Alec and his 'biphobia'
I’m writing this essay because I’ve seen countless amounts of people (whether they’ve read the books or not) accuse Alec of being biphobic in City of Fallen Angels. I say City of Fallen Angels because there are no other incidents in these books that could be confused with biphobia.
While I was reading through this particular passage myself, I found Alec to be rude and crass—not unusual for an 18 year old—but I didn’t really understand why people accused him of being a biphobe. I was reading this book over and over to try and gain some insight into this fact, and it hit me why I found this so weird, because
a) I don’t think Magnus would stay with someone that despises bisexual people, regardless of how much he loves Alec, and
b) the supposed biphobia comes out of nowhere, the disappears into nowhere.*
But I still didn’t understand why Alec would say these particular things, when it clicked.
Before you all riot and accuse me of being biphobic myself—an impossible feat, I assure you—or just making excuses for Alec, I just want to lay out the scene before I get into the analysis.
Magnus and Alec have been away for a 7 week romantic vacation for half the book, so we don’t really know what went on or what happened between them in this space of time.** According to the book itself, they have just come from Vienna and an opera that they were supposed to see together, when Magnus gets a text message/fire message/call or whatever from the Institute or Conclave, that Camille, a rouge vampire, has been captured and is being held in the Sanctuary, and will only speak to Magnus. We don’t know whether he knows then that she’ll only speak to him, or he finds out later on, when Mayrse explains it to him. Regardless, he knows that Camille is being held in the Institute, and whisks back home with Alec immediately. Magnus, of course, knows who Camille is, and understands why she won’t talk to anyone else. Alec, on the other hand, doesn’t know who this random vampire is until Magnus says it himself, all the way back in the Sanctuary. To Alec, it seems as if Magnus has cut short their vacation together to interrogate a random vampire.
(A quick note before I start explaining everything—I’m not going against Magnus in any way, I’m just trying to explain what this must have looked like on Alec’s behalf.)
Before Magnus and Alec started dating openly, they most likely didn’t talk about anything to do with Magnus’s past, merely because they didn’t have to time on their short dates, or because Magnus narrowly avoided the topic, and Alec, who hasn’t dated anyone before and doesn’t know how it works, is none the wiser. However, on their 7 week vacation, in which they spend every moment with each other, Magnus can’t really avoid talking about his past sneakily, and Alec is bound to have noticed something off about this, but probably doesn’t comment, because a) we know he bottles things up— as seen in CoLS—and b) he probably doesn’t want to fight during their vacation. Also, in Alec’s own words, (CoLS), Magnus is good at changing topics and avoiding them. Alec most likely has frustration mounting with Magnus, as he won’t tell Alec anything about himself, but of course, like Alec always does, he keeps this all corked up until the bottle explodes.
I’m not condoning these actions, and Alec and Magnus should have both definitely talked about their problems together, but they don’t. And that’s the whole point of the next book, and the break up. Their relationship is meant to have problems. That’s the plot line of the second half of TMI. The whole point of this is that they talk everything over with each other, and become more trusting of one another, and become a healthy couple again.
Back to my original point, Alec doesn’t know why Magnus has cut their vacation short, as he says himself—“I really don’t see what any of this has to do with us,” Alec said. “So you caught a vampire who was up to something nasty. Aren’t they always?”—so when he finds out that Magnus has cut their time together short because of his ex-girlfriend and wanting to talk to her, he’s understandably upset, after all the avoiding of this topic. Also, before the rest find out what Camille has to do with Magnus, a ‘sort of energy crackles in between them’ when they first make direct eye contact—which everyone in the room notices—and Magnus gives a ‘wistful smile’ towards Camille, which also doesn’t go unnoticed by anyone. Magnus then reveals that Camille was his girlfriend, blah blah blah, and everyone is astonished, including Alec.
