BiMediaWatch summertime special 2018
Since Katy Perry kissed a girl and liked it there has been a regular summer press release spot in the BCN in-tray.
This year it has been Rita Ora’s turn, for once provoking a big backlash as Hayley Kiyoko (lesbian singer best known for Girls Like Girls Like Boys Do) attacked Rita’s song Girls for playing up to male gaze and drunken experimentation stereotypes with its chorus:
“Sometimes I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls Red wine, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls”
This forced Rita into coming out as bisexual, saying “I have had romantic relationships with women and men in my life […] I would never intentionally cause harm to other LGBTQ+ people”.
It’s interesting that this broke out into public controversy though. Perhaps a reflection of changing times. Just last year Demi Lovato was crooning “Cool For The Summer”, with its “Just something that we wanna try” bi-curiosity, and facing far less kickback.
But thinking about that made me realise there’s been a song like this pretty much every year for ages. “It’s the hot sexy summer song about experimenting with bisexuality” the press release formula goes. It’s always about a song from a female singer, and always the ‘experimental’ angle is about getting flirty or frisky with another woman.
I’m tired of that.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to ban them. Even where these songs have been purely manipulation – one thinks of Russian pop duo Tatu’s profitable lesbian tease in the 90s which was followed by a slow descent into championing Putin’s homophobia – what matters really is not the truth about the artist but about what the music does for the listener, right then. The queer teen given a little more licence to experiment and explore through this summer’s hit is what it is really about.
But it’s time “exploring your bisexuality” didn’t start from a baseline of having thought you were heterosexual before, and acceptable “exploration” needs to stop being the sole preserve of ciswomen.
You don’t get the counterbalancing pop hit about a guy being egged on by an eager girlfriend to explore his attraction to other men, the closest is when comedians spoof or gender-reverse the soft focus promos from things like I Kisses A Girl. Til then while I am pleased we have a little progress, it’ll be progress that doesn’t threaten the heteropatriarchy too much.
What Constitutes Bi Representation?
I recently spent a weekend binge watching Jessica Jones series two on Netflix. I like her straight taking, no bullshit, kickass style. Not to mention being a fan of the boots she kicks ass in. But through it all I’ve looked out for any sign, even a suggestion, that they might show her character to be bisexual. Was that bisexual mood lighting? Is there any significance that the paint she’s rolling around in is purple? Will they actually say the B word?
When I reach the end of the 13 episode series without even a hint, I started searching the internet and found no evidence Jessica Jones is one of the canonically bi characters in the Marvel universe (of which there seem to be a few, but we’ll come back to that shortly). My misconception seems to come from speculations from the first series of her closeness with female character Trish “Patsy” Walker. However, it later becomes very clear that their closeness is a platonic, sisterly friendship.
I feel let down, and this isn’t the first time in recent comic book to screen adaptations. The Dark Knight Rising’s Catwoman, the Valkyre in Thor Ragnarok, Harlequin in Suicide Squad, DC’s Wonder Woman, Marvel’s Deadpool. These characters are advertised as bi and pan yet when they hit the big screen we only see them in what is read as mixed gender relationships. The fan sites and social media argue backwards and forwards between on the one hand letting Deadpool have a boyfriend in the second film to show his pansexuality, and on the other those who feel sexual orientation (other than mixed gender relationships) isn’t important to the plots. But why do I hold these fictional (and not even life like) characters to such a higher standard than I do myself or those around me?
When I am in a same gender relationship, I’m still bi. Mixed gender relationship? Single? Still bi. My relationship status and the number of people of different genders I’ve had sex with or been seen to date by the outside world does not have any bearing on my sexual orientation. So, what does it matter if we don’t see Harlequin mooning over Poison Ivy or Wonder Woman having a relationship with someone on the female only island before she leaves?
But I guess the answer for me is, these aren’t real life characters and there is still such little bi+ representation in the media. I want the visible depiction of bi and pan people in the films and TV shows that I watch, preferably without falling back on stereotypical tropes of “all bisexuals are unfaithful”. But I also know that the same standard should never be enforced on my life or anyone else’s to prove their orientation.