Great Social And Political Import

by Viorica

Viorica does the time warp
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There's a very insightful Supernatural fanvideo called Women's Work, about the way the show handles female characters, set to Courtney Love's song "Violet" I mention this not because this article has anything to do with Supernatural or female characters, but because the vid very accurately sums up my current state of mind: I watched this, and now that I've seen it, I don't want it anymore.

For some background on what it is I'm about to rant about, I should probably explain Phase II Created in 2003 by a group of self-avowed Trekkies, the series is based on Star Trek: The Original Series, and picks up where TOS left off. The series is notable for the high production value, and the fact that they have several ST alum helping them out, including Eugene Roddenberry, Denise Crosby, and David Gerrold. The latter contributed an episode that he'd originally written for TNG, but was rejected due to the fact that it contained an openly gay couple and an allegory for the AIDS epidemic. Gerrold retooled his script to fit the TOS characters, and "Blood and Fire" was finally released to the public. So far, so good. I mean, I have to wonder how well-characterized the original script was if he could just adjust things to have it fit TOS, but the dialogue is well-written, and the characters well-realized. The gay couple in question (Kirk's nephew Peter and his boyfriend Alex) are genuinely sweet together, and their relationship doesn't feel forced or cliched. There aren't any stereotypes present- neither of them are especially effeminate or hysterical (well, in the first half anyway) and the other characters never lift an eyebrow at the idea of a gay couple. But then in the second part of the episode, it all comes crashing down.

The episode's main plot circles around the discovery of an abandoned ship, and the horrifying realization that it's infested with "bloodworms-" parasites that feed on human flesh, and are capable of destroying entire civilizations. Peter and Alex are on the away team sent to find out what happened to the ship's crew, and after the discovery that the ship is infested, Starfleet orders that it be blown up, along with everyone who's potentially been exposed. "Okay," I think, "this could be interesting. Kirk wrestles with obeying orders versus his concern for his nephew (and Spock, who's also on the away team) and has to decide whether the potential risk posed by saving the away team outweights the slaughter of anyone unfortunate enough to be on the ship . . ."

. . . or they could just blow over that, and save everyone, except for Alex, who is forced to committ suicide rather than be munched on by bloodworms. Three guesses as to which option the writer took, and the first two don't count.

So after Alex dies, Peter volunteers to go and blow the ship up himself, because he wants to die (because you know how HYSTERICAL them gays are!) only then they find out that the infested ship's original crew was carrying bloodworms because they wanted to committ genocide against the Klingons. Captain Kirk lectures everyone on the dangers of hatred, and they steer the ship into a solar flare, roasting the bloodworms. Oh, and a bunch of sparkly space butterflies symbolize Alex passing into the afterlife or some shit like that. The end!

There is so much wrong with this, I don't even know where to start.

The Times, They Are A-Changing

Back when this script was originally written, the socio-political climate was light years away from what it is now. For one thing, there were virtually no gay characters on television, let alone ones in committed relationships. To show such a couple tragically ripped apart by AIDS- excuse me, bloodworms- would have made a huge difference in the way TNG's viewers would have looked at the AIDS epedemic. Instead of filthy perverts who brought their deaths on themsevles by being mindlessly promiscuous, they'd see two young men (who are so sweet and wholesome, it hurts- they bonded over being study partners, for Christ's sake) being ripped apart by something that neither of them could control. Sure it's a flawed allegory, but it was a message that needed to be sent. And even if they did kill one of the gay characters, there was still one left to remind the audience that gays were, in fact, people.

But that was then, and this is 2009. The climate is vastly different then it was in 1989, with different issues that need to be addressed. While AIDS still exists, it doesn't loom as large as it did in the eighties, and most people don't need to be told how awful it is. The problem now isn't a dearth of gay characters, it's the fact that they're rarely allowed to have successful happy relationships. We all know it's hard to be gay, but could someone please give us at least one happy couple? Please? I'm running out of hope here.

And although I'm sure the writers/producers would be shocked! shocked, I tell you! at my casting aspersions on their motives for getting rid of Alex, I'm going to do it anyway. With him gone, they never ever have to address Peter's sexuality again. Think about it: giving him another love interest would look callous right after his fiancee died, and if they aren't going to give him another love interest, they never have to mention his gayness again! He'll become functionally asexual, just like Dumbledore. [Edit: As a reader pointed out, "invisible" would be a better term.] They get all the kudos for having a gay character, but they'll never have to address his affection for men. Or they could retcon it entirely by having him fall for a woman and say "Oh, he was bi! Didn't we mention that?" which would just make me want to break things. I'm just as desperate for bi characters as I am for gay characters, but for fuck's sake, stop using my orientation as an excuse to erase queer characters. We deserve better than that.

But that's just the worst-case scenario. The best is Peter having other relationships with men (which I just don't see being possible/plausible in the near future) or just not having any relationships at all. The latter option would certainly please the fanboys who howled in protest about the icky gay kissing in their bastion of heterosexuality and testosterone, but it wouldn't especially please me.

The Dead Gay Problem

Back when gay characters were first starting to emerge in the media, they could rarely expect a happy ending. The Well of Loneliness ends with Stephen begging God for the mere right to exist, while Maurice's main character and his lover are forced to shun society and live in the woods. This is presumably due to the fact that the books were written at a time when being publically gay was social (if not literal) suicide. The problem is, it hasn't gone away as things have progressed. At the end of Lost and Delerious, Paulie jumps off a roof; RENT has Angel dying of AIDS. Even when the writers can't tie the characters' deaths to their sexuality, they still manage to get rid of them. Buffy had Tara get shot; Torchwood booted Ianto in the third season by having him drop dead of an alien virus. It's like there's some sort of mass delusion that being gay/bi will immediately result in violent, unpleasant death. Is Jan Moir secretly running a media empire or something?

So with the Dead Gay Epidemic going on on network television, it's disappointing to see web-based media falling to the trend as well- especially when there's no reason for it. Alex's death does absolutely nothing to serve the plot. You could remove it, and the episode would make just as much sense, and be rid of a bunch of extraneous angst. Now it's entirely possible, even probable that Alex's death was in the original script, but massive edits have been done since. It wasn't outside the realm of possibility for someone to say "Hey, this is great, but killing Alex doesn't really carry the same meaning as it would have back in '89- how about letting him live?" Moreover, I have a hard time buying that no one realized that it was outright offensive. Unless of course, they were deliberately making sure that they wouldn't have a gay couple on the series by killing half of it off. Not only did they avoid having a recurring gay couple, but they dodged having to show them getting married (the horror, the horror.) See, Peter and Alex spend the first half of the episode planning to get married, and Peter asks his uncle to marry them right before they leave on the away mission. Now this feels a bit like pointing out the obvious, but if you want to stay politically relevant, wouldn's showing a gay couple get married accomplish that goal? I mean, it's not like people all over America are fighting for the right to have their union legally recognized. Nothing of the sort. Prop what?

Good fuckity god.

In conclusion, the people running Phase II fucked up. Badly. They had the opportunity to remain politically relevant and adhere to Gene Roddenberry's vision of a more equal future. Instead, they sent their show hurtling back to the eighties, when I wasn't even born. Which I suppose is a good thing, because I am never watching this show again.
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Comments (go to latest)
Wardog at 10:07 on 2009-12-02
I am so intensely clueless about fandom. As we know, I'm a big Trek nerd, but I hadn't even heard of Phase II - heh, not that I'll be watching it now! Also thanks for the link to the *AMAZING* Women's Work. I've heard people talk about how political, illuminating and fascinating fanvids can be but I've always kind of just gone "whatever." This is officially my conversion. My tiny mind is blown!

The few times homosexuality has come up in Star Trek that I can recall, except for the fact the show itself doesn't *really* want to deal with it, it's been semi-well handled. I seem to remember there's a nice episode of DS9 when Jadzia meets and old Trill lover who is currently in the body of a female. They grapple with their love for most of the episode, but the main issue is always very much the fact that Trill aren't allow to resurrect relationships rather than the fact that they're both girlz now. Which I liked :)
In regards to Women's Work - I get the point it's making, and I see the problem, and recognise the video isn't just talking about supernatural etc etc.

But.

Ugh. I don't even know how to put this. One link summarises it as demonstrating the portrayal of women as "Evil, slutty or helpless" but this is true of almost every bit part character that the main characters meet. Why? Either they are the big bad - ie evil, or they are the victims - ie helpless. Slutty is a different problem (to do with target audiences etc), but temptation is part of the whole demon thing, right?

Plus, to make it's point, it ignores a lot of actual characters. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Characters_of_Supernatural) There are women who are not evil, slutty, or helpless. There are guys who are...

Here I stop before I dig too deep a hole.

Basically, I think the video is extremely well put together, hits all the right buttons to get you worked up about certain issues. But in doing so it leaves out all evidence that doesn't agree, and that bugs the hell out of me.
Dan H at 11:31 on 2009-12-02
It's genuinely fascinating, I think, how something can go from "awesome message of tolerance" to "actually kinda skeevy" purely by putting it in a different cultural context.

Back when Star Trek TNG was big, just having openly gay characters on television was a Big Deal, which means the episode described would actually have been remarkably progressive for its time. Put it ten years later and suddenly it's yet another episode in which the token gay character gets killed off early.

