Sitting in the movie theater Friday night, I could barely contain my excitement at finally seeing Wonder Woman on the big screen. Yet while the film managed to translate the Amazonian princess’s power, womanhood, and feminist history, there was one essential component completely left out: her bisexuality.
Wonder Woman’s bisexuality has long been hinted at. In her origin story, the Amazonian grew up on an island of only women. Leaving the island was forbidden, meaning the Amazons could only have relationships with each other. After meeting pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine in the film), Wonder Woman leaves home to help save the world and forms a romantic relationship with Trevor.
Additionally, the heroine’s bisexuality was officially confirmed by comic writer Greg Rucka in a 2015 interview:
“Now, are we saying Diana has been in love and had relationships with other women? …The answer is obviously yes. And it needs to be yes for a number of reasons. But perhaps foremost among them is, if no, then she leaves paradise only because of a potential romantic relationship with Steve [Trevor]. And that diminishes her character. It would hurt the character and take away her heroism.”
Wonder Woman’s bisexuality is essential to her superhero identity. Not that Wonder Woman must be in a relationship with a woman but that it is important to say she isn’t leaving her home because it would be impossible for her to find love otherwise. Her relationship with a man should be a wonderful side effect of her true reason for leaving — to make the world a better place.
Gal Gadot, who plays Wonder Woman in the new movie, and the filmmakers are certainly aware of the character’s bisexuality. Yet this dynamic is never shown in the film. While Gadot has a one-off joke that “men aren’t necessary for pleasure,” the movie quickly consummates the two leads’ love with no mention of any prior relationships for Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman isn’t even the only DC Comics woman to lose her bisexuality for the big screen. Since her introduction in Batman: The Animated Series, fan favorite Harley Quinn has maintained a queer-baiting relationship with female villain Poison Ivy, while also having a more overtly romantic, albeit abusive, relationship with the Joker.
In writer Jimmy Palmiotti’s Harley Quinn comic run, Harley has broken up with the Joker and developed a supportive, nonmonogamous romantic relationship with Ivy. Harley’s bisexuality is used to explore her character, as Palmiotti discusses Harley’s distrust of men after the Joker. Ivy even works with Harley to help cope with PTSD caused by her trauma.
Instead of focusing on a healthy relationship between two bisexual characters, 2016’s Suicide Squad film chose instead to focus on the “straighter” relationship between Harley and the Joker. The film even tries to depict the abusive relationship as true love to be lauded, even though the Joker electroshocks Harley in the film, forces her to jump into chemicals to prove her devotion, aims a gun at her head, and leaves her to drown.
Honestly, it’s truly horrifying that Hollywood would rather try to sell an abusive “straight” relationship as romantic over showing a bisexual woman in a healthy same-sex relationship. The nuance of Harley’s character as a trauma survivor, discussed through a bisexual lens, is completely lost on-screen as a result.
This straight-washing of bisexual identities doesn’t just stop at the big screen. When asked whether the bisexuality of DC Comics character John Constantine would be featured in the 2014 TV show Constantine, executive producer Daniel Cerone said that within “three decades [of comics] there might have been one or two issues where he’s seen getting out of bed with a man. So [maybe] 20 years from now? But there are no immediate plans.”
While I’m certainly happy that we might get an accurate portrayal of the character by season 20, Cerone’s comments highlight a common prejudice faced by bisexuals — it’s all about whom you’re with.
Bisexuals are constantly asked to prove their identity. If you’re with the same sex, you’re considered gay, and if you’re with the opposite sex, you’re considered straight.
The idea that someone must jump between partners of different genders to prove their bisexuality is offensive. A person can still be bisexual regardless of the gender of their current partner. To argue that Constantine is less bisexual because he hasn’t had enough sexual encounters with men is not only misunderstanding what being bisexual means, it’s insulting to the entire bisexual community.
DC Comics isn’t the only franchise cutting out bisexual identities. X-Men villain Mystique has been written as bisexual since 1981. Having a child with the male Sabertooth, Mystique later helps raise the child with female partner Destiny. As a result, a major series storyline involves Mystique’s coming-out as a bisexual woman. Despite the importance of the story, no trace of bisexuality can be found in Jennifer Lawrence’s or Rebecca Romijn’s portrayals of the shape-shifting mutant. How disappointing for a franchise that is itself an allegory of the struggle for LGBT rights.
Several other comic book bisexuals have been lost to the big screen. Thor villain Loki and X-Men’s Psylocke have both been recently revealed as bisexuals in the comics. Even Deadpool, pansexual in the comics, is made straight for his film despite star Ryan Reynolds’s openness to an accurate portrayal.
Not that there aren’t any big screen bisexual superhero characters. Both the CW’s DC Legends of Tomorrow and the Batman origin series Gotham feature bisexual characters in the form of White Canary and Barbara Kean-Gordon, respectively. However, it’s important to note that White Canary is not based on a comic book character and Barbara Kean-Gordon wasn’t bisexual in the comics. Additionally, Gotham’s Barbara is portrayed as a mentally unstable psychopath. It’s disheartening that bisexual superheroes are only portrayed when they aren’t trying to preserve the image of a preexisting character, or are simply depicted as insane.
The seeming inability of Hollywood to translate a bisexual superhero from page to screen isn’t saddening just for the lack of representation within the genre, but also because their bisexuality plays a fundamental role in informing the characterization and stories. To leave that out of their live-action counterparts means leaving behind part of what makes them unique. Isn’t being someone special what superheroes are all about?
JESSIE EARL is a video editor for The Advocate. Follow her on Twitter @lostrekkie.