Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Wrong way to challenge Bi Erasure

The other day, BiCommunity News tweeted a link to a year old article about Santana's sexuality in Glee.
The gist of the article is that the writer is disappointed that Santana was getting labelled as a lesbian and not a bisexual because of her history with boys. A choice paragraph is as follows:
Even clueless Brittany tries to help Santana’s self-identify by making her a T-shirt that says “Lebanese” (oh how I want one of those, early birthday present anyone?). Now hang on one cotton-picking minute. It’s not the first or the last time that someone in the show alludes to Santana being a lesbian, but everything Santana has done and said so far screams bisexual. A bisexual girl who doesn’t like labels (welcome to the club), and is firmly in a closet, but most definitely bisexual.
Now I'll admit, bi erasure happens. As a bisexual woman, I hate it, because I'd like to see my identity reflected in the shows I watch. I didn't like it when Anya in Survivors was labelled as a lesbian by The Radio Times when she never called herself as that and I don't like it when soaps take a character who previously had long term relationships with the opposite sex have a relationship with someone of the same sex, and suddenly they're labelled as gay.

However, this isn't the case with Santana, the author correctly quotes Santana as not liking labels, but during the very same episode Brittany gave Santana the Lebanese T-shirt (Born This Way), Santana identified herself as a lesbian. Also, when Santana said she wasn't interested in labels (during Sexy), she was so far in denial that she couldn't even admit to herself that she was in love with Brittany. 

It's true that Santana had had trysts with boys before she was with Brittany, but they never seemed to matter to her like Brittany did and still does. And I don't mean just that she wasn't in love with them, she didn't seem that in to the sex, having looked bored after sleeping with Finn (The Power of Madonna) and only wanting to be with Puck if he could get her things (breaking up with him for not having a good enough credit rating in Acafellas).

Again in Sexy, after Brittany tells her she can't break up with Artie, Santana retorts:
Of course you can. He's just a stupid boy.
Not exactly words I'd expect to hear from a bisexual girl!

In fact, for me, this is the conversation that cemented in my mind that Santana is a lesbian but Brittany is a bisexual, because Brittany loved Artie at the time and didn't want to hurt him and Santana didn't care about any of the boys she'd been with. If you want to read more of the coming out speech from Santana, I posted it here.

Putting aside the author's presumption to decide Santana's sexuality for her, what disappoints me most is the fact that she didn't write about what an amazing character Brittany is and what a positive portrayal of a bisexual teen we have in her. By doing so, it seems to engage in bi erasure which is apparently what the author was railing against (I will put this right in a later post as I think the portrayal of Britt deserves its own post).

By complaining that a lesbian character was labelled as a lesbian and citing this as an example of bi erasure the author has managed to weaken the whole argument for challenging bi erasure, which is a very real and important issue. Because of this, I'm disappointed the article was published in the first place, and even more disappointed that whoever handles the Twitter account for the magazine chose to tweet a link to it almost a year later, particularly as Santana has now publicly declared she's a lesbian.


  1. While I agree with your disapproval of the article writer’s need to force Santana into the bisexual label when she is a lesbian, I still believe that Santana's character development can be seen as an example of bi erasure. Not because Santana is bi, but because she could have been. I was happy for Santana when she was able to identify as a lesbian, but I would have been happier if the writers had taken the opportunity to very prominently challenge bi erasure and bi phobia by having such a big character arc be about a bisexual character. To me it was just one more time Glee refused to fully support bisexuality. Yes, there’s Brittany who is an open bisexual character, and a good example of self-acceptance, but her orientation never gets as much serious consideration in the show as the other non-straight characters so I just can’t consider that full support on the part of the Glee writers which is part of the reason I think the article writer didn’t focus on her. When it comes to bisexuality, I feel that Glee writers are content at only half supporting it (when they mention it at all). Like in the Blaine-may be-bi episode, they have Blaine challenge Kurt’s bi phobia but in the end the episode almost reinforces bi phobia by suggesting that Blaine was confused and just going through a really short phase just as Kurt had argued. With Santana and Brittany’s relationship, the writers had a great opportunity to show full support for bisexuality but instead they made Santana a lesbian and kept Brittany’s bisexuality as something discussed only lightly or in passing. So while yes, I wouldn’t label Santana bisexual, the decision by the writers of Glee to not allow her this label (and to not allow the label to be more prominently addressed through Brittany) still seems like bi erasure to me.

    1. I think you've completely missed my point about Santana. Her characterisation before she came out made sense as a lesbian. The reason why there hasn't been as much as a big deal about Britt's sexuality is because she doesn't see it as a big deal. She didn't have to have a huge coming out because she was up front about it from the first season so for her to have announced it in a huge way after that would have seemed weird to me.

    2. No, I get what you're saying. I think we just experienced Santana's characterization differently. For me, in the earlier portions of Santana's development it would have logically made sense for Santana to be either bi or lesbian. Yes, she was never as interested in guys as she was in Brittany, but earlier on in the series I still felt like she showed some real romantic interest for guys even if they weren’t as important or deep as her feelings for Brittany. Before she officially identified as lesbian, I would have considered putting her as a 4 or 5 on the Kinsey scale (or at least saying she was biromantic). As for Brittany, when I said I wanted them to showcase her sexuality more prominently and seriously I didn’t mean I wanted some big coming out story because as you said for her that would be weird. I meant that I wish the writers would not just slip in how accepting she is about her sexuality here and there but really highlight her total acceptance of her bisexuality like they have highlighted other characters' struggles with sexuality and fear about coming out or even other attributes of Brittany. Her self-acceptance in general is like an undercurrent of a lot of other plot points in the series, but I just wish that they would make her acceptance of her bisexuality the main current sometimes like they did for Santana’s struggle accepting that she’s a lesbian and Kurt’s struggle coming out and staying proud.

    3. I just don't know how they'd have done that without her being bullied explicitly for being bi. We've seen how she handles people who call her stupid so I'm not altogether sure what it'd have added to her character.

      By the time the show had focused on her as anything other than a joke I'm pretty sure any bully would have got tired of picking on her for her sexuality because they would have got zero reaction out of her, it'd have been "yes, and?", so to have had her being bullied in the third season for being bi, or even later on in the second season, would have been unlikely.

      Anyway, she's going to be in senior year without Santana there to scare people off so maybe, maybe, we'll get it then, I don't know.