Biphobia, or prejudice and/or fear of bisexuals, in the media can often be subtle in its complexity and stunning in breadth. Whether it's explicit and easily recognized or indirect and implicit, biphobia can appear anywhere and everywhere — from magazines to television, film, news, or the web. Here are recent examples of how media can be disaffirming, unwelcoming, and in some cases outright harmful to bisexual people:
Biphobia by Association
Bi folks are often linked with harmful and inaccurate associations, especially infidelity, which is a frequent and near-constant association. Actress and singer Evan Rachel Wood announced she was separating from her husband Jamie Bell, and in less than 24 hours was forced to combat rumors of infidelity. No proof was offered for the reports of infidelity, except that Wood attended an event to support women in the LGBT community, as did another openly bisexual actress, Michelle Rodriguez. Their courage and bravery in identifying themselves as “B” in LGBT should have been recognized and applauded; instead their bisexuality led to inaccurate depictions of their love lives, just because they walked the same red carpet.
Bisexual erasure or bisexual invisibility is the tendency to ignore, remove, falsify, or re-explain evidence of bisexuality in history, academia, news media and other primary sources. Few news outlets have as rich a history of bi erasure as the Village Voice. In 1992, the Village Voice published “Bi Any Means Necessary; They Call Themselves Queer Bisexuals and, to the Distress of Many in the Gay Movement, They Want In.”
Bisexual anarchist writer Michael William called the article "the theoretical basis of a new, more sophisticated anti-bi agenda," and seventeen years later in 2009, longtime Village Voice writer Michael Musto asked “Ever Meet a Real Bisexual?”
Musto wrote, “Do you know anyone who REALLY is equally attracted to both men and women and effortlessly glides between those two dating pools without a second's thought or self-consciousness? If so, do you ever suspect they're full of shit?”
The anti-bi agenda is still in full swing at Village Voice, as just last month the Village Voice published an article on NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray’s history of sexual fluidity without mentioning the word bisexual or bisexuality even once.
Misorientation occurs when bisexual people are identified incorrectly as gay, lesbian or straight using current or previous relationship status instead of personal identification. As LGBT Pride Month wound down this year, Lady Gaga hit the news when she posted a photo to Instagram with this caption:
"Atlantic City Baby. Straights celebrating their pride by unLEASHING our gayness. @thedirtypearls @tommylondon Be proud. We were born this way. #TellemAsia"
Instantly news outlets began to state, “Lady Gaga confirms she is no longer bisexual” when she did nothing of the sort. “Individuals whose sexual practices seem out of line with their self-proclaimed sexual orientation are often assumed to be ‘truly’ gay or lesbian, but are seldom assumed to be ‘truly bisexual,’” wrote bisexual theorist Christopher James in the 1996 “Queer Studies Anthology.” So when Lady Gaga refers to straights and gays, and calls them hers, that should be seen as a bisexuality sensibility but isn’t.
James also coined the phrase “appropriation without representation” to refer to the phenomenon that excludes “bisexuality as a relevant category of sexual identity, yet claims behaviorally bisexual people or text with bisexual characters or content as ‘queer,’ ‘gay,’ or ‘lesbian.’” Whether she likes it or not, Ms. McCray is an example of that appropriation in the media, and what it looks like when a person’s own internalized biphobia lends itself to further appropriation by those who would see bisexual history, culture, theories, art, politics and community erased. Other figures who have been appropriated in the media without representation of their bisexuality (or bisexual identity) include author Herman Melville (Moby Dick), Velvet Underground singer Lou Reed, writer Henry David Thoreau, Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein, poet Emily Dickinson, author Virginia Woolf and singer/songwriter Frank Ocean.
If you see an example of biphobia in the media, reporting it can lead to long-lasting change in how that media outlet reports on bisexual people. Recently GLAAD met with BiNet USA and other bisexual advocates in Los Angeles and New York to discuss examples of biphobia in the media, just like the ones I’ve listed in this article.
Help stop biphobia in the media by reporting to GLAAD every instance of biphobia you see or hear on TV, radio, news, magazines, online or at live events (concert, game, performances, etc.).
GLAAD Reporting Tool: http://www.glaad.org/reportdefamation