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Not that anyone is asking, but I am pretty much what you would call a red-blooded heterosexual. Which is to say that pretty early on, I got into my groove and stuck with it. I don’t freak out when I read a scientific study that suggests that we’re all born bisexual, or reiterating the pretty much proven point that everyone starts off life in some form of polymorphous state. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
In terms of identity politics, and especially the identity of our politicians, historical figures and other famous bisexuals, has become an important factor in presidential races and prime time sitcoms. Bisexuality is kind of the final frontier of the sexual movement. The overwhelming majority of working politicians (and no-longer-working politicians—how you living, Anthony Weiner?) proclaim their hate creed with cheesy pictures of the family. The ranks of gay politicos are growing. They’re out and they’re proud, but they’ve tended to look like single-issue types. Which is fine and appropriate for now. But as the country and the culture move in more socially progressive ways I think—I actually hope—we start seeing more politicians and public figures that aren’t shy about swinging both ways. As it turns out, there’s a good amount of historical precedent backing the bisexual way.
Alexander the Great
Historical novelist Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy was the book-of-the-month that scandalized all of our moms. The first-person narrative of a fellow who, among other things, was the boy-toy of Alexander The Great. A couple of decades later, Oliver Stone made a loony biopic of the world-conqueror, chronicling sexual exploits with a fey Jared Leto and a feral Rosario Dawson. Clearly this was a guy who got around in every sense of the word, and was a real innovative problem-solver to book—remember how he handled that whole Gordian Knot thing.
The Emperor Hadrian
Emperor Hadrian doesn’t have many movies dedicated to him, but it was his love of Grecian culture that led to the rebuilding of the Parthenon, and of the Greek architectural accents still visible in Italian culture today. He extended his love of the Greeks to the love of a Greek—one of his male lovers was Antinous, who was elevated to a deity after his death.
The father of modern American poetry sang the body electric… and also the body eclectic. The bearded bard of Camden (who would fill that title today, I wonder) is viewed as a gay icon today, but his biographers aren’t even sure whether he had any actual sexual experiences with men. Some of his best-known verse, “When I Heard At The Close Of The Day,” celebrates a male bonding that goes beyond friendship. In any event, he may well be the first gay American to have a bridge, not to mention a New Jersey Turnpike rest stop, named after him.
The somewhat effete, definitely depressive, and dazzlingly brilliant British writer, Virgina Woolf, married and man and dallied with ladies, and wound up writing the bisexual tract for the early 20th century: the baroque novel Orlando, in which its hero/heroine switches genders fluidly over the course of a lifetime. This was at least 50 years before Lou Reed’s Transformer, so that really is what you call groundbreaking.
She would hate to be called this, but Nin was the grandmother of modern erotic fiction, whether in her hot and famous-name-laden diaries or her frankly pretentious novels like A Spy In The House of Love. A legendary beauty in her 1920s day, she opened gruff American writer Henry Miller’s mind while diddling Miller’s wife June, as depicted in the movie creatively titled Henry and June.
Just look at Marlon Brando’s vulnerability as the torn-apart Terry Malloy in the great On The Waterfront and you recognize a guy in touch with his feminine side. And while he fathered 11 children over the course of his lifetime, the complex man was not too hung up about admitting he had a full-bodied sex life. In the biography The Only Contender he’s quoted as saying “Like a large number of men, I, too, have had homosexual experiences, and I am not ashamed.” Spoken like a true champ. Although if Vito Corleone had said that, he’d have been driven out of the five families pretty fast.
The great composer and conductor had a wild charisma that helped make classical music accessible to the masses in the years after World War II. His highly demonstrative conducting style made highbrow music seem less fussy. He was as wild in life as with a baton, and described himself as “half-man, half-woman.” In a more enlightened society he could well have functioned as a practicing bisexual, but his pre-Stonewall milieu required him to take on the guise of a closeted gay man whose straight domestic life was a front. The reality, as always, was a lot different.
The author of The Color Purple laid bare the oppression of African-Americans in her fiction, while also exploring complexities of sexuality endemic to both African-American and human experience. Her own life has certainly been fraught; She has an openly bisexual daughter from whom she’s estranged, and Walker’s affair with the singer Tracy Chapman was fodder for catty gossip.
In his autobiography, Miles Davis, who, were he alive to day would have you know that he was not bisexual, said of Clive, with whom he worked when the white Davis was president of Columbia Records, “we got along well because he thought like an artist.” Latter-day followers of Clive who watched his hit-making machinations for Whitney Huston or Kelly Clarkson might find that assertion hard to believe, but as Clive’s storied and long career attests, he’s a man of many parts. And that included bisexuality, which he revealed in his book The Soundtrack of My Life. Clive’s coming out didn’t surprise many music-industry insiders. Nor did the revelation of his friendship with Lou Reed—Long Island Jewish boys have to stick together. It was significant for the culture at large. It’s rare for a business executive, even one in a branch of the creative arts, to identify as bisexual. David Geffen is a whole other case.
According to sex columnist Gennifer Flowers, a source very close to her, Clinton is and ever has been a bisexual. There have been rumors, some benign, some ugly, swirling around Hillary Clinton since the very beginning of her political career. As to whether she’ll ever choose to address them publicly, we’ll have to wait and see. Some say we’ve already had a gay president, one Abraham Lincoln. But what that meant in the 19th century is a very different thing from what it will, or might, mean in the 21st, and particularly if that president is also a woman.