Let’s Hear It For the Bi
Update: See end of entry.
Quick, name a current bisexual celebrity. You have until the other end of this picture to think of one.
Ba-da, ba-da, ba-da-da-dum. Time’s up. Who did you think of? Was it Megan Fox? Anna Paquin? Angelina Jolie? Ooh, ooh; Lady Gaga? Lindsay Lohan? Was it Drew Barrymore? Pink?
I’m willing to guess that you probably didn’t think of Duncan James, even though that’s his picture you just scrolled past, either because you’ve never heard of him, or because you wouldn’t recognise him even if he was standing right in front of you.
You may have spotted the pattern in all those other names I mentioned, all of whom are self-identified bisexuals. Most famous bisexuals are women. It may in fact be the case that more bisexuals in the general population are women - it’s a common enough assertion that female sexuality is more fluid than male - but even so, male bisexuals do exist, and a good male bisexual is hard to find. In terms of current celebrities, Duncan James is about as famous as it gets.
Sure, there are actors who came out late in life, or who were outed post-mortem - Brando, Clift, Olivier, Dean - and there is a handful of musicians who have sort-of come out as bisexual, but have also sort-of come out as ‘rejecting all labels’ - David Bowie, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mika. It’s easier to come out if your identity hinges on being ‘alternative’, or if you’re, well, dead. Male bisexuals are otherwise fairly invisible, and it’s not hugely difficult to work out why this might be. It’s harder for guys in the public eye. People are generally more accepting of bisexual women.
On the one hand, the idea of women who like boys and girls has huge value in a pop culture dominated by the tastes of straight men. Female bisexuality is titillating, so it’s credible and cool. On the other hand, any guy who comes out as bisexual is usually labelled ‘gay and in denial’, and guys who sleep with both men and women aren’t considered trendy; they’re considered a health risk, and banned from giving blood in otherwise civilised countries.
It’s therefore rather big news that Tom Hardy came out today, especially because of what he came out as.
Hardy is a rising star. He’s not a big name yet, but his role as Eames, the slightly swishy forger in the movie Inception, has already elevated him above his usual world of BBC dramas and low budget British indies. He’s the star of the remake of Mad Max (and let’s face it, that’s pretty well timed given the state of the former Mad Max), and just this week he landed an action/romance role in McG’s forthcoming spy comedy, This Means War, opposite Chris Pine.
Today, Hardy is quoted in the Daily Mail as admitting that he has had sex with men. The matter-of-fact manner of his revelation is extraordinary. When asked if he’s had same-sex experiences, he said; “Of course I have. I’m an actor for fuck’s sake”.
Hardy may have outed most of Hollywood with that admission, but he didn’t exactly come out as bisexual. He came out as someone who used to experiment with same-sex relationships, and he says that these relationships don’t “do it” for him any more. This is perhaps an unprecedented statement for a young, good-looking actor courting leading man roles in Hollywood blockbusters. He just confronted the unsuspecting mainstream multiplex audience with the notion of male sexual fluidity!
It helps that Hardy is quirky, of course. He’s British; he has tattoos; he’s a self-confessed recovering alcoholic and crack addict. He was never going to be Zac Efron. Hardy also has a fiancée, and a son, and an ex-wife - none of which prove straightness, but, taken in concert with his frankness, would seem to indicate that he’s not a gay man in denial. He can’t easily be dismissed.
So, this is kind of a big deal.
It’s not the biggest deal.One day, an actor of the calibre of ’80s-era Tom Cruise will come out as gay, and it will not destroy his career, and that will be the big leap forward - and it may happen ten years from now, or it may happen tomorrow. In the meantime, we’re likely to see incremental steps towards that level of acceptance, and Tom Hardy’s admission is one of those small steps. Tom Hardy can be the action hero, and the sex symbol, and he can unabashedly admit to a little youthful experimentation. Tom Hardy just changed the world a little bit.
Update: Commenter Ásta has pointed out that the interview with Hardy was given last year - a fact that has been omitted in most of the coverage. It’s possible that Hardy wouldn’t give the same interview today, and it will be interesting to see if he distances himself from it while he courts the mainstream.
Beyond that, the full interview adds more detail, but it doesn’t change what we know. Hardy isn’t interested in guys today, but he did experiment in his youth. “To me it just doesn’t compute now; I’m into my 30s and it doesn’t do it for me and I’m done experimenting”. Male sexual fluidity, especially expressed as frankly as this, is perhaps what the bigots fear the most.