Artwork by Bhavya
The ‘B’ in the LGBTQ stands for Bigfoot: rarely seen, often misapprehended and strangely vilified. Such is the experience of a regular bisexual person while consuming media. Bisexual people, to this day, remain grossly underrepresented in almost all forms of media. And on the rare occasion we find some bisexual character, they are mostly portrayed in a disappointing way. From TV shows to movies, books to music, there is a glaring void where bisexual characters are supposed to exist. This dearth of bisexuals in media is directly linked to their erasure in real life. Oftentimes, when a bi person comes out, they are riddled with remarks of being confused, greedy, “actually just gay” or “actually just straight”. The legitimacy of bisexuality is questioned, and one of the reasons is how characters in media never seem to talk about it.
As representation continues to be an important issue, the fact that there is a lack of representation of bi people is distressing. So many characters in shows and books seem clearly bisexual; they show interest in multiple genders. But they’re rarely referred so. Creators seem to label them gay or straight, depending upon who they’re dating at that point. So, does a person’s sexuality only exist in the context of their romantic relationship at the time? Does a bisexual person stop being bisexual when they date someone of a particular gender? Of course not. Piper Chapman from Orange Is The New Black, for instance, is evidently bisexual. However, her sexual orientation is labeled “lesbian” by her fiancé when she informs him of her past relationship with a woman, and labeled “straight” by her girlfriend when she finds out that Piper was engaged to a man. An entire part of her sexual identity is erased, by a straight man and a lesbian woman.
Creators of media are scared to use the “B-Word”; as if calling their characters bisexual is something wrong. Bi characters, very conveniently, don’t prefer to label themselves, or just “fall in love with all people”. This common trend is, however, challenged as well. Brooklyn Nine-Nine had their character Rosa Diaz come out as bisexual, while also dedicating few episodes to this arc. Played by a bi actress, Rosa repeatedly refers to herself as bi, and deals with bi-phobia from her parents. Such characters are few though, and mostly exist in TV shows. Movies and books, largely, don’t have as many LGBTQ+ characters, and even then, very few of these characters are bisexual.
On the occasional portrayal of bi people, an overused trope comes into play. These characters are sexualized, believed to cheat of their respective partners and be interested in threesomes. This makes bi people look as if they lack a moral compass just because of their sexual orientation. Further, this contributes to the belief in real life as well as fiction, that bi people identify so because they want to engage in relationships with multiple partners at the same time. The sexualization of bi people, especially women, is not only biphobic and disturbing, it also abets in the high rape rates of bisexuals. The overly sexual image that media often paints of bi people leads to real life cases of assault and harassment that they face. Moreover, people often accuse their bi partners of being cheaters, or that they’re simply going to leave them for a person of another gender.
It is assumed that a bi person would be sexually active, and would continue to be so even after entering a relationship. For example, the YA book series The Mortal Instruments shows Alec, a gay man, be distrustful and suspicious of his bisexual boyfriend, Magnus. There is a constant fear that because Magnus is bisexual, he will leave Alec for a woman, or simply sleep with anyone. The TV adaptation of the series, Shadowhunters, deals with this very differently. In one scene, Magnus rejects a woman’s advances because he is in a relationship with Alec. He’s shown to be a “one soul at a time” kind of guy. The creators quashed many such assumptions that people hold about bisexuals over the course of the show. This juxtaposes with the stereotypical depiction of a bi person; one is not promiscuous just because of one’s sexual orientation. And a person is not of “loose character” for being bisexual.
The music scenario tells another story. There is no scarcity of songs where the seemingly straight singer alludes to having relations with a person of their own gender. Songs of “kissing a girl and liking it”, and experimenting with same gender people point to one assumption that is made about bi people: that they are just in an experimental phase. Their sexuality is not real, they are just curious, they are only having fun. This kind of attitude leads to the biphobic response that people give to those who come out. Such people refuse to believe the bi person, deny their sexual orientation, and simply call it a phase they’ll grow out of. The hints of bisexuality in music videos and lyrics cause speculation about the musician, but do very little for bi people coming to terms with their sexuality.
While accurate representation is still a far off destination, there is some good in media for bi people. TV shows, some popular and others lesser known, are including more bi actors and writing more bi characters. Grey’s Anatomy, for instance, had Callie Torres come out as bisexual years ago. The actress herself is a bi activist, and her character inspired queer women of colour worldwide. Singers like Kehlani, Lauren Jauregui, and Halsey make music that highlights their bisexuality in a beautiful manner. The star of the gay rom-com Love, Simon, Keiynan Lonsdale, came out while filming the movie. More and more celebrities are coming out as bi, becoming more comfortable with their sexual orientation to talk about it to a larger audience. There are a larger number of bi role models to look up to than there were before, both in fiction and in reality. Media creators are starting to become more inclusive, while bi people are pushing for more and better portrayals.
Intersectionality within the bi community deserves to be highlighted more as well. There is a need for more trans bi people, bi people of colour, disabled bi people, fat bi people and neurodivergent bi people in media. And with the dialogue on bisexuality and the bisexual experience being more open than ever, bi people are slowly finding themselves depicted in shows, books, music and even movies. The road to bi-visibility is long and gruesome, but the pace we’ve picked up now might lead to it sooner and with lesser struggles.