Claire Harmeyer
Updated March 23, 2020
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Dimitrios Kambouris, Getty Images

The Freeform sitcom grown-ish, now in its third season, is known for shedding light on the realities teenagers face as they head off to adulthood, from the good to the bad to the awkward. But perhaps the show’s most important storyline lies with the character of Nomi Segal, a bisexual college student played by Emily Arlook. In today’s TV landscape, where bisexuality is often glazed over or not portrayed realistically, a young, bisexual female character being a series regular is not something that should be ignored—and the same goes for the actress who plays her.

“The reality is that sexuality is a spectrum,” Arlook tells HelloGiggles. “People are bisexual, so to ignore the truth of humanity and our own reality of sexuality and romantic preferences, or to not have that on television, would be insane to me.”

Over the years, grown-ish fans have come to love Nomi for all of her unapologetic, complex glory. Yet she’s still a rarity just for existing. While gay and lesbian representation in TV and movies has rapidly increased, bisexual characters made up just 26% of the LGBTQ+ characters appearing across all platforms—broadcast, cable, and streaming originals—in 2019, according to GLAAD. Many of the ones who have been featured in recent years have been written as stereotypes, and while characters like Grey’s Anatomy’s Callie Torres and The Good Place’s Eleanor Shellstrop have slightly shifted that narrative, there’s still a major lack of bisexual representation on-screen—despite the fact that people who identify as bisexual represent the largest group in the LBGTQ community.

For Arlook, taking on the role of Nomi was a no-brainer, due in part to this injustice. “What kind of world are we even living in if the truth isn’t being portrayed in the media?” she asks.

Although bisexuality may be ill-represented on-screen, there’s no denying that college campuses are home to many students who identify as gay, straight, lesbian, and bisexual+, as grown-ish highlights. And along with giving a voice to the LGBTQ+ community, the character of Nomi also casts a spotlight on another common yet rarely-depicted group: Pregnant students.

Prior to the third season of grown-ish, the show teased that an unnamed character was pregnant, but Arlook recalls hardly any fans guessing it’d be Nomi when discussing the show online. “The reasoning was because she’s bisexual,” she says now. “That was so interesting and confusing to me that that would be a reason to exempt her from being the pregnant person.”

In grown-ish‘s new episodes, Nomi grapples with whether or not she’ll keep the baby or give it up for adoption, a decision many college students wrestle with today.

“I think adding another face to what motherhood looks like—in this case, being a young woman who is bisexual—is really important for our culture,” Arlook says.

Portraying these real, important issues is what makes grown-ish so appealing to its devoted audience—including Michelle Obama. In a recent interview with Oprah, Obama (who Arlook calls “the queen”) revealed that grown-ish is one of her favorite shows, much to the actress’s delight. “That was one of my top moments that I’ll carry with me my whole life,” the 29-year-old says. “I could quit now and it would all be okay.”

All jokes aside, Arlook is nowhere near “quitting”—if anything, she’s quickly on the rise. In addition to grown-ish, she appears in Big Time Adolescence, a coming-of-age comedy co-starring Pete Davidson that premiered on Hulu March 13th. Although the film mainly focuses on two male characters’ storylines, Arlook says she’s excited for audiences to see two powerful young women—namely her character, college student Kate, and Oona Lawrence’s character, high schooler Sophie—stand up for themselves on multiple occasions.

“It can take time for anyone—a woman, or any human, for that matter—to learn how to have self-love and boundaries with the people around them,” Arlook says. “The amazing thing about this movie is that the women are so young and already demonstrating those types of boundaries and self-love.”

Throughout her personal journey with self-love, the actress says she’s learned the importance of advocating for herself. “Sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the oil, and it’s okay to speak up and voice your opinions,” she explains.

Arlook had to demonstrate that mindset behind the scenes on Big Time Adolescence when it came to shooting a post-sex scene moment alongside Davidson. “I was going to be in a bra, and he was in a shirt,” she recalls. “We were both kind of wanting to be on the same playing field in terms of how covered up we were. Pete really took a stand to be in solidarity with me, and to make sure that by the time the sun came up, we could get his tattoos covered up [so he could be shirtless, too.] He really made sure I was comfortable in that moment, and in any scene we were shooting.”

Arlook’s determined attitude has led her to the powerful female roles she’s taken on so far and hopes to continue portraying. But above all, she remains confident in who she is simply as a human being. “For me, acting is something I love so much, but it also doesn’t define me as a person,” Arlook says. “I’m enough on my own.”