The Bold Type’s Kat (Aisha Dee) is a powerhouse to reckon with. An idealistic, intelligent go-getter who also happens to be bisexual. Kat is more than her sexuality but coming out as bisexual to her friends, Sutton and Jane is an important moment in Pop culture because bisexual is still a word that’s barely used on television. If the characters lean more towards same-sex attraction, then that tends to be played up, and if the character tends more towards different-sex attraction, then it quickly ends up feeling like shows writing them as straight with the specter of bisexuality just there for the spice.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in a 2016 publication that 1.3 percent of women and 1.9 percent of men said they were “homosexual, gay, or lesbian,” and that 5.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men said they were bisexual. These findings indicate that bisexual people may comprise the largest single group in the LGB community for both women and men. Nevertheless, many believe that bisexuality does not really exist, and bisexual people suffer bi-invisibility or erasure and bi-negativity from both the lesbian and gay community and the heterosexual community, which may explain evidence suggesting higher rates of health disparities bisexuals experience compared to either.
Bisexuality is not a phase
In pop culture, bisexual individuals are often shown to be in a constant state of the dilemma – they are indecisive and sometimes greedy. SATC happily participates in this stereotyping. Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) begins dating Sean, a bisexual man in the third season of SATC. She is flustered, visibly confused and a bit took aback when Sean comes out to her as bisexual. The next morning over breakfast, she shares her concerns with her girlfriends and, frustrated, remarks, “I am not even sure bisexuality exists. I think it is just a layover to gay town.”
What follows throughout the rest of the episode is an incessant need to bracket Sean as either gay or straight. SATC, though progressive at the time of its release, limits sexuality within a binary. Every time the show depicts homosexuality, it conveniently forgets its complexities, as well as the existence of other kinds of sexualities.
Sean’s bisexuality is readily labeled as confusion and experimentation. His identity gets reduced to a mere flaw of the generation he belongs to.
Samantha (Kim Cattrall) asks, “All the kids are going bi?” As the four women move on in their conversation, their ignorance resurfaces. They casually bicker about the bisexual men and women in college who have ended up with male partners and blame this on the unavailability of eligible straight men for them to date. Bisexuals are marked not just as confused, but are also called out for being greedy or for what Miranda very elegantly calls “double-dipping”.
The complexity of being bisexual is portrayed as flippancy – a trend that seems almost futuristic. Carrie asks, “Was sexual flipping the wave of the future?” In reality, bisexuality is nuanced and intricate where experiences vary depending on each individual. Charlotte’s (Kristin Davis) insistence on choosing a side boils it down to mere confusion. Bisexuality according to SATC is an imaginary phase of ‘figuring it out. Carrie says, “I was in Alice-in-confused sexual orientation land”.
But SATC is not the only show that reduces bisexuals into a group of people lacking clarity. When a laughter track plays on cue as Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) in Friends sings “Then there are bisexuals/Though some say they are just kidding themselves,” you can’t help but get furious. The insensitivity with which the writers have treated the fluidity of sexuality in the past makes these otherwise entertaining shows feel outdated.
Sexuality is not black and white
Sexuality is a spectrum. A spectrum is a tool (often shown with a single-line chart) that has a descriptor on one end and the opposite descriptor on the other end. One of the most famous spectrums is the Kinsey scale. The Kinsey scale is a numerical heterosexual-homosexual rating system created in 1948 by Dr. Alfred Kinsey, according to the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. This scale has heterosexual as 0 on one end and homosexual as 6 on the other end, with 3 in the middle for those who identify as equally hetero and homosexual (or bisexual). It also has an “X” option for those who do not have sexual relationships, or as we call it now, people who are asexual. The scale was one of the first academic tools that challenged the perception of sexuality and began discussions that still continue today. While the Kinsey scale is one of the oldest spectrums and historically important, some don’t consider it the best spectrum for the current state of gender and sexuality. For example, queer educator Lindsay Amer tells SheKnows that the Kinsey scale is “pretty black and white” and “doesn’t really take sexuality into account outside of homo and heterosexual and it’s super-simplistic about asexuality.”
Sexuality is not simple and Bold Types chooses not to oversimplify it and recognize its complexity.
Kat Edison in The Bold Type (TBT) calls herself “a lover of people.” The show does indulge in queer stereotyping and portrays her as confused and her relationships unstable. But in a beautiful scene in season four, Kat points out the necessity of the label she chooses for herself. Coming out to her friends as bisexual she says, “This one feels important right now to own the space I’m in and to make sense of it.”
Kat’s instability in her same-sex relationship with Adeena is a stale stereotype of unstable queer relationships with which the show burdens the audience. But the show defines her sexuality and by proudly naming it, makes their bisexual audience some visibility within the fictional universe of the show.
