Bisexual & Proud: Discovering myself through Sugar Rush

To celebrate Bisexuality Day 2017, I am going to talk the moment where I first realised I might like gals and guys (as a teenager in a small town, i had no idea there were any genders other than guys and gals), and the TV show that had the biggest influence on my sexuality to date. Let’s talking bisexuality!!

In 2005, Sugar Rush graced our screens for the first time. I was 14. I felt like I knew everything, as most teenagers do. I’d had crushes on boys and i’d had strange feelings for girls. Of course I now know they were also crushes, but growing up in a very small town with little to no exposure to anything other than heteronormativity meant that I really couldn’t process those feelings until a long time afterwards. I had a weird fluttery feeling when I was around one of my friends, that I just couldn’t place. After watching Sugar Rush, I realised it was an attraction. The show allowed me, and I am sure many other young women in the early 2000s, the vocabulary and space to articulate having feelings for someone of the same gender. It was, something I’ve only recently realised, a seminal show. Nothing quite like it, for women, has graced our screens since.

Sugar Rush, inspired by Julie Birchill’s novel of the same name (but PLEASE don’t it judge it on that*), tells the story of Kim (Olivia Hallinan), a 15 year old girl who has been forced to move with her hapless Dad, irritating stepmother and weird brother to Brighton, away from her school and friends. She befriends and becomes enamoured with Maria ‘Sugar’ Sweet (Lenora Crichlow). Sugar is that girl. You know the one – stunningly good looking, knows how to get booze, has men clamouring to be with her. The girl who never takes anything seriously, who lives life for today. If you haven’t been friends with someone that fits that description, it’s probably because you are her. No cares, no worries, always fun, all the time. This is in total opposition to Kim, who has led a relatively sheltered life in comparison. The series follows Kim’s infatuation with Sugar, and the ‘adventures’ the two of them have. I say adventures, but it’s a lot of sex, drugs and genital crabs. It’s a brilliant show.

Sugar Rush worked so well because it didn’t try to glamorise any part of teenage life. From the awkward masturbation scenes, to drinking vodka and coke from used cans, to drunken misdemeanours. As well as being wildly funny, it was also down to earth and gritty. Unlike Skins, which idealised the drug taking, anorexia and abuse of it’s characters, Sugar Rush always felt realistic. Sometimes things were great, and sometimes things were terrible. Kim’s pain of unrequited love for Sugar is heartbreaking – as we all felt at 15. Sugar’s ‘carefree’ lifestyle leads her to some deeply awful places, and the show doesn’t hold back from showing those.

Of course Sugar Rush employs the gay-girl-falling-in-love-with-her-straight-bestie stereotype, but the developed characters and genuine dialogue manage to move it beyond this pretty quickly. Kim and Sugar’s friendship feels very real, and the happy ending of series 1 felt absolutely deserved. And let’s face it, even today it’s tricky to find a lesbian tv show where everyone doesn’t end up dead or heartbroken (with the exception of San Junipero *heart eyes*). So, in that respect, Sugar Rush was an amazing achievement.

What I really want to talk about though, is just how revolutionary Sugar Rush was for it’s time. It was the first show aimed at young people that involved conversations about sexuality and had a lesbian protagonist. Scrap that, it was the first show I had aimed at anyone which had a lesbian protagonist and opened up conversations about different sexualities.

Never before had I seen anything in my immediate ‘media’ circle (by which I mean, on terrestrial TV or at the cinema) which included lesbian, bi or gay characters. Well, that’s not strictly true. Eastenders had included gay, male characters but there was little out there to be inspired by in terms of female sexuality. Representation is a big thing, and when there isn’t any out there, it’s hard to accept yourself for who you are. Sugar Rush made me feel normal. It made me feel like there were other people in the world who were attracted to women and that I wasn’t a freak. The things Kim and Sugar did were familiar to me (sneaking alcohol out in plastic bottles, avoiding judgemental parental eyes and generally just wishing for more in the world), and so Kim’s infatuation with Sugar felt completely normal too. Which meant maybe I was normal, and there wasn’t nothing weird or perverse about having feelings for other girls. 

The addition of Kim’s on again and off again girlfriend Saint in the second season is pretty revolutionary too. Saint and Kim begin dating but hit setbacks (mostly due to Kim’s unfaltering love for Sugar). By the end of the series, they agree to try again, and Kim seems to finally be moving on – which is the best things for her. Saint is a pretty revolutionary character – especially considering this was 2006 – because she dates men and women. I can’t actually remember if the word bisexual is ever said during the series, but Saint makes it pretty clear that she is attracted to both genders and happy in herself.

It took years (literally, 8 or 9 years) for me to become accepting of my sexuality. I’d like to think that if there were just a few more tv show and movies where bisexual characters aren’t portrayed as cheaters, maniacs, confused or non existent – then maybe I could have got there a little sooner. We’ll never know! What I do know is that Sugar Rush was ahead of it’s time, and I am eternally grateful for it.

Amazing news, Sugar Rush is AVAILABLE TO WATCH ON ALL 4!!!! I know what I will be doing for the rest of the weekend.

*Julie Burchill, for those who are unaware, is a horrid journalist TERF who seems to make it her life’s business to be as transphobic as possible.

