The Year 2016 in Bi TV
The year was an eventful one for bi characters–2016 introduced us to new characters to fall for, known characters discovered to be bi, and storylines that both soared and sunk into tropes. Let’s dig in!
By the Numbers
According to the 2016 Where We Are On TV report from GLAAD, bi characters are gaining in numbers overall while representation still greatly lags. Though bi people make up over half of the LGB community, bi roles still hover between 26-32% of queer characters across broadcast, cable, and streaming. While bi characters gained in numbers in total, the majority of LGBT characters are white and most LGB characters are cisgender, leaving a great portion of the gender spectrum and queer characters of color with little representation. Though bi men make up around 19% of the LGBTQ community, they are still only represented by around 7% of LGBT characters across platforms. There were no trans bi characters between June 2016-May 2017. Bi adults have a higher prevalence of disability than both the LGBT community and general population at large, but bi characters with disabilities remain relatively non existent on the small screen.
New (and New To Us!) Bi Characters
Lucifer from “Lucifer”
This year will go down as the year the small screen claimed both God (Supernatural) and Lucifer (Lucifer) as bi. Finally bucking a no label trend that adds to bierasure in media and beyond, Transparent’s Sarah Pfefferman named her bisexuality.
Darryl Whitefeather came to our screens in 2015 and came out of the closet in 2016 with a THEME SONG. We spent the rest of the season watching Darryl find both more of himself and a fun, sweet relationship with White Josh. The part of Darryl’s story that revolved around his bisexuality celebrated it, and he had plenty of storyline that created a well rounded representation of the normalcy of bisexuality (all while frequently breaking into song.) The second season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has already premiered–hopefully it will make strides regarding Darryl’s Chippewa heritage, which never left the realm of unexplored stereotypes in the first season.
Since season one New Girl has found comedy in queerness but hasn’t relegated sexuality to the butt of jokes. In 2016, the show delivered with multiple queer women characters. Megan Fox brought Regan to our screens, and through her introduction as Cece’s ex we discovered a character we know and love is also bi. Cece’s fiance Schmidt soon finds himself fully entrenched in queer lady family when his (likely bi) mother arrives for the wedding with her girlfriend.
Rutina Wesley is back and bringing another bi character to life. She portrays journalist, herbalist, and Black Lives Matter activist Nova Bordelon on Queen Sugar. The entire first season was directed by women, and the series was picked up for a second season before the premiere aired making this a bi woman character that will be back.
Wynonna Earp launched on SyFy this year, and along with it Wynonna’s bi sister Waverly. Black Mirror’s San Junipero episode followed Kelly as she navigated love as a bi woman. Shades of Blue brought us Lieutenant Matt Wozniak’s clear bisexuality. Shannara Chronicles introduced the adventures of Eretria. And though he is many centuries old, we just began to hear Magnus’ story on Shadowhunters.
Some of our favorite bi characters continued their storylines in 2016. Annalise Keating (How To Get Away With Murder) remains one of the few bi leads across all television platforms, and Viola Davis continues to receive accolades for her portrayal. As I noted earlier this year, 2016 saw “Professor Keating navigate her relationships with her husband, ex-girlfriend, and former boyfriend with tenderness and depth. Hopefully the show will revisit its problematic portrayal of bisexual men.”
Audrey Jensen is one of the first queer characters to join the two decade old Scream franchise, and looks good to return for the shortened third season of the tv iteration. Sadly, we said goodbye to iconic bi character Callie Torres (Greys Anatomy) when she left Seattle on a jet plane.
At least two reality stars came out on national television. You can now follow out bi reality guy Kyle Dixon on Below the Deck. Real Housewife Katie Rost shared her non-monosexuality during a ladies’ night in Potomac and followed with a twitter confirmation when the show aired. The single mom continued to queer reality with the hiring of her lesbian nanny.
The Good, The Bad, and The Tropey
Shameless’ stellar sixth season saw V on a journey of self exploration. As she followed her newly discovered needs from feelings to actions and words it became the catalyst for her partnership with her husband to evolve. V ended the season in a happy poly relationship with spouses Svetlana and Kevin.
Long running procedural Bones showed another marriage that evolved this year. Resident creative squint and bi character Angela Montenegro’s storyline challenged her relationship with husband Jack Hodgins and didn’t use bisexuality as a negative plot point.
Tropes are not all by rule unfavorable. But these oft-used plot devices can negatively impact the ability for many to see well rounded representations of ourselves onscreen, and create and uphold damaging stereotypes for all viewers. Bisexuality is often tied to a character’s unreliability, faithlessness, and depravity, if not erased altogether.
Lucifer was introduced on his namesake show as bi with a threesome–and immediately fell right into the evil bi trope. Season two of Empire, which received praise for the first season’s LGBT representation, erased the bisexuality of both a male lead and a recurring female character. The show then killed off two bi women in a murder suicide, their sexuality directly linked to their negative traits.
Clarke Griffin from “The 100”
While Clarke Griffin (The 100) remains one of the only bi leads on television and is a rare fully developed young queer woman, her love life is often centered on pain and punishment. When her paramour Lexa was shot dead with a bullet meant for Clarke it set off a firestorm of activism around the treatment of queer women on TV.
Bury Your Queers
Protests rang out this year as a multitude of queer women characters were killed off of television in quick succession. Of all of the tropes, the erasively titled Bury Your Gays, referencing the lack of happy endings bestowed upon queer characters, is frequently the most devastating for viewers. Each loss is deeply impactful and points towards the ever present need for well developed minority characters to be the rule and not the exception to yet another straight white cisgender able-bodied role. The loss is compounded when characters of color are used as trauma porn for white audiences. The teams behind the senseless queer lady deaths of 2016 must recalibrate and know: there is no substitute for diversity in the writer’s room and at the helm.
Being a queer consumer continues to be a roller coaster that requires trust not often earned and sometimes squandered (or shot in the stomach by a bullet meant for your lover. Again.) And while 2016 was a mixed bag of bi representation on the small screen, there were many engaging, delightful, and intriguing characters to keep audiences tuning in. In a happy twist, not all of the 2016 goodbyes stuck: Rose (Jane the Virgin) was revealed to be alive after presumed dead. To Rose, Darryl, Clarke, Nora, Magnus, Annalise; to all the returning characters, and of course, dear reader, you: so glad you’ll be back. See you in 2017.