For writer, director, and star, Desiree Akhavan (writer and director of The Miseducation of Cameron Post), The Bisexual has been a long time coming. Since releasing her 2014 tour de force, Appropriate Behavior, she’s struggled with the label of “bisexual.” But it was the label that ultimately sparked the inspiration for this heartfelt dramatic comedy.
“I was hearing myself described as a bisexual all the time, and it was feeling like nails on a chalkboard, like really gauche, really tacky, really uncomfortable to keep hearing that,” Akhavan says. “And I wondered, why do I hate hearing this? It's one hundred percent true. And I said it about me, like I outed myself. But for some reason, hearing that word said all the time in such a public arena was weirdly humiliating. And I wanted to investigate why.”
The half-hour series had several titles before landing on The Bisexual (including Switch Hitter and Both Ways). Ultimately, it was a word that makes some (once including herself) uncomfortable that needed to be embraced in all its glory.
Bisexual representation in media has long been served with trope after stereotype - from the hyper-sexualized femme girl to the villainous toxic male. Luckily, LGBTQ portrayals in television are more diverse than ever, with GLAAD recently reporting 433 regular and recurring queer characters in the past year. But real quality stories are a dime a dozen, especially for bisexual people.
In The Bisexual (all six episodes now available on Hulu), Akhavan plays Leila, a 30-something who’s preparing to launch a tech startup with her long-term girlfriend. After identifying as a lesbian for the majority of her adult life, she finds herself wrestling with the fact that she’s actually bisexual. As she attempts to come to terms with this newfound part of her identity, she finds unexpected camaraderie in her new roommate, Gabe (played by Brian Gleeson of Mother!).
“It felt like it would be great as a reverse coming out story,” she says. “I had seen a woman who was in the straight world explore the lesbian world. But it felt like such a ripe area for comedy, watching a woman in her 30s try to manage her way around a dick for the first time.”
Although she taps into a particularly unique concept for TV, it’s a real-life experience all too many of us have gone through. With little representation, few fictional characters hit home quite like the bittersweet protagonist that is Leila.
Akhavan does away with the typical oversexed, uninhibited depiction that seems to plague every coming-of-age dramedy about snarky millennials. Instead, she offers a common experience that resonates with anyone who’s had to reevaluate something as ambiguous as their sexuality. And instead of serving it with a definitive message of what it means to be bisexual, it’s presented as a unique, yet personal experience that doesn’t come with all the answers.
Akhavan portrays Leila with the authentic candor of someone who’s just discovering who they are. During an earnest conversation with Gabe, she finds herself both defending her bisexuality and criticizing it. And throughout the show, she’s shown in romantic and sexual situations with both men and women, as all of the encounters are prudent to her self-discovery, unlike many fictional depictions of bisexuals would have people believe.
“I think a lot of people come out as bi and then are whittled down to who they have the most experience with,” she says. “You enter a same-sex relationship, you start going to gay clubs, you start building a gay family...to be surrounded by queer people is a luxury, and you have to divide yourself from that if you choose to be with an opposite-sex partner after being queer.”
Leila finds her closest confidant to be a straight man, with whom she enters a modern “bromance.” In a show that could easily have a woman exploring her newfound bisexuality with the convenience of a straight male roommate, it’s this refreshing platonic connection that gives the show its heart. As both struggle with their own romantic ups and downs, they’re constantly offering each other wisdom and understanding.
Throughout the show, she struggles with telling her friends and ex, even going as far to pretend not to know a man she just slept with. Ultimately, it’s not straight men or queer women that present the biggest obstacle in her sexual discovery. Much like Akhavan has found in real life, Leila finds that it’s her own self-criticism that’s doing her the most harm.
“I think that my worst criticism for bisexuality and the most strife I get from it is self-imposed,” she says. “It's my own discomfort…it's my feeling like I don't belong, my feeling alienated from both the queer community and the straight community. I'm trying to figure out a path for myself.”
All episodes of The Bisexual are now available on Hulu. Watch the trailer below: