The 10 Most Groundbreaking Bisexual Characters of All Time
The largest proportion of LGBTQ people are bisexual, but entertainment doesn't reflect that.
In 2018, of 329 LGBTQ characters on television, only 28 percent of them were bisexual, according to GLAAD. This is a strange reality because the largest proportion of LGBTQ people are Bs. (The University of California, Los Angeles's Williams Institute found that 40 percent of the LGBTQ community is bisexual, meaning there are more bi people than gays, lesbians, or trans people.) Yet according to the Pew Research Center, bi people are less likely to leave the closet (only 28 percent are out as compared to 77 percent of gay men and 71 percent of lesbians).
Looking at Hollywood, it's easy to understand why.
Bisexual people are nearly invisible in movies and television, and when they are on-screen, they are drowning in stereotypes. Most bi viewers grow up without a single character they can be inspired by, let alone relate to.
However, there are some shining examples of representation in which bisexual people are as rich and complicated on the screen as they are in real life.
Here are the most momentous bisexual characters to grace the bog and small screens. Some are benevolent, some are bad, some are despicable. Each made this list because they broke perceptions of what being bisexual can be.
No matter what direction their arcs go in, here are characters we're glad go both ways.
Kalinda Sharma, The Good Wife
This bisexual private investigator didn't have a coming-out moment - and that's precisely why Kalinda Sharma was so groundbreaking.
The true star of The Good Wife, Kalinda was openly bi from day one. Her sexuality in itself was never the core of her character; it lived in the landscape of the numerous plots in which she outsmarted lawyers and the law.
Plus, in contrast to most bi characters, who have a single same-sex affair, Kalinda had more relationships with women than with men in the series.
A fierce, exceptional, and protective sleuth with an enchanting confidence, this private eye was one of the few empowered female characters on CBS (thanks, Les Moonves!) and an intersectional one at that. It's no wonder Archie Panjabi won an Emmy for her portrayal.
Oberyn Martell, Game of Thrones
"When it comes to war I fight for Dorne, when it comes to love -- I don't choose sides," Oberyn declares when revealing his bisexuality in a Westeros brothel. A fiercely loyal, honorable, and powerful man, Oberyn is everything you can ask for in terms of bi representation.
While bisexual men are often perceived as less than masculine on and off the screen, Oberyn is lethal, confident, and on the prowl. In fact, machismo is what brings his end, not being "afraid to admit he's gay," as a stereotype would claim.
Gender aside, Oberyn never apologizes for his sexuality, nor is he judged for it. His prominence and promiscuity precede him, yet no one dismisses him as a heathen. Even in the barbaric world of Westeros, bisexuality is less taboo than in most parts of America.
Not only does Oberyn represent the bisexual community, but his romance with Ellaria Sand also demonstrates a healthy polyamorous relationship. The two vipers are immensely loving and loyal (even if it's only to each other.) In his portrayal, you get two great forms of representation for the price of one.
Callie Torres, Grey’s Anatomy
A rare bisexual character portrayed by an out bi actress, Callie Torres is one of Shonda Rhimes's best testaments to diversity in any of her needle-moving series.
When it came to the attending orthopedic surgeon, bi erasure was off the operating table. "I'm bisexual. So what? It's called LGBTQ for a reason. There's a B in there and it doesn't mean badass. OK, it does, but it also means bi," Callie said in a speech that was groundbreaking then and now.
As the first regular bisexual character on network television, Callie went through previously untouched milestones such as marriage, motherhood, divorce, and of course, lots of traumatizing drama.
However, the greatest impact Callie has had seems to be on actress Sara Ramirez, who came out as bisexual in 2016 after playing Callie for a decade. Since then, she's has become one of the most notable bisexual activists in Hollywood and continued to play bisexual as Kat Sandoval on Madam Secretary.
Jules, The Kids Are All Right
As arguably the most accomplished film about queer women created by a queer woman, Lisa Cholodenko's, The Kids Are All Right got so many levels of representation on point.
One of the best was complicated, insecure Jules, a bisexual housewife who is married to a lesbian obstetrician. Julianne Moore is razor-sharp as she portrays the messiness of having an affair with the couple's sperm donor.
In a stunning exploration of marriage and parenting that is comparable to the representation straight people get all the time, Jules has a sexual relationship with the most hurtful choice of partner possible: the man who gave her children, which her wife cannot. Yet he's so completely wrong for her. In the end, going down the path that centers men brings her home to her wife. They recover from something most straight couples can't in a declaration that even in the face of heteronormativity, family endures.
Asserting that although she has had an affair with a man, she's not straight, Jules is an ambitious woman who is searching for empowerment in a relationship, regardless of gender.
Lisbeth Salander, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Ruby Rose may be playing a lesbian Batwoman, but Rooney Mara got to portray the ultimate queer superhero (after Noomi Rapace did in the film's original Swedish version).
