“Should I have lied and said I am bi?”: Jessie J’s bisexuality was ‘just a phase’

Jessie J recently called her bisexuality ‘a phase’ in an interview with The Mirror.Jessie_J_in_NYC1

Her words aroused bitter disappointment despite my having very little interest in her music or personality. Yet, everyone’s sexuality is fluid. It is valid to rise and fall on the Kinsey scale over the course of your life. Everyone should acknowledge their own feelings.

So why did this inspire anger?

Initially, it was more the phrase than the sentiment. Jessie J’s wording trivialises her previous relationships with women. It seems dismissive and all too reminiscent of the kind of criticisms that bisexual people face from all sides. Her words will give ammunition to people who say that bisexuals claim their identity either for attention, in a rebellious ‘phase’, or as a prequel ‘phase’ before fully coming out.

On further reflection though, there was more to it than semantics. Whether she likes it or not, as a celebrity, Jessie J has taken on the role of spokesperson. She may well be the only bisexual woman some people have heard of. I have written previously about the value of celebrities coming out – it can be as powerful as if it were a friend or family member. So what damage might be done by a celebrity referring to her relationships with women as ‘a phase’? What will people think to see bisexuality used in what appears to be a publicity stunt? What might the consequences be for a bisexual person seeing the casual dismissal of their sexual identity?

So back to Jessie J’s question – should she have lied and said she she is bi?

In short – no. I couldn’t condone wanting anyone to lie about their sexuality. However this wasn’t Jessie J speaking honestly and openly about the evolution of her sexuality. These inflammatory comments were clearly a shameless attempt to interest the media in her and her 3rd album. There are better ways to approach the complex subject of fluid sexuality which is still widely misunderstood by many.

A more frank, thoughtful and above all tactful, discussion of her feelings and experiences might have caused less anger. It might even have gone some way to opening up the discussion around female sexuality.

Maybe this is too much to hope for. It is, of course, unfair to hold Jessie J, of all people, to a higher standard than the rest of us. She never claimed to be a role model or a champion for bisexual women. However, from a woman who still claims to care about her LGBT fans, a bit of tact was be hoped for.

Representation of bisexuality in the media is poor at best. Even nominally LGBT friendly shows like Glee continually get it wrong when it comes to bisexuality. This makes it worse when someone who has publicly come out as bi appears to be using their sexuality as a publicity stunt.

All is not lost, there are other bisexual celebrities out there – Anna Paquin and Evan Rachel Wood spring to mind – but this is still a blow, particularly to the public perception of bisexual women and bisexuality more widely.

 

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Here’s what you missed on Glee: biphobia

Naya Rivera (left) and Heather Morris at the P...

Naya Rivera (left) and Heather Morris at the Paley Festival 2011 panel on Glee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Santana has got a new girlfriend and this time she’s “a 100% Sapphic Goddess”. Unfortunately Glee ruined the relationship within seconds of the first flirtation by including completely unnecessary biphobia.

Dani/Demi’s comments about being a 100% Sapphic Goddess could have been acceptable if insensitive but Glee didn’t stop there. Santana went on to explain:

“I’ve never been with an actual lesbian. It’s been all bisexuals like Brittany or college girls trying to experiment…”

and then as an extra kick in the gut claimed:

“I finally have a girlfriend who I don’t have to worry about straying for penis.”

It was a perfect trifecta that managed to imply that bisexuals are sluts, not as good a lesbians and not really queer all at once.

So thank you Glee for tainting this burgeoning lesbian relationship and a really lovely “Here Comes the Sun” duet with biphobic crap.

Glee has a history of problematic comments when it comes to the ‘B’ in LGBT. In episode 2×14, when Kurt claimed bisexuality as a phase, I let it slide because they were showing Kurt lashing out and he was sort of called out on it (even though Blaine did turn out to be gay). In 5×2 the comments appear blatant, deliberately hurtful and entirely unaddressed. Rachel and Kurt both treat the comments are perfectly legitimate (though as discussed Kurt has form for this). They’ve called Santana on her shit before so why let it slide now?

This episode also feels like it has undone all the good work that was Brittany S Pierce and her sexuality. Brittany was a great example of how to do bisexuality right. She had meaningful relationships with both men and women and though she was promiscuous she didn’t cheat. She didn’t even leave Santana for a man – Santana left her for a college girl.

What has added insult to injury is the complete lack of a reaction from commentators, critics and queers. While some people have called Glee out, such as AfterEllen’s Heather Hogan in her weekly recap, the general sense is that people are too happy to see Demi Lovato and ladykisses to care. Most are either flat out denying that the comments were problematic or trying to defend them because they draw attention to the reality of biphobia. If this was the intention Glee has sadly missed the mark by completely failing to address it either on screen or off.

There is also of course a not-insignificant number of lesbians and gay men who aren’t outraged because they agree with Santana’s comments. There are many who agree with the general sentiment that bisexuals are not as worthy as “100% Sapphic goddesses”, that they are more likely to cheat and that they’re probably secretly straight/gay anyway. Biphobia continues to plague queer communities both openly and as an underlying, unquestioned assumption. This is not only distressing for bisexuals but it may actually be causing and prolonging serious mental health issues for bisexual teens, according to a recent study.

Glee doesn’t always get the portrayal of these sensitive issues right but it is the best we’ve got. Bisexuals face enough hatred without having to get it from Glee as well so I sincerely hope that this is a blip or part of a grand plan that will show up the folly of Santana’s comments. If it isn’t, someone needs to take Ryan Murphy aside and force him to acknowledge his serious problem with bisexuality before he causes any more harm.