Search Results for: Playboy

‘A Felony Just to Own’: The Sleazy Story Behind Penthouse’s Most Controversial Issue

Longreads Pick

“Peter Bloch, Penthouse‘s then-executive editor: “It was the best-selling issue of Penthouse of all time. Hands down. A complete sellout in, like, two days. You couldn’t get a copy. So there were guys paying—and this is something I saw with my own eyes—a dollar for a peek. A peek!””

Source: Esquire
Published: Sep 15, 2020
Length: 12 minutes (3,137 words)

The Genius of the Playboy Interview

Germaine Greer gave an interview to Playboy in 1973 in which she skewered the magazine: "I'm against showing girls as if they were pork chops." (The Sydney Morning Herald/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)

Hugh Hefner was a complicated individual whose notions of sexuality and human relationships were at once woke and predatory, who stumbled upon a brilliant idea at a time when American culture was milquetoast. A loss of identity in the 1950s, particularly among men, was palpable for a generation who no longer had a war to fight. It took a magazine that paired the mind and the body, high culture and naked women, to shake the male from his slumber. Read more…

The Examination of a Playboy Bunny

The photographer Weegee sets up his equipment to photograph a Playboy Bunny in the 1950s (International Center of Photography/Getty Images)

Her nom de bunny was Marie Catherine Ochs, an old family name that Gloria Steinem thought sounded “much too square to be phony.” Marie went to high school and college, but “wasn’t a slave to academics,” dropping out after her first year of college to fly to Europe and work as a waitress in London and a hostess-dancer in Paris. After returning to New York to work as a secretary, she saw an ad in the newspaper looking for women who were “pretty and personable, between 21 and 24, married or single” who wanted to make between $200 and $300 a week — about the same salary as a Madison Avenue ad executive. When Steinem handed over Marie’s detailed personal history to the Sheralee, the Bunny Mother at Playboy’s New York Club, the hostess handed it back without looking at it.

“We don’t like our girls to have any background,” she told Steinem, who was going undercover as a Playboy Bunny for Show magazine, “we just want you to fit the Bunny image.” Steinem kept meticulous notes as she completed each stage of the interview, as well as the job itself, and she collected these notes in a day-to-day account that was published in May 1963 as a two-part series “A Bunny’s Tale” which was later collected in her 1985 book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions.

Part of Steinem’s training involved the fitting of a skin-tight uniform in two colors, the application of false eyelashes, and a physical examination with a doctor, which she recounted in detail.

Read more…

I Was a 9-Year-Old Playboy Bunny

Longreads Pick

A personal essay in which Shannon Lell recalls discovering her father’s porn collection when she was 9.  Looking back on her childhood longing to be a sex-symbol,  she grapples with a lifetime of self-objectification.

Source: Longreads
Published: Sep 6, 2017
Length: 9 minutes (2,345 words)

I Was a 9-Year-Old Playboy Bunny

neyya/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Shannon Lell | Longreads | September 2017 | 9 minutes (2,345 words)

 

My first sex partner was a homemade three-foot-tall Raggedy Ann doll lovingly stitched together by a distant relative. She wore a tangled mess of red yarn hair sewn in loops around her head like a halo. A cornflower-blue smock hugged her stuffed body in all the right places. Her undergarments were bloomers made of white fabric with eyelets and lace at the bottom. When stripped naked she was smooth, supple, alabaster cotton. She had adorable black button eyes and a sewn-on smile: permanently enthusiastic. I may have preferred Raggedy Andy — it’s hard to tell when you’re 8 — but he belonged to my big sister. I was left to love the one I was with. Full disclosure: At some point I did have a tryst with Andy. But under his denim overalls, confusingly, he and Ann were anatomically identical. Like many girls who played with dolls, this would prove to be my first disappointing encounter with male genitals.