On a side note, bisexuality on TV is always really tricky. There's this horrible trap that both writers and audiences seem to fall into off assuming that bisexuals "don't count". It always used to mildly annoy me that Buffy made such a big thing about Willow being Definitely Gay and Not Bisexual At All. There's this nasty perception out there that being bisexual is somehow cheating - which I rather expect is exascerbated by the fact that, as you observe, it very often *is* used as a way to retcon out previously gay characters.
Arthur B at 13:30 on 2009-12-02
It's insanely depressing how many people just don't get bisexuality. I honestly can't remember the last time I saw a character on TV identified as bisexual who wasn't either a) genuinely confused, and settled on a "permanent" orientation once they met their Twue Wuv, or b) slutty slut slut sluts. Usually they are both.

I can't believe people are still buying into the idea that "monogamous bisexual" is a contradiction in terms.
Wardog at 13:38 on 2009-12-02
Basically, I think the video is extremely well put together, hits all the right buttons to get you worked up about certain issues. But in doing so it leaves out all evidence that doesn't agree, and that bugs the hell out of me.


Well, it's very self-consciously a piece rhetoric - that is rather the nature of rhetoric, isn't it? To concentrate on the evidence that supports your central point.

Also I don't want to derail Viorica's very excellent article into a discussion of the portrayal of women in Supernatural BUT I think the issue is one of generalities not specifics in that the two central characters of Supernatural are men, so you're *always* going to have a very strong portrayal in the foregound to counter-balance all the slutty, helpess, evil men who show up as secondary characters. Equally you always have a very positive depiction of male-male bonding, again, to act as a counterweight to any unfortunate or destructive male relationships, like Dean's short-term friendship with the crazy rogue demon hunter guy.
Jamie Johnston at 15:51 on 2009-12-02
'Jamie speculates wildly about reasons why things might be the case', part one:

It's like there's some sort of mass delusion that being gay/bi will immediately result in violent, unpleasant death. Is Jan Moir secretly running a media empire or something?

One can think of no end of possible reasons for this: conscious or unconscious desire to feature gay characters but not for so long that they have to be treated like, you know, real characters; the fact that a lot of media people are probably of such an age that the first time male homosexuality really obtruded on their picture of the world was when it was very strongly associated with AIDS; the conscious or unconscious belief that gay people are normally or necessarily deeply troubled (a belief no doubt reinforced by the fact that a few of them are - thanks to Sonia for reminding me of that comic). But it occurs to me that another contributing factor to the high death-rate among gay characters may be the persistently low visibility of middle-aged and older gay people in society. In other words, not only do writers have in their minds an association between homosexuality and early death (partly based on out-dated reality - AIDS in the '80s - and partly based on distortion by the news media - Jan Moir and such), but they also lack a counter-balancing store of real-life examples associating homosexuality with long life.

Of course it's all a bit of a vicious, er, whatever geometric form is more complicated and less symmetrical than a circle, because the low visibility of older gay people is largely caused by media distortion and by the habits they themselves have picked up from growing up and growing old in times (even) less tolerant than today. But it does underline why Ian McKellen is right to nag his contemporaries and fellow public figures to come out.
Jamie Johnston at 15:54 on 2009-12-02
'Jamie speculates wildly about reasons why things might be the case', part two:

I can't believe people are still buying into the idea that "monogamous bisexual" is a contradiction in terms.

Now this one I think may be partly structural. The only ways for a work of fiction to dramatize the bisexuality of a character are (1) to put him or her through a series of monogamous relationships with people of both sexes; (2) to put him or her through a number of simultaneous or overlapping relationships with people of both sexes; (3) to have him or her demonstrate the desire or temptation to have sex with other specific people of both sexes; (4) to have him or her express attraction to other specific people of both sexes; (5) to have him or her (or another character or omniscient narrator) state his or her attraction to both sexes in general.

Perhaps you already see where I'm going with this. Options 5 and 4 are weak and smell of tokenism (it used to be, for example, one of my major difficulties with the generally charming Questionable content that although there was a respectable number of bisexual and gay characters they never actually did anything beyond mentioning their off-stage partners and hook-ups and occasionally claiming in a rather hypothetical way to be attracted to other characters of the same sex; I'm glad to say the last few months have remedied this to a great extent). Also option 4, if the character is already in a monogamous relationship, risks making him or her look like he or she has a roving eye and is therefore within sight, if not within spitting distance, of 'slutty slut slut' territory. Option 3, if the character is already in a monogamous relationship, can, unless handled very well, end up with the character looking confused about his or her sexuality and / or fickle and tending toward the slutty. Option 2 has to be handled very very very well to avoid landing in confused / slutty territory. And the trouble with option 1 is that, to make it clear that we aren't dealing with a case of confusion or conversion, you really need to give the character a series of at least three monogamous relationships with partners of alternating sex, and that means either making the relationships very short (which again risks ambling down the road to slutty) or dealing with an unusually long time-span for the average work of fiction (excluding soap operas that run forever).

None of which is to say that it can't be done or that it shouldn't be tried or that writers couldn't be doing a lot more than they are. But it's worth noting the pitfalls.
Melissa G. at 16:23 on 2009-12-02
It always used to mildly annoy me that Buffy made such a big thing about Willow being Definitely Gay and Not Bisexual At All.


Again, not to shift off the topic, but yes! Fifty times yes. This annoyed me so much. Here was an opportunity for a truly bisexual character (rather than retconning a previously gay/straight character), and they totally ignored it. I felt like poor Oz got so gyped. It was obvious that Willow was in love with and (key word) sexually attracted to Oz. She was the aggressor for the most part in their sexual relationship. Every time Willow had a line equivalent to "Eww, I don't like penises, remember?!" I always got majorly pissed off.

/rant
Arthur B at 16:30 on 2009-12-02
Also option 4, if the character is already in a monogamous relationship, risks making him or her look like he or she has a roving eye and is therefore within sight, if not within spitting distance, of 'slutty slut slut' territory.

This surely depends whether you're defining "expressing attraction" as the person in question saying to themselves "hey, this person of a gender not of my partner's is making me doubt my commitment to my current relationship", or whether it's just them casually saying something along the lines of "I'd hit that" without any serious intent behind it to go out and, you know, hit that. There are plenty of relationships in which both partners are just fine with their other halves idly expressing attraction to others in a purely hypothetical way.

And what about option 6, depict them in a committed relationship during the course of the story but make references to a previous romantic history which, while in the past, is not denounced or regarded by the character as an aberration?
Viorica at 16:50 on 2009-12-02
It always used to mildly annoy me that Buffy made such a big thing about Willow being Definitely Gay and Not Bisexual At All.

At one point, Amber Benson commented that she was glad that Willow didn't "flip-flop" about her attraction to men versus women. I don't even know what to say to that.

Most shows featuring bisexual characters seem to take either option two or three, if they don't just retconn the character's sexuality altogether (Buffy, The L Word) The problem is, the audience will automatically assume that when a character is dating someone of one sex, they are only attracted to that sex- i.e. they've "settled down-" when when that's never stated in the show itself.
Arthur B at 17:02 on 2009-12-02
The problem is, the audience will automatically assume that when a character is dating someone of one sex, they are only attracted to that sex- i.e. they've "settled down-" when when that's never stated in the show itself.

Yes, but there's only a certain extent to which you can blame the audience for the depictions an author chooses to put forward. Surely, in fact, in this case there's a certain responsibility for writers to challenge the audience's assumptions?
Viorica at 17:04 on 2009-12-02
but I hadn't even heard of Phase II - heh, not that I'll be watching it now!

In fairness, I should say that the first part of the episode is really well done- part of my irritation stems from thinking "Yay, a well-done gay couple! I'm so happy!" and then getting smacked in the face with SURPRISE DEAD GAY! But I'd say that Part 1 is worth a look, if you ignore part two. (Both parts are on YouTube here and here if anyone wants to take a look.)
Sister Magpie at 17:35 on 2009-12-02
This conversation is making me think about bisexual characters on TV...and wonder you think of Angela on Bones? She's been shown in relationships with men, but also had a past significant girlfriend with whom she almost got together with again. She seems to me like an actual bisexual.
Arthur B at 18:20 on 2009-12-02
A point that seems to have gone amiss:

I mean, I have to wonder how well-characterized the original script was if he could just adjust things to have it fit TOS, but the dialogue is well-written, and the characters well-realized.

I'm sure the original version was much different - Picard would have tried to negotiate with the bloodworms rather than shoving them into the Sun...
Melissa G. at 18:44 on 2009-12-02
This conversation is making me think about bisexual characters on TV...and wonder you think of Angela on Bones?


For me personally (though this may be just because I was not hugely into Bones), Angela kind of read like a straight women who had a sexy, wild side that included sometimes making out with girls. Granted, I never saw her when she was with this woman (maybe I missed that ep), but from what I remember, she primarily dates men. Having one girlfriend does not really say much for her being bisexual (to me, anyway). Others may disagree.
Viorica at 18:49 on 2009-12-02
Part of the problem with bisexuals on TV is that it's hard to explain the Kinsey scale to audiences. Some bisexual people tilt more to one gender than the other, but not many people realize that. It sounds (though I haven't watched Bones) that Angela would fall about a two on the scale- romantically inclined more towards men, but still attracted to women. Of course, I could be missing in-show context.
Melissa G. at 19:05 on 2009-12-02
I agree. I just feel with such a stigma attached to bisexuality, a show has to work harder to make it come off as actual bisexuality.

