Bi characters have thankfully been gaining a bit of visibility on television lately. On the latest episode of ABC's medical drama "Grey's Anatomy," a bi woman named Callie exchanges flirtation with Arizona, a woman who kissed her out of the blue in a previous episode. This female-female kiss was nothing new for "Grey's" as Callie only recently divorced her husband and then dated a woman for the first time in her life. Amidst the rest of the current network hits, "Grey's" is one of the most sexually progressive series.
Not only is "Grey's" depicting a woman who is bi, but one who is still trying out her wings, portraying to young or recently out bi's--and to the rest of the world, for that matter--that questioning one's orientation, being uncertain and making mistakes along the way, is acceptable and doesn't always lead to venereal disease. As in real life, biphobia rears its ugly head more than once, and Callie, like many bi's, is without support or context for her identity, and knows no way of handling it well.
In one episode, Callie's first-ever woman partner breaks up with her by way of an anti-bi slur. Callie is powerless to respond as the woman she cares for tells her, "You can't be a pretend lesbian." Ouch. I don't know if the show writers knew they were treading into the fog of biphobia and bi-invisibility, but it stung to watch. It would have been helpful for Callie to be able to deal in a healthy way with such slander, but all she can do in her situation is hope that her next relationship will be healthy, and that it arrive quickly.
Queer bloggers have referred to Callie as bi far more than entertainment writers, who make the monosexist mistake of calling it lesbianism because, after all, bisexuality can't really exist, right? I watch the show regularly, but am not certain that the word "bisexual" has been used in the show, but neither has Callie been labeled a lesbian. For good or for ill, she's just Callie. Bi-visibility is still a hurdle yet to be jumped, both on "Grey's" an in tv programs in general.
There is one way that bi (and lesbian) women have become visible on tv--in an inside-joke/tongue-in-cheek sort of way--the leather jacket. AfterEllen points out,
Callie is wearing her black leather jacket outside the hospital, which is a time-honored way for TV costume designers to signal that a woman is gay or bisexualNow the next step is to make it a little more plain, and frankly, less stereotypical.
There's no code to know who's bi in the real world. You either come out or you don't. If "Grey's" wants to respectfully portray bi people, then bi characters must come out to the audience. While ambiguity and the not-knowing is surely part of being bi, so too is refusing to be told, "You can't be a pretend lesbian," or, "You can't be a pretend straight woman." Bisexuality is not pretend anything. It is very real, and very much exists. "Grey's" and other programs are certainly to be commended, even thanked, for increasing bi visibility following the rise of gays and lesbians on tv in the 90's. At the same time, care must be taken to portray bi men and women honestly and accurately. Bring us out of the biphobic shadows of secret codes. Reveal to the world the fullness of our experiences. It will make better tv; it will build a better world.