2017 was a big year for the bisexual community. It was a year when a large number of celebrities and musicians came out as bisexual, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow star and musician Keiynan Lonsdale, Riverdale actress and Stranger Things favorite Shannon Purser, and 90’s Pop sensation Aaron Carter are just a few of them. But, mainstream media coverage of bisexuality still has a long way to go. Individuals who identify as bisexual are often left out of television plot lines.
For decades, TV had no idea what to do with anyone whose sexuality fell outside the gay-straight dichotomy. Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw thought bisexual women must be straight women stuck in their experimental phase, and bisexual men must be sexually confused men who are on a “layover on the way to Gaytown.” 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon said that ‘there's no such thing as bisexual, that's just something invented in the 90s so they could sell more hair products.’ The disrespect and lack of representation are even more astonishing when you remember that more people identify as bisexual-plus — a spectrum that includes bisexuality, pansexuality, queerness, and everything in between — than those who identify as lesbian or gay combined.
From Sara Lance (Legends of Tomorrow) to Grace Choi (Black Lightning), Petra Solano (Jane the Virgin) to Rosa Diaz (Brooklyn 99), more and more TV characters are being more open about their attractions to people of multiple genders. Narratives of bisexual characters are very different; some just stating it casually and some doing it in a meaningful celebratory fashion (there is nothing wrong with either of these).
Bisexual characters are now central in television plot lines and have recurring roles in television shows rather than peripheral or one-off characters brought in for ‘special episodes.’ Bisexual characters have increasingly become part of the fabric of their respective shows, being more than a one a one-dimensional character to show the audience and being used as plot devices. But, things still aren’t perfect. TV even depicts some bisexual women as promiscuous, and they are more likely to end up dead than is statistically reasonable. Bisexual men, on the other hand, barely exist on screen.
But even in just the past couple of years, TV has made tremendous strides toward correcting the lack of meaningful bisexual+ representation. More shows are finding casual ways to reveal that their characters might not be gay or straight — and, more importantly, sticking to it.
The road to bisexual+ representation was not easy. When a character didn’t identify as heterosexual, it usually ended one of two ways: Experimenting with the same gender and figuring out that they were straight or they would come out as gay. Letting them exist somewhere in between the Kinsey scale was rarely a viable option.
Bisexual+ representation in the media also plays into the stigma that unless a character explicitly identifies as bisexual, society assumes someone is straight or gay based on their current partner — something that individuals who identify as bisexuals in real life face on a daily basis.
More shows are making a point of being explicit about their characters’ nuanced sexualities. Telling characters narratives in which they recognize their sexuality, voice it explicitly, and have to deal with the kinds of consequences bisexual+ people face in real life matters, not only to people who identify as bisexual+ but these moments are groundbreaking for bisexual+ representation. Bisexual+ characters, like Rosa Diaz, have to stand their ground and insist that it doesn’t matter who she ends up with; she’s bisexual, and that will always be true no matter who she is with.
Bisexual+ men are getting some more notice on screen — but TV still has a long way to go in granting them equal consideration. Bisexual+ men are considered a ‘myth’ and the media has done very little to combat that thought. Currently, Legends of Tomorrow is finally letting an onscreen Constantine explore his bisexuality when previously shows, and movies with Constantine have straightened him out.
There is still a long way to go for bisexual+ representation on TV. But the path forward is brighter than it’s ever been. After decades of relative drought, TV is now awash in queer characters. The more representation we get, the more room there is for authenticity and growth in bisexual+ characters; this is what individuals who identify as bisexual+ deserved. Even though TV is awash in queer characters, the absence of bisexuals in the media, particularly bisexual men, is an issue that’s less commonly discussed and acknowledged.
Perhaps this difficulty in nailing down bisexuality is why it’s often portrayed so poorly in mainstream media. One day, I hope to see bisexual+ characters represented in the media where the characters are authentic in their sexuality and are not used as plot devices.
Hey lovelies! I’m Mary, a 25-year-old writer. I love a sunny day on the beach and jamming out to music. I created Dishability to engage in conversations around my struggle with Depression/Anxiety and Bipolar 2 as well as being a Queer, Disabled Woman.