Is Mainstream Media Confused About Bisexuality?

By Alice Ryder

The media’s portrayal of female sexuality has always left much to be desired. However, recently, there has been a specific focus and — on the part of the media — confusion, over fluid (and sometimes very clearly stated) sexualities of female celebrities.

There have been constant examples of this. The media downplayed Kristen Stewart’s relationships with women by calling them her ‘gal pals’. They named Abby Wambach’s wife her ‘friend’ alongside a picture of them kissing after Wambach won the Women’s World Cup. Amber Heard was labelled as an ex-lesbian upon her marriage to Johnny Depp resulting in her having to come out publically as bisexual yet again. Vogue reporter Rob Haskell implied that not only is Cara Delevingne’s bisexuality a phase, but that her relationships with women are also due to her having a difficult childhood dealing with her mother’s heroin addiction.

This is not an unusual opinion to have. Many people — both straight and within the LGBTQ+ community — have the opinion that bisexuals are attracted to two or more genders due to something awful that happened to them in their past, leaving them confused, greedy, promiscuous or all of the above. Even more people assume that bisexuality is a pit-stop they will leave behind on the way to being ‘fully gay’ — whatever that means. These are all harmful stereotypes that continually force bisexual and queer people back into the closet.

The problem is that the media is not interested in the romantic side of these relationships. They don’t care about the fact that this person fills a space in the female celebrities’ lives and that they ultimately love them for who they are, not the gender they are. Instead these reporters are reducing the relationships to either a sexual component (Who is the man in the relationship?, Do you miss sleeping with men?, How many other men and women have you slept with?) or some kind of pathology that will eventually be fixed by… you’ve guessed it, a man, when he tames their wild side or helps her solve the mental torment of whatever happened in her youth.

These patterns are also repeated in TV and film plotlines, where the bisexual character* is shown to be dangerous, malicious, a cheater and usually an all-round bad person, before her early exit into heterosexuality or untimely death.

[* This is if that word is ever used — which 99% of the time it isn’t — instead we might see that they dated a male character and then have some love affair/sex scene with a female character.]

There is a simultaneous fear and morbid curiosity when it comes to female sexuality and the media cannot decide if it is going to refer to every same sex-partner as a ‘gal pal’, erasing the lesbian and bisexual relationships, or become inappropriately involved in their sexual and romantic workings. Needless to say, either way, they aren’t doing it right. The question really needs to be asked: why do we feel the need to report on these things in the first place? And why, when they have been told multiple times, do they continue to get the identities of these women wrong, writing offensive, erasing and degrading articles instead?

One thing that is ultimately confusing for them is that bisexual identities are vast, and unsurprisingly not the same from one person to the next, with relationships involving multiple gender identities or some people having preferences in the gender of the people they date. It will not be easy to apply broad, sweeping generalisations on bisexual people, as often happens when it comes to lesbians and gay men. Big publications such as Vogue should be using this opportunity to promote alternate sexualities correctly instead of feeding into these harmful stereotypes about bisexual people.

It is these harmful stereotypes that have a lasting impact on the bisexual/queer community and the reason why bisexuals have lower mental, sexual and physical health than gay and lesbian people. Or why the statistics of rape, domestic violence and sexual assault against bisexual women are alarmingly higher than straight women or lesbians. Or why bisexual people are more likely to have low standards of sexual health due to health providers not understanding or just denying their sexuality. Or why suicide is high for bisexual people. Or why bisexual people are put into conversion camps or why ‘corrective rape’ is used against them to make them ‘pick a side’. Unfortunately, it is usually those who are most disadvantaged in the LGBTQ+ community who don’t reap the rewards from mainstream LGBT efforts.

It isn’t just the straight mainstream media that is writing damaging, biphobic articles about bisexual women. This week XO Jane posted an anonymous article written by a lesbian who has decided she is the identity police, ranting about her queer friends’ sexual activity and telling all bi women who are not out or who happen to date men, ‘fuck you’. It would be funny if it weren’t a damaging and upsetting opinion shared by a lot of the LG community.

The question we all really want answering is why do these platforms continue to post this discriminatory, biphobic content? Why aren’t there editors and blog owners who are standing up to journalists and writers who continually write misgendering, biphobic, homophobic, transphobic and generally terrible articles?

If the answer is because it fuels controversy, then that simply isn’t a good enough reason when it contributes first-hand to the violence that is inflicted on the bi community. It’s amazing that we have celebrities such as Amber Heard, Alan Cumming and Anna Paquin publically standing up for bisexual rights. But there is an essential need for the mainstream media to catch up with LGBTQ+ politics and refuse to publish biphobic, homophobic and transphobic content as well.

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About Gender + the City

Intersectional Feminist digital magazine

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