Director Desiree Akhavan on bi-erasure: ‘If I’m walking down the street with a woman, I’m a lesbian’

Director, writer and actor Desiree Akhavan has spoken out about bi-erasure in the run-up to the release of her new comedy series The Bisexual on Channel 4.

Speaking at an event promoting the six-part TV show at London’s BFI Southbank, Akhavan, who is openly bisexual, explained how she is often made to feel like her sexuality is invisible.

“It’s complicated—there isn’t a face of bisexuality and it feels disingenuous,” she said. “If I’m walking down the street with a women, I’m a lesbian.”

Akhavan is also directing upcoming film The Miseducation of Cameron Post. (Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

“I realised recently every time I did anything people said ‘bisexual Desiree’ and I felt like it was a deeply embarrassing thing. They always said: ‘she f***s men and women.’ If they’d said lesbian I’d have been like f*** yeah but it was embarrassing.

“There are a lot of openly bisexual people, but you identify them with who they’re holding hands with in that moment.

“When you don’t see something often, it becomes hard to relate to.”

Her new comedy drama will follow New Yorker Leila (Akhavan), a bisexual woman who has recently broken up with her girlfriend, as she attempts to navigate London’s dating scene.

Akhavan wrote The Bisexual, which she also directs, with Cecilia Frugiuele, who she previously collaborated with on her 2014 film Appropriate Behaviour. 

Akhavan, who recently spoke to PinkNews about directing upcoming gay conversion film The Miseducation of Cameron Post, also said that LGBT+ people should be at the heart of creating entertainment and media that represents them.

“I think it’s very important that there’s a queer hand at the wheel,” she explained.

“It’s important to me that the people at the helm of any marginalised group, that the creative force behind it should be representative, because you never see trans stories, or Middle Eastern stories or black stories.”

The Iranian-American director added: “I think we’re hungry for anything that represents us as queer people.”

The Bisexual also stars Maxine Peake and Brian Gleeson.

Elsewhere at the event, Akhavan said she first started pitching the script for The Bisexual to producers in Los Angeles in 2014 and 2015.

She also suggested that Amazon rejected her comedy series on the basis that it already had another LGBT+ show, Transparent. PinkNews has contacted Amazon for comment.

Akhavan said struggled to get a production company to make her series The Bisexual in the US. (Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

“No one wanted me to. I pitched this script in 2014/2015 to all the networks in LA and was rejected everywhere,” she explained.

“Immediately after I pitched it I came to the UK to do [her feature film debut] Appropriate Behaviour—my girlfriend and I had just broken up, I had no place to live, you know I was a real class act. I thought well it’s now or never and started writing.

Akhavan, who revealed that she is also writing a book, continued: “Every conversation I had in the US, they were like “but how are you going to make it appeal to men?” It sounds so cliche but it’s true. I went to one place and they were like: ‘Well we already have Transparent.'”

The actor also said there would be a second series of The Bisexual.