I guess as far as Angela goes, I just never really saw her be interested in women as fully as she was in men. Which, yeah, bisexuals can lean to one side or the other. But it didn't come off that way to me when I watched it. Even my mom thought it was reconning when she got engaged to (blanking on his name) Dirt Guy. For example, when the two guys were fighting over the delivery girl, and it turned out that she was actually into Angela, she didn't actually ask her out or anything as far as I remember. It was like, "oh, haha, she likes me not you". Angela seemed more surprised and flattered than actively interested.
Viorica at 19:22 on 2009-12-02
But why would she be interested? Are straight/gay people interested in everyone who hits on them?
Arthur B at 19:54 on 2009-12-02
Part of the problem with bisexuals on TV is that it's hard to explain the Kinsey scale to audiences.

Especially when the labels we use tend to make people think of discrete little boxes, like sexuality works along the same lines as D&D alignment.

Although now I think of that, I do get a sort of juvenile amusement from the idea of Paladins being obliged to be Lawful Gay.
Wardog at 20:43 on 2009-12-02
Part of the problem with bisexuals on TV is that it's hard to explain the Kinsey scale to audiences.


To say nothing of the fact that this it's an incredibly reductionist and unhelpful way of looking at bisexuality. Obviously I can't speak for every other bisexual in the world but I think most of us experience regular fluctations in our attraction to members of either sex, dependent on who knows what. How on earth do you put that on TV? I can barely explain it anybody who isn't an actual bisexual. Main character is feeling moderately more straight today than she was yesterday!
Sister Magpie at 20:55 on 2009-12-02
Yes, that's the way it seems to be with Angela. 13 on House seemed to be shown having lots of anonymous sex with women, but then wound up in a relationship with a man.

Angela is basically a wild child who was mostly shown dating men--though I don't think she dated so many men, exactly. I thought of her because it seemed like when her ex-girlfriend was introduced she was introduced as an ex-girlfriend, meaning a serious relationship, rather than an experiment, for instance. She does seem to mostly be into guys, but I got the impression that this character was introduced as an important past relationship not particularly different because it was with a woman. She was more important than her first husband, for instance.

I still consider her as mostly leaning towards the het side, but it didn't really feel like a retcon when we were told she'd had a girlfriend.
Viorica at 21:00 on 2009-12-02
How on earth do you put that on TV?

Not easily, which is a shame, because it would probably be a great help to teenagers who are freaking out over "what the hell is going on with me?" without any real examples that say "yes, this is normal." I know it would have been a huge help when I was fifteen.

. . . what was the original article about, again?
Melissa G. at 22:17 on 2009-12-02
But why would she be interested? Are straight/gay people interested in everyone who hits on them?


Fair point. And it's annoying when shows/media act like anyone who is gay is attracted to anyone else who is gay because, yeah, they're not. So I understand that Angela might not be attracted to every girl she sees.

But I was just trying to pull an example out of the many examples. From the beginning, they indicated that she was interested in woman, but I don't remember her EVER really hitting on a woman in the seasons I watched. She commented that a girl was hot or cute or something once, but more as a recollection of what this woman looked like.

I didn't see her with her ex-gf - I couldn't put up with the show enough to watch that far. But when I think about her relationships, I remember Hodgens, her first husband/fling thing, and the guy she was involved with in New Mexico who died.

I guess it just felt to me like a bit of cop-out. It seemed like they wanted to have a hot, artsy bisexual woman without having to actually deal with it past her talking about having a past relationship with a woman or saying a woman is hot/pretty/sexy. This ex-girlfriend (I’ve just looked up) doesn’t show up until season 4 though she was referenced in season 3. It just seems like the writers were more inclined to write her in relationships with men despite having made it clear that she was bi. Why did they wait so long to actively show this part of her sexuality? Maybe other people read her character differently, but that's how I saw her.
http://baihehua.livejournal.com/ at 04:10 on 2009-12-03
Having personal interest in the portrayal of the LGBT community, there are a couple points I would like to add.

I think bisexuality is, in some ways, more frightening than homosexuality to straight culture. An informed understanding of bisexuality denies the black-and-white, gay-and-straight mentality that can be easy for straight people to fall into. Being attracted to both sexes opens up the myriad possibilities of human sexuality in a way that neither heterosexuality nor homosexuality do. Because of that, it can be more threatening than homosexuality to the traditional straight mindset.

Because of this cultural context, like it or not, people need to be very careful portraying bisexuals in the media. I'm even going to make the claim that bisexuals in media should not be considered the same way as bisexuals in real life. In real life, bisexuals can be anywhere on the Kinsey scale. For example, I have a female friend who has never had a girlfriend and recently married a man, but considers herself bisexual because she is attracted to women as well as men. In real life, this is fine.

In media portrayals of bisexuals, however, this is not acceptable. In the media, a bisexual who only has experiences with the opposite sex might as well be straight. Similarly, a bisexual who only has experiences with the same sex might as well be gay.

The thing to remember is that media characters are not real people. Real people need no justification for their identities; characters do. If a character does not behave in accordance with their supposed identity, either the character's behavior or identity should change. Bisexual characters, therefore, should be portrayed as being attracted to both men and women, preferably in roughly equal proportions. That is not to say that bisexual characters need to be attracted to every person they encounter, or that they can't have long-term relationships. But bisexual characters should be just about as likely to have relationships with women as with men, and when they are flirting or looking for dates, they should look to both sexes.

Media people (directors, producers, authors, etc.) need to stop presenting characters that have mostly/entirely heterosexual experiences as bisexual. Bisexuality means being attracted to both sexes, and that needs to be better portrayed in the media.
Wardog at 11:41 on 2009-12-03
I think, as Baihehua says, we have to recognitise a distinction between real people and fictional people. I mean, in 'real life' we can self-define as anything we can damn please, and it underscores no issues of representation or portrayal.

Ultimately, it's all very well to stand here going "the media doesn't portray bisexuality" very well, which is self-evidently true and nets you immediate Minority Warrior points ... it doesn't actually *mean* anything. I mean, I think most people find the sexuality of other people somewhat alien, regardless of the genders involved.
Arthur B at 14:30 on 2009-12-03
I think at the end of the day you have to make a distinction between fictional tropes which are simplifications of something broadly but not universally true, and tropes which perpetuate ideas which are actually harmful to people, and accept that you're going to get a lot of the former because writers have to simplify; you can't expect authors or scriptwriters to concoct perfect simulacra of real life - and also, human beings appear to need to come up with this sort of simplification in their heads to actually process real life in the first place, let alone fiction.

Which is probably why it probably isn't helpful to bring up the Kinsey scale in this context. Putting aside the fact that is itself an oversimplification based on dubious 1950s logic, the fact is that you just don't get people marching for Equal Rights For Four Point Twos.
Viorica at 03:02 on 2009-12-04
most people find the sexuality of other people somewhat alien

I don't really care about what other people think. I want to be represented because I'm sick of not having any characters to relate to. Which is why statements like this-

If a character does not behave in accordance with their supposed identity, either the character's behavior or identity should change. Bisexual characters, therefore, should be portrayed as being attracted to both men and women, preferably in roughly equal proportions.

Are really fucking offensive. If I read your statement right, you're implying that a bisexual character is not behaving like a bisexual unless they date both genders in equal measures, which as I've already mentioned is fallacious. Either that, or you're saying that bisexual characters should act in a way that doesn't challenge the paradigms of monosexual audiences. Either way, what the hell?
Wardog at 10:01 on 2009-12-04
I don't really care about what other people think. I want to be represented because I'm sick of not having any characters to relate to.


I agree with you that bisexuals are under-represented, I just merely meant to point out that it's very easy to lock yourself in "woe is me, I am so misunderstood and special" thinking, when sexuality, in itself, is a hellishly complex business. Quite frankly there's a part of me that cannot compute when someone is attracted to someone I am not, regardless of gender, and as far people who are only attracted to one sex ... yikes, how do they function within such limitations? =P
Dan H at 10:47 on 2009-12-04
If I read your statement right, you're implying that a bisexual character is not behaving like a bisexual unless they date both genders in equal measures, which as I've already mentioned is fallacious.


Not to put words into anybody's mouth, but I think what Baihehua was saying was that while in real life it's perfectly possible for somebody to be bisexual but still wind up having exclusively heterosexual (or homosexual) relationships, in fiction such a character would wind up looking extremely tokenistic.

To pick an example I think we're all comfortable with, in real life it's entirely possible to have an elderly gay man who had one tragic affair in his youth and hasn't been in a relationship since. It's entirely possible that you could spend seven years at school and never realise that your beloved headmaster was actually a homosexual. In a work of fiction, however, a "gay" character who never has a homosexual relationship is a major problem because it contributes to the idea that gay people are okay, so long as they don't actually act on their sexuality.

With bisexuality it gets a whole lot more complicated, because you've got a veritable minefield of stereotypes to dance around. It's particularly a problem with bisexual women, because it's extremely easy for their bisexuality to come across as something they put on for the benefit of men (a misconception not helped by the huge number of media outlets in which women are encouraged to do exactly that - Katy Perry has never kissed a girl in her life and probably wouldn't like it if she did).

I don't think numbers games are what matters here, so much as attraction to men and women being shown as equally *valid*. This ties back to Mellissa's comments about Angela in the first couple of series of Bones. The problem isn't that she doesn't routinely chase girls, the problem is that when she's attracted to men it's presented as something natural, sensible and meaningful, while when she's attracted to girls it's presented as something delightfully naughty and risque. Of course the fact that I didn't like Bones might be prejudicing me here.
Melissa G. at 13:41 on 2009-12-04
in real life it's entirely possible to have an elderly gay man who had one tragic affair in his youth and hasn't been in a relationship since.