I shared a room with my sister until I was 14. That’s when my parents could afford a bigger house. For 12 years our family of five — parents, sister, brother, and me, the youngest — lived in a modest three-bedroom home in a cookie-cutter neighborhood on a street called Serene. Our family was the median of every statistic: middle class, middle America, moderately educated, mildly religious.

Before my parents could afford to give us our own beds, and during my late-night love sessions with Ann, I took to sleeping on the floor for privacy. It felt like the right thing to do. And besides, my sister was always brooding for a fight.

Read more…

Editors Roundtable: Violence of Men, Money, and Space (Podcast)

Getty Images

On our May 10, 2019 roundtable episode of the Longreads Podcast, Fact-checker Ethan Chiel, Audience Editor Catherine Cusick, Contributing Editor Aaron Gilbreath, and Senior Editor Kelly Stout share what they’ve been reading and nominate stories for the Weekly Top 5 Longreads.

This week, the editors discuss stories in The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, and The New Yorker.


Subscribe and listen now everywhere you get your podcasts.


00:26 My Cousin Was My Hero. Until the Day He Tried to Kill Me.
(Wil S. Hylton, May 8, 2019, The New York Times Magazine

“These are often snapshots or frames in the film of your life, and they don’t often take into account the frames that come after…something like this that is both personal and societal, you certainly should get applause for stepping forward and saying I did these things, I am responsible in this way, but the work continues forever and I agree that the applause can sound like absolution and it should not be.” –Aaron Gilbreath

In his essay, Hylton recounts being physically beaten by his cousin in an unprovoked attack. The piece also weaves in the deterioration, over a decade, of Hilton’s marriage, and examines how masculinity and the ideas around masculinity were a factor in both events.

The team discusses why these types of intimate family violence stories elicit a different reaction when written by women versus men and the tension surrounding the question of whom toxic masculinity hurts more: men or women?

11:06 “Going Under at the Playboy Club
(Josephine Livingstone, May 8, 2019, The New Republic)

“I think the thing we’re struggling over is intentional. Whether it was in 1963 or now, the idea that these women, these waiters, might sleep with you, is a big part of the business that is being sold.” –Kelly Stout

A follow-up to Gloria Steinem’s “A Bunny’s Tale” written in 1963, Livingstone’s piece is in explicit conversation with Steinem’s while grappling with gender performance at a place like The Playboy Club. The piece looks at how both writers examine how the playboy culture and the public conversation around it have changed in the ensuing years.

The team touches on the economic dynamics at play in the piece and “the strange thorny mix of labor and gender representation issues.” They talk about performances of gender and interrogating our reactions to these performances. Finally they look at Livingstone’s and Steinem’s roles as both participants and observers and the inherent reductionist problem of journalism’s assumption that a particular glimpse into a world is more full than it is.

23:20How America’s Oldest Gun Maker Went Bankrupt: A Financial Engineering Mystery”
(Jesse Barron, May 1, 2019, The New York Times Magazine)

“A story nominally about guns that really isn’t about guns at all.” –Ethan Chiel

Gun manufacturer Remington was bought by a private equity firm who moved manufacturing to Alabama and, in the process, pushed the company to bankruptcy. It’s a story about debt and finance and municipal government that looks at how when debt transfer is dressed up as job creation, responsibility is lost.

The team discusses the complex machinations of American finance and how the actual functioning of a company doesn’t always have to do with whether they live or die. Meanwhile, people’s belief that these things are happening in the free market, that meritocracy and supply and demand are the only things dictating whether companies survive, obscures what is really happening while allowing us to feel protected.

33:10The Race to Develop the Moon
(Rivka Galchen, April 29, 2019, The New Yorker)

“For fresh starts we used to have California, go west. Now we go up to the moon.” –Aaron Gilbreath

Galchen explores a renewed interest in the moon by China, Japan, Isreal, India, the EU, and the US. Not as a place to stake a claim for political reasons, as it was in the 60s and 70s, but as a place to exploit and monetize resources and start businesses.

