With Pride month all wrapped up, I found myself reflecting on my place in the community, and how the media landscape has shifted over the last year for someone that identifies most closely with being bisexual.
Imposter syndrome is a very real and near crippling feeling when it comes to participating in queer spaces. Pride has the unenviable ability to do exactly what is says in its name and make the queer community stand tall, celebrating what makes each and every member of it uniquely them, whether that’s through sexual diversity or gender variance. But when you’re forced to justify your place in that community – both from within and outside of queer spaces – it becomes an exercise in what feels like something close to futility, and you question your place in it entirely.
You’re not explicitly queer enough to belong there. You don’t fit neatly into the widely accepted structure. You don’t tick all the right boxes. You’re messy, and complicated, and ever-changing.
The lesbian and gay experience is by no means a simple or easy one. There’s resistance, discrimination, hatred, and violence at every turn. But when it comes to Pride, when it comes to the queer community, their place in it is unquestionable. Everything else is, supposedly, up for debate.
When it comes to bisexuality, specifically, you’re often told that you’re either greedy, promiscuous, untrustworthy, or can’t make up your mind. And looking to television to provide some kind of escape, or a touchstone to direct and educate those people in your life that just couldn’t or didn’t understand, was an impossibility. In fact, it just reinforced those ideas.
Carrie Bradshaw called bisexuality a “layover on the way to Gaytown” on Sex and the City. The L Word, which helped so many people on the path to accepting their own sexuality, said it was “gross.” Even Liz Lemon, on 30 Rock, dismissed it.
“Yeah there’s no such thing as bisexual,” Lemon said. “That’s just something they invented in the ’90s to sell hair products.”
Which was probably why I had such a visceral reaction to the inclusion of three incidentally bisexual characters on three of the shows that have brought me arguably the most joy over the last 12 months: Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
They were, of course, by no means the first queer characters on each of the shows in question. Or, even, bisexual characters specifically.
Jane the Virgin introduced Adam, Jane’s ex-boyfriend, early in season 4. Adam revealed that he’d dated both men and women since his prior relationship with Jane, and directly challenged some common misconceptions about bisexuality through her reaction to discovering that was how Adam identified.
Meanwhile, on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Daryll came out as bisexual early on in the show, after decades of being married to a woman, with a joyful and empowering bisexual anthem, and later embarked on a relationship with White Josh, a.k.a. Josh Wilson. On Brooklyn Nine-Nine there was Raymond Holt and Kevin.
But while I thought that Adam’s inclusion in Jane the Virgin came closest to what I was desperate to see, it wasn’t until Petra fell for her lawyer, Jane “J.R.” Ramos, and then, following a time-jump, Valencia entered into a relationship with Beth on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, when both characters had exclusively been shown to be in a relationship with men prior to that point, that I felt a perceptible shift. There was no huge deal made of it, no fanfare, no public service announcement, it just was.
These characters had dated men throughout the lifespan of their respective shows. Now they were dating women. It was that simple. The word “bisexual” wasn’t said, but it was right there, playing out before my eyes, and it was – for myself – a huge step in the right direction. They were women who had, to the eyes of those around them, seemed unflappable and put together, right up until their whole world was tipped sideways when they were hit with feelings they hadn’t expected to have.
(A situation that, likewise, had happened to me earlier in 2018, but in reverse. But, I’ll come back to that later.)
I still felt somewhat leery, which I’d argue was both an understandable and acceptable reaction to those reveals, considering that the typical outcome to them – especially when there was still some room left for ambiguity in not saying the word bisexual – was to have the characters eventually pick a “side.” It happened with Alice Pieszecki on The L Word, and likewise with Willow Rosenburg on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A stepping stone to what is perceived as a real coming out. But the reneging never happened, and both Valencia and Petra ended their respective seasons still in those relationships.
And then Rosa Diaz uttered six words that had me sobbing in front of my television, before I even realized what was unfolding in front of me.
I’m dating a woman. I’m bi.
It shouldn’t have felt ground-breaking to me, but it was. Over the last year, more and more characters have been allowed to be bisexual and remain that way – including the aforementioned Valencia and Petra, but also Legend of Tomorrow’s Sara Lance and John Constantine, and Black Lightning’s Grace Choi – but there was something about Rosa Diaz that struck a resonant chord.
I’m still not certain if it’s because in Rosa explicitly stating her bisexuality it brokered no room for an argument, or if I see so much of myself in Rosa when it comes to keeping her personal relationships close to her chest, but as her experiences continued to play out in the wake of that reveal, I felt more and more as though I was being seen.
In every interaction Rosa had with her friends and colleagues following her admittance to being bisexual, I saw myself. In her conversations with her family, and their reactions, likewise I was there. It was a case, in some turns, of art imitating life. But where I have, admittedly, remained silent in some aspects of personal relationships in order to preserve a sense of familial peace, Rosa was outspoken, insisting that no matter who she chose to spend her life with, each of her choices would be valid, and it would equally make her no less bisexual.
Beatriz, in fact, penned a recent essay for GQ in which she discussed her own experiences and how they informed Rosa, but also how her relationship with a man does not mean she is “currently straight,” a common misconception that is rampant when, as someone living in that space between gay and straight, you enter into a relationship.
From my late-teens through my early 20s, I dated women almost exclusively. Initially, when asked, I still openly chose to state that I was bisexual. But after a constant barrage of scorn and scoffing from the queer community around me, I chose to say whatever made it feel less like I was being worn down with every conversation, interaction, and having to justify my own existence outside of the gay-or-straight dichotomy.
As I neared turning 30 this past summer, so too did I find myself less and less concerned with how I should present, and happier when I was honest with myself, and those around me. A decision that has been galvanized by the shifting landscape on network television. These characters are proud of who they are, and how their experiences have shaped them into who they are, and so too am I.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that things are perfect. Far from it. There’s still a long way to go to chance perceptions of what bisexuality is, or just identifying as queer, because it feels closer to what you really feel, both on television and in real life.
Like Beatriz, I’m currently dating a man. I’m happy. I feel more comfortable in my skin than I ever have. I’m content. That is enough for me. It’s just a matter of time before it’s enough for everyone.
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