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.