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Bisexual chic is a phrase used to describe the public acknowledgment of bisexuality or increased public interest or acceptance of bisexuality. Another usage describes a faddish attention towards bisexuality. Bisexual chic is often accompanied by celebrities publicly revealing their bisexuality.
Origin of term
In the United States, the 1920s was a decade of social experimentation, particularly with sex. This was heavily influenced by the writings of Sigmund Freud, who theorized that people would behave in any manner to satisfy sexual desire. With the well-publicized image that sexual acts were a part of lesbian women and relationships, sexual experimentation was widespread. Large cities that provided a nightlife were immensely popular, and women began to seek out sexual adventure. Bisexuality became chic, particularly in America's first gay neighborhoods.
The phrase itself came into wide usage in the 1970s, on the tail end of the hippie movement, which extolled free love. This era ushered in the emergence of glam rock, and British artists like Elton John and David Bowie. In 1980, Time magazine referred to Bowie's persona Ziggy Stardust as "the orange-haired founder of bisexual chic." A media-generated “wave” took place, focusing “on "bisexual chic" in the club scene, and among celebrities such as Bowie, Elton John and Patti Smith.” At the same time, bisexual groups formed in several large US cities, heralding the birth of the modern bisexual civil rights and liberation movements.
The phrase can be used to imply someone is only pretending to be bisexual because it’s fashionable at the moment. Alternatively, it can be used to assert that someone is free of taboos, experimental, in touch with both masculine and feminine aspects of themselves, and therefore potentially a better lover or even a better person.
Though the terminology is attributed to the 1970s, a bisexual trend occurred in the 1920s. In Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life, Marjorie Garber argues "the twenties has been linked to the popularization of Freud (or "Freudianism"), the advent of World War I, and a general predilection for the daring and unconventional: bobbed hair, short skirts, the rejection of Prohibition and Victorian strictures." Examples of this include drag balls, and the success of artists such as Ernest Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, and Marlene Dietrich. Looking back from the 70s, writer Elaine Showalter accused Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group of bisexual chic when she warned Woolf and her friends of indulging "the fashion of bisexuality."
In 1972, the hit musical film Cabaret featured a love triangle with a man and woman fighting for the same (male) lover. The author who inspired it, Christopher Isherwood, was among the first openly homosexual celebrities. Other prominent cultural representations of the 1970s include The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Sunday Bloody Sunday. David Bowie grew to fame and outed himself during this time period also.
As culture became more conservative in the 1980s, bisexuality became less chic. Due to the media's reporting of the AIDS epidemic among homosexual men, promiscuous bisexuals were seen as likely carriers, and the fad waned. As a result, many people who had declared themselves bisexual in the 1970s now retracted their comments. David Bowie renounced his self-asserted bisexuality in the 1980s.
In the early 1990s, women spearheaded open bisexuality in the media. Madonna's music videos for "Justify My Love" and "Erotica" and her book "Sex" featured same-sex eroticism. Openly bisexual comedian Sandra Bernhard was featured as a bisexual on the popular television sitcom Roseanne amidst the trend. To illustrate the trend, Roseanne later found herself kissed by another woman and was "consoled" by Bernhard's character, bringing bisexuality to Middle America. (See Also: Lesbian kiss episodes) The 1992 film Basic Instinct featured a glamorous bisexual murderess played by Sharon Stone.
Popular culture featured many openly bisexual actors and musicians during the 1990s. Even mainstream singer Janet Jackson recorded a cover version of Rod Stewart's "Tonight's the Night (Gonna Be Alright)" in which she sings to a woman with whom she is about to engage in a ménage à trois, saying, "This is just between me... and you... and you...."
Continued prominence in the 21st century
In the 21st century, bisexuality (or manifestations thereof) was alluded to in the films Kissing Jessica Stein, Y tu mamá también, Mulholland Drive, Alexander, Kinsey, and Brokeback Mountain, in the television series The O.C. in the US and Torchwood in the UK and in Lady Gaga's music videos for "LoveGame" and "Telephone".
In the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, Madonna kissed Britney Spears and then Christina Aguilera; many news and tabloid outsources referred to it as "lesbian chic", even though it was clear from Spears' impending marriage to Kevin Federline that she was not a monosexual lesbian.
According to surveys by the CDC in the USA, a larger number of female college and high school students in America are experimenting with other women than ever before and, in a surprising twist, actually report being encouraged to do so by pop culture for the first time.
- US girls embrace gay passion fashion, The Observer, by Richard Luscombe, January 4, 2004
- Faderman, Lillian (1991). Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America, Penguin Books. pg63-67; ISBN 0-14-017122-3.
- Time magazine, Monday, Aug. 04, 1980
- Bisexuality in the United States: A Social Science Reader by Paula Claire Rust, 2000, pg 538
- A Brief History of the Bisexual Movement
- San Francisco's Bisexual Center and the Emergence of a Bisexual Movement by Jay P. Paul
- Sex in Public: Australian Sexual Cultures by Jill Julius. Matthews; 1997, pg 75
- Garber, Marjorie B. (1995). Vice versa: bisexuality and the eroticism of everyday life. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-80308-9.
- Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Bronte to Lessing (Princeton University Press, 1977), p. 288.
- Christopher Isherwood on GLBTQ.com
- Buckley, David (2000). Strange Fascination - David Bowie: The Definitive Story. London: Virgin. p. 401. ISBN 0-7535-0457-X.
- Sarah Nathan (September 2006). "Dr Ooh gets four gay pals". The Sun. Retrieved 2006-10-06.
GAY Doctor Who star John Barrowman gets four BISEXUAL assistants in raunchy BBC3 spin-off Torchwood.
- It's kisses all round as Lady GaGa gets affectionate with men AND women in risqué new video
- More women experimenting with bisexuality from MSNBC.com
- Beemyn, Brett and Erich Steinman. Bisexual Men in Culture and Society (Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press, 2001).
- "The New Bisexuals." Time, May 13, 1974.
- Geoffrey K. Pullum, "Bixexual chic: the facts", September 6, 2004 (Language Log)
- Reichert, Tom, Kevin R. Maly & Susan C. Zavoina. “Designed for (Male) Pleasure: The Myth of Lesbian Chic in Mainstream Advertising." Meta Carstarphen and Susan C. Zavoina (eds.), Sexual Rhetoric: Media Perspectives on Sexuality, Gender, and Identity (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999).
- Risman, Barbara and Pepper Schwartz. "After the Sexual Revolution: Gender Politics in Teen Dating," Contexts (Berkeley: U California Press, 2002).