Media portrayals of bisexuality

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The portrayal of bisexuality in the media reflects societal attitudes towards bisexuality.


Virginia Woolf's Orlando: A Biography (1928) is one of the earliest examples of bisexuality in literature. The story about a man who changes into a woman without a second thought, was based on the life of Woolf's then bisexual lover Vita Sackville-West. Woolf's used the gender switch to avoid the book being banned for homosexual content, and was successful for it. Following Sackille-West's death, her son Nigel Nicolson would publish Portrait of a Marriage, one of her diaries recounting her affair with a woman during her marriage to Harold Nicolson. Other early examples include works of D.H. Lawrence, such as Women in Love (1920), and Colette's Claudine (1900–1903) series.

In more recent years, following a more culturally liberal perspective of sexuality, bisexuality has become more common in literature. This includes the work of Bret Easton Ellis, Anne Rice, and Alice Walker.

Comic books[edit]

In 1981, X-Men writer Chris Claremont intended the character Destiny to be the lover of Brotherhood of Mutants teammate Mystique, a shape shifter, and had originally intended for Destiny and Mystique to be Nightcrawler's biological parents, with Mystique taking the form of a man for the conception; however, Marvel editors did not allow gay or bisexual characters at that time.[1]

In 2007, the series Wolverine: Origins introduced a son for popular superhero Wolverine in the form of Daken, his psychopathic bisexual son. In 2010, it was commented on by a writer for the character that for him all sexual conquest is about "control"; Daken regularly seduces male and females to suit his own ends.[2]

In 2009, Peter David outed X-Men and X-Factor characters Rictor and Shatterstar as both bisexual, in a portrayal of their on-panel kiss. Under Jeff Loeb's run of X-Force in the 1990s, the two characters had been hinted at as being more than friends. In X-Factor in 2010, David writes of the two bisexual men in a monogamous same sex relationship as two characters with very different needs; Rictor wanting a monogamous loving relationship, and Shatterstar wanting to explore his new world of sexual potential for the first time.[3]


The British film Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) portrayed a bisexual male named Bob with a lover of each gender. This was one of the earliest portrayals to be explicit on the subject of bisexuality, though a film versions of several novels involving bisexuality, such as Women in Love (1969) and Goldfinger (1964), had been released earlier.[4] The film is told from the perspectives of the homosexual partner and the heterosexual partner. Critics of the time described Bob as "shallow", "callous", and "selfish".[5] The following year, the American musical Cabaret was released as a film, featuring a bisexual protagonist.

1975 saw the release of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a musical about a bisexual anti-hero. Memorable films from the 1980s involving bisexuality include the film adaptation of The Color Purple (1985) and The Hunger (1983).

1992's Basic Instinct received controversy from the bisexual community for portraying a bisexual as a psychopathic killer.[6]

It's not uncommon for film adaptations of bisexual-themed novels or plays to remove the bisexual content.[6] This is seen in films such as Less Than Zero (1987), Hair (1979), Midnight Express (1978) (affair between prisoners becomes fictionalized rape) and The Dreamers (2003).

In 1994, independent film Go Fish, features a lesbian-identified character who has sex with a man, and is challenged by a "jury" who question her sexual self-identity. In 1997, Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy took on the question of sexual identity in a story about a lesbian-identified woman who falls in love with a man.

Bisexuality in film became increasingly common in the early 21st century, seen in studio-produced and high-profile independent films such as Wild Things (1998), Y tu mamá también (2001), Kinsey (2004), Alexander (2004), Brokeback Mountain (2005, receiving numerous awards), Rent (2005), Cloud Atlas (2012), and Call Me by Your Name (2017, receiving numerous awards). In 2007, the musical Love Songs was released in France to considerable success and a Golden Palm nomination.

The 2008 documentary Bi the Way, which aired on the LGBT cable TV network Logo in August 2009[7] followed the lives of five bisexual Americans ages 11 to 28. The movie talked about bisexuality in general and featured scientific studies, interviews with bisexual leaders and media portrayals.


Bisexual characters appear in television series such as Karen Walker (portrayed by Megan Mullally) in the US situation comedy Will & Grace (1998-2006, 2017–present),[8] and All My Children (1970). In a 1988 episode of NBC drama TV series Midnight Caller, "After It Happened", a bisexual man is depicted as an AIDS carrier who deliberately infects straight women. This episode proved highly controversial in the bisexual community.

