Bisexual communities don’t have a lot of luck when it comes to our portrayal in films and on television. Often our bisexuality is no more than a plot point to be forgotten when it’s no longer convenient, or rendered in broad stereotypes and insulting cliches. When we find a great depiction of bisexuality in an unlikely place, that deserves celebrating, says Holly.
(I have tried to keep this article as spoiler-free as possible, but if you don’t want to read any hint of the plot, go and watch San Junipero (Black Mirror series 3, episode 4) on Netflix before reading any further!)
Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is a show known for exploring the ways that technology might influence our future. The episodes are often dark, and happy endings are rare. I’ll be honest, it’s the last place I expected to find a beautifully nuanced, proudly bisexual character. But when I came across Kelly in series three episode San Junipero, that’s exactly what I got.
It’s always good to see bi’s on screen, but my heart does tend to sink when yet another bi character turns out to be promiscuous, fickle or confused about their identity. These are all perfectly valid character traits, but they do seem to be applied to bisexual characters more consistently than to straight or gay ones.
Take Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood and Doctor Who. He’s a dashing, daring time traveller who pursues attractions towards entities of multiple genders and is known for being wildly flirtatious, as is Freddie from Russel T. Davies’ Cucumber. Freddie has a voracious sexual appetite which he indulges in regularly with both men and women. He has no interest in long-term relationships and is often manipulative and cruel.
Then there’s Alice from The L Word, who started season one defending her bi identity but ended up declaring in season three that “bisexuality is gross”. Sigh, right?
Kelly is refreshingly different. She is presented from the off as an exuberant, caring woman. She is clearly someone who enjoys sex but isn’t deceitful or cruel in her pursuit of it. Kelly’s love interest in this episode is another woman, Yorkie, but this doesn’t mean that her bisexuality is erased. When Yorkie asks Kelly when she knew she liked women, Kelly replies with a cheeky smile, “I like men too. Equal rights!”
As the episode progresses, we learn that Kelly was previously married to a man called Richard, and that their relationship was monogamous. It is clear from the way Kelly talks that they were deeply committed to each other, but we also see a hint of the inner conflict she felt about suppressing her attractions to women.
“There were crushes, God were there crushes,” she says, “never acted on it. Never did anything.” And later, “The bond. The Commitment. The boredom, the yearning, the laughter […] Everything we sacrificed.”
As she gets closer to Yorkie, Kelly struggles with the feeling that she is betraying Richard. This is portrayed touchingly by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who shows Kelly’s emotional walls slowly starting to come down. She’s a fully-formed, multi-layered character who has obstacles to overcome and choices to make. Her sexual identity is a core part of who she is, and it’s refreshing to see this aspect of her being neither brushed under the carpet nor exploited for the purpose of titillation.
There are so many reasons to watch San Junipero – the atmospheric, seaside town setting, the philosophical questions that the episode raises and the masterful twists and turns of the plot to name but a few. But for me, Kelly’s proud, positive bisexuality is the biggest reason of all.