Bisexual in Hollywood: OK for Girls, Not Guys

While the industry welcomes bisexual starlets, bi men are all but unmarketable.

June 5, 2008 — -- There are lots of things Hollywood actors do to differentiate themselves. They color their hair, they take up causes, they develop drug problems.

Could coming out as bisexual also be considered a career move?

Ever since the paparazzi captured them possibly kissing in Cannes, tabloids and blogs have been buzzing about whether or not Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson are more than just friends.

At the MTV Movie Awards this week, bisexual reality TV star Tila Tequila jumped into the fray, telling Us magazine that the two should be open about their relationship and, "just go all out with it! ... If you're going to do something, do it all out."

Lohan's reps have yet to address the rumors. But the speculation has taken attention away from Lohan's less-than-stellar movie streak, substance abuse issues and fame-hungry mother, suggesting that if she were to come out as bisexual, it wouldn't be a big deal and could even be a boon for her career.

Female stars, including Angelina Jolie and Drew Barrymore, have revealed past relationships with women and haven't seen their careers hurt in the least because of it. But among male actors, owning up to experimentation is all but verboten. Why the double standard?

"I'm not sure what that's based on anymore, other than the idea that leading men have to be virile and masculine in order for them to be viable for big roles," said Corey Scholibo, arts and entertainment editor of The Advocate. "For women, it seems that women and, of course, men will still accept them if they admit to experimentation in the past."

Indeed, many in the industry and the audience find it titillating when a starlet (the better-looking, the better) says she's fooled around with the same sex, even if it was just for the cameras. Denise Richards rocketed to fame after making out with Neve Campbell in "Wild Things." Scarlett Johansson's sex scene with Penelope Cruz in Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" served as the major marketing point of that movie.

When an actress reveals a real-life romantic relationship with a woman, tongues wag even more, but usually not to the detriment of her career.

In 2003, Jolie, who dated actress/model Jenny Shimizu in the 90s, told "20/20," "If I fell in love with a woman tomorrow, would I, you know, feel that it's OK and it's right to want to kiss her and touch her if I fell in love with her in that way? Yeah."

That year, Jolie banked $12 million for her role in "Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life." Two years later, she made $20 million for starring in "Mr. & Mrs. Smith."

But the fact that actresses seem able to reveal bisexuality without negative repercussions may not point to acceptance as much as society's desire to see them, first and foremost, as sex objects.

"It's great that women have more flexibility to experience those relationships without being penalized, but I think it's because women are taken less seriously in general," said Jennifer Baumgardner, author of "Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics." "It's like, 'So what if they were fooling around?' When two men who were thought to be straight have sex, it's perceived as more serious."

Maybe that's why so few men in Hollywood are willing to talk about experimenting with other guys. Alan Cumming is the only major actor to call himself bisexual, but with his scrawny stature and preference for theater and indie flicks, he was classified as eccentric long before talking about his sexuality.

While E! online gossip columnist Ted Casablanca claims male actors "absolutely" fool around with the same sex as much as their female counterparts, he doubts he'll see a day when a hunky, A-list, alpha-male -- a Jake Gyllenhaal (who made waves when he starred as a gay cowboy in "Brokeback Mountain") or a Chace Crawford (the "Gossip Girl" pretty boy rumored to be gay) -- talks about it publicly.

"The public just doesn't know about it. It's still Hollywood's biggest, dirtiest secret -- absolutely always will be," Casablanca said. "The business is built on fantasy. If Joe is talking about how he likes to go around with Kenny, it doesn't work. But if Jenny wants to talk about getting it on with Katie, it sells tickets."

Casting directors and network executives contacted for this story were reluctant to talk about how the employability of actors, male and female, changes when they reveal they don't conform to the heterosexual norm. But while the bulk of bisexual Hollywood may still be in the closet, many gay actors have come out in recent years and haven't hurt their careers because of it.

"We've had a spate of them recently: David Hyde Pierce, Lance Bass; Neil Patrick Harris came out and still has his role as a womanizing man on 'How I Met Your Mother,'" Scholibo said. "Anytime someone comes out and says, 'I'm going to keep doing what I'm going to do,' it opens up the door for the public to accept a new kind of gayness which encompasses every kind of representation. But whether they owe it to us, I don't know."

In Lohan's case, revealing a relationship with a woman probably wouldn't affect her career one way or another. She's made so many headlines over the past year and a half that coming out as bisexual would just be another drop in the bucket.

"Lindsay, she's a professional celebrity to a degree. Her last few movies haven't done so well; she's become an insurance problem. I'm not sure if we could judge her career's success or failure by this," Scholibo said. "There's a lot of speculation about Ellen Page right now. If she came out, that would be drastically different. If Scarlett Johansson came out, that would also be drastically different. But I don't think Lindsay can be an example of anything."

And as for Tequlia, who some speculate flaunts her bisexuality only because it bought her reality TV stardom and probably knows Lohan and Ronson as well as you and I:

"She should just focus on her reality show," said publicist Lizzie Grubman. "If this is her only way to get press, then it's pathetic."

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