In the short time since its premiere, grown-ish has done nothing if not keep it real. Zoey’s (Yara Shahidi) transition into university and adulthood has not been cookie cutter cute. In just four episodes, she’s betrayed someone, had an identity crisis, and applied for an internship at Teen Vogue. Zoey is experiencing all the good and bad of being a power freshman. She’s popping unprescribed Adderall to get through her days, and her friends are having way more sex than she is because she’s still laser-focused on trying to date one specific boy, Aaron (Trevor Johnson). She’ll learn one day. But all of these storylines have explored the normalcy of the complicated situations we find ourselves in during adolescence, and some of the ones that still linger into adulthood — like messed-up views on bisexuality.
Nomi (Emily Arlook) is one of the friends running laps around Zoey in the sex department. She has been open with her friends about her attraction to women, and has not experienced a lack of them on campus. But one in particular throws her for a loop in episode 4, “Starboy.” Nomi is on a date with a lesbian who has no time for men, even friendly ones that offer her and Nomi drinks at the bar. And when she finds out that Nomi does, she accuses her of going through a “phase” that involves letting men oppress her body. It’s an unfortunate mischaracterisation of bisexuality that many women who identify as such have heard. When women are attracted to both men and women, heteronormativity dictates that their sexual feelings and experiences with women are recreational distractions from more serious endeavours with men. It invalidates the real desires of women and ignores the spectrum of human sexuality. And Nomi doesn’t hesitate to yell after her scorned lover that the B in LGBT needs to be respected. It’s an important moment for sure, and gives Nomi some points on her woke feminist card.
But things change when Nomi starts dating a guy who also identifies as bisexual. She’s clearly uncomfortable with his casual admittance that he’s into men and proudly bisexual, just like her. Suddenly, all of the freedom she wants to explore her sexuality without judgement doesn’t suit her when someone else is on the same wave. Bisexual men have their own set of stigma to contend with. Homophobia is often thought to be the bedfellow of masculinity and men who do not abide by the strict rules of heterosexuality. It’s a problematic way of thinking that has obviously been internalised by both men and women as Nomi, Aaron, and the rest of their friends all seem uncomfortable with the idea of Nomi’s boo getting it on with men.
Episode 4 of grown-ish doesn’t pretend to offer up any perfect characters on the issue, but it does blast the wilful ignorance of those who refuse to believe that human sexuality is fluid. It isn’t binary, and people can fall anywhere on a broad spectrum at any given time in their lives. While the show intentionally refused to offer up a right answer on how Nomi should handle her new boo, it left the door open for some pretty important conversations on the topic. That’s been the magic of grown-ish so far, and the thing it has in common with it’s parent show black-ish: It’s found a way to hilariously “go there” every time.