|Flying the Bi Flag|
|Flying the Bi Flag|
Ask almost any bi person what they want in a character, and they will tell you that they want them to say the word, to have a character that can’t have their bisexuality explained away as ‘just a phase’ or a ‘stepping stone to gayness’.
Desiree Akhavan’s new comedy drama has done one better, it not only has a lead character that uses the word, it’s also the title of the show.
The Bisexual follows the story of Leila (Desiree Akhavan) an Iranian-American woman living in London, trying to figure out where she fits in a world that only sees straight and gay. After breaking up with her long-term girlfriend, Leila ends up moving in with Gabe (Brian Gleeson), a writer whose only published novel is called Test(icular). His attitudes towards sexuality are exactly what you would expect from a straight guy, but he’s also one of the few that supports Leila as she struggles to come out, since the rest of her social circle, including best friend Deniz (Saskia Chana), are all lesbians.
The first episode is more drama than comedy, and it heads straight to the heart of the issue, with Leila’s friends describing bisexual women as “sex tourists” and the obvious discomfort and awkwardness that Leila feels is eased by Gabe trying to explain that his girlfriend is bisexual, only for that to be dismissed as drunk girls performing for the male gaze.
It’s a painful scene to watch, and a situation that a few too many of us will recognise, but it sets the tone for the rest of the series.
(If you haven’t binge watched all six episodes already, or twice like me, there are spoilers ahead.)
The show hits its stride after a couple of episodes, showing the awkward reality of dating in the age of online apps. Including the fact that a lot of dating apps have finally realised that bisexuals not only exist, but they might actually want to date.
Leila is her own worst enemy, trying to hide her new boyfriend from her lesbian best friend. It’s cringe comedy at it’s best, or should that be worst, and it’s no surprise that the relationship doesn’t work out.
We then see her blurting out, “I’m bisexual,” on a date like she’s at a support meeting, as though it’s something to be ashamed of, and it’s the last time that we see her using a dating app.
The show doesn’t pull its punches, and while people looking for escapism might flinch at the biphobia dealt with in the show, unfortunately, it’s a very real reflection of what people think, and say, about bisexuals.
Gabe seems to live with his foot continually in his mouth, and although he tries to support Leila, he has a lot of misconceptions about bisexuals.
“You don’t have to lock yourself down to anyone… there’s so many people that you’re attracted to, because of that reason monogamy’s not possible for you.”
Watching Gabe awkwardly try and explain bisexuality to an actual bisexual person is enough to make the audience cringe on Leila’s behalf, and her outrage is summed up perfectly in one line, “Why are you talking to me like I’m a different species from you?”
It’s painfully true, and watching Leila walk off, leaving Gabe alone waiting for his Uber, feels like a small victory.
My favourite episode is the flashback to 2005, Leila has moved to London to study, and even without her sexuality as a factor, she’s still the odd one out. Lurking in the student bar, she tries to talk to people, desperate to fit in somewhere.
And then her future best friend Deniz walks in. Leila rescues Deniz from a guy who is obsessed with her, and Leila ends up telling her that she’s a lesbian, even though we see her flirting with a guy only moments before. Deniz’s relief and happiness when she realises that she’s not alone is a feel good moment for her character, but what is freeing for Deniz, puts Leila into a different closet.
It shows how powerful labels can be, providing a sense of community and solidarity, but only if they’re the right label for a person.
Overall, I enjoyed it, and the humanity of the characters shines through in the performances from the three main characters. Saskia Chana in particular does an outstanding job of portraying Deniz as a fully fleshed out character, when the role could have so easily been reduced to the friend whose only purpose is witty one-liners. I think a lot of people were expecting more comedy, but as a drama, it shows the complexities of being bisexual in a world that doesn’t quite understand us as anything other than stereotypes.
Personally, I would have liked to see more bi+ characters in the show, as I think they missed an opportunity to show the diversity of bi+ people. I hope that if there’s a second season we will get to see Leila reaching out and connecting with more of the community.
The Bisexual airs at 10 p.m. Wednesday on Channel 4, and all episodes are available to watch now on All 4.
Image copyright Channel 4/The Bisexual.
Some of us were lucky enough to attend BiCon this year, a three day convention and conference for all things bi. For those who couldn’t make the trip down to Salford, there was a chance to experience the fun of BiCon at a one day event called BiTastic.
Over 100 bi+ people and their allies descended upon Forth Valley College in Stirling, for fun and games, workshops, and a chance to socialise with other bi+ people and their allies. This free event was fully accessible, with a BSL interpreter as well as a quiet space for those with autism or who needed a break from the crowds.
It started with everyone gathered together for a welcome session, and sitting in a room with that many supportive people is a strange yet wonderful feeling, as many bi+ people can go weeks, months even, without seeing another visibly bi+ person in public, let alone talking to them.
