Before we start, let’s get one thing sorted. Bisexuality and pansexuality are real. They are both valid sexual identities. Bisexual men, women, and non-binary folks aren’t “confused” and waiting on the right significant other to set them on a path of being straight or gay. If you can’t wrap your head around that fact, you’re welcome to stop reading right now. You won’t get anything out of this post, so I’ll save you the time.
Now that we’re here: did you know that half of the U.K.’s young adults say they’re not 100% heterosexual? 31% of Americans in a similar study said they weren’t entirely straight. That number might be higher if being bi was more widely accepted. Unfortunately, the people who put the ‘B’ in LGBT often face discrimination from both the queer community and the straight community, as each side is convinced that bi folks need to just “make up their minds.” In case it sounds familiar, that’s the same backwards thinking that makes baby boomers tell their gay sons “you just haven’t met the right girl, yet.” Who would have thought those gay sons would parrot that logic to bi men who are interested in them, when they say “you might leave me for a woman, make up your mind.” It is this tendency for both straight and gay people to invalidate bisexuals and pansexuals that makes representation and transparency so important.
Bisexuals and pansexuals are exist in our human universe, and need characters to represent them in fiction. Martin Luther King Jr. encouraged Nichelle Nichols to remain on Star Trek when she was considering leaving the show because he knew it was important for people of colour to be seen in powerful roles in television. The same is true for bi and pansexuals who would benefit from having bi and pan characters obviously portrayed. We know that mass media depictions of women with a thin body type can influence and harm the mental health of young women, and we’ve seen that television can help the self-esteem of white males, but harm the self-perceptions of people of colour or white girls. The bottom line: we need more bisexual and pansexual characters to be portrayed transparently, as erasure of these individuals will undoubtedly harm current and future generations.
There have been recent victories in bi/pan visibility that will certainly help the cause. Queer fans have been rooting for Wonder Woman to be queer for YEARS, and only recently did writers confirm on record that yes, Diana Prince would have had relationships on Themyscira prior to joining the Justice League and being introduced to men. This fact being acknowledged is hugely significant for bi/pansexuals and for the queer community at large. Why? Wonder Woman is a highly visible, internationally recognized character. (Hell, she has a solo film due out in 2017!).
One character isn’t enough, regardless of how well known she is. In our heteronormative society, it is customary to assume straightness of all characters, and as we grow to include gay and lesbian characters it becomes easier to assume characters with same sex partners are gay or lesbian. When a character is written to be bi or pan, it should be blatantly stated or referenced. While it doesn’t need to be the primary attribute of the character (and in fact it should not be), if a character is bi, creators should make that known. In GLAAD’s ‘Where Are We On TV’ Report for 2014, they determined there were 12 bisexual characters on television during the year. Twelve total for the entire year. Think about that in comparison with the number of characters in your favorite shows. (If you’d like to read the full report, you can find it here: http://www.glaad.org/files/GLAAD-2014-WWAT.pdf).
Folks coming to terms with their sexuality need people to identify with regardless of where they fall on the sexuality spectrum. It’s important for young people to be able to say “hey, that’s me!” as they read books or comics, or watch shows and films. They need to have role models that show them it’s okay to be who they are, and let’s be honest – it’s especially important for bi/pan folks because they will be told repeatedly that they need to “pick a side” and stick to it.
To read more about the validity of bisexuality and how you can help, check out the following resources:
- Bisexuality in the Media: Where are the Bisexuals on TV
Fox Emm is a writer and lover of the horror genre who happens to also be an intersectional feminist. Her free time is spent copywriting for businesses, playing with her tiny dogs, or having the daylights frightened out of her by either horror flicks or the audacity of the patriarchy. You can find her on social media or her blog.