You mean Tim Gunn? :-) Sorry, couldn't resist.
Sister Magpie at 15:54 on 2009-12-04
I don't think numbers games are what matters here, so much as attraction to men and women being shown as equally *valid*. This ties back to Mellissa's comments about Angela in the first couple of series of Bones. The problem isn't that she doesn't routinely chase girls, the problem is that when she's attracted to men it's presented as something natural, sensible and meaningful, while when she's attracted to girls it's presented as something delightfully naughty and risque. Of course the fact that I didn't like Bones might be prejudicing me here.


Since I brought up Angela, I just wanted to say I agree with this--particular since she seems to be a character who has a lot of sex and they also continue to bring in male character with whom she has a relationship or an attraction but not characters who are women.

It was just that this one relationship that they introduced for her as something from her past that was briefly revived, it seemed like it actually was addressing the idea that it wasn't naughty or risque, but was an actual long-term relationship. I don't remember it well enough to defend how well it was done or not, but it did seem like it was introduced as an important relationship, someone she'd lived with iirc, that was presented as less naughty and more thoughtful than some of her male relationships for instance.

Another problem I'd say is that there tend to just be more male characters, period, and of the female ones the writers probably want to put them with male characters. For instance, I haven't watched House in a while, but I remember being told 13 was bisexual, and seeing her have a lot of anonymous sex with women when she was self-destructively dealing with being diagnosed with Huntington's. But then she got into a relationship with a male character on the show. So it's probably all too easy to read her relationships with women as having different value.
Viorica at 20:23 on 2009-12-04

Not to put words into anybody's mouth, but I think what Baihehua was saying was that while in real life it's perfectly possible for somebody to be bisexual but still wind up having exclusively heterosexual (or homosexual) relationships, in fiction such a character would wind up looking extremely tokenistic.

Not denying that there's a minefield of potential stereotypes that well-meaning writers can fall into (especially since that's part of why "Blood and Fire" fails) but as long as it's well-established, it dosn't have to be tokenistic. Alice on "The L Word" establishes very specfically that she's more romantically inclined towards women, but enjoys sex with both genders. It only took two lines to explain that. Now, The L Word gets a bit more leeway because it's populated entirely with lesbians, so Alice doesn't look as tokenistic as she would on a show populated largely with straight characters. But still she was a well-written bi character for a few seasons.

And (to get somewhat back on-topic) I don't have any problems with the idea of Peter or Alex being bi, since it's mentioned that they only ever dated each other ("There's never been anyone else for either of us") so it's entirely plausible. Or- considering that the show takes place hundreds on years into the future- it could be that people no longer label sexuality, so dating both genders requires no explanation. What worries me is the very real possibility that "bi, lol" will be used as an excuse to duck out of ever showing a gay relationship with an HEA.
http://baihehua.livejournal.com/ at 22:50 on 2009-12-04
Sorry it's taken me so long to get back here. And thank you, Dan; that is basically what I was saying.

My point is that, no matter how much we may like and identify with fictional characters, they are not real people. Real people can identify and behave however they want and there's no problem. Fictional characters' identities, however, need to be justified. I think this is true for a lot of things, not just sexuality. For example, a character in the US who claims to be Democrat, yet always votes for Republican presidents and congressmen, exclusively watches Fox News, and who adores Newt Gingrich-- that's a problem. In real life, I don't think anyone can tell this person that he or she can't be Democrat (weird as that might seem). As a character's identity, however, there is no reason for this person to be Democrat. As evidenced by behavior, being Democrat is obviously not very important to the character. Therefore, there is no reason not to have this character be Republican (or at least moderate). Or, if the director or author wants to insist that the character is a Democrat, either revise the character's behavior or at least point out how incredibly hypocritical it is. The same goes for sexual orientation and a whole lot of other identity issues. If there is no basis from the character's behavior to make a claim about that character's identity, then the claim should not be made.

Now, I do grant that things are even more confusing with bisexuality because it is considered to be between hetero- and homosexuality. And I don't really care about exact numbers. Also, I grant that there is less of a problem if a bi character is generally more attracted to the same sex than if he/she is generally more attracted to the opposite sex. But if a bi character only exhibits attraction to one sex (note: that's "exhibits", not "claims"), I think the director or author should rethink his/her decision to make this character bi. Or revise the character's behavior.
Viorica at 00:13 on 2009-12-05
. . . you lost me. A character's sexuality = their political affiliation? What?
http://baihehua.livejournal.com/ at 00:35 on 2009-12-05
No, a character's political affiliation does not equal his/her sexual orientation. Not at all.

But they are both elements of a character's (or a real-life person's) identity. Identity is made up of many facets, including race, sex, nationality, sexual orientation, political affiliation, religion, etc. I was simply using an analogous example to (hopefully) make my point more clearly.
Sister Magpie at 00:37 on 2009-12-05
I think she was more making the point that a fictional character identified as something is slightly different than a real world person who is that something.

So for instance, in real life bisexuals can be any number of different ways, but when a character is identified as bisexual on TV we're going to judge how well s/he lives up to that idea, or what the fiction seems to be saying about bisexuals through how they show this character.
Jamie Johnston at 00:54 on 2009-12-05
Crikey, this thread's a fair bit longer than when I last saw it! Jolly interesting, too, but I'm only going to reply to Arthur's comments on what I said:

This surely depends whether you're defining "expressing attraction" as the person in question saying to themselves "hey, this person of a gender not of my partner's is making me doubt my commitment to my current relationship", or whether it's just them casually saying something along the lines of "I'd hit that" without any serious intent behind it to go out and, you know, hit that. There are plenty of relationships in which both partners are just fine with their other halves idly expressing attraction to others in a purely hypothetical way.

I was hoping someone would pick me up on that because it's something I sort of wanted to cover in the original comment but left out to avoid wandering too far from the point. You're of course absolutely right, and I think the trouble here comes from a separate bias that's prevalent in fiction but isn't specifically to do with sexual orientation, though it has this disproportionate effect we've encountered here: it's very rare in fiction to get (and I quote because I can't say it better myself) 'relationships in which both partners are just fine with their other halves idly expressing attraction to others in a purely hypothetical way'. I suppose in origin this has something to do with the general assumption that every fairly unimportant that happens in a work of fiction should point towards something more important going on beneath or likely to go on in the future or possibly having gone on in the past: thus writers perhaps fear that an idle expression of attraction in act one necessitates some sort of infidelity in act two. Which is wrong because it assumes a far too straightforward connexion between finding someone attractive and actually having sex with that person, but one can sort of see why the idea might arise. So that's another thing for writers to work on, separately from (but related to) writing convincing bisexual characters.

And what about option 6, depict them in a committed relationship during the course of the story but make references to a previous romantic history which, while in the past, is not denounced or regarded by the character as an aberration?

That's a very good option that I hadn't thought of at all, which is probably why I shouldn't write stuff. :) Of course it's still a little bit at the less powerful end of the show / tell spectrum, but still it would be a dashed good start.
Viorica at 02:15 on 2009-12-05
but when a character is identified as bisexual on TV we're going to judge how well s/he lives up to that idea

And unless we adjust portrayals of bisexuality to reflect the real-life variations, that idea is going to remain flawed. Which is why saying "bisexuals characters must date both genders in equal measures" is only allowing the misconceptions to be reinforced.
Melissa G. at 03:11 on 2009-12-05
I think the issue boils down more to validity than numbers, as Dan mentioned.

I don't think numbers games are what matters here, so much as attraction to men and women being shown as equally *valid*.


It's not that the bisexual characters can't slide to one side or the other of the Kinsey scale (to use a phrase we're all familiar with), but when bisexual characters are shown on televisions, there's a tendency to portray how they interact sexually with each gender in a different way. And this also leads in to the issue of how we interpret the behavior of characters on TV differently than we would in real life.

Just to give an example, in real life, it would be perfectly fine for a bisexual woman to follow a trend of having flings with women and serious relationships with men. But if this was a character on a TV show, people would infer from this behavior that the writers feel that relationships between men and women are more valid than relationships between two women. I think this is where it gets tricky.

And (please correct me if I'm wrong) I think that's why Baihehua suggested they show them being attracted to both sexes in equal proportions. Not because she feels that we need to cater to the mainstream monosexual audience, but because if there is a somewhat 50/50 ratio, we have more relationships with each sex to judge and would be better able to see how this character treats her relationships with both men and women entirely in the same light. It would be more obvious that this person falls for/is attracted to people regardless of gender (in the sense of not being limited to attraction by gender). Which I think would really help to battle certain stereotypes surrounding the bisexual community.

If I'm completely misunderstanding something, please let me know.
http://baihehua.livejournal.com/ at 04:41 on 2009-12-05
Viorica,

I'm not trying to discredit what you're saying, and I think that adjusting portrayals of bisexuality to reflect real-life variations is a wonderful ideal.

However, I don't think it's manageable in a media setting. The media relies on simplifications all the time. If the media is not able to say "bisexual", "Jewish", "Democrat", etc. and have its audience understand what it means by these labels, then the media will never have the time to tell its stories--it will be too busy defining what these terms mean for each individual character. So, while these simplifications can be harmful in real life, they are often helpful in the media, if simply so the media can perform its function (to tell stories/to entertain).

