Welcome to the twenty-eigth article in our Pride series for the month of June! Each day we will be highlighting a different LGBTQ+ character who we think is a great example of representation, dynamic characterization, and overall badassery. Check out the rest of the series here.
When the words “I’m bi” fell out of Rosa’s mouth, my heart stopped.
Until then, I had never heard a character (or a person for that matter) just come out and say it. Not without derision or weird curiosity or hints or some long drawn out speech apologizing for or explaining their sexual identity.
Just two words and tears (mine).
Detective Rosa Diaz, for those who don’t know, is one of the lead characters in the ensemble workplace comedy Brooklyn 99, played by the wonderfully talented Stephanie Beatriz. She is tough as nails with a take-no-crap attitude and a soft spot for the people she loves. She would sooner pull a knife than discuss feelings (much like another plaid-wearing character I know and love). She is intensely private, even going so far as renting her apartments through false identities and shell corporations, which makes the reveal about her sexuality all the more important, not just for bisexual characters in media but for the character herself.
Beatriz, who came out as bisexual in 2016, spoke to Variety last year about the decision to write Rosa as bisexual, the actress “(jumping) at the chance to offer teenagers and young adults a positive example of a bisexual character”:
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….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.
Bisexuality is underrepresented in media. According to GLAAD’s 2016-17 report Where We Are on TV, “of the 278 regular and recurring LGBTQ characters on scripted broadcast, cable, and streaming programming, 83 (30 percent) are counted as bisexual.” Also according to GLAAD, bisexuals can’t seem to shake one damaging trope: that of the “duplicitous manipulator,” especially when it comes to bisexual females.
“Too often, creators overwhelmingly choose to portray bisexuality as a villainous trait rather than a lived identity,” said GLAAD’s Senior Strategist, Global and U.S. South, and bisexual advocate Alexandra Bolles in the report. “This trend of inaccurate portrayals undermines how people understand bisexuality, which has real life consequences for bi people and their wellbeing.”
Beatriz addressed that herself to Variety, asking “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 hypersexualized, I want what everybody wants, to live happy and well.”
Executive producer Dan Goor also stated in the article that the Brooklyn 99 writers wanted to reflect how different it is for someone who is bisexual to come out to their friends and family versus someone who is gay.
And it is.
Bisexuality has often been synonymous with indecisiveness, and can be dismissed based upon the gender of the person’s partner rather than being seen as a valid identity. It, like other non-heterosexual identities, has also been dismissed as simply a “phase.”
Brooklyn 99 addresses these misconceptions in the episode where Rosa decides to come out to her parents, who both dismiss her sexuality as a phase and claim that even though she says she’s bi, she’ll eventually choose and marry a man to have a family. While her father appears to have come around, the jury’s still out on Rosa’s mother, a storyline that hopefully will be revisited when the series comes back for a sixth season on NBC.
Rosa, and Beatriz, are blazing a trail, one of acceptance, and realistic and positive representation. Like her captain and other LGBT lead character Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher), Rosa is written as more than just her sexual identity, showing us that sexuality isn’t all that you are, a fact further driven home by the fact that she was not initially written as a bisexual character.
She also shows us the sheer power of a label, and how scary it is to apply that label to yourself and share that with others, especially your loved ones. She inspires people to own their sexual identities, and realize that personal acceptance is just as important as societal acceptance.
Own who you are. Just like Rosa.
Do you have a character spotlight suggestion? Leave it in the comments down below!