Hey, Let's Stop Stigmatising Bisexuality In The Media
It’s about time the media recognise and respect bisexual celebrities.
Amber Heard 2010 Toronto Film Festival
Last month, a high-profile woman appeared in court with bruises on her face, stating that her much higher-profile male partner had committed physical and emotional abuse against her. Naturally, the media was shocked and focused only on the abuse accusations. Well, er, not quite… Because, you see, Amber Heard is bisexual.
“I probably shouldn’t say this,” said Peter Ford on The Morning Show, “but it’s not wise to marry a bisexual.” Hollywood Life told readers that Johnny Depp had “lost all faith that bisexual Amber, who he wed in February last year, would ever be loyal,” because she had “lesbian friends.” The National Enquirer published a series of photos looking back over Depp’s “bisexual bride’s past”... meaning her female friendships and her long-term relationship with ex-girlfriend Tasya van Ree. Over here in the UK, one of our main tabloid papers, The Sun, ran with the crude headline “Bi Bi, Amber.” Nice.
The message here is pretty clear. Bisexuals are not to be trusted, and if Amber got beaten about a bit for having a few queer female friends, then she kinda brought it on herself for making poor little Johnny jealous. I don’t know about you, but I find that utterly terrifying. Regardless of whether or not the accusations of abuse (or cheating) are true, there is no place for flippant biphobic rhetoric in such a serious discussion. It’s interesting to note that nobody seems to be criticising Depp for marrying someone 23 years younger than him. You can bet it would be an issue if their genders were reversed.
Sadly, Heard isn’t the first and won’t be the last to be subject to this kind of biphobic diatribe. When fellow actress Evan Rachel Wood split from her husband Jamie Bell earlier this year, various media outlets reacted in similar fashion, immediately linking her to actress Michelle Rodriguez and accusing the two of having an affair. Wood tweeted the following in response to the Heard witch-hunt: “Amber Heard’s sexuality is only relevant in that bi women are at far greater risk of experiencing intimate partner violence. Bisexuality however is not a reason for violence. It doesn’t mean Heard is somehow immoral or deserving of abuse.” Word.
Of course, rather than simply stigmatise bisexuals as cheats, many journalists prefer instead to just erase bisexuality altogether so that they don’t have to try and get their poor little heads round it at all. Ranker.com sums this attitude up perfectly when it lists Heard and a number of other openly bisexual celebs - including Angelina Jolie, Drew Barrymore, Megan Fox and Margaret Cho – in its “12 Straight Celebrities Who Had Gay Relationships” list. Because, of course, it’s possible to be a Kinsey 0 and still feel the need to have an actual relationship with someone of the same gender. Even if you’ve said in numerous interviews “I AM BISEXUAL” or words to that effect. And let’s remember, the “b-word” is still quite a scary thing to say, precisely because of these attitudes. Many celebs prefer simply to say they “love people” or their sexuality is “fluid” as a way of getting round the word.
Then there are those who believe that people “change” sexuality according to who they’re in a relationship with. Larry King famously said in an interview to True Blood actress Anna Paquin last year, “So you were bisexual?” in reference to her current marriage to a man and previous relationships with women. An unimpressed Paquin responded: “"No… If you were to break up with [someone] or if they were to die, it doesn’t prevent your sexuality from existing. It doesn’t really work like that."
Even “LGBT” media is far from innocent. When X-Files actress Gillian Anderson revealed that her first love was a girl in high school, Queerty gleefully headlined a piece “Gillian Anderson Was A Lesbian Until Graduation.” Anderson spoke to the media about the relationship because her ex-girlfriend had just died of a brain tumour and she felt obliged to honour her memory. She never once mentioned no longer finding women attractive, but as she had been married to two men, the journalist simply assumed. Anderson has since officially come out as bisexual.
Bisexuals are not pre-programmed to cheat simply because we are attracted to more than one gender. We do not “change” sexuality, chameleon-like, according to who we are with. A “fling” in our youth is not automatically “experimentation.” Also, we exist. It’s about time the media caught up with those facts and recognised and respected bisexual celebrities. I worry in particular about younger and/or closeted bisexuals, who are being deprived of these role models because of stigma and erasure. The idea that bisexuality is somehow undesirable, a passing phase or even a big fat myth is no message to be giving them.
Charlotte Dingle is a freelance journalist, fine art tutor and mature (ahem) creative writing master’s degree student. Writes regularly for Cosmo, DIVA and Occupy. Ex-editor of the Stonewall award-winning g3 magazine, for lesbian and bisexual women. Current editor of Biscuit, a Stonewall award-nominated website for bisexual women. Bisexuality and mental health crusader. Hobbies include hanging with a lovely, smelly, weird, 23-year-old cat. Too many tattoos and piercings (well, that's what my mum said).