Pride Month 2020: From Jay Bilzerian to Eleanor Shellstrop, good bisexuality portrayals help remove bi-erasure
As actor Evan Rachel Wood, who identifies as bisexual, once said, “Remember, bisexuality doesn't mean halfway between gay or straight. It is its own identity”
The “B” in LGBTQIA+ is an important one. Bisexual folks make up for a sizable chunk of people under the queer umbrella. Yet, the perception of bisexuality has always been kind of negatively skewed. “Identifying as bisexual often feels like you're stuck in limbo -- not ‘gay’ enough for some, and not ‘straight’ enough for others,” wrote Bustle’s Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro, aptly summing up the culture of biphobia and bi-erasure. And bi-erasure is on occasion, even perpetuated by the non-bi queer folks as well.
GLAAD, the American non-governmental media monitoring organization, notes this to be a “pervasive problem” where the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright.
Thankfully, popular culture has done its fair share to negate this culture of invisibility of bisexual people. While there have been bad portrayals, especially with the overt sexualization and fetishization of bisexual women, there are enough good portrayals to actually skew the balance in the right direction.
Take for example the character of Jay Bilzerian, voiced by Jason Mantzoukas, in the animated Netflix comedy series ‘Big Mouth’. The show makes a meal of the teenager’s experience with understanding his own sexual preferences, accepting his bisexuality, and finally being proud of it.
That is not to say ‘Big Mouth’ got everything right. After its third season dropped, the show was accused of misrepresenting bisexuality, when it implied that bisexuality is not inclusive of trans and non-binary identities and that trans people are of a separate gender, exclusive to male and female. The show’s writers issued an acknowledgment of their error and an apology for the same.
Despite this, it is not often one finds a show that does this good a job of making bisexuality visible.
‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ is another good example of this. Darryl Whitefeather (Pete Gardner) explores this journey as a middle-aged man, who had previously never considered the fluidity of his sexuality. Darryl’s journey in the show is done beautifully (and with catchy numbers) where he begins to understand that he is attracted to men as well as women.
In terms of positive bisexual roles, Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) in ‘The Good Place’ can hardly be discounted. In the afterlife, Eleanor fully discovers that she is very attracted to Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and later Simone (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). In fact, not only is she confident of her bisexuality, she actively encourages it to be the standard. Case in point, she once told Chidi (William Jackson Harper), “More guys should be bi, it’s 2018, it’s like ‘get over yourselves’.”
Countless other examples of good bisexual portrayal exist. From Olivia Wilde’s Remy ‘Thirteen’ Hadley in ‘House M.D.’ to Pedro Pascal’s Oberyn Martell in ‘Game of Thrones’ to Stephanie Beatriz’s Rosa Diaz in ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’, to even Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood in ‘House of Cards’, each character does a little more to normalize bisexuality. And obvious flaws notwithstanding, each character is to be celebrated.
As actor Evan Rachel Wood, who identifies as bisexual, once said, “Remember, bisexuality doesn't mean halfway between gay or straight. It is its own identity.” And the continued portrayal of this identity in popular culture is all that is needed to make sure bi-erasure is erased.