Magnus then says ’I’ve been alive for hundreds of years. I’ve been with men, been with women—with faeries and with vampires, even a djinn or two.” Judging by the way Alec reacts, this is probably the most he’s heard about Magnus’s past relationships—and it’s in a public setting, with Magnus’s ex, Simon, and Alec’s mother, who looks ’mildly horrified’ after Magnus says this. Not very good for the bottle (the metaphor for Alec’s feelings).
Magnus and Alec then have a conversation about this, which again, is probably the most Alec has heard of this topic, and wants answers desperately.
“How many other people?” Alec asked. “Roughly.”
Magnus shook his head. “I can’t count, and it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is how I feel about you.”
“More than a hundred?” Alec asked. Magnus looked blank. “Two hundred?”
“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation now,” Magnus said to no one in particular.
Simon was inclined to agree, and wished they weren’t having it in front of him. “Why so many?” Alec’s blue eyes were very bright in the dimness. Simon couldn’t tell if he was angry. He didn’t sound angry, just very intense, but Alec was a shut-down person, and perhaps this was as angry as he ever got. “Do you get bored with people fast?”
“I live forever,” Magnus said quietly. “But not everyone does.” Alec looked as if someone had hit him. “So you just stay with them as long as they live, and then you find someone else?” - City of Fallen Angels.
Now, when reading this particular excerpt, it’s very important to remember:
a) Alec is an 18 year old Shadowhunter that has no concept of living forever, and has no insight into the topic of immortality.
b) Again, this is probably the most Magnus has ever said on the topic of his immortality and his relationships, and he’s only saying it now because the topic can’t be avoided now, as they’re in a room with Magnus’s ex.
Alec was behaving a little rude and invasive, but that’s kind of the way he is. He’s an canonically honest and blunt character, and hiding things doesn’t really sit well with him at all. We saw how he was when he was hiding his secret from everyone, and to quote Clary Fairchild:
“[Alec] was a jerk [when I first met him], but he wasn’t a jerk because he was a bad guy. He was a jerk because he was unhappy, and he felt like he had to pretend to be someone he wasn’t”.
Obviously, secrecy doesn’t sit well with him, so Magnus hiding all these things from him will understandably make him more than a little mad.**
The scene then changes to Jace and Clary, and then back to Camille and Magnus. While we know—the readers and the people in the conversation that takes place—that Magnus loves Alec for who he is etc etc—Alec doesn’t. We can see the facial expressions written on the page, and the tone of the way things are said. However. Alec has been listening outside the door to this entire conversation, judging by the way he acts afterwards, and things he says afterwards, and listening to Camille has obviously struck a bad chord with him. (Camille is a ‘master of manipulation’, remember?) The way Alec acts at the engagement party is because of a few things in this conversation. I’m going to list some quotes, but hopefully I won’t need to spell out how these words felt to Alec, without hearing the way things are said properly, or seeing either Magnus or Camille’s face. I’m going to bold some sentences that may have affected Alec in a particular way.
“I’ve missed you, Magnus,” she said.
“I have heard things about you Magnus, I have heard that you are under the wing of the Shadowhunters these days. I had heard that you have won the love of one of them. That boy you were just talking to, I imagine. But then your tastes were always diverse.”
“But we had all of eternity,” she protested. “You must have known I would come back to you—”
“If you want me to speak for them to you,” Magnus said, “you have to tell me at least some small thing. A show of good faith.” She smiled brilliantly. “I knew you would speak to them for me, Magnus. I knew the past was not entirely dead for you.” “Consider it undead if you like,” Magnus said.
“…[she murmured, her eyes half-lidded] Come here, Magnus. Come close to me.” [Magnus stands ‘close enough to touch her’] Remember, Remember London? The parties at de Quincey’s? Remember Will Herondale? I know you do. That boy of yours, that Lightwood. They even look alike.” “Do they?” Magnus said, as if he had never thought about it. “Pretty boys have always been your undoing,” she said. “But what can some mortal child give you? Ten years, twenty, before Dissolution begins to claim him. Forty years, fifty, before death takes him. I can give you all of eternity.”
