Soaps, sense and sexuality

Sexual orientation is a hot button topic in soaps these days, which is refreshing considering it used to never be discussed at all. But it also brings to light a lot of misconceptions about the Kinsey Scale and being gay vs. being bisexual. Many One Life to Live fans, for instance, are hoping for Oliver to turn out bi because he was able to perform with Stacy and Layla. But I think if Fish were bi, his struggle would be vastly different…perhaps just that of choosing between his ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend. That’s not the story that OLTL is telling. They’re telling one of deep denial, of repression, of self-loathing and anger. If he was genuinely in love with both Kyle and Layla, genuinely attracted to them both, he wouldn’t be lying so much and so petrified of Cristian telling Layla what he saw between Kish in the alley. And as for being able to perform…plenty of people, gay or straight, get through sexual encounters when they’re not completely invested, and even manage to have a little fun while doing so. “Close your eyes and think of the queen,” etc.

Take a different case: Verbotene Liebe‘s Oliver and Christian are both bisexual. And Christian’s journey was about accepting that he didn’t just like girls, but liked guys, too. Specifically Olli. He desperately tried to convince himself that he wasn’t attracted to Oliver (unlike Fish desperately trying to convince himself that he is attracted to Layla) but eventually came to terms with it. Now, they’re in a committed relationship. And when Christian recently kissed Miriam  while plastered, it wasn’t so much an issue of “OMG! You’re straight again!” as it was, “Oh, you idiot.”

Whenever I have a conundrum about post-work plans, my colleague Joe asks, “Are you trying to talk yourself out of  doing it, or talk yourself into doing it?” His rationale being that if I’m trying to talk myself into it, my heart’s not really in it. And that, I think, is apt for both OLTL‘s Fish and VL‘s Christian. The former is trying to talk himself into being with a woman, the latter tried to talk himself out of being with a man.

Switching gears just slightly, The Bold and the Beautiful, long criticized for never featuring a gay character actually had one last week — in the form of the ex-wedding planner and fashion show judge played by veteran comic actor Jim J. Bullock. And just in case the flamboyant, fluttering Serge’s orientation is up for debate, his name is pronounced…”Sir Gay.” Oh, brother. I’m not saying it’s wrong to camp it up and go all queen. That’s an absolutely valid choice; I know plenty of flamboyant guys. But if that is the only gay representation in your show’s 22 year history, it’s a little hinky. So, you know what? I’m calling Jarrett the Eye on Fashion reporter for the LGBT team, too. I love Jarrett. He’s funny, has a conscience, and I’m so glad to see his portrayer Andrew Collins get more of a role these days. He works so well as Bill’s Jiminy Cricket. I suppose you could use the ol’ “he’s not gay, he’s just British!” excuse but since the object here is to amp up faux LA’s LGBT community, why would we want to? So, yes, in the B&B that plays only in my head, Jarrett’s gay and it’s no big deal. At least until he falls for Thorne… LOL. (It’ll give Thorne an option besides dating his sister, right?)

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4 thoughts on “Soaps, sense and sexuality

  1. Hi Mala,

    It’s absolutely brilliant that you used the Kish and Ollian characters as points of contrast and comparison in this discussion about sexual orientation. In my view, much of the confusion vis-a-vis Ollie Fish being gay v. bisexual among viewers of the OLTL Kish storyline stems from the general cultural attitude here in the U.S. and perhaps the rest of North America (yes, that means you, Canada!) about what it means to be gay and bisexual. The Kinsey scale is far from perfect let alone accurate. But were we to assume that there is some accuracy in this scale, then rare is the individual who is exclusively heterosexual (Kinsey Scale 0) and exclusively homosexual (Kinsey Scale 6), with the general population falling somewhere in between 0 and 6.

    In other words, there’s a cultural misunderstanding of what it means to be bisexual here in the U.S. that’s not an issue over in Europe. Even the fictional characters in VL are for all intents and purposes bisexual. Christian, who tends to see the world in black and white more so than Olli, is quick to call himself “schwul,” whereas “bi” is the more appropriate way to describe his sexual orientation. Olli, on the other hand, while he seems to be a Kinsey 4/5 does not simply say he’s “schwul” and he just happens to be in this wonderful relationship right now with Christian, whom he loves and who loves Olli. I don’t think U.S. daytime and network prime time television are ready to see such fluidity in the portrayal of human sexuality unless it involves female bisexuality (that straight men almost require in their porn and as evidenced by the encouragement of those women in those tragic GIRLS GONE WILD videos to act as if they were bisexual mostly at the behest of their idiotic male companions. Not to mention those faux lipstick lesbian kisses that run rampant back in the days of ALLY MCBEAL, FRIENDS etc.)

