Bi The Numbers: GLAAD’s Where We Are On TV Report
The numbers are in! GLAAD’s Where We Are On TV report shines an annual light on queer characters making big waves on the small screen. While numbers are up overall for LGBTQ characters, that doesn’t always translate into better representation. Let’s take a look at how bi characters are expected to show during the 2017-18 season.
Though 52% of LGB identified folks are bisexual, only 28% of LGBTQ characters across broadcast, cable, and streaming originals are bi. This is a slight decrease from 2016-17 and a disappointing turn after a 10% leap from the year before. While GLAAD was able to include non-binary characters for the first time, there are currently zero enby characters expected to identify as non-monosexual. There is only one trans bi character, a woman, expected this year. There are no trans men expected on streaming. Bi men are both underrepresented in overall numbers as well as in relation to bi women, as 18 of the 93 bi characters.
Bi men on TV continue to trend down in numbers, dropping consistently for the past few years even as additions like Darryl Whitefeather (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) are advancing positive representation of bi people on screen. This year brought the coming out of an abundance of bi men in real life. Hopefully this will inspire more bi men to be written onto our screens.
The report notes that broadcast television is still coming back from last year’s Bury Your Queers avalanche which led to the loss of many queer women characters. Across the five big networks (CW, Fox, NBC, ABC, and CBS), GLAAD counted the highest number of LGBTQ characters in the 22 years they’ve been keeping track. Though these numbers include a non-binary character, there are no bi nonbinary characters expected on TV this season. On broadcast there are 16 women and 6 men recurring or regular bi characters gracing our screens this year, making them 26% of all LGBTQ characters.
There are more bi women characters on cable this year, and bi men characters hold steady at 10. As with broadcast television, a greater number of LGBTQ characters are making their cable debuts. This means bi characters make up a smaller piece of the queer cable pie compared to last year.
In streaming originals, bi women make up 30% of LGBTQ characters while bi men are a scant 3%. These are huge changes from the previous year’s 20 and 6 percent, respectively. Hopefully both numbers will move in the right direction soon.
Kat and Adena of “The Bold Type”
The CW ranks the highest for LGBTQ inclusion at 11% of all series regulars, which is where you’ll find bi badasses Clarke Griffin (The 100) and Sara Lance (Legends of Tomorrow). Shadowhunters’ Magnus Bane and The Bold Type’s Kat Edison call the most LGBTQ-inclusive cable network, Freeform, home. Of the original content from Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix, Netflix has by far and away the most LGBTQ characters. Regrettably, Netflix originals also provide many of the more recent examples of uncontested biphobia (Orange Is the New Black) and bierasure (Grace and Frankie).
Issues of both quantity and quality have traditionally been part and parcel of bi representation. So often when bi characters are on screen, they are not developed, but revealed. Bisexuality is often added as a deceitful facet of a cheater, a trait of a character whose robust sexual appetite is negatively portrayed, or other variations on the duplicitous theme. Year after year GLAAD has found bi characters continue to be confined to negative tropes. And while sometimes being the bad guy can be oh so good, it should not be the rule. Television allows for characters to become familiar, and familiarity breeds better understanding and acceptance. As the invisible majority, appropriate representation with well rounded bi characters is vital to both the bi folks who may not have a local or accepting LGBT community, as well as for the general population who chooses to either lift us up or push us down.
In a continuation of what I noted last year, although “bi adults have a higher prevalence of disability than both the LGBT community and general population at large…bi characters with disabilities remain relatively nonexistent on the small screen.” While broadcast TV counts bi character Tabitha, an amputee, on Gotham, there is only one disabled LGBTQ character on cable, a white cis gay man. There are only two HIV positive characters, one regular and one recurring, expected on television this season. Neither are bi.
Queer characters overall remain overwhelmingly gay, cis, and white. On streaming, 77% of all LGBTQ characters are white. GLAAD notes concern about the decrease in women characters in primetime broadcast television, especially women of color. While Annalise Keating (How to Get Away With Murder) and Nova Bordelon (Queen Sugar) are two of the few bi lead roles on television, in general black women characters continue to face a particularly large gender discrepancy, at half the numbers of black men characters. Queer Latinx characters are egregiously underrepresented at 9-10% of characters across all three platforms, roughly half of the estimated U.S. population. The number of LGBTQ Asian-Pacific Islander characters across broadcast networks are dropping significantly, from 13 to 4%, meeting similar numbers as cable and slightly lower that streaming originals.
Next year will hopefully continue all upward trends and turn around those headed in the wrong direction. Among potential points of interest, The L Word is coming back for a sequel series, and will hopefully take the opportunity to bring more diversity to the cast and right some biphobic wrongs. We’ll hopefully see more asexual characters, both overall and non-monosexual.
Was your interest peaked by the GLAAD report? Come on back next month when I’ll dive into the year in bi TV.