I wasn’t able to put a name to my sexuality until my sophomore year of college. Before, I had always felt stuck between two labels that didn’t feel right. I was either heterosexual or a lesbian, and there could be no in between. I would develop a crush on a boy in one of my classes and think, “I’m cured! I’m normal! There’s no reason for me to worry!” Then I would find myself daydreaming about some female celebrity, and I would immediately question if all the feelings I had toward boys were actually fake, something I had forced upon myself in order to function in a heteronormative society. I remember once hearing a close friend’s mom say, “I can understand being gay, and I can understand being straight, but I don’t understand being bisexual. It’s so selfish — just pick a side!” It took meeting other bisexual folks for me to understand the way I experienced attraction wasn’t abnormal, it wasn’t me being a traitor to LGBTQ folks — it’s just who I am.
Janelle Monae recently released a single titled “Make Me Feel” and, along with it, a colorful, fun and undeniably bisexual music video. The first time I watched it, I felt myself rooting for Monae and Tessa Thompson to leave the bar, the setting of the video, together — thus confirming their relationship. I found the scene where Janelle Monae jumps between Tessa Thompson and a man — seemingly unable to decide between who she is most attracted to, finally choosing to dance with both of them — a bit awkward. But when I stopped thinking of the video as a story, and more as an allegorical representation of Monae’s sexuality, I began to really understand what I felt the artist was trying to convey. The scene where she jumps between Thompson and the man was a representation of her attempting to pick a gender, and when she finally gives up and just dances with the two of them, together, it’s a statement that she doesn’t have to pick one or the other. When the music video was over, I immediately sent it to one of my friends, someone who also identifies as bisexual, along with the message, “I feel so validated!”
Art, as a representation of life, is often used to help us understand ourselves and how we should structure our lives. Through film, music and other art forms, I had been convinced that a person could not be attracted to more than one gender — to be otherwise was an aberration. On film and TV, bisexuality was reserved for characters who were almost always female, generally unstable and promiscuous, and was often portrayed as a phase that would eventually end once the character found consistency. It was never presented as an actual, acceptable and long-term way of living out attraction.
Though bisexuality has existed in art for a while, in the past I have struggled to find my sexuality represented in ways more obvious than a subtle hint or a mispronounced pronoun. So, lately, I have been seeking out and appreciating art, created recently, that is explicitly bisexual. The character Ilana from “Broad City” is shown having relationships with people of all genders, and her long-term attraction to Lincoln isn’t seen as a statement of her heterosexuality, but instead just one relationship of which she happens to be a participant. Halsey, on her song “Bad At Love,” discusses her failed relationships with both men and women, and she also recorded a duet with Lauren Jauregui where they express their sexual interest in one another. And most recently, Monae’s “Make Me Feel” — sexy, vibrant and undeniably queer.
In the future, I hope to see more art that reflects the struggles and experiences of bisexuality in a way that is upfront and unabashed. I want to see more characters in TV and film who have relationships with people of more than one gender and are not asked to defend the decisions they make in their romantic lives. I want to hear more music that explores the nuances of being bisexual, and I want to see representations of people involved in long-term, monogamous relationships but who still identify as bisexual. Bisexual erasure is a real phenomenon, and unless there is a push to bring greater exposure to bisexuality, harmful narratives will continue to exist. I hope to see a day where young people don’t have to wait 19 years of their life to finally have the language to express themselves, and won’t ever feel the need to prove their sexuality.
When I experience art that is bisexual, I am reminded that though I live in a world that enjoys placing people into sharp and defined boxes, I can choose to exist in a place that is fluid and abstract. I can reject to make the decision that society is constantly asking me to, and as Cupcakke assures me in her song “LGBT,” “You ain’t gotta pick a side,” I can stay just where I am.
Elena Hubbell is a Senior Opinion Editor