[SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t watched Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s 99th episode and don't want to find out who comes out, stop reading now.]
The 99th episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine was a momentous occasion as expected, but what wasn’t expected was how far-reaching its impact could be.
In the episode, Detective Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio) badgers the infamously brusque Detective Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) about who she’s dating. Later, he stumbles upon her talking on the phone to her new flame (but not before Rosa, in some typical off-kilter Brooklyn Nine-Nine comedy relays, “Now we’re all sleeping in one room next to a cow orgy. I’d much rather be hangin’ out with you.”)
“So, who you talking to?” says Charles. “Is that your mystery hunk?”
When he realises it’s a woman, Rosa, after some initial deflection, comes out with it. “I’m dating a woman. I’m bi.”
Those two words may not sound like a big deal but they’re vital in a television and film landscape where bisexuality is often erased, tiptoed around, or completely misrepresented and simplified. It’s rare for a character to definitively come out as bi on TV.
“I suggested that that word was really important to Rosa and that it also would be really important to the bi community to have that word said aloud on TV,” Beatriz, who came out as bisexual last year, tells Entertainment Weekly. “Not just a suggestion that she dates girls now, but a clarity on this character: ‘This is who I am, and I’d like you to know it - and accept it’.”
The reveal was sensitively and sweetly handled by creators Dan Goor and Michael Schur in a very Rosa, no-fuss way. Charles isn’t titillated by Rosa’s admission – all he wants to do is show his support. Rosa makes it clear that she doesn’t want her sexuality to define her. Rosa is still hard-arse Rosa, now just more emotionally open (or even just emotionally open).
“I didn’t say anything about being bi because I didn’t think it was anybody else’s business,” she tells Charles. “And also…. I didn’t want anything to change. It actually felt really good to tell someone on the squad finally. I’m glad it was you. Also, now we go back to never talking about my love life again.”
It’s a great shame more showrunners don’t take the same lead; bi-erasure is all too common on TV. One of the lowest ebbs of the practice came from a show that should have known much better, Glee. “Bisexual’s a term that gay guys in high school use when they wanna hold hands with girls and feel like a normal person for a change,” Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) scoffs at schoolmate Blaine Anderson (Darren Criss) when he tells him he thinks he’s bisexual.
Some TV creators seem at a loss at how to deal with bisexuality, resorting to harmful stereotypes. In its Where We Are on TV 2017 Report LGBTQ media monitoring organisation GLAAD described tropes that are still commonly used. It noted “depictions of bisexual+ characters using sex solely as a means of manipulation or transaction; treating a character’s attraction to more than one gender as a temporary plot device,” and “depicting bisexual+ characters as inherently untrustworthy or lacking a sense of morality.”
You don’t need to look far for these types of representations; the villainous Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) in House of Cards and Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström) in Mr Robot; the hypersexual Bo Dennis (Anna Silk) of Lost Girl, and
Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) from Doctor Who and Torchwood. That’s just a small sample of a long list.
For Beatriz, the portrayal of a well rounded, non-stereotypical bi character on television is long overdue, and an important representation in helping young people come to terms with their sexuality.
“I was so excited about it because as somebody who identifies as bi - queer - I just had nothing like that when I was growing up,” she tells Variety. “The gay characters I can remember were most often stereotypes. Even a show like Friends, you watch back, and you’re like, ‘Ooh, I can’t believe that’s the choice they made.’ And as someone who’s bi, you have absolutely nothing - no representation at all. And to be able to try to do something like that on our show and have a character come out as bi was really important for me.”
“If a kid that’s bi is watching TV and doesn’t really see anyone that identifies as bi or queer that is in a happy, functioning relationship, that has a good job, that lives past a three-episode guest star arc - or maybe the bi character is hypersexualised or possibly a villain, [which] happens a lot - what does that mean for a 12, 13-year-old watching television and consuming media, and thinking, ‘Well who am I then? I guess I’m not this thing because I’m not a villain, I don’t want to be hypersexualised, I want what everybody wants, to live happy and well,'” she says.
Rosa, of course, isn’t the only well-rounded bi character on TV, although it’s hard to come up with an extensive list. How To Get Away With Murder‘s Annalise Keating (Viola Davis), Game of Thrones’ Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) and Grey’s Anatomy’s Dr. Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) are on there. As is Darryl Whitefeather (Pete Gardner), of comedy-musical Crazy Ex-Girlfriend who has a spectacular AND illuminating coming out in the showstopper Getting Bi.
“Being bi does not imply that you’re a player or a slut,” he sings. “I’m getting bi and it’s something I’d like to demystify. It’s not a phase, I’m not confused, not indecisive, I don't have the gotta-choose blues. I don’t care if you wear high heels or a tie, you might just catch my eye because I'm definitely bi.”
Brooklyn Nine-Nine has always been progressive with a lead character in Captain Ray Holt (Andre Braugher) an accomplished cop who just happens to be gay. Even so, Beatriz is still pinching herself that US network television (the show airs there on Fox) is openly and respectfully exploring bisexuality. The show’s 100th episode will continue Rosa’s coming out, this time to the rest of the squad and to her parents (Danny Trejo and Olga Merediz).
“Who am I that we’re getting to tell a bi-coming out story on a network TV show? For all its bulls***, it’s a pretty fantastic world,” she tells EW.
There’s a long way to go, but in a landscape where respectful representation of bisexual people is all too rare, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a win for positive visibility.
Watch Rosa’s coming out episode – Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s 99th - at SBS On Demand:
Brooklyn Nine-Nine airs Wednesdays at 8pm on SBS VICELAND.