Bi-problem For A Bisexual - Stereotype And Misrepresentation
In the Western film and television world, the representation of bisexual people is a very rare occurrence. And according to our study’s data collected from 35 youths aged between 18 to 25, there is a lack of representation and presence of misrepresentation of the community in the media. The present representation stands only to intensify the situation, or as an exploration of a story arc and never mentioned again.
The Ways the Bisexual Community is Represented
The Fox’s teen drama The O.C. pursues an arc, where the main character Marissa Cooper begins dating Alex, but Marissa realises she loves Ryan. The problem isn’t Marissa dating Ryan. But the narrative problem around Alex, as the “jealous” girlfriend, portrayed bisexual people. Another example, Season 4 of American Horror Story: Hotel presented us with Lady Gaga’s character, who was supposedly attracted to both men and women, slitting the throats of heterosexual individuals after seducing them. Bisexual people, thus, are either represented as the characters driven by “jealousy” or as the characters who promote infidelity or are “sociopaths.”
What Does the Study Say?
According to the survey of the present study, more than 25 % of the participants assume that bisexual people are not fitted for monogamous relationships and should only involve themselves in polygamous relationships. It makes it important to deliberate on the point of media representation of the community. There is a misunderstanding that people who do not identify as mono-sexual individuals cannot practice monogamy. While it puts a false narrative about the non-mono-sexuals from the media, there is no clearance of the smoke that the choice to practice monogamy or polygamy depends on individuals and not their sexualities.
Bisexuality for Heterosexual Fantasy
An article in The Guardian from 2014, with the headline “Make up your Mind! The science behind bisexuality” includes an image of three young people together in bed – a man is sitting up between two sleeping women and smoking a cigarette which connotes an after-sex activity. The first impression possible to derive from such a presentation is inevitably going to be based on a heterosexual understanding of a sexual act. The absence of genuine representation of one identity is highlighted in such a work that curtains the experience of being a bisexual, by a very different distinct identity.
According to our survey, 82.8 % of the participants feel that most bisexual characters portrayed in the media are for heterosexual desires. They do not cater to the bisexual population. The New York Times article “Straight, Gay or lying?: Bisexuality Revisited” (Carey, 2005) touched upon the reluctance of the mainstream media to identify bisexuality as a separate sexual identity. This creates confusion among individuals especially youths who do have access to surf media and resort to it for answers. Failure of the media to distinguish different sexual identities may affect them negatively by presenting a limitation of their identity to being subservient to hetero-sexuality.
Self-esteem Issue due to Misrepresentation
A 2004 Study of Sex Roles found out that people have higher esteem if they relate to a character, which results in higher self-efficacy. And according to our study, there are no bisexual characters that participants identify themselves with, thus resulting in lower self-esteem among individuals who identify themselves as bisexuals. Such individuals feel underrepresented or invisible in the media, causing mental stress. This group feels an absence from the media and in the larger society. Not being able to see some reflection of one’s identity makes it so much easier to question the individual’s status and space in society.
Bisexuals within the LGBTQIA+ Circle
The bisexual community is invisible in the LGBTQ+ community because of the lack of substantiating recognition of bisexuality as separate sexuality. It is to highlight that the bisexual individual encounters a dual problem here – combat with the heteronormative understandings of being and a mono-sexual conception of orientation. According to our survey, 68.8% of the participants feel that the bisexual community is underrepresented or invisible in the LGBTQ+ community.
In Netflix’s Original Series Orange Is the New Black, Piper Chapman played by Taylor Schilling had relationships with both men and women, but the word bisexual is never once mentioned and Chapman is always described as “straight” or “lesbian”. This further adds to the invisibility of the community. If the identity is always ignored and never once mentioned even if it is “represented” it still counts as misrepresentation.
From the data that we have collected, it is evident that the representation of the bisexual community in the media has a long way to go, there is not only a dire need for representation but also a correct representation of the community.
As a bisexual woman, it was difficult to identify my identity and relate my experiences because of the under-representation and was also frightening because of the stereotypes and negative attitudes that came along. Although as an individual I have distanced myself from the media to secure my mental health and not let those stereotypes come to me but as a youth who lives in a world that is so technologically evolved it is impossible to separate myself from the media.
It is the responsibility of the people who hold power in the mainstream media to ensure that people feel represented and can relate to the content being provided. While sexuality should not be the plot point but should be the core of creating believable and relatable characters. Bisexual characters deserve better – to be seen and visible and to be represented in a factual manner.
Written by: Nikitha Barua
Edited by: Subhi
Cover illustration by: Tanvi Mohanty