Let’s be honest here. There are probably many times that you’ve come across someone who, when the subject of bisexuality is brought up, claims something along the lines of, “Oh, yeah, I don’t think that’s a real thing. Anyone who says they’re ‘bisexual’ ends up picking a side eventually.” In today’s world, bisexuality is becoming much more well-known among the general public; however, as more people learn about it, more misconceptions also become commonplace, warping the opinions of those who otherwise don’t know any better on the subject.
The term “bisexual” carries many stereotypes. For men, there is this sort of idea that any guy who claims to feel attracted to both sexes is really a gay man “stepping halfway out of the closet,” too fearful to embrace his “full” sexuality. For ladies, the image of a loose, promiscuous woman who will carelessly sleep with anyone who so much as breathes in her direction and regularly participate in threesomes is a popular one. And to wrap it all up in a neat little bow, absolutely every person who identifies as bisexual will end up “picking a side” down the line, having gotten their “experimentation” out of the way in their fun-filled college years before settling down in reality.
Why do these stereotypes exist? Sure, there are bisexual women with active sex lives. There are gay men who spent a period of their lives believing they liked women before realizing they only experience attraction towards other men. Some people do play around with the “bicurious” label until they come to terms with their sexualities. None of these things are wrong or bad. But why is there a negative stigma attached to these things, and why do they get forced onto every bisexual person?
How can Broadway, or even musical theatre in general, work to stamp out these stereotypes?
To shift gears for a moment, I want to take a look at Fun Home, a musical that proved to be extremely inspirational for many members of the LGBT community. I think what made Fun Home so special was that, in a world where the “coming out” story often revolves around a gay man coming to terms with his sexuality, audiences got a rare glimpse into the life of a real, living lesbian who documented her own experiences in the form of a graphic novel. We see her struggle, we see her slowly growing and realizing why she always felt so different from the other girls at school, we see her come to terms with who she is and, ultimately, embrace her true self.
This was an important story to tell for a couple reasons. I’m not a lesbian, but I have heard women discuss why this show means so much to them. When taking gender dynamics and female sexuality into account, young lesbians have certain experiences that can’t always be properly wrapped up in the “gay male” narrative; it was beneficial for these girls and women to see a character who more precisely went through the same things they were going through, and to learn a bit on how to navigate through their own struggles. While the “coming out” story is something I believe most LGBT people can relate to, the dynamics surrounding each specific identity can make it hard for one type of story to work as an umbrella for everyone. Fun Home, in its quest to appeal to the lesbian experience, ultimately opened up another seat at the table. “Join us. We want to hear about your journey.”
However, Fun Home didn’t just work to make another part of the LGBT community feel heard and included. It also used that voice to speak out to those who can’t relate to the lesbian experience, to educate and to enlighten. Watching Alison Bechdel’s life unfold onstage invited audiences to better understand why she feels the way she does, and the sympathetic nature of her journey encouraged audiences to open their hearts to the fact that, yes, people who are different have a humanity of their own, too. It’s not a cookie cutter copy of yours or mine, but it’s just as real and valid. And in giving us this message, the musical made people more aware of not only the struggles lesbians specifically face, but also the intricate depth that serves to tear away any negative stereotypes that may exist surrounding the word “lesbian.”
I like Fun Home. I happen to like it a lot. And I would be lying if I said we don’t need more shows like it.
I believe the fundamental recipe that made Fun Home such a success should exist in a show about the bisexual experience. By that, I mean that a show surrounding a bisexual central character should be about self-discovery, and it should follow a journey that serves to both make other bi folks feel represented and educate others on how someone with the label “bisexual” leads their life. That way, everyone can feel more comfortable with the idea that bisexuality is a real, true sexuality that comes with its own struggles and intricacies. In order to bring outsiders to a greater understanding, it’s important to make them experience the emotions and thoughts of a protagonist who proves to be just as dynamic as we expect from any character we are made to connect with.
“Coming out” stories are wonderful representation, and I’m very happy that we have had the stories we’ve received so far. Everyone deserves to feel supported and heard, and there is always a need for more stories about the journeys of gay people; unfortunately, we still live in a time where those struggles are falling on stubbornly deaf ears. But this Bisexuality Visibility Week, I propose that we take this sentiment one step further and open up more seats at the table. I propose that, in order to better embrace inclusiveness and encourage open-mindedness, we begin to tell stories that encompass more diverse experiences. Bisexual people have gone on for too long with underrepresentation and negative stigmas, and it’s time for the Broadway community to change that situation for the better.
Let us tell you about our own journeys.
(Photo credit: nytix.com)