The battle for representation and recognition
This week, singer Halsey (Pronouns: She/They) revealed that her team were worried that her 2017 single “Bad at Love” which explored her bisexuality and past relationships would be banned from the radio as it could supposedly “alienate” heterosexual listeners; listeners who glossed over her bisexuality to brand her a “w***e” for being in four failed relationships. Not only does that feed into the harmful stereotype of bisexual people being more promiscuous or indecisive than others but it contributes to the phenomenon more people are waking up to- Bisexual Erasure.
What is Bisexuality?
Bisexuality is defined as being sexually or romantically attracted to both men or women, or to more than one gender or sex but Bisexual Erasure is defined by GLAAD.org as a problem in which “the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality is questioned or denied outright”. One of the main and most glaring ways ‘bierasure’ is manifested is through media portrayals. Most shows represent their characters’ sexuality as either exclusively homosexual or heterosexual, perpetuating the very binary narratives their inclusivity and diversity seeks to destroy. When bisexual characters are depicted, they are seen as unable to decide whether they are straight or gay or sexually promiscuous; if they do end up in a heterosexual relationship, they are berated for not constantly feeling the need to prove their bisexuality. This is even more poignant when you consider that bisexuals face a higher rate of anxiety and depression leading to higher rates of suicide than homosexual and heterosexual individuals.
Media Portrayals: The good and the bad
In early 2000s media, bisexuality was constantly trivialised by writers who had no idea how to write sexualities that fell outside of the homo/heterosexual binary. For example, Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw called bisexuality “a layover on the way to gaytown”, in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2008), Scott Pilgrim calls his girlfriend’s previous relationship with a woman her “sexy phase”, or in a season 4 episode of Gilmore Girls, Madeleine and Louise suggest that Paris and Rory kiss each other to get free drinks and club entries off men. These all reinforce the harmful stereotypes that have come to be associated with bisexuality; the women are attention seeking and the men are gay and in denial.
That being said however, I just wanted to take a minute to address (in my humble bisexual opinion) one of the greatest portrayals of bisexuality of all time…Rosa Diaz in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is without question one of my favourite TV shows of all time; it addresses hard hitting topics such as racism, police brutality, and sexuality with a nuanced sense of humour that never trivialises the matter at hand, so when Rosa came out as bisexual it was HUGE. Before then I don’t think I’d heard the word said on television before and whilst her parents were not massively supportive, she found comfort in the squad and her captain.
Media needs more accurate and sensitive portrayals of bisexuality just like in Brooklyn Nine-Nine as bisexual erasure is doing more harm- physically and emotionally- to people only to be played off as cheap laughs. Through this, the media can help reconfigure spaces that do not tolerate marginalisation leading to a more inclusive society for all- because in the immortal words of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Captain Holt: “Every time someone steps up and says who they are, the world becomes a better and more interesting place”.