(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.
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.
Last June, NPR reported that the "end of gender" was near, citing everything from gender-neutral prom courts to clothing ads to suggest that perhaps people aren't so hung up on the male/female gender binary anymore. But despite the growing trend of gender neutrality, the response to disappearing gender constructs in politics and in popular culture isn't always positive.
Allow me a moment of nostalgia—the late 1990s and early 2000s were excellent eras for teen dramas on network television. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Freaks and Geeks were particular favorites of mine at the time, but most of the teen shows that aired around then—particularly those on the now-defunct WB—had their moments. One show I remember occasionally watching was The O.C., and what I remember most about it was the controversy surrounding a particular story arc—Marissa's bisexuality.
I used to be a regular Glee viewer. For the first two seasons, it was possible (though not necessarily easy) for me to look past the cringe-worthy storylines and enjoy the musical sequences. But as each new episode aired, it became harder and harder to not feel angry about the one-dimensional characters and Ryan Murphy's obvious lack of ability to write for women, people of color, and people with disabilities. And honestly? With the exception of Kurt, the show's handling of queer issues has been disastrous, too.
I stopped watching Glee after seeing Season 3's episode "I Kissed a Girl," during which Santana performs Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" as if it were a song about lesbian reclamation rather than performative bisexuality for the sake of male spectators. (Don't worry, we will address Perry's song and what negative messages it sends about bisexuality later in this series!) But this episode wasn't the first time the show dropped the ball on queer representation. Season 2's episode "Blame It on the Alcohol" stands out as a prime example of Glee missing the mark on bisexuality, particularly bisexual men.
I have never been much of a reality television viewer, and any lingering desire I may have had to watch reality shows disappeared after I read Jennifer Pozner's Reality Bites Back earlier this year. But as soon as I heard about the new season of America's Next Top Model, I realized I had to give it a shot. That's because Cycle 18 of ANTM features not one, but TWO openly queer women. And one of them is bi-identified Laura LaFrate.
Yesterday, I wrote about one of the worst bisexual characters I've ever seen. By contrast, I want to spend today focusing on one of the best bisexual characters I've ever seen: Dr. Calliope (Callie) Torres on Grey's Anatomy. I'm not a regular viewer of Grey's; though I understand why many viewers love it, the show just isn't my cup of tea. But I will absolutely give it credit for its excellent depictions of women, people of color, and queer people, all of which culminate in the nuanced depiction of Callie. Her characterization manages to avoid the stereotypes commonly found in explicitly bi characters, allowing her to be a positive, realistic, three-dimensional bi woman.
Over the next eight weeks, I will explore both progressive and problematic depictions of bisexuality in order to see how far we've come and how much progress still needs to be made. Together, we will look at examples in film, television, music, celebrity culture, and new media. And, with any luck, we will be able to start a discussion about what the media could be doing to increase realistic and positive depictions of bisexual identities and, by extension, advance bisexual acceptance.
Anyone who's spent time on a social networking site, watched cable news, or opened their email inbox in the last two months has probably heard about the "GOP's war on women." From placing humiliating barriers between women and their reproductive health to erasing domestic violence laws out of the criminal code and denouncing any woman in the workplace or on birth control, the attacks have been constant this primary campaign cycle. I'm happy to return to Bitch's blog to discuss politics and feminism in the popular cultural sphere, but this go-round I'll be looking specifically at fictional politicians and policy makers. I'll be asking about what kinds of stories we find in these narrative portrayals and looking for connections to the continuing commentary about women from elected officials and those seeking office.