The team discusses what might happen if we take our capitalist, resource-exploiting culture beyond our planet and whether we can bring our ability to observe and reflect on the human experience with us as well.

* * *

Produced by Longreads and Charts & Leisure.

Analyzing the ‘Bimbo’: A Reading List on Hollywood Blondes

Marilyn Monroe laying on a lawn smiling
PALM SPRINGS, CA - 1954: Actress Marilyn Monroe poses for a portrait laying on the grass in 1954 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo by Baron/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

By Sascha Cohen

I once saw Britney Spears at Jerry’s Deli in Westwood. I was 20, and the two of us were in line for the bathroom. I cannot tell you a single detail about what she was wearing, the expression on her face, or how tall she seemed. My brain could only process two things: the jolt of recognition at beholding a celebrity who had defined pop culture during my adolescence, and her golden blonde hair, which made her look like a whole sunbeam, a glowing flashbulb, too bright to stare at too closely. 

I had been lightening my own hair since age 14, first with sprays of Sun In and later sitting in a salon chair on Melrose Avenue, while a stylist dabbed bleach on sections and folded them into foils. I flipped through Cosmo and People as the color processed, looking at photos of blonde celebrities: women like Holly Madison and Jessica Simpson imitating the style of women like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield — all of us, in the Baudrillardian sense, copies of copies of copies. Hollywood blondes never really go out of fashion — they only shapeshift to meet the psychic and aesthetic needs of each generation. 

Our current moment has us revisiting an array of platinum icons from both the distant and more recent past. Documentaries, podcasts, and television shows, about figures from Traci Lords to Pamela Anderson, attempt to tease truth from artifice and interrogate the figure of the “bimbo” more broadly — to varying degrees of success. The best of these projects rehabilitate the Hollywood blonde, who has been historically maligned as a ditz or a slut, without necessarily rewriting her as a legible feminist in the modern sense. 

Essayists and journalists anticipated this trend starting a few years ago. Some gave us dark fables of doomed blondes thrown upon the merciless gears and levers of the show business machine. Others wrote triumphant American stories of metamorphosis, of the second act, of the potent mingling of beauty with commerce. Part of the fun of reading about Hollywood blondes is immersing oneself in the language of glamour, sex, fantasy, and occasionally transgression. The pieces on this list explore themes of “eroticized stupidity,” feminine excess, and the crafting of public personas. Like their subjects, they seduce and confound.

“Looking at Photographs of Marilyn Monroe Reading,” (Audrey Wollen, Affidavit, February 2019)

Marilyn Monroe’s iconography includes the infamous Playboy nudes, the billowing white dress from The Seven Year Itch, and several photographs of the actress posed with open books like Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. What to make of the pictures of Marilyn reading? They suggest a depth and intelligence starkly opposed by the image of her in our popular imagination: the breathy, empty-headed sexpot whose body telegraphed post-war desire. Like Whitman, she contained multitudes. In 1955, she broke her 20th Century Fox contract and settled into a community of Jewish New York intellectuals, while the FBI kept tabs on her leftist politics. Audrey Wollen’s essay explores this paradox, describing Marilyn’s “passage from pop culture to high culture.”

She fled the castle, or she kept conquering territory, depending on who you ask. From the height of Hollywood, she went to the theatrical stage; from the beloved baseball star, she went to the acerbic playwright; from the front page tell-all interview, she went to the psychoanalytic couch. The press, the public, and the studios all thought she had gone crazy. In the United States, in 1955 and now, nothing screams insanity like shacking up with a Marxist, believing Freud, and reading Dostoevsky. 

“Get the Idea, Boys? Mae West’s Shoes,” (Sabina Stent, Majuscule, December 2019)

For a further look into the Hollywood bombshell, explore Camile Paglia’s, “The Death of the Hollywood Sex Symbol,” The Hollywood Reporter, 2019.

