I am pretty sure I can identify the exact moment I realized I was bisexual, though I didn’t have that language at the time. I was watching Xena: Warrior Princess with my family. I have no idea which episode or what exactly happened, but Xena, who I had seen in relationships with men onscreen, pulled Gabrielle into her arms and kissed her cheek lingering there longer than this not-quite-self-aware little bisexual could handle. I remember shifting in my seat and taking furtive glances at my parents. I was checking to see how they registered the moment. They didn’t seem to care, which I couldn’t understand. In my memory, Xena’s lips overlapped with Gabrielle’s just a little, but that could be pubescent wishful thinking.
I remember feeling flustered (Can you blame me?) and thinking Um, Xena can kiss boys and girls? Did anyone tell my parents?
It was a defining moment for me as a child—as was every scene that showed Xena’s sexuality—and one of the first positive messages about bisexuality I ever encountered. No wonder I clung to the warrior princess and bard bride as I grew into an adult.
Imagine my surprise a year ago when I started watching Siren and had a similar reaction.
The beautiful and deadly mermaid Ryn kisses the human Maddie on her lips and then turns to Maddie’s boyfriend, Ben, and kisses him as well. While Maddie and Ben exchange WHAT-IS-HAPPENING-IS-THIS-HEAVEN looks, Ryn looks content and at ease. But me? I watched this scene and freaked out right alongside Maddie and Ben.
Um, Ryn can be in a canonical throuple with Ben and Maddie? Why didn’t anyone tell me?
It was the first time I’d seen polyamory represented positively onscreen, rather than as a joke in series like Friends and Futurama. I was flabbergasted, elated, and immediately thought of what I’d felt as a child watching Xena and Gabrielle.
“Representation matters” has become such a common refrain that it could seem obvious or like a cliché at this point—which doesn’t change that it’s true. When I was a child, I lived in a rural environment where I didn’t know a single out LGBTQ+ person. I couldn’t dig into my heart, see that I was attracted to multiple genders, and say “Oh, ok. I’m like X.” Because deep in my heart were only the implicit and explicit messages that bisexuality was wrong—that I was wrong—or worse, non-existent, and TV gave me a counternarrative, as it did many LGBTQ+ folks.
That’s what makes the history of bisexual+ representation in science fiction and fantasy TV so remarkable. When bisexual+ folks were almost completely missing from mainstream TV, we had Xena and Gabrielle finding each other and falling in love. Sure, to some degree their romance is subtextual, but only when viewed through the straightest of lenses. Seriously, rewatch Xena from the beginning. The pilot is basically a queer meet cute and the rest of the series is their love story.
Even if their relationship in the series was caught in the trappings of a heteronormative society that struggled to embrace their queerness, Xena and Gabrielle were claimed by fandom, inspired a deluge of queer fanfiction, and we have since seen their relationship canonized in comic books.
Xena is the earliest example of a science fiction and fantasy series with positive bisexual representation I remember watching, but it certainly was not the last. Following in the footsteps of the monumental series were two fantasy series that boasted openly bisexual+ characters of multiple genders: True Blood and Lost Girl.
True Blood, which premiered in 2008 seven years after Xena went off the air, brought an overall queer lens to vampires, suggesting their long lives tended to broaden their perspectives on sexuality. More specifically, we met the hyper femme badass vampire Pam as she helped her boo run his vampire bar and over the series we followed Tara Thornton as she came out of first the closet and then the casket. The two eventually became a sadly short-lived power couple that still makes me feel all fuzzy inside when I think about their love. However, though there’s a lot to enjoy about True Blood, it would be a misrepresentation to suggest that queerness plays a central role in the series.
Lost Girl, which premiered in 2010, took a different, more directly queer approach, though it shared some similarities with True Blood. The series also applied an overall queer lens to fantastical beings, framing the Fae as a shadow world to our world, further divided into light and dark. The lead character, Bo Dennis, is a bisexual succubus who has to get busy to stay alive since she feeds off the sexual energy of other Fae and humans alike. (If you haven’t seen the series, do yourself a favor and schedule a binge session because it is delightfully queer and filled with sexy WLW moments.) Bo takes many lovers throughout the series, showing that her sexuality isn’t just ok, but the source of her power—both her supernatural power and her power as a person.
Siren, Legends and Wynnona Earp
Series today, such as Siren, Legends of Tomorrow, and Wynonna Earp, inherit the legacy of these formative series—and take bisexual+ representation even further. Wynonna Earp shows Waverly Earp fighting evil, falling in love with a woman for the first time, and saving her sister’s life while never once having to label her sexuality and never going back in the closet. Legends of Tomorrow is a bisexual romp through time during which Sara Lance takes many lovers and eventually finds her special lady, proudly declaring her sexuality even in the face of biphobia. And Siren brings polyamorous bisexuality to the screen not as a fetish or a joke, but as a valid expression of love and attraction.
From Xena’s premier in 1995 to today, bisexual+ representation in science fiction and fantasy TV has advanced because of the series that came first. Out bisexual characters exist, not just in subtext, but as fully fleshed out characters with goals and dreams that are neither solely about nor occlude their sexuality. There is still progress to be made in terms of diversifying those representations—bisexual+ women of color are woefully underrepresented across TV and gender variant bisexual+ folks are almost wholly missing. The hope, though, is that just as Xena broke headway for these series, Siren and the others can break headway for what’s yet to come, if not for our sake, for the sakes of all the little bisexual kids who haven’t yet had a chance to think, Um, that character can kiss him and her and them? Does that mean I can?