The punk mastermind who preys on predators of women, the girl with the dragon tattoo is one of the most dark, distraught, yet empowering bisexual characters of all time.
Watching Lisbeth Salander, a survivor herself, transform her pain into brutal advocacy gives a voice to our most vulnerable. Though she's a skilled fighter, her intelligence as a hacker and sleuth make her a hero, a testament to the brilliance of bisexual women. Also, her stylist deserves an Oscar.
Although some would say that Atomic Blonde gives Charlize Theron her best bisexual role, the sexy assassin is not nearly as groundbreaking as this suburban siren.
Theron embodies Marlo, an exhausted mother who just gave birth to her third (and unplanned) child. Her husband is pseudo-involved, her 5-year-old son struggles with undiagnosed emotional problems, and days before delivery she ran into the love who ruled her long-gone 20s: another woman. This drives Marlo into psychosis. She imagines her younger self, who bears her maiden name, Tully, coming to rescue her from her boredom and inadequacies.
Rather than a promiscuous sex pistol, in Tully, Theron portrays a bi character seldom investigated on the big screen (although small-screen bisexual parents have been fan favorites, such as Sara Ramirez's Callie Torres on Grey's Anatomy and Amy Landecker's Sara Pfefferman on Transparent).
Tully is not a queer story per se, but one of a woman who happens to be queer. It showcases how LGBTQ people go through all sorts of milestones -- and deserve to see themselves experiencing them on-screen.
Frank Underwood, House of Cards
The accusations against Kevin Spacey did not just damage his victims or his career, but one of the most visionary bisexual portrayals of all time.
Frank Underwood is evil, conniving, and calculated - but he's also the president of the United States. House of Cards did not just present a potent and dominant bisexual man as its lead, it showed him with real influence in Washington.
While many of the shows on this list were made for female audiences and centered on women, Underwood was raw masculinity and bisexual identity intertwined. Though he is buried (along with Spacey's career) in an unattended grave, this character remains one of the most important representations of bisexual men on-screen.
Frida Kahlo, Frida
Frida Kahlo is one of the most impactful yet underacknowledged bisexuals in history, and Salma Hayek's portrayal does her justice.
Disabled yet unstoppable, Frida uses painting to reclaim her beauty and identity. The film explores Kahlo's loyal (yet not faithful) marriage to Diego Rivera and her passionate relationships with accomplished and brilliant men and women.
An artist and intellect, Kahlo copes with a miscarriage and the complications of communist politics. The film demonstrates that a narrative central to womanhood can mesh with the portrayal of a deep commitment to better the world.
Given Hayek's op-ed on how Frida was made in the face of constant harassment from Harvey Weinstein, the endless work it took to bring such a necessary character to audiences is not something we can take for granted.
Annalise Keating, How to Get Away With Murder
Annalise Keating is a groundbreaking character, period. Having her be bisexual is just the icing on the cake.
A massively accomplished black lawyer who dances with demons in and out of the courtroom, Annalise is a powerhouse. She's self-sufficient, professional, yet constantly in a downward spiral. There's no doubt she's one of the most dimensional women on television, let alone bisexual women.
Even in this day and age, having a bi black woman as a series lead is a major victory. Star Viola Davis was unsure if everyone would be ready. "I didn't tell my mom," she told Access regarding a scene where she kissed another woman in 2015. "I said, 'Don't watch it. Go to the casino. Go over to a friend's house.'"
However, bisexuality made sense for Annalise. "It was very apropos to have a past that's not defined by anyone or anything," Davis continued. "I don't think that Annalise is a character who wants to be defined by anything. I think that she's free-falling."
Alyssa, Chasing Amy
Chasing Amy didn't do the most to advocate for LGBTQ people - in fact, the characterization of Alyssa has been written in history as terrible lesbian representation.
But Alyssa was not a lesbian. She's bisexual, and her road to accepting that is pretty groundbreaking. A woman who spent her youth sexually exploring everything she could, Alyssa is acutely aware of the stigma most bisexuals face. She actively lies about her bisexual past when she falls for a man, feeling his need to be the only man in her life, but she openly resents his patriarchial mentality.
"To cut oneself off from finding that person, to immediately halve your options by eliminating the possibility of finding that one person within your own gender, that just seemed stupid to me. So I didn't. But then you came along. You, the one least likely. I mean, you were a guy," Alyssa says, struggling with fears of "selling out" by being with a man.
Yet Alyssa never succumbs to what that man wants her to be. She refuses to have a threesome or cross her sexual boundaries for even the man she loves (breaking a stereotype that bisexuals are frothing at the mouth for threesomes) and in the end returns to dating women.
Chasing Amy is a fascinating exploration of sexual politics and the troubles bisexual women face when they take on straight partners, and Alyssa is the perfect character to pay homage to.