Aug Sept 2016
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Alan Cumming Is Bisexual — And You Might Be Too

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Actor Alan Cumming leads a life of seeming contradictions. For the past eight months, he’s been playing the buttoned-down, wound-up political operative Eli Gold on TV’s The Good Wife by day, then rouge-ing his nipples and pulling his stockings down to play the lascivious Emcee of Cabaret on Broadway at night.

The actor is distinctive no matter how you see him in a role. The same goes for his love life. 

After an eight-year marriage to actress Hilary Lyon and a two-year relationship with actress Saffron Burrows, Cumming married his husband, graphic artist Grant Shaffer, in the U.K. in 2007 and then again in New York in 2012.

As a man who was once married to a woman myself but now identifies as gay, Cumming's experience has always stuck with me. He identifies as bisexual, even though he’s now married a man. Twice.

“I feel that’s what I am,” he tells me. “I see a worrying trend among LGBT people, that if you identify yourself in just one way, you close yourself off to other experiences. My sexuality has never been black and white; it’s always been gray. I’m with a man, but I haven’t closed myself off to the fact that I’m still sexually attracted to women.”

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Cumming quickly reminds me that your bisexual attraction doesn't disappear once you’ve settled down with a partner of either gender, even if you don’t plan to act on that attraction. 

“It doesn’t matter if you’re married or not, or having sex with anyone or not,” he says. “There are straight couples who don’t have sex. There are gay people who don’t have sex. But if you’re sexually attracted to both sexes, you’re bisexual.”

When people talk about questioning their sexuality, it usually means questioning their heterosexuality. Now Cumming has got me questioning my homosexuality — and thinking about Salma Hayek again.

As some leaders in the bisexual movement define it, being bisexual means being attracted to your own gender and other genders. And all of those studies that aim to estimate the size of the LGBT population finds bisexuals are a larger group than gays and lesbians combined — but you wouldn't know it if looking for prominent voices in entertainment.

While Cumming is always clear about being bisexual, the media hasn't always paid careful attention to his identity. In a recent example, Cumming made headlines for starring in his "Celibacy Challenge" video that mocked the FDA for banning any man who has sex with another man from donating blood for one year afterward. Some media reported the video and lumped Cumming in with the label "gay," irking bisexual activists who often experience their identities being glossed over.

Cumming explored his early years and emerging sexual identity in his 2002 novel Tommy’s Tale, which was re-released last year in paperback. “It’s about being the age I was, the lifestyle I was in, and how difficult it is to deal with the urges you have as a man,” he says. “It’s definitely autobiographical in terms of what happened, and my ethos at the time.”

In