Bi Representation Has Evolved, Now Let’s Keep Up the Momentum

5/19/2018

The Doom Generation

Not that long ago, whenever a bi character was seen in the movies, they were always presented as some villainous, sex-starved, violent or murderous “will-do-anything-to-get-to-the-top” human being.

You had movies like Basic Instinct (1992), The Doom Generation (1995), Showgirls (1995), Bound (1996), Wild Things (1998), and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). All these movies included carbon-copy, stereotyped versions of a bi person, or what society sometimes likes to think of as a bi person. These movies span the entirety of the ’90s, and yet their depictions of bisexuality are all pretty much the same, and it wasn’t pretty.

Basic Instinct was about a bi writer who is being investigated by a detective for a murder carried out via ice pick.

Basic Instinct

The Doom Generation was cross-country mayhem and violence with bi characters. As much as I love Gregg Araki’s films, they didn’t start showcasing the normalcy of being a bi person until his later films. All of his works include bi characters (Gregg Araki is bi, himself).

Showgirls was about an exotic dancer who plots her way to a starring role in the Vegas Show world through treachery and cruelty.

Bound was another movie that featured a scheming bi, this time for money, and was more overtly sexual.

Wild Things was more mayhem and violence, but with high school girls falsely accusing a guidance counselor of rape in order to get a bunch of money.

Wild Things

The Talented Mr. Ripley was about an American bi man trying to impersonate a wealthy young trust fund man who he murders while in Europe, just for the perks of living in opulence.

You can see that these movies don’t really make bi people look like good, or even decent, people. While not all horrible movies, the overarching theme that Hollywood was feeding us in the ’90s was that bi equaled bad.

This was definitely problematic for the bi community, especially since we’re a community filled with a variety of sorts: we are athletic, clumsy; loud, quiet; charismatic, awkward; and so much more.  I get that violent and murderous people can be bi (or straight or gay or whatever), just like kind and generous folks can be bi (or straight or gay or whatever). However the way we were depicted in the recent past, meant that a percentage of the population was keen to believe that that’s how all bi people are, and the bi community has had to run defense ever since.

In recent years there’s been a slew of television characters that have accurately portrayed your standard bi person and that’s been great. I’ve written about a few shows in the past, The 100 and Legends of Tomorrow and Black Mirror have all given us well-rounded bi characters. This is the kind of representation that makes the bi community proud to claim these characters and makes individuals proud to say that they too are bi.

There are also other shows like House Of Cards, Lucifer, and Halt And Catch Fire where, although the main character happens to be bi and these characters are indeed deceptive and shady and murderous working-their-way-to-the-top types, their being bi isn’t presented as the reason for their being sinister. They go into great depth about these more recent characters, fleshing them out, so we see many layers to them, with their bisexuality being just one aspect of their being. Unlike the ’90s characters who were often evil because they were bi.

Two of my great loves are movies and television, as you can see. Recently, I read that HBO is planning a reboot series of the comic book Watchmen. The article goes on to explain that the cast is full of unfamiliar characters and they list them. Included in that list was this character: Pirate Jenny. The description for Pirate Jenny reads: “An androgynous and lustful bisexual cop, Jenny is an anarchist at heart.” Androgynous. Cool. We don’t often see androgynous representation on television. But, “lustful bisexual?” Oh, this again. The over-sexualization of bi people is a problem. And although your standard anarchist today is a fairly docile person, when we think of anarchist people in film we think of them as chaotic and sinister; beating up babies and blowing up buildings. So, yeah, HBO, this is a problem.

It’s better, but it’s still not perfect, we are still often shown as deceptive, sneaky, manipulative, over-sexualized villains on the big screen and HBO has shown us that the promiscuous bi is still a trope that is alive and well.

So, what do we do when things like this come up? Besides the obvious anger and frustration that we can’t help but feel, we can also tweet out that frustration and anger on social media, tagging those people, writers, producers, stations, etc. We can write to those stations, either through snail mail or email, and let them know where we stand. We can push back. We can vie for improved representation. We can be visible and proud. I really believe that this is what happened years back to help pave the way for the mostly great bi representation seen today on television and what will give future generations even more awesome bi characters.

Greg Ward
Gregory Ward was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona where he resides today. He spends his time bringing awareness to the local scene and helping bi folk. He loves movies, astronomy, and the Irish language. He founded Fluid Arizona which is an active bi+ community that can be found on Facebook and Twitter, and is a big proponent of the #stillbisexual campaign.