by Camryn Garrett
Reading a book is like being sucked into someone else’s world. I’ve learned about other worlds, but also my own through reading. Not only have I discovered that I was struggling with mental illness, but I’ve learned more about other cultures, other thoughts, other places, all in between two covers.
But on the other hand, I’m often learning about a specific group of people. It changed between the mode of media (films, books, TV shows), but there’s usually a specific race, gender, and sexuality portrayed.
I’m a sucker for romance stories in YA, but it’s like almost all of the couples are straight and white. Even now, while things are changing all over the place, there are still specific types of sexuality showcased.
There were gay dads in Fans of The Impossible Life and gay kids discovering themselves on The Fosters and shows like Orange is the New Black on Netflix. There seems to be lots of representation for lesbians and gays (it can still be argued, however, whether or not more is still needed.)
One of the things people still seem to avoid is the b word. And I guess it doesn’t seem like a problem, from the outside. Gays have the right to marry, right? We shouldn’t complain! Everything is absolutely awesome and great.
But the fact that people are just beginning to talk about bisexuality is an issue. A large one. When you are treated like you don’t exist, you start to feel invisible. It’s not just other people who doubt your existence – you doubt your own.
Like, let’s talk about the fact that I still sometimes wonder if I’ve made up my sexuality. I don’t know many people who are bisexual in real life, but they’re all over the Internet. There are groups and meetings and readings. It should feel real.
The thing is, it doesn’t always. Sometimes I wonder if this is just a phase. I remind myself that bisexuality is actually a thing, and wonder why I even doubt myself. It’s not like there are people constantly telling me that bisexuality is bad.
Actually, bisexuality is mocked all of the time – subtly, without anyone uttering the name. Lots of characters, so many that I can’t even count, have a “curious period.” Usually girls. I refer to this as the “sexy phase,” which I got from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
Scenario: young lady goes to college. She meets another girl. They date. Have sex. Kiss. Whatever. After college, the relationship is over. They get married to an all-American guy, and don’t ever mention it again, except as a joke.
One of my favorite movies, Scott Pilgrim, has a scene between the love interest, Ramona, and her ex-girlfriend. She says all sorts of things that make me grind my teeth every time I rewatch. Including, but not limited to:
-“It was just a phase.”
-“It meant nothing. I didn’t think it would count.”
-“I was just a little bi-curious.”
So whatever. Sexuality is fluid, and lots of people explore, right? But that was the first time I’d ever even heard the word, and even then, the entire concept was being mocked. Bisexuality was ridiculous, and if you took it seriously, it was your own fault.
Even when there are characters who actually seem to be bisexual, bisexuality is never explicitly stated. I guess we can say that labels don’t matter, but they sure do seem to matter to other queer characters.
Off the top of my head, I can think of Connor and Jude from The Fosters, Cosima from Orphan Black, Sense8’s Lito, Mitchell and Cam from Modern Family, and, like, half of the cast of Glee, all announcing that they were queer.
There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s totally cool. But why can’t bisexual people have the same?
If you’ve seen me on Twitter, you know that I’m constantly talking about my bisexuality. That’s because it’s something that I feel safe saying, but I’m trying to remind myself that it can actually be a real thing. Being bisexual is weird, because I’m invisible. I don’t belong in the “straight club” or the “queer club.”
I don’t feel comfortable talking to the gay kids at school about sexuality, because I know there are people who think that bisexuality isn’t real, so much so that they get insulted at the sound of the word. It’s odd, knowing that a group of people who were once outcasts themselves are still turning people away.
Someone once told me that I have to disclose to lesbians that I’m bisexual before getting into a relationship with them, because there are so many lesbians who are biphobic. Apparently, there are women who might physically hurt me because I’m not just attracted to girls.
I’ve seen people get angry at bisexual girls who bring their boyfriends to Pride. Bisexual kids mocked for identifying as queer, because “they aren’t really.”
I’ve talked to adults about my sexuality and been told that bisexuality is a phase. My mother used to think that bisexuality means that I must be in a polygamous relationship. Even now, she is hesitant to let me hang out with both girl and guy friends. Because, apparently, being bisexual means that I’m attracted to every single person I see.
This scares me so much so, that I haven’t been to Pride, anywhere. I don’t know what it’s like. I worry that they’ll kick me out because I’m not queer enough.
There are so many bisexual stereotypes. I’m not saying that there aren’t other stereotypes for lesbian/gay people, but it seems to be that they’re slowly being overturned. There are lots lesbian/gay people on TV and in movies, and the amount is slowly increasing.
There are so many famous people coming out as gay. There’s Neil Patrick Harris and Jodie Foster and Ellen Page and Matt Bomer, and what feels like a thousand other people.
When famous people like Angelina Jolie or Freddie Mercury are bisexual, it’s glazed over. People decide to make their own definitions, and just decide that Angelina went through a “wild phase.” Evan Rachel Wood is the one famous person I know of who is openly bisexual, and even then, people give her a hard time about it.
It’s even more condensed in books. Even if books don’t have gay/lesbian characters as leads, there is usually someone sprinkled in the background.
I, like many other people, read to learn about new things. Even when people aren’t exactly reading to learn, they do it without meaning to. Many teens have learned about their gay/lesbian peers through reading books about them, like Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda or the Miseducation of Cameron Post.
There’s one book I’ve read with an explicitly bisexual main character: Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz. It’s the only book that actually shows the struggle it is to be a bisexual teenager. Friends who have read it can understand what I’m going through, what I mean, without me having to explain feelings I’m still discovering by myself.
Some people say that the things we read about in books or see in TV shows and movies aren’t important. But they are extremely important for people who aren’t seen in real life. A light is shed on you when you’re accurately portrayed in a story.
So many teens learn about the world and themselves through the media they consume. I learn from the books I read and the shows I watch and the movies I go to see. When groups of people are omitted, we are taught that these people don’t exist. They aren’t as important as those displayed.
Stories don’t fix everything, but they can most definitely bring awareness. Let’s use them to change the world – or, at first, society’s view of bisexuality.
Camryn Garrett is a teenager who thinks that she’s too awkward to function. She blogs at the Huffington Post when she isn’t ranting about racism or sexism, and has a laptop named Walden. When she grows up, she wants to be “better than Lena Dunham.” Reach her at @dancingofpens on Twitter.