The Emmy’s win for San Junipero showed why bi representation matters 

San Junipero was revolutionary for queer representation – because it was true to bi identities.

There was finally some good news for queer representation in 2017 as San Junipero has picked up an Emmy. The much lauded episode of Black Mirror saw two queer women hook up in the afterlife. There could be no bury your gay tropes because they were already dead.  It was a stunning twist when fans expected their favourite queer character to be killed off with more drama than any Greek tragedy. But that wasn’t the only reason the episode instantly became a classic. San Junipero stunned because of its bi representation.

San Junipero wasn’t just about gay representation. There’s far more to being queer than just being cis, white and gay. We have gay marriage, gay sex, gay love. It’s only ever gay stories which are spoken about. Gay culture is appropriating queer identities. Queerness is constantly erased and Kelly stood up to this. Her character was bold and fearless. She stood for bi people everywhere. Kelly refused to have her past romantic and sexual relationships erased from her history. She loved a man before but that didn’t make her less queer, and nor would she become more queer if she embarked on a relationship with Yorkie. She wasn’t about to move on in death without her whole identity being recognised.

“Queerness is constantly erased and Kelly stood up to this

We’ve seen the gay coming out storyline time and again. And while Yorkie’s journey was important, it wasn’t radical or new in terms of story content. It was Kelly that broke the mould (with the fact they both got a happy ending). It was Kelly who was the surprise of the show.

Research by USC Annenberg from 2015 found that of the biggest shows only 32 had characters who were queer and a woeful five of them were bi. There are plenty of shows where bi characters are afraid to even utter the “b” word. Piper Chapman is one them and that’s despite Orange is the New Black often being praised for its queer representation. However, the show has struggled to embrace Piper’s bi identity. She can barely even utter her sexual and romantic identity.

When there is representation, what we do get with bi characters though is tropes. We get cheating, lying, power maniacs who will manipulate to get what they want. Sorry, but Frank Underwood is one of the worst characters of all time and gives bi people even more of a bad name. TV and film writers see bi people as untrustworthy. The very concept of being bi is written as a moral affliction. San Junipero, intentionally or not, gave a real bi story. It showed a woman of colour who was proud of who she loved and even more ferociously proud of herself. She wouldn’t let her queerness be limited by anyone who refused to understand her.

It was the representation that bi people needed. The stigma around bi people causes real harm. Bi people are less likely to be out and research by the CDC in 2010 found that bi women are at higher risk of stalking, harassment and sexual assault than either straight or gay women. When writers treat bi people as amoral then this passes on damaging cultural messages that can cause isolation. We need narratives which are loud and proud for all queer identities. San Junipero wasn’t only a success because the gay character didn’t die but because the bi woman was allowed to be complex, and given a happy ending too.

“We need narratives which are loud and proud for all queer identities”

TV is supposed to be an industry that is based on creativity but too often all we get is the same problematic narratives. Where are the stories of complex ace characters? Oh yeah, they get erased like in Riverdale. Most writers don’t even know what intersex or aromantic means.

San Junipero’s win was a victory for the bi community, when the queer community has often erased their struggles. It also shows that well rounded and detailed stories work. We want to see nuance and different narratives around relationships. San Junipero is just the start of a journey TV must make.

4 thoughts on “The Emmy’s win for San Junipero showed why bi representation matters 

  1. I loved San Junipero and as a bi woman, I thought it was brilliant to see a bi character like Kelly on screen. Bi representation is sorely lacking, so to see that addressed (as it is being in some other realms, too – YA fiction has seen a big increase in bi characters lately) is excellent and really encouraging. However, this article seems to suggest that gay people have “enough”: that they’re represented enough, that they’re respected enough, and that this apparent omnipresence is effectively stealing space from bi and other queer people. That’s nonsense. You can discuss bi erasure and the need for more bi representation without acting as if gay people have it easy or implying that they’re overrepresented, neither of which is true, especially if you think outside the US, UK, etc. It’s clear when you talk about gays and lesbians that you’re only thinking about privileged white people, too. “We’ve seen the gay coming out storyline time and again” – have we, though? With black lesbians? With a Muslim gay boy? In non-Anglophone countries? I find your views incredibly white-focused, western-centric, and ultimately, homophobic.


    1. The article is clear that we want more queer representation but bi representation- and representation of queer people of colour- is hugely lagging behind representation of white allo cis het people. We can acknowledge queer representation across the board is poor but especially bad for certain queer people, just as bi people of colour. That’s the point. We want more than white cis gay stories. We want to see trans Muslim gay women. Asian gay men. We want more complexity, and that’s why Kelly so such a strong character.


      1. I don’t think that is clear from your article at all. Apart from a brief mention of cis white gays at the beginning, you don’t really address the huge disparity between representation of white cis gay males and all other gay/lesbian people, so the article reads as if you see gays and lesbians as a privileged monolith. To me this falls into a worrying tendency that some bi/queer people have of positing gays and lesbians as oppressors, equating them with straight people due to their alleged “monosexual privilege”. Personally I think it’s doing us all more harm than good. But thank you for your reply.


      2. White cis gays were mentioned at start to frame the article as celebrating identities other than theirs but so article wasn’t all about them. Monosexual privilege simply means refers to people who do not experience oppression or discrimination for being attracted to people of different genders. It is not erasing homophobia. It is simply acknowledging the experience of some other queer people. Surely the point of any queer movement should be to empower all queer people and make a space safe for all?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.