It has been a privilege and pleasure to write for Bitch for the last eight weeks. Thanks to Kelsey and Kjerstin for all of their support, and thank you to everyone who read, commented on, and shared my posts. As a long-time Bitch fan, I’ve felt honored to share this space with you and participate in much-needed conversations about the state of bisexual visibility in the media.
When I was 11, I saw the trailer for Chasing Amy. I don’t remember why it caught my attention—I didn’t recognize the actors, and I don’t think I consciously knew what it was about. It certainly wasn’t targeted toward 11-year-olds, so I’m not even sure where I saw the ad. But something in my gut told me that this was a movie I needed to see. It was the first time I experienced such a strong, immediate response to a movie, let alone a trailer.
I’ve spent the majority of this series discussing bisexual visibility (and lack thereof) in film and television. This isn’t an accident—I’m a filmmaker and cinephile, so my passions and cultural points of reference tend to fall within the realm of audio-visual media. But these types of media have some significant flaws, the biggest one being that they tend to create isolating viewing experiences. Unless you’re a media producer yourself (which usually involves some degree of economic, racial, or cultural privilege), it’s entirely possible that you will rarely see images which reflect your experiences. If you’re watching something on the big or small screen, you have to accept the reality being presented to you, even if such a reality is counter to what you know to be true. It’s also difficult to interact with this kind of media—if a TV show makes you angry, yelling at the set or throwing popcorn may feel cathartic, but it doesn't usually result in concrete change.
But this is where newer forms of media, like social media, come in.
Straight women: would you ever date a bisexual man? Do you think that bisexual men are more likely to spread STDs than straight men? Do you think that bisexual men are more feminine than straight men? These questions have preoccupied writer and filmmaker Arielle Loren’s work for the last few years. After falling in love with a bisexual man, Loren developed The Bi-deology Project, a two-part web series exploring straight women’s perceptions of bisexual men, particularly in the context of romantic relationships. The series has since inspired a feature-length documentary, Bideology, which will be premiering at film festivals this spring.
One of the best parts of writing for Bitch has been hearing from folks who read the series, particularly when they recommend media I’ve never seen before. Such is the case with Rose By Any Other Name, a web series that recently finished its second season. Produced by Kyle Schickner of FenceSitter Films, the series follows Rose, a woman coming to terms with her bisexuality after falling in love with a man, Anthony (played by Schickner). The episodes chronicle Rose’s relationship with Anthony as she struggles to find a way to talk about her identity with her lesbian friends, the new acquaintances she’s met in a bisexual support group, and Anthony himself. The show is incredibly funny and emotional, but most importantly, it’s honest.
In the comments of Wednesday’s post, Anita pointed out that Queer As Folk is not the only Showtime program that struggles in its depiction of bisexuality. When discussing depictions of biphobia in the gay community, one can’t avoid The L Word. The difference between the shows as I see it, however, is that if Queer As Folk suffers from bi invisibility, The L Word suffers from straight-up bi loathing. Rather than giving you a play-by-play of every epic bi fail (if you’re interested in that, After Ellen has a comprehensive list), I want to focus on one particular episode—one that deals with bisexuality and straight privilege.
(Note: This post contains spoilers about Queer As Folk.)
It was the Spring of 2003. My three best friends and I were taking a break from studying for our math final exam and wandering around our local video store, searching for a DVD to watch at my house that night. Midway through the New Releases aisle, we paused. There it was: Season Two of the American Queer As Folk. None of us had ever watched it, but we knew it by reputation from friends who were fans. As active members of our school’s Gay-Straight Alliance and avid consumers of queer media, we knew that Queer As Folk was the most overtly gay television show out there, and we couldn’t wait to give it a try. We rented the first disc, and all plans of further studying that night were put on hold. Never mind, of course, that we’d never watched Season One—we’d catch up to it later. All we knew was that we had to start watching it immediately.
Nearly a decade later, Queer As Folk has remained one of my all-time favorite television shows; other than Seinfeld, it is the only show of which I’ve seen every episode more than once. It’s flawed in its depictions of diversity, and it’s sometimes a bit too goofy for its own good, but the storylines are compelling, the characters are well-developed, and the issues addressed—covering everything from bullying to parenting to addiction to serodiscordant relationships—are handled sensitively and realistically. All of them, that is, except for sexual fluidity.
Some of the comments on my post about Savage U last week argued that people like Dan Savage, who work hard to advance LGBT equality and visibility even though their biphobic and transphobic comments sometimes suggest otherwise, should be recognized for the good work that they do. I agree. I think Dan Savage has done some excellent work to advance visibility and acceptance for queer people. That’s why it hurts so much when he says “avoiding bi guys is a good rule of thumb for gay men looking for long-term relationships.” I expect ignorant remarks about bisexuals having difficulty with monogamy from Rush Limbaugh or Rick Santorum. I shouldn’t have to expect this from Savage, somebody who works hard to advance public acceptance of sexual diversity. But I do have to expect this from him, just like I have to expect a similar attitude from some of the wonderful gay and lesbian people I know. The unfortunate reality is that there is as much biphobia in the gay community as there is in the straight world, and it won’t go away if we continue to ignore it in the campaign for the greater good.
Thankfully, there are media to which we can turn for nuanced, complex looks at biphobia—and it looks like John Irving’s new novel will be one such place.
Throughout this series, I have tried very hard not to write about the gigantic elephant in the room: Dan Savage. He’s a controversial figure, particularly when it comes to his statements on bisexuality, and though I quoted him in my post about Bi the Way, I haven’t wanted to dwell on him. I find much of his commentary on bisexuality thoughtless and insensitive, but he insists he is not biphobic, and I choose to believe him. I may disagree with a lot of his ideas, but I like some of them, I respect his efforts to campaign against LGBT youth bullying and suicide, and I am not interested in making assumptions about what lies in his heart.
But in discussing bisexuality and the media, mentioning Savage is unavoidable. And since his new MTV show, Savage U, premiered on Tuesday, there’s no better time to open this can of worms.