Visi(bi)lity: Queer As Folk Broke My Heart

Carrie Nelson
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Carrie is a writer and documentary filmmaker living in NYC.

(Note: This post contains spoilers about Queer As Folk.)

Extreme close-up of a woman with chin-length blonde hair. The shot is over the shoulder of a man with dark brown hair and stubble, but since we only see him from behind, that's all we can tell.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.

Two women, one with cropped brown hair and one with chin-length blonde hair, and both wearing dark tops, stand next to each other, holding drinks. The woman with brown hair is talking to someone off-camera, and the woman with blonde hair looks at her, concerned.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.

Related: Queer as Folk Tackles Lesbians Who Sleep With Men - and Misses

Previously: John Irving Tackles Biphobia in New Novel, How the Savage U Premiere Barely Exceeded My Extremely Low Expectations

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8 Comments Have Been Posted

Reminds me of The L Word

I've never seen a single episode of Queer As Folk (I keep meaning to, and I will eventually!), but this definitely reminds me of what happened to the character Tina in The L Word. I'm pretty sure the situation was that after Tina and Bette broke up, Tina started dating a man, and most of their friends said she wasn't a lesbian anymore, that they'd lost her to the "comfortable, heterosexual world"...or something like that :) My point is, it was total bullshit. One of the funniest things was that one of the characters complaining the loudest about Tina's hetero relationship was from the resident bisexual who had herself "chosen" to solely have relationships with women (I'm looking at you, Alice)! So ridiculous. Even though I didn't at all care for Tina's new man, I thought the way the show portrayed Tina was pretty upsetting...she didn't deserve that, and bi people everywhere don't deserve to be made to feel that 1) they have to make a choice, and 2) whatever choice they make will inevitably feel like they are betraying a part of themselves for the sake of people who should accept them unconditionally anyway!

**End rant**



the bi community needs a champion, a sweetheart, someone to stand up and be recognized as totally, utterly, in between. when media won't allow someone to just be bi, it's like never admitting that anyone is really gay. i want a hero, or a heroine to really get into bisexuality, to fully explore it's ups and downs, it's many realities and different forms. to make mistakes, to go too far, to shy away, and then to finally try to settle into the space and level that feels most comfortable.

You should watch Lost Girl.

You should watch Lost Girl. It's definitely not the best show in the history of TV, but it's worth the watch (especially if you're into science-fiction) and it pictures sexuality in a quite interesting way...

You should read "The mortal

You should read "The mortal instruments" of Cassandra Clare. The first book is "City of bones".
Also, "The infernal devices". The first book is "Clowkwork angel" of Cassandra Clare, too.
There is a character, Magnus Bane, who is bisexual.
And brave, smart, loyal, monogamous, strong, powerful, and more.
He is a great character, and I think that every bisexual person should know about him.

Coming From Bi Womyn

I've actually had probably the most offensive comments from gay people regarding my bisexuality. Besides the typical "You're greedy" "You can't do that" "So you can't be in monogamous relationships" from straight people, gay people have told me that "You'll just be gay in six months" and because many of my long-term relationships have been with heterosexual partners, that I'm a "breeder" and, ultimately, my sexuality is not legitimized in any way. Therefore, I'm not surprised to hear this sentiment from a "gay show." I heard it in The L Word, as well, when Alice said (about Tina), "Yeah. I see what you mean about bisexuality being gross." Because in the gay community, bisexuality is temporary and transitional and once you have "established" your sexuality it's, apparently, supposed to be static and any deviation thereof is "gross."

The documentary Bi The Way also illustrated this harsh exclusion of bisexuals. Bisexuals have to occupy their own space because we are rejected and purposefully excluded. Not only are we excluded verbally, but we're told that bisexuality is exclusively a choice (excluded from "Born This Way" initiatives), so we can "choose" our privileges (excluded from gay community because we can "choose" to be with a heterosexual partner), and therefore the gay community doesn't "need" to accept us because we have other people who support our heterosexual privileges.

I haven't come out except to close friends/peers because I feel I get less acceptance as a bisexual.

The entire thing makes me sad and frustrated.

I understand your sentiment

I understand your sentiment. I've actually heard the same "that's greedy" and "that's nasty" remarks from some of my gay friends. But I think it comes from being marginalized in a hetero-centric society. Gay people want to have a group of who they can identify with and be comfortable without having to worry about being denied. I think the sooner we establish a society where gay and straight are no longer at odds then people won't worry about bisexuals "playing for both teams"

I feel ya!

I totally feel you. Queer as Folk created, for the first time in the US/Canada, a fleshed-out, fully gay world (still within the straight world, obviously--that led to many of its best conflicts), and, while there are problems in the representation overall (I do tire of the endless superficiality), its strength is that they push as far as they can. I recall in a short special that came with one of the DVDs, a writer saying that they let themselves be led by the "whoa, are we going too far?" feeling. And it is that gusto, that reach, that makes the show so erotic, so fierce, so funny, so political, so fuck-you, and so damned refreshing. I've watched it all more than once, and probably will again.

But, yeah, QAF totally dropped the ball on bisexuality.

Nice try, guys, thanks for playing.

Lindsay and Melanie's indiscretions

I have recently been watching reruns of this series on Showtime and like the time I originally saw it, felt Melanie was a total bitch about Lindsay having spontaneous sex with Sam, driven by pent up desires she tried her best to dis acknowledge. Conversely, Melanie's premeditated intentional cheating with another lesbian seemed to be pretty much glanced over at the time, something I was surprised by as I felt Melanie was being totally immature and duplicitous. I kept wondering why that was never addressed during the time Melanie felt so offended and betrayed by Lindsay's dalliance which SHE at least felt truly remorseful about. On the other hand it seemed Melanie was more concerned with making an error in judgement than how much she'd hurt Lindsay.

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