Here are two things that are both true:
- Bisexual characters are important representation
- Same-sex relationships are important representation
These things both being true does not make them related. It is neither the purpose nor the responsibility of bisexual characters to provide same-sex relationships. Bisexual characters are not problematic if they do not provide same-sex relationships, and acting like they are inherently devalues them. I’ve never seen anyone object to a same-sex relationship for not providing bisexual representation, nor have I ever seen anyone object to a m/f relationship for not providing bisexual representation. The demand for bisexual characters is almost always tied to a desire for implicitly straight characters to be in same-sex relationships (see #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend), with very little focus on making the character bisexual simply to have a bisexual character. Bisexual characters who provide same-sex relationship rep are praised (for as long as they do so), while bisexual characters are in m/f relationships are accused of everything from being pointless tokens who exist only to get their creators brownie points to reinforcing harmful stereotypes about how bisexuals always pick a side (an argument I’ve never seen used against a bisexual character in a long-term same-sex relationship).
And I want you to really think about the implications of all these things, in terms of representation. They’re saying that bisexual characters have no value, outside of providing same-sex relationships. That there’s no reason to be bisexual, if you’re in a m/f relationship. They’re implying that it would be better to not have bisexual characters than to have bisexual characters who are in m/f relationships. And that is deeply biphobic and fucked up.
I’ve read the arguments about bisexual characters in m/f relationships. I’m not saying that these relationships are perfect or without their problems; a lot of the time the characters involved don’t get to ID as bisexual, and their sexuality is the subject of one episode, at best. They are almost always female, and their male partner usually thinks it’s sexy. This is a pattern across several shows I can think of, and it’s annoying, but it’s also not some kind of horrific epidemic. To hear some people in fandom talk, every show has a token bisexual female character who says she’s into women despite being exclusively in m/f relationships.
To the extent that this is a problem that exists, it’s a writing problem, not a problem that’s inherent to bisexual characters in m/f relationships. Bisexual characters being in same-sex relationships doesn’t mean that their bisexuality will automatically be handled well, or that they will discuss or explore their bisexuality in any meaningful way. It doesn’t even mean the character will be obviously or explicitly bisexual; often, in fact, characters in exclusively same-sex relationships are just assumed to be gay, and fandom treats it as offensive to bring up these characters could be bisexual, lacking a textual label. Which is another delightful fucked up level of the fandom treatment of bisexuality.
When a bisexual character is in a same-sex relationship, it will be obvious they experience same-sex attraction. That’s it. And it’s easy to think, well, that’s better representation because you can tell they’re LGBT! But the truth is, the average person watching isn’t going to think, ah, that character is bisexual. They’re probably going to think the character is gay or lesbian. It’s not better representation because a casual viewer makes a different wrong assumption; it’s a different kind of erasure, and it’s still harmful to many actual bisexual people, both ones in m/f and same-sex relationships.
So I’m tired of fandom blaming bisexual characters for a lack of same-sex relationships in media. I’m tired of the idea that bisexual characters in m/f relationships are MORE responsible for a lack of same-sex relationships than straight characters are. Because, okay, let’s say, for the sake of argument that Clarke Griffin is 100% going to end up with A Dude at the end of The 100. Doesn’t matter what dude for our purposes, just the character she is romantically involved with at the end of the show is going to be male, and the writers have always known this will happen and have never wavered from this plan. Would we better off if, because of that, she was never written as bisexual? If she never had relationships with women? Is her bisexuality pointless if her end-game pairing is with a guy?
If your answer to this is yes, then, and I mean this genuinely and wholeheartedly: fuck you. And I know what the argument here is: “But why can’t she be in a same-sex relationship? It’s gross that she HAS to end up with a guy.” Which is in some sense true, but in a larger sense beside the point of the exercise. In this hypothetical, she is, and that’s just how it’s going to be. It’s valid to talk about getting away from that, but it’s a derail. And let’s even say the reason for it is any of the things I’ve seen argued wrt same-sex relationships: that the network doesn’t want it, that the writers are afraid to go there, that someone with power over the story genuinely believes that bisexual women are going through a phase and will always end up with men in the end. It could be any or all of those things, and I still say fuck you if you think that’s a reason to not make a character bisexual. If you think it would be better for a character to be straight, if they don’t provide the relationship you want. I still want that character, and fuck you if you want to take that away from me.
The truth is, if you want to have good bisexual representation, you need bisexual characters in m/f relationships, just as much as you need bisexual characters in same-sex ones. You need bisexual characters who are single, who are promiscuous, ones who are confident in their identities and who are figuring it out. As always, the best way to represent any group is through a diversity of experiences, which is why I find the devaluing of bisexual characters in m/f relationships so frustrating. We need to stop acting like these characters aren’t a vital and valuable part of representation; we need to stop acting like they’re a disappointment or failing as rep. They are not.
Most of all, fandom in general needs to stop acting like bisexual characters are valuable in direct proportion to how much same-sex relationship content they provide. Bisexual representation has inherent value, regardless of the character’s relationship status.
(As a final note, I apologize for how gender-binary this post is; this argument as I’ve seen it in fandom is basically restricted to cis-male and cis-female characters, and m/f felt like a better way to refer to relationships between them than “different sex” or “opposite sex.” If anyone has better terminology for “relationships between people who do not share a gender identity” vs “relationships between people who do,” I’d be happy to use those terms in the future.)