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Sunday, October 16, 2011

True Life: I'm Bisexual - A Look into Bisexual Stigmas


Many people are familiar with the dramatic show "True Life" on MTV.  They cover all different challenging lifestyles in an attempt to inform and entertain TV viewers.  In 2009, MTV did a true life on bisexuality.  In this episode, the three characters display many of the stereotypes of bisexuals. 

Sydney, 19, is searching for a boyfriend to be the one.  However, every boyfriend that she has thinks she is secretly hooking up with every guy or girl she sees.  Marquees, 23, defends his bisexuality from his mother, who thinks he just has low self-esteem, and his friends who think he is just secretly gay.  Finally, Danielle, 20, likes to have a boyfriend and a girlfriend simultaneously.  If either of her significant others can't learn to share, she can't continue the relationship with them.  Although Sydney and Marquees both believe having two exclusive relationships at once, one with each gender, is considered cheating, Danielle believes she is entitled to a girlfriend and boyfriend simultaneously because she is bisexual.
The editor of Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World, Robyn Ochs, defines bisexuality as "a person [who] has the potential to be sexually and/or romantically attracted to more than one sex, but not necessarily at the same time or to the same extent" (1).  However, many people define bisexuals as hypersexualized (2), attention whores, secretly gay, or people that just can't make up their minds.  The three characters from the "True Life" episode both express and disprove these stereotypes.

Sydney's story begins with the break up with her boyfriend.  In his angry text messages later, he sends "Can't turn a hoe into a housewife cuz hoes don't act right."  Sydney expresses that she gets that type of attitude all the time; everyone thinks that she is sleeping around because she is a bisexual.  She defends herself by disclosing to the audience "I love sex, but when I'm in a relationship, I have to have that emotional connection...I've never been unfaithful."  With this, Sydney helps to disprove the stereotype that bisexuals are sexual addicts.  The type of emotional connection that Sydney truly strives for is called emotional intimacy.  Dr. Shaw and Dr. Lee describe this type of intimacy as "sharing aspects of the self with others with the goal of mutual understanding" (2).  In addition, women are more likely to have sex to express love than men are (2).  Based off of those two facts, it is easy to see that bisexuals aren't sexual deviants, they long for loving relationships the same as any other person, especially in Sydney's case.

Marquees has been dating men and women intermittently since the end of high school.  He is confident in his sexuality despite his mother's disapproval and his friends disbelief.  His mother thinks that his sexuality comes from his low self-esteem.  In other words, she believes that his low self-esteem drives him to find acceptance from both men and women.  Marquees' friends also do not understand his bisexuality.  Most of them believe that he is actually gay, but is afraid to admit it.  In the episode, Marquees says "I'm more attracted to guys but... [in] my future I see myself with a woman, as far as like settling down."  This confession coincides with Ochs' definition of bisexuality stated above--"a person [who] has the potential to be sexually and/or romantically attracted to more than one sex, but not... to the same extent" (1).  If this definition is true, then the fact that Marquees is more attracted to men, but still slightly attracted to women, still means he is bisexual.  According to Wilhelm Fliess, every person has a masculine and feminine side, and this is why many people feel an attraction, even a slight one, to both sexes (1). 

At the beginning of the show, Danielle is married to a man and has a girlfriend.  Unfortunately, both of her relationships end fairly quickly.  Both her husband and her girlfriend are unable to share Danielle, despite the fact that they said they could at the beginning of the relationship.  She tells the audience "I can't just have one or the other.  I have to have both."  Danielle's polygamous relationship goes against some major beliefs of bisexuality.  One such belief is that bisexuality is about falling in love with a person, regardless of gender (1).  The key word here is person, as in one.  Danielle justifies her lifestyle with the fact that she is bisexual, however, many scholarly definitions and first-hand opinions of bisexuality would not agree with her justification.  Based off of the other characters on the show, Danielle's view of bisexuality is definitely an outlier.  She fits into the stereotype that bisexuals can't make up their minds and they want attention from both sexes. 

Obviously nobody is the same, and it makes sense that Sydney, Marquees, and Danielle have different lifestyles and different ways of expressing their sexuality.  Due to some of the dramatizations from this "True Life" episode and the controversial characters chosen to represent bisexuality, one could argue this episode gives bisexuals a bad name.  According to Jennifer Baumgardner, "many people who might feasibly be described as bisexual do not choose to describe themselves that way" (1).  This may be from generalizations and over-dramatizations such as the "True Life" episode, or may be due to the title of bisexual.  Buamgardner also argues that bisexuality is increasingly expressed due to past exposure to second-wave feminism.  If a mother, aunt, or some other elder was a second-wave feminist, they most likely influenced a freedom to have same-sex relationships (1).  This openness of expression leads to all different people coming out of their shell and showing the public their sexuality with general acceptance.  Although this may be true, there is still a stigma today against bisexuals.  Are they gay? Are they looking for attention? Are they unable to commit or settle down?  There are some major points the general public should think about before passing judgment on bisexuality.  One such point is that "sexual identity does not necessarily require sexual experience" (2).  This helps to show that bisexuals are not necessarily hypersexualized.  Another major point to heed is that bisexuality is highly stigmatized; few people actually fit into the stereotyped model.  

