In the words of David Alleyne, AKA Prodigy – “I’m bi. Never said that out loud.”
Okay, so maybe not never, but I could probably count the amount of times I’ve directly stated those words on one hand. And why? Because being young and being bisexual is a taboo. It’s all about ulterior motives and secrets. I’m a young, female bisexual – so I must either be attention seeking or a closeted lesbian, right? Because apparently, after four years of knowing for certain my orientation, I still must be mistaken, because it doesn’t exist, right? Because keeping it a secret from everyone for over three years makes me attention seeking, yeah? Because, despite having a long term boyfriend (of three and a half years) who I love more than anything, I must just be masking my true lesbianism?
And so, bisexual representation in modern media is extremely important! And right now, after the revelation of Bobby Drake’s homosexuality last week, I’m wondering – really – what characters within the modern Marvel Universe have I encountered who are openly bisexual. And more importantly, how are they represented?
So, first off, it’s important to state that – living in a small, countryside town in England – I didn’t even know comic books were a thing for the majority of my life, and only really, seriously got into them just under two years ago. But trust me; I know my stuff about X-Men! Ask me something about the Xavier Institute students of the Academy X era and I will talk the hind legs off a donkey in reply! Okay, so I guess my point was – I’m probably gonna focus on X-Men here.
So, firstly, we have the issue of ‘every bisexual character is a slut with no morals’ – at least that’s how it feels like people see it! I have to admit, before Young Avengers v2, if someone asked me to name a couple of bi Marvel characters, it would immediately be Daken and Mystique. Honestly, these aren’t good poster kids for my sexuality! And then we have Loki and Destiny, who aren’t exactly perfect either.
What it encourages: “They’re only bisexual because they a) use sex for gain b) just don’t give a shit about anything.”
What that means for us: “She/he is bisexual – so that’s like code for emotionless, manipulator who cannot connect to anyone emotionally, right?”
What we need: More characters like Prodigy (PRAISE THE ‘NEW X-MEN’ KIDS BEING THE BEST AS USUAL) who have no issues and are – like most open bisexual – just normal people!
Next, we have the issue of bisexuality being a plot point for sales. Oh yes. This just had to mentioned, didn’t it? First of all – fanservice! Yay! Okay, so I’m not saying that I’m immune to a good bit of pandering to us, us fans! But there’s points where it’s just about okay-ish (Namor and Emma Frost’s fashions choices being some interesting examples), and then there’s times when a serious issue is used just to please the fanboys. For example, as much as I still hope for this being totally innocent – Psylocke’s outing in ‘those panels’ with female Fantomex, in my eyes, does seem like blatant fanservice. I mean, come on! One of the most sexualized women in the X-Men is shown post-hanky-panky with another woman – sounds like some Rule 34 rubbish already, right? Bisexuality honestly feels like an excuse to get the fans drooling, whilst still being able to give the character opportunities for straight, ‘normal’ relationships (which – in turn – can appeal to some fans more (the idea of ‘wow, I can watch her get it on with a girl, and still bang her afterwards’).
What it encourages: “Bisexuality is about nothing but sex.”
What it means for us: “You’re only bisexual because you wanna have a lot of sex, slut.”
What we need: Stop. Just seriously, stop.
Secondly, within this plot point idea is the ‘HEY, LOOK, WE’RE DIVERSE’ point. So, everyone’s striving to be PC and fair nowadays. And that’s great. But when you’re using a character purely to appear like you give a damn about their sexual orientation, race, gender, etc. – that’s not the same as being diverse. The example I always use is Daken, because he used to be presented so damn well! I loved how casually Daken’s sexuality was dealt with in Daken: Dark Wolverine, with Daken only explicitly exhibiting his bisexuality when he would if he were a real guy – it felt natural. But then, we have The Logan Legacy. Maybe it was just my interpretation, but seriously?! Daken gets a solo issue in the series, and straight away we get ‘OH, OH HE DIDN’T KILL THIS GUY, ‘CAUSE THEY SLEPT TOGETHER – HERE’S A PANEL OF THEM KISSING! LOOK! BOYS KISSING! DIVERSITY! GO US!’… Like, stop. Please? If Daken spared everyone he slept with, his death count would be significantly lower, let’s face it. It felt so forced and just shoved into the book. My sexuality is not a selling point for your books, Marvel.
Then, we have the issue of bisexual erasure. This is something that I noticed came up last week with Jean Grey’s flippant ‘everyone is bisexual’ comment. Honestly, erasure is so easily avoided, but so irritatingly common in pop culture. It’s almost as if bisexual characters are stated as such once, before being pushed into the ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ labels. The best example of this is Bling! (who literally has an exclamation mark in her name making her 4000% cooler). So, Roxy was introduced as bisexual a while ago (in the X-Men: The 198 Files handbook), but seems to have been branded as lesbian recently. What? Why?
What it encourages: “Bisexuality is just hiding homosexuality.”
What it means for us: “Oh, it’s okay, sweetie. You’ll find the strength to come out some day.”
What we need: A few single bisexual characters who are open about their sexuality, but don’t necessarily need to act on it 110% of the time (PRAISE PRODIGY), or bisexual characters in a relationship, who still identify as bi. eg. Bling! finally gets with Mercury (yes, please), but isn’t referred to as lesbian.
Finally, the most obvious issue – WHERE ARE MY BI CHARACTERS?! Come on, seriously. There is a distinct lack of bi characters in pop culture. It’s as if the writers of films, TV, books, comics, etc. just write gay characters in and somehow completely forget that bisexuality is a thing. Like, you’re kidding, right? We are here, y’know!
What it encourages: “Bisexuality? What’s that?”
What it means for us: “Nope, your sexuality doesn’t exist.”
What we need: MORE BI CHARACTERS!!
Dear God, please praise Keiron Gillen for how well he presented David Alleyne’s sexual orientation in Young Avengers v2!
Seriously though, as someone who has only - in the past six months – experienced Prodigy’s ‘oh, yeah, I guess I have to admit this now’ moment, I have to say that this was written so well! The quote I put at the start of this is so much how I was feeling. The first time I openly said the words ‘I am bisexual’, I was like ‘woah, that is strange’ and I felt a little ashamed (because of previously mentioned stereotypes). But my friends were like ‘oh cool, we guessed’ and moved on. And that’s why I love how the YA responded to Prodigy’s ‘revelation’ – because there were a few questions but then it wasn’t really mentioned again until it came up naturally in conversation. Not forced at all. So natural.
Similarly, Daken’s casual sexual relations (oh, Daken, you dorky boy), Mystique and Destiny’s relationship, and Shatterstar’s relationship with Rictor were all written really well! So – when we do get bi characters – we can tell our writers know what to do with them!
And, of course, there’s always the positive that we actually have bi characters! Yay! Twenty years ago, we wouldn’t, so this is progress.
The Future (My Thoughts):
Obviously my hopes for the future have been shown in the ‘what we need’ section of each ‘the bad’ point. Still, I wanted to recommend something…
So, Prodigy stated that his mutation was a big factor in him realizing his sexuality. It’s not ideal as it might bring across the idea that ‘there has to be something different about you to make you bi’, but if it gets bisexuality more prominent in comics, I’m done. For example, physical stuff (here’s where I drop all my credibility because you’ll think I’m just doing this because I’m a fangirl, but I’m not, I swear), like biokinesis – Elixir. So, Josh has an appreciation for all biology – why would gender make a difference? He just hella loves bodies! And that’s just one specific example – there are lots of mutations that could affect sexuality, least of all telepathy (oh yeah, think of all the bi/pan/omni telepaths out there).
Just… Think about it, yeah?