By Srinitya Duvvuri
When Rosa Diaz of Brooklyn Nine-Nine came out as bisexual to her precinct on my smudgy laptop screen, I cheered. When Rosa came out to her parents, and came out to them again in the light of their misconceptions, I cried at how real it felt. Two months later, when I came out to my own parents, I saw that exact scene play out in the living room of my home, and I have never been more grateful for how well the show handled that episode.
To many people, bisexuality is an anomaly; it isn’t alien enough to be considered a complete deviance at the norm, nor does it fit the norm perfectly enough. Ultimately, it gets reduced to the heteronormative schemas our society seems to have cultivated so thoroughly in our minds, and in the process, finds its validity erased.
I happened to watch Rosa’s coming out episode at a time when I had been toying with the idea of coming out for a few months. I was well aware of the stereotypes and misconceptions that dominated the discourse on bisexuality, and no amount of well-meaning “bisexuality is valid” Tumblr posts could change that.
Undoubtedly one of the major reasons why I resonated with Rosa’s coming out trajectory (even more so after my own coming out) was the fact that she was a woman of colour, and her parents’ reactions to her coming out portrayed that to near perfection without trying to exaggerate the conservatism.
When Rosa came out to her parents, her mother later says to her, “We thought about what you said to us, and we’ve decided it doesn’t matter……after all, you will eventually marry a man.”
Therein lies the issue both with how bisexuality is perceived and how communities of colour view the ideas of identity and sexuality.
Among communities of colour, especially Asians, group culture takes precedence over individuality; individuals and families are seen as units in a larger system of society, and that their actions and behaviour cannot be carried out in isolation, but need to be considered in context of the family. In a study conducted by Denise M. Rodriguez (2014) on coming out, Rodriguez observed that coming out to a family is often perceived to have repercussions on the cultural and social position that the family holds in a system that is bigger than they are, especially when it comes to ideas of love and sexuality, which are inherently tied in to marriage.
Coming out as homosexual completely changes the family’s notions of a heterosexual marriage for their child. Coming out as bisexual does not entirely erase the possibility of a heteronormative life; in other words, parents can still hope for their child to live the ‘normal’ life they wish for their children. It makes acceptance easier, but simultaneously harder, because the underlying message of their acceptance is “we accept the part of you that we can easily understand, and as for the other half, we can tolerate it in silence”.
My coming out was eerily similar to Rosa’s in spirit and the overall outcome; in a way, her coming out was a prediction of how mine would go. It only reinforces how important representation is. Had the episode not existed, I don’t know if I would have come out the way I did, much less handle it with as much as patience as I did.
If there is anything to take away from our stories, it is this: coming out is a decision that takes months and years to execute, and when you do, it doesn’t always go to plan. Coming out doesn’t always have to end in arguments with your parents; sometimes, it means firmly making your point and moving forward, hoping the people you love will care enough to follow, even if it is just to ask more questions.