In Season 4 of The Bold Type, the writers manage to build up and then summarily destroy the credibility and joy of its bisexual protagonist, Kat Edison, by neglecting the intersections of race, class, and queer identity at every turn.
Finding bisexual representation is difficult, finding good bisexual rep (i.e. rep that isn’t inadvertently harmful, not rep that doesn’t portray characters as flawed, because perfect pure characters are boring) even harder — and escaping bi erasure and biphobie even within media that do portray bisexual characters can be another challenge still. We’re unwanted, and made to feel it. Recent studies have shown that bisexual members of the queer community are among those whose mental health suffers most from pressure from both outside and inside the community, along with trans and non-binary people. Exclusionists are everywhere, and they love turning everything into, somehow, bisexual people’s fault while also (sometimes literally) demanding support and solidarity from the people they themselves are actively or inadvertently harming.
Kat’s Second Coming (Out)
On The Bold Type, Aisha Dee plays Kat Edison, social media editor for women’s magazine Scarlet. In the first three seasons, she realises that she is attracted to women and has several serious or almost-relationships, including an on-again, off-again thing with Adena El-Amin, a photographer whom she meets on assignment. The two break up in Season 3 since Adena decides to give her relationship with her ex another go.
Now, in Season 4 (which premiered in Spring 2020), Kat finds herself attracted to a man as well (Cody, a bartender who witnesses the ending of her attempt at casually dating a woman she picked specifically because she felt she was wrong for her) and starts up A Thing with him, prompting her to come out as bisexual to Jane and Sutton. And that scene felt weighty and important to me because bisexual is still a word that’s barely used on television. If the characters lean more towards same-sex attraction, then that tends to be played up, and if the character tends more towards different-sex attraction, then it quickly ends up feeling like shows writing them as straight with the spectre of bisexuality just there for the spice. (In an essay for bisexuality awareness week, I’ve previously written about how with gay people it can feel like we have to play up our queer attraction in order for them to be invested in our relationships.) So it felt important for Kat to claim that word, even saying that she’s not usually a stickler about labels, but that this one feels right. It was a signpost that yes, we exist, and we deserve to be part of the community.
Reactions on social media were part delighted, part confused, mainly because (I guess, I didn’t do a rewatch of S1-3) Kat didn’t outright claim the label lesbian before? So many people just assumed she went with bi since she had previously been shown to be in relationships with men. And then, there were the expected reactions: some hating that she’s with a man now, instead of ‘staying gay,’ and some hating very specifically who the show decides to pair her off with at the end of the season. (More on that in a minute.)
The thing is, the show overall does pretty well at playing with the clichés: such as Kat joking that she is the lesbian who brings the moving van on the second date; because, yeah, queer women joke about that shit.
But then, the hammer drops: Adena returns to New York, and exhibits an amount of biphobia that bears out throughout the rest of the series. And it’s, uh, textbook, up to but not limited to the weaponisation of therapy language (“triggering”) to tell Kat that she is harming lesbians just by… existing and being attracted to men. When Kat confronts her for it and tells her that Adena’s words nearly forced her back into the closet — and yes, denying your bisexuality and “picking lesbian” to “stay in your lane” is a form of closet — Adena completely skims over that, invalidates and dismisses it by fronting that it hurt her because it made her fear that Kat’s feelings for her were just a phase.
Does she eventually get over herself?
She does, but that apology is, pardon my French, horseshit: she basically tells Kat that “she’s OK” with who Kat is, and she barely gets out the “sorry.” The only thing missing was Kat thanking her for her acceptance. L-O-L. Adena never acknowledges that her actions were biphobic and harmful not just towards Kat, but bi women at large. And no, your personal feelings for a member of that community don’t excuse your actions. It doesn’t fucking matter what anyone’s OK with. What matters is whether you can own up to what you did that hurt them. And Adena can’t, and I’m furious that Kat — meaning the show — just lets her get away with that.
Especially since Adena herself is a victim of conversion therapy and she goes on to talk so sanctimoniously about how she never told Kat because she wanted to make sure that Kat’s experience of coming out was a positive one. Oh, so she’s the arbiter of that now? And then she says that no-one should be made to hide who they are. Huh. Go figure.
