To celebrate LGBT History Month, we asked UHI students and staff to share their thoughts, reflections and stories. BA (Hons) Scottish History and Archaeology student Nicola Thompson reflects on her experiences growing up bisexual, and what LGBT History Month means to her.
I’m 13 and standing in the women’s underwear department of Marks and Spencer’s, my face is flushed red, and I can’t look up at the display models staring down at me. What if someone knew what was going on in my head, could see what I was thinking as I studied my scuffed school shoes with artificial interest. There is something writhing in my stomach, low and nauseating. It feels like shame.
I haven’t done anything wrong. But nice girls like me from families like mine don’t have thoughts like that. It’s okay for some ‘types’ of people my mother would whisper. Actors and musicians, those sorts of people who were happy to break the mould and live in the colourful fringes of society. But under the warm light of the sensibly designed kitchen, there is little room for a daughter with those sorts of ideas.
Maybe had I been a lesbian, settled firmly in one direction they would have had an easier time understanding. But this strange, blurred area of bisexuality confused them. A word synonymous with promiscuity. Of colourful club girls who played loose and fast. Or equally synonymous with confused. Like a rudderless ship blundering through life unable to commit to anyone or even commit to their attraction.
Every depiction of bisexuality on tv and in films was portrayed under those two categories. Darting from relationship to relationship, too wild and free to ever do something as mundane as falling in love.
And then the TV show The 100 came out. Gritty and post-apocalyptic, an unusual stage for a teenage girl to find a healthy depiction of love. But there it was in the shape of Clarke Griffin. A steadfast and committed woman who loved sincerely and with passion. Whose bisexuality was never treated as a joke. Who was not painted as confused or indecisive. She just was. And as a teenager desperately trying to carve out some sense of identity this was a game changer.
Then they went and killed off her lesbian lover in a classic example of bury your gays. For those unfamiliar, it is a common trope in TV in which LGBT+ characters tend to be the first to die or are killed off just as their scandalous gay romances come to fruition. The 100 may have written some strong LGBT+ characters but they are no less guilty of burying them as many other TV shows are.
Buffy the vampire slayer gave us years of fast-paced and entertaining television. But also gave us the equally common bisexual love triangle. In which any bisexual character, or bi-questioning character must be embroiled in some angsty and drawn-out love triangle with a man and a woman. These are just two examples; the list goes on and on.
Watch carefully the next time you put the TV on. Once you start spotting it, you never stop. Play a game of bisexual-bingo! Tv and film have come a long way, but even now the word bisexual is often relegated to the fringes of romance. A fun little plot device to add some angst or steamy sex scenes into a show.
Growing up bisexual in a rural area there was little in the way of community. There was always this slight feeling of ‘otherness’ like you were carved out slightly wrong. Like someone had made a mistake when putting together your brain.
But once a year, just for a few weeks, I felt seen. Every June there was this confirmation that I wasn’t alone. There were others. Colourful pins stuck into polyester blazers. A peek of rainbow socks poking out of the regulation black school shoes. Hints and flashes of pride shining through. And every year I felt less and less like a scared little girl peeking out of her closet.
Now I’m completely okay with who I am. I’m proud of how far I’ve come from that nervous teenage girl hiding away and desperately trying to find people like her on the screen.
LGBT History Month on the screen and away from it is a time to share love and pride, to educate others and most importantly feel seen. Feel heard. Feel like you’re not alone.
And a final thank you to Clarke Griffin and her dead lesbian lover on The 100 for showing a very confused teenage me that she wasn’t alone.
Support for LGBT students and staff is available here.
One thought on “Growing up bi: films, TV shows and ‘otherness’”
Great article, totally with you on this, as a bi CIS woman. The crazy bisexual woman is a common trope in many films I grew up watching – Mulholland Drive, Vicky Christina Barcelona, Basic instinct… yet most of us are surprisingly sane!