"Is she lesbian or bi?": When TV characters put us at war


“A female character engaging in sexual behaviour with a female is often labeled lesbian by the lesbian community and bi by the bi community”

Recently I have been feeling a tension between people in the LGBT community, online especially, due to the (lack of) representation in the media of non-heterosexual female sexuality and the increasing desperation within the LGBT to see valid representation of alternative sexualities. The fact of the matter is, writers are scared of being open about the sexuality of their characters for fear of a backlash (or are simply as ignorant as the rest), and this ambiguity leaves the LGBT community both unsatisfied and at war with each other to snatch up the limited representation available. For example, a female character (who might have previously had relationships with male characters on the show) engaging in sexual behaviour with a female is labeled lesbian by the lesbian community, bisexual by the bi community, and “experimenting” by everyone else. The problem is that characters are assumed straight until proven otherwise; it becomes the classic art imitating life, imitating art… And characters that could be canon bisexual are usually written into the script as “not doing labels”, “fluid” or “promiscuous”.

The obvious and deliberate absence of the “b word” in TV and film only increases its marginalisation and leaves the bi community with not many characters with which to identify with when watching shows. Worse than that in some examples (think the L word) where the bi characters “pick a side” and display their disgust at their previous identifier or laugh at themselves for “not coming out fully sooner”. Often bisexual characters are written as villains or damaged in order to boost the likeability or storylines of the “real” gay characters. It’s a pretty dismal state of affairs.

One breakthrough we did have last year though was Cali (from Grey’s Anatomy) finally using bisexuality as her identifier and proudly exclaiming her identity as being part of the lgBt community and not to be ignored. However the general tokenism and lack of any alternate sexuality or gender identity representation leaves the lesbian and bi communities bidding for the explicit mention of labels, which for female characters being sexual with more than one gender, is rare.


The Legend of Korra: “Are Korra and Asami now lesbians… or bisexual, due to having dated other genders previously?”

An issue was highlighted after a discussion surrounding the sexuality of two anime Nickelodeon characters blew up the LGBT side of the fandom debating whether they were now lesbians due to being in a relationship with each other, or bisexual due to having dated other genders previously. Like real life, without being able to ask the characters (or in this case the writers) for their self definition of their sexuality we are left with the bi and lesbian communities at loggerheads, with the lesbian community accused of bi erasure and the bi community being accused of lesbophobia.

The bi community has been accused of this before with attitudes towards lesbians not being all that positive. But in the fluorescent light of lesbian clubs, it isn’t lesbians who are being laughed at, excluded or called sluts due to their sexuality; maybe these attitudes aren’t a new form of discrimination but rather a reaction based on bad experiences and oppression.

The people who are really in the wrong here are the writers and producers of TV shows who refuse to show a cross section of sexuality with more identifiers and plot lines outside of “tragic lesbian” or “dangerous bisexual”. The point is that we want queer representation with storylines based on more than just whom we are sleeping with. The fact that such a heated debate occurred over two characters on one TV program demonstrates just how desperate the LGBT community is for correct representation. And lets not forget that it isn’t just lesbians and bisexuals who are left out. I can’t name a programme where I have heard of an asexual, pansexual, demisexual or intersex character. We need cohesion and mutual solidarity between the lesbian and bi communities in order to rally and campaign for increased representation for LBT women in film and TV. Arguing within ourselves about the sexuality of a character is pointless and creates a wider gap between us.

We have a shared oppression as well as a separate one with the lesbian community and being negative towards them won’t sort out either. It’s sad to see a community split over something which would be better fought in unity. Its no secret that the bi community faces some of the harshest discrimination from within the LGBT community and maybe discussion around the silence of female sexuality in the media could open up these issues. It’s important that female characters’ sexuality isn’t used as a way to gain male attention or to shock an audience but instead is an accurate and varied representation of what it is like to live as part of the LGBT community, and that includes the boring realities as well as the problems.




Main graphic © Charlotte ‘Lottie’ Dingle

Second picture © Nickelodeon TV

The following two tabs change content below.

Alice Ryder

Alice is a bisexual activist, blogger and gender warrior. She recently finished her Masters in Gender so splits her time between the fetish goth scene (she means finding a job) and volunteering for the National Domestic Violence Helpline. You can follow her on Tumblr (link- aliceryder.tumblr.com) and Instagram (link-aliceryder)

One Response to "Is she lesbian or bi?": When TV characters put us at war

  • Great article. This is a big source of frustration in the bi community. And the writer never seem to be able to introduce a character’s bisexuality positively. It’s often “taking one for the team” or by cheating on someone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *