Despite how far the LGBTQ community has come since the days of Will & Grace, there are still a lot of stereotypical and damaging representations of bisexual people on TV.
For proof, look no further than Barbara Kean on FOX’s Gotham — portrayed as a typical stereotype of the cheating, hypersexual, manipulative bisexual woman. FOX’s Empire is also guilty of perpetuating these stereotypes, as well as of using bisexuality as a way to add drama to a scene and surprise an audience. And Piper Chapman’s bisexuality has been handled pretty poorly at times in the Netflix show Orange Is The New Black. No one wants to say the “B” word.
But, as bi characters become slightly more common on our television screens — according to a GLAAD report from last year tracking representation on five major broadcast networks, 18 percent of LGBTQ characters in 2014 and 20 percent of LGBTQ characters in 2015 were explicitly bisexual — there are some examples of shows getting this right.
Including good, nuanced representations of bisexuality in mass media means their storylines should show that the writer isn’t using their bisexuality to define their morality and their personality, isn’t falling into tired tropes depicting bisexual people as untrustworthy or unfaithful, and isn’t relying on their orientation as a gimmick to “spice up” the plot instead of as a meaningful part of their character development.
So, in honor of Bisexual Awareness Week, let’s celebrate some of the best representations of bisexuality on television that successfully portray bi people in an accurate and nuanced way.
Will Drake on ‘American Horror Story’
Until recently, many viewers may have assumed Drake was gay — but his relationship with the countess made his bisexuality visible to the audience. Then, Drake had a conversation with his son about this relationship during which he actually uses the “B” word to define himself.
Writing in Slate, Eliel Cruz notes this conversation dispels important myths about bisexual people, and bisexual men in particular.
In this scene, Drake’s son remarked he couldn’t believe his father was marrying a woman. “I’m going to be blunt — your father is bisexual,” Drake responded. “People think that word means something dirty, but it doesn’t. It means that I like men and I like women — equally. People don’t understand so they treat me like I’m weird. Or like I’m trying to hide something.”
It is really important that writers decided to acknowledge and challenge these perceptions rather than promote them, as is often the case on television, whether it is intentional or not.
Darryl Whitefeather on ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’
Whitefeather — the boss of the CW show’s main character who comes out as bisexual about halfway through the first season — defies stereotypes in large part because is a dorky, divorced middle-aged dad.
Unfortunately, bisexuality is often inaccurately associated with young people trying to be “trendy,” as if bisexuality is simply a phase in college. There are many references to “college lesbians” in popular culture, for example, and some stock photos even carry the title “trendy bisexual girls.”
So this storyline of an older man who discovers that he is attracted to men, but remains attracted to women as well, paints a very different and more realistic picture. In one scene, Whitefeather belts out a song informing his co-workers that he’s not gay:
Now some may say,‘Oh you’re just gay!Why don’t you just go gay all the way?’ But that’s not it,’Cause bi’s legit.Whether you’re a he or a she,We might be a perfect fit.
Like American Horror Story’s Drake, he acknowledges that no one has to “choose” to be attracted to solely men or solely women.
Annalise Keating on ‘How To Get Away With Murder’
When Annalise Keating’s ex-girlfriend Eve Rothlow appeared in the second season of the ABC show, some bisexual viewers may have been nervous that the two were going to end up manipulating and using the other person’s feelings for their own gain, since that is a common trope among bi characters. But as Bustle’s Martha Sorren wrote, those fears were soon put to rest.
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Annalise’s relationship with Eve is indeed challenging. Eve is still hurt that Annalise left her for her now late husband. Annalise still has feelings for Eve. It’s complicated and, as of the second season, it’s difficult to say whether they will be in a committed relationship. But regardless of where their relationship goes, it’s clear that it’s been meaningful to both of them.
Sadly, it’s still rare to see a bisexual woman in a long-term relationship with a woman or acknowledging a past long-term relationship with a woman. Most shows treat bisexual women’s relationships with men as a major romantic storyline for that character, but HTGAWM resisted that and treated their relationship as any other relationship.
That’s because Viola Davis, who plays the role of Annalise Keating, said she encouraged the showrunner, Pete Nowalk, to do exactly that.
“I’m encouraging Pete to develop it the way he develops any relationship… And he’s completely open to that, and I’m telling you, people really responded to it,” Davis told AfterEllen.
Kalinda Sharma on ‘The Good Wife’
Sharma, an investigator for the law firm of the CBS show’s main character, Alicia Florrick, may be a more controversial addition to a list of positive portrayals of bi characters because at first, she appears to fit into stereotypes about bisexual women as manipulative and untrustworthy individuals.
There are many scenes in which viewers are probably uncertain of her motives and she is often emotionally distant, which makes her a fascinating character.
— Fish🐟 (@badforthefish) September 12, 2016
But it’s important to acknowledge that there can be representations of bi people as mysterious and morally ambiguous without those qualities being linked to their sexuality. Without Archie Panjabi’s nuanced approach to the character, Kalinda Sharma could have become just another two-dimensional shifty bi stereotype. While Sharma does plenty of questionably legal things to investigate cases, and sometimes uses her sexuality to meet her goals, she also takes her friendships very seriously, which helps soften her character.
The show has also acknowledged some of the male characters’ feelings towards her bisexuality. As awful as the storyline of Sharma’s abusive ex-husband was, it did show his extreme discomfort toward her sexual relationships with women. Even Cary Agos, one of her romantic interests, who is usually portrayed as caring and considerate toward Sharma, appeared to feel threatened by her relationships with women. It’s important to acknowledge the ways in which male straight partners can fail their bisexual female partners, so these moments, while left unexplored, captured a reality that many bi women experience.
Sharma wasn’t a perfect character by any stretch of the imagination, since there were times the show handled her character poorly and inconsistently, but in many ways she is one of the most well-developed and well-known bi television characters to date.
There are many more positive portrayals of bisexual people on television, including Callie Torres on Grey’s Anatomy, Nolan Ross on Revenge, Oberyn Martell on Game of Thrones, Sarah on Transparent, and Bo on Lost Girl, to name only a few. Let’s celebrate those roles as often as we acknowledge the poor representations television offers us.