Last Sunday, Showtime premiered the second episode of the seventh season of Shameless. This show in particular is quite possibly one of my favorite shows on television currently, mostly because of the main characters realistically diverse personalities and the show’s ability to always keep a steady flow of chaos. Last Sunday’s episode, however, left me with a bad taste in my mouth. The show regarded bisexuality/sexual fluidity in such a manner that correlated these sexualities/sexual identities with infidelity in romantic relationships, which ultimately perpetuates stereotypes and stigmas surrounding them.
First – here’s some background: Ian Gallagher is the third Gallagher child, who identifies as a gay man, and after quite a long on-again-off-again relationship with Mickey Milkovich, who’s now in jail, Ian meets a firefighter named Caleb toward the end of season six. Caleb is a genuine person who cares about Ian and provides great representation for someone who is living with HIV. I was so excited about this character and this couple. Then – Caleb mentions that he’s meeting up with an old high school friend, a woman named Denise. Ian secretly follows Caleb to the meeting, not trusting him when he says that Denise is just a friend. Ian sees them kissing and draws the conclusion that Caleb is cheating on him.
Ultimately, yes – Caleb is a cheater. He lied to Ian, telling him that Denise was just a friend, when, in fact, Caleb and Denise have and currently still sleep together frequently. Caleb notes that he does this because he is sexually fluid, which means he doesn’t identify with a label for his sexuality. Ian gets frustrated and aggressively asks: “Since when have you been such a bisexual?”
I have many issues with this plotline and character development. First of all – there is not a correlation between identifying as sexually fluid and cheating on one’s monogamous romantic partner. Caleb kept his fling with Denise a secret and never discussed his relationship with her to Ian. If Ian and Caleb were in a polyamorous relationship (much like Kevin and Veronica and Svetlana on the show), this most likely would not be an issue. Second – sexual identities are not an excuse for infidelity. Caleb used his sexual fluidity as to why he was sleeping with Denise. That’s not how it works, Shameless writers. Third – I was terribly uncomfortable with Ian’s “bisexual” statement. Ian is a part of the LGBTQ+ community. He should not be making transphobic comments like he did in the first episode (saying he hoped Denise had male genitalia) and making demeaning remarks about another sexuality. If Caleb is bisexual or sexually fluid, this is totally fine, and Ian should attempt to understand his partner. Caleb should have discussed his perspective with Ian before overstepping boundaries (aka cheating).
I understand that these are merely television characters and that they aren’t perfect (hence the television show title, Shameless), and I understand that this is only one episode and both Ian and Caleb could learn their lessons and change their perspectives by the end of the next episode. Caleb could just be a bad person who cheats on their significant others. Ian could just be ignorant. I understand all of this. Regardless, this episode provided a terrible representation of bisexuality and sexual fluidity. I am ashamed of the way this was portrayed in Shameless, especially since it tapped into many stereotypes and stigmas surrounding less discussed sexual identities. The ways in which these sexual identities were depicted totally misconstrued the reality of the ways in which people who identify as such actually exist.
I hope, for the sake of representation, that in the future this misrepresentation will no longer exist. And as for Shameless, I guess I’ll have to wait and see what next week’s episode entails.