A Bisexual Person is Not Now Gay
Just because they are dating someone of their own gender
I tend to get around to watching popular TV shows a couple of years after everyone else, and Schitt’s Creek is no exception. We just started watching it a few months ago, and I have to say, I’m really enjoying it way more than I ever expected to. But there’s one thing that’s been bothering me.
The character of David, played by show co-creator Dan Levy, is a delightfully insecure, slightly pretentious bisexual man with eccentric taste in clothing. He’s never been lucky in love, and his brief relationship with motel owner Stevie Budd eventually ends with her being better off as a friend. So you can’t help but root for David when he, at last, finds a stable, loving relationship with his business partner, Patrick.
Up until beginning a relationship with David, Patrick had only ever dated women and was even engaged to one in the past. But in the scene where Patrick’s parents, who don’t realize he is in a relationship with David, come to visit, Patrick is referred to as gay. It’s just assumed that now that he’s dating a man, he’s gay, rather than bisexual. This is a problem.
Unless there was a scene that I missed where Patrick admits that he was dating women all this time because he thought he should, and now he’s ready to admit to actually being gay, this is a huge erasure of bisexuality as a valid orientation — something that seems strange, since David’s interest in various people regardless of their gender is handled so adroitly as if it were no big deal. The healthy, casual treatment of his sexuality has been noted more than once since it's kind of a rarity in television.
But here’s the thing — as far as we’ve come as a culture, even many gay people do not see bisexuality as a real orientation. Perhaps because David has always dated both men and women, and he’s so eccentric and unique in other ways, we can accept that he truly is bisexual, but when Patrick decides he wants to marry a man, that automatically makes him gay — as if he’s finally chosen which “team” he wants to be on. This seems to me like a largely subconscious slip by the writers based on deeply seated cultural bias.
We’re such a binary culture that there’s a strong tendency to believe that monosexuality is the only real sort and that bisexuality is a failure to admit that you’re actually gay — particularly for men. This is somewhat ironic since there’s a lot of scientific evidence that most people are somewhere on a bisexual continuum. But none-the-less, skepticism of bisexuality, particularly for men, has long existed not only culturally but in the world of science as well.
Early sex researchers Krafft-Ebing and Hirschfeld believed that bisexual behavior and identification occurred primarily among monosexual (i.e., either heterosexual or homosexual) men for reasons other than a bisexual orientation. For example, some homosexual men identify as bisexual, or engage in sex with women, due to social pressures that favor heterosexuality.
When Alfred Kinsey proposed a quasi-continuous scale of sexual orientation, claiming that “The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. Not all things are black nor all things white,” he was none-the-less disbelieved by many because his studies were the result of self-reporting — and they went so strongly against traditional beliefs in monosexuality and cultural bias against bisexuality.
Furthermore, bisexual individuals may be mistrusted and stigmatized by both heterosexual and homosexual people, and perceived as untrustworthy, promiscuous, and unable to commit.
More recent research has been done using equipment that measures genital arousal, which has provided a more scientifically quantifiable body of data. But even if that were not the case, telling people that they don’t understand their own sexuality is a pretty condescending thing to do. Outdated and erroneous beliefs that bisexual people are either fooling themselves, just in an experimental phase, or using that term as a cover for an inability to commit, are marginalizing. I hate to see a show that’s done so much for destigmatizing bisexuality to then turn around and inadvertently reinforce some of the old tropes.
Portraying Patrick as gay rather than bisexual just because he’s decided to marry a man, fosters these old narratives. If he was always bisexual but didn’t realize it before meeting David, or realized it but never acted on it before meeting him, then Patrick is coming out as bisexual, not as a gay. Some people are aware of their sexuality from a very early age, but particularly with bisexuality, many are not, and it takes time and the right conditions for them to see past the strong social programming they have received.
I didn’t realize I was bisexual until I was 50 years old. I knew I wasn’t a lesbian, so I just always figured I must be straight — because those were the only two options that had ever been presented. New opportunities to shed old narratives and to experiment with my true sexuality led me to understand that although I’m still geared more towards men, I have a very real sexual attraction to some women — a realization that has added a lot to my life.
I love watching Schitt’s Creek, and I think it’s great that David’s sexuality is just one aspect of a multi-faceted character. But I have to admit I was both surprised and disappointed to see how things were handled with Patrick. The show writers seem to inadvertently be saying that it’s fine for David, who is sometimes described as pansexual, meaning his sexual attraction is not based on gender, to be that way because he’s so eccentric and flamboyant to start with. But solid, steady, Patrick has to be monosexual because that’s a more regular, more normal thing to be, even if that orientation is gay.
Maybe I did miss a scene where Patrick talks about realizing that he’s gay, and if that’s the case, then I’m off base in this instance. But words do matter, and media representation does matter. It’s a part of how we construct our reality and determine what is in the mainstream and what is not. I applaud Schitt’s Creek for all that they’ve done to normalize bi/pansexuality, but I just would have liked to have seen a little bit more in the case of Patrick.
Edit: I’ve been reminded of this bit of dialogue, which rather indicates that Patrick does think of himself as gay and not bisexual: When he auditioned for Cabaret and Moira said to him, “the thing you must understand about Cliff, Patrick, is that he has been with many women but he’s never derived true pleasure from it.” And Patrick said, “I think I can relate to that.”
It was also pointed out to me that men who have enjoyed sex with women in the past can still self-identify as gay and not bisexual. I completely concur that how someone identifies themselves is the most important thing.
I’ve also been reminded that David identifies as pansexual, not bisexual.
© Copyright Elle Beau 2021