There is a big drive lately towards having more minorities depicted on screen, in particular bisexual characters.
One of the only indicators we have when looking at LGBTI representation on screen is the GLAAD report.
Of the 329 LGBTQ characters in last year’s report, 28% were counted as bisexual. It is a significant figure. The report also found out of 93 bisexual characters, only 18 were male. To put that in to some context, in 2016 YouGov found that 43% of 18-24-year olds did not identify as gay or straight, indicating varying degrees of bisexuality. So that number isn’t very representative of what’s actually going on in the world.
Bisexuals needed on the TV screen
TV is such a phenomenal tool for equality. It shows people those who don’t experience these things a life outside of their comfort zones. Minorities become normal in hearts and minds.
Bisexual characters must be executed successfully.
For too long, bisexual characters have fallen into three categories.
Often, a bisexual character is added to a show or a character comes out as bisexual. This effort might be them attempting to be seen as progressive but later having no idea what to do with their sexuality.
Look no further than How to Get Away with Murder’s Annalise Keating. Over five seasons we’ve seen her go to bed with men and women, yet all she can say on the subject is ‘it’s complicated.’
Characters that use their bisexuality to manipulate, destroy and even murder people. It’s important for us to recognize that producers do have other things to worry about than how convincing their bisexual characters are.
However, what does it say to bisexual people if these are the only types of bi characters out there?
Bisexuality is visually, in a single picture, hard to depict. To the untrained eye, two men kissing means they’re gay and a man and woman kissing means they’re both straight.
No one ever thinks, ‘awww a bisexual kiss.’
Often, the only way TV producers know to visually show bisexual characters is to put them in a threesome. This then only adds to the myth that all bisexuals are sex mad.
Art imitates life. When I walk the streets holding hands with my girlfriend, no one thinks that I’m bisexual. Unfortunately, this is just a reality we have to learn to accept. Bisexuality is often invisible and people will class us as gay or straight when they see us with our partners. This means to depict bisexuality accurately on screen it needs to be verbally established.
But what kind of bisexual characters should be on screen?
I’m not actually as concerned about having happy out bisexuals as I am about having unhappy closeted bisexuals. Why? Because that’s more realistic. In 2014 the Pew Research Center found that only 12% of bisexual men were out of the closet. The same study found 77% of gay men were out of the closet. If we live in a world where almost 90% of bisexual men are hiding in the closet then those stories are the ones we must tell.
Whilst I understand the need to showcase happy LGBT characters, we shouldn’t shy away from the grim realities they face. We need to have audiences empathize with the struggles of the closeted bisexual man.
Producers, it’s great you want to include more minority characters. But educate yourself on the realistic lives of bi people, or otherwise we’ll just turn off.
Lewis Oakley is a weekly bisexual correspondent on Gay Star News. Follow him on Twitter.