Bisexuality In Media: A “Phase” We Have To Get Over

Jessie J recently came out as straight. This wouldn't be such a big deal had she not, on many occasions, talked openly about her fluid stance on sexuality. “For me,” she told The Mirror, “it was a phase. But, I’m not saying bisexuality is a phase for everybody. I feel that if I continue my career not speaking on it, I almost feel more of a liar than if I didn’t. I just want to be honest, and it’s really not a big deal.” Well, it shouldn’t be a big deal, but when the admission comes from someone who's said she’s “always liked girls [and] always liked boys," (though she's never officially come out as bisexual) it is one.
When the media engages in a dialogue regarding an LGBTQ issue, it usually revolves around the “L” and the “G.” The “BTQ” part becomes three additional syllables uttered for posterity. Like, let’s not outrage a community already prone to fits of sass, guys. But, as the public gaze slowly begins to widen to include the trans* community (“T”), with the help of trans women like Laverne Cox, Carmen Carrera, and Janet Mock, the “B” involuntarily recedes further and further into the closet. (And, as an aside, the lack of trans men represented in the media has not gone unnoticed; another conversation for another day.)
Bisexuality has firmly taken hold of the zeitgeist. With it comes questions of its legitimacy and even biphobia. Does bisexuality truly exist? That's another long story for another time, but we can begin by exploring what popular culture has to say. If we are to go by Jessie J’s recent admission that she is no longer bi and, instead, straight, the argument that bisexuality is, as Carrie Bradshaw nonchalantly said in one SATC episode, “a layover on the way to Gay Town,” starts to muster some validity.
Jessie J, in the same interview quoted above, elaborated on her sexuality, saying, “I’ve never put my sexuality in a box and I’ve never named it, and I’ve never labeled it." That might be true, but the media won’t buy it. Any famous face will be pigeonholed into the nearest “L” or “G.” It’s easier that way — despite how ignorant it is. It’s why bisexuality is generally forgotten. Women like Angelina Jolie, Lady Gaga, and Amber Rose have all spoken openly about their bisexuality. Each of them is, however, now publicly seeing or married to a man. (It should be noted that this does not negate their bisexuality.) On the flip-side of the same coin, men like Andy Dick are cast off with a sassy flick of the wrist as gay, gay, gay. “I say, 'I'm bi, my love knows no gender,' and the straight community says, 'Oh right, that's just a cover-up — you're gay!'” Dick told Tyra Banks in 2009. “And, the gay community says, 'Yeah right, that's just a cover-up — you're gay.’ They both want to push me gay."
Dick hit the nail on the head with that one. If homosexuality exists on the periphery of the status quo, bisexuality exists at the very edge surrounded by an air of foreignness and the unknown. As a result of this, its portrayals in popular culture are either villainous and manipulative or, as Jessie J would say, a "phase."
If we consider Hollywood stories to be a mirror of our own society, fictional characters provide further insight to how bisexuality is viewed, or, rather, imagined. Julianne Moore in The Kids Are Alright cheats on her lesbian partner with a man. That doesn't make her bisexual necessarily, but the idea that a lesbian longing for a man could threaten an entire marriage gives bisexuality a bad rap. And, labeling her strictly as a lesbian is easier than having her explore her potential bisexuality. However, female bisexuals in film and TV are given that hall pass of girl-on-girl being a selling point. Obviously commodifying sexuality in that way is just as detrimental as making the bisexual character a villain (see also: Evan Rachel Wood in True Blood).
Bisexual men, on the other hand, are almost never the good guy. Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood in House of Cards is barely an antihero. He's manipulative, murderous, and threatening. Even the bisexual encounter between the two boys in Y Tu Mamá También ruins their friendship.
Filmmakers and TV producers seem convinced that audiences can only see in back and white. Asking a viewer to identify with a character who challenges their perception of attraction can alienate and offend. Whether consciously or not, we imagine ourselves in a character's shoes when watching a movie. With that, the creators assume that if we can't see ourselves falling in love or sleeping with someone we're seeing on screen, we won't understand or appreciate the story being told.
Jessie J's admitted "phase" doesn't help dispel this kind of biphobia, either. It's reductive. Science is slowly but surely nearing an authentic conclusion regarding bisexuality. But, hey, since the media is so bent on labeling bisexuals as either promiscuous or experimental, perhaps it's time we come out of the closet, admit this is just a phase, and grow out of it toward a more accepting stance.

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