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Biphobia on 'Made in Chelsea' Going Unchallenged?

10/12/2015 17:22 GMT | Updated 10/12/2016 10:12 GMT

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It's not that I was expecting much better from one of the emptiest programmes on television, but this week's Made in Chelsea's discrimination against a bisexual man was still disappointing. "Maybe it's time to stop watching it," suggested a friend. My defence, as always, was that I need to keep abreast of popular culture, even if popular culture is - as it seems - blatantly biphobic. In case you have better things to do than watch Made in Chelsea, I'll recount the protracted and bitter exchange, in which a woman (Tiff) told her older sister (Lucy) that she'd been texting a mutual friend (Ollie). Tiff seems happy about said texting; her sister meets her smiles with scathing looks and eye-rolls.

"He's bi..." Lucy reminds her sister - as if that's 'enough said'. But it wasn't. "He wears make up," she hastens to add - again as if this is a mark of shame, a smear on his romantic viability. And then - just in case her heavily made-up sister has forgotten what make up is - she lists the guilty items. "He wears: foundation, powder, bronzer..." Thankfully, their American friend (Steph) steps in here to point out, "That's very normal in LA!" highlighting how these gendered and sexual conventions Lucy presents as impenetrable are in fact a product of culture. Not one to heed a helpful interjection however, Lucy readies her hands as a visual aide to represent her strict binary thinking, gesturing as she explains: "he's more like a girlfriend than a boyfriend."

Understandably taken aback, Tiff resorts to defending her crush; "He's really sweet, we've been talking, we have good chats..." But her sister has her mind on other, more significant, traits: "I just feel like he's very sensitive," she concludes between cackles. Nice nail in the coffin there; quash the man's romantic potential for the fact he's not exclusively attracted to one gender, then for the fact he wears make up (because that's for women, gross), deny his own definition of his gender - and then laugh at him for daring to demonstrate such a terrible, 'feminine' characteristic as sensitivity.

Aside from the fact that Lucy is giving questionable love advice - encouraging her sister to reject a sweet, sensitive person who she likes talking to - the attitudes she expressed, on a television programme watched by almost one million, mostly young, people - encourage discrimination based on gender and sexuality. Lucy rehearsed regressive, oppressive notions: being at all 'feminine' makes a man an unacceptable sexual or romantic partner for a woman; bisexual men are 'feminine'; straight women shouldn't date bisexual men. Not to mention her callous and demeaning tone throughout.

Bisexuals face homophobia - and, on top of this, they are affected by other stereotypes and suffer from more mental health problems than straight, gay or lesbian individuals. In fact, it is estimated that two thirds of bisexuals aren't actually 'out'. Not that anyone need define their sexuality in this way. Jim, who in his twenties, and has only ever been in relationships with women, but has also had a handful of sexual encounters with men, says "I don't say I'm bisexual, because people assume that means I'm gay - even though I've been with women exclusively for seven years." He adds, "I think one of the big problems is trying to find definitions for everything - once you name something, you limit it." Certainly, while labels may be helpful to some, for others they may bring unnecessary anxiety.

It is a shame that, while there are so few bisexual characters - particularly male - on television, Made in Chelsea has reinforced harmful stigma. For a more positive example, see the new series of Peep Show. While not without its faults, this programme's recent portrayal of otherwise-mostly-straight Jeremy enjoying sex with - and developing feelings for - another man, demonstrates much more nuance and pokes fun at reductionist attitudes to sexuality, with Mark asking, "Let's say you had a Wikipedia page.. .would it say that Jeremy Usborne was gay, or straight?" Jez puts it nicely in his response: "I don't fit into your tiny little boxes, I'm just looking for that sacred connection and - for that - I'd fuck any single member of the human race."