In Defense of Messy Bisexuals

Bisexuality is having a moment.

While bisexuality itself isn’t new, there’s recently been a greater awareness of the identity in pop culture. New waves of out bisexual celebrities continue to make headlines by coming out and being open about their identity, and despite much of the media still not knowing how to report on bisexuality, the identity is enjoying a much deserved and long overdue moment of heightened visibility. News outlets are slowly fading out the “gal pal” model of reporting on queer women celebrities and treating bisexual stars who come out with coverage that, while imperfect, doesn’t turn bisexuality into a salacious tabloid headline.

On television, characters on shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Grown-ish are busting outdated, tired stereotypes with storylines that feature bi people who are happily partnered, holding down high-level careers, and being uplifted by the support of their friends and families, which is bringing conversations about bi identity, representation, and erasure to the forefront.

Overall, there seems to be a huge push to normalize bisexuality and bisexuals as “just like everyone else,” rather than the flighty, mentally unstable, sex-crazed maniacs media portrayals have historically made us out to beand this is a good thing.

Queer people across the LGBTQ spectrum are starved for positive media representation, and we still need more stories of queer joy, success, and love that don’t end with a lesbian or bisexual character dying. Stable, healthy, honest characters on TV, as well as proudly out celebrities, are certainly an excellent start. As bisexuality becomes more normalized, though, it’s important to leave room for the imperfect bisexualsfictional TV and film characters, as well as celebrities and real-life people alike who might not be ready to come out, who might not have it all together yet, and who may still be confused about what being bi even means. Not because bi people are confused, but because being an out bi person can be incredibly confusing, and it doesn’t always happen as neatly as it does on TV.

We don’t need depraved, hypersexualized murderers like Sharon Stone’s character in Basic Instinct, but we do need more characters like Ilana on Broad City, Sarah Pfefferman on Transparent, and Annalise Keating on How To Get Away With Murdercharacters who are complicated, sometimes narcissistic and self-absorbed, and even a bit morally ambiguous, not because they’re bisexual, but are humans who also happen to be bi.

Particularly when it comes to out bi celebrities, we still need to save room for those who aren’t quite doing it right.

Among the recent celebrities to come out as bisexual, for example, are Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Alia Shawkat (Search Party, Transparent), and Shannon Purser (Stranger Things)all well-respected stars of well-respected shows with loyal fanbases. What the three of them also have in common is the way they’ve gone about their respective public coming-out processes. For the most part, they’ve said everything rightmeaning, they’ve identified unmistakably and come out openly when questioned, as Evan Rachel Wood did in 2012 and Anna Paquin did back in 2014, taking the time to inform others about what their sexuality means, how it works, and why being bi doesn’t automatically make them sex-crazed maniacs.

Sara Ramirez, also out as bisexual, has used her platform for activism, bringing greater awareness to bi visibility in media and encouraging greater, much-deserved respect for bisexual identity. None of these celebrities has ever done much of anything in their public lives to perpetuate damaging popular stereotypes about bisexuality, and their fans have loved them for it. After coming out, they’ve kept their relationships and sex lives private, monogamous, or out of the public eye entirely.

However, when compared to someone like Demi Lovato or Bella Thorne, for example, the contrast of the media’s treatment of these two is stark. For some fans, Demi Lovato’s coming out as bisexual was long overdue. Before officially coming out by way of her YouTube documentary Simply Complicated, she’d toyed around with revealing (or not) her sexuality for years, and found at the center of a number of social media controversies. In her song “Cool for the Summer,” she sings “Got a taste for the cherry, I just need to take a bite” which, to paraphrase a good friend of mine, is one of the gayest sentences ever spokenthough some critics and fans suggested this might be queerbaiting. When asked about the meaning behind the song, Demi Lovato reportedly deflected the question of her bisexuality by neither confirming nor denying, adding that she supports sexual “experimentation,” and dated another woman openly without officially coming outsomething some fans criticized her for. For a time, it seemed that she was doing everything we wish celebrity bisexuals wouldn’t do, including not actually coming out as bi, an identifier she still hasn’t used explicitly.

Though Bella Thorne did publicly come out in 2016, she’s been at the center of a fair share of relationship drama, and is known for having an outwardly sexy, even attention-seeking internet personality. She seems to have followed the typical former Disney star-turned-bad-girl career trajectory: she’s hot, she knows it, and she’s posting the evidence on Instagram.

Trio kiss❤️❤️❤️ @kandikamerugh

A post shared by BELLA (@bellathorne) on

Watchu gon do when they come for you?

A post shared by Demi Lovato (@ddlovato) on

What separates Demi Lovato and Bella Thorne from some of the more recent celebrities to come out bisexual is that, basically, they’re thirsty. They maintain overtly sexual public personas and have posted shameless thirst traps on more than one occasion. They haven’t always been shining examples of how to come out as bi, or be bi, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily deserve the criticism and scrutiny thrown their way. As frustrating as it was for some fans when Demi Lovato wouldn’t explicitly come out, bi celebrities, and bi people, don’t owe anyone anything.

It’s entirely possible that Demi Lovato didn’t come out right away because coming out as bi is fraught not everyone is willing or able to handle the biphobia they often experience as a result. She may not have been ducking the question of her sexuality, but rather, she may not have known what her sexuality was yet. The same could be said for Bella Thorne, with much of the media intent on slut-shaming her for being messy or appearing to attract drama and attention. Both are incredibly problematic and imperfect figures, but neither deserves the anti-sex, anti-queer coverage they’ve often been subject to.

Still, whether they choose to align themselves with bisexuality or not, figures like Thorne and Lovato represent a community that has worked incredibly hard just to be seen. Dodging questions of bisexuality or being thought of as perpetuating a stereotype can bring up fans’ unpleasant memories of Jesse J, Lindsay Lohan, and celebrities who’ve come out publicly only to jump back in the closet and reneg on their previous claims. So many bisexual people who desperately crave positive role models to represent us have also been burned before, and anything other than a clear, unequivocal coming out as bi can feel like teasing or using bi identity as a way to edge-up their image. Figures like these may not be the role models all of us want, but they still exist, and in a sense, erasing them is erasing all of us.

Bisexuals aren’t trying to game the system by not coming out, or be intentionally duplicitous or “greedy.” If we don’t come out right away, it’s probably because we’re not ready yet, and it’s important to leave space for those who exist outside the typical coming-out narrative. We need to leave more room for the messy bisexuals who don’t have it all figured out, who maybe are a little confused about who they are and what it all means, who are problematic and don’t know what they’re doing or what to call themselves.

Bisexuality, of course, isn’t a phase, but the time of our lives when we’re figuring it all out might be a tumultuous time when we mess around and make mistakes, when we’re sloppy, slutty, horny, unpredictable, and overwhelmed by our own incredible attraction to so many of the beautiful people around us, and that’s okay.

Not all bi people experience bisexuality in the same way, and we can’t erase those who haven’t gotten it right yet. Bisexuals are so often reported on as having tumultuous personal lives and being unpredictable, and sometimes we arenot because we’re bi, but because we don’t quite know yet where we fit or who to date, and holding that much energy and attraction that we don’t quite know what to do with yet can be overwhelming It’s not that we’re greedy, it’s that we’re finally ourselves and just want to take it all in.

Photo by Larry Marano/Getty Images


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