I was thinking about blogging this article from June of this year about HoochieCon, an awesome-sounding Southern California exhibit featuring “the African American subculture of fly Black women who harness the power of their sexuality and creative expression.” However, the article went behind a paywall after I read it, and I didn’t see the exhibit, so I don’t have anything to add beyond “it sounds really cool.”
However, reading the article took me down a rabbit hole, because I had completely missed the concept of bisexual lighting. This is apparently a five- or six-year-old concept, now somewhat waning according to some sources. Wikipedia says:
Bisexual lighting is the simultaneous use of pink, purple, and blue lighting to represent bisexual characters. It has been used in studio lighting for film and television, as has been observed in the cinematography of various films. While not all films, television shows, photographs, and music videos that use this lighting intend to portray bisexuality, many queer artists have deliberately used this color palette in their work.
At least two aspects of this fascinate me. First is the concept that this ethereal, slightly-to-somewhat exotic lighting has come to represent bisexuality at least in the minds of a substantial group of lighting designers, cinematographers, and artists, and second is how the idea propagated into wide, if not mainstream, culture.
Bisexuality is well-known to be under-represented and under-acknowledged, if not erased:
In its most extreme form, bisexual erasure can include the belief that bisexuality itself does not exist. Bisexual erasure may include the assertion all bisexual individuals are in a phase and will soon “choose a side”, either heterosexual or homosexual. Another common variant of bisexual erasure involves accepting bisexuality in women while downplaying or rejecting the validity of bisexual identity in men. One belief underlying bisexual erasure is that bisexual individuals are distinctively indecisive. Misrepresentations of bisexual individuals as hypersexual erases the sexual agency of bisexuals, effectively erasing their true identities as well.
That being said, bisexuality as I experience it, and as many people think and write about it, is not especially ethereal, or exotic, or strangely colored. In fact, to the degree that it’s invisible, it’s because nothing about bisexuality is necessarily noticeable or predictable. Many bisexuals are in monogamous relationships; many are in more complex poly or other relationships that they don’t talk about; some are not engaging in sexual relationships at all. Why would this lighting make a point about bisexual appearance? Who thought of it?
The Wikipedia article linked above theorizes that the origin of the concept was itself a back formation:
The concept of bisexual lighting was invented in 2014 by a Tumblr fan of Sherlock who believed that the lighting was being used to signal that Dr. Watson was bisexual and would eventually be in a romantic relationship with Sherlock Holmes.
So the lighting was used with a character that a fan thought was bi. This fan’s choice to write about this starts an idea going, which may not have been anywhere in the heads of the lighting designers of Sherlock. The fannish idea spreads through the byways of the Internet, and then people do start using it consciously.
Around 2017, left-wing YouTubers such as ContraPoints (who identified as bisexual at the time) began to light their videos with pink, purple, and blue neon lights. The use of bisexual lighting became a popular meme in 2018, with multiple Twitter threads showcasing instances of the lighting scheme going viral, as well as photographs of animals in bisexual lighting being shared widely on social media.
And then it makes its way into mainstream criticism, and into popular films, TV shows, and music videos. Wikipedia’s long list of uses includes Atomic Blonde, Black Panther, Black Mirror, and videos by Ariana Grande, Lil Nas X, and many more.
Meanwhile, I’m asleep under a rock somewhere and I miss this completely. But while it may be less of a thing than it was in 2018, the concept is still alive or I wouldn’t have encountered it in this 2023 article about HoochieCon.
I’m honestly on the fence about how I feel about it: I love the idea of visual representations of bisexuality, and I’m fascinated by the way the idea propagates through various groups and subcultures–I’m just not sure I want to be lit in pink, blue, and purple even when I’m cruising everyone in the venue.
Debbie is no longer active on Twitter. Follow her on Mastodon.
Follow Laurie’s Pandemic Shadows photos on Instagram.