Mae West, whom the press called “the Babe Ruth of stage prosties,” inspired at least two Cole Porter songs and Salvador Dali designed a sofa based on her lips. But the voluptuous blonde with the quotable come-ons (“is that a gun in your pocket or…”) was also an artist in her own right. She wrote and starred in risqué plays that landed her in jail on morals charges, and wielded the notoriety to her advantage. Sabina Stent writes about the way West walked — or rather, prowled and shimmied — in a bespoke pair of nine-inch heels. Just as West’s long, glittering, fishtail gowns concealed her secret “double-decker” shoes, her razzle-dazzle flirtations disguised a certain shrewdness about men.

She saunters on stage, hand on hip, purring to her leering audience. “No wisecracks, now,” she says. “A penny for your thoughts …get the idea, boys…ya follow me?” The power of burlesque, the dance of illusion. West gives them the show they want while remaining entirely in control. West sends out an innuendo-laced invitation to chase her, but she knows her value as a commodity, and how to play this gullible crowd at their own game. “Am I makin’ myself clear, boys?” she states, sauntering her way offstage. “Suckers,” she smirks under her breath.

“The Mystery of L.A. Billboard Diva Angelyne’s Real Identity is Finally Solved,” (Gary Baum, The Hollywood Reporter, August 2017)

California’s recent gubernatorial recall election was a total bore until Angelyne entered the race on a platform of mandatory Bubble Bath Day. She lost the vote but won the hearts of Angelenos, who know her as the woman that invented “being famous for being famous” — long before Kim Kardashian was a twinkle in Kris Jenner’s eye. For no small fee, the camp icon, now in her 70s will take a photo with you in front of her Benadryl-pink Corvette and upsell you autographed T-shirts. Few people knew of Angelyne’s unlikely backstory until genealogical research revealed she was born Ronia Tamar Goldberg, the Polish Jewish daughter of Holocaust survivors. Making the most of Tinseltown’s penchant for reinvention and self-mythology, she donned full “shiksa drag.”

Goldberg had purely committed to the fundamental principle of Hollywood — escapism — by inhabiting the character she conjured to the point of no return. Like many dreamers, she adopted a stage name and altered her body and behavior to better position a prospective entertainment career that, like many dreamers, never panned out quite as intended. Nevertheless, far more than most, by any definition of success, she truly became the person she was pretending to be.

“The Bimbo’s Laugh,” (Marlowe Granados, The Baffler, July 2021)

For another take on the concept of the bimbo, read Alana Levinson’s “Justice for the Bimbo,” The Cut, 2022.

Not all blondes are bimbos, and not all bimbos are blondes, but the two are often linked: during the ’90s, a wave of “dumb blonde” jokes cemented the stereotype in our collective consciousness. These days, the bimbo (hair color and even gender notwithstanding) has been enjoying something of a renaissance among TikTok zoomers drawn to fluffy frivolity during what increasingly feels like the end times. The bimbo is sugar-sweet, but not altogether guileless — as Elle Woods proved at Harvard Law — and to fret that she caters to the Male Gaze now reads as hopelessly second-wave. In 2022, we can walk and snap our bubblegum at the same time.

Historically speaking, the archetypal bimbo is enthusiastic and good-natured. Bimboism does not necessarily require passivity; it is just not in the bimbo to be cruel. She only punches up. She pursues hyper-femininity to the extreme—at times to the point of drag. She’s glossy, voluminous, and kind. The bimbo counters the assumption that we would opt out of femininity if we could; in fact, she embraces it. Ultimately the desire to absorb the identity of the bimbo comes from the fact the bimbo is unburdened—whether or not this is a performance. Her respite is covetable, especially when the internet often feels like it lives in the grips of irascible snark.

“How Anna Nicole Smith Became America’s Punchline,” (Sarah Marshall, Buzzfeed Reader, February 2017)

Another rags to riches story, Anna Nicole Smith grew up poor like Marilyn Monroe. But no matter how much fame she secured (the covers and centerfolds, the Guess Jeans modeling contract, the bit movie parts), Smith could never shed her humble class background and its attendant signifiers in the eyes of Americans who deemed her “white trash.” She elicited that combustible alchemy of fascination and revulsion that makes a woman perfect tabloid and reality TV fodder. But it was Smith’s status as an unrepentant gold-digger that cast her tragic downfall as the just desserts for her larger-than-life appetites.