In 1990, a BBC mini-series adaptation of Portrait of a Marriage aired. In 2001, another bisexual-themed miniseries aired called Bob and Rose, written by Queer as Folk creator Russell T Davies. The mini-series is about a gay man who falls in love with a straight woman, and is based on the experience of a friend of Davies.[9]

The main character in Strangers With Candy, Jerry Blank is bisexual.[citation needed]

The characters Brittany Pierce and Santana Lopez (portrayed respectively by Heather Morris and Naya Rivera) from the musical TV series Glee (2009–2015) are depicted as cheerleaders, who have dated other characters from both genders and even each other. Later on the show, Santana is revealed as a lesbian who was struggling and denying her sexuality, while Brittany is bisexual.[10][11]

Torchwood (2006), created by Russell T Davies, is a spin-off of long-running British science fiction television programme Doctor Who. The show is based in Cardiff, Wales, and deals with several LGBT themes, specifically bisexuality. Each of the main characters in Torchwood has same-sex encounters at some point in the first season.[12] Davies said that he hoped to defy audience expectations of monosexual characters:

Without making it political or dull, this is going to be a very bisexual programme. I want to knock down the barriers so we can't define which of the characters is gay. We need to start mixing things up, rather than thinking, 'This is a gay character and he'll only ever go off with men.[12]

— Russel T. Davies

The lead male in the series, Captain Jack Harkness originated in parent series Doctor Who, which is considered a family show, as opposed to Torchwood's adult orientation. Davies has also described Jack as omnisexual. Other bisexual characters in Torchwood are Jack's lovers Ianto and Captain John, and Jack's colleague Toshiko.

The high rated MTV series, A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila (2007), is a bisexual reality show. Tila Tequila, is the bisexual bachelorette, trying to find love from 16 straight males and 16 lesbians, as well as its spin off A Double Shot at Love with the Ikki Twins.

The Showcase series Lost Girl features a bisexual succubus as the main character and there are several bisexual characters and themes throughout the show including a bisexual love triangle. In a 2008 New York Times interview, actor Sean Hayes revealed he is working on a television project called Bi-Coastal about "a guy with a wife and kids in California and a boyfriend in New York."[13]

The ABC drama Grey's Anatomy features Callie Torres, a bisexual main character portrayed by Sara Ramirez. The show portrays Callie's first experience with a woman and her realization that she is bisexual. She eventually goes on to marry fellow surgeon Arizona Robbins.

The FOX television series House features a bisexual female doctor, Remy "Thirteen" Hadley, played by Olivia Wilde, from season four onwards. The same network had earlier aired the television series The O.C., which for a time featured bisexual Alex Kelly (also played by Olivia Wilde), the local rebellious hangout spot's manager, as a love interest of Marissa Cooper.[14]

The Nickelodeon animated series The Legend of Korra features main protagonist Korra, a teenage girl, as well as major character Asami Sato, a young female industrialist. The two girls are both initially romantically interested in the same man, but after putting their feelings aside, they manage to become friends. Over the course of the series, their relationship is shown growing and developing, and eventually culminates in the final scene, which indicated the start of a romantic relationship between Korra and Asami. The series was lauded for its unprecedented representation of bisexuality in American children's television, as well as its portrayal of a same-sex relationship between bisexual women.[15]

MTV's The Real World[edit]

On December 30, 2009, MTV premiered their 23rd season of the show The Real World.[16] The series took place in Washington DC, and featured two bisexual characters,[17][18] Emily Schromm,[19] and Mike Manning.[20] Manning's sexuality appears to have generated some controversy, with both bloggers and many comments on blogs saying that he is really gay,[21][22] although he himself identifies as bisexual, and has dated both genders.[20] A behind the scenes MTV Aftershow and subsequent interview also revealed that both Manning and Schromm had encounters with both men and women while on the show, but when the show was edited, both were made to appear as if they had been with only men on the show.[23][24]


In 2011, presenter and singer-songwriter Tom Robinson on BBC Radio 4 explored the topic of bisexuality.[25]


David Bowie's androgynous appearance and open bisexuality was reflected in some of his songs, in particular "John, I'm Only Dancing" (1972). The original video directed by Mick Rock, featuring androgynous dancers from Lindsay Kemp's mime troupe, was banned by Top of the Pops.[26] The single was not released in America, being judged too risqué by RCA.[27]

In 1995, Jill Sobule's song "I Kissed a Girl" was met with considerable success. The song told the story of flirtation between two suburban female friends, both with male partners.[citation needed]

In 2003, Britney Spears staged a kiss with Madonna (who also kissed Christina Aguilera in the same performance) on an MTV Video Music Awards performance that would continue to fuel bisexual chic, and at the time many news and tabloid outsources referred to it as "lesbian chic",[28][29] since it was clear from her impending marriage to Kevin Federline that Spears was certainly not a monosexual lesbian. The kiss is seen[by whom?] as a publicity stunt but helped to fuel the ever-growing trend. In November 2006, Paris Hilton appeared in public with her hand on Spears' left breast.[30]

