Bi-dentity Politics: Television’s Role in How We Understand Bisexuality

By Gabby Seed, Fundraising Intern

“I’m bisexual. So what? It’s called LGBTQ for a reason. There’s a B in there and it doesn’t mean badass. Okay, it does, but it also means bi.”

Callie Torres, a fan favorite and my personal favorite surgeon on Shonda Rhimes’s cult show Grey’s Anatomy, is an incredibly rare example of a television character who doesn’t shy away from an ever-elusive, mysterious, invisible term: bisexual. Between TV’s flamboyant representations of gay men and stick straight representations of heterosexual people, the folks somewhere in the middle of the socially-constructed binary don’t always get a lot of love. When they do, it’s usually in the form of a sexually promiscuous, ‘confused’ character, who wouldn’t touch the word ‘bisexual’ with a ten-foot pole. Take Piper Chapman, the protagonist of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, for example. She uses the term ‘former lesbian’ to explain her switch from women to men, is disloyal, and is seen by fans as just downright unlikable.

It is not necessarily easy to be bisexual in a ‘one or the other’ world. Bisexuality is thrown around as a laughable term and even used in a way that connotes ‘slut’. This is almost preposterous to me because I, and those of my friends who are bisexual, though not nuns, don’t come close to fitting the ‘sexually promiscuous’ bill when it comes to being loyal to partners. Here’s the thing: like any other woman, a bisexual woman can be very sexual. A bisexual woman can be less sexual. A bisexual woman can be somewhere in the middle. But there is no correlation between the number of genders to which you are attracted and how frequently or infrequently you act on attractions. If that fallacy were true, anyone in the middle of the Kinsey Scale probably wouldn’t have a lot of free time.

Consequently, Callie Torres and characters like her are a breath of fresh air. I’m enthralled with Callie; there aren’t many other good bisexual characters in which I can so clearly see myself, so I latch onto her. In Grey’s Anatomy, she marries lesbian surgeon Arizona Robbins and is wholeheartedly committed to her and their family until the two eventually separate, by no fault of Callie’s. For a bisexual character to 1) openly and clearly self-identify as bisexual, 2) enter into a committed relationship, and 3) have that committed relationship with a character of the same sex, is an unprecedented, magical formula for authentic representation of which we can be proud. Not only does Callie represent bisexuality well, but she’s just a genuinely fabulous character, making it easy for people of all sexualities and backgrounds to rally around her. This helps people outside of the LGBTQIA+ community relate to us and see that we’re just like anybody else. Sexuality is a part of identity, but it does not equal identity by any means.

I remember once being asked in a political science class to come up with a list of identification words that make me, me. A couple of the words I chose were ‘feminist’ and ‘Democrat’, but I don’t even remember thinking ‘bisexual’. I’m a friend, a student, a singer, a sister, a daughter, a tutor – all before my sexuality and the stereotypes that come along with it. Once relatable, accessible bisexual characters like Callie Torres become the norm, we’ll be able to destigmatize non-binaries, dispel myths about bisexual people, and see sexuality as just another trait among the many that can make up an individual.

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