In the last few weeks, I’ve started intermittently watching the TV show “Modern Family.” There’s a certain amount that I like about it, as well as a certain amount that I don’t. (Often the case with fluffy mainstream-ish pop-culture entertainment. I want it to divert and distract me, but it often winds up annoying me and tying my brain into knots. Fluffy mainstream-ish pop-culture entertainment largely exists to reinforce cultural norms — that’s what makes it fluffy and comforting and mainstream — and I generally don’t find cultural norms comforting, they generally annoy me and tie my brain into knots.)
So I was watching the “Yard Sale” episode (I’m watching the show out of order in syndicated re-runs) — and I wanted to throw my drink at the screen. And I’m not even drinking these days. I wanted to mix myself a drink, just so I could throw it at the screen.
The plot line that was making me mad: Teenage daughter Alex has a new boyfriend, Michael, who she brings to the extended family’s yard sale. Her mom Claire is worried that Michael is gay, and she calls in the gay uncles Cam and Mitchell for a consultation on the matter: the three of them observe Michael’s stereotypically gay behavior, and agree that he’s gay. We see a scene in which Michael is alone with Alex, continuing to act stereotypically gay, but getting very defensive when she asks him point-blank if he’s gay or not.
And for the 787,266,456th time in my pop-culture viewing life, I wanted to scream, “Did anyone consider the possibility that he might be bisexual?”
Why are “gay” and “straight” the only options here? When the grownups decided that Michael was probably queer, why did that automatically rule out the possibility that he might be genuinely into their daughter/niece? Why did nobody consider the possibility that he might be a queeny queer guy who likes girls?
I have known some very queeny bisexual men. I have known some very dykey bisexual women. I know some very queeny bisexual men in serious or primary relationships with women, and some very dykey bisexual women in serious or primary relationships with men. (I’ve also known some queeny straight men and some dykey straight women, but that’s a post for a different day.) Why does tagging someone as “probably queer” automatically mean that if they’re dating someone of the opposite gender, they’re deceiving themselves or flat-out lying?
For the record, I do think gaydar is a thing. It’s not a magical thing, it’s not like some psychic connection queers have with each other: it’s more of an unconscious adding-up of lots of personal and cultural signifiers, it’s very culturally determined and it does go wrong. But yes, I think queers probably are, in general, better at figuring out who is and isn’t queer. (Although I’d be very interested to see research testing this theory.)
But queer guys can like girls. Queer girls can like guys. Even very classically queer girls and guys can like girls and guys. And we’re not even getting into people who are gender-queer, gender-fluid, or don’t identify on a gender binary… and who have all sorts of orientations in terms of what genders or lack thereof they’re attracted to. Not to mention people who are traditionally gendered, but who can be attracted to people who aren’t. Queerness comes in lots of different flavors: simple homosexuality is only one of many.
I think this bugged me even more than it might have because “Modern Family” is supposedly all about breaking down standard gender and family expectations. It’s supposedly all about how modern American families aren’t Ozzie and Harriet any more (not that they ever were): they’re commonly blended, multi-racial, mixed-generational, adoptive, and/or same-sex. And yet here it is, reinforcing the tired old notion that everyone is neatly divided into two groups, gay and straight, and never the twain shall meet. Eradicating even the possibility of bisexuality along the way.
One of the things that sucks most about being bisexual is not being recognized by either straight or gay people. It sucks having it assumed that having sex with both women and men means, at best, that you’re confused or experimenting or trying to find yourself. It sucks having it assumed that if you’re in an opposite-sex relationship, you’ve sown your wild oats (and have renounced any right to be part of the queer community; that if you’re in a same-sex relationship, you’ve finally found your true gay self. It sucks having past relationships seen as false, depending on whether they were with the same gender you’re with right now.
It sucks to be treated as invisible. It sucks worse to have even the possibility of who you are be eradicated.
(And yes, I know. This is fluffy mainstream-ish pop-culture entertainment. It’s just replacing an old set of cultural norms with a new one. It still bugged me.)