    Over in Europe, the same baggage does not seem to be present in this gay v. bisexual debate. Jo Weil (Oliver) and Thore Schoelermann (Christian) say so as much in interviews I’ve read about and seen on the Net when asked about gay and bisexual people in Cologne (while acknowledging that attitudes may be highly different in small towns and villages similar to how attitudes here on the topic are not aligned among the, for lack of a better catchall term, “blue” and “read” states).

    In the 1990s, when public health advocacy groups were trying to reach out to communities to increase AIDS awareness and promote safer sex practices, they had to create the term “MSM” for “men/males who have sex with men/males” in order to reach a broader audience, specifically those men who engage in sexual activity with other men but refuse to be categorized as either gay or bisexual. Again, this is another piece of evidence how our culture really has stigmatized the term “gay” and “bisexual” unfortunately to the point that it has and continues to cost lives that otherwise may have been saved if this culture of self-hate for being attracted to one’s sex is not what it is today.

    Within these parameters, someone as Oliver may be considered an MSM. But upon further reflection, I 100% agree with you that this is not the story OLTL is playing and your explanation therefor that Oliver is gay and not bisexual makes a whole lotta damn sense!

    I too am glad that this debate has arisen in the context of soaps. I’ve always believed that television is a great tool for education as it gives viewers exposure to matters that they would otherwise be unaware of but for seeing them on the tube. People take social cues and lessons from watching TV, and especially for those who believe they don’t know a gay or lesbian person in their lives, the soaps can play a very important part because, right or wrong, many people do draw on television as to what life is like beyond the walls within which they view such programs.

    As for B&B, I just don’t have anything to say on that topic… It’s an outright tragedy that Mr. Bullock was asked to appear on the soap as nothing more than part of a mini gay minstrel show…

    It is 2009, right? :-)

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    • Thanks, James! I agree that definitions and attitudes about sexuality are a lot more rigid in the U.S. than they are in parts of Europe, and that American television doesn’t help. Soaps, especially, are reluctant to tell actual bisexual stories, like VL’s Ollian. Because there is still that stigma of bisexuality meaning promiscuity or that it’s just Girls Gone Wild for some guy’s benefit.

      Then there’s GL, which has caught flak from some viewers who think their reluctance to label Olivia and Natalia as gay is a bad thing. I tend to think it’s a good thing, especially if they’re not ready to throw the word “bisexual” around. They’re just letting them be, without slapping a name on it…and sometimes sexuality isn’t that easy to define, to name.

      But, again, as you point out, women are allowed to have a more fluid sexuality (especially for a man’s benefit. oy. Don’t get me started).

      And, really, if they were telling a story of Oliver Fish being bi, that would be fine. That would be great. But that’s not, personally, what I’m seeing. Perhaps they hadn’t decided yet, at the Go Red Ball, what they were going to do with the character, and that’s why many viewers are getting mixed messages?

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  2. Interestingly, in today’s episode of One Life to Live, after Cristian outed Fish to Blair, they actually had a conversation about the possibility that Fish may be bisexual, the first time I think any U.S. soap opera has used the term (I wasn’t watching OLTL during the Daniel Coulson story, so I don’t know if it was used then).

    But you’re right that many American viewers seem to be confused by Fish’s behavior, as if it’s impossible for a gay man to perform with a woman. Which, of course, isn’t true: sex is a biological function, and for a man in particular, all it takes is a little, um, “friction” for him to, um, do it.

    I think the more the story plays out, and right now OLTL is doing a magnificent job with this story, people will accept it and enjoy it for what it is: a gripping love story.

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  3. I certainly hope people will accept and enjoy Kish as a gripping love story!

    And the term “bisexual” is seldom used, even on GL where they’re actively *telling* a bisexual story. I think that there’s just a reluctance to discuss bisexuality and what it really means. Especially with the stigma attached: Many people equate being bi with being promiscuous and perhaps that’s just territory that many TV shows don’t want to delve into while just trying to educate people with Gay 101.

    I did think it was funny that both Cris and Blair contemplated whether or not they’d ever kiss someone of the same sex.

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