Words: Simon Button
Courtney Act aka Shane Janek is shining a light on the world of bisexual dating in her new show The Bi Life.
We travelled to Barcelona, where the British cast are holed up in a far-from-shabby villa as they go on dates in one of the world’s most LGBTQ-friendly cities, to meet the Attitude Hero Award winner and chat about how he hopes the show will change misconceptions and prejudices about bisexuality.
What do you hope people will take away from watching the show?
I hope they’ll have a better understanding of other sexualities or of their own sexuality and also that they will have dismantled some of the misconceptions and tropes about bisexual identities.
I think even for gay men one of the biggest misconceptions about bisexuality is that it means you’re attracted to men and women 50/50 but it means that you have attractions to your own gender and other genders not necessarily in the same way, not necessarily to the same degree and not necessarily at the same time.
Why do you think bisexuals have mostly been sidelined by the gay community?
A lot of gay men used bisexuality as a transitionary sexuality. When I came out when I was 18 I said that I was bisexual because it felt like a safer place to be, to tell adults, because they could at least understand I was still attracted to women whilst being attracted to men.
Then I was like, ‘Actually I’m gay’ and that was because at the time, in that world, there were only two options.
What changed for you?
As I’ve grown up, had more experiences and become more comfortable and aware of my own attractions and identity and started to give less fucks about what other people think I’m now able to say ‘You know what, I am attracted to different genders’.
I’ve had sex and sexual relationships with women and it’s not like 50/50, it’s probably like 80/20 with more of those attractions towards men than women but then also trans people.
Laith Ashley and Jaimie Wilson are two trans boys I follow on Instagram who are stunning. I would totally go on a date with either of them and I would totally have sex with either of them.
Is progress being made?
It is, yes. We’ve fortified our gay identity strongly enough now that we can tease out the edges and incorporate the bisexual identity into the conversation.
It might be a man who is only romantically attracted to women but does have sex with men or it could be the opposite or it could be someone who is a lot attracted to men and a little bit attracted to women or vice versa.
Any one of those combinations sort of falls under the umbrella of bisexuality.
What have you learned from the cast?
I remember sitting at the table with them all on the first day talking about attractions to different genders without explanation or excuses.
I came of age in the year 2000 and I still had to fight and struggle with my sexuality and identity. I’m sure the kids on the show do as well but they’re just attracted to more than one gender and it’s just how they live.
It’s so free and easy, and it’s so lovely to see that that world exists for them and how in generations going forward it will continue to get better and easier.
But I think as well that it’s important to know the history and why they have that ability today. We’ve talked about identity politics a little in my conversations with them and we’ve talked about the struggles they have dating and being bisexual, but I’m doing a little web series of my Courtney Fact videos that will go a bit more into that sort of stuff.
It’s possible that some people will see the cast and think ‘Here we go again, a bunch of beautiful people’…
I’ve thought about that as well. Diversity is something that’s important to me and it’s interesting to ask ‘What does diversity mean?’ because we have diversity in race but we don’t have diversity in levels of attractiveness necessarily.
You could have an intellectual conversation in an echo chamber about sexual fluidity or you could put a bunch of beautiful kids in a house in Barcelona going on dates with people of different genders and reach an audience that is much more open to influence, who are forming their opinions and their sexual identities, and show them that it’s OK to like different genders.
It’s like we’re now able to open up the middle ground and say ‘It’s safe now for people to be bisexual’ whereas before we needed the polarity.
We can create a space and not just for gay men but also for straight men. The heterosexual male identity is, I think, the most rigid and fragile out of all of them but if you look at the statistics from the YouGov survey more men between the ages of 18 and 30 have had sexual relations with someone of the same sex than women have had.
There’s that thing of men being the ones who are having same-sex experiences but identifying more as heterosexual and not talking about it.
When you have that closed-off nature of your identity, not only are creating shame about who you are it also breeds all sorts of other things, like homophobia and other behavioural issues.
If we’re able to be more open and free about our attraction and our sexuality we might be able to dismantle some of that patriarchy fragile masculinity at the same time.
It’s also a fun, entertaining show, with no bitchy competitive element to it. And it isn’t people sitting around being all angsty about sexuality, is it?
That’s the weird part - no-one on the show does that. It’s people going on dates and having a good time.
The identity politics and all that sort of stuff doesn’t even come up because that’s how normal it is for the cast and that’s the beauty of it.
The intellectual conversation behind why visibility is important is actually not even a part of it in this instance.
It’s interesting that competitive swimmer Michael has never been on dates before even though he’s gorgeous…
He’s so adorable, sweet and innocent but he’s been quite sheltered in his swimming world. I was at the Commonwealth Games, [laughs] obviously not competing, earlier this year and there were 13 or 14 out athletes out of 6,600.
There should have been 600-ish if we’re going for 10%. Not only is Michael training for the Olympics, he’s on the Jamaican team where it’s still punishable by life imprisonment to commit a homosexual act.
So the visibility Michael is going to be bringing, not just in the UK but also Jamaica, can’t be understated, being a visible athlete who is out and proud and also of colour.
Who’d be your own dream date?
Shawn Mendes is too young, even though he’s legal. [Laughs] There’s a difference between being legal and too young. Just because it’s Gucci doesn’t mean we wear it! But he does have such a cute smile and every time he comes up on my Instagram feed I stop and smile, like I’m looking at a cute dog picture.
The Bi Life is on E! Thursdays at 9pm from October 25th