Women have long enjoyed a more fluid sexuality than men, an ability to flirt with the blurry boundaries of their desires in a way that just felt, frankly, a wee bit unfair to the dudes. Sure, rock stars gave the finger to the old gender norms -- your David Bowies and Michael Stipes -- but that never quite bled into the cultural mainstream, where male anxiety about any perceived slip in heterosexuality was endless fodder for cheap laughs.
But has that changed? In a recent piece in the Daily Beast, "How Male Bisexuality Got Cool," Rachel Kramer Bussel tries to pin down a cultural shift, one in which straight men seem more comfortable kicking around old sexual taboos -- either in films or in comedy or as a publicity stunt, like two fameseeking hetero male entrepreneurs who sent Gawker pictures of themselves holding hands like it was dirty underwear. "The very fact that the pair of Internet wunderkinds decided that cultivating a mystique of bisexuality could help their careers says something about the moment we're living in," writes Bussel.
Whereas bisexual women had their fling with pop culture in the 1990s -- when everyone from Drew Barrymore to Madonna messed around with women, not to mention the famous Vanity Fair cover showing Cindy Crawford shaving k.d. lang -- "bromances" are now the driving force behind Hollywood comedies and Style section features, as men find more ways to play for both teams, or at least act like they do.
This is a moment when old concepts of macho have fallen away, when the hysteria about being straight, man has eased somewhat. Bussel talks about Justin Timberlake confidently wearing a leotard, about the popularity of homerotic "bromances," about Jimmy Kimmel's spoof "I'm Fucking Ben Affleck" and the ubiquitous use of the term "man crush" (even, hilariously, in an AOL news item about King Abdullah). I would add to this list a willingness, perhaps even eagerness, for straight male actors to play gay men in films. What was risky four years ago in "Brokeback Mountain" has almost become beside the point (not to mention award fodder) in movies like "Milk," so that James Franco can speak casually with "Fresh Air"'s Terry Gross about kissing Sean Penn, and it doesn't even generate headlines. Promoting his role in "I Love You Man," Andy Samberg happily posed for the cover of Out magazine. In the upcoming film "Humpday," two straight men make a porno together. Comedy ensues.
But has any of this led to a more open embrace of actual male bisexuality? Hmm. Despite the way the story is framed, I'm not sure it says anything about whether or not men feel more comfortable, as the author of the book "Bi Men" puts it, "confronting their own 'bi' desires." Although from where I sit -- admittedly, back in the third balcony of youth culture, watching "those kids" with freaking opera glasses -- it seems as though a younger male generation does have a more fluid conception of their sexuality. Witness the internet meme "emo boys kissing." (Thank you, Pete Wentz.) We're probably still lightyears away from a day when Prince could, say, kiss Justin Timerlake on the MTV music awards. But hey -- a girl can always dream.