From what I know of bisexuality, the basic concept is being sexually attracted to members of both sexes. Since the media is unable to present the entire spectrum of human sexuality (because it varies with every single person), it is this basic concept that should be consistently portrayed.

I understand it can be frustrating how the media interprets or presents your identity, but I don't think we can expect it to fully encompass all variations of humanity.
http://baihehua.livejournal.com/ at 05:05 on 2009-12-05
Oh, and Melissa, you're not wrong. That is essentially why I was advocating for equal representation of relationships with men and with women (though you did extrapolate my original statements slightly). Thanks for the comment!
Andrew Currall at 16:21 on 2009-12-06
I don't think I agree at all that it is unreasonable for a work of fiction to establish that a character is bisexual and never actually "confirm" that (i.e. by showing the character in a relationship with, or at least attracted to, individuals of both sexes). Would anyone, for example, object to it being established (through dialogue) that a character, say, disliked potatoes, and this never being referred to or made important again? The only real difference between this and, say, bisexuality, as character traits, is that bisexuality is somehow considered "important", whereas a dislike of potatoes wouldn't be. But I think a situation in which sexuality is considered an unimportant and largely incidental trait is precisely the situation one should aim for.
I would concede that if a work stated that a character was bisexual but never showed them in any relationships with their own sex, one could reasonably say that it couldn't really claim brownie points for featuring non-heterosexual characters, but provided the revealing of their sexuality is natural (i.e. not clearly there for the sole purpose of creating a bisexual character), I'd have no problem with it.
Wardog at 09:37 on 2009-12-07
But I think a situation in which sexuality is considered an unimportant and largely incidental trait is precisely the situation one should aim for.


Well, I suppose this leads to a larger, even messier can of worms regarding whether you consider sexuality as connected to who you are or what you do... I think the problem with portraying minority groups (Minority Warrior!) is that as soon as you start arguing that it *shouldn't* matter if someone is gay, or a woman, or black, and that ideally it's equivalent to disliking potatoes, then you're merely giving excuses for it to be badly handled or ignored.

I had a tangential thought about this whole business actually - and I wonder if the difficulty might not lie so much with the depiction of bisexuality but with the depiction of relationships. The problem is that characters, like people, may have more than one relationship over the course of a text, especially if it's a long running series. And unless you're specifically going for "this is an unhealthy relationship", then it's very difficult to give both (or however many relationships they have) equal validity.

And truthfully I don't think we do that in real life either - we look back over our past relationships and go "oh, it wasn't love, it didn't count" (at least we do once we get over them) and our current relationship and think "yes, this is it, this is the real thing."

In fiction it's even worse - in order to make a romantic relationship convicing you have to pretty jettison everything that went before it. Which means that if you do have a bisexuality character, I reckon you can't win. Because if you set them up with a person of the same sex and then with a person of the opposite sex, the implicit (although *unintended* message) will be "lol, they were really straight all along" (because this is their twu wuv) and if you do it the other way round you'll be stuck with "lol, they were really gay all along (because this is their twu wuv).
Andrew Currall at 18:20 on 2009-12-07
as you start arguing that it *shouldn't* matter if someone is gay, or a woman, or black, and that ideally it's equivalent to disliking potatoes, then you're merely giving excuses for it to be badly handled or ignored.

Mmm, yes, I can see that. It's all rather difficult.
I think perhaps part of the problem is that it's difficult to judge whether a work of fiction is representing any group in an unreasonable way (or simply underrepresenting it), because a work of fiction will have relatively few characters and situations in it and one could easily argue each as in themselves reasonable. Women are vastly under-represented in fiction as a whole (i.e. the majority of characters, perhaps around 70%, are male), but it's difficult to accuse most specific works of under-representing women (Tolkein is an exception, being an extreme example), because it'll have only 5-10 major characters and you could put it down to random chance or come up with a plausible reason why the majority of characters in this particular work are male.
And this is far worse with sexuality, both because it isn't a 50/50 split in the first place (so one wouldn't want to argue that half of all characters should be homo- or bi-sexual), and because a character's sexuality isn't necessarily evident (whereas their sex generally is).
Viorica at 19:55 on 2009-12-07
The problem with "it shouldn't matter" arguments is that it skates dangerously close to "I don't see you as black/gay/female" which is basically a way for people who aren't minorities to avoid thinking about their own prejudices.
http://roisindubh211.livejournal.com/ at 02:15 on 2009-12-08
In fiction it's even worse - in order to make a romantic relationship convicing you have to pretty jettison everything that went before it. Which means that if you do have a bisexuality character, I reckon you can't win. Because if you set them up with a person of the same sex and then with a person of the opposite sex, the implicit (although *unintended* message) will be "lol, they were really straight all along" (because this is their twu wuv) and if you do it the other way round you'll be stuck with "lol, they were really gay all along (because this is their twu wuv).


I automatically agreed with this statement, but I wonder if this is just because its what we're used to seeing. For example, in Friends, (apologies to anyone who doesn't watch this, I'm sure a better example will come to mind) Monica has a longstanding relationship with Richard, then they break up because she wants kids and he doesn't. Later on, she gets together with, and eventually marries, Chandler. There is never any "oh, he wasn't that great" about Richard, its just accepted that there was too big of a problem to work around, and Monica does occasionally have to reassure Chandler that she loves him and is over Richard, etc.

I think if either of the men was made a female character, you could quite conceivably play it that way and have the same kind of break up and moving on without invalidating the previous relationship. I really think the biggest problem with trying to portray bisexuality in fiction is usually that people will go "Wait, so she's straight now?" instead of "oh my god they are such a cute couple/so annoying/etc," as you normally do to a new couple on a soap or sitcom.

That and, of course, things like the *wonderful* reaction of the Sex and the City girls when one of Carrie's boyfriends tells her he has had a boyfriend or two in the past. She freaks out and can't understand why he doesn't "just make up his mind". It was a horrible response to a character who is, very maturely, saying "look, this is my sexual history, I've been tested x months ago, I want you to know so you don't have to worry." That was so frigging offensive it shocked me. (Though why I don't know. It's not as if they put any real thought into how they depict women or gay men.)
Jamie Johnston at 01:07 on 2009-12-09
Well, I suppose this leads to a larger, even messier can of worms...

Mmm, worms.

Just out of interest, and possibly for the sake of looking at it from a new angle, can anyone think of any bisexual characters / relationships in fiction that have been well handled?
http://baihehua.livejournal.com/ at 20:31 on 2009-12-09
Unless a relationship involves at least three people, I don't see how the relationship *itself* can be bisexual. ;-)

Characters... I think everyone has a different definition of "well handled". Among characters I think are reasonably well handled, I can name a couple that, while they are not explicitly stated to be bisexual, can easily be seen as bisexual or gender-blind.

*Rachel, from Imagine Me & You. She never names her sexuality and even explicitly refuses to label herself. She has had a long-term sexual and romantic relationship with a man before meeting the woman she falls for. Also, the reason given for her leaving her husband is not because she is not attracted to him, but because she "went crazy. [She] went crazy for someone and it wasn't [her husband]".

*Sita and Radha, from Fire (by Deepa Mehta). Again, these women do not label themselves. They are attracted to each other and begin a physical, as well as emotional, relationship, but there is nothing to indicate that either woman would be adverse to a relationship with a man. While they have not found what they need in their heterosexual marriages, this is portrayed as due to the unique circumstances they have with their husbands, not as a dislike of men in general.

I'm sure there are other examples out there, but I can't think of any right now.
Rami at 22:54 on 2009-12-09
Sita and Radha, from Fire (by Deepa Mehta)

That's an interesting pair of character names, especially if they're in a relationship. I'm going to have to read that book...
http://baihehua.livejournal.com/ at 02:40 on 2009-12-10
It's a movie, actually (1996). I included the director because it's not a movie most people are familiar with. It's set in India (so those are Indian names), but they speak in English. Deepa Mehta has said in interviews that she chose to film in English because it is such a common language in India that she felt it would be more true to life to film in English than to film in Hindi or another language.

You should definitely look into it, though. I think it's a great movie. If you're interested, Deepa Mehta also has two later films out, "Earth" and "Water", that address different social problems in India. They're all excellent.
http://miss-morland.livejournal.com/ at 13:19 on 2009-12-10
can anyone think of any bisexual characters / relationships in fiction that have been well handled?

I haven't watched Torchwood, but from what I've heard, Captain Jack Harkness is a rather well-done bisexual character.

(Very interesting discussion, by the way!)
Melissa G. at 14:22 on 2009-12-10
I haven't watched Torchwood, but from what I've heard, Captain Jack Harkness is a rather well-done bisexual character.


I have watched Torchwood, and Captain Jack was one of the first people who came to my head when I thought about bisexual characters. I really do read him as someone who just hits on anything that moves. I suppose people could argue about whether this is a positive or negative portrayal of a bisexual. But he definitely doesn't discriminate based on gender, and that's pretty clear.

