Call yourself bi?

…you’d better be selling something!

Keeley Hawes. Currently gracing our screens alongside Aiden Gillen in Identity. And a fully paid up member of club-bi. How do we know? She told us so.

While promoting Tipping the Velvet in 2002, she enthused to Diva magazine, “…I completely related to [my character]. Well, not completely because I’m not a lesbian. I’m bi.” Ladies across the country, me included, whimpered with glee. Keeley Hawes was one of us!

Except she wasn’t being entirely honest with us. In fact she was downright lying to us. When asked, six years later, to clarify the comment by Radio Times writer Andrew Duncan, Hawes back-pedaled. “Maybe what I meant,” she says, “is that everyone is a little bit bisexual.”

Most of us got over the ‘everyone’s bisexual really’ shtick in high school. But never mind that. What ever possessed Hawes to make such a statement in the first place? Was she riding on the coat-tails of bisexual chic? Or was she shamelessly promoting a queer TV show by reaching out to a queer audience?

Megan Mullally spent eight years playing acerbic socialite Karen Walker in the hugely successful sitcom Will & Grace. In 1999 she claimed in The Advocate, “I consider myself bisexual, and my philosophy is [that] everyone innately is.” Mullally’s definition of bisexuality seems a little… loose, to say the least. When declaiming her view with a 200+ word elucidation in an interview with AfterElton.com, Mullally said, “It can just mean that you don’t have to be afraid to hug, or, like, if you’re a straight woman — quote-unquote — and you have a great girlfriend and you want to hold hands with her … or cuddle, good, do it.” Right. And the sexual attraction element comes into that where exactly? Megan, Megan, Megan. Understand this: holding hands with a woman doesn’t make you queer any more that eating escargot makes you French.
But wait! What show was Mullally promoting when she made her claim to bisexuality? Oh yeah, it was that one about a gay man living with his straight best friend.

Unfortunately, these two ladies are not the only ones jumping on the bi-wagon in pursuit of a bit of publicity. Asked by Genre magazine in 2006 if she was attracted to women, so-so singer Nelly Furtado – she of Promiscuous and I’m Like a Bird fame – answered, “Absolutely. I think women are beautiful and sexy.” Just two weeks later she retracted the statement: “I guess I was humouring the journalist a little.” She went on to tell the entertainment editor of Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald that she was slightly embarrassed by her words, but she really appreciates her gay, lesbian and bisexual fans. Oh, well, that makes it okay then.
Like Tila Tequila, whose reality show A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila, in which both male and female contestants battled for the heart of the glamour model, was cancelled amid rumours that the shows star was not only not single, but not bisexual either, it seems that Furtado was all too willing to claim a sexuality alien to her for a bit of publicity without a thought for the members of the bisexual community who face negative reactions on a near daily basis. I am sad to say that the most common biphobic remark I’ve heard is that bisexuality doesn’t exist. ‘I don’t believe in bisexuality,’ said a woman to me at London Pride 2008. She was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase ‘don’t tell me who I can love’. The irony was lost on her.
Why is this attitude so prevalent? The fact is, I don’t know, but if I had to guess, I’d suggest that the flippancy with which the celebrity world dons and discards sexualities as the mood, or the promotional opportunity, suits it certainly helps. Whether we like it or not, celebrity culture is a huge influence on all our lives. They prescribe our attitudes toward our relationships, our bodies, our clothes. They are role models, and if they declare anything – bisexuality, veganism, a love of the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber, a lot of people will follow suit. But rescinding one’s views on Andrew Lloyd Webber doesn’t have the cultural impact that rescinding one’s bisexuality does. Now, I don’t want anyone to wear a label that they’re not comfortable with, but – and this might be a crazy idea – how about not claiming it in the first place?

Of course, we mustn’t presume that any celebrity claiming bisexuality is seeking column inches at expense of accuracy – Angelina Jolie’s high-profile relationship with Jenny Shimizu and Duncan ‘Blue’ James’ coming out in tabloid newspaper News of the World attest to this. Another celebrity coming out as bi may well be a true statement of identity, but it seems equally likely to be borne of more pecuniary motivations.
As early as 1993 David Bowie renounced his bisexuality, declaring “I was physical about it, but frankly it wasn’t enjoyable at all”. Whether celebrity faux-bisexuality is a product of a desire to shock, a free-lovin’ political statement or a mechanism to keep a name in the papers, it is damaging to our community. It perpetuates the myths that bisexuality doesn’t really exist and that it is engendered purely for the titillation of the voyeur. It’s a sad, sad situation, but for now, it seems, it’s one that we’re stuck with.
Libby