[Warning: minor spoilers for Jessica Jones season 3]
Despite bisexuality’s recent increase in media visibility, bisexual characters are still few and far in between, and looking for positive representations sometimes seems to be a fool’s quest. More often than not, we find bisexuality associated with traits society considers as negative, and used to convey less-than-favorable meanings.
In the rare cases bisexuality is not erased completely, it is most often used to convey characters’ duplicity, indecisiveness, moral ambiguity, and unstable nature. And though there’s much to love about bisexual villains or gray characters (who embody society’s anxiety of bisexuality’s subversive power), only rarely do we find them not just morally complex, but also humanized, not to mention carrying positive and liberatory meanings.
The character of Kith, featured in Jessica Jones’ third and final season, is one such character. Though she receives relatively little screen time, this bi woman of color character shines through as an embodiment of bifeminist values and the symbolic power of women’s bisexuality. Instead of undermining her character or narrative, Kith’s bisexuality underlines her characterization as an intelligent, independent, and resilient woman. Her strength is conveyed through bisexuality.
From the very first time Kith is presented on screen, she is shown as both strong and passionate, playing a cello while wearing a bold flowing red dress. As Jeri watches her, expectations build up towards their dialogue, revealing Kith to be Jeri’s ex-partner, who married a man after their breakup.
Within TV and film conventions, women characters in similar circumstances are presented as having abandoned their queer identities, and are made to apologize in various ways, either explicitly through dialogue, or indirectly through behavior. However, in this case, at no point does Kith’s dialogue or its delivery (wonderfully acted by Sarita Choudhury) offer even a hint of shame or apology about her bisexuality. Nor does the show ever suggest that she might not be bisexual – that she is “actually” gay or straight, or that she moved from a gay to a straight identity and lifestyle. Throughout her appearance on the show, Kith is simply bisexual. No apologies, no caveats.
And indeed, this character remains both unapologetic and strong throughout her interaction with Jeri, while her bisexuality is used to underline and convey her strength. As we move on into their two dates, we find Kith curious, fascinated, and drawn to Jeri, while still strongly maintaining her own boundaries. While remembering Jeri’s betrayal in the past, she gives her a chance to re-enter her life. And though she remains tentative and slightly reserved when the two begin their affair, she is also fully present and feeling, giving herself the freedom to explore while still protecting herself from being hurt again. In this, we quickly find, Kith cannot be possessed.
This knowledge deepens in their pillow talk scene, after they’d had sex. Here Kith speaks about her polyamorous relationship with her husband, Peter, and how instrumental it had been for them in dealing with their daughter’s death. “After Zoey died,” she says, “we gave each other our own sanity.” And so, in addition to characterizing Kith’s independence, this scene also presents bisexual polyamory as a vehicle for resilience and healing. This is what helped Kith and Peter recover from their loss.
As she leaves Jeri’s bed, Kith says, “Don’t worry, I won’t get attached.” This lets both Jeri and the audience know that although she isn’t certain on the details, she’s aware of Jeri’s manipulativeness. By making this explicit, she communicates her knowledge, her boundaries, and her conditional consent to be with Jeri. Finding a way to be present while attempting to keep herself safe from her manipulations.
Kith’s independence is further enhanced when she speaks to Jeri about Peter’s crimes, after those had been exposed. In conventional drama, men’s lies and deception are often presented as marital issues to be resolved through love and forgiveness by their women partners. However, Kith responds in a way that subverts normative representation. Instead of making excuses for Peter, justifying him, or trying to reconcile the relationship, she maintains her independence and holds him accountable. This is all the more emphasized as she tells him, “I don’t belong to you.” The fact that she does this in Jeri’s apartment heavily links this to her bisexuality, and reminds us of bi women’s power to always opt out of relationships with men.
This scene also contains perhaps the most defining description of Kith’s character within the dialogue, as Peter tells Jeri, “You can’t have her,” and Jeri responds, “Neither can you.” Here Kith’s male and female partners both assert that she can’t be possessed by either. Her independence is formulated and carried through her bisexuality – it means that no one can possess her.
Kith’s most triumphant moment in the show is her ultimate rejection of a relationship with Jeri. Oddly enough, in this, the show seems to favor Jeri’s point of view, leaving many viewers angry with Kith about her choice. This happens in two phases, each one showing Jeri opening up to Kith and revealing her vulnerability, only to be rejected by her. In the first instance, she reveals that she’d continued loving Kith for years, only waiting for the right moment to get back together. In the second, she tells Kith about her ALS, a progressive degenerative illness that will make her disabled, and finally kill her. It is in this moment that Kith speaks the line, “You don’t want to die alone, but you’re going to,” which invoked much backlash from the audience.
It’s worth remembering that at this point, Jeri has proven herself to be a devastating and destructive presence in Kith’s life. She knowingly seduced her while assuming she’s monogamous, then dug up dirt about her husband to make her leave him. As a result of her actions, Kith loses Peter first to breakup and then to suicide, and is left with both grief and a hefty monetary debt she can’t afford to pay. When Jeri offers to help her, she’s building up on damage that she herself had caused. In one of these scenes, Kith correctly calls this out, telling Jeri that she’s a “selfish manipulator,” and saying, “Every decision, every duplicitous act is always about Jeri Hogarth and no one else.” And in terms of characterization – both within this arc and throughout the series – she is absolutely right.
By appealing to Kith’s emotions and presenting her with a romanticized fantasy of what their relationship could be, Jeri attempts to obfuscate what their relationship actually is. She tries to pull Kith closer for her own benefit – so that she wouldn’t die alone – with complete disregard to how that might affect Kith herself. And so, Kith’s refusal to care for Jeri in her illness is not heartless, it is firmly grounded. While still thanking her for saving her life, her refusal of the relationship is a refusal to be manipulated or possessed.
If there is one big problem, though, with the way Kith’s character is handled by the show, it’s how her narrative comes to an end. While she begins her arc happy and stable in her life, involved with a both man and a woman within a polyamorous relationship, at the end of it her life is destabilized and she is left alone – as the result of both her partners’ actions. Following everything she’d been through, it seems she’s punished for her bisexuality, as bisexuality served as the cause and vehicle for her suffering. Simply put – if she wasn’t bisexual, the narrative as told could not have happened.
As an individual character, Kith is amazing, conveying strength, independence and resilience through her bisexuality. She is persistent in maintaining her boundaries and refuses to compromise them or give into manipulation even in challenging emotional circumstances. Within her narrative, her bisexuality serves as a vehicle for conveying these qualities, as they’re always shown to us through her relationships with Peter and with Jeri – engaging with both of them on her own terms, and rejecting them when they exceed her consented boundaries. This reflects the symbolic power of women’s bisexuality, charging it with meaning that subverts patriarchy, monogamy, and couplehood. As bi women, we still have to scavenge for our presence in media, reading texts in ways that might benefit and empower us. So though I wish her character wasn’t mishandled and punished for, and through, her bisexuality, I still find much to love and appreciate about her.