In American television, we have begun to see an increase in the representation of the LGBT community.
However, bisexuals are still very rarely included in this representation.Bi-erasure, which is “a pervasive problem in which the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regards to an individual) is questioned or denied outright”, runs rampant in our society and most people don’t even realize it is happening.
One recent example of bi-erasure is found in the show Orange Is the New Black. Piper Chapman is bisexual. Despite this, the show actually avoids using the word. Out of the entirety of the episodes, the times that bisexuality is mentioned can be counted on one hand, and of those times, bisexuality is more of a passing though, rather than legitimate statement of identity. One occurrence of this is when Larry, Piper’s ex-fiance, is talking with his father and states, “She was not a lesbian anymore, not with me. You know? Then she’s in prison, what, a few weeks? Bam! A lesbian again. Or bi? I don’t even know.” With such an ignorant statement, I even feel like this mention shouldn’t count.
Now, some of you might be thinking “Can’t she just be herself without being labeled?” And my answer to you is yes and no. While I definitely agree that labels are not a top priority because they both constrain LGBT people, and take away from the argument that sexuality is fluid, I think that in Television the use of labels can be helpful for representation. If the show wanted to express the idea of sexual fluidity, it would be more overt about it. But, because it is not,I am forced to assume that they are simply reluctant to identify Piper as bisexual. In my personal experience, growing up bisexual was a constant struggle; my identity was seen as nonexistent and disgusting in both straight and LGBT spaces. Because of this, I was constantly confused and ashamed. However, if I had been able to see a character who was well-known and verbally identified as bisexual on television, then society would have had an easier time accepting bisexuality and I would’ve been spared countless years of unhappiness.
Now, don’t get me wrong, we have definitely progressed in the last couple of years. According to GLAAD’s annual ‘Where We Are On TV ‘ report, in 2015-2016 there has been an increase in the amount of bisexuals in television shows; there are now 76 characters (53 women and 23 men) counted as bisexual out of 271 (28%). Thus, there has definitely been a rise in the representation of bisexual people compared to the past. However, many of these characters still fall into common bisexual tropes, including being untrustworthy and prone to infidelity, lacking a sense of morality, using sex as manipulation, and being involved in self-destructive behavior. These tropes are almost as destructive as ignoring bisexuality all together.
I wonder when television will finally have an array of openly bisexual characters who are presented as human beings, rather than stereotypes. I wonder when we will finally accept bisexuality in the mainstream. I can only hope it will be soon.