Misrepresentation and underrepresentation of bisexuality

Back in middle school, while we were all trying to fit in, navigate crushes and learn about our bodies via those awful, outdated videos in biology class, I also had my first romantic feelings toward someone of the same sex and didn’t even know it.

As the years went on, I only dated boys, and I thought I was straight. Those biology class videos never taught us about same-sex relationships or the concept of sexuality beyond our biological reproductive functions. I had never even heard of bisexuality until high school when Tumblr and some of my closest friends were the ones providing me with LGBTQ+ sex ed.

Five years later, I’m still learning new things about my bisexuality. Battling internalized biphobia and pure confusion about my identity hasn’t been easy. It feels like a lot of my efforts revolve around discovering things on my own because I know I can’t count on sources in the mainstream media to show me what a strong bisexual woman looks like— if they show a bisexual woman at all.

In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example, Willow’s relationship with Oz was one of the most important romances in the show, but when she gets into a relationship with Tara, she calls herself gay. Though Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the best shows of all time and showed the first prolonged, committed lesbian relationship on television, bisexuality isn’t mentioned once.

This invalidation of bisexuality is known as bisexual erasure, defined by LGBTQ+ media force GLAAD as “a pervasive problem in which the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright.” Whether intentional or not, it can look like:

“It’s just a phase.”

“You’re not queer enough.”

“Why can’t you just pick a side?”

“Bisexuality is a stop on the way to being gay or lesbian.”

These continued experiences can contribute to negative effects on the health of those who identify as bisexual. Bisexuals encounter higher rates of anxiety, depression and other mood disorders, and bisexual women run into double the rate of eating disorders and lower levels of social support than their heterosexual and lesbian counterparts. While they’re the largest group in the LGBTQ+ community, making up 40 percent of its members, only 28 percent of bisexuals are out to the most important people in their lives, compared to 77 percent of gay men and 71 percent of lesbians, which extends to health care providers, further decreasing their chances of receiving appropriate help.

Mainstream culture also perpetuates stigmas about bisexuals, portraying us as promiscuous, dishonest people. Too many times have I indulged myself in a romance movie excited to fall in love with a bisexual character, only to be let down by another story about a woman who cheats on her husband to be with a woman for a night and loses it all.

When Rita Ora’s “Girls” featuring Cardi B, Bebe Rexha and Charlie XCX (inspired by Katy Perry’s I Kissed A Girl, said Ora) dropped earlier last year, it received backlash from the bisexual community, members of which said it was less of an empowerment song and more of an ode to experimentation and fuel for the male gaze.

Searching for a deeper understanding of one’s own sexual identity will always be okay, but bisexuality is more than just getting to sleep around. It is defined as a romantic, emotional and/or physical attraction, which is why movies and songs that capitalize off these stereotypes are off-putting, or as “Lesbian Jesus” Hayley Kiyoko puts it, downright tone deaf.

While society continues to demonize bisexuals, like when Amber Heard got blamed for her abuse or when Boy George went on a bi-phobic Twitter spree, 2018 was met with many bisexual icons helping to create visibility across mainstream culture such as Halsey, Janelle Monáe and Brendon Urie.

These artists serve as an example of where we could be headed as a culture. Better representations of bisexuality have the potential to help lots of middle school boys and girls like my former self truly understand their identities, stay safe and most importantly, feel seen.

The writer has asked to remain anonymous and is a junior majoring in public relations.