In general, we see few bisexual characters represented on television, in movies, in music, and in other forms of media. And although your first thought may be that any bisexual representation is good representation, that isn’t necessarily true. In many cases, the way that bisexual people are portrayed actually perpetuates some of the really harmful stereotypes about bisexuality that I discussed in an earlier post. For example, that bisexual women Often unknowingly, the media also can perpetuate bi-erasure, defined by GLAAD as “a pervasive problem in which the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright.” Often, bi-erasure especially affects bisexual men, as they are represented even less than bisexual women. In this post, I’d like to look a little bit closer at a few of the more well-known TV shows, movies, and songs that portray bisexual characters.
If you’re a fan of Netflix originals, one of the first shows that may have come to mind here is Orange is the New Black. This show’s main character, Piper Chapman, has romantic relationships with both men and women and is considered bisexual. However, she refuses to “admit” to being bisexual, and is continuously represented as promiscuous and a cheater which are some of the most prominent and harmful stereotypes that bisexual people try to avoid.
Male bi characters are generally less common than bi women, but there are a few shows currently representing them, such as Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and my personal favorite, Doctor Who. Doctor Who and Torchwood‘s Captain Jack Harkness is a bisexual, or possibly pansexual, character who characteristically flirts with everybody and everything. For a long time I considered him a good representation of the bisexual community, until I realized that his promiscuity is actually his defining characteristic, perpetuating that same stereotype that we are constantly trying to get away from. In addition, a quick Google image search of “Captain Jack Harkness” brought up dozens of photos that labeled him as gay, not bisexual or even pansexual. The bi-erasure was strong within this Google search.
Although there aren’t a ton, many of the movies that feature bisexual characters are guilty of perpetuating bi-erasure and the same stereotypes as TV shows. Some of the more popular of these movies are Brokeback Mountain, Dodgeball, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Brokeback Mountain in particular is guilty of prolonging the stereotype that there is no real sexual fluidity; that person is strictly labeled “gay” once they’ve had any sort of homosexual relationship, or is labeled “straight” if they happen to be with a person of the opposite sex. In fact, sexuality is far from that black and white.
Whether or not they realize they are doing it, directors of movies and TV shows are constantly encouraging damaging stereotypes and bi-erasure. And unfortunately, most people who watch these things will believe what they are told about bisexuality through these mediums because in general, they’re just not well-educated enough about it. So I’m asking you, the next time you see bisexuality inaccurately represented on TV, try to educate the people around you: we are real, we are here, and we’re just like you.
Captain Jack Harkness