(I know Magnus says something that kinda contradicts what she has said about Alec, but it doesn’t matter. Camille, master of manipulation, has planted the seed in Alec’s mind that will grow. — this is also shown in CoLS. And I realise this was murmured, but Alec has clearly heard it, due to what he says later, so he must have activated his listening rune.)
“The Institute door opened, and Mayrse stood in the doorway, outlines by the witchlight behind her. Beside her was Alec, his arms crosed over his chest. Magnus wondered if Alec had heard any of the conversation between him and Camille through the door—surely not?”
And also we have to take in the fact that when Mayrse and Alec opened the door, Magnus was sitting very close to Camille, with his hand on her cheek.
So we can sum up this conversation with:
a) Camille and her words have gotten under Alec’s skin ,
b) He’s now starting to doubt himself and his relationship with Magnus—a factor in his lashing out later on
c) Magnus still hasn’t explained to Alec any of this clearly, which is making him feel confused about a lot of things.
And so we get to the engagement party, where Alec and Magnus fight. This is the part with the supposed biphobic remark. There are no other instances where Alec’s words can be confused with biphobia. Alec is clearly upset, by his body language, “Alec, his arms crossed over his chest, was staring ferociously into the distance.” There’s then a long pause, and Magnus asks Jordan about his Praetor Lupus badge, and talks about someone from his past openly, something that he probably shouldn’t have done, in the state that Alec was in. Alec then asks, “Did you sleep with him too?” In an obviously rude way.
This isn’t right at all, and Alec shouldn’t have bottled up all his emotions until they exploded like this, but that’s the part of his character that gets developed over time, so he’s not like this anymore.
I’m not condoning what Alec has just said at all, I think it was crass and embarrassing, but it wasn’t biphobia. He’s hurt about the whole Camille discussion from earlier, and the fact that Magnus hasn’t told him anything from his past, and everything else, so he makes a rude and hurtful remark. He’s bottled up all these emotions all this time that we’re threatening to spill over, and now they’ve exploded in an ugly way.
Alec then says—when Magnus reacts—“Well, I don’t know anything about your past, do I? You won’t tell me anything, you just say it doesn’t matter.” A point worth noting for readers.
Right. Before I get into this bit, I want to make something very clear. I don’t believe Alec was biphobic in the books, and I understand that a few of the things he said here do cross over with biphobic micro-aggressions, but it had nothing to do with the fact that Magnus was bi. It had everything to do with the fact that he knew nothing of Magnus’s romantic past. He makes these remarks with that in mind, not the fact that he hates Magnus because he secretly hates bi people.***
This particular post caught my eye one day, and it really explains my feelings on this matter.
It reads: “Alec’s actions towards the Magnus/Camille thing never came about from “biphobia”. It came from insecurity which Alec was in the right to have. It has nothing to do with the fact that Magnus was bi, it had to do with the whole fact that Alec knew next to nothing about Magnus’s romantic past. Something that Camille took advantage of and preyed on Alec. Alec made a mistake, but guess what he learned from it, Magnus forgave him and that was that.”
Moving onto what Alec actually says: I’ve taken a photograph of the page so you guys don’t accuse me of lying or whatever, and so you can have the full context.
Read ahead, bearing all what I’ve said above in mind.
As I said before, if you take it out of context, it sounds as if Alec is being biphobic. So if you haven’t read the books (i have no idea why you’re blatantly accusing things if you haven’t read them) PLEASE READ THIS! IF YOU TAKE IT OUT OF CONTEXT, IT SOUNDS AS IF ALEC IS BEING BIPHOBIC, BUT HE IS NOT.**** HE’S MAKING A DIG AT THE FACT THAT MAGNUS HAS TOLD HIM NOTHING OF HIS ROMANTIC PAST, AND THAT CAMILLE HAS JUST TURNED UP.
He was also making an indirect comment about Camille; “Or there are plenty of pretty girls here[…]” Alec has noticed that Camille is quite beautiful, (insert quote here) and the way she and Magnus were acting before most likely made him feel uncomfortable.