For a community that is often invisible, just knowing that you are not alone is affirming. Especially since a lot of us are unable to make it to Edinburgh or Glasgow where there are monthly peer support groups. Online support can fill the void, but there is something about face to face interactions that a text chat struggles to match.
One of the attendees (who asked not to be named) said, “As someone who is not able to be open about my sexuality, it was liberating to spend the day with so many like minded individuals.”
There were 16 workshops that ran throughout the day, given by volunteers from all walks of life, and some of them couldn’t have attended without the financial support of the organisers.
There was something for everyone: from Polari to poetry, activism to arts and crafts, with everything else in between. But most important of all, was a chance to socialise with other bi+ people in a safe and non-judgemental space.
Personally for me, the importance of this event is learning more about a community that I didn’t know existed two years ago. I have been out for over a year now, but could not have told you what Polari was until this weekend.
The inclusive atmosphere of the event is highlighted by the number of trans and non-binary people at the event who felt comfortable being out and talking openly about their experiences.
It is like an alternate universe, and I hope that it is proof that one day the rest of society can be as supportive and accepting as the attendees at BiTastic this year.
Until then, I am safe in the knowledge that I have a community behind me, and the many others like me across Scotland.
BiTastic was made possible thanks to: Equality Network, Scottish Trans Alliance, Stonewall Scotland, and CSREC (Central Scotland Regional Equality Council).
Bi+ visibility in the media is a rare thing, we are more likely to see dragons and other fairy tale creatures on the big screen than a character who is explicit about their bisexuality.
This is why Call Me By Your Name is such a rare gem, not only is it an achingly beautiful film about young love, but both of the main characters are shown to be attracted to multiple genders.
Which is why it was the perfect choice for a Bi Visibility Day screening.
More than 140 people came along to the screening, and most of them stayed for the panel discussion afterwards about Bi Representation in the Media.
One important question raised; how do you show bi+ people when romance is not the focus of a film?
The answer is simple – have more characters actually say the word, show that we exist, and that we exist even when we are not in relationships.
Atomic Blonde is a great example of this, proof that a character doesn’t need to be bi for a reason, that we can be part of a story without it being solely about our sexuality.
While there has been an increase in the number of bi+ characters that we are seeing on the big and small screens, there’s still a long way to go before the full diversity of the bi+ community will get to see themselves represented.
[Pictured L – R: Lorna and Calum of Scottish Bi+ Network, and Kerry of Positive Change Arts Project.]
This event was made possible by the generous support of the Glasgow Film Theatre, who not only paid for the rights to show the film, and gave us the cinema for free!
[Asexuals (people who do not experience sexual attraction) might choose to use terms like biromantic or panromantic, to highlight that their attraction is only romantic.]
There is a distinct lack of representation of Bi+ characters in mainstream media, even more scarce is good representation.
We are carrying out a review of what media is out there, with the aim of highlighting good examples that people may have missed. Primarily this is looking at TV and Film, however we will also provide links to written fiction, music and web content where we come across it.
Also to be discussed is the reasons why there is such a shortage of representation and why it is so difficult to find the bisexual characters that are out there.
There is often controversy over films being labelled as Bi-films; Is it Bi enough? If they end up in a same sex relationship, doesn’t that make it a gay film? Is queer-coding enough? But no-one used the word Bisexual!
The lists below will include many films that some would discount, however, they are included to be discussed further as the project continues.
Recent developments have seen an increase in the number of TV characters labelling themselves as bisexual, along with an increase in the number of Bi actors. Films seem to be lagging behind in this aspect.
Events taking place across Scotland for Bi Visibility Day 2018
Wednesday 19th September 2018, 19:00-21:00, Edinburgh
Bi And Beyond Discussion around bisexuality & visibility.
LGBT Centre, 9 Howe St, Edinburgh
@Bi_AndBeyond – Facebook Event
Saturday 22nd September 2018, Stirling
BiTastic! – A one-day workshop programme for bisexual and transgender people and our allies!
Forth Valley College, Stirling Campus, Drip Road, Stirling, FK8 1SE
@BiTasticEvents – bitastic.org
Sunday 23rd September 2018, 13:30, Glasgow
Film Screening: Call Me By Your Name + Discussion on Bisexuality in the Media
Glasgow Film Theatre, 12 Rose Street, Glasgow, G3 6RB
@glasgowfilm – GFT Info + Tickets
Monday 24th September 2018, 18:00-20:00, Edinburgh
A curated set of episodes from The Feels (plus more!) followed by a panel discussion and Q&A with voices from the Bi+ community.
ECA Evolution House, 78 West Port, Edinburgh, EH1 2LE
@UoEStaffPride – Event Details + Booking
Wednesday 26th September 2018, 17:00-20:00, Aberdeen
RGU Rainbow Network Film Night: The Comedian
Sir Ian Wood Building, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, AB10 7GJ
@RGULGBT – Event Details + Booking