Fighting with the Sky

Bisexuality on TV?

Posted on: September 22, 2009

This post is not going to be about The L Word or any other show that might be on HBO or Showtime.  I’m rather going to focus on network cable shows.

You know what I hate?  When a young, hot character on a TV show becomes a lesbian for like 3 episodes.  The O.C. did it (not that I watched The O.C., I just remember hearing about it); Friends did it; Heroes is bringing it in this upcoming season (there are countless other examples, but that’s not the purpose of this post right now).  When you see this kind of storyline on a network TV show, you know that it’s not about the show trying to be “progressive” — it’s about ratings.

13_1One example that I find compelling, though, is Thirteen on House (who just so happens to be the actress that plays Marissa’s female love interest on The O.C.).  I was talking yesterday morning with one of my co-workers about the premiere of House that night when she brought up how she thinks Thirteen is a good representation of bisexuality.  I think my co-worker could be right, but I want to examine this a little bit further.

I like Thirteen because relationships with both men and women are shown on the show and they don’t portray it as “weird” or “abnormal.”  When they first introduce romantic relationships with women into the picture (other than finding out that she is bisexual), it is seen as destructive behavior (because she was just randomly hooking up with people, not 100% because those people were women), as a reaction to finding out that she has Huntington’s.  But that shouldn’t turn you off from the positive portrayal of bisexuality.  By the end of the episode she is in a relationship with a woman who she cares about.  Even though that relationship doesn’t end up working, I still think it was a good portrayal of multiple things: bisexuality, dealing with disease, self-destructive behavior (it was more than just hooking up with random women).

Thirteen then eventually ends up in a relationship with Foreman.  I actually kind of really like their relationship.  I was unsure of it at first, but it has grown on me.  At one point, Thirteen and Foreman go to a strip club together to check out girls for a Bachelorette party.  At which point, Foreman asks Thirteen if she misses having sex with women.  I really like Thirteen’s answer.  She said that she did miss having sex with women…and other men, just like he probably missed having sex with other women.  Just because they are in a committed relationship doesn’t mean that they don’t miss or fantasize about sex with other people.  I thought this was a really healthy approach to sexuality and relationships.

But I’m not going to go and say that it is the perfect representation of bisexuality.  House’s comments I could do without sometimes, but then he wouldn’t be House.  House’s approach to Thirteen’s bisexuality I feel is a good representation (if stereotypically) of how a lot of people feel about sexuality: they like to see to hot girl-on-hot girl stuff but they still see it as kind of a lack of decisiveness — the person is just being flaky and can’t decide if they like girls or boys.  But I think the representation of Thirteen’s bisexuality pretty much discredits this.  She is not seen (by anyone other than House) as flaky or really just on a “layover to gay-town” (as I’ve heard it referred to before).

What do you all think of the representation of Thirteen?  I cannot speak completely to the representation of Thirteen as a bisexual because I do not identify as a bisexual.  Any thoughts?

See this “That’s Gay” video for further examples of becoming a lesbian on a TV show:

P.S. The season premiere of House last night was kind of disappointing.

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11 Responses to "Bisexuality on TV?"

I think Angela on Bones is sometimes a good model of bisexuality, although it’s a bummer that she wasn’t explicitly introduced as bisexual from the start, which is what bugs me (and probably you) about most bi characters on TV, since they seem to fall into the “whoops, I’m bi” thing a lot instead of having bisexuality be a part of their identity from the start.

However, I will note that I can’t think of any male bi characters on television right now, and that bugs me. I feel like female bisexuality is used primarily for titillation and the fulfillment of male fantasies, but male bisexuality is still icky and gross and wrong because it’s GAY and we can’t have that.

To actually answer the damn question already, 13 troubles me. Because I think she falls too easily into the damaged girl trope, “acting out” sexually because she’s confused and tormented and blah blah blah. It kind of suggests that bisexuality occurs when people are not mentally/emotionally stable, and that it will eventually go away when they find a partner of the opposite sex (Foreman) to settle down with.

That’s actually why I like Angela, because her bisexuality is portrayed as just a part of her, not as the result of damage or sexual confusion or mental instability. She just likes everybody.

Is it bad that I actually forgot that Angela was bisexual? I just still always picture her with Hodgins even though it has been a season or two since they split.

I get what you are saying about Thirteen, but I still like that she was introduced as bisexual and that it is definitely still part of who she is even though she went through the sexually “acting out” phase and is now with a man. I think that the “acting out” had more to do with the randomly hooking up with people (on the show, not that it’s a bad thing, it was just seen as acting out by the characters on the show) than the fact that those people were women. Because by the end of that episode that I am thinking of, she realizes that she actually does care for the woman and they enter into a relationship (which we are lead to believe lasts for a little while even though we never see the character again).

I find it a little disturbing that the bisexual character on the show has to have an incurable disease. I think this somehow makes the connection between an unconventional sexuality and being diseased. Maybe, of course, I’m being paranoid here.

I agree that the first episode of the season was very disappointing. I was so looking forward to it but it was so boring that I eventually turned it off.

I hope the first episodes of all Law & Orders don’t disappoint. 🙂

I don’t watch House, so I can’t comment on Thirteen’s portrayal, but from your description, it sounds like the writers are really making an effort to address bisexuality sensitively and realistically, and that’s great. Makes me very curious to watch the show, actually.

One of the best bisexual/lesbian storylines I remember seeing on network television was on the show Once and Again (which aired on ABC from 1999 until 2002). Right before the show was canceled, there was a storyline involving a romantic relationship between two teenage girls (played by Evan Rachel Wood and Mischa Barton). Given the show’s cancellation, there wasn’t enough time to really develop the plotline to its fullest potential, but it was very well done while it lasted.

AfterEllen did a nice write-up about it here: http://www.afterellen.com/TV/onceandagain.html

Well said.

I also liked the way Angela on “Bones” is portrayed (and think it was handled infinitely better than “Thirteen”). Part of what I liked was that her sexuality isn’t looked at as a big deal. It’s casual, and not really obsessed over. It happens, and then it is a background thing like her marriage to Birimbo (sp?) or any of the other guys she was with. I like it when bi or homo sexuality isn’t focused on too much and is therefore dealt with in the same manner as heterosexuality. As if it is just as normal.

But that is my interpretation.

I also meant to add b/f I hit submit that it truly does bother me, though, that a bi-sexual character never is portrayed as a man. We see bit part characters on network tv as gay (like the soldiers on “Grey’s”), but that is about it. I would like to see more of that, to prove that it isn’t just about thrill for the male gaze.

What everyone else said too — and I’ll add that I’d like to see men kissing on camera. Ideally without any discussion of how brave the straight actors playing those men are. Even better, queer male actors playing in queer roles.

I’d kind of like it to be unremarkable some day and not revolutionary or subversive.

@kaninchenzero, have you seen Torchwood? Jonathan Barrowman is a gay man playing a bi character (who’s essentially an action hero!), and he’s shared onscreen liplocks with both James Marsters and one of the other male characters, Ianto, on the show.

I have not seen Torchwood, though I’m told it’s exactly the sort of thing I’d like immensely. I should put it on the (already ludicrous) Netflix list. Mmm, James Marsters.

[…] is pondering Bisexuality on TV? at Adventures of a Young Feminist. Particularly concerned with Thirteen on House, Laura explores […]

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