Having It Both Ways

Michael Szymanski is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer

More than three dozen movies are coming out this year with bisexual themes--a reflection, filmmakers say, of a growing trend among young people to refuse to define their sexuality.

Most of these are independent films, although bisexuality has emerged in studio films such as “The Fifth Element,” “Nothing to Lose” and “Batman & Robin,” in which Chris O’Donnell’s Robin is as obsessed with Batman as he is with Batgirl.

In upcoming films, teenager Christina Ricci stars in “The Opposite of Sex,” in which she goes on a road trip with her gay brother and starts a relationship with his boyfriend. The recently completed “The Object of My Affection” has “Friends” star Jennifer Aniston falling in love with her roommate, who thinks he’s attracted only to men.

“Young people today don’t want labels for their sexuality. Who needs it?” says director Gregg Araki, whose latest film, “Nowhere,” has most of his characters chasing both men and women. (Araki has shed his reluctant label as icon of Queer Cinema, an avant-garde school of gay, hip underground filmmakers, and now dates actress Kathleen Robertson, who appears on “Beverly Hills, 90210" and plays a bisexual in “Nowhere.”)


“You’re going to see this more and more in movies from now on,” says Araki, who examined bisexuality in his first film, “Three Bewildered People in the Night,” in 1986. “That’s what’s happening out in the real world, whether people want to recognize it or not.”

The theme recurs in recent movies such as “All Over Me,” about two teen girls exploring sexuality with guys and each other; “Hollow Reed,” about a bisexual father in love with a man trying to get custody of his son; and “Different for Girls” is about a heterosexual man who falls for his childhood buddy who is now a woman.

Bisexuality also crops up in “Love and Other Catastrophes,” “Daytrippers,” “johns,” “Slaves to the Underground,” “Kama Sutra” and “Waiting for Guffman.”

Keanu Reeves co-stars as the close friend to bisexual Beat writer Neal Cassady, played by Thomas Jane, in the just-released “The Last Time I Committed Suicide.” Reeves, 32, points out that many of his past roles--in films such as “My Own Private Idaho” and “Bram Stoker’s Dracula"--mirror the bisexual trend growing among youth today.


“I have no idea if I have any connection to youth,” Reeves says. “But I’ve been in plenty of roles with androgyny and bisexuality. Kids like my sister and her friends are talking about [it]. It’s happening, different strokes for different folks.”

Such screen portrayals are long overdue, says Elaine Holliman, who just directed a bisexual documentary, “Gone Straight . . . to Hell,” and moderated a panel on bisexuality in film at Los Angeles’ gay and lesbian film festival, Outfest ’97.

“My experience is that the queer community doesn’t see it as an existent sexuality and it’s either exaggerated or ignored,” says Holliman, who came out as bisexual last year after accolades for her lesbian film “Chicks in White Satin.” “The problem is that many people come out to me as bi privately, but don’t do it publicly.”

Actress Joey Lauren Adams (“Dazed and Confused”) says the indie success “Chasing Amy” is about herself and her friends. She plays a lesbian who falls in love with a New Jersey dude struggling with his own attraction to his best buddy.


Adams, who is in her early 20s, says: “I’m bisexual, and I realized that when I visited Bali, where the culture is very bisexual. I have a lot of friends who are [that way], in fact, most.”

Her boyfriend is the film’s director, Kevin Smith, who didn’t use the “B-word” to avoid alienating audiences. “I simply didn’t think we needed to use the word,” says Smith, who called the film a personal catharsis. “The question did occur to me, why am I not attracted to men? I mean, so many of my friends are, but they aren’t gay. I explored these possibilities in the film.”

In a book published last month, “Bisexual Characters in Film, From Anais to Zee,” Boston author Wayne Bryant details how many movies depict bisexual characters without ever using the term.

A keynote speaker at a Bisexual Conference in Hollywood’s Gay and Lesbian Center this Saturday, Bryant says independent films such as “All Over Me” and “Nowhere” reflect a cross-blending of sexuality, and as youths identify with those characters, similar themes will find their way into more mainstream films.


“Kids don’t see characters on the screen they identify with, and now they may,” Bryant says of the current films.

It’s not just young people, either. “Late Bloomers,” an independent film that opened Friday, delves into the love of two middle-aged women who are shocked about their attraction toward each other.

In his “Rose by Any Other Name,” due in October, New Jersey filmmaker Kyle Schickner stars as a straight man baffled by the idea of dating a lesbian.

“There’s a blurring of straight and gay among youth today,” says Schickner, who started the nation’s first collegiate bisexual group at Rutgers University. “Like in ‘Rose,’ young people are finding that their lives are not fitting into categories.


“It’s cowardice that filmmakers don’t use the B-word, and it’s because they’re afraid of cutting out even more viewers, so they purposely keep it vague,” adds Schickner, who used the word. “There is a lot of bi-phobia.”

“It’s a radical thing that the youth movement doesn’t want to identify as gay or straight; I think it’s beautiful,” says Schickner, 28, married to a woman for 10 years. “Changing attitudes always starts with young people.”

Says “Nowhere” star Rachel True, “It’s not just youth, it’s everybody. Lines and rules and order are all breaking down. I am not this or that, I am just sexual.”

Her co-star Nathan Bexton, 21, who plays the poly-seductive green-and-blue-eyed Montgomery, says, “It does reflect my friends and what we’re all going through. We’re less confused because we don’t have labels.”


In the film, Bexton ends up in bed with James Duvall, who appeared in the mainstream mega-hit “Independence Day.” In “Nowhere,” Duvall fantasizes about a girl, and then a guy.

“I feel like we’re reaching a time,” he says, “where it’s OK to just be who you are, and that’s it.”