When we last spoke with Nicole Pacent about bisexuality and mental health, she explained that a common problem with mainstream media portraying bisexual characters, specifically, is the erasure of the character’s bisexual nature. This is due in part to bisexuality being confused with polyamory to some degree, but the issue goes even further when developing a strong bi character’s story.
According to Pacent, best known for her role on YouTube’s hit queer web series Anyone But Me, the bigger trouble comes from writers not truly understanding how bisexuality actually works.
“I think a lot of writers, gay or straight, don’t actually know how bisexuality functions,” she explained. “They often have no idea how it works so they make assumptions, and instead of asking and consulting bisexual people, they miswrite these characters.”
In April, Pacent was on the “LGBTQ Actresses Panel” at ClexaCon with actress Stephanie Beatriz. Beatriz, who is both openly bisexual and plays an openly bisexual character on the show Brooklyn Nine Nine, discussed how the writers consulted with her to properly develop her character’s sexual orientation story arc in this last season. Pacent, a friend of Beatriz’s and a fan of the show, praised this approach and hopes more show runners take the time to consult people living the life similar to that of a character being developed, whether it be about sexuality, race, or ethnicity.
“I know there will be [creators] who will think “Oh, I can’t do this, because I don’t want to offend anyone.” And that’s coming from a well meaning place. But if you’re white and you really want to write a black character, for example, while you’re writing your story and want to include this dear person to you that happens to be black because it is an accurate representation of who they are, of what life is… you have to have the difficult conversations and consult. I think this thinking of not wanting to offend is coming from a very good place, but at the same time, this is only perpetuating white characters. There has to be a different way. For race and for sexual orientations.”
What Pacent says makes a lot of sense. Characters who are labeled bisexual very often either fall into the subliminal “gay again” or “straight again” stereotypes throughout their story arc. It is seemingly easier to write this way for gay writers or straight writers because they write what they know; Have a bisexual character be in a relationship with a character of the opposite gender and sweep their sexuality under the rug, or have a bisexual character be with someone of the same gender and forego mentioning that they were ever once considered to be straight. There is no in between, and thus, bisexuality is erased yet again.
“I think a lot of writers, gay or straight, don’t actually know how bisexuality functions.”
Bisexual people will tell you this is not an accurate representation of what it is like to be bisexual (or pansexual, for that matter). Being in a relationship with someone, whether the same or other gender as you, does not immediately erase your attraction to these genders.
Though not all writers have failed the bisexual community. Shonda Rhimes has written many complex and diverse characters throughout her reign at ABC, but none more so than Callie Torres on Grey’s Anatomy. Played by Sara Ramirez, another openly bisexual actress, Callie Torres came to Seattle Grace Hospital in Season 2 as a love interest of another character, and through her ten seasons of appearance, had relationships with three male characters and three women characters. Viewers watched as Torres struggled with her sexuality and the falling out with family due to her identity because of her conservative upbringing. The character of Callie Torres is often pointed to as the gold star of bisexual representation in mainstream media, but after Ramirez left Grey’s Anatomy in 2016, the bisexual community has been lacking in quality representation once again. Even Rhimes’ other bisexual story arc of Annalise Keating (played by Viola Davis) in How To Get Away With Murder does not hold up to that of Callie Torres.
This lack of quality bisexual representation is what led to the excitement from fans when Stephanie Beatriz’s character on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Detective Rosa Diaz, came out as bisexual. When Fox cancelled the show less than six months later, the bisexual community and fans of B-99 were in an uproar. Less than 24 hours after Fox’s announcement, the show found a new home on NBC in large part to the overwhelming call to action by the queer community.
Shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Brooklyn Nine-Nine are so important to the queer community, especially so to the bisexual faction within it. Not only because of the representation within them, but because the queer characters portrayed are done so accurately.
Pacent made another good point: for too long the queer community has been handed only sub-par stories because the entertainment industry has yet to fully understand that LGBTQ+ plots will develop an audience and will make money.
When offering a solution to this problem in the entertainment business, Pacent explained, “If we can elevate the quality of our own content, the rest of the world is going to take us more seriously. It’s not enough to just have two girls in a relationship in a story anymore. We need to be good. But I think if we, as a queer community, start holding ourselves to a higher standard, we are going to start seeing our own viability in the greater entertainment world go up. We will see our worth go up. When the rest of the world starts to see that we can make money, the more visible we’re gonna be. And I hate to put it that way, but it’s the truth.”
Pacent is completely correct and the cancellation and pick up of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a perfect example of what the queer community can do to show our worth.
Though Pacent hasn’t played a bisexual character, she has hopes to write one for herself someday. But that fear she addressed about not being a good enough character has given her pause. Even as a bisexual identifying person herself, she recognizes the complex task and incredible responsibility it is to write a quality queer character for the LGBTQ+ community. With great admiration and respect for her concern, we must say that we believe wholeheartedly that Nicole Pacent will develop a fantastic queer character somewhere down the road, and we are looking very much forward to it.
For now, the bisexual community and queer community as a whole, must remain vigilant in our need and desire for quality representation in mainstream media. If we believe in our worth, we can help create the content that we deserve.