I’ve known it since I was a teenager and it’s been fun. It’s also been a bit confusing. Nobody ever told me to make a choice, but I remember telling my parents and they just sort of laughed it off. I think the words they used were ‘it’s a phase’. That’s pretty much the only time anyone has really challenged my sexuality, and it was a pretty weak challenge at that, but everywhere you turn in the media people seem to have some interesting stereotypes about us bi folks. There’s the idea that we are all big slut cakes (and some of us are, but so are some gay and straight people), there’s the idea that we are cheaters and there’s the thought that we ought to just make up our mind, that it’s just a phase. It’s not. It’s just who I am. I am sexually attracted to both men and women and it’s pretty equal. I chose to marry a man, because I fell in love with a man, but that doesn’t make me straight, it just makes me a married bi chick.
I’ve recently finished a writing book called ‘What it means to be a man’ in which Ben and I have discussions about our sexuality, gender and other issues around those topics. Our conversations are mixed with a story of another couple (closely resembling us) who are forced to deal with issues of sexuality, love and gender in their relationship. There’s a whole section in the book in which I discuss my thoughts on my bisexuality, so I won’t get into that too much here, but what I do want to talk about is bisexuality in fiction, especially in TV (as I don’t have much of a frame of reference for books with bi characters – if you know of any let me know).
I had plans to write this post awhile back and was even more inspired after reading this article, which gives a pretty comprehensive look at bisexuality in TV and how it’s progressing.
Warning: Spoilers for Orange is the New Black & Buffy ahead!
Ben and I recently started watching ‘Orange is the New Black’ (great show) and the main character (Piper Chapman), it seems, is bisexual. Although, the sad fact is, as bi as she clearly is (sexually attracted to both men and women), they just won’t say the word. They call her a former lesbian (even though she still fucks women) and in one episode they vaguely alluded to a ‘sliding scale’ of sexuality, but not once have we heard the word ‘bisexual’. I suppose it might have something to do with the image of bisexuality in a lot of people’s minds, it seems as though it’s a bit tainted. When bisexuality is mentioned I suspect a lot of people think of those chicks in clubs making out with each other to please the men-folk (I was one of those chicks once upon a time and let me tell you it wasn’t just about the men). It seems as though bisexuality is either taken lightly (it’s just a phase) or heavily (all bi folks are cheaters and sluts) and there is no happy medium, no place in the general population’s mind where the bi-folk of the world can live and have meaningful, deep, even monogamous relationships with both men and women. So in light of all that I guess it’s not hard to imagine that the word itself holds a stigma that writers might be afraid of bringing to their story. Maybe they feel labeling Piper bisexual would make her less legitimate? Maybe it would make people less likely to sympathize with her?
Unfortunately for them, I think the exact opposite is true. I think this struggle with sexual identity (her having to choose to be either gay or straight) cheapens the actual struggle of the deeper issue, love.
By not allowing for her to embrace her bisexuality, the writers are keeping her character’s sexuality front and centre and distracting from the actual issue, her choice between two loves. The gender is irrelevant, but what they offer to her, who they are and what they mean to her is not. By keeping the audience in the land of the polarized, black or white sexuality, we are not quite allowed to get over the gender/sexuality issue and dive deep into the actual relationships. Now I’d like to think that most people are educated on different types of sexuality and that most people believe bisexuality is really a thing and not just a crazy unicorn dragon sexuality that is mythical and unreal, but I think it’s unlikely that’s true. So instead of making a statement that bisexuality is real and that Piper’s feelings for both her potential mates are equality legitimate, the general population has to wade through the distracting question of ‘is she gay or not?’ before they get to the actual reality of her situation, the actual issue, being in love with two people at the same time.
I’ve seen this issue arise before. Recently, Ben and I watched all of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (another fantastic show) and there was a character on it named Willow. Willow was a witch who fell in love with a dude named Oz and then later a woman named Tara. As soon as Willow fell in love with Tara, she started calling herself a lesbian. When Oz came back for an episode or two after he and Willow had broken up, it was clear that Willow still had feelings for Oz, but she was in the ‘lesbian’ camp now, so what’s a girl gonna do? To me, it felt as though this label of lesbianism that Willow stuck to herself took away from all the history between her and Oz and it made me mad. It made me feel as though Willow was trying to delete her past, push aside her feelings and forget that she had experienced real love with a man. It made her relationship with Oz feel trivial when I thought it was quite powerful. I found it disturbing that she locked herself so firmly into the role of lesbian that she didn’t leave room for the part of herself that was clearly open to loving men. I think that this is perhaps an illustration of a symptom of the problem of not really understanding, or embracing bisexuality. The idea that people are being forced to choose one side or another without being allowed the possibility that they could have both is really just sad.
These are just two examples of poor representations of bisexual characters, but I suspect there’s more out there. In this world of boxes, I think people are so obsessed with choosing one or the other that they might repress the idea of both.
So how do we combat this misunderstanding of bisexuality? Same as any other misunderstandings are fought. Exposure and education. Bisexual isn’t a bad word, it’s okay to say and actually pretty fun to be. Most of the time my protagonists in my novels are bisexual and I tend to try to make my fictional relationships more about the relationship itself than the sexuality, because I think that’s the thing that matters most. I want the love to be the thing that matters most. Even if it’s unconventional, love is love.
I’d love to see more examples of well represented bisexual characters in books and on TV.
Any suggestions on where I can find some?