opinion

'The Sex and the City reboot must correct the show's historic biphobia'

HBO Max series And Just Like That... has a chance to course-correct one of Carrie and co.'s most unpleasant moments, writes Lewis Oakley.

2021-08-27

Words: Lewis Oakley; Image: Craig Blakenhorn/New Line

As filming begins on the Sex and the City spinoff, And Just Like That..., I couldn’t help but wonder, will Carrie Bradshaw finally learn that bisexuality is a valid orientation?   

Unless you’ve been avoiding media lately, it would be impossible not to know that the ladies of SATC (bar Kim Cattrall's Samantha Jones) are returning for a new show.

The hype around the return has already been intense, with some suggesting the hottest summer sport in NYC this year is spotting the cast filming episodes. Endless articles are already being written anytime an actor is spotted on set and many are theorising what stories the new series will tell.   

The interest is a testament to the original show's cultural power. With many believing the show rewrote the playbook for women, by exploring sex and hammering home the message that you don’t need to settle down and marry the first man you meet after your 30th birthday.

The show changed attitudes: just ask Vibratex, the company saw sales jump by more than 700% in the years following the vibrator episode.   

Despite its popularity and power, the Sex and the City didn’t always use its influence for good.  In fact, in the case of bisexuality, this show threw fuel on to the fire of the stigma.   

In the season three episode ‘Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl', first broadcast in June 2000, Carrie begins dating Sean (played by Eddie Cahill), an openly and confidently bisexual man. Rather than do the relationship justice, the show does everything it can to diminish the validity of bisexual males.   

In fact, Ms Bradshaw delivers one of the most biphobic lines in television history:  

“I’m not even sure bisexuality exists. I think it’s just a layover on the way to Gaytown.”  

And just like that... a generation of women had their biphobia or bi-ignorance validated.    

Some might argue her comments were ‘intended’ to be seen as problematic because Carrie is a flawed character. The problem is, she doesn’t actually evolve or learn anything. Her partner’s bisexuality remains the reason she breaks things off at the end. What’s more, all four characters constantly disagree and challenge each other but they are all oddly aligned in their scepticism of bisexuality.  

These long held views show that women can in fact be the perpetrators of toxic masculinity. This is done by women implying men aren’t ‘man enough’ to be considered as a love interest. And make no mistake, it’s the most common attitude bi men are still running into in 2021.  

One survey found that nearly two-thirds of women "wouldn't date a man who has had sex with another man. Another survey found that 34 percent of women will or have already had sex with another woman — but only 19 percent would date a bisexual person.   

The fact that the majority of straight women won’t date bisexual men has an impact. As many closeted bisexual men have told me over the years – “If I come out as bisexual I’d be coming out as gay by default as so few women would be up for dating me. There is no point in coming out.”   

 
 
 
View this post on Instagram

A post shared by And Just Like That... (@justlikethatmax)

SATC had a real chance to tackle this stigma amongst its largely female audience, which trusted the characters experiences to guide them. I can’t help but wonder, if the show had depicted male bisexuality in a more positive light, would it have shifted the dial on bisexual acceptance to a more positive place than we are in today? Could you imagine if Carrie had ended up with a bi guy? The cultural frame of reference that would have provided would have prevented stigma for years to come.

And it’s not just bi men the show dropped the ball on but bi women as well. Samantha Jones was arguably the most powerful character in television when it came to normalising attitudes around sex. Yet her own bisexuality was explored as a phase.   

A year after ‘Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl' first aired, season four saw Samantha embark on a serious and monogamous relationship with a woman called Maria (Sônia Braga). Unfortunately, no one seemed to be able to recall the word to describe a woman who is attracted to men and women. The show instead suggested that she was suddenly a lesbian who eventually decides that she misses men.  

Lewis Oakley is a writer, activist and host of the Bisexual Brunch podcast

The whole storyline was riddled with bi-erasure. Particularly the part where Charlotte suggests, "She's not a lesbian, she probably just ran out of men".

Whilst it remains up to the individual to label their sexuality the best way that suits them, it’s worth imagining for a moment what Samantha being an out and proud bi woman could have done to improve attitudes everywhere.

I hope the cast and crew of And Just Like That... are equally as curious - particularly as the show has cast Sara Ramirez, an outstanding talent who also happens to be bisexual and non-binary. Hopefully this is a sign that the show is set to explore these issues in more genuinely engaged way. 

 
 
 
View this post on Instagram

A post shared by And Just Like That... (@justlikethatmax)

As the remake looks to also have the power of the original, even if that’s just for the first episode, it’s their responsibility to address the biphobic stigma it helped fuel.  

What’s more, I think that addressing this issue seems natural. The lead character has been a sex columnist for at least 23 years. Attitudes and understanding have evolved greatly in that time. To me it would be interesting to see Carrie Bradshaw deal with old articles resurfacing. The impact of Carrie dealing with being cancelled, a Twitter mob and being held to account.  

For bisexual people like myself, whilst I wish the new show well it is important that the show deals with the biphobia of the past and does a good job of exploring bisexuality in 2021. Not some tokenistic, we ticked the box and read the statement the outrage mob provided us with.

We need an exploration that does what the original did best and actually change hearts and minds.   

Lewis Oakley is a writer, activist and host of the Bisexual Brunch podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.