One of the things that separates different generations these days are their memories of what television looked and sounded like—even what it smelled like(!)—when they were kids. People my age remember massive wooden consoles with a dense, curved glass TV screens. They made a hollow sound when turned on, and we peered into them like shaken snow globes as the picture slowly emerged from a noisy sea of static. With the smell of heat and burning dust rising from the back, many of us stretched on tip-toe to adjust foil-tipped antennae until that rolling, foggy image stabilized.
What we saw on those artifacts was different too, especially if you were a queer kid. Gay characters flounced and shrieked, or snuck around guiltily in cop dramas. Lesbians were suspect too, in movies like The Children’s Hour, if they were seen at all. There were no transgender people, only transvestites and drag queens, represented as no more human than circus sideshows. And bisexuals? Completely invisible.
LGBT representations in media have come so far, bringing complex, nuanced characters into our lives that significantly change public perceptions and support for gay and transgender rights. But there’s a case to be made that bisexuals have remained out of sight. When they do appear, bi characters are often represented as indecisive, promiscuous, or simply afraid of coming out as fully gay.
A common tactic for “solving” the unbearable complexity of a character attracted to two or more genders is to eliminate the confusion by making them either straight or gay. This frequently happens when a character jumps from one medium to another, such as when a comic book is made into a movie or TV show. But even established characters switch teams sometimes, and audiences aren’t given the chance to accept the duality. Instead, writers either simply do not acknowledge the bisexuality or make those characters perform rituals of repentance and regret as they renounce their former orientation.
Here are five bisexual characters who got “straightened out,” even if they ended up gay:
1. John Constantine
The hardbitten star of DC/Vertigo series Hellblazer had some hetero relationships, including an on-and-off thing with Zatanna and his marriage to Epiphany Greaves, in the comics. In Hellblazer #51, a guest writer made the suggestion that Constantine had had “occasional” boyfriends. Later, Brian Azzarello developed the idea that the Constant One had dated men in the past.
In neither the 2005 Keanu Reeves-lead movie nor the 2014 NBC series, however, did Constantine’s bisexuality make the cut, triggering cries of “straight-washing” from fans.
The sultry shapeshifter from X-Men has a sexuality that’s as fluid as her physical form in the comics. She has had long-term relationships with Destiny (Irene Adler), with whom she raised Rogue and remained until Destiny’s death in The Uncanny X-Men #255, as well as a number of men, including Victor Creed and Christian Wagner, not to mention an affair to conceive Nightcrawler with Azazel.
X-Men writer and Mystique co-creator Chris Claremont has also since stated in interviews that it was his original intention that Mystique and Destiny be Nightcrawler’s biological parents by way of Mystique having transformed into a man for conception. However, given Marvel’s attitude at the time, the idea was considered entirely too controversial.
(Cheryl Ingro, “The Bisexual Mystique“)
Saturday morning cartoons of the 1990’s and 2000’s weren’t likely to address Mystique’s sexual orientation, but the movies have proven even more restrictive—she shapeshifts almost exclusively into other women (notable exception: Senator Kelly), and her liaisons are only with men.
3. Captain Jack Harkness
When introduced in Doctor Who in 2005, this charismatic character cops to being “omnisexual,” a reference to the wider variance of gender expression among the dating scene of Time and Space.
He flirts outrageously with just about every character he meets, and has a serious romantic relationship with Ianto Jones on the UK version of his spin-off Torchwood. However, when Torchwood jumped the pond for a US-produced season, Captain Jack’s bisexuality failed to make the leap.
4. Willow Rosenberg
The beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer character blossoms in self-esteem and power as the series goes on, and so does her love life. When shy and mousy, her only romantic storyline is an unrequited crush on fellow Scoob Xander. Her romance with Oz Osbourne—garage band bassist by night, werewolf by full-moon night—represents a major awakening.
But while her relationship with Tara Maclay broke ground in its portrayal of a healthy, complex lesbian love affair, the show often dismisses her former relationships with men as mistakes on her way to coming out, rather than valid experiences in her bisexual life.
5. Anne Frank
Okay, so Anne Frank one isn’t just a character; she’s a significant figure in post-war culture as her diary was adapted into a play, movie, and several made-for-TV specials. In her diary, Anne expresses sexual attraction and romantic feelings about several women, but this aspect gets edited out of her story from the start, as much because of the semi-canonization she undergoes as because of the era in which it happened.