Something that often irks me is the "She's bi!" / "She's lesbian!" wars that pop up surrounding many WLW characters. I want to deconstruct that a bit.
Here is how a lot of WLW appear in media:
- Season 1 involves one (or more) "normal" cishet appearing woman characters.
- At some point in a later season, writers decide that it'd be Spicy to hook her up with another woman. (This could be for a number of reasons: a popular fandom ship, trying to get ratings, or some kind of shift within the writing team.)
In most cases, if a character wasn't INTRODUCED as a lesbian, this is what her narrative is going to look like. In rare cases, it might have been planned for the character to come out as sapphic later in the story, but usually there's clear signs between seasons that WLW interest was never intended for her story in the first installment.
This usually launches a pretty bitter debate in fandom. You have Team Bi, claiming that she was attracted to Male Love Interest, therefore she must be bisexual. Team Bi is usually pretty angry about bi erasure whenever this character gets called a lesbian.
Meanwhile, for Team Lesbian, this is 100% our story. We start out being pressured into thinking we're straight by compulsory heterosexuality, which I hope I don't have to explain to anyone in nuance. So obviously we don't see this narrative and think, "wow, that's so inaccurate, I knew I was attracted exclusively to women when I was 5 minutes out the womb!"
... but there's an issue with the logic in both Team Bi and Team Lez.
The issue is: the writers didn't intend jack shit here. This character isn't bisexual or a lesbian, she's a void of possibility written by straight people who probably haven't consulted any WLW in depth about how to write this topic respectfully.
I don't see the point in tearing each other apart over this when the whole point is that the writers don't care enough about WLW to call her a lesbian OR bisexual.
I'll grant this: in most cases where this happens, I think the writers use "lesbian" as a go-to identity (if they give her one at all; sometimes they can't/won't even acknowledge queerness in words). Does this contribute to bi erasure? Yes and no. Yes, because bi women exist. No, because this could also be an accurate lesbian narrative. The point is that we can't apply the nuance of WLW identities to characters written by people who don't give a fuck.
As a writer, my clear solution is that we need characters whose sexual evolutions are intentional, organic, and thoughtful. Even if you don't have an endgame planned at the beginning of the story, you shouldn't shoehorn a WLW identity into a character narrative halfway through the story. That's pretty poor writing. At least go back and edit some consistency in, if you have that option. If you don't? You'd better make the reveal cohesive with her past (no retconning) and transition smoothly.
The most important solution to this shitty, unnecessary war, is that we need to have named WLW with explicit identities. We need to SAY "bisexual," and god forbid, "pansexual." We need lesbians to have conversations about their past involvement with men, because there are people out there who have never had compulsory heterosexuality explained to them. We need bi/pan characters to answer questions about their current and previous partner(s) and explain that their current partner doesn't invalidate their feelings about past partners. (This is a pretty good deconstruction of toxic monogamy culture, too. Your ex might not have been right for you, but they aren't the devil.)
I just don't see the point in fighting with other WLW about poorly-planned characters who weren't even written with the intention of being bi or lez or anything, who had queerness shoved onto them like a hat without any grace or knowledge of what it's actually like to be a WLW going through a period of sexual growth. In this situation, Team Bi and Team Lez should be allowed to identify with whatever they want, and no one should bother anyone about the way they interpret the (sloppily written) text.
Obviously, a situation in which a character's identity was clearly and deliberately established would be different.
The basic conclusion is: instead of tearing into each other over str8 nonsense, we should put energy into supporting sapphic artists and pushing to get real WLW into positions where they can share stories of bisexuals, lesbians, and pansexuals, and all other varieties of sapphic with accuracy and care.