In fact, I'm pretty sure the creator of the new Doctor Who and Torchwood is of the impression that by the time we get to Jack's time period (51st century), everyone will be "omnisexual" (his term, not mine) meaning that we won't discriminate on gender, race, or even species. And that idea is evident in both Jack and John, an ex-beau of Jack's who comes in the second season of Torchwood.
Jamie Johnston at 14:47 on 2009-12-10
I wondered about Captain Jack too, but I've only seen him a few times in Doctor Who and never watched Torchwood (which hasn't been on the iPlayer since I discovered, to my surprise, that Doctor Who was rather fun). From what I've seen he came across pretty well. The Doctor's reactions give the impression that Jack's extreme flirtiness is just a thing about him as an individual rather than something related to his sexuality, and it's so light-hearted and superficial that it doesn't seem to imply any tendency toward being unfaithful if he were actually in a relationship.
Melissa G. at 18:37 on 2009-12-10
The Doctor's reactions give the impression that Jack's extreme flirtiness is just a thing about him as an individual rather than something related to his sexuality,

Yes, that's how I viewed it too. It wasn't Jack is a bisexual SO he's flirty. It was just that Jack, as a person, is flirty.

it doesn't seem to imply any tendency toward being unfaithful if he were actually in a relationship.

It got a bit trickier in Torchwood b/c it was a more adult show. But while he was in a relationship with Ianto, he never cheated on him despite having sexually charged moments with other characters. But you were left wondering how serious he was about Ianto, but I chalked it up to Jack being a bit of a commit-a-phobe rather than anything to do with his sexuality.

Torchwood is interesting because every character on the show has had a bisexual moment. Owen had a "devil's threesome", Tosh despite being straight had a relationship with an alien chick for an episode, Gwen had a french kiss with a girl (albeit a super pheromone induced thing out of Gwen's control), and Ianto had a girlfriend before shacking up with Jack.

Oh...uh, spoilers? Sorry.
Viorica at 18:57 on 2009-12-10
I'm iffy on Jack as a bisexual character. On the one hand, he obviously doesn't discriminate in regards to gender. On the other, he hits on everything that moves, and even when he was in a relationship, he wasn't exactly emotionally faithful.
Melissa G. at 22:11 on 2009-12-10
I'm iffy on Jack as a bisexual character.


Personally, I'm with you on that. That's why I wasn't going to bring him up, but I wanted to respond to miss-morland.

I guess it comes down to if you can separate Jack from his sexuality to the point where you know that his flaws as far as relationships go are not due to his sexuality, but due to him as a person. But obviously not everyone is going to be able to make that distinction, which leaves you with a rather, as you said, emotionally unfaithful bisexual character, which is not a great example.
Rami at 22:13 on 2009-12-10
It's a movie, actually (1996). I included the director because it's not a movie most people are familiar with. It's set in India

Thanks for pointing it out -- I'll have to watch it (especially after reading about the controversy)! What actually interested me about the names Sita and Radha is the mythological, er, connection. Is Mehta preaching narcisissm ;-)?
http://miss-morland.livejournal.com/ at 19:15 on 2009-12-11
Ianto had a girlfriend before shacking up with Jack.

Well, now you've made me curious as to the portrayal of Ianto's bisexuality... (I really should watch that show!)
Viorica at 19:50 on 2009-12-11
It's mentioned (shortly before they kill him off . . .) that Jack's the only guy he's ever been attracted to/dated. So it's less a matter of bisexuality as it is one of an ostensibly straight guy falling for a man once (and then dying.)
Viorica at 06:17 on 2009-12-12
Also, Biphobia: It's What's For Dinner is a good breakdown of being bisexual erasure and the impact it has.
Robinson L at 22:30 on 2009-12-15
You know, I glanced through a collection of David Gerrold's works at my local library several months back, and one of items published was the original Next Generation script for “Blood and Fire.” I didn't read it, which I'm kind of regretting now, because I think it would be interesting to compare the original script to the Phase II episode.

Not that it would in any way detract from the epic fail. Gah.

Oh, and thanks for the "Biphobia" link, Viorica.
Viorica at 03:53 on 2009-12-16
If it's still possible to get ahold of it, could you? I'm curious as well.
Robinson L at 20:00 on 2009-12-18
Sure thing, Viorica! The book in question is Involuntary Human. I warn you, however, that it may take me a while both to read the script, and watch the episode (my sound system still being KIA), so don't worry if I don't report back right away, I'm still working on it.

Interestingly enough, while I was browsing for “Involuntary Human” I discovered that David Gerrold published a book entitled Blood and Fire in either 2003 or 2004 (sources are conflicted on this point). According to the website linked above, it's the concluding volume of his “Star Wolf” trilogy, which I've never heard of before. I wonder how it may or may not fit in.

Kyra: Quite frankly there's a part of me that cannot compute when someone is attracted to someone I am not, regardless of gender, and as far people who are only attracted to one sex ... yikes, how do they function within such limitations? =P
Ha-ha, that reminds me of a story my philosophy professor once told me. Once, when questioned on his sexual orientation, James Dean reputedly quipped: “Let's just say I don't believe in going through life with one hand tied behind my back.”
Robinson L at 15:00 on 2010-04-24
As usual, it's taken me a hell of a lot longer than I expected to churn this sucker out, but here it is my epic comparison of the Phase II episode versus Gerrold's original script. Share and enjoy.
http://scipiosmith.livejournal.com/ at 18:22 on 2013-11-16
can anyone think of any bisexual characters / relationships in fiction that have been well handled?


Just necroing this thread after arriving here via Robinson's B5 comment to mention Bo from [i]Lost Girl[/i], who is definitely helped by the fact that the show is almost structured to support it.

Basically, for those of you who haven't watched (and you should because this is an awesome show) there are four main characters: Bo, a bisexual succubus, Dyson, a burly wolf-man cop, Lauren, a hot blonde doctor and Kenzi, the perky goth girl. There's also Trick, Bo's grandfather, but for obvious reasons he plays no role in the romance plotlines.

Bo sleeps with both Dyson and Lauren at different points in the first three seasons (while I wouldn't describe it as a YA show, there is a YA sensibility to its treatment of romance and none of the three participants in the love triangle stray outside of it for very long), depending on the various upheavals and betrayals of the plot, her emotional commitment to each of them is equally valid and equally strong even when their commitment to her is somewhat more doubtful. She also at least attempts to be monogamous with each of them during their periods together, even when maintaining her fidelity to Lauren causes her to almost die of internal bleeding. Meanwhile Bo's relationship with Kenzi is kept strictly platonic, despite being the most emotionally committed and faithful of all the show's inter-personal relationships, specifically to avoid the 'everything that moves' stereotype.

I'd be amazed if someone here didn't watch it considering it has a very strong female fanbase (I went to meet some of the stars at London Comic-con last month and I was astonished to see fourth fifths of the audience were women) but no one ever brings it up during discussions of shows with feminist-friendly sensibilities.
Robinson L at 18:06 on 2013-11-18
I watched the first two episodes of Lost Girl on Viorica's recommendation, but didn't watch any further because I found those two, well, mediocre and kind of dull. Certainly not bad, and I appreciate all the feminist/queer-friendly stuff, it just didn't suck me in on a narrative level.
http://scipiosmith.livejournal.com/ at 18:23 on 2013-11-18
I've never actually watched the first episode, so I can't comment there, but I agree that it takes a few episodes to work up a head of steam. The first season steadily improves peaking at either episode six or eight, and subsequent seasons improve on the first in their own way (in particular the Nadia arc in season 2 is a very necessary corrective to Lauren's rather silly 'I sold my freedom for the chance to study the Fae' motivation in season one).
Cheriola at 22:37 on 2013-11-20
I was uncomfortable with "Lost Girl" because there was so little reflection about the fact that the main character's superpower was essentially date rape. She forces people who do not want to have sex with her for various reasons (at one point, it was a security guard who was trying to stop her, IIRC) to be irrestibly attracted to her through magic / special body chemistry, and then she sexually assaults them. I mean, you can make a story about that if you want, about how she has to do this to survive, but I would expect an non-villain character to be at least as conflicted about this as your standard woobie vampire. But no, as long as she doesn't kill her victims, it's apparently fair game.

I waited and waited for the show to do some character development in this regard, but then I rage-quit at the end of season 1, because when the main character's boyfriend was assaulted in the same way by her mother (also a succubus; and the boyfriend clearly didn't want to have sex with her), everyone on the show treated this as if he had been cheating. It was all about how horrible this was for the main character and how big it was of her to forgive him. At that point I realised that the writers of this show genuinely don't think it's rape as long as the rapist is a pretty woman.
Cheriola at 01:46 on 2013-11-21
Also, I know this is necro-ing and probably pointless, but it's a pet-peeve, so please forgive me:

I'm iffy on Jack as a bisexual character. On the one hand, he obviously doesn't discriminate in regards to gender. On the other, he hits on everything that moves, and even when he was in a relationship, he wasn't exactly emotionally faithful.


Wow, slut- and poly-shaming much? First off, the only time Jack was in anything approaching a committed relationship onscreen was during Torchwood season 2 and 3. Do we know he and Ianto had even made any promises of exclusiveness? It's not unusual for an unmarried gay couple to have an open relationship, you know. And even John Barrowman's real-life husband seems perfectly okay with his verbal flirting and chaste kissing. (Apparently they draw the line at french kissing, which Barrowman won't even do for the camera. At least that's what he told Matt Rippy (the 'real' Jack Harkness))

Now, I've given up on Torchwood after the first couple of episodes in the 2. season, so I don't know if Ianto was the jealous type once they got around to talking about their feelings and started having an actual relationship instead of casual office sex. But even if he was: You do realise that you're prioritising one partner's selfishness and possessiveness over the other partner's right to self-determination and you're judging Jack for emotions he can't help feeling, because he's not naturally monogamous and therefore being in love with one person doesn't automatically make him incapable of having romantic and/or sexual feelings for other people.

