(Note: This post contains spoilers about Queer As Folk.)
It was the Spring of 2003. My three best friends and I were taking a break from studying for our math final exam and wandering around our local video store, searching for a DVD to watch at my house that night. Midway through the New Releases aisle, we paused. There it was: Season Two of the American Queer As Folk. None of us had ever watched it, but we knew it by reputation from friends who were fans. As active members of our school’s Gay-Straight Alliance and avid consumers of queer media, we knew that Queer As Folk was the most overtly gay television show out there, and we couldn’t wait to give it a try. We rented the first disc, and all plans of further studying that night were put on hold. Never mind, of course, that we’d never watched Season One—we’d catch up to it later. All we knew was that we had to start watching it immediately.
Nearly a decade later, Queer As Folk has remained one of my all-time favorite television shows; other than Seinfeld, it is the only show of which I’ve seen every episode more than once. It’s flawed in its depictions of diversity, and it’s sometimes a bit too goofy for its own good, but the storylines are compelling, the characters are well-developed, and the issues addressed—covering everything from bullying to parenting to addiction to serodiscordant relationships—are handled sensitively and realistically. All of them, that is, except for sexual fluidity.
The majority of the characters on Queer As Folk are gay men, but there’s a lesbian couple as well—Lindsay Peterson (played by Thea Gill, who is sexually fluid in real life) and Melanie Marcus. Lindsay and Melanie’s relationship is solid, but just like any committed couple, they have their share of problems. Over the course of the show’s five seasons, they deal with infidelity twice: once when Melanie has an affair with a woman in Season One, and again when Lindsay has an affair with a man in Season Four. Both affairs last for the same amount of time (one night), and both are instantly regretted by the participants. Yet Lindsay’s affair, for having been with a man, is treated as a far more serious offense.
In the universe of the show, Lindsay identifies as a lesbian. However, throughout the series, there are references to opposite-sex relationships and attractions she’s had (including one with her best friend, Brian Kinney, who is also the father of her son), so I think it’s reasonable to assume that she isn’t Kinsey 6 gay. The man she sleeps with, Sam Auerbach, confronts her about this after their affair ends, asking her to consider being with him again. She responds, “My house has many rooms. I occupy but a few. The rest go unvisited.” It’s a powerful moment that suggests that she’s aware of the feelings she occasionally has for men, but that such feelings aren’t significant enough to change her identification. Regardless of what attractions she may have, she’s committed to sticking by her wife and has no interest in pursuing relations with men.
If this was entirely about her personal choice of labels, the storyline wouldn’t really bother me. The problem starts when everyone else around her refuses to let her be bisexual, even if she wanted to be. During a heart-to-heart with Brian about the situation, he tells her, “It’s okay to like cock. And it’s okay to like pussy, just not at the same time. So, which one do you like?” Meanwhile, Melanie angrily tells Lindsay that she’s confused and insists that “There’s nothing I can do that’ll ever make you feel completely happy. You’ll always feel unsatisfied and I’ll always feel like I’m not enough.” Yet she doesn’t tell Lindsay that she would be comfortable if Lindsay were bisexual, or that while cheating is hurtful, finding men attractive isn’t. In this world, it’s pretty easy to see why Lindsay can’t identify as bisexual. It isn’t really that the identification would change her substantively as a character—it wouldn’t. It’s that bisexuality in the Queer As Folk universe is seen as either nonexistent or confusing and problematic (or, at least, confusing and problematic for the gay characters).
Please don’t take this to mean that I’m saying that Lindsay is definitely bisexual. Throughout the show, she makes it perfectly clear that she does not identify as bisexual, and I won’t challenge that identification. I will, however, challenge the writers for not making her openly non-monosexual, since such an identification would have fit her character well. The bi invisibility in Queer As Folk bothers me more than overt biphobia in mainstream shows that I don’t like as much, specifically because Queer As Folk is a show that I love. More than that, it’s a show that helped me grow more comfortable with my queerness and made me feel like I had a community before I really did. But it isn’t a show that speaks to me specifically in the context of being a bisexual woman, because when the show had an opportunity to actually address bisexuality, they dropped the ball. Not every show about queer people needs a bisexual character, but when there’s an opportunity to introduce one, it seems silly not to. Making Lindsay say, “You know what? Maybe I’m bi. But I’m still with Melanie, so take a hike, Sam!” wouldn’t have changed anything at all about her character. All it would have done is create a point of entry for bi viewers, so that they could feel more connected to the show than they already did. That didn’t happen. So now, when I watch Queer As Folk, I love it as much as I always have…but I also know that I’m not as much a part of the show’s community as I wish I could be.