Since the first season of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black premiered in 2013, bisexual fans have spent their binges wishing for one thing. A simple thing. A tiny thing, really.
We begin each new marathon session with a similar thought in mind. We are hopeful. Maybe this is finally the season.
Maybe, just maybe, this is the season they finally utter the word “bisexual.” Moreover, with the arrival of season four, we have — spoiler alert — once again been let down.
As bisexuals, we are hyper-aware of representations of bisexuality in the media. There is still a significant lack of bisexual representation and, though it grows every year, we are nowhere near accurately representing the bisexual population of the world. Just like all other subordinated identities, bisexuals are hugely underrepresented.
However, while other identities, like gay or lesbian, for example, are also underrepresented, at the very least, they are usually recognized. TV shows and movies, for the most part, do not seem afraid to use the word “gay” or “lesbian.” When there is a gay character on a show they are, with very few exceptions, identified as such.
Bisexuals are not.
It is a sad, recurring theme in bisexual representation; if they show us, they do not address us. For some reason, film and television creators seem to fear the word "bisexual." You would think that having an actor speak the word would somehow doom the show.
So, many times, we see characters who are shown as being, shall we say, “sexually fluid.” They discuss the Kinsey Scale or say they are “not into labels” (the latter of which we will address later). It is a phenomenon amateur media critics like myself have gotten used to over the years.
We have grown accustomed to it, yes, but that does not make it any less frustrating. In the case of Orange is the New Black, it could be more frustrating than other shows because the show has proved it is progressive in many aspects.
Fans of OITNB know it is a show that doesn’t hide from many things. They are in your face, showing you harsh reality after harsh reality, devastating you with their brashness and shocking you with their bluntness.
From the corruption of the prison industrial complex to horrifying racial tension among inmates, OITNB discusses topics other shows would not dream of addressing. It also has an unusually high number of LGBTQ characters(which is awesome, to say the least).
So, why do they seem to be afraid of the word “bisexual”? They have had plenty of chances to use the label. Instead, not only do they ignore the existence of the word, but they often dance around it or choose to mislabel characters blatantly.
When Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), one of the main protagonists of the show, is faced with questions about her sexuality, she says things like “You fall somewhere on a spectrum — like a Kinsey Scale,” or “I like hot girls. And I like hot boys. I like hot people.” She is also always being referred to by other characters as a lesbian or, on the opposite side, is called “straight” by on-again-off-again girlfriend, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) way too often.
Bi-erasure happened so frequently in the first few seasons that I felt forced to give up on Piper; she’s a lost cause. If she has not uttered the word “bisexual” by now, she probably never will.
So I moved my hope elsewhere. I moved it to Brook Soso (Kimiko Glenn).
At the end of season three Brook began seeing Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley), a fellow inmate, and a fellow woman. While we have never been given any reason to think Poussey would identify as anything other than a lesbian, we were given reason to think Brook could identify as bisexual. She showed obvious interest in multiple genders, though her interest in women seems a bit fresher.
This season a lot of time was dedicated to the Brook/Poussey relationship, and a few scenes included moments of Brook trying to figure out what he attraction to multiple genders meant for her sexual identity. The closest we ever got to a definitive answer was in the episode “Power Suit” when she said she’s “attracted to people, not genders.”
It is a statement I respect and a statement I relate to in some ways. However, it leaves something to be desired.
It seems a small thing, I am sure. To those who do not identify as bisexual, this probably seems nitpicky. It can seem even more so if you adhere to the mentality that no labels are good labels and that in a perfect world, we would abolish labels entirely.
It is a fair point. So I cannot say I disagree. In an ideal world, labels would not matter. We would all love whom we love and work to be as inclusive as humanly possible, and we’d innately understand that there are infinite complexities in the area of human sexuality.
Sadly, we are not there yet. We are still living in a heteronormative world in which we are all assumed straight until proven otherwise, and bisexuality is so universally ignored or misunderstood that many closeted bisexuals are left closeted. They are left to wonder if their attractions are valid because they live in a world that chooses to believe they do not exist.
This is why having bisexuality validated in the media is so crucial. We take cues from TV. We learn from TV. Many bisexuals heard the word for the first time in a movie or on a television show.
In my case, it was Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) on Grey’s Anatomy who taught me that bisexuality is valid and gave me the word to go along with it. Without her, growing up in my suburban Colorado town, I do not know how or when I would have discovered and come to terms with my identity. It would have been later in life; that's for damn sure.
There’s no way I would have been out at proud at age 18 without her.
Saying the word is important. Words can empower us, give us a community and a shared history to connect as a group.
So, OITNB, I would ask that you kindly get it together for next season. We are not asking for a lot, here. Just say the word. One word.
Because one word has the power to change lives.