In the season 3 episode “Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl…” of Sex and the City, airing in the year 2000, lead character Carrie goes on a date with a charming man who ends up casually mentioning that he’s bisexual. While this show is extremely sex-positive in its four leading ladies who also have a few “gay best friends”, the concept of bisexuality poses a bit of a problem for Carrie. In a key scene, Carrie and her friends dissect bisexuality despite knowing nothing about it as a sexuality. Sex and the City is often described as an example of the “SLUMPY class” of the gay 90’s, meaning Socially Liberal, Urban-Minded Professionals. Despite being socially liberal, these wealthy white women find bisexuality to be too foreign and bizarre once it becomes personal. This episode showcases the casual biphobia that is rampant in mass culture today by using humor, gender binary, and heteronormativity to flippantly dismiss bisexuality as a legitimate sexual orientation, contributing to the erasure of it as a whole.
This episode intends to portray bisexuality as greedy and not even a real sexuality at all. Rather, it is something that the “kids are doing these days”. Because of the vast majority of media that confirms and supports this idea, I argue that this is certainly the dominant reading of this episode. Viewers are supposed to laugh and agree with Carrie and her friends; bisexuality isn’t even real, it’s a “layover on the way to Gaytown”. This episode enforces the preconceived notions that the heterosexual majority already have about bisexuals and LGBTQ folk in general. The arguments the women make are not only about bisexuals, but lesbian and gay people as well. From a place of privilege, the dominant reading is that yes, bisexuality is made-up. I see this attitude play out in my own life as well: When some acquaintances of mine asked if I could date someone who is bisexual (without knowing that I myself am bisexual), I told them that I already have dated a boy who I knew was bisexual our entire relationship and felt no discomfort. They seemed appalled by this and exclaimed that they could never, ever be comfortable in a relationship with a man who is bisexual because they believed it was just concealed “full gayness”. Sex and the City explores bisexuality and enforces this negative attitude in a later season when Samantha dates a women for a few episodes, but decides it’s not for her. She quickly tries on bisexuality to be trendy, then casts it aside just like any consumerist would.
The viewer is supposed to be white and heterosexual as well, one who can empathize and laugh with these women at the horror of dating someone who is attracted to multiple sexes. McCabe emphasizes this importance in understanding spectatorship and cites Michele Wallace saying, “It seems crucial here to view spectatorship not only as potentially bisexual but also multiracial and multiethnic” as important in taking hold of one’s identity and representation (McCabe 55).The dominant reading does not take into account the possibility of queer folk watching this as well and negating what these misinformed and sheltered women have to say about bisexuality.
Why this is flawed:
This is an extremely harmful and problematic view to have on bisexuality. Moments like this on television erase the experiences of those who are bisexual and imply that they just need to pick a side. The language used throughout the above clip is harsh: Samantha implies that it’s the hip thing to do and says that the kids are “going bi” as if sexuality is something one can simply will themselves into doing. She fetishizes bisexuality by saying that it’s “hot”. This affects not only bisexuals, but the queer community in general: If bisexuals are just picking a side in the end, it implies that most gay people have been bisexual at one point even if they have not considered themselves as such. Carrie describes his openness about it as “weird”, as if he should not be so comfortable and proud because it is something to be ashamed of. Miranda says that it’s “greedy” and “double-dipping”, implying that bisexuals are hypersexual and constantly taking up the entire dating pool. Charlotte claims that she loves labels and wants bisexuals to pick a side, either you’re gay or you’re straight. Carrie asks the most important question…”When did this happen? When did the sexes get all confused?”
While it aired almost 15 years ago, this clip forces the gender binary and erases the idea of a spectrum of sexuality. It confines men and women to a box and leaves no room for difference. You must be a clear-cut gay woman or gay man, or else you are just making things up. The women also comment that bisexual women and men always end up with men in the end, implying that bisexual women are only experimenting with women and that bisexual men are merely covering up their complete homosexuality. This is a difficult thing to view as a bisexual person, as it establishes and reinforces internalized biphobia: It makes one reconsider their sexuality and if they should be “picking a side”. As Doty argues, “The pathos of feeling like a mass culture hanger-on is often related to the processes by which queers internalize straight culture’s homophobic and heterocentrist attitudes and later reproduce them in their own queer responses to film and other mass culture forms” (Doty 8). The bisexual character featured in this episode hardly gets to express his point of view and talk about his experiences, and as usual, the straight women decide for themselves who he is as a person. It is very interesting that gayness is chic and trendy to these women in the form of their gay best friends, yet bisexuality is far too uncomfortable when it enters their personal lives as though they will somehow be tainted by entering a relationship with someone who is not 100% straight.
I viewed this text using the oppositional gaze as a bisexual woman myself. When I first viewed this a long time ago, I found it funny — the women use quick, witty humor (“Isn’t that right next to RickyMartinville?”) and I myself thought the concept of bisexuality was odd because I had grown up in a heterocentric community and saw people in media as simply gay or straight. However, viewing this now with more knowledge of sexuality allowed me to critically examine this text with a non-heterosexual lens. By removing myself from their upper class, heterosexual circle, I am able to view this episode using the oppositional gaze. These characters come from a place of privilege, and anything that pops this bubble of privilege is foreign and bizarre. The show faces various problems in terms of its gender and racial representation, as well as promoting consumerism as empowerment. However, this portrayal of bisexuality felt particularly appalling. By being who I am now, one who is able to critically look at texts rather than just accepting them as truth, moments like these in media are just another example of people in power dismissing things that are unlike themselves.
Doty, Alexander. Making Things Perfectly Queer: Interpreting Mass Culture. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1993. Print.