Let “Gay” be Bi

Sometimes I scroll through Netflix aching for a story about experiences like mine. I want to watch people like my friends, my chosen family, and myself. But it can feel as though every character is boxed out of bi and queer experiences like mine because of an assumption played out on our screens and in our stories. Man with woman equals hetero, that’s an assumption. Man with man equals gay, another assumption. Women with women are lesbians or straight girls experimenting in college. You understand what I’m saying? The filmmakers assume and the viewers assume, and the assumptions feed each other like a clingy relationship that needs to end.

I didn’t watch Scrubs when it was on TV. A decade ago, before instant streaming was in my realm of technological capabilities, Scrubs aired at the same time as Grey’s Anatomy. Obviously Grey’s won that battle. Now I’m going back and watching Scrubs, cringing at the misogyny, and dying for JD and Turk to make out already. They have romantic and sexual relationships with women throughout the show, and so are assumed straight. However, their intimacy with each other is equally steadfast. I cannot watch that show without feeling JD and Turk are bi men. Who can say that is wrong? It’s my experience of the story.

The best part about being a creator and sharing content with viewers and fans is that the story doesn’t belong to the author anymore. Yes, that is the author’s copyrighted media, don’t plagiarize, but that’s only half the work. Story is more than ownership. How a story makes you feel, the way you interpret those feelings, and the life you breathe into the author’s imagined world is the other half of story. You can decide you think a character is bi. I might be fairly certain the creators of Scrubs were not intending to bi code their main characters. However clearly (queerly) it is part of the story for me.

I have a similar experience with Grey’s Anatomy. This show is my obsession. Meredith and Cristina are my favorite asexual partnership. Even though they are both assumed straight, Meredith and Cristina share personal intimacy that eclipses friendship definition. The way they create space for their love alongside their other relationships emphasizes the importance of their friendship. These relationships are bi for me. It doesn’t matter if that was intentional or not. It’s just me in bed with Netflix and no one will stop me from creating a bi universe with all my favorite characters. We decide our experience of story.

There’s a genre of queer literature: the lesbian novel. These are stories like Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, Fried Green Tomatoes by Fannie Flagg, Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg, etc. Being pigeonholed into this genre assumes the plot is about a woman falling in love with another woman. There aren’t other options in an assumed Lesbian novel, the label says it all. In the entertainment game, you can only be straight or gay, man or woman.

There are more options, though. These authors, and many like them, resist the constriction of their lives and writing. Leslie Fienberg was a transperson whose fiction is about being not binary gendered and experiencing the world and relationships that way. Diversifying gender blows open the doors of bi living and resists definitions like same-gender love. It isn’t possible to hold into assumptions of straight or binary when human experience begs to differ. Our experiences as bi people have always said otherwise.

There are stories featuring explicitly bi characters. I recently read The Walking Boy by Lydia Kwa. It features many queer characters in 8th century China. The love story between an old monk and an old artist resits mainstream definitions of sexuality and gender. I felt a deep connection with their long lost love story. Stories like this help me imagine more stories with bi characters, and inspire me to create my own.

What is your favorite story? With what character do you ache to relate, and perhaps already do? It’s okay to feel the bi vibes and embrace them. It’s okay to “headcanon” and “ship” your favorite characters. Who would know better than you, a bi person, what bi experience is like?

Jo Proginoskes
Jo Proginoskes (they/them/theirs pronouns) is an MFA in Creative Writing student at Mills College. They enjoy writing about being alive, science and nature, and queer experiences. When they are not reading or writing or sleeping, they like to watch Grey’s Anatomy reruns or go for walks with their tiny terrier dog. You can find more of their writing at joprogo.wordpress.com.