Why the need for awareness? Bisexuals are often thought to be going through a phase, acting out for attention (especially women), or are really gay or really straight and won’t admit it. On a partly subconscious level, I think these feelings come from the fact that many bisexuals can exercise straight privilege. Or at least it seems like they can. I’m a cisgender woman married to a cisgender man; I seem pretty straight. I’ve, personally, never really dealt with any persecution for being bi.
However, bisexual women face an incredible amount of violence. They are more likely to have been raped and to have suffered domestic violence. Bisexual women also tend to have higher rates of depression and anxiety. The articles I’ve linked to only provide brief overviews, and there are more factors to explore about why these rates are what they are beyond the correlation.
There are few pop culture bisexuals to look up to. Often a character seems to be bi but is then declared to be gay or straight. And I’m sure that’s true for some people because it may be easier to say you are bi before coming out as gay. But that’s almost the only narrative.
Given my age, Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the most obvious example. Willow enjoyed a relationship with Oz, a man. Then with Tara, a woman, and then with other women. Oz was never really mentioned again. Willow was declared gay, with barely a hint of the word “bi.” And again, that’s not to take away from the experience of lesbians who had a similar journey. But why couldn’t Willow be bi with a preference for women?
Interestingly, Alyson Hannigan’s next most famous character, Lily from How I Met Your Mother, also seems to be bi, or at least bicurious. She is strongly attracted to her husband, but is also attracted to another woman, Robin. (Robin is played by the gorgeous Cobie Smulders, so who could blame her?) And again, it’s possible that Lily is only attracted to Robin, Robin being the one exception to her (Lily’s) heterosexuality. One girl-crush (ugh) does not a bi person make. (In The Mindy Project, Mindy points out that no one will think you are gay if you just say “crush.”) Given how sexual the show was, I wish HIMYM could have used “bi.” But then, as is so often the case, the show was far more interested in male sexuality than female.
Xena: Warrior Princess is one of the most famous examples of bi and lesbian exploration. I think Xena, if not Gabrielle, was bisexual, but given that the show couldn’t even use the word “lesbian” or give us homosexual main text, I’m not really going to hold that lack of representation against it.
Ellen DeGeneres came out when I was a teenager, and I was rapt. I recorded that episode of Ellen and watched it repeatedly. I wondered if I was gay because I felt such strong attraction to women. But I felt such strong attraction to men, too. It would have been neat to know about bisexuality in, say, 1997. It was such a relief to discover that term in college.
And the only male pop culture bisexual I can think of is Dorian Gray from Penny Dreadful. And I think someone on Game of Thrones? I’m not caught up on the most recent show. Oberyn Martell, I think? (Ed note: Yup!)
Notice those shows are on premium cable.
So all that leads me to my favorite bisexual. Which leads me to Portlandia.
Portlandia is a sketch-show (also on cable, IFC). The topics tend to skewer middle class white people. The show was created by and stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. They play a variety of characters on the show, including fictional versions of themselves. Brownstein herself is bisexual, but on the first two seasons of the show, her fictional Carrie had only been paired with men while the other characters she played tend to be either straight or gay.
In the third season, currently available on Netflix, Carrie dates a woman, Alexandra. Alexandra is dating a man at the same time. Two bisexual women! To my disappointment, “bi” is never used. But neither woman is questioned or labeled (“You’re really a lesbian, right?”). Their relationship is treated as normal (well, their gender/sexuality is not the abnormal part, anyway). I mean, ultimately, personally, that is what I’d want to see: relationships of all types regarded as normal and unremarked-upon.
Soooo, even though the word “bisexual” is not uttered, Carrie, and by extension Alexandra, is my favorite bisexual. She exists, she dates, she has a relationship, it’s not a stunt, not a phase, and is not weird. She’s visible. She just is.