Is 'Alex Strangelove' Guilty Of Bi Erasure?

12 June 2018, 16:52

Alex Strangelove
Alex Strangelove. Picture: Netflix
Woodrow Whyte

By Woodrow Whyte

It's received a lot of comparisons to Love, Simon but many people are pointing out that Netflix's latest film is far from perfect, especially when it comes to bi erasure.

It's easy to be swept up by the romance of Netflix's latest LGBTQ teen film Alex Strangelove. The story follows student body president and wildlife nerd Alex Truelove (Daniel Doheny), who wants to lose his virginity to his girlfriend, Claire (Madeline Weinstein). However, after meeting a gay guy named Elliot (Antonio Marziale) at a party, he starts to question his sexual identity.

It's received a lot of comparisons to Love, Simon for it's charming and funny take of the coming out experience most LGBTQ teens face but, as many people are pointing out online, the film is far from perfect, especially when it comes to bi erasure.

GLAAD defines bi erasure as "a pervasive problem in which the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright." As well as dismissing bisexuality as a legitimate sexual identity as "a phase", bi-erasure re-enforces several cliches about bi-people; that they're more likely to cheat, that bisexuality is just a stepping stone to homosexuality, that bi people are greedy and sexual promiscuous etc. This can and often bleeds through to representation of bi characters in television and film.

So, how does Alex Strangelove contribute to bi erasure and are all the criticisms of the film fair? Well, it's a mixed bag. Warning: major spoilers ahead.

Dell’s bi-erasure is very real and wasn’t dealt with well.

via GIPHY

The biggest faux pas comes via Dell, Alex’s best friend who comes across as a loveable jackass for most of the movie. When Alex comes out as gay at the end of the film, Dell responds positively, which would be all well and good if he wasn’t completely dismissive when Alex mentions he might be bi earlier in the film.

Dell immediately shuts down Alex for saying he's bi, and tries to persuade Alex he's just freaking out about sleeping with his girlfriend. He then goes on to diminish pansexuality and genderqueer people too (“Isn’t anybody just plain straight anymore?” he laments).

The problem with this scene is that there isn’t any form of rebuttal from the other characters or self-questioning from Dell. If he is deliberately written as bi-phobic, then this should have been explored more thoroughly. Unfortunately, his views on bisexuality are left unchallenged, as if it’s perfectly reasonable and normal to deny bisexuality as a legitimate sexual identity. It’s by far the worst scene in the film which goes directly against it's queer-friendly themes.

Is the ‘bi people will cheat on you’ really true with Alex?

Alex makes out with Elliot while he's still in a relationship with Claire and some people have pointed out that this plays to a common trope and misconception that bisexual people are more likely to cheat.

Ultimately though, Alex identifies as gay – not bisexual – so it's debatable whether you can really say this is true in Alex's case. Some might argue that Alex cheating is representative a wider trope of the wider LGBTQ community but here’s the tea: whether you want to admit it or not, figuring out your sexuality can get messy. Regrettably, partners can often get caught up in it. Things get complicated and people don’t always make the best decisions. That’s just life, folks.

Should Alex have been bi?

Some people have criticised how the film depicts bisexuality as a stepping stone to homosexuality, and that the story would have worked without Alex having to choose between guys and girls. Anecdotally speaking, initially identifying as bi is a common experience among many homosexual men and women. Given that this is a film about a gay man, to include a storyline which involves Alex wondering if he might be bi doesn’t feel out of place to me.

That said, we totally understand how this would be frustrating to bi-people who had hoped to see Alex trying to figure out how he could fall for a guy and a girl at the same time. After watching the trailer, many people felt let down that the film didn't go down this route. However, remember that this story in based on the writer’s real-life experience and it deserves to be shown in the way he intended. More bi stories need to be written, of course, but this clearly wasn't the story the writer had in mind for Alex.

via GIPHY

Alex is a flawed character...and that's important.

It’s important to remember that Alex has been repressing his homosexuality for years because of toxic masculinity and the homophobia he has experienced. One of the most important scenes in the whole film is the flashback to the homophobic abuse Alex received as a child. It's supposed to help us empathise with Alex, to better understand why Alex makes the mistakes he does and that’s an important story to tell.

Perhaps there could have been ways to avoid some of the bi-erasure that happens in the film, but Alex Strangelove still succeeds in capturing the inner struggles LGBTQ people face with their identity, as well as the minefield of problems that await when coming out to others. It's not perfect but we'll take it anyway.