The woman rose up, made powerful by beauty, and then found herself falling, her beauty fading, her power eroding, her ugliness as she tried to cope with this loss providing spectators with the reassuring feeling that such power is never really worth having, if losing it looks like this. And the only person more deserving of this humiliation than the cluelessly beautiful woman is the beautiful woman who, even more unforgivably, knows she is beautiful: the woman who knows she is worth something to the world, and leverages her value to escape a life she can no longer stand. The woman who looks back at a world that always wants something from her, and asks, How bad do you want it? How much are you willing to pay?

“It’s Britney, B*tch,” (Lili Anolik, Air Mail, February 2021) 

What about a ’90s icon? Rachel Rabbit White considers Pamela Anderson in “Who’s Afraid of Pamela Anderson?” Vulture, 2022 .

More than anyone else, Britney Spears was the blueprint for Y2K vocal-fry teen girlhood. She was no spindly heiress like Paris Hilton; in the early years of her career, she offered something a bit more accessible. As Lili Anolik explains, “you could find half a dozen of her wandering the food court of any shopping mall in America.” If her look was ordinary, her dancing was remarkable — even better than Madonna’s. She may be best understood as the spiritual successor to Elvis, another poor white Southerner who made good, another entertainer with moves meant to titillate. If you were a high school girl at the turn of the millennium, Britney may have helped you discover the frisson of performing sexuality that you didn’t wholly mean — oops! — and that you could always coyly deny. Above all, the pop star was a study in contrasts.

Britney communicated in two ways. She talked with her mouth, and what she said was soft, flat, polite, girlish, self-effacing, devoid of nuance or interest or force. And she talked with her body, and what she said was assertive, aggressive, teasing, taunting, cruel verging on sadistic, and full of raw female power. The second voice was the louder and more insistent, and it tended to drown out the first, though not always and never entirely. And so the disparate elements that made up Britney Spears—part sweetheart, part rebel, part angel, part whore, part artist, part exhibitionist—fused together. Until they didn’t.

***

Sascha Cohen is a Boston based writer who grew up in Los Angeles.

Editor: Carolyn Wells 

 

 

 

 

The Scarface of Sex: The Millionaire Playboy Who Murdered His Way to the Top of Porn

Longreads Pick

Michael Thevis built a lucrative pornography empire in the 1960s and ’70s only to spend the end of his life in prison. His family opened his personal diaries to a journalist for the first time to get the whole, crooked, tragic story.

Author: Jeff Maysh
Source: The Daily Beast
Published: Jun 16, 2017
Length: 31 minutes (7,858 words)

The Queer Generation Gap

Express Syndication / Invision / Associated Press / Photo illustration by Katie Kosma

Soraya Roberts | Longreads | November 2018 | 10 minutes (2,422 words)

Should I be married to a woman? If today were yesterday, if all this sexual fluidity were in the discourse when I was coming of age in the ‘90s, would I have been with a woman instead of a man? It is a question that “The Bisexual” creator Desiree Akhavan also poses in the second episode of her Hulu series, co-produced with Channel 4 because no U.S. network wanted it. Akhavan directed, co-wrote, and stars in the show in which her character, Leila, splits with her girlfriend of 10 years, Sadie (Maxine Peake), and starts having sex with men for the first time. So, Leila asks, if the opposite had happened to her — as it did to me — and a guy had swept her off her feet instead of a woman, would things have turned out differently? “Maybe I would’ve gone the path of least resistance,” Leila says. Maybe I did.

