clear winner of our contest, so they would have to render a judgment.
Even then, as I looked at their lined faces, I knew what the verdict would be.
“A draw,” pronounced the Mother of the Council. “Either one of these men would be an asset to any clan.”
The crowd went mad again. My mother and all her husbands joined my siblings in hugs. But just when I might have begun weeping from a sheer excess of emotion — not all of it happiness — I heard a gasp from the people all around us.
I looked around in confusion. Ansheara was on his feet again, and this time he held the Challenge Staff in his hands.
“I am not satisfied,” he said. His voice was rougher than usual, husky. His eyes were not quite sane as they fixed again on me. “I desire a second challenge.”
And he flung the staff down into the sand, at my feet.
There was an immediate protest from my family and clan, and not a few of the folk from other clans. Even some of the Ketuyae were upset, wondering what on earth Ansheara was thinking. It was not unheard-of for a verdict to be challenged, but never when the outcome was a draw. We had both won. What more could he want?
The Council Mother raised her hand for silence. “If you challenge again, Ketuyae, you risk a less-favorable outcome,” she said. “Are you certain?”
“I am,” he said, still gazing at me.
She looked at me, clearly uncomfortable. “Elan of the Cloudweavers, you have danced a fine challenge. It is not right that you should be forced to defend the honor you’ve just won, but —”
I straightened, shrugging off my mother and siblings. I should have been terrified, but I was not. Perhaps I had been infected by Ansheara’s madness, but suddenly I was as eager for the chance as he was. Beyond the Staff, I saw my enemy’s eyes gleam at me.
“I am a Cloudweaver,” I said, and then I chuckled. “At least, for now. The challenge has been issued; I can but answer.”
The Council Mother looked from one to the other of us, and sighed. “Men. So be it. What will be the method of the challenge? Another dance? I cannot see how either of you has the strength for that.”
We didn’t. I looked at Ansheara and spread my hands, passing the choice back to him. Dance was my only true talent, but I was not worried. He would not issue a challenge that I had no hope of winning, for that would dishonor both of us. We had danced the seasons together and felt the Earth move us both. I trusted him.
He saw this and blurted, a shade too eagerly to sound uncalculated, “A different kind of dance, Council Mother. By your leave, I ask the right to demonstrate my worthiness as a husband to the women of my clan.”
There was a collective gasp. It was presumptuous in the extreme for any man to declare himself available for husbanding when his status was not yet secure. But that was irrelevant. I stared at him, too stricken to speak.
The Council Mother was too, but she recovered faster. “Elan has also won honor today,” she told Ansheara sternly. “Such demonstrations may be performed using unproven or low-status men, but to ask this of Elan —”
“He gave the choice of method to me, Council Mother,” Ansheara said, affecting a humility that I knew full well he didn’t feel.
I must have been mad to trust you! I thought at him. Let him read my fury in my face if he could not hear the thought. But perhaps he did hear it, for he abruptly grew serious and came over to me. He stopped, as close to me as he’d stood the evening before. My family members were near enough to hear him, but no one else.
“Our clans are in feud,” he said softly. I stiffened, for I knew then what he meant by his outrageous request.
Our dance had been a promise that needed to be fulfilled. That was simply the way of things. We had felt the Earth’s spirit in both of us. Under ordinary circumstances I would have invited him to my pavila that very night… but the feud made usual methods of fulfillment impossible. Once we left the proving ground, we would never dance together again, in this or any other way. We could share only enmity — and I would spend the rest of my life wondering what might have been.
For the sake of my clan’s honor, I could not refuse him. But as with the feud itself, honor was just an excuse.
So I raised my voice, keeping my eyes on his. “I accept this challenge,” I told the Council Mother. Then, because I was Elan, I lifted my chin and added, “I too have potential wives to impress.”
The crowd burst into an excited frenzy. Nothing like this had ever before happened in the history of any of the clans. The Mother conferred with the other councillors, then called for furs and rushes to be brought so that a bed could be made on the sand of the challenge square. Youths from a neutral clan were sent to find oils and other items that might be of use. While the preparations continued, Ansheara took my hand and led me toward the newly-made bed.
“You’re afraid?” he asked me, half-smiling.
“Of course not,” I snapped, though I pulled my hand from his so he would not notice its tremor. “I played this game as a boy.”
“I too, but never in front of so many. And I have never been judged on my performance.” He grimaced.
“You chose this challenge.”
“You accepted it.”
I glanced at him sidelong; he smirked. I hated and desired him so much that I thought I might go mad.
“So be it,” I said, stopping beside the bed. The boys had finished bringing their offerings; an array of flasks and ceramic implements sat beside the furs. The crowd hushed around us; I tuned them out. “This is still a contest, Ketuyae. I mean to win it.”
“If you can, Cloudweaver,” he whispered, and came for me.
This dance was his to lead; we both felt that instinctively. That was fine by me. The contest would be decided not by who put what in whom, but by who yielded first to the pleasure of it. I sidestepped as he approached and we circled one another, measuring. The sweat from our prior dance had not yet dried. I could smell him, like loam and dry grass from the plains. And lust too; that scent was easy to recognize. I had only to compare it to my own.
“I saw you and thought of night orchids,” he said.
“I’ve heard better flattery from virgins,” I replied.
He reached for me, hooking me around the waist and drawing me against him. “But night-orchid seeds are delicious,” he breathed, and then he kissed me.
I expected him to try and overpower me, but instead he was gentle, exploratory, tasting my lips with the appearance of great care. Testing my defenses. When I did not react (beyond lifting an eyebrow), he moved his lips over my chin, along my jawline, and up to brush the lobe of my ear. I smiled and bent my head back to allow access. Let him think he was making progress. In the meantime I took the opportunity to slide my hands over his back, which I had secretly yearned to do since our dance. As he licked about the leather collar on my throat — which I will admit sent a small shiver through me — I followed his tattoos down, sliding my hands under his heavy loindrape to explore his solid dancer’s buttocks. He wore no breechclout underneath, and his pants had neither seat nor crotch.
He chuckled against my collarbone when I paused in surprise. “On the plains one must do certain things quickly.”
No wonder he’d been so shocked to see me wearing only a tunic the night before. “In the forests,” I whispered into his ear, “we believe in doing them well.”
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