But the worst, as it turns out, was yet to come.
Kat & Eva
Seeing Eva at The Belle (a super exclusive women-only club) and how white that club is — Jane and Sutton are hilariously privileged to assume that Eva is a member of that club solely because she accomplished something. She’s a member because she is rich, conservative, white, and cis. That’s what follows. And the director of that club being a black woman doesn’t negate that. Kat is naive, for all her brief interludes with radicalisation post losing her job at Scarlet, to overlook that.
Kat (temporarily) getting fired for daring to disrespect a member proves that. I mean, the one black character is now a bartender at that club: she’s a member of the service industry now. Yet, that’s never acknowledged, because I guess since she’s doing that job at a women’s club, that intersection magically goes away? The show constantly glosses over the dimension that Kat is a black woman in a space dominated by women aligned with white patriarchy and that Jane and Sutton are constantly on the other side of that bar.
Also, Eva: you’re rich because you work hard? Really? You’re rich because your daddy’s a rich white man. Don’t make me laugh. And being able to agree to disagree with your mogul father on conversation therapy is fucking vile — it’s white privilege in action. It’s even more foul because Eva is gay. Dun dun dunnn.
The writers did so good with Kat up to that point — and then they completely throw her and her credibility under the bus.
The Tolerant Republican — that’s who they want to position Eva as. The reasonable one. The personable one. The one you can talk to.
After that survey being published a while ago that showed terrible bias by pitching liberals/progressives as intolerant for “not allowing” different — read: bigoted — viewpoints on abortion, queer rights, and Black Lives Matter, this smacks of bullshit.
“I don’t think you can fairly engage with conservatives.”Eva
Honey, the only way to fairly engage with you is to take your platform away so you can’t hurt even more people.
Kat going to a Republican mixer to make nice with people who don’t believe that people like her deserve human rights and that straight people are being oppressed — really? I was incredulously shaking my head that entire time. “Healthy debate.” I cannot believe that the writers are making Kat feel like she has to prove that she can “fairly engage” with conservatives who want us dead in order to score points with Eva. This both sides-ism is disgusting. I can’t believe that the writers are writing Kat as falling for that shit and making it look like Eva is doing her a favour by appearing on that podcast.
“Clearly, you’re a better person than I am.”Kat
No, Kat, standing up for what’s right and shutting down hardline immigration stances is being the better person.
There is no healthy debate on whether queer people deserve respect. These shitty white women do not engage in good faith, no pun intended, and it’s so painfully obvious that I’m really wondering where the fuck the writers thought they were going with this. I’m honestly not sure how far to extend the benefit of the doubt, here.
“It’s not my business.”Eva
By denying that her party’s queerphobia has anything to do with her, Eva is putting herself into an enforced closet because it benefits her to align with white patriarchy; instead of speaking up in solidarity. Instead of challenging her father when he donated to the PAC of a Senator who voted for conversion therapy. The classic, “Fuck you, got mine, because I’m safe.”
I swear to god, if they give her a liberal redemption arc and make her the white saviour who opens Kat’s eyes to true progressive thinking after she has a Big Speech Emotional Breakdown about how much being the GOP’s Token Lesbian has hurt her… If she can just say she’s gay on a podcast a lot of people will hear, it’s clearly not dangerous for her to be out. Because her daddy only want’s other people’s kids to be put through conversion therapy.
And the cop-out is even more insulting: “Identity politics are tricky.” No shit.
I mean, dang. They’re making Kat into the youtuber with the MAGA boyfriend. Fuck, even Jane is concerned, in her very White Feminist way. But Kat defends Eva by saying, “She only says what she believes.” Yeah, that then includes children being put in cages, but who’s counting, eh?
What’s Coming Next?
In this Season 4, The Bold Type gets at least some stuff right, but also shows a worrying shift in their treatment of relationships and consent within relationships. They also pull Jane and Sutton more into the centre of their stories in terms of work, while giving Kat a scant amount of growth and setting her back professionally at every turn. I’ll be wary of going into a fifth season, if it’s greenlit. I gathered that the season was cut down from 18 to 16 episodes due to COVID, so I wonder whether the season finale we got was actually meant to be that, or whether they had more fallout planned. In any case — yeah. Wary.