This is a conundrum that marks a previous generation — one that had to “fight for it,” as Akhavan’s heroine puts it, and is all the more self-conscious for being juxtaposed with the next one, the one populated by the fluid youth of social media idolizing the likes of pansexual Janelle Monáe, polyamorous Ezra Miller, undecided Lucas Hedges. Call it a queer generation gap (what’s one more label?). “I don’t know what it’s like to grow up with the Internet,” 32-year-old Akhavan explains to a younger self-described “queer woman” in her show. “I just get the sense that it’s changing your relationship to gender and to sexuality in a really good way, but in a way I can’t relate to.”

***

This Playboy bunny is chest out, lips open, legs wide. This Playboy bunny is every other Playboy bunny except for the flat hairy chest because this Playboy bunny is Ezra Miller. The star of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald calls himself “queer” but it’s hard to take him seriously. What was it Susan Sontag said: it’s not camp if it’s trying to be camp? And for the past few months, while promoting the Potterverse prequel no one asked for, this 26-year-old fashionisto has been trying his damndest, styling himself as a sort of latter day Ziggy Stardust — the monastic Moncler puffer cape, the glittering Givenchy feathers — minus the depth. Six months ago, Miller looked like every other guy on the red carpet and now, per his own request, models bunny ears, fishnets, and heels as a gender-fluid rabbit for a randy Playboy interview. Okay, I guess, but it reads disingenuous to someone who grew up surrounded by closets to see them plundered so flagrantly for publicity. Described as “attracted to men and women,” Miller is nevertheless quoted mostly on the subject of guys, the ones he jerked off and fell in love with. He claims his lack of romantic success has lead him to be a polycule: a “polyamorous molecule” involving multiple “queer beings who understand me as a queer being.”

The article hit two weeks after i-D published a feature in which heartthrob Harry Styles interviewed heartthrob Timothée Chalamet with — despite their supposed reframing of masculinity — the upshot, as always, being female genuflection. “I want to say you can be whatever you want to be,” Chalamet explains, styled as a sensitive greaser for the cover. “There isn’t a specific notion, or jean size, or muscle shirt, or affectation, or eyebrow raise, or dissolution, or drug use that you have to take part in to be masculine.” Styles, on brand, pushes it further. “I think there’s so much masculinity in being vulnerable and allowing yourself to be feminine,” the 24-year-old musician says, “and I’m very comfortable with that.” (Of course you are comfortable, white guy…did I say that out loud?) As part of the boy band One Direction, Styles was marketed as a female fantasy and became a kind of latter-day Mick Jagger, the playboy who gets all the girls. His subsequent refusal to label himself, the rumors about his close relationship with band mate Louis Tomlinson, and the elevation of his song “Medicine” to “bisexual anthem”– “The boys and the girls are in/I mess around with them/And I’m OK with it” — all build on a solid foundation of cis white male heterosexuality.

Timothée Chalamet’s sexuality, meanwhile, flows freely between fiction and fact. While the 22-year-old actor is “straight-identifying,” he acquires a queer veneer by virtue of his signature role as Call Me by Your Name’s Elio, a bisexual teen (or, at least, a boy who has had sex with both women and men). Yet off screen, as Timothée, he embodies a robust heterosexuality. On social media, the thirst for him skews overwhelmingly female, while reports about his romantic partners — Madonna’s daughter, Johnny Depp’s daughter — not only paint him straight but enviably so. Lucas Hedges, another straight-identified actor who plays gay in the conversion therapy drama Boy Erased, somewhat disrupts this narrative, returning fluidity to the ambiguous space it came from. The 21-year-old admitted in an interview with Vulture that he found it difficult to pin himself down, having been “infatuated with” close male friends but more often women. “I recognize myself as existing on that spectrum,” he says. “Not totally straight, but also not gay and not necessarily bisexual.” That he felt “ashamed” for not being binary despite having a sixth-grade health teacher who introduced him to the range of sexuality suggests how married our culture is to it.

