J.J. Abrams sparked an internet blaze this week after answering a question about the possibility of an openly gay character being introduced to the canon in future Star Wars installments. His enthusiastic response that it would only make sense that a galaxy as fast as this one would contain characters of all sexual orientations and should be represented has, as you can imagine, ignited some pretty heated conversations on social media and strong opinions on various other outlets.
Much of the sudden interest in the possibility of a gay storyline stems from a movement that erupted shortly after The Force Awakens that revolved around fans’ desire to see a romantic relationship between Finn and Poe. And, as much as I agree with Abrams and would love to see an openly gay character be represented in this universe, my thoughts automatically jump to “well how about a bisexual character?” Fans who are opposed to the idea of a Poe/Finn match often insist that Finn is straight because he’s obviously romantically interested in Rey, but why aren’t many people acknowledging the possibility that he could have an attraction to both characters?
According to a GLAAD survey conducted last year, members of the LGBT community were only represented in 17.5% of on screen characters, and I think it’s safe to say that only a small percentage of that 17.5 were openly acknowledged as being bisexual. That lack of representation is a serious problem considering it’s 2016. Although we seem to be slowly but surely headed in the right direction as a society with the passage of marriage equality and a wider acceptance of the LGBT community, it’s more important than ever for avenues of entertainment to lead by example in providing equal representation, whether it’s skin color, gender, or sexual orientation. It’s a difficult thing to be comfortable with our own identity when we don’t see it appropriately represented in the movies we’re watching, movies that are created to tell stories about the people of the world, the world we live in too.
Speaking of the Star Wars universe, about a month ago Mark Hamill was asked by a fan if the character Luke Skywalker is gay, and Hamill’s response was, “His sexuality is never directly addressed. Luke is whatever the audience wants him to be, so you can decide for yourself.” The only interaction Luke has with another character that comes close to being romantic in nature ends up being with his own sister, so his character is never really linked to someone else of either gender, leaving his sexuality largely open to interpretation as far as Hamill is concerned.
On a related note, comic book enthusiasts learned a couple years ago that the anti-hero Deadpool identifies himself as pansexual, and it has since been acknowledged by several people involved with the film that’s dominated the box office since Valentine’s Day that this part of his identity is intended to be maintained in his on-screen depiction. Ryan Reynolds has openly expressed his desire to see Deadpool’s pansexuality more openly representation in the films, although this first installment revolves around his monogamous relationship with a woman. For those who are familiar with Deadpool’s sexual fluidity, the winks and nods are there, and they’re brilliant, but those who walk into the theater without the prior knowledge are likely to just to assume Deadpool is a straight man who is extremely tolerant and really enjoys Rent.
Of course the lack of clarity regarding Deadpool’s sexuality is creating a blacklash, with many claiming the film didn’t bring it to the forefront in the first installment in order to stay more mainstream until the film has established a secure fan base. But here’s the real issue. The way Deadpool is being portrayed so far in this canon is ideal in a progressive society where everyone who isn’t clearly gay is presumed to be straight. There’s no need to clarify a person’s sexuality if this assumption isn’t instantly made, but we still live in a world where unless someone is shown being intimate with both men and women, assumptions are made. We’re stuck existing in binary terms.
Herein lies the lack of bisexual representation in entertainment. If a character is monogamous and doesn’t state otherwise, someone in a same-sex relationship is gay and someone in an opposite sex relationship is straight. And, often, bisexual characters are either given no representation at all or are brought to us in the form of characters who are either villainous in their promiscuity or flighty and indecisive in their sexual preferences, unable to commit. I recently took to Twitter to ask my social media comrades who their favorite bisexual character is, and only one person responded with a character from film, Shirin in Appropriate Behavior. The rest of the responses were characters from television, which is the entertainment avenue that seems to be getting it, at least a little bit. Maybe?
Even in the late ’90s, television tried to get up to speed on equality and the representation of its characters. My favorite show boasts one of my favorite bisexual characters in both TV and film: Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sure, her portrayal is flawed, and instead of acknowledging herself as bisexual she refers to a version of herself in an alternate reality as being “kinda gay.” Later, once she’s openly in a relationship with Tara, she labels herself as gay, but never belittles the love she shared with Oz. And although it would have been refreshing to witness Willow vocally establish herself as bisexual, the portrayal of two long term relationships with members of both genders was a big step for television over 15 years ago.
Even now on a show as cutting edge and unafraid as Orange is the New Black, Piper never states her bisexuality. Her ex-fiancé refers to her as gay, and her on-again, off-again girlfriend refers to her as straight. Plus, the stigmas of the dynamic of an all female prison don’t do wonders for the concept of bisexuality, instead establishing more of a sense of adapting to one’s environment rather than being genuinely open to love regardless of what form it comes in.
One of the best bisexual characters portrayed in any form of media does happen to be on television, though her bisexuality represented in a way that doesn’t define her but rather just adds a vital layer to her characterization and personality. In CW’s The 100, Clarke Griffin lives in a dystopian world so far in the future wherein no one was raised to distinguish between sexual preferences; there’s the small matter of survival to be concerned about, and labels need not apply when it comes to choosing a romantic partner. Clarke is a fierce, strong leader with a passion for those she holds dear, and she has had two big loves so far in the series: one male and one female. No one asks her if she’s gay or straight or bisexual or pansexual, because none of these people were ever taught that a difference exists.
For some people, and I would dare to say a significantly higher number than maybe many would be willing to admit, sexuality is fluid, and love is love regardless of the body parts a person happens to possess. I would love to eventually live in a world where people see beyond labels, where they become irrelevant, where gay marriage is just marriage, and where we’re not gay or straight or anything in between but rather just humans with the capacity to fall in love with someone who loves us in return. But how do we help ignite change in the meantime?
Up until I began thinking about writing this article, I have adamantly, almost angrily refused to label myself as a rebuttal against those who still insist on identifying people by sexual preference. I’ve since come to realize that I’m part of the reason these labels haven’t become unnecessary. If I don’t step forward as being proud of who I am, how could I expect anyone else to? How can I expect those who are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with minority groups to come to the realization that we’re all the same if they think they don’t know anyone who identifies a certain way? The more we’re exposed to something, the more familiar it feels, and as contradictory as it seems, the more proudly we wear our labels now, the more people will realize how similar we are in the future.
So for the record, I’m bisexual, and as a lover of film, it’s important to me to see people like me portrayed on screen often enough that we can all eventually shed the assumption that anyone is straight until proven “kinda gay.” And you keep doing you, Deadpool. I look forward to seeing you and your boyfriend in the sequel.
Featured Image: The CW