Yes, I said selfishness - jealousy means not wanting the person you supposedly love to be happy if it's with other people, and not wanting them to spend time and attention on other people, and acting like you have a right to make decisions over their body. It's a controlling impulse born of emotional insecurity (having so little self-worth that you can't trust your partner to enjoy someone else's company and still come back to you) and cultural entitlement. Patriarchal values meant for most of human civilisation that the man owned his wife's sexuality, reproductive capacity and time/attention (love was very much optional until about 200 years ago). And the wife was economically dependent on her husband, so she suffered when he left her or fathered a child with someone else. Though the wife having any moral right to expect her husband to be sexually exclusive is actually a fairly recent cultural development. And since our culture's romantic scripts are still overwhelmingly heteronormative, LGB people sometimes have the same entitlement issues even though it makes little rational sense for them. Plus, lots of people are very insecure and selfish like little kids when it comes to romance, because everything about the way our society teaches teenagers how romance works encourages this kind of behaviour. Just look at YA literature and the ubiquious love triangle. It's all about "You MUST decide between them" and no-one ever asks "Why? Why do I have to suffer losing one positive relationship in my life just because you two can't play nice together?" And almost every show and movie out there acts like jealousy is a cute 'proof of love' and a natural reaction for everyone, and that it's always justified and not at all immature or emotionally abusive, even if it leads the jealous partner to spy on their lover or try to sabotage their opposite gender friendships, good relationships with ex-spouses, or work partnerships. (I was really surprised when the main character of "Defiance" was perfectly willing to accept that his sort-of girlfriend was a sex worker and wasn't going to stop working just because she started a relationship with him. The show even briefly featured a poly married triad in one episode, as a socially accepted option in this fictional world. Though one of the main characters still got rather judgemental about it and the whole thing turned out to be a marriage of convenience situation between one evil woman and two young pretty 'trophy husbands' in need of a meal ticket and possibly more into each other than into her.)

Obviously, cheating by going behind the primary partner's back is extremely unethical, because it endagers your partner's health and life through possible disease transmission. It should be their decision whether or not they consider the outside partner too much of a health risk to continue the primary relationship. And partners who are economically linked (for example through children) have a right to say "I'm not cool with you sleeping with that other person if there's any possibility of another mouth to feed resulting from it."

But no-one, ever, has the right to forbid their partner to have feelings for or spend time with other people - and the attempt to repress these feelings doesn't work anyway, it just leads to resentment.

In this case, if Ianto is insecure enough to require Jack to be exclusive in the later seasons, Jack is clearly indulging him and refraining from having sexual relationships with other people, just like he presumably bowed to poly-phobic social norms when he agreed to say marriage vows sometime during the early 20th century. But you can't expect him to supress who he is - somebody who communicates through flirting due to having been raised in a different culture, and somebody who falls in love / lust easily or just enjoys the banter very much.

Besides, why would you want to burden Ianto with having to fulfil ALL of Jack's physical and emotional needs? In season 1, it certainly seemed like Jack had a much easier time emotionally opening up to and trusting women (Gwen and Tosh) - no wonder, given the masculinity requirements in our culture (i.e. men having trouble offering or responding to emotional intimacy because it's seen as 'girly'); and the fact that Ianto had kept his entire identity a secret and betrayed Jack twice, before they even started officially dating.



If you're naturally monogamous and lose all interest in other people once you fall in love - great! Go for your 'one and done' relationship (hopefully with another monogamous person)! But don't try to force your perspective on life on those who are naturally polyamorous. And do not presume to judge and shame them just because the dominant culture privileges your kind.



And by the way, Jack does not hit on "everything that moves". He seems pretty limited to young and pretty cis men and women and a few, mostly humanoid aliens. He did not appreciate Donna hitting on him, IIRC. In fact, on Torchwood, he's probably the character who sees the least actual action, and he's had remarkably few mentioned lovers for someone with such a long life. (Compared to, say, the "Highlander" immortals. Or the "New Amsterdam" guy and his 609 girlfriends/wives and 63 kids in 400 years.) And just because he happily flirts with a lot of people doesn't mean he actually wants to take them to bed, as well. The show even makes the point that for Jack, flirting is like small-talk.


Yes, I know bisexual people consider the 'promiscuous' bisexual character a negative stereotype. Honestly, that seems like slut-shaming to me. There's nothing inherently negative about promiscuity if it's done ethically, and Jack is the embodiment of the Ethical Slut trope. He never cheats, and his flirting, at least as far as I've seen, is usually refreshingly easy-going, non-harassing and doesn't ping as creepy. (As long as he's not being written by Moffat, though Barrowman did his best to save Jack from character assassination even then.)


Also, I can think of over a dozen bisexual characters of varying degrees of monogamousness on just my favourite 5 or 6 shows, even if most of them are just token bisexual and really lean more gay or hetero in the depicted relationships. But I can think of no positive (i.e. not evil) polyamourous characters in mainstream fiction besides Jack Harkness (and maybe the Doctor). So can you give the more marginalised group this one, please?


(... This got to be a rather longer rant than I initially expected. Sorry. I'm insomniac again.)
Arthur B at 09:18 on 2013-11-21
I agree with a lot of your points, Cheriola, but I think it is a slight oversimplification to ascribe the idea that the "promiscuous bisexual" stereotype is negative exclusively to slut-shaming. I mean, the concept does relate to slut-shaming of bisexuals, that's definitely a factor, but I think it is also born in the bizarrely common misconception that bisexuals *can't* be monogamous - that because they can potentially sleep with both men and women, they can't ever be satisfied with just one.

Of course, there's room to discuss whether or not Torchwood makes room for monogamous bisexuals or whether it falls into the "bisexuality is a type of poly" trap, having not seen it I don't know whether it also features happily monogamous bisexual characters. But I don't think objecting to a well-established stereotype of promiscuity means that those who are objecting to that stereotype are themselves engaged in slut-shaming.
Janne Kirjasniemi at 15:15 on 2013-11-21
Also, it might be worthwhile to point out, that while polyamorous people no doubt suffer from prejudice, saying that someone refusing to engage in a polyamorous relationship can surely be something else than jealousy or just selfishness, or maybe such jealousness is not purely a result of prejudice. If polyamorousness is a matter of how a person is, then monoamorousness is too and if such people seek a relationship together, the matter needs to be resolved by the people in question, without either of them having the option to just condemn the others feelings on the matter as selfishness(since a person's needs are selfish anyways, no matter their sexual preferences) and demand them to submit to the others wants. I mean, isn't that the whole problem with shaming, just from another point of view? People seek different things from relationships and if either party has to deny themselves something they want to appease the other then surely that is a problem in itself? Of course compromises need to be made and people will no doubt keep making them, but if polyamorous people have a right to their feelings, then surely so do those with different feelings on the matter. And while systematic abuses or restrictions to people need to be stopped(or removed), regular people will need to come to terms with each other and their various needs and wants.

It is strange though that polyamorousness as such is seen as a binary matter. Like most forms of human sexuality wouldn't it be more like a fluctuating scale? But in any case, perhaps the situation is not improved by just turning the tables but rather more acceptance of our own and other's feelings.

This whole thing about whether bi is poly and whatnot does illuminate the problem of trying to categorize human sexuality into neat categories, when actually the names we use are always just vague groupings of similar seeming behaviour. Which is not really surprising when most of the terms used in the discussion were originally popularized as medicalized terms for sexual deviancy and the neologisms always try their best to sound like the old terms, implicitly validating the existence of these clear distinctions even if the discussion itself seeks to be different. But that is a different matter altogether.
Daniel F at 02:17 on 2013-11-22
Feel free to call me out here, but I can't help but understand it as inherently problematic to set about categorising people into those who are 'naturally polyamorous' and those who are 'naturally monogamous'. Not only am I pretty sure that people are more complicated than that, part of my understanding of what it is to be in a relationship is to have to make some effort.

That is, to me, there is a difference between affirming that it is natural and healthy to have any number of sexual instincts, and affirming that it is equally healthy to give expression to any or all of them. It seems intuitive, to me, that a person in a monogamous relationship, who consciously wishes to be monogamous, might occasionally feel a desire to sleep with a third party; but that this person also has some moral obligation to refuse that desire. I don't think it's shaming, necessarily, to say that sometimes people have sexual desires that they should not express.

I can't help but be suspicious of a line of argument that starts by distinguishing between 'them' and 'your kind'. Whatever tendencies exist are surely - as Janne points out - much vaguer than that?

I'd also dispute the idea of monogamy as selfish. The problem there seems like mismatched expectations, rather. Surely it is also - in a sense - selfish for a person to engage in multiple concurrent relationships despite knowing that this will cause their partner(s) pain. The distinction drawn seems to be about whether a person can have a right over someone else's body, but - to me, personally - I can't help but think that giving someone else a claim on your body is, um, part of what it means to be in a relationship. When it comes down to it, if one person feels that monogamy and some sort of mutual possession of each other's bodies is essential to a relationship, and if another person feels that it is morally wrong to ever make a claim on someone else's body... those two people probably should not be in a relationship.

And as far as bisexuality and stereotypes go, it seems to me that it is a legitimate complaint if bisexuality is universally associated with promiscuity. If I were bisexual, I can imagine being very irritated by it.
Dan H at 16:24 on 2013-11-24
I'd also dispute the idea of monogamy as selfish. The problem there seems like mismatched expectations, rather. Surely it is also - in a sense - selfish for a person to engage in multiple concurrent relationships despite knowing that this will cause their partner(s) pain.


