Updated: Jul 8, 2020
For the longest time, there has been a severe lack of any LGBTQ+ representation that isn’t a cis white gay man in media. Over the past ten years, the rise of the ‘queer’ character has taken many forms and has even seeped into children’s and teen’s media. There is an issue with this however, at what point does a character become a caricature? Or worse, a pigeon-holed afterthought.
As a bisexual woman I love when a character comes out, it is always the same sense of ‘ahh just like me’, the excitement often fades when their character arc is destroyed moments later. This is often due to the societal perceptions of the female bisexual, we are thought to be one of two things, promiscuous and flirty or invisible. The invisibility is often attributed to bi-erasure, which is the view that we are ’straight just asking for attention’ or just ‘lesbians with a heteronormative complex’. One major problem in the media is ‘queerbaiting’, this is to say hinting at a character's sexuality or revealing it after the publication to gain more traction with the LGBT community (I’m looking at you JK Rowling. For more on queerbaiting in Harry Potter read this commentary by Alex Jimenez ). This is an issue prolific in music as well as film and TV and feeds into the idea that LGBT+ people, particularly bisexuals, are lying about their sexuality for attention.
Some writers do a fantastic portrayal of a bi character, without feeding into harmful stereotypes, others, however, fail to hit the mark. Take the ‘kill the gays’ trope in many 90s/00s films. (for more on this check out this article). This is a trend in recent years to dangle a loveable usually lesbian or bisexual character only to kill them cruelly. Atomic Blonde (2017) was a pioneer for queer cinema that was not a romcom, this action-packed spy film was doing so well with main character Lorraine portrayed as a strikingly strong bisexual… until they killed her lover, Delphine. Haley Hulan writes that the ‘kill your gays trope will feature a same-gender couple and with one of the lovers dying and the other realizing they were never actually gay, often running into the arms of a heterosexual partner. This trope was originally used as a way for gay authors to write about gay characters without coming under fire for breaking laws and social mandates against the “endorsement” of homosexuality. However, Bury Your Gays persists today in a time and social context in which it is no longer necessary to give gay characters and stories bad endings in order to be published. (taken from Bury Your Gays: History, Usage, and Context)
There is a myth that because bisexual women are attracted to multiple genders then they must be promiscuous. Not only is this a rude assumption to make based purely on someone's sexuality but it is also harmful. The number of times a straight man has approached me, found out that I am bisexual and immediately asked for a threesome is wild, bonus points if they get angry when you turn them down as “you must be gay then.” The ‘slutty bi’ trope is less obvious than it would have been 10 years ago but there are microaggressions that still enforce this idea. Take Rosa Diaz, Brooklyn 99’s bisexual bombshell who came out in season five of the detective drama. Her coming-out spanned two episodes and was done beautifully and showed the struggles of being queer with a traditional family. However, as the episodes went on it was uncomfortable for me to watch as she seemed to go from partner to partner. For me, the best portrayal of a bi female is Petra Solano, from Jane the Virgin. Her sexuality is explored throughout the seasons in a fantastic manner, she has realistic struggles that include but are not limited to her sexuality. And she had a happy ending! I could talk about my love for her for days but if you're interested in reading more about her character development have a read of this.
Bisexual representation in the media has many flaws but it is important to understand just how far it has come. As soon as writers decide that we deserve a happy ending too, we will be well on the way to equity in literature.
Rosella Hazeldine is a 21-year-old student from Leicestershire. She has been writing both fiction and non-fiction since she was a teenager and now writes articles and blog posts on a freelance level focussed on the LGBT community and student issues. Her fiction WIP is an LGBT romance set in Paris. Rosella takes great care in her writing and creates imaginative poetry on her Instagram page.
Recently she has learnt how to rollerskate and is enjoying wizzing around her small town.
Cover photo by Rosella Hazeldine