There’s no denying that we’ve come a long way in terms of representation of gay characters in movies and on TV. That’s not to say there isn’t still some way to go, but show me someone who’s never heard of Will And Grace or The L Word, and I’ll show you a liar. Unfortunately, many scriptwriters seem stuck with the outdated prejudice that bisexuals either don’t exist, don’t matter, or are too busy to care… so bisexual characters aren’t quite as prominent on our screens.
Given that bisexuals don’t get the best press in most places, it’s no wonder they’re being mocked/ignored/deleted in movies and on TV. They’re the butt of so many jokes, most of them along the same lines as film director/actor Woody Allen’s infamous insistence that they get “double the chances on a Saturday night” because they are less picky than everyone else. Worse, some people don’t even believe in them, a fallacy which has coined the slang term “unicorn” as an alternative word for what they are. Male bisexuals are perceived to be gay but too scared to come out, and female bisexuals are considered to be secretly straight but are also trying to impress their boyfriends.
The practice of ignoring, downplaying or backtracking on someone’s attraction to more than one gender is referred to as “bisexual erasure”. Often, a character will be defined by a current relationship. If they previously dated men and they’re now with a woman, for instance, they will be considered to have been “in the closet”, even if they have never expressed this themselves. Another common scenario involves an allusion to a character’s attraction to both genders which is either poorly explored or not explored at all. Sometimes, a bi character in a book is presented as straight or gay on-screen. The word “bisexual” is very rarely heard.
12. Jules – The Kids All Right
Jules (Annette Bening) and Nic (Julianne Moore) are having terrible sex. Or it could just be the kind of relaxed, non-urgent sex that couples settle into after a while. The viewer seems encouraged to assume the former. Plus, ironically, it’s interrupted by the kids that Paul, the couple’s sperm donor, has provided. So yes, enter Paul (as it were), to exact a much better carnal impact on Jules than Nic is managing. But Jules and Nic will get back together – or so it is strongly implied – in the end. Because Jules loves Nic and Paul was just a distraction. This kind of depiction of a woman having a mad, hypersexual “fling” with someone of a gender they aren’t perceived as being normally attracted to is vastly common within the bi-erasure trope.
11. Amy – Chasing Amy
Alyssa (Joey Lauren) is a lesbian for around fifty percent of the movie. Then she sleeps with a man and she’s instantly straight and he can strut around, proud of how he’s “converted her”. The implication seems to be that she’s never really been either lesbian or straight, but she finds it easier to outwardly identify as one or the other. Her co-characters make frequent reference, in one way or another, to the fact that bisexuals are just confused – making it no wonder that she’s decided not to drop the b-bomb and is brushing her seeming about-turn under the carpet. The whole thing comes across as some sort of male fantasy, with little real focus on Amy and her feelings at all.
10. Samantha – Sex And The City
Admittedly this show is the home of experimental bed-hopping, but in between all the guys who keep their socks on, short men, tall men, and dudes who wear dresses lies Maria. Samantha (Kim Cattrall) told Maria she wasn’t a lesbian and didn’t do relationships, then proceeded to start one, albeit fleeting, with her. There were hints that some girl-on-girl action was on the cards when Samantha made the following statement earlier on in the show: “Soon everyone will be pansexual. It won’t matter if you’re gay or straight. Just if you’re good or bad in bed.” Despite the fact that she and Maria don’t work out, it’s evident that Samantha had fun in her brief time between Maria’s sheets.
9. Nancy – Roseanne
Nancy, played by lesbian actress Sandra Bernhard, would often jokingly allude to “going back to men” and when she appeared with a boyfriend at one of Roseanne’s parties, she sparked genuine confusion and concern amongst the guests. “Won’t they kick you out of the club?” asked one. We’ll overlook Roseanne’s awkward kiss with one of Nancy’s girlfriends, as she essentially admits she only went to the gay bar with them to appear “cool”…
7/8. Ennis and Jack – Brokeback Mountain
Folks often refer to this in terms such as “that gay cowboy movie”, but critics have pointed out that it’s actually more of a bisexual shepherd movie. Only one character, Ennis (Heath Ledger) is a cowboy – the other, Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a ranch-hand. They meet whilst working together a sheepherding job. Given the intensity of their relationship with one another, it’s easy to forget both men are married to women (and that Ennis has a girlfriend, Cassie). Maybe the marriages are just a cover for their true sexualities, but there’s not much indication that this is the case. Again, the intensity of one relationship doesn’t define any character’s entire sexuality.
6. John – Constantine
The Hellblazer comics depict demon-hunter John Constantine as having both male and female love interests, as of 2002 issue Ashes & Dust In The City Of Angels. However, the TV series shows his character (played by Matt Ryan) as rod-straight. It’s true that much more attention is paid to John’s female partners in the comic, and the male love interests appear quite spaced apart, but is that a reason to completely “straight-wash” him on-screen? After all, those scenes where he so expertly flirts with a male bartender in the comic would definitely translate very nicely to screen, we reckon.
5. Piper – Orange Is The New Black
Convict Piper (Taylor Schilling) is variously described as “an ex-lesbian”, a “lesbian” and “straight”. The implication currently seems to be that because she is now crazily obsessed with Alex (Laura Prepon) again – not to mention her flirtation with Stella (Ruby Rose) – her relationship with Larry was a lie. When she was with Larry, her first attempt at a relationship with Alex was viewed in similar terms. We know she loves Alex more than she loves Larry, but is it really right that someone who isn’t her is defining her sexuality? Why can’t she just be called what she is?
3/4. Blaine and Brittany – Glee
“Bisexual is a term gay guys use in high school when they want to hold hands with girls and feel normal for a change,” says Kurt in response to Blaine (Darren Criss) admitting he’s confused about his sexuality and thinks he might not be gay. And lo and behold, Blaine ends the episode identifying as “a hundred percent gay”. The show’s creator, Ryan Murphy, told PerezHilton that: “Blaine is NOT bi. He is gay, and will always be gay. I think it’s very important to young kids that they know this character is one of them.” Because bi kids don’t need role models, apparently.
Murphy then went on to tell TVLine that “I guess the moral of the story is don’t play spin the bottle while drunk on wine coolers.” The idea that Blaine’s confusion was sparked by some kind of brief, intoxicated sexual contact with a member of the opposite sex certainly plays to the stereotype of bisexual behavior being frivolous and experimental.
Brittany (Heather Morris), whose time in the spotlight comes mainly via her relationship with Santana, refers to herself as “gay” despite admitting she’s loved both Artie and Santana… and then dating Sam. She then vaguely called herself “fluid”, without much elaboration.
2. Alice – The L Word
The L Word tells us most of what we need to know in terms of bi inclusion just from the title. Alice (Leisha Hailey) seemed to transition from “bisexual” to “lesbian” with no particular explanation, reinforcing the idea that bisexuals just need to make up their minds. It seems as if constant criticisms such as Dana’s diatribe in the pilot episode – “Christ, Alice, when are you going to make up your mind?” and “spare us the gory bisexual details”- might have forced Alice back into the bi closet. If so, then why hasn’t the show looked at this?
1. Willow – Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara are probably the most famous fictional “lesbian” couple around, let’s face it. They’ve even got close to equalling the titular Buffy in terms of general infamy, to be honest. But aren’t we forgetting something? Willow’s relationship with werewolf Oz came across as one filled with genuine passion. Remember when they slept together for what they thought would be the last time, convinced they were about to die in battle? Swoontastic. Yet Willow still describes herself as “gay” once she and Tara have got it together. Only once does she admit to the ambiguous “kinda gay”.