Brooklyn Nine-Nine has always handled its LGBT characters better than just about any show currently on the air, most notably with Capt. Holt (played with deadpan perfection by Andre Braugher). Holt’s sexuality is simply one part of his character, but while the writers never lean on stereotypes to inform Holt, they never forget that his life as a gay man, specifically a gay man of color working as a police officer, would have impacted his experiences and formed who he is.
So it didn’t surprise fans that the Fox comedy handled another character’s coming-out equally gracefully. With Tuesday’s episode dedicated to Det. Rosa Diaz (played by Stephanie Beatriz, who has been open about her own bisexuality) coming out to her family, Brooklyn Nine-Nine was able to move beyond the tired tropes and stereotypes that often plague bisexual characters, and specifically deal with the rejection and lack of understanding someone can face when coming out as bi to their parents.
Rosa first attempts to tell her folks about her sexuality at dinner with the help of friend Jake (Andy Samberg), who quickly gets swept up in a misunderstanding that has him pretending to be in a relationship with Rosa. When her parents see a picture of Jake with his fiancée, they admit they’re cool with Rosa being the other woman, as long as she’s not dating another woman.
It seems like they might have learned to accept their daughter when they invite her over for a game of Pictionary, but the truth comes out when her mother admits she’s at peace with Rosa’s identity because it means Rosa can marry a man once she gets over this “phase.” The moment captures a specific form of rejection bisexual individuals face, onscreen and off: homophobia and the condemning of who you are, combined with the idea that your identity might not actually exist.
The idea that bisexuality is a phase or some kind of misguided construct rather than a valid identity has plagued TV for years, especially in sitcoms that use those stereotypes for cheap laughs. In the “No Bisexuals” entry of wiki TV Tropes, you’ll find a seemingly endless supply of bi jabs, from 30 Rock (Liz Lemon declaring, “There’s no such thing as bisexual. That’s just something invented in the ‘90s so they could sell more hair products”) to Will and Grace (Will asking, “Pansexual? Isn’t that just a rest stop on the highway to homo?”).
TV has, in the last few years, gotten better at handling (and even just including) three-dimensional bisexual characters. In the first season of The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Darryl Whitefeather (Pete Gardner)—the protagonist’s middle-aged boss—comes out as bi in the instant bisexual anthem “Getting Bi.” The song itself tackles some of the main negative stereotypes around bisexuality (that it’s a stepping-stone to coming out as gay, that it means you sleep around), while Whitefeather, as an older man, is not the type of character often portrayed as bi.
The CW added another nuanced portrayal of bisexuality this year with Adam (Tyler Posey) on Jane the Virgin. Adam is Jane’s first love and returns to her life. When he comes out as bi, she has some qualms about the reveal, but they’re eventually able to talk about her anxieties (some of which stem from bi stereotypes).
With the “coming out to the parents” storyline, shows often land on one of two conclusions to the journey—wholehearted parental support (maybe even featuring a mom in a PFLAG sweatshirt) or vicious, unequivocal rejection. Brooklyn Nine-Nine came to what seems like a more realistic end. Rosa’s father let his daughter know he would try to understand this new facet of her life she was sharing with him and reassured her of his unconditional love, while admitting that because her mother still wasn’t onboard, their family game nights should be put on hold.
The episode ends with Rosa’s friends bringing family game night to her. It’s a sweet reminder that as bisexual characters are given more visibility and handled less stereotypically on TV today, they’re still part of the great LGBT tradition of making your own family from people who accept you, completely, for who you are.