TBT defines Kat and celebrates bisexuality through her. By situating her in that space they acknowledge their bisexual audiences as well as the nuances of varied sexual experiences. Kat becomes relatable and human. Her experiences mirror reality. Unlike her predecessors, her bisexuality is not a prop for the writers to indulge in sexual promiscuity. Instead, TBT celebrates every complicated aspect of her sexuality while also upholding her identity as a professional woman.
Usually, rising queer feelings on TV shows create tension for either the person experiencing them or their loved ones around them — this isn’t so on The Bold Type. From the second Kat meets her artsy love interest Adena, sparks are flying. She recognizes as much and is more confused about her feelings than upset about them after a lifetime of only being attracted to men. Her friends Jane Sloane (Katie Stevens) and Sutton Brady (Meghann Fahy) are supportive, never questioning or criticizing their pal’s possible new sexual horizons. Kat, who’s recently revealed that she might be interested in women, walked in on her friend Jane, a straight girl, changing, said “Hey Sexy,” continued having a conversation with her while she was changing, and then ended the convo with a friendly slap on the ass and in no way was Jane uncomfortable or say anything weird like “don’t enjoy the view too much haha” or ANYTHING she was just OKAY with it because they’re FRIENDS and this is assumedly how they’ve always acted and Kate being attracted to girls hasn’t changed that and I’m FINE. For legions of fans who have watched their sexuality be reduced to an arc during sweeps or a supposed “experimental phase,” The Bold Type broke down years of backward illustrations of bisexuality with one simple scene. For other shows, take note. You don’t have to poke fun at the elephant in the room. We know it’s there, you know it’s there, the characters know it’s there, but it’s perfectly acceptable to let it lie. That’s what most normal people do in real life anyway. Women can hold up and cheer on other women. Women of differing sexualities can call each other sexy without it being a come-on. Women can share the same space and be equals no matter what or who wants to divide them.
Up until season 4, Kat proudly identified as a lesbian. Fans of the show loved her on-and-off relationship with Adena, a photographer she met through working at the women’s magazine, Scarlet. However, as season 4 begins two major things happen: Adena comes back into Kat’s life, platonically, and Kat discovers that she is attracted to… men. Oop!
For Kat, this is a wonderful time of self-discovery. Kat has always been proud of who she is, and as she explores what it means to be bisexual, that is no different. However, Adena invites Kat to a party with many of their lesbian friends, and in the same scene, Kat spills the beans about having sex with a man. Adena becomes aggressive and defensive, telling Kat that she is not welcome at the party anymore because she is bisexual and not a lesbian. Thus, moving forward, this one conversation changes the entire dynamic for Kat and Adena.
Kat struggles deeply with accepting herself after this harsh conversation with Adena. Adena has always been someone Kat looks up to and takes very seriously, is Adena’s opinion on Kat’s sexuality valid? Let’s talk about bisexual erasure. What is it, and why is it so bad? Here erasure essentially means to obscure or to assume someone’s sexuality. In the straight community as well as the LGBT community, bisexual erasure is prevalent. Every time someone says it’s “just a phase” to a bisexual person, that is erasure. Erasure invalidates bisexuality and can make bisexual people feel invisible. To put it into perspective, an example of bi-erasure could be a woman in a lesbian-passing relationship. Sure, these two women are dating and possibly in love, but when the bisexual woman is called a lesbian, that is incorrect. Perhaps that woman would then be defensive, saying she’s bisexual. The same could happen for straight-passing couples as well. When the others around the bisexual woman insist that she cannot be bisexual because she is with a woman or that her bisexuality “no longer matters” that is ERASURE, and it happens all too often. Bi-erasure is prevalent in LGBTQ+ communities. However, not all share the same views.
Now, back on The Bold Type…
Adena firmly makes Kat believe that because she is bisexual, the lesbian community will reject her. This in and of itself is bisexual erasure, even if Adena did not intentionally mean it to be. Adena is making Kat feel as though her sexuality is not valid because she is not a lesbian. While Adena may have done this simply because she felt threatened, it speaks to the anxiety that many bi women have after experiencing anti-bi bias. The storyline sends a bigger message that harmful stereotypes can be weaponized against bi women.
In contrast to Adena’s behavior, Kat’s lesbian friends at the party completely accept her and reinforce the idea to Kat that Adena used bisexual erasure out of jealousy or spite. So the show provides the antidote to these anxieties about erasure and stereotyping: bi bias does not exist within every lesbian or gay person, but rather in a select bunch. However, it is still a problem that is thriving in every community of people, and The Bold Type does a great job with Kat and Adena’s storyline addressing bi-erasure within the LGBTQI+ community.
Bold Type does a great job of recognizing and representing the complexity of sexuality and how each individual has their own journey. Each sexuality is valid and worth celebrating. Be who you are and let others be.