In 2008, Katy Perry released a song called "I Kissed a Girl", though it is unrelated to the Jill Sobule song. It was by received Billboard Top 40 success. The song is about a girl's curiosity about kissing another girl, though she has a boyfriend.[31]

In 2008, Lady Gaga, who is openly bisexual, released her second single "Poker Face", which is about fantasizing about women while in bed with a man.[32] It received both critical and commercial success as well as vast praise from the bisexual community.[citation needed]

Video games[edit]

Web series[edit]

A Rose By Any Other Name[edit]

As of October 2009, there is a bisexual "webisode" series known as "A Rose By Any Other Name"[33] being released on YouTube that was directed by Independent film director and bisexual rights advocate Kyle Schickner of Fencesitter Films.[34] The plot of the series revolves around a lesbian identified woman who falls in love with a straight man, and goes on to realize she is actually bisexual, and the reaction of both her friends and her boyfriend's friends.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed". Retrieved 2006-07-24.
  2. ^ "CCI: X-Men Panel | CBR".
  3. ^ Mckenzie, Chaos (2010-02-25). "Peter David's "X-Factor": Earth Moving, Star Shattering". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved 2010-09-19.
  4. ^ "Sunday, Bloody Sunday Review". Retrieved 2008-08-13.
  5. ^ Klein, Fritz (1993). The Bisexual Option. New York: Harrington Park Press. ISBN 1-56023-033-9. OCLC 27187013.
  6. ^ a b "Bisexual Representations". Archived from the original on 2008-10-08. Retrieved 2008-08-13.
  7. ^ "Bi the Way", Logo online, August 2009.
  8. ^ "Karen Walker and the Bisexual Straight Woman". AfterEllen. June 7, 2003.
  9. ^ Davies, Russell (2001-09-02). "A Rose by any other name". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2008-08-13.
  10. ^ Dickason, Cara (March 22, 2011). "Glee paves way for serious representation of gay characters". Daily Trojan.
  11. ^ ""They must have sensed that I was a lesbian": On Naya Rivera, RIB, and Santana's Sexuality". Lima Heights Adjacent.
  12. ^ a b Martin, Daniel (October 2006). "Jack of Hearts". Gay Times (337).
  13. ^ Mcgee, Celia (2008-07-06). "New York Times Interview". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-14.
  14. ^ ["Games". Writer: Eli Attie; Director: Deran Sarafian. House. Fox. No. 9, season 4.]
  15. ^ IGN Staff (24 December 2014). "THE LEGEND OF KORRA: IGN EDITORS REACT TO THE ENDING AND KORRASAMI". IGN. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  16. ^ "Real World DC".
  17. ^ Editor, Editor (December 30, 2009). "Forget the Token Gay: Tonight's Real World: DC Premiere Has 2 Bisexuals". maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  18. ^ ""The Real World" Recap: Washington DC, Show Me Your Bisexuals!". Autostraddle. December 31, 2009.
  19. ^ "Emily Schromm talks".
  20. ^ a b "Features Archives".
  21. ^ Editor, Editor (December 31, 2009). "The Entire Bi-Sexual History of Real World: D.C.'s Mike Manning". maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  22. ^ "Bi now-Gay Later? Real World D.C.'s Mike Manning". January 5, 2010.
  23. ^ "Emily Schromm AfterEllen interview". Archived from the original on 2010-04-01.
  24. ^ "Aftershow Real World Episode 8".
  25. ^ "BBC Radio 4 Extra - It's My Story, Getting Bi". BBC.
  26. ^ David Buckley (1999). Strange Fascination - David Bowie: The Definitive Story: pp. 169–170
  27. ^ Nicholas Pegg - The Complete David Bowie: pp. 112–113
  28. ^ "Madonna Smooches With Britney And Christina; Justin, Coldplay Win Big At VMAs". MTV News.
  29. ^
  30. ^ " - Play your life!". Archived from the original on 2008-05-06. Retrieved 2008-08-16.
  31. ^ "Katy Perry's "Radical" Bisexual Thoughts In I Kissed A Girl REVEALED!". Perez Hilton. October 22, 2013.
  32. ^ "Lady Gaga Reveals Hidden True Meaning Behind 'Poker Face' Hit [Video]". January 3, 2014.
  33. ^ "YouTube".
  34. ^ "Fencesitter Films". Archived from the original on 2009-09-04. Retrieved 2019-06-21.
  35. ^ "BiNet USA's Blog: Letter From Out Bisexual Director Kyle Schickner of FenceSitter Films about new Web TV Series 'Rose By Any Other Name . . .'". October 18, 2009.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]