Bisexual Representation in the Media
It was announced at the beginning of September that Olympic boxer Nicola Adams would be the first Strictly Come Dancing contestant to have a same-sex dance partner.
She told BBC Breakfast that, “It will be nice for the LGBT community to be able to see there are same-sex couples on the show as well.”
While what Adams said is true, it would have been even nicer for the story to be accurately reported. Most outlets who covered the story of Adams’ same-sex dance partner left out that she had previously come out as bisexual. This left society to assume that because she wanted to dance with another woman, she had to be a lesbian.
How this happened to begin with raises questions, as when covering a news story about a specific person, it would be logical to include all relative information about that person so that the reader has the full picture. Surely in this case, when it comes to writing a story about an LGBT moment and LGBT representation on screen, including Adams’ sexuality would have been the reasonable thing to do?
Now it’s not surprising really that the media decided against taking that one step further and representing the bisexual community specifically.
GLAAD found in 2019 that there were 11 films from major studios that included a gay man, 11 films that included a lesbian, but only 3 that included a bisexual character. This disparity in representation of communities continues when it comes to characters on television too.
Bisexual+ characters made up only 26% of the LGBTQ characters in cable network and streamed original TV shows between 2019 and 2020. When you look into that further, you’ll see that this was made up of 90 bi women, 90 bi men, and 2 bi non-binary people.
The bisexual community has not yet been afforded shows such as The L Word, Queer Eye, Will & Grace, or Cucumber - cultural pillars of the LGBT community.
Gay and lesbian communities are more and more often given bona fide representation. Meanwhile bisexual characters are still watered-down representation to being just queer enough for the writers to earn themselves a pat on the back, but not so official that bigots might be put off by watching a show with a LGBT character.
Obviously the simplest solution to this is to literally have characters state that they are bisexual, when they are. It can also be shown through characters actions.
As simple as this sounds, the mark can still be missed in this situation. Piper Chapman, main protagonist of Netflix Original Orange Is The New Black, was transparent about being attracted to “...hot men, hot women, hot people...” but didn’t utter the word bisexual once throughout the show’s 91 episodes. Other characters either referred to her as a lesbian, or straight, but never bisexual.
For a good example of bisexual representation on screen, look to The CW’s Jane The Virgin.
They featured an amazing storyline featuring a bisexual male character, called Adam Alvaro, played by Tyler Posey. He appears in the show across seven episodes, and dates the title character Jane Villanueva in that time. Jane soon finds out that he’s bisexual and while initially says she’s okay with it, she soon realises she has some uneasy feelings about it. However, the CW uses this as an opportunity to set the record straight on some misconceptions and stereotypes about bisexuality.
Watch a clip from Jane the Virgin here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0xUAFmGzUM
Then there’s the self-discovery journey of principal character Petra Solano, who realises her queerness when she’s already a mother. It’s beautiful watching her journey from the first moment of realising she’s attracted to another woman, all the way through to dating her, and fully embracing her identity.
Despite errors being made when it comes to bisexual representation (Orange Is The New Black), that isn’t to say that there isn’t some good representation out there (Jane The Virgin). To further encourage creators to properly include bisexual characters in their work, we must not rest on our laurels.
We must not settle for the representation that there is currently and, in the case of outlets omitting Nicola Adams’ sexuality from articles, we must call out those who get it wrong! More recently Adams has come out as lesbian but as far as we were aware when the Strictly story came out, she was bisexual. We cannot stop until it is just as normal to see a bisexual character on scene as it is to see a straight character.
My name is Charlie Mathers, and my pronouns are they/them. I’m a bisexual demiromantic, polyam non-binary person. I was born in Birmingham but now live and work in London. Since moving to London, I have been an active member of the LGBT+ community, making sure that bisexual voices are always heard and listened to. There weren’t very many specifically bisexual activists when I came out as bisexual, aged 14, so now strive to be the visibility younger me would have wanted! I’ve written for Gay Star News, The LGBT History Month Magazine, appeared in Refinery29 and on The BiCast.