While more than half of all LGBTQIA+ adults in the U.S. identify as bisexual, less than a third of LGBTQIA+ characters on scripted television are bi — a statistic that has remained stagnant for five years, GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis tells Variety.
“You’re talking about the largest community within our community,” Ellis says. “And it’s also one of the largest communities growing in the younger generation: We’ve seen that year over year in our research. So, when we study representation and we report out on it, annually in our reports, we’re not seeing any growth.”
But while mainstream television has plenty to catch up on, OML on Revry, the first live TV channel catering exclusively to queer women that launched last fall, is providing a space for bisexual women to tell their stories.
“Renée and the Seven Cards,” which premieres March 27 on OML on Revry, follows a controlling fitness fanatic (Malerie Grady, who is also a co-creator with James Mackenzie) who must track down her missing psychic when an ominous tarot card reading predicts her impending death. While the dark comedy, inspired by 1962’s “Cleo from 5 to 7,” is not exclusively about bisexuality, its central character Renée is bi, a fact that the show’s creators, both of whom are bi, say is intentional.
“We’ve had a few different projects where we have bi characters and some of them it’s very centered around their sexuality, which I think is more common right now in media, but we were like, ‘What does it look like to just be a bi person, but it’s not about them being bi?’” Grady says. “And that was what we were really excited to do with this. It’s pronounced in the first episode but the whole show, the rest of it, isn’t about her being bi: It’s just ‘This is a bi person living like a normal human being.’”
Among the largest tropes in scripted programming is bi erasure, in which bi people’s identity is seen as a choice and “sexual proclivity,” Ellis says. Additionally, bisexuality is often used as a plot device, propelling a story forward, such as through the use of transactional relationships, which fail to explore the identity as a whole.
In contrast to Grady’s previous series on OML on Revry, “Tough Love,” which centers on a bi woman dating following a breakup with her fiancé and explores bisexuality in depth, “Renée” doesn’t leave room for speculation.
“I think something that still sticks is that bi people are confused or you’re just halfway on your way to gay town, or you’re just experimenting,” Grady says. “And so, for us that’s why it was really like ‘This isn’t a girl who’s trying to explore her sexuality and figure it out; she just is bi, it’s a fact, you move on.’”
Other stereotypes include bi characters being invalidated by their romantic partners, which Ellis says has been on the rise more recently and particularly involves bi men who date women, as well as notions that bi people are inherently evil or untrustworthy, known as the “depraved bisexual” trope.
“This one has been a stigma for the LGBTQ community — any letter that you’ll look at. Depicting bi characters as inherently untrustworthy, as adulterous, as scheming, obsessive, self-destructive — all of these negative connotations or character flaws around being a bi-plus character,” Ellis says.
To ensure representation of the bi community improves, the GLAAD Media Institute partners with networks and studios to advise series on bi characters, providing showrunners with an authentic lens from within the community. The institute will advise on everything ranging from scriptwriting to casting, oftentimes embedding itself in productions, normally at least a dozen at a time.
“We really meet them where they are in their process,” Ellis says. “Some people come to us when they’re just thinking about adding a bi-plus character, and others will come to us as they’re developing the characters. Others will come to us with help for casting a bi-plus character.”
GLAAD has consulted on shows such as “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Dead to Me,” which was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for outstanding comedy series. And when the institute catches wind of negative or incorrect depictions, Ellis says the organization will reach out to offer guidance and spur positive change.
“We want to change hearts and minds with the stories we tell, and I think that you do that by just making three-dimensional, dynamic, interesting characters who go on very authentic, genuine journeys that sometimes are related to parts of their sexuality and sometimes aren’t,” Grady says.
At the same time, though, Grady acknowledges that there will be missteps and that the most important aspect of increasing representation for bi people on TV is that it comes from a place of love and inclusion, as well as the understanding that bi people are not a monolith.
“There is no one rule of how to treat all bi people in the world. I almost feel like reducing it to that is when it becomes offensive because then you’re making an assumption that this one thing makes all of us exactly the same,” Grady says.
Ultimately, Ellis says that stories about the LGBTQIA+ community, including its bi members, must be told with those from within the community involved in the process behind and in front of the camera. Particularly, she hopes that representation not only improves in authenticity, but that the depictions include more portrayals of bi men and bisexual people of color.
“The bottom line is that LGBTQ people — if you’re telling our story — need to be involved in every intersection of telling that story,” Ellis says. “And that’s for any marginalized community.”