#BiWeek or Not, bi+ people like me need representation

I always knew I was queer, but it took me a long time to realize I was bisexual. I was growing up in the mid-2000s in a very small town in the Midwest, with no LGBTQ people around me that I knew of. At that point, bisexuality was even more invisible than today (when we still struggle to be fully seen); the only connotation I had was some sweeps weeks kisses where everyone ended up straight in the end, and episodes of MTV's Undressed which was solely about hooking up at college. Even in these cases, the actual word "bisexual" was primarily sidestepped and the concept was not even explored - you were either straight or gay. Not exactly relatable or helpful to my teen and tween-age self.

Enter the phrase "girl crush" taking over language and every girl I knew talking about girls they had quote-unquote crushes on, but who were also happily dating and talking about boys. It wasn't until later in high school that I started to realize they meant "I want to be like her" and I meant "I want to kiss her." Of course, several of my close friends have also since come out, so maybe we did all mean it the same way. Then, I went off to college and Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" came out. This spurred a whole resurgence of the tired stereotypes about bisexuals - bi women in this case - from 'it's a phase' to 'girls only kiss girls for the attention of men at parties.'

It wasn't until my last year of college when I started watching Grey's Anatomy and saw Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) that I really started to feel like I was finding someone I could see bits of myself in. Callie was killing it in every way - she was working towards the top of her field, she had a successful and loving relationship, she was managing to co-parent with her ex, she had friends supporting her, AND she was out as bisexual. I was shook.

Callie remains cited as the longest running LGBTQ character on television  (11 seasons, 239 episodes), though she departed the series in 2016. She opened the doors for a wave of outstanding bi and pansexual characters who came after her - everyone from Darryl on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (who literally sang the definitive song about being bi), Magnus on Shadowhunters, Abby on Abby's, David on Schitt's Creek, Taylor on Billions, Waverly on Wynonna Earp, to Rosa on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

While many of these characters had outstanding storylines, several also never use the word bisexual. When Rosa (played by out bi actress Stephanie Beatriz) came out in a two-storyline in Brooklyn Nine-Nine's 99th and 100th episodes, fans were excited to hear her use the word "bisexual" multiple times. This was because Beatriz worked with the writers to craft that story, and knew the importance of the moment. "The first time I heard that word in media and saw characters that were bi — and they were very few and far between — it was that same feeling of 'that’s me.' And I think that’s what we’re all doing in the world; we’re trying to look around and say 'that’s me,' and connect with other people who we feel are like us," Beatriz said.

We know that bisexual+ (including bisexual, pansexual, fluid) people make up the majority of the LGB community at 52 percent, and yet we are less likely to be out than gay and lesbian people due to some of the misguided negative ideas people have about bisexuality (28 percent of bi people versus 71 percent of gays and lesbians). Bisexual people may also experience biphobia from straight people AND from gay and lesbian people. This leads to higher levels of minority stress for bi people, including being more likely to have substance abuse issues, higher rates of intimate partner violence, and diagnosis of mood disorders including anxiety and depression.

Media - and entertainment media in particular, which connects with people in such a personal way - is the best vehicle with the biggest reach we have to combat some of those negative stereotypes about bisexuals and create a world where more bi+ people feel safe and confident to come out. Our most recent Where We Are on TV study found a jump in bisexual characters on television, but those characters (the good, bad, and middling) still only represent 27 percent of all LGBTQ characters. That is far from reality, and there is still work to be done to tell more and a wider variety of bisexual stories. And more nuanced and humanizing bisexual+ stories. The audience is there: this was made evident by the overwhelming positive reaction to this summer's all bisexual+ edition of MTV's dating reality series Are You The One? - and we are ready to support your projects.

Like Callie said, "It's called LGBTQ for a reason. There's a B in there." And it means badass, and bisexual. For me, finding the word "bisexual" lead to finding a community, a career that I had no idea existed, and a biological and chosen family to support me in everything I am. I hope the wave of characters we've seen in recent years - and those to come - will be able to inspire and help the kids who are the kid I was.

Megan Townsend (@meg_townsend) is GLAAD's Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis.

About BiWeek

From September 16-23, join GLAAD, the Bisexual Resource Center, and Still Bisexual in recognizing the bisexual+ community for Bisexual+ Awareness Week, culminating in Celebrate Bisexuality+ Day on September 23.

Co-founded by GLAAD and BiNet USA, Bisexual+ Awareness Week seeks to accelerate acceptance of the bi+ (pansexual, fluid, no label, queer, etc.) community. #BiWeek draws attention to the experiences, while also celebrating the resiliency of, the bisexual+ community. Starting this year, Bisexual+ Awareness Week will take place every September 16th – 23rd. 

Throughout #BiWeek, allies and bi+ people learn about the history, culture, community, and current policy priorities of bi+ communities.

This piece is part of GLAAD's content supporting #BiWeek, recognized annually from September 16-23. Learn more at glaad.org/biweek.