How Bisexual Narratives Have Changed on Television
It’s still Pride month for another week, so you best BELIEVE I’m going to milk that for everything that I can get so I can bend your collective audiencal ears into listening to me rant about queer shit.
You know, one of the articles on this blog that consistently gets loads of hits is this one: “TV’s problem with the word “bisexual”. And I really do stand by everything that I said in that article, at the time that I wrote it – for way too long, bisexual representation in pop culture has been fucking woeful, to the point where I had to accept Steven Moffat patting himself on the back on Twitter to get my non-straight TV kicks. And that’s not to say that LGBT rep has exactly been great across the board – trans people still get a rough run of it, not to mention lesbians, and the less said about whatever it was that Insatiable was trying to do, the better. But I just wanted to take a hot second here and appreciate how much bisexual representation has improved in pop culture, because hey, I’m allowed to celebrate a little, right?
One of the biggest and most striking changes I’ve seen in the last few years has come from actual queer people writing these queer characters. Look, I’m not saying that No Straight Person Ever is allowed to write LGBT characters – far from it, actually – but the truth of the matter is that we don’t have enough of stories that come from queer people in the media to create what feels like a truthful outline for other writers to work from. So, having queer writers, directors, and actors behind these stories just makes them feel so much more genuine to me: from the awesome bicon Stefanie Beatriz and her equally biconic Brooklyn 99 character Rosa, to Ilana Glazer imbuing her fictional counterpart with her real-life sexuality on Broad City.
And we’re still pretty slow on the uptake with this one, but I’ve seen a whole lot more male bisexual characters (who aren’t just vampires) getting an airing on primetime, too – from Daryl in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to Hannibal and Will Graham in Hannibal to James Flint in Black Sails, bisexuality in men is becoming more than just a shortcut to display how, you know, deviant and hedonistic the characters at hand are, ahem, Oberyn Martell. In that same vein, it’s been great to see men who are attracted to men depicted outside the broad, hyper-feminine stereotype – the aforementioned Flint in Black Sails being a particularly killer example of that.
I think the thing that I’ve loved the most about the changes in bi representation, though, have come in the form of characters who just so happen to be bisexual. Don’t get me wrong, I love a coming out story as much as the next semi-gay, and I’m here for shows that centralize queer narratives as an inherent part of their storytelling (hey, Transparent, fuck me up, babes). But there’s something to be said for characters whose sexuality is just a sidenote to who they are. Characters like Stella Gibson (I feel like Gillian Anderson owed us a bisexual character given that she is the reason bisexual women exist) in The Fall and Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder are bisexual and it just…it just is. Which is probably the most accurate bisexual representation I could ask for. Sexuality can be a defining feature – and a defining struggle – in the lives of a lot of people, but for many, at a certain point, it just becomes a truth that fits into the rest of their lives. That’s certainly where I am now, and these characters are a reflection of that. And damn, after all this time, that’s nice to see.
If you’d like to read more of my writing on sexuality, take a gander at the links below!
Through a Glee, Darkly: Transphobia, Biphobia, and the LGBT Community
In and Out of the Closet: Bisexuality and Me
TV’s problem with the word “bisexual”
Inhumanity, Bisexuality, and American Horror Story: Hotel
Greey, Lying, or Slutty: Straight-Passing and Bi-Erasure
Amber Heard and Biphobia in the Media
(header image via Reddit)
Not sure if you’ve seen it (I thought of recommending it in your recent sitcom post) but I’ve been enjoying the hell out of Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. It’s about this obnoxious privileged family who are forced to relocate to a rural backwater town when their money suddenly runs out. At first they hate their situation, but they slowly begin to learn what real life is about and integrate into the community. It’s sort of Arrested Development/Suburgatory with more heart.
Anyway, the family’s son is pansexual and they explore this with respect and nuance. There’s a pretty funny episode where a well-meaning hillbilly asks the pansexual son to come blouse shopping with him (they’re looking for a gift for his wife). He thinks the son has great style, so it’s his clumsy way of trying to bond and let him know he accepts his rejection of traditional masculinity. You should check it out if you’re stuck for a new sitcom 🙂
Anyway, I agree that Stella and Rosa represent a step forward for bi representation. Here’s hoping we keep trending in that direction.