Male bisexual representation is slowly changing for the better on TV

It has been proven time and time again that entertainment is more than just entertaining: the images we see on TV and film are remarkably important. Studies have shown that those who don’t know an LGBT person in real life are heavily influenced by the LGBT characters they see onscreen. This can help foster understanding and accelerate acceptance of the LGBT community.

Unfortunately, there is still vast underrepresentation on TV, especially when it comes to bisexuality. More than half of non-straight people in America identify as bisexual, but are less likely to be out due to harmful stigmas and stereotypes surrounding their identity, according to the 2014 report, Understanding Issues Facing Bisexual Americans. This report also found that bisexual people face higher levels of discrimination, with bi men in particular rarely being culturally acknowledged and more likely to experience intimate partner violence. Representation of the bi community in all its diversity is even harder to come by.

While TV has in the past several years seen remarkable strides in both quantity and quality of representation of bisexual women, there have been few comparable examples of male bisexual characters. In 2008, Grey’s Anatomy’s Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) began a relationship with a woman, having had previous relationships with men, and became one of the only characters to explicitly identify as bisexual. In 2010 came the premiere of Lost Girl; 2013 saw the premieres of Orange Is the New Black and Orphan Black; and 2014 brought Faking it to television. All of these shows feature major characters who fell under the bisexual umbrella, meaning they had the capacity to be attracted to more than one gender.

However, in all of the examples listed above, the bisexual characters have been female. In fact, according to according to GLAAD’s most recent Where We Are on TV report, there are almost twice as many bisexual female characters as male bisexual characters featured on scripted original series across broadcast, cable, and streaming programming.  Several of these characters – male and female – fall into outdated patterns and dangerous tropes of villainy and duplicity that are far too often associated with bisexual, but as bi males remain nearly invisible, the missteps really stand out. In shows such as The Royals and Mr. Robot, men seduce other men for power or information. Their sexual fluidity is associated with immorality rather than indicative of real interest, and reinforces harmful stereotypes of bisexuality being a strategic means of manipulation, rather than a unique identity. Television has the power to challenge the real life stigma against bisexual males, and very slowly, some shows are starting to do just that.

In the second season of Starz’s Black Sails, which aired in 2015, it was revealed protagonist James Flint (Toby Stephens) had relationships with men as well as women. His past relationship with Thomas Hamilton (Rupert Penry-Jones) is treated with as much narrative respect as his relationships with women. In fact, the story paints Hamilton as the love of Flint’s life, and their relationship proves to be integral to the entire story of Black Sails. Characters like Flint remain a rarity, but we are beginning to see more nuanced and substantive bisexual male characters cropping up.

The CW’s freshman musical comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend recently aired a series of episodes which saw Darryl Whitefeather (Pete Gardner) exploring his sexuality. Darryl, who is recently divorced from a woman, slowly discovers he has feelings for another man, dubbed White Josh (David Hull). After White Josh kissed Darryl on the cheek, Darryl realizes he is attracted to Josh and after some introspection, proudly declares himself “bothsexual.” This leads to a show-stopping musical number that serves both as Darryl’s coming out and as a way to combat the negative myths surrounding bisexuality. “I’m getting’ bi and it’s something I’d like to demystify. It’s not a phase, I’m not confused, not indecisive, I don't have the gotta-choose blues […] I'm definitely bi,” Darryl belts out in the catchy “Gettin’ Bi.” GLAAD worked closely with the team at Crazy Ex- Girlfriend to help ensure that Darryl's coming out didn't fall into some of the harmful tropes mentioned above.

Another example of a three dimensional bisexual male character is Magnus Bane (Harry Shum, Jr.), the immortal High Warlock of Brooklyn on Freeform’s sci-fi drama Shadowhunters. Magnus is a few centuries old and throughout the series, he casually mentions past lovers, male and female, the way any character would refer to past relationships. These low-key affirmations make it clear that Magnus is bisexual without having that be his sole defining characteristic. Currently, his affections belong to the half-angel, half-human shadowhunter Alec Lightwood (Matthew Daddario). In the season finale, Alec sees Magnus’ being kissed by his ex, Camille (Kaitlyn Leeb). This could have easily prompted Alec to voice a series of doubts and insecurities that Magnus isn’t satisfied with being in a relationship with a man. However, Alec was not concerned with Magnus’ sexuality in this moment, he was more worried about the fact that both Magnus and Camille are immortal, and he is not. Besides simply being a much more valid concern, this storyline refreshingly subverted a trope so often seen in stories of bisexuality, where someone dating a bisexual person is solely concerned that they will leave them for a person of a different sex, thus reinforcing tired stereotypes of bisexual people being inherently incapable of monogamy. The avoidance of this overused story is significant not just for Shadowhunters, but because it defies so many real life assumptions people even within the LGBT community have about bisexuality.

These three characters are hopefully indicating a trend that will continue to introduce more nuanced bisexual male characters to television. Black Sails, Shadowhunters, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend all belong to distinctly different genres and programming platforms. Their inclusion shows that all areas of television - whether it be period-piece action, a young adult drama fantasy, or quirky comedy – can and should include complex and substantive bisexual characters. This visibility needs to continue to grow as this understanding can begin to accelerate acceptance in society as a whole and break down discrimination faced every day by the bisexual community.