Sexualized Saturdays: The Elusive, Mysterious Bisexual Male

Geek culture likes to consider itself pretty progressive. In general that’s a fair assessment: people who feel different or ostracized tend to sympathize with each other, and in this regard geeks and marginalized groups have something in common. In spite of this, however, problems and prejudices that exist in society on the whole do tend to endure in some form even amongst geeks, and biphobia is one such problem.

Biphobia is a constant struggle for bisexual people of any gender in ways that are superficially different, but which stem from one underlying idea: society’s obsession with wieners. Let me explain. In popular opinion, women who are bisexual are assumed to be straight and using their sexuality as a performance to gain male attention. Men who are bisexual are assumed to be gay but afraid to properly come out of the closet. Either way, the presumed be-all end-all is thirst for the mighty D, and geek culture is often guilty of this assumption as well.

While female bisexuality and the prejudices that cling to it are certainly no less significant and deserve no less attention than male bisexuality, it is rather curious that transformative fandom in particular has not been more supportive of male bisexuality. As no shortage of articles have pointed out, transformative fandom is obsessed with male homosexuality, in a way far disproportionate to female homosexuality. Unfortunately, however, the assumption that men who sleep with men were secretly gay all along seems nearly as pervasive in fandom as it is everywhere else. Fanfiction is especially notorious for sweeping a male character’s canonical female love interest out of the way as quickly and thoroughly as possible and never bringing up attraction to females again once the boner train gets rolling.

You can only like one set of genitals at a time, otherwise it's unfair to everyone else.

You can only like one set of genitals at a time, otherwise it’s unfair to everyone else. (x)

This was a common feature of the MCU Thor/Loki ship community for the period I was involved with it. I don’t recall ever reading a fanfiction that posited that Thor could possibly be attracted to both Jane and Loki; Jane was written off as a momentary aberration in Thor’s otherwise pervasive obsession with Loki. This is not to say that male bisexuality never appears in transformative fandom: it has come into vogue lately to insist that Steve Rogers is bisexual, but the cynic in me doubts that this idea ever would have caught on if Peggy Carter, Steve’s female love interest, had not managed to drum up such roaring approval in the fandom. Steve gets to be bisexual, it seems, because of a collective judgment made about a female character and her worthiness, otherwise he’d likely be dumped into the writhing pile of fanon gays with everyone else.

So why is there such a shortage of bisexual men in fandom? Surely a simple acknowledgement that a male character is attracted to more than one gender wouldn’t put a damper on all that dude porn. If anything, it’d be yet another good source of angst for someone to ruminate on between bouts of dude porn. I think it is very possible that – even in this most progressive of eras, in this most progressive of genres – people see so few bisexual men in media that they literally forget such a thing exists, or have seen bisexuality in general represented so poorly that the notion of bisexuality seems distasteful in light of the presumptions and stereotypes that come with it.

Bisexual representation in media itself is also woefully under par, and where female bisexuality tends to be portrayed in stereotypical, exploitative, or otherwise problematic ways, male bisexuality is hardly represented at all. Whether that is better or worse in the grand scheme of things is another argument for another time, but neither is acceptable, and both methods feed existing biphobia, inside and outside the geek community. Female bisexuality is allowed to exist (in a limited capacity) in popular media because the fetishization of female/female relationships still appeals to the straight male gaze, but female bisexuals tend to be constructed as aggressive, sex-obsessed, unfaithful, and capricious. Male bisexuality, however, doesn’t fit into the paradigm of the straight male gaze, and so it is usually simply erased. The DC Comics character John Constantine, for example, has been adapted into both a movie and a (now cancelled) television series, and although he is clearly and explicitly bisexual in the comics, this aspect of his character has been left out of both of his more widely accessible media appearances.

Ain't nobody complaining. (x)

Ain’t nobody complaining. (x)

One medium where bisexual men are allowed to exist comparatively often is roleplaying video games, because in that context, the player can choose to involve themselves in same-sex relationships or avoid them entirely, which gives a cushion to avoid alienating any but the most extreme category of bigots. Some RPGs like Skyrim sort of evade the issue by giving the NPCs no sexual preference at all, so any character can romance them regardless of gender. This is a bit of a cop-out in my opinion, since it makes the NPCs blank canvasses onto which the player can project any sexuality they want, and that doesn’t really count as representation to me. Bioware games are much better than average at including three-dimensional, deliberate bisexual men in their romanceable character options, and giving the characters set preferences and stories that often include their sexuality. Notably, the existence of quality bisexuals in Dragon Age does seem to have an impact on the fandom, in my experience. Dorian/Iron Bull is a canon romance and one of the most popular ships in the fandom, but Iron Bull is canonically bisexual and there are, in fact, quite a number of fics where he sleeps with women or enthusiastically discusses his attraction to women, even if his primary love interest in the fic is Dorian. Although he doesn’t have a canonical female love interest in the game, the mere fact that his bisexuality is acknowledged does seem to have a direct, positive impact on his fandom representation.

Fandom, of course, is not representative of society on the whole, but if good representation of bisexual men creates a more positive opinion of bisexuality within the microcosm of fandom, there is no reason to think that more widespread representation will not have a more widespread effect, even if society on the whole is a bit slower to change than fandom. The stumbling block remains, however, that mainstream media still caters far too specifically to the straight male gaze. Being that male bisexuality does nothing in particular to serve that demographic, we may be stuck in an endless feedback loop of bad representation leading to lack of fandom leading to lackluster demand for better representation.

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5 thoughts on “Sexualized Saturdays: The Elusive, Mysterious Bisexual Male

  1. Three words: Captain Jack Harkness.

    (Then again, is omnisexuality different from bisexuality? Not to mention Jack is usually paired with dudes, so he’s coded more as gay, maybe?)

  2. As someone who writes m/m slash (along with f/f and poly), I actually started purposefully writing many of my male characters as bi for this very reason. Not only does it allow me to increase bivisibility in fanfic, but also narratively allows me to fold previous relationships into the character’s history in nuanced ways. You don’t have to make the previous (often hetero) canon relationship a failure because orientation! Instead, you can work out real human ways for the relationship to have failed or for them to have parted amicably. In some ways, contemporary canon is ripe for bi narratives in fic precisely because queer characters are so few and far between. If you make a character bisexual in fic, s/he can incorporate that canon history and still spin off into queer fan stories.

    As a bi woman it’s really important to me not to have my characters disavow those past relationships as invalid and also to make the point that those past relationships don’t somehow make suspect the current relationship. I think fan writers can help work against the stereotypes of bisexuality by just making it an uneventful part of the person’s identity — “Gosh I haven’t fallen for a man in awhile, but here’s this person I’m interested in.” “I was with my husband for forty years, but now here is this woman I love.”

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