Sources:
1 - What is Bisexualtiy? by Jennifer Baumgardner
2 - Sex, Power, and Intimacy by Susan Shaw & Janet Lee

8 comments:

  1. It's funny how most people assume one of two things about bisexual; either that they have low self esteem and will get attention from whoever they can or that they are attention seeking whores. It's sad that society places such stigmas on emotions we really cannot control. This makes me think of that saying I can't help who I fall in love with, sometimes even when you don't want to like someone, it just happens. I have actually seen this episode of True Life and think it is a perfect example of people who must face the realities of decisions they can't control. Though MTV has many shows that are well umm... a little ridiculous, I honestly believe this show shows some good qualities about life as a teenager in the world today. I think the hardest part about watching these shows is seeing how the parents handle situations. I once asked my mother (who is a very liberal and space cadet kind of woman - who I love by the way but she is just crazy) what she would do if I brought home an African American man who I loved... she paused for a moment and said " I just don't think you guys would have anything in common". This was clearly a very politically correct response to a question that obviously made her uncomfortable. Parents find it so hard to hear things they don't agree with. Many times in True Life, the parents are the biggest obstacle for people to over come. Dana in Trans-Sister Radio had to approach the subject with her parents and in the article What is Bisexuality? She too has to deal with coming out to her mother and the fears she has about what her family will think. It's sad that the people who are suppose to love us the most and unconditionally are usually the ones to hurt us the most. I think this was a great insight into the lives of bisexuals and the hardships they face, sometimes even more then gays.

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  2. The show didn't really have parents involved, with the exception of Marquees' mom. But that is a really important point I hadn't really thought about beforehand. Parents definitely play a huge role in their children's coming out process, especially since a lot of parents disprove. I have a friend who did kind of what you did and asked her mom what she would do if she came home with a girlfriend. Her mom was very shocked and responded with something like "I just don't see how you would be attracted to a girl."

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  3. I liked how true life had an in depth look at bisexual people, because they are usually of little interest to the community and are victims of prejudice. I can't believe that Danielle was married and still had a girlfriend! That just goes to show that all people are capable of fulfilling their own stereotypes if they choose to. That being said, I can sympathize with the other two, as I was subject to those very same questions when I came out. Sure, some members of the LGBT community can be promiscuous but so are straight people. People will always make assumptions and stereotypes about people who are different than them.

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  4. Yeah, one thing I really liked about this episode was that it showed three completely different people and how each of them chose to express their sexuality. I don't know if you watched the whole show, but you will notice that Sydney only hooks up with girls because she wants a boyfriend more and is happy with just having a boyfriend. On the other hand Danielle truly is not happy unless she has both.

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  5. I think it is a good point that people who are in fact bisexual do not really identify that way. Well since the person loves someone for who they are not what gender they are. I feel like people dont walk around with the thought 'today im going to be attracted to men and tomorrow women'. Thats stupid since you cant really control who you are attracted to or who you 'fall in love' with. I also think it is dumb how that girl says shes bisexual and has to date a man and women at the same time. I feel like shes faking it, because like you said you are with a person (singular) for who they are, not their gender.

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  6. Something really interesting about the True Life episode is that the beliefs of each person tend to contradict another person's lifestyle. The opinion of cheating, of what truly is bisexuality and lifestyles play a huge role between the three stories.

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  7. There are so many stereotypes surrounding bisexuals, especially including that they are addicted to sex, as shown in this True Life. It's nice that they had someone on the show specifically to disprove this. Sydney, like many, likes sex when she's in a committed relationship. However, people like Danielle are disproving the fact that bisexual attraction is just like heterosexual or homosexual attraction. She feels the need to have both a husband and a girlfriend even if that means being unfaithful. Personally, I think that it's a little ridiculous that she's justifying cheating with bisexual attraction. As Sydney proves, someone can be in a committed relationship with one person even if they're bisexual. She just happens to be attracted to men and women. I wish this show did not show Danielle because I think it gives people a false (and somewhat negative) view of bisexuality.

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  8. Sydney does a really good job in countering stereotypes about bisexuals. She justifies that even though she loves sex she isn't an addict. She shows that she would be the same way regardless of her sexuality. One thing that I found really interesting was that Danielle never really talks about sex. She talks about how she needs to have two relationships at once to complete her identity, but she doesn't connect those relationships to sex. This always makes me wonder if she really is just out for attention.

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