Letting My Bi Flag Fly: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the Show We’ve Been Waiting For

Crazy Ex Girlfriend is a phenomenal show for a vast, vast number of reasons. Too vast to really write all of them here, but let me give it my best shot: healthy (and not so healthy) portrayals of female friendships, representation of mental health, a diverse and wonderful cast and serious discussions of addiction, body dysmorphia, abortion and relationships. And, naturally, a lot of these topics are discussed in musical form, and though I generally dislike musicals – I just cannot get enough of of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It’s frank and honest portrayals of so many taboo topics (honestly, Paula’s abortion storyline was phenomenally put together) means it stands head and shoulders above a lot of shows on TV right now.

Though I’d love to write a book about how awesome the show deals with everything above, first I’d like to focus on Darryl Whitefeather (Pete Gardner) and how Crazy Ex-Girlfriend deals with bisexuality.

There have been representations of bisexuality in TV in the past. Willow (Buffy), Piper Chapman (Orange is the New Black), Kalinda (The Good Wife), Cosima (Orphan Black), Annalise Keating (HTGWM), Captain Jack (Doctor Who, Torchwood), Clarke (The 100), Stella Gibson (The Fall) and a fair few more. Things are, undeniably, looking much better for representations of bisexuality than they were, say even five years ago. Sadly, there is one thing (other than being bi) that almost all of these characters have in common. The word ‘bisexual’ is never used to describe them. It is never actually said out loud, either by the characters themselves or by other characters in the show. These characters are referred to as gay or as lesbians, even if they have had prior relationships in the show with members of the opposite sex. Or, in some cases – it’s just never even discussed.

Bisexuality is either invisible, or a short ‘waystation’ (to quote Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) to being gay. A lot of the characters mentioned above are also portrayed as mentally unstable, or unhinged – which seems to be either a result of or very much linked to their bisexuality. Most recently I watched Gotham and despite loving most of it, I found the portrayal of Barbara Kean’s mental health and bisexuality incredibly disturbing. Sadly, this is pretty much the norm. Enter Darryl Whitefeather…

When Darryl Whitefeather began to question his sexuality in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I naturally assumed this revelation would go the same way. Despite having been married to a woman, I expected Darryl’s interest in men to be depicted as him realising that he has always been gay. Surprisingly (and thankfully), Darryl’s discovery of his sexuality and subsequent coming out turns into one of the major sub-plots of the series and is pretty damn fantastic.

Darryl, aside from being an alarmingly bad boss at the law firm Rebecca works at, is a sweet yet bemused man who is only just finding himself at the age of 40ish. Darryl’s exploration of his own self, his sexuality and his identity becomes an important plot during season two. To begin with, Darryl doubts himself and believes his attraction to white Josh to be simply friendship, and admiration of his gym repertoire (we’ve all been there, am I right?). Daryl slowly realises that his desire to spend time with Josh may not solely be about wanting to have his physique. Or rather, he desires white Josh’s physique in other ways…

“Now some may say, ‘Are you just gay? Why don’t you just go gay all the way?’ But that’s not it cuz bi’s legit! Whether you’re a he or she, we might be a perfect fit.”

We get to witness Darryl’s self realisation when he has a crush on another man and the process is handled sensitively, though not without humour – the show is still a comedy after all. Throughout the second season, Darryl and Josh go through many normal ups and downs of relationships – not least when they go to Burning Man Festival in ‘Why is Josh’s girlfriend eating carbs?’ Darryl meets several of White Josh’s exes and becomes unnerved that they are all older – specifically, they are all around Darryl’s age. Darryl confronts Josh, believing that Josh is only with him because he has a fetish for older men. Fortunately, Josh sets the record straight and the two rekindle their love at the end of the episode. It’s a small example, but it goes a long way to normalise Darryl and Josh’s relationship – they have issues just like anyone else. The portrayal of their relationship also combats the ‘bisexual’s just like having sex’ stereotype, as White Josh and Darryl are committed to each other and clearly have a lot of love and respect for one another.

The show also completely humanises Darryl. It would have been very to make him two dimensional, with his only characteristic being his bisexuality. As it happens, Darryl is a complicated character. He is introduced as a small town, incompetent boss – even making an anti semitic remark in the first episode. His law firm isn’t doing very well, he overshares about his upcoming divorce and he sings a very strange song about his daughter. As we get further through the series, Darryl’s insecurities about himself begin to surface, especially his desire to be friends with Rebecca. He may be insensitive and inept, but doesn’t that just make him a far more interesting (read: human) character!

Darryl is a huge change from the tradition of slotting bisexual characters into either the ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ label, or just ignoring them completely. The fact is that there is little support for bisexuals in the real world, from both the LGBTQ community and in general society. Bi-erasure is everywhere. Just in my personal experience, my own bisexuality has been negated by so many people around me – especially from those who I would expect support from. The general response is ‘so what?’ – I can only assume because I am in a long term relationship. In a relationship or not, bisexuality is a valid and legitimate identity, and one which deserves to be represented. So, getting to watch a musical number which solely focuses on how being bi is enough in and of itself is just so awesome.

Also, reportedly Rachel Bloom and co hired a GLAAD representative to assist with Darryl’s storyline, in order to get it right. A smart move, and one that a lot of screenwriters could probably learn a huge lesson from.

 

Also, can I just say that in addition to ‘Gettin Bi’, I strongly identified with ‘Heavy Boobs’. So strongly, I play it at least twice a day to remind myself that there are others out there like me. Heavy boobs are no laughing matter and it’s totally true, they are just bags of yellow fat. Love you Rachel Bloom, thanks for everything.