I was watching Scott Pilgrim vs. The World for what has to be the billionth time recently and found myself reflecting a little more on the relationship between Roxy and Ramona. Not long ago I introduced this movie to some of my friends, one of whom is bisexual, and despite not being a geek, she seemed to be really enjoying it until the fight with Roxy came up. In the scene, Scott Pilgrim is shocked to find out that the girl he’s interested in, Ramona, “had a sexy phase”—meaning she dated a woman. Ramona explains that she was just going through a bi-curious phase and didn’t even think her relationship with Roxy would count. This, of course, enraged my friend for a variety of reasons.
Having characters who are “just going through a phase” isn’t good queer representation. It makes being queer seem like something someone can just opt into and then get over. This becomes even more problematic with how almost every character who is “just going through a phase” tends to be a woman. One reason for this is that female sexuality is seen as much more fluid than male sexuality. It’s an attitude that is offensive to both queer men and woman because it is built on the belief that women can’t really live without heterosexual sex (even if they do dabble in homosexual sex). For men, it’s assumed that the only way a man could stand homosexual sex was if he was a hundred percent gay—if he was attracted to women why would he ever sleep with a guy? It’s absurd, biphobic, and sexist.
Another reason, and probably the main reason these types of relationships are portrayed so often in pop culture, is to appeal to the male gaze by fetishizing lesbian sex. In Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, everything about Ramona’s relationship with Roxy is characterized by how turned on Scott is by lesbian sex. He asks about her “sexy phase”, and throughout the movie, says things like “I’m in lesbians with you”. To be fair, Roxy is annoyed about how both Scott and Ramona talk about her and Ramona’s relationship, but the emphasis is clearly supposed to be on how “hot” Ramona and Roxy’s relationship was for the enjoyment of male viewers, not queer women.
Even Roxy’s annoyance at Ramona’s denial of the relationship is problematic. Is it okay to have a female character who experiments with her sexuality? Roxy certainly seems annoyed by Ramona’s assertions that “it was just a phase”. Is Roxy justifiably upset or is she policing Ramona’s sexuality and her own ability to identify how she chooses? I tend to think Roxy is justifiably upset, though maybe she is trying to police Ramona’s sexuality a little bit. This whole scene could have gone differently if in the movie Ramona had simply attempted to explain to Scott that yes, she and Roxy dated, but that it didn’t work out, and that she still considers herself largely heterosexual.
The idea that someone can be mostly heterosexual or homosexual but still be occasionally attracted to someone of the same-sex/opposite sex is described in the Kinsey Scale. Saika discussed this concept in a previous post. She explains:
Well, it is pretty commonly accepted that sexuality, rather than being definable with discrete labels (asexual, heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, pansexual, etc.) is more of a sliding scale. According to the Kinsey scale of attraction, most people are at least a little bit bi. You can have predominantly hetero urges and still identify as bi, and you can identify as straight and be totally blindsided by same-sex attraction when you least expect it.
The Kinsey Scale thus describes how some people can be predominately heterosexual but occasionally homosexual. In fact, according to Kinsey, most people are actually more somewhere in the middle and not exclusively homosexual or heterosexual. So according to Kinsey, people like Ramona are actually more of the norm than people who are exclusively homosexual or heterosexual.
But what ends up being so offensive is Ramona’s belief that she didn’t even think the relationship with Roxy would “count”. Whether gay or straight, having both a sexual and romantic relationship with someone of the opposite or same gender definitely counts, and I think that’s what Roxy is so upset about. Ramona’s belief that her relationship with Roxy shouldn’t count essentially says that Roxy was so unimportant to her that their romantic and sexual history together doesn’t even matter, and that’s pretty harsh.
Sexuality is a lot more fluid that society tries to make it seem. It’s fine if Ramona is pretty much straight, but to have her act like her relationship with Roxy wasn’t even real is definitely offensive. Our society spends so much time catering to the male gaze and generally portraying queer characters and relationships incorrectly that it’s no wonder that a more fluid understanding of sexuality is almost never portrayed or is portrayed poorly. It would be nice to see more characters like Ramona, but ones who admit to occasionally being attracted to the same sex, even if they tend to lean toward the opposite sex. I think ultimately having a more fluid understanding of sexuality could really help people explore their own sexuality and not be so concerned with labels.