The show Glee changed the game for LGBTQ+ representation in media, however, the show was far from perfect. At the time of its release in 2009, representation of queer characters were few and far between on television, especially queer characters featured in the show’s main cast. Glee is still considered one of the best LGBTQ+ shows currently streaming on Hulu. Glee presented several sympathetic coming-out stories through the characters of Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer) and Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera), and these stories helped make LGBTQ+ characters more commonplace in media. However, despite Glee’s important contributions to LGBTQ+ representation in television, there were some sexualities that were not represented quite as well as others on the show.
Glee was a musical comedy/drama that ran for six seasons on the FOX network from 2009 to 2015. Glee featured a cast of young and talented newcomers who were all members of the McKinley High School Glee club, known as “New Directions”. When Glee wasn’t focused on show choir competitions, it was focused on teens’ struggles with romance and identity. For example, Kurt and Blaine’s (Darren Criss) relationship was central to the show’s drama from season 2 onward, as was the relationship between Santana and Brittany (Heather Morris). Although The Big Leap came close to replacing Glee, no show has been able to replicate the bizarre yet watchable tone that the show presented. Besides the charming musical numbers and Sue Sylvester’s (Jane Lynch) hilarious antics, the teen drama was what Glee was most well-known for.
Glee was often praised for being “revolutionary” in its depiction of gay characters (as stated by Entertainment Weekly). Kurt and Blaine’s relationship, in particular, sparked an enormous following from viewers, and as a result, more gay characters were featured in the central narrative of shows like Pretty Little Liars and American Horror Story. However, while Glee was at the forefront of much LGBTQ+ representation, not all that representation has aged well, which also may be why Glee never got a season seven. Each sexuality under the LGBTQ+ umbrella has many individual issues regarding harmful stereotypes in media that Glee has sadly been guilty of promoting. Specifically, Glee promoted several harmful stereotypes regarding bisexual people.
How Glee Promoted Harmful Bisexual Stereotypes
There is an insidious stereotype regarding bisexual people that Glee season 2, episode 14, promoted in “Blame it on the Alcohol.” In the episode, Blaine considered he might be bisexual after kissing Rachel, and Kurt responded: “Bisexual is a term that gay guys use in high school when they want to hold hands with girls and feel like a normal person for a change.” This attitude delegitimizes bisexuality by portraying it as “just a phase” as opposed to being a part of someone. This stereotype was also further promoted by Glee as by the end of the episode Blaine abandons any further exploration of bisexuality. This is disappointing because what set Glee apart from media like High School Musical was its open exploration of sexuality.
The other harmful bisexual stereotype that was promoted on Glee was the idea that bisexual people are more likely to cheat on their partners. The bisexual character Brittany was often portrayed frequently cheating on her partners with Santana, and Santana herself bemoaned Brittany’s sexuality on more than one occasion saying it made her hard to trust. There is a common trope regarding bisexual people that because they are attracted to more than one gender they are more likely to be unfaithful in a relationship. This harmful and untrue attitude was promoted by Glee on many occasions even though Brittany and Santana did eventually resolve their relationship troubles and get married.
Glee's Bisexual Characters Were Less Than Ideal
Thankfully, bisexual characters are becoming more prominent in shows like the rebooted Saved by the Bell, but Glee was one of the first shows to depict bisexuality and sadly it did not do so with respect and nuance. Brittany S. Pierce is the show’s most openly bisexual character. Brittany often says silly things and is often portrayed to be a stereotypically “dumb blonde”. Because of this damaging depiction, her romantic decisions often appear like random impulses rather than legitimate desires and are not as seriously explored as Santana’s or Kurt’s.
Although Glee attempted to address this by making her a secret super genius in Glee season 4, the show continually returned to the joke that Brittany is ultimately unintelligent and is more often than not one step behind the people around her. Glee is not the only media that struggles to depict and define bisexual characters, for example, the MCU still struggles with this representation, but if there were more representation of bisexual characters on Glee this may not have been as inadvertently insulting. Since Brittany is often not taken as seriously as other characters, her bisexuality also feels like it’s not being taken as seriously as the sexualities of others.
How Bisexual Representation Has Changed
Thankfully, Brittany S. Pierce was not the last bisexual character to be depicted on a popular television show. Many shows since Glee have shown a variety of bisexual characters who demonstrate many positive and complex traits that are not attributable to harmful bisexual stereotypes. For example, Rosa Diez on Brooklyn Nine-Nine was an intelligent and menacing presence that showed how complex bisexual characters can be. Darryl from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend also came out as bisexual in a song that explicitly addresses and refutes many of the harmful bisexual stereotypes that Glee promoted by singing “Now some may say ‘Oh, you’re just gay. Why don’t you just go gay all the way?’
But that’s not it ‘Cause bi’s legit Whether you’re a he or a she, we might be a perfect fit. And one more thing, I tell you what. Being bi does not imply that you’re a player.” Television has even begun to include pansexual representation in television shows as seen with the portrayal of David on Schitt’s Creek or many pansexual depictions of Deadpool. Glee may have struggled to respectfully depict bisexual characters and never managed to include openly pansexual characters, but future television shows managed to address what Glee ignored.
While Glee may have paved the way for many LGBTQ+ characters, several television shows since then have improved on its representation of queer characters. Glee was one of the earliest shows to depict storylines that specifically addressed issues facing members of the LGBTQ+ community and was therefore inevitably going to stumble in terms of its representation. The point is not to condemn Glee, but instead to learn from its mistakes and create better representation going forward for LGBTQ+ characters. While Glee was and is an important piece of media for the LGBTQ+ community, it should definitely not be the only piece of media or even the best piece of media that depicts gay, bisexual, or lesbian characters. Glee paved the way, and now future shows know what harmful stereotypes about bisexuality to avoid.