As a woman familiar with the shame associated with female sexuality, it’s difficult to ignore the difference in tenor of the response to famous young white males like Miller, Styles, and Chalamet and famous black women like Janelle Monáe and Tessa Thompson not only discussing it, but making even more radical statements. Appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone in May, Monáe said straight up (so to speak): “Being a queer black woman in America — someone who has been in relationships with both men and women — I consider myself to be a free-ass motherfucker.” The same age as Desiree Akhavan, 32, Monáe identified as bisexual until she read about pansexuality. She initially came out through her music; her album, Dirty Computer, contains a song called “Q.U.E.E.N.” which was originally titled “Q.U.E.E.R.,” while the music video accompanying “Pynk” has actress Tessa Thompson emerging from Monáe’s Georgia O’Keeffe-esque pants. While neither one of them has discussed their relationship in detail, Thompson, who in Porter magazine’s July issue revealed she is attracted to men and women, said, “If people want to speculate about what we are, that’s okay.”

The mainstream press and what appeared to be a number of non-queer social media acolytes credited Chalamet and Styles with redefining their gender and trouncing toxic masculinity. “[H]arry styles, ezra miller, and timothee chalamet are going to save the world,” tweeted one woman, while The Guardian dubbed Miller the “hero we need right now.” Monáe, meanwhile, was predominantly championed by queer fans (“can we please talk about how our absolute monarch Janelle Monáe has been telegraphing her truth to the queers thru her art and fashion for YEARS and now this Rolling Stone interview is a delicious cherry on top + a ‘told u so’ to all the h*teros”) and eclipsed by questions about what pansexual actually means. While white male fluidity was held up as heroic, female fluidity, particularly black female fluidity, was somehow unremarkable. Why? Part of the answer was recently, eloquently, provided by “Younger” star Nico Tortorella, who identifies as gender-fluid, bisexual, and polyamorous. “I get to share my story,” he told The Daily Beast. “That’s a privilege that I have because of what I look like, the color of my skin, what I have between my legs, my straight passing-ness, everything.”

***

When I was growing up sex was not fun, it was fraught. Sex was AIDS, disease, death. The Supreme Court of Canada protected sexual orientation under the Charter when I was 15 but I went to school in Alberta, Canada’s version of Texas — my gym teacher was the face of Alberta beef. In my high school, no one was gay even if they were. All gender was binary. Sex was a penis in a vagina. Popular culture was as straight, and even Prince and David Bowie seemed to use their glam sparkle to sleep with more women rather than fewer. Bisexual women on film were murderers (Basic Instinct) or sluts (Chasing Amy) and in the end were united by their desire for “some serious deep dicking.” I saw no bisexual women on television (I didn’t watch “Buffy”) and LGBTQ characters were limited (“My So-Called Life”). Alanis Morissette was considered pop music’s feminist icon, but even she was singing about Dave Coulier. And the female celebrities who seemed to swing both ways — Madonna, Drew Barrymore, Bijou Phillips — were the kind who were already acting out, their sexuality a hallmark of their lack of control.

“I think unrealistic depictions of sex and relationships are harmful,” Akhavan told The New York Times. “I was raised on them and the first time I had sex, I had learned everything from film and television and I was like ‘Oh, this isn’t at all like I saw on the screen.’” Bisexuality has historically been passed over on screen for a more accessible binary depiction of relationships. In her 2013 book The B Word: Bisexuality in Contemporary Film and Television, Maria San Filippo describes what has become known as “bisexual erasure” in pop culture: “Outside of the erotically transgressive realms of art cinema and pornography, screen as well as ‘real life’ bisexuality is effaced not only by what I’ve named compulsory monosexuality but also by compulsory monogamy,” she writes, adding, “the assumption remains that the gender of one’s current object choice indicates one’s sexuality.” So even high-profile films that include leads having sex with both genders — Brokeback Mountain, The Kids Are All Right, Blue Is the Warmest Color, Carol, Call Me By Your Name — are coded “gay” rather than “bi.”

