The Bisexual – A Coming of Age Story with All Its Blemishes
I have very publicly lamented about the lack of lesbian representation on TV.There are some lesbians scattered about various shows, but there hasn’t been an entire lesbian-centered series since The L Word, which went off the air 12 years ago. And now my queer prayers have been answered…with The Bisexual, a series that would indicate by all measures that it’s not actually about lesbians.
The Bisexual centers around the aloof and free-spirited Leila (played by show creator Desiree Akhavan), a presumed lesbian who decides to take a break from her 10-year relationship with the tightly wound, goal-oriented Sadie. Both are clearly in love but want different things from the relationship. Sadie wants marriage and children, and her biological clock is ticking, as she’s a bit older than Leila. But Leila doesn’t want that. Or at least, she needs to explore a little bit before making a final decision. (This initial premise reminds me a great deal of Cucumber, in which Henry and Lance split after Harry rejects Lance’s marriage proposal).
The problem here is that Leila and Sadie can’t make a clean break – they’ve founded a startup, Mine, together. It’s the Shazam of clothing, and they’re just weeks from launching. Yet they’re still “professionally compatible”, as they tell their small staff in an awkward office meeting.
Oh yeah, and there’s one other complication – Leila might be a bisexual.
The show is kind of a late-stage coming of age tale. Leila makes a lot of the stumbles that teenagers make as they learn how the other sex’s body works. She fumbles a hand job after hitting on a doorman at a lesbian bar.
She’s also very reluctant to tell anyone about her urge to explore. During one conversation in the pilot, she says bisexuality was “created by ad executives to sell flavored vodka”. It’s not something she believes – but she can read the room and the sentiment is very anti-bisexual. The series does a great job of exploring biphobia within the LGBTQ community. Quite often, the people who understand bisexuality the least are those who don’t love “traditionally”. She clearly caves to the pressure to be straight or gay but not in-between. It’s something that’s handled with great honesty and realism throughout The Bisexual’s 6 episodes.
Also, when Leila moves out of the apartment she shares with Sadie, she moves in with a failed novelist and college professor, Gabe, who’s a bit of a man-child/womanizer, but is falling in love with his icy student, Francisca. It’s interesting to watch his story unfold, as he feels a sense of desperation that he must find love and get married and live a normal life, a life that his sister seems to have with her husband and two children. His desperation mirrors Sadie’s. Somehow, Leila has surrounded herself with people who want so badly what she’s rejecting.
On the surface, this is a show about a woman exploring her sexuality. But going deeper, it’s about a woman navigating social norms, figuring out her place within a community that’s supposed to accept her unconditionally, and disputing and researching where love is supposed to fit into her life.
It’s a dry, sarcastic, irreverent series with sharp writing and killer jokes; but it’s also a show that really lands its more emotional moments. When Leila describes her coming out story in the bathroom of a lame house party, with Gabe’s friend JonCriss, there’s a pain in her memories that every queer person can relate to.
The show’s supporting characters are also well-developed, including the comical office assistant, Ruby, who moonlights as a feminist blogger, and Leila’s best friend Deniz, who seems as though she could give two shits about anything, but turns out to have the most developed/staunch/unselfish values of all the characters in the series.
It's also great how Leila’s Iranian-American heritage is subtly worked into the show, not as a point of differentiation, but to add context to her life.
The Bisexual is chock full of humor and cringeworthy moments. But it strives to show Leila’s journey as it is, with all its blemishes, rather than fashion some unrealistic sexual fantasy in which impossibly beautiful models run around making out with each other while drunk, calling themselves bisexual. The angst, confusion, and anger involved in figuring yourself out can happen at any stage of life, and The Bisexual reveals that truth at the core, something we all can relate to regardless of who we love.
Season 1 of The Bisexual is streaming on Hulu.