Over the past two weeks, HuffPost UK has been celebrating the broad range of LGBT culture in the world of British entertainment as part of our Loud & Proud series. However, while we’ve discussed the great strides in how gay, lesbian and trans people are represented in the media, it’s very apparent there’s one section of the community who are still pretty much invisible in showbiz - bisexual men.
A quick straw poll around our office had us really scratching our heads trying to think of openly bi males in the entertainment industry, or current on-screen representations of them. ‘Made In Chelsea’ star Ollie Locke was the only name that instantly sprang to mind, while one member of the team also remembered ‘EastEnders’ featured bi character Danny Pennant - played by Gary Lucy - a few years back. That was it.
So why is there a lack of bi men in the spotlight?
Wayne Dhesi, founder of LGBT charity RUComingOut, believes it is due to the wider perceptions of bisexuality in society. “It’s not specific to the showbiz world,” he tells us. “A lot of it is about how we perceive the world. If we see a guy with a girl, we perceive them as straight. If you see a guy with a guy, we see them as gay. Unless that person tells you otherwise, you don’t know they’re bisexual, it’s easier to think they’re gay.” This confusion of what bisexuality is, is something that Metro Showbiz Editor and Guilty Pleasures columnist, Andrei Harmsworth, agrees with. “From a straight perspective there is a tendency to view bi and gay in the same way because straight people probably don't spend huge amounts of time evaluating gay life,” he says. “They likely just hear a guy has slept with another guy and that gets put in the gay bin.”
But it is not just the straight community that have preconceived notions of bisexuality. “From inside the LGBT community, there is a tendency for gay people to be sceptical about bi people,” Andrei says. “Often bi people are scoffed at like they haven't fully accepted being gay.” This expectation that bisexuals are still dealing with internal shame and will later come out at gay, is how jokes such as “bi now, gay later” have become part of the discourse associated with bisexuals among the LGBT community. And while Wayne explains there are often instances where people borrow the term ‘bisexual’ as a stepping stone on their journey of discovering their sexuality, he admits it can have an adverse effect. “That doesn’t do the bi community any favours if they are the only stories you hear about bi people,” he explains. “If they’re the only times people are hearing about being bi, then obviously society is going to think that’s what it is.”
Wayne thinks this is to do with the lack of bi stories that are told on screen. He says: “The fact that some people don’t think it’s an actual thing people identify as is ridiculous. But you can see why, because you don’t see many bi characters in TV programmes or films, so what are we supposed to think unless we meet bi people in everyday life and get to hear their stories and experiences?”
While TV soaps have led the way telling certain LGBT stories and casting openly gay actors, homophobia is still a widespread problem in Hollywood. Andrei believes this is the reason why we rarely see films about bisexual characters, or openly bi actors cast in straight roles.
“As we know there are almost no openly gay men in leading straight roles which underlines filmmaker’s uneasiness with gay stars,” he says. “Hollywood kind of operates from that straight perspective, that any actor who has slept with a man must be gay. For actors there is a risk of them being typecast forever more of only getting gay roles. This is mainly down to an antiquated school of thought that men want to be film stars and women want to sleep with them. Therefore, directors seem paranoid that there will always be too much association with an actor's real personal life for them to be believable on screen, which of course is nonsense.”
However, in recent months, we have seen Hollywood stars Sacha Baron Cohen and James Franco claim to be a “bit gay”. The latter is about to star as a gay porn producer in ‘King Cobra’ - a film about the murder of a gay porn baron - and he addressed theories about his own sexuality in a recent interview, admitting to being a “gay cock tease”. He told New York Magazine: "There is a bit of over-focusing on my sexuality... and so the first question is, why do they care? Well, because I'm a celebrity, so I guess they care who I'm having sex with. But if your definition of gay and straight is who I sleep with, then I guess you could say I'm a gay cock tease.” He continued: “It's where my allegiance lies, where my sensibilities lie, how I define myself. Yeah, I'm a little gay, and there's a gay James."
But while this could be seen as a progressive step, Andrei suggests it could be damaging to our understanding of male sexuality. “I think straight stars who make jokes or mock speculation about their sexuality and play the fop like James Franco or David Walliams whilst funny are ultimately unhelpful,” he explains. “You could argue they are bringing the notion of sexual fluidity to the masses, the flip side is it risks perpetuating the idea that being gay or bi is all just a joke. It suggests if there is some truth to their actions, they are so unnecessarily uneasy with it and they need to turn it into the ridiculous for people to consume or process it.”
