Why Representing Bisexuality is Hard; Why Trying to is Important

By GLAAD |
September 23, 2009
RMJuang

Richard M. Juang

As part of GLAAD's ongoing series of posts dedicated to Celebrate Bisexuality Day, we invited bisexual people to share their stories and talk about what today means to them.

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By Richard M. Juang

If you learned about bisexuality strictly from a quick scan of mass media representations you would learn that being bisexual is hard. Not that bisexual people have tough lives, but that bisexuality is, variously, an experiment, a phase, a passing fad, or a brief excursion en route to a more stable, longer-lasting gay, lesbian or straight identity.

This misrepresentation of the identity isn’t done maliciously, I think. Rather, it’s part of a larger cultural reality in which the story we like to tell ourselves about how love and affection works centers around the idea that there is, out there, one and only one person who satisfies all of a person’s emotional needs, that the big emotional task of our lives is to find that person, and that one of the defining features of that person will be his or her gender. Most romantic comedies are built this way, for example. The unfortunate part for bisexuals is that is become difficult, perhaps close to impossible, to represent, in any ordinary romantic, way, what it means to be attracted to more than one gender, to be attracted, sometimes, to a plenitude of genders which cannot be contained in any one person.

Which is not to say that bisexuals are incapable of monogamy. But it is hard to represent, on TV and film, complex bisexual attractions in ways that affirm fully the reality of our attractions to more than one gender.

We’ve gone our merry way, of course, not relying on mass media for accurate representations. Romantic comedies, and mass media portrayal of human attraction and sexuality are pretty limited for everyone, anyway. So bisexual people are hardly alone: transgender persons, persons of color, persons in poverty, persons with disabilities, persons who aren’t terribly interested in sex, persons of faith, and even straight persons all get misrepresented at times.

Nonetheless, I do think that trying to get accurate representations of bisexuality out there is important. I’d like to see us doing, as a culture, some growing up about how we think about human sexuality, attraction and love. Sexuality, attraction and love are complicated. We live in a reality that is something more than “finding the right one,” and “happily ever after,” and we need to find ways of affirming that complexity.

Media representations affect how laws get made, what political goals we have as an LGBT community and whose human rights get respected and why.  So, as we celebrate bisexuality, I hope that we, to quote the title of Robyn Ochs’ book, start getting, I mean really getting bi.

Richard M. Juang is a bisexual, genderqueer writer living in Cambridge, MA. He's the co-editor of the anthology, Transgender Rights. His writing also appears in the anthology, Getting Bi.

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