In the midst of responding to fan tweets yesterday, Disney actress Bella Thorne casually came out as bisexual.
And while any high-profile celebrity’s coming out is always a step in the right direction, Thorne’s upfront approach as well as her position in Hollywood speaks to a refreshing kind of LGBT acceptance and representation.
The chain of events leading up to Thorne’s disclosure were unconventional for your average celebrity coming out announcement: Thorne broke up with her boyfriend Gregg Sulkin last week, posted a some polaroids of her kissing a woman on Snapchat on Monday and simply tweeted “yes” to a query about her sexuality. There was no tearful-but-polished, scripted coming out video or Instagram post. Thorne just took the opportunity to set the record straight with only three letters and that’s what made her coming out powerful.
As a complete anathema to your stereotypical coming out, the beauty of her answer was in its simplicity and lack of frenzy. For the greater lesbian, gay, bisexual and pansexual community, these types of relaxed, but unequivocal admissions serve to normalize queer sexuality. What’s more is that we see Thorne in what looks like a happy romance with a woman — a rare sight in mainstream media. More often than not, queer women are sexualized through the male gaze, so girls kissing girls is reduced down to girls gone wild and mere “bi-curiosity.”
Of course, curiosity itself is fine. How else will you ever figure out your sexuality if you never let yourself wonder or give yourself the freedom to explore? But for bisexuals, terms such as “bi-curious” speak to a legacy of minimization and invalidation. The connotation of the word drags with it a chain of disparaging bisexual stereotypes: curious as in perverse, curious as in confused, not-so-curiously doing for attention.
Naturally, what these tropes all have in common is that they uphold rigid ideas of sexuality and perpetuate fantasies dreamed up by heterosexual men. They shut down any conversation about sexual fluidity or grey area and the spectrum of sexuality acknowledged by the Kinsey scale.
But the blame isn’t all with those evil straight men: queer media does bisexuals dirty as well. Even while watching television shows that are praised for unapologetic queer representation like “Orange is the New Black” and “The L Word,” you’d still be hard-pressed to hear anyone call themselves explicitly bisexual. The handful of characters that are confirmed bisexuals — OITNB’s Piper Chapman, and the L’s Jenny Schecter, Alice Piezsecki and Tina Kennard — are represented almost exclusively with women.
And, apart from being written as manipulative and cheaters, the few instances in the show that these bisexual women are with men are the times that all hell breaks loose. While bisexual individuals definitely have their own gender preferences, television producers could do less with the lazy writing, biphobic agenda and bi erasure, and more with inclusive, nuanced and realistic representation.
Interestingly enough, Thorne’s queerness is not the only part of her identity subject to erasure. With fair skin and coppery, red hair, half-Cuban Thorne is white-passing along with being “straight-passing.” Thorne’s features don’t fit the stereotype of a Latinx in the same way her bisexuality isn’t immediately “visible:” Thorne doesn’t dress on the quintessentially butch or tomboy side of fashion, and her most prominent on-screen and off-screen romances have been with men. Sure, it’s notable that an actress of the Disney set came out this week. It’s also noteworthy that Thorne is representing Latinxs and bisexuals in the LGBT community and the Hollywood scene — two places that aren’t kind to either.
Not too long ago, another famous, brown teen celebrity came out as bisexual. At the beginning of the year, Amandla Stenberg talked about being a black bisexual woman in her Teen Vogue Snapchat story in the same relaxed manner as Thorne’s tweet.
Stenberg also followed up with a Rookie Mag Q+A video where they further discussed their identities and intersectionality. And while there should not be any additional pressure on Thorne or other queer celebrities to discuss their sexuality in detail, every little bit that diverse, proud, bisexual public figures can speak up and embrace their sexuality can benefit the bisexual community.