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The Bisexual review: the new Channel 4 show is what we need to fight bi erasure

The Bisexual review: the new Channel 4 show is what we need to fight bi erasure

A scene of The Bisexual.

Desiree Akhavan is the director, screenwriter, and actor the bisexual community was longing for.

She is set out to be the voice of bi Millennials who no longer wish to be silenced back to the closet.

A bisexual American of Iranian descent, Akhavan is candid about her sexuality and her new dramedy The Bisexual, premiering on Channel 4 and Hulu tomorrow (10 October), is proof.

Let’s take a look at the title, for starters. It is honest, raw, perhaps a little unimaginative, but it’s a statement and that is exactly what we need to fight bi invisibility.

Bis in plain sight

Sadie (Maxine Peake) and Leila (Akhavan) in a scene of The Bisexual. | Photo: Hootenanny

Each title card for the six episodes is cleverly hidden in plain sight in a different setting, either at a grocery market or in other everyday situations. Just like some bisexuals are.

Bis find it hard or unnecessary to come out. Therefore, many just don’t and let others assume their sexual orientation.

Akhavan might change that with her funny, sexy yet not overtly sexualized, playful portrayal of a young bi American woman navigating the dating world in London.

She wrote it with Cecilia Frugiuele, the Italian producer who worked with her on her directorial debut Appropriate Behavior. The duo also co-wrote conversion therapy movie The Miseducation of Cameron Post, proving queer female storytelling should be up to queer women.

Akhavan, in fact, doesn’t shy away from her bisexuality, and neither does her body of work.

This might be the reason why American networks systematically rejected The Bisexual. Fed up with the many requests of adjusting her work to the audience’s expectations, Akhavan decided to try her luck in the UK. And it worked.

The Bisexual and Appropriate Behavior

Two women about to kiss while in bed.
Akhavan’s directorial debut Appropriate Behavior is a loosely autobiographical movie. | Photo: Peccadillo Pictures

Despite coming from the opposite premise of Appropriate Behavior, The Bisexual maintains the author’s refreshing outspokenness.

In the 2014 movie, the protagonist, played by Akhavan, is a bisexual woman in New York. She is still looking for validation from others at times, but she knows who she is. And whom she likes.

In the new drama, however, Leila identifies as gay but struggles with opposite-sex attraction.

At a turning point in the relationship with her girlfriend and business partner Sadie (the ever-charming Maxine Peake), Leila cracks. Taking a break before settling down seems a reasonable option to her, but is it ever?

She moves in with straight roommate Gabe, played by Brian Gleeson. As the entitled writer turned professor also needs to step up his dating game, the two embark on a journey made of awkward sexual encounters and disaster dates that will seal their unlikely friendship.

Biphobia, bi erasure and spoiler alert

Brian Gleeson and Desiree Akhavan.
Brian Gleeson and Desiree Akhavan. | Photo: Hootenanny

The Bisexual tackles bi erasure and biphobia within the LGBTI community.

Leila might have internalized biphobia and her gang of lesbian friends doesn’t provide her with the necessary support.

She is a newcomer to the bisexual world, a gold-star lesbian. After coming out to her Iranian parents – ‘the hardest thing I’ve ever done’ – Leila is back in the closet. And she will need to come out again in her own time.

In relation to her friends and girlfriend, she is afraid to take a step back by admitting she might be into guys, too. And yet she is ready to embrace this side of herself, a side that has been there all along, unexplored.

Tiptoeing into a new freedom after a ten-year relationship, the protagonist will have a second sexual awakening. At the end of the second episode, she will finally have sex with a man for the first time. Significantly, with a gay guy.

In one of the truest, clumsiest sex scenes of all times, the two start to go at it on a bathroom’s floor at a party.

On her back, Leila bursts out laughing and simply says that she thought it was going to be different, but it’s not. This sexual pleasure might be the last outpost to destroy before saying the bi-word. We’ll just need to wait and see.

Second chances

Leila moves in with Gabe after her girlfriend of ten year proposes. | Photo: Hootenanny

Akhavan is as open about her sexuality as she is about feminism and Millennials. Tackling  body hair, toxic masculinity and selfie-centered friends, her show is a refreshing, comical, harsh portrait of not having it together in their 30s.

Do we need yet another one, you might ask. Well, we definitely need one who portrays queer women as fleshed out characters.

The Bisexual is a celebration of second chances. It is never too late to start questioning yourself or others, the show seems to say.

Some of its very interesting narratives demand further exploration. The idea of Leila’s second coming out, her friendship to a straight guy subverting the cliche of a gay guy with a female straight BFF, and seeing her dealing with her bisexuality through a lesbian lens might make it an indie cult.

A bisexual manifesto?

It is not hard to imagine the show becoming a bisexual manifesto for bi girls, guys and non-binary people out there, left with little to no media representation. Channel 4 new series might do justice to the bisexual community in a way The L Word didn’t. Or any other show did, really.

Their creative freedom was limited by having in mind a mainstream audience to appeal to. Swinging between making it sexier and watering it down sacrificed their relatability.

Akhavan doesn’t thin anything down to please a mainstream audience, where mainstream too often means white cisgender men. Because she already has a pretty big public.

As more and more people identify as bi today, what they lack is real representation and a sense of community that others in the LGBTI ensemble have. The Bisexual is here to fix this and, frankly, it was about time.

Watch the trailer for The Bisexual below:

The Bisexual premieres in the UK on Channel 4 tomorrow (Wednesday 10 October) at 10pm. In the US, it is available to stream on Hulu.

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