I very much agree with this. The idea that expecting your partner to respect the parameters of your relationship is somehow "selfish" is one I find more than a little offensive.

My former (and in fact late) housemate spent some time in a polyamorous relationship that she did not want to be in, because her partner didn't want to stop having sex with other women. As far as I know this wasn't a particularly central part of his sexuality or sexual identity.

The whole situation caused her *immense* emotional distress (at a time in her life when she was also dealing with clinical depression and suicidal tendencies). Do you really want to tell me that *she* was the one who was behaving selfishly in that relationship?
Arthur B at 16:49 on 2013-11-24
I would also point out that you can frame monogamy so that it's not so much about claiming rights over someone else's body so much as asserting rights over your own. "I'm only going to give you access to my soft bits in the context of a monogamous relationship" is a perfectly reasonable stance to take, and saying that people who genuinely feel that way are misguided and should reconsider their preferences in favour of something more acceptable to you opens a whole world of ugly doors. If you're saying it's OK to challenge people for being monogamous, it becomes more difficult to turn around and say that it isn't OK to challenge other aspects of people's preferences.
Dan H at 17:08 on 2013-11-24
Sorry to double-reply, but I'm actually a little bit angry here. I'm also rather bothered by this:

Also, I can think of over a dozen bisexual characters of varying degrees of monogamousness on just my favourite 5 or 6 shows, even if most of them are just token bisexual and really lean more gay or hetero in the depicted relationships. But I can think of no positive (i.e. not evil) polyamourous characters in mainstream fiction besides Jack Harkness (and maybe the Doctor). So can you give the more marginalised group this one, please?


Firstly, I am not really sure that categorising groups as "more" or "less" marginalised is really appropriate. It seems perilously close to oppression olympics.

Secondly, even if it were appropriate to rank the marginalisation of different marginalised groups (and as I say, I am really not convinced it is) I really don't think "number of portrayals on TV shows" is a good way to do it. I'm pretty sure I can think of ten times as many positive portrayals of black people in mainstream TV shows as I can positive portrayals of people who play MMORPGs. Does this mean that MMO players are more marginalised than black people?
Dan H at 22:15 on 2013-11-24
Sorry for the now triple post, but there were a couple more things I wanted to come back to.

If you're naturally monogamous and lose all interest in other people once you fall in love - great! Go for your 'one and done' relationship (hopefully with another monogamous person)! But don't try to force your perspective on life on those who are naturally polyamorous. And do not presume to judge and shame them just because the dominant culture privileges your kind.


I'm ... really confused by this one. I know a fair few people who are in monogamous relationships, I know a fair few people who are in open or polyamorous relationships (and a fair few on both sides who get really annoyed when one gets confused with the other) and I don't know anybody who stops being attracted to other people just because they're in a relationship no matter how in love or otherwise they are. I'm honestly not sure where you could have got the impression that they did because I don't even think it's a notion that is particularly reinforced by popular culture.

Your whole post seems to suggest that you believe that "monogamous people" are literally rendered incapable of having romantic or sexual feelings for other people once they fall in love with somebody (you state this fairly explicitly). Either I and everybody else I know in a monogamous relationship is actually "naturally polyamorous" or ... well ... that is't true.

You can, of course, argue that the cultural institution of monogamy is grounded in some outdated, offensive, patriarchal assumptions, but polyamory (or for that matter polygamy) is hardly a bastion of sexual equality. Hell, polyamorous relationships which involve a single man and a large number of women are so common that the community has a slang term for it (I believe the call it "one penis poly").

I think what upset me most about your post was the fact that I'm very used to a lot of these arguments being used by asshole men to emotionally blackmail their girlfriends into relationships which they are not comfortable being in - "it's not my fault, I'm naturally polyamorous", "if you really loved me, you'd want me to be happy." And that makes me a little bit nauseous.

Yes, I know bisexual people consider the 'promiscuous' bisexual character a negative stereotype. Honestly, that seems like slut-shaming to me.


I can only speak for myself here, but I really don't think it's the place of somebody who isn't bisexual to tell a bisexual person what they can and can not consider to be a negative stereotype of their own sexuality. I might also add that under most circumstances saying "I know that members of this marginalised group consider this portrayal to be a negative stereotype, but I think they're wrong" when you are not yourself a member of that group would be seen as derailing.

Having said that, I do see the point you are making, but I think you're failing to distinguish between two important but distinct definitions of "negative stereotype."

Some stereotypes are negative in that the stereotypical quality is itself inherently negative (criminality being a good example - and possibly the *only* good example, since to call most other qualities inherently negative would be ablist or classist).

Most stereotypes, however, are negative in that the sense that the existence of the stereotype leads to people treating the stereotyped group in a way that members of that group find damaging.

There are several clear, concrete ways in which the "promiscuous bisexual" stereotype is actively harmful to bisexual people. Just off the top of my head, the assumption that bisexual people are necessarily promiscuous means that if you are openly bisexual:

- People will take your romantic relationships less seriously, no matter how sincerely you are committed to them.
- People will more likely to make inappropriate sexual advances towards you.
- People will, in various ways, fetishize your sexuality, and expect you to like it. Particularly if you're a woman.
- People will assume you are up for threesomes, always.
- People will expect you to want to be in an open or polyamorous relationship, even if you don't...
- ... and they quite possibly won't believe you when you say you don't ...
- ... and if you're a woman, and you're dating a guy, when he says "open relationship" he will quite likely mean "I can have sex with other women, and so can you" ...
- ... which will often mean "I can have sex with other women, and will in practice get really upset if you do the same."
- People will assume that you are sexually attracted to them, and be offended and possibly aggressive if you aren't.

At this point it might be worth remembering that the original comment here was about a fictional character. Nobody was saying that Jack's behaviour would be morally wrong in real life. They were saying that his behaviour reinforced harmful stereotypes about bisexual people which, *as a bisexual person* they were fully entitled to do.
Melanie at 23:41 on 2013-11-24
Most stereotypes, however, are negative in that the sense that the existence of the stereotype leads to people treating the stereotyped group in a way that members of that group find damaging.


Yes, precisely. This is true even of allegedly "positive"[1] stereotypes, so I don't see that it's automatically denigrating the thing the stereotype is about to object to it.

Plus, even if you haven't been harmed in any concrete way by a stereotype, it's still highly obnoxious when people believe stupid lies about you.

[1]"Allegedly" because--let's face it--even when the assumed trait is supposedly a good/cool thing, there's probably some deeply nasty accompanying baggage--unspoken implications or associations behind it.
Arthur B at 13:27 on 2013-11-25
Sorry for continuing to pile on, but I needed to get this out there:

Your whole post seems to suggest that you believe that "monogamous people" are literally rendered incapable of having romantic or sexual feelings for other people once they fall in love with somebody (you state this fairly explicitly). Either I and everybody else I know in a monogamous relationship is actually "naturally polyamorous" or ... well ... that is't true.

Adding a data point that this is my experience as well, and to note that "finds someone attractive" doesn't amount to "specifically wants to have sex and/or a relationship with them".

I have spent most of my life single and haven't followed up on the vast majority of attractions I have felt (even if you only count people who are real and who I have interacted with socially in real life). That doesn't mean I get to claim to be going through an asexual phase when I happen to be single and not looking, it just means that criteria like "This person is in a monogamous relationship and I'm not enough of a cad to mess with that" or "I'd rather not spend time with someone whose personality I find repellent, regardless of how sexually attractive I find them" or "I want a relationship of equals and there just aren't many people up here on the God Tier" tend to outweigh the attraction most of the time.

Likewise, it's entirely possible when you are in a relationship for both parties to experience attraction to other people but elect for going monogamous anyway for mutually agreed reasons which have nothing to do with jealousy, sexual health or money - for instance, given that maintaining a relationship with one person already requires a degree of work and compromise, I find myself reluctant to agree to the extra work, compromise, and complication which would result from bringing additional people into the mix on a practical level.

Also, I think there are compelling reasons why cheating behind your partner's back is wrong that have nothing to do with sexual health. If you and your partner(s) freely and without compulsion agreed that the relationship was going to be monogamous (or, indeed, polyamorous or open but with particular rules or requirements to keep partners informed about stuff), and you go ahead and break that agreement, then regardless of whether or not there's a sexual health dimension involved you've straight-up lied to and broken a promise to a partner, which is an ethical breach I find it hard to sympathise with.

(Obviously you're going to have situations where people feel compelled to agree to stuff they wouldn't have otherwise agreed to - hey presto, Dan provided a example of precisely such a thing upthread - but the solution to a dysfunctional relationship isn't to make the relationship even more dysfunctional, it's to end either the dysfunction or the relationship.)

Lastly, I think you can actually legitimately say you have a claim on a partner's time or attention if the two of you have actually mutually agreed to be there for each other. One of the most hurtful incidents I've lived through in a relationship was when I was dealing with the death of a friend and my partner at the time (they are, needless to say, long gone) simply was not there on an emotional level to give me the support I desperately needed. Respecting a partner's right to have their own friendships and interests is important and I wouldn't do a single thing differently if I had my time over in that respect, but equally if they exercise that right in such a way that it ends up hurting you then that's on them. If asking your partner to give the same priority to your emotional well-being as you give to theirs is selfish, then I'm comfortable being selfish.
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