Despite the rise in bisexual women on the small screen like Annalise in “How to Get Away with Murder,” Syd in “Transparent,” and Ilana in “Broad City,” GLAAD’s latest report on inclusion cited continued underrepresentation. While 28 percent of LGBTQ characters on television are bisexual, the majority are women (75 versus 18) and they are often associated with harmful tropes — sex is used to move the plot forward and the characters scan amoral and manipulative. This despite an increase in the U.S.’s queer population to 4.5 percent in 2017 from 3.5 percent in 2012 (when Gallup started tracking it). A notable detail is the extreme generational divide in identification: “The percentage of millennials who identify as LGBT expanded from 7.3% to 8.1% from 2016 to 2017, and is up from 5.8% in 2012,” reported Gallup. “By contrast, the LGBT percentage in Generation X (those born from 1965 to 1979) was up only .2% from 2016 to 2017.”

Here’s the embarrassing part. While I am technically a millennial, I align more with Generation X (that’s not the embarrassing bit). I am attracted more to men, but I am attracted to women as well yet don’t identify as LGBTQ. How best to describe this? I remember a relative being relieved when I acquired my first boyfriend (it was late). “Oh good, I thought you were gay,” they said. I was angry at them for suggesting that being gay was a bad thing, but also relieved that I had dodged a bullet. This isn’t exactly the internalized homophobia that Hannah Gadsby talked about, but it isn’t exactly not. My parents and my brother would have been fine with me being gay. So what’s the problem? The problem is that the standard I grew up with — in the culture, in the world around me — was not homosexuality, it was heterosexuality. I don’t judge non-heterosexual relationships, but having one myself somehow falls short of ideal. For the same reason, I can’t shake the false belief that lesbian sex is less legitimate than gay sex between men. The ideal is penetration. “That’s some Chasing Amy shit,” my boyfriend, eight years younger, said. And, yeah, unfortunately, it is. I have company though.

In a survey released in June, billed as “the most comprehensive of its kind,” Whitman Insight Strategies and BuzzFeed News polled 880 LGBTQ Americans, almost half of whom were between the ages of 18 and 29, and found that the majority, 46 percent, identified as bisexual. While women self-described as bi four times as often as men (79 to 19 percent), the report did not offer a single clear reason for the discrepancy. It did, however, suggest “phallocentrism,” the notion that the penis is the organizing principle for the world, the standard. In other words, sex is a penis in a vagina. “While bisexual women are often stereotyped as sleeping with women for male attention, or just going through a phase en route to permanent heterosexuality,” the report reads, “the opposite is presumed of bisexual men: that they are simply confused or semi-closeted gay men.” This explains why women who come out, like Monáe and Thompson, are considered less iconoclastic in the popular culture than men who even just make vague gestures towards fluidity — the stakes are considered higher for the guys. In truth, few feel comfortable being bi. Though the Pew Research Center’s survey of queer Americans in 2013 revealed that 40 percent of respondents identified as bisexual, this population was less likely to come out and more likely to be with a partner of the opposite sex. Famous women like Maria Bello, Cynthia Nixon, and Kristen Stewart have all come out, yet none of them really use the label.

“Not feeling gay enough, that’s something I felt a lot of guilt over,” Akhavan told the Times. It is guilt like this and the aforementioned shame which makes it all the more frustrating to watch the ease with which the younger generation publicly owns their fluidity. It is doubly hard to watch young white men being praised for wearing bunny ears in a magazine that has so long objectified women, simply because the expectations are so much lower for them. “I’m not looking down on the younger experience of being queer,” Akhavan said, “but I do think that there’s a resentment there that we gloss over.” In response, many of us react conservatively, with the feeling that they haven’t worked for it, that it is somehow less earned because of that. This is an acknowledgment of that resentment, of the eye rolling and the snickering with which we respond to the youth (ah, youth!). In the end we are not judging you for being empowered. We are judging ourselves for not being empowered enough.

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Soraya Roberts is a culture columnist at Longreads.