That's Not What It Means: Complex Sexuality in Lady Dynamite

Lady Dynamite is not a show for everyone. An adaptation of the stand-up routines and real-life experiences of comedian Maria Bamford, it moves back and forth between three different timelines, and often reflects the fractured point of view of the protagonist as she grapples with anxiety and a bipolar diagnosis. It can be difficult to distinguish when the show is breaking the fourth wall or the line between fantasy and reality. Geeks who check the show out on Netflix are in for a treat, though, as it features Bamford's personal friend and real-life uber-geek, Patton Oswalt and romantic interests with two former Superman actors, Brandon Routh and Dean Cain. There are two episodes that should make Lady Dynamite of particular interest to the LGBT community, "Bisexual Because of Meth" (episode 2) and "Mein Ramp" (episode 11).

WARNING: SPOILERS!

The second episode of the series has Maria trying to put her life back together and starting to date again. A friend of hers sets her up with a bisexual recovering meth addict named Shane, and they meet at a bar called "Switch Hitters." Shane tries to set her at ease about the choice of location by suggesting she’s thinking, "I don't want to date a crazy baseball guy." This is only the beginning of the confusion he causes her to experience.

Bisexuality is sometimes used as a punchline or wildly misunderstood in popular culture. When Iceman came out last year, the line "Some people say everyone is [bisexual]" that accompanied the scene was viewed by some as bi-erasure. Lady Dynamite actually encourages deeper thought by leaning into this willful ignorance about bi people. Maria seeks to understand how Shane’s sexuality works and (wrongfully) comes to the conclusion that he was bisexual because of his meth addiction, but is actually straight.

Eventually, it is revealed that Shane has a boyfriend. It turns out he is bisexual, but also a terrible person. (Maria being manipulated by awful people is a throughline for the show.) He thinks being bisexual means he can have a boyfriend and a girlfriend, which also plays into the stereotype of the deceptive, manipulative bi person who just wants to sleep with everyone. Every incorrect assumption popular media presents about bisexuals is expressed hyperbolically in Shane. Gabriel, Shane’s boyfriend, shouts: "That's not what it means, and you know it!" The exact nature of bisexuality is demystified with simple logic through one exclamation.

Gabriel is black and appears in the next episode, "White Trash," which deals more with Maria's concerns that she might be racist than his sexuality. Gabriel's his experiences as a gay black man clearly inform his interactions with Maria, though, as he deflects the overfamiliarity she expresses based on their shared history of briefly dating the same man (when he shows up as her Uber driver and she asks if she should get in the front, he curtly replies: "Hop in the back."). When they run into each other again (at Daryl Gates Memorial Pool, of all places), he has fun with her surprised reactions to seeing him again, accusing her of being racist. This joking plays into her insecurities, and drives her motivations for the rest of the episode, but underlines the guarded stance he feels is necessary.

In "Mein Ramp," flashback scenes to Maria's recovery from a mental breakdown in Duluth involve her concern for her friend Susan’s husband, Paul, who has expressed suicidal thoughts in previous episodes.

Maria thinks the source of his depression is his lack of a creative outlet because he likes to draw, but the truth runs much deeper. After returning from a retreat with Maria’s friend Bear Claw, Paul reveals that he and Bear Claw are in love and are going to move in together to Bear Claw's "adorable cabin in Fond du Lac."

Susan releases an anguished cry that is both emotional and hilarious before delivering this ultimatum to her previously henpecked husband: "Here's how this is gonna go. You're not moving into anybody’s adorable cabin, and if you ever want to see your kids again, you will only see Bear Claw in the summer and we will never speak of this again." It may not be the days in which Brokeback Mountain was set, but this is still a possibility for older gay people who realize the truth about themselves later in life.

The last we see of Paul, he's slumped over in a chair while everyone awkwardly tries to help make sense of the situation. Maria’s mother offers cheese as a cure-all, which may be a Minnesota thing (though, as a Chicago resident, I can attest that people in the Midwest do attach a great deal of significance to cheese).

Lady Dynamite has not been renewed for a second season yet, but I hope we see more of Paul if it is. Likewise, Gabriel could easily return and make the show more diverse and challenging. Whether the main character is dating a bi guy or helping a friend discover his sexuality, the show deals with sexuality unlike anything else on TV. However, I don’t think anyone wants to see more of Shane.

Devin Whitlock's picture
on July 25, 2016

I've enjoyed comics since I was ten years old, but won't reveal how long ago that was. I'm a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago, and can usually be found at a local bar with a book in one hand and a drink in the other. I'm so happy to be contributing to Geeks OUT!