James may have neither confirmed or denied reports about his sexuality, but his refusal to define it is in line with a current movement away from traditional LGBT labels. When Tom Daley came out in 2013, he revealed he was in a relationship with a man, but was still attracted to women. Likewise, when George Shelley opened up about his sexuality in a candid YouTube video earlier this year, admitting he’d had boyfriends and girlfriends, he was also careful not to label himself as bisexual. “I’ve been reading a lot of speculation online as to whether I’m gay or straight or bi, and it’s all these labels and it’s a little bit old fashioned,” he said at the time. “That’s why I’m not going to label it myself because it’s not something I feel I can label.”
RuComingOut’s Wayne Dhesi believes this shunning of labels is particularly prevalent when someone is attracted to both genders, as it paints them as being in the centre of the spectrum of sexuality, when actually they may consider themselves to lean more to one side or another. “It’s quite a binary term,” he says. “To say you identify as bi, is being bang in the middle - you can understand why people would say, ‘that’s not me.’ Did George not use the term bi because bi men are ostracised and singled out by the gay community and the straight community? Or it may be because he doesn’t feel it represents him, and is still on his journey discovering who he is.”
Despite George not labelling his sexuality, many media outlets were quick to state he was bisexual when they reported on the news. It could be argued this lack of understanding makes it harder for celebrity men to come out as fluid or bisexual, compared to those who are gay - something which Wayne seems to believe.
“Labels make the press’s job easier,” he explains. “To say someone is gay, or has had a lesbian affair is very easy. It’s a lot harder to write a gossip piece when you’re having to first of all educate yourself about what a binary gender is.” However, he does not perceive any such actions as active biphobia. “It’s laziness, and not willing to educate yourself on the massive spectrum of gender and sexuality is all about - that’s not what sells tabloid newspapers,” he continues. “But while it isn’t conscious, that doesn’t mean it is any less harmful.”
PR expert Denise Palmer-Davies, who is a director of Borne Media PR and Management, also claims the media can sometimes be cynical of bisexuals, believing how they define their sexuality has been managed so not to damage their careers. “The media are harder on those that come out as bi,” she says. “It’s often assumed to be a commercial decision – a cover for being gay. They seem to have a suspicion that they are playing a cynical game in order to capture both gay and straight markets.” This was certainly true when Tom Daley told fans he still fancied women, despite being in a relationship with Dustin Lance Black. Many claimed it was simply a way of ensuring he didn’t lose the affections of his army of lucrative female fans, having established himself as a pin-up for teenage girls, as well as making sure he kept a big-money endorsement deal with sports brand Adidas.
The treatment and invisibility of bisexual and fluid men in the media is also in stark contrast with their female counterparts. There are many more openly experimental famous women, with the likes of Miley Cyrus, Cara Delevingne, Kristen Stewart, Lily Rose Depp, Mel B, Lindsay Lohan and Jess Glynne all admitting to having had relationships or sexual experiences with both genders. Sexism plays a key part in when we try to understand why this might be, with lesbianism having become highly festishised in our patriarchal society. Metro Showbiz Editor Andrei explains: “It could be argued that lesbian and bi women face less hostility from the straight male arena as they form a sexual fantasy and that is welcomed by straight men. It's viewed as hot, fearless - that their sexuality is fluid, that they are not really gay and that they might be straight again one day.” Citing Lindsay Lohan as an example, he continues: “I don't think people think of her as gay, bi or straight - just as sexual and wild, which has its own allure.”
Wayne argues that men are not encouraged to experiment in the same way. “When you look at what society tells us is right, the idea of what a lesbian is, is very different to what a gay man is,” he says. “I don’t necessarily think that male gayness is [fetishised] to the same extent really. The idea of being on the spectrum of sexuality, society welcomes women more to do that than men.”
So what has to change in the showbiz world in order for us to have more bisexual male role models? TV has a big role to play in this, having led the way on many other LGBT issues. Reality shows such as ‘Big Brother’ and ‘The X Factor’ have opened our eyes to many different people from different walks of life, and allowed us to get to know the everyday people behind the labels. Featuring more bisexual contestants would be a huge leap forward in educating mass audiences. Likewise, soaps have a long history in being progressive in the LGBT movement. Introducing bi characters who aren’t defined by their sexuality, and telling real, honest stories about them would also do wonders in helping break down preconceptions. Then, once we have helped generate understanding and informed opinions on the topic of male bisexuality, maybe more stars will be brave enough to speak publicly about their experiences.
HuffPost UK is turning Loud & Proud. Over the next fortnight, we’ll be is celebrating how gay culture has influenced and, in turn, been embraced by all fields of entertainment, inspiring cinema-goers, TV audiences, music-lovers and wider society with its wit, creativity and power of expression.
Through features, video and blogs, we’ll be championing those brave pioneers who paved the way, exploring the broad range of gay culture in British film, TV and music and asking - what is left to be done? If you’d like to blog on our platform around these topics, please firstname.lastname@example.org with a summary of who you are and what you’d like to blog about.
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