It's difficult to recall the last time I saw some healthy bisexual representation in one of my favourite TV shows. With bisexual characters being so far and few between, it's clear that 'bisexual erasure' has always been present within the film and television industry.
Of course, representation is crucial for everyone; and whilst traditional media has become more and more accepting of gay and lesbian characters, you'd think that there wouldn't be an issue portraying bisexuality. But for years, bisexual people have claimed that their stories weren't being shown accurately, or at all.
So, is there a clear reason for this void of representation?
A GLAAD report from 2019-2020, researching into the representation of LGBT+ characters in the media found that out of the regular characters taken from both cable television and streaming services, 10.2% of them identified as LGBTQ.
Although this is a much improved statistic - the highest percentage of LGBTQ characters found during the 15 years of this report - out of this already small percentage, bisexuals make up only 26% of all LGBTQ characters.
"The numbers still skew toward women, though there was an increase in bi+ men this year" - GLAAD 2019-2020 Study
A potential reason for this is that bisexuality can be difficult for monosexual filmmakers to fully understand. Monosexual is a term to describe people who are attracted to only one sex; people who identify as gay or straight can be described this way. Therefore, it can be challenging to comprehend being attracted to two or more genders.
This, paired with the large amount of misrepresentation already found in film and TV, can mean that filmmakers feel hesitant to include bisexual characters in their work, in fear of portraying them wrongly.
How is gender presented in conjunction with bisexuality on TV?
When bisexual people are represented in traditional media, it's not always positive.
Many stereotypes have formed over the years due to the different portrayals of bisexual men and women in the media. It's sadly pretty common for bi women to be presented as 'attention-seeking' or identifying as bisexual only for male attention. Men, on the other hand, are often portrayed as being 'in denial' and secretly just being gay.
"As Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw put it in 2000, many thought bisexuality was just “a layover on the way to Gaytown.”" - Vox article by Caroline Framke
Interestingly, both of these stereotypes are built upon the idea that bisexuality isn't 'real', and that the identifier is using their sexuality as a cover-up for something else going on in their life.
This isn't helped by the fact that even recently, writers have continuously struggled to use the word 'bisexual' in their show. Even going so far as to imply a character is bisexual, but never saying the word. It's very possible for this to have a harmful effect on LGBT individuals watching and can also be seen as a form of bisexual erasure.
Usually, a show might present a character as straight; then later on in their story have them get into a same-sex relationship and call them gay (or vice versa). Although this may be a real experience for some people, it's too frequent in TV that a character will be 'straight then gay', and never bisexual.
"Bisexual advocate Eliel Cruz-Lopez told Teen Vogue that continually not explicitly naming so many characters' sexuality perpetuates the idea that being bisexual is something subversive and shameful." - Teen Vogue article by Brittany McNamara
Very real representation in film and TV
If you're looking for some great LGBTQ representation in the next show you watch, I have some suggestions for you.
Wynonna Earp on Amazon Prime is a sci-fi western style show with a large cast of LGBT characters who fight paranormal demons; the show does an excellent job at portraying them in an authentic way whilst the topic of sexuality not being an issue among the characters.
Brooklyn 99, available on Netflix, is a comedy that you have most likely heard of. If you've never watched it, the show focuses on a team of detectives solving cases in New York City. The bisexual representation in this show is refreshingly realistic, but positive and funny at the same time.
HBO's comedy-drama Insecure presents bisexuality in a unique light. Rather than being a show that focuses on having a large LGBT cast, in the first season they take the chance to discuss "what makes someone bisexual?" The conclusion the characters come to is somewhat freeing and something rarely seen in television.
Fight for your right to representation
Whilst bisexuality has long been misrepresented, there are becoming more and more realistic portrayals of bisexual and other LGBT characters. So, one of the biggest things we can do to see LGBTQ characters keep thriving is continue to support our favourite shows that represent the LGBTQ community in a genuine and authentic way!