Whether you’ve caught every episode that has ever aired or just caught a few of the songs blasting out of your obnoxious roommate’s headphones (who downloads every single song and refuses to keep the volume at any lower than ninety), it is remarkably unlikely that there are many people in America who have not interacted with TV’s “Glee” in some way.
It has an extraordinarily vast fanbase, its music has officially topped the charts on a grander scale than Elvis Presley, and the songs they perform are all dangerously catchy. In addition, Glee purports to be a haven for the showcasing of diversity—and certainly there have been a startling number of appearance by gay characters, which is very much a celebration in its own right. Representation may be on the rise for LGBT characters, after all, but it has not been an especially speedy ascent.
Nevertheless, for a show that promotes itself upon the concept of diversity, there are quite a number of thoroughly problematic and decidedly mishandled aspects of the show—one of which, as will be discussed here, is the problem of bisexual representation.
First, I’d like to begin by addressing the title, and the counterarguments with which it is concerned—namely, that there is bisexual representation on Glee, and that this bisexual representation comes in the form of Brittany S. Pierce.
After all, rom what we’ve seen, it is altogether apparent that Brittany has no qualms being attracted to a variety of genders; in fact, I’d be hard-pressed to find an instance where she considers it especially weird. And certainly there is a point to be made in the fact that this is refreshing—that she seems to mind very little that her focus is much more the actual person than the gender package. But the fact of the matter is that this is a very, very Brittany quality; she is exactly the sort of person who would see no genuine, tangible difference between these attractions. She lives her life on a different plane of existence altogether, at least in the way that she thinks about things. Whatever her IQ, she certainly approaches life from a remarkably divergent viewpoint from much of the rest of the world. Her sexuality being a very Brittany quality makes it easier to dismiss on the grounds that she is simply Brittany, and the closest she has ever come to declaring herself anything was when she claimed to be “bicurious”—and then, of course, the few other joking comments, including the “bicorn” remark. There has been no real attempt to make Brittany’s bisexuality into a topic of discussion, or into anything beyond who she is, and her love for Santana. Bisexuality in this context, then, seems far less universal.
Now I would like to return to the ways in which bisexuality itself has been more directly addressed on Glee: first, and most cringe-worthy, Kurt’s comments regarding the matter. “Bisexual is a term that gay guys use in high school when they want to hold hands with girls and feel like a normal person for a change,” he says to Blaine in “Blaine It On the Alcohol,” following Blaine’s reveal that, after kissing Rachel at the party, he’s no longer one hundred percent confident in his sexuality. I do not here intend to suggest that what the characters say is automatically what the writers mean, because clearly this is not the case—the problem is in the narrative’s approach to the character’s comments. In this instance, the most opposition Kurt is confronted with in regard to his viewpoint is Blaine’s response at the end of the scene: “I’d, uh, say ‘bye,’ but I wouldn’t want to offend you.” In the end, though, there is no real challenge to Kurt’s claim; he is not given any great insight or illumination on the topic, and by Blaine recognizing that he is, indeed, fully gay, there is no forced confrontation there, no real reckoning. By the end of the episode, Blaine is gay, and therefore Kurt’s words hang in the air without retraction. For all of the viewers who may be ignorant of bisexuality, Kurt has simply echoed stereotypes that the episode never saw fit to deny. This is a problem.
“Sexy,” then, at first seems like it might offer some recompense. Santana claims she’s attracted to boys and girls—and shrubs, of course—to Brittany and Holly. We have the scene which fans have deemed “Hurt Locker”—the moment at which Santana declares she is, in fact, in love with Brittany. We have scenes here of Santana struggling with her sexuality, of Santana struggling to come to terms with having feelings about her best friend. But once “Sexy” comes to a close, we don’t see Santana features prominently for several episodes—and the next time we pick back up in the storyline, Santana’s voiceover tells the audience that she is in fact a “closet lesbian.”
Pause. Now, this is a problem with Glee in general—the skipping around, the general continuity errors, the long periods of time without insight or character development. It is not the first storyline that feels as if it has a “missing moment.” But given the context, I find these moments especially worrisome. I would like to preface this next part by saying that, yes, I am well aware that a lot of people who eventually come out as gay first consider and wonder about the notion of bisexuality. Some people come out as bisexual first. I don’t mean to suggest that this isn’t a reality. What I am suggesting, however, is that the writing on Glee seems to potentially undermine bisexuality as a legitimate sexuality.
For the time that Glee took with the Santana and Brittana storyline—for all the waiting and the wondering and the slow development of their attraction post-Santana’s “Sexy” speech—there was no time devoted at all to Santana’s personal, internal coming out. There is plenty, clearly, devoted to coming out to other people, and to being trapped in the closet, but we were never privy to the moments that existed between her declaration that she was attracted to girls and guys and then revelation that she is, indeed, a lesbian. I think that could have been a very important story—her own journey of discovery, the moments of realization. I think it would have been an especially important storyline for Glee because, especially to the more mainstream, casual viewer who may not be privy to notions of bisexuality or what it means, it feels a bit like her being a lesbian is thus proposed as an inevitability.
She admitted attraction to both genders. Then, episodes later, we are given access to her thoughts again for the first time, and she is gay. This is what I mean by inevitability; I think the connection between these two events is dangerous without any visible pathway between them, because in a way it seems to necessarily link attraction with both genders to the discovery of attraction to solely one gender. I do not pretend to claim that this journey isn’t applicable, as I mentioned. (Although it should be noted that the practice does of course occur in the inverse, too.) But without access to Santana’s thoughts and internal struggles with regarding to own personal realization, casual viewers might be left with the feeling that bisexuality is illegitimate—or at least not legitimate to the same degree as “gay” and “straight”—or that it will inevitably lead to a gay epiphany.
I do think making Santana bisexual could have done a lot of things for Glee: first of all, there are not many bisexual characters on TV, especially not ones who have a likely “endgame” that involves another character of the same gender. Therefore, on a show that claims to promote diversity, there could have been the opportunity to extend an honest portrayal of bisexuality rather than seeking to, to some degree, erase it. There are so many stereotypes about bisexuality and what it means to be bisexual and even the existence of bisexuality that could have been dismissed. There could have been the eradication of the belief that bisexuality is about confusion. After all, at the moment all the viewer has to go by is Blaine, who was confused and considered a possible attraction to Rachel before “snapping out of it,” thus solidifying his sexuality as a gay male. And we have Santana, who, when struggling with her own confusion and feelings for Brittany, claimed she was attracted to guys and girls—and then, in her more certain voice over, that she was a lesbian, with no line connecting these two points. Second of all, it could have done quite a lot in offering a counter to the comments Kurt made. As it is, Brittany is a character whose focus has mostly been her humor, and it is unlikely she could ever be a platform for the internal, in depth coming out that makes Santana, in some ways, very relatable to many people. Was she bisexual, the viewer might be led to understand that Kurt’s ignorant comments were just that: ignorant.
I don’t claim that it is not okay that Santana was made gay. I don’t claim that she can’t be gay. I don’t claim that lesbian representation isn’t incredibly important, because it absolutely is. But I think by again dismissing the possibility of bisexuality, and with perhaps the sole exclusion of Brittany—a character primarily played for her humor and one-liners and general off-the-wall comments and actions—Glee has perfected the art of portraying an incredibly binary view of sexuality, and I think that’s a genuine shame.