A later conversation shows that Alec was lashing out because he felt trivial, and he didn’t like thinking Magnus was ‘only with me because I look like some dead guy you like.’ Obviously the conversation upset him, because of the topic of him and looking like Will and the over-exaggeration that Camille made suggesting that Magnus had a more intimate relationship with Will, (which Magnus doesn’t deny, even at this point, which was a bit of a mistake.)
Magnus says here: “And yes, [Will] did look like you, but you’re not anything like him. Jace is much more the way Will was, in personality at least—and my relationship with you is nothing like the one I had with Will.” The only problem here is, Magnus isn’t being specific.**** ’My relationship with you is nothing like the one I had with Will,“ that could mean anything to Alec, who knows nothing about his relationship with Will, other than what Camille implied. It could mean Magnus was together with Will, but he didn’t love him as much as Alec, it could mean that Magnus’s relationship with Will was more significant, Alec doesn’t know.
They then say this:
In which Magnus is still skirting around the subject, and this is obviously playing into Alec’s doubts. They then talk about immortality, which is a master post for another day, but the point is, Alec still hasn’t gotten a straight answer.
It’s mentioned later that Alec is ’still sunk in a gloom about Magnus’ etc etc, and he comes across Camille when he’s separated from Magnus and gone to rescue Simon.
Alec is still insecure about what Camille said, so he thinks stuff like;
”The last thing he wanted was to look like a fool in front of Magnus’s ex-girlfriend,“
”She was very beautiful.” (connecting to my point about the ‘pretty girl’ thing that Alec said to Magnus earlier)
“Alec wondered if she had once looked at Magnus like this.“
And then he asks about Will, ’The words came out abruptly, unexpectedly, and much to his horror’ and Camille plays on his doubts.
(This leads onto the next book, which I may discuss on another day, but not now.)
Then Alec has a discussion with Magnus, later when he’s out of danger. Alec tries to bring the subject up again, and then Magnus finally addresses it, but he says things in a vague way that don’t really help events into the next book, and then they kiss and that’s the end of their input in this book.
This leads onto CoLS and the whole immortality thing and whatnot, but the point is that they didn’t really confront their fears, Alec didn’t really mention his doubts and insecurities, Magnus didn’t say anything more about his past, and this is obviously unhealthy, and leads to problems in the next book. But the relationship isn’t supposed to be perfect. It’s meant have problems. The whole point of these two problems in the books was that then Magnus and Alec spend time apart, Magnus realises that he’s fucked up and made the relationship not so good, Alec realises that he fucked up and made the relationship not so good, then they finally talk properly at the end of CoHF and lead a happy, healthy relationship after that, and tell each other everything.
They learnt. They made mistakes, and learnt from them, and developed their characters and relationship.
tl;dr, Alec’s a jealous, insecure guy, Alec bottled things up and eventually lashed out, Magnus should’ve reassured him and told him more, Alec wasn’t biphobic.
At least, that’s the impression that I and many others got. If you have a different view, please feel free to tell me! (If it’s backed up by support and quotes from the books you’ve obviously read lol)
* This was what really got me thinking. Alec hadn’t shown any problems with Magnus being bi before or after this book, so why would he become suddenly biphobic for a day?
** Of course, we’ll learn so much more about why Magnus didn’t tell Alec and Alec’s suspicions on their vacations in LBW, so I may come back to this later.
*** Like i said before, I think Magnus would have definitely either left Alec before they got very romantically entangled, or at least sat down and talked to him, if Alec was actually biphobic.
**** Honesty, it makes me really sad to see people hate on the books when
a) they haven’t read them
b) they take things completely out of context.
***** Again, I’M NOT HATING ON MAGNUS. I’M TRYING TO GET PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND WHY ALEC THOUGHT/DID WHAT HE DID, AND TO GET PEOPLE TO SEE THINGS FROM HIS POV.