Desiree Akhavan’s The Bisexual explores a story that we don’t often get to see: a bisexual coming out story with all its honest confusion and insecurity.
The show opens with an interview of Leila (the fantastic Desiree Akhavan herself) and her partner Sadie (Maxine Peake) where they’re asked about not only their business but also their private lives. When asked if the couple had any plans for marriage or children, Leila is immediately deflective and visibly uncomfortable. They had talked about it before, so Sadie says in the following scene, and Sadie proposes on the spot. It wasn’t as sudden or impulsive as the setting of the scene (bathroom) might suggest, rather something they had genuinely talked about before and seemed to have agreed on. The proposal was to emphasize that Sadie is serious and sure about the relationship, something to give some sort of comfort to Leila. However, it seems to have the opposite effect. Eventually, they agree on a break to sort out their feelings and what they want from the relationship. The logo above them, the name of their company one second, switches to The Bisexual in the next.
Later in the first episode Leila goes to an event called “Aphrodyki” to meet her friends and explain the break. She’s accompanied by her new roommate – a straight, white, male writer Gabe (Brian Gleeson) who peaked with one book a decade ago. Leila is at the table with her lesbian friends, they tease one of their friends for only ever sleeping with straight women. Gabe mentions that these straight women could be bisexual. “All I’m saying is that I’ve never met a bisexual”, one of Leila’s lesbian friends says, and Leila responses defensively that she doesn’t think Bisexuality is real. It’s a moment that stands out. Her lesbian friends didn’t say anything that’s directly biphobic and yet, Leila amplifies the subtle subtext and denies bisexuality all together. She’s completely deflecting by broadcasting her internalised biphobia. Ridiculing the idea, even, it can’t be a thing, right?
Trying to navigate how our attraction to people functions, where to put it, what it means, and where it places us in a world that’s so bent on putting us at either end of a spectrum – it can be a lot. Especially if it means you have to completely redefine yourself. Back and forth: not wanting to be bisexual because maybe she isn’t, maybe she just needs a new hairstyle? She changes her hair after the break-up. Such a mundane thing, a hairstyle; changing something on the outside to make sense of the mess that’s going on inside, copying others who seem to understand themselves already – like their assistant, who inspired her new hair. The struggle of finding your true self doesn’t mean your past was a lie, though. Akhavan understands this even if Leila doesn’t. The authenticity we’ve grown to love in Akhavan’s previous works (Appropriate Behavior and The Miseducation of Cameron Post) is here, too. She has a way of writing and directing that just feels real and funny. It’s this casual ridiculousness and light-heartedness that most of us respond to. It makes the complications of the story easy and relatable, even if you’re not bisexual yourself. The episode ends with Leila trying to spit gum in Sadie’s hair while she sleeps but when she missed her and instead spits it into the hair of the woman Sadie slept with. It’s a low-point for her, spitting in the hair of a random woman. It kicks off her story as whole.
I’m curious of where the show will go from here. It started off strong and hopefully, they’ll dive deeper into the nuances of Leila’s feelings, her internalised biphbia and bring a better understanding to some of us of the confusion that comes with figuring out yourself.
The Bisexual is available to stream now on All 4.
by Ell Hoffman