Dodgeball and Wine Labels: How Media Harmed and Helped Me on My Bi+ Journey

May 31, 2022 | 2022 Summer - Pop Culture

By Whitney Dee

Summer 2004: I’m 15, and I’ve just finished my first year of high school. The movie theater at the local mall has recently been remodeled, and now boasts big, reclining seats, ample legroom, and the lobby snack bar has nachos AND popcorn: by mid-aughts standards, it’s the height of luxury. To celebrate surviving the school year, my aunt takes my cousin and me to dinner and then to see the movie Dodgeball.

If you haven’t seen Dodgeball: Peter owns a scrappy-but-loveable everyman’s gym (literally called “Average Joe’s Gym”) that serves a clientele of loveable misfits. The gym is struggling financially, and in order to keep it from being bought and turned into a parking lot by mega-evil gym conglomerate Globo Gym (owned by a ripped and villainous character played by Ben Stiller), Average Joe’s has to win a dodgeball tournament.  Among the members of this scrappy underdog team is Kate, a skinny, blonde attorney hired by Globo Gym to facilitate the purchase.

Many of the jokes in the movie are funny. Rip Torn and an early-career Jason Bateman are both supporting characters. A pre-doping-scandal Lance Armstrong makes a cameo. And who doesn’t want to see someone humorously get hit in the face with a dodgeball? Who doesn’t want to see the underdog take down the big guy? But, like so many mainstream comedies, especially at the time, many of the jokes in the movie are also homophobic, transphobic, fatphobic, and/or racist. But, watching it, I felt okay laughing at them because they were “edgy.” Besides, my gay cousin was laughing. I was fat and I was laughing. It’s probably fine, I think. Then, the end of the movie: Kate’s girlfriend shows up. Kate has been the punchline of tons of “I think she’s a lesbian” jokes throughout the entire film: she played college softball, she’s smart, and she’s not immediately romantically interested in Peter. Kate’s girlfriend congratulates her on Average Joe’s team winning the tournament. They kiss. “I knew she was a lesbian!”, a teammate says.

Kate turns to Peter and says, “I’m not a lesbian!” Then, while still holding her girlfriend in one arm, says, “I’m bisexual!” and passionately kisses Peter.

My aunt whispers, “She’s a slut!”

Oh. I thought. Okay, bisexuals are sluts. And they’re not monogamous. Got it.

Despite growing up in a family, a school, and community where gays and lesbians were not only tolerated, but celebrated, I hadn’t seen bi+ relationships portrayed in the media prior to seeing Dodgeball. Moreover, bisexuality wasn’t ever taught to me or presented as an option: it was gay or straight. Both were fine and great and healthy. But the choice was binary, and you had to choose your side.

The memory of seeing this bi+ relationship portrayed as both an afterthought and as punchline, and my aunt’s reaction to it, followed me through the rest of high school, through college, and into adulthood. I volunteered at Pride, I worked with the LGBT student groups, I wrote letters, I called my senators, I advocated for gay rights, but I didn’t really know any bi+ people, and when I did, I still secretly thought: they’re confused, they’re promiscuous, they’re on their way to realizing they’re actually gay. People said this to me. My mom said this to me. When one of my best friends came out as bi, my mom said, “He’s actually gay,” and when he did later come out as gay, it was taken as evidence by my mom (and by me) that being bi+ wasn’t really a thing.

By the time I started admitting to myself, in my mid-20s, that I was indeed bi+, my belief in the stigma, stereotypes, and internalized biphobia had somewhat subsided, but the Dodgeball scene and all the bi+ stereotypes, still slithered around in the dark corners of my psyche.

So, when I looked in the mirror, and thought “I really think I’m bi+,” my brain would swiftly follow it up with, “But who cares? I don’t need to come out. It’s all just a spectrum anyway. Just keep dating guys and know that you could probably date another gender if you want. Just leave it at that.” So, I kept telling other people that I was straight, despite knowing this wasn’t true.

When I was 29, I finally felt ready to come out to other people as bi+. I think being in a loving, healthy, and supportive long-term relationship gave me a space to explore while still feeling safe. My partner supported and encouraged me in so many other aspects of my life: encouraging me to apply for a new job when I was becoming unhappy in the job I had when we met, talking me down when I had a panic attack on the way to an audio storytelling workshop and, above all, simply making me feel loved and respected. I had also started browsing resources of groups like #StillBisexual, Bi.org, and Bisexual Resource Center, and started seeing stories like my own.

When I finally came clean with myself about being bi+, I was scared but exhilarated and ultimately, relieved. I came out to my partner first. His questions were basic: “Do you still love me? Do you still want to be with me? Do you still want to be monogamous?” (Yes, yes, and yes). He then said, like always, “Okay. I love you, and I support you.”

Summer 2019: A few months after coming out to my partner, I started watching the TV show Schitt’s Creek for the first time. While I had come out to my partner, a close friend, and to my mom at that point, I still didn’t feel entirely comfortable explaining my bisexuality to other people. During episode 10 of the first season of the show, the character David Rose shops for wine with his friend Stevie, who says she thought he was gay by saying she only likes red wine and thought he did, too. David Rose then delivers the now-infamous “wine and not the label” speech where he explains, “Um, I do drink red wine. But I also drink white wine. And I’ve been known to sample the occasional rosé. And a couple summers back, I tried a Merlot that used to be a Chardonnay, which got a bit complicated… I like the wine and not the label. Does that make sense?”

I teared up at this perfect and beautiful metaphor. Not only was it such a clear explanation of how I felt, but Stevie’s reaction to it was wonderful to see: she was honest about feeling new to it all, but she was supportive. The scene was brief, but powerful. I loved that David’s sexuality didn’t become a major plot point and didn’t get belabored throughout the series as a thing that needed to be discussed. It was presented as a fact. And it included more than two genders! I felt so affirmed.

Looking back at my aunt’s comment during Dodgeball, I’m not so sure anymore that she was intentionally being biphobic with her comment. I think she may have actually been saying, “That women is not bisexual…she’s just a slut.” Which is still slut-shaming, but, at the time, it may have been a genuine attempt to defend against the harmful bisexual stereotype that was being portrayed. Yet, as a young person exploring her own sexuality, and with no other positive media portrayals of a bi+ person, I took it as the shameful and negative thing I suspected it might be and buried myself deep in the closet.

While I love my partner and am glad I’m with him, I often wonder what would happen if I’d seen the wine speech instead of the Dodgeball scene when I was 15, and while I mourn for my younger self and all the years I spent denying my bisexuality, I’m also grateful that positive media representations of bisexuality and pansexuality are becoming more and more prevalent.

Biphobia, bi+ erasure, and negative bisexual stereotypes still exist in the media. But I’m hopeful that a questioning 15-year-old will see the wine speech in Schitt’s Creek, or watch Rosa Diaz come out as bisexual on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or watch the TV show The Bisexual, or see any other positive portrayal of bi+ identities in the media and that they’ll feel seen, and realize that being bi+ is, above all, valid. 

Whitney Donielson (she/her) lives in the Pacific Northwest with her loving and affirming spouse, and a sweet and anxious dog. She works in higher education, and enjoys making audio stories, reading, cooking, and spending time outside.

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Editor’s Note

Dear Reader, The theme of this issue is “Pop Culture.” We received submissions covering a wide range of related topics, reflecting the expansive terrain covered by this theme: music, television and streaming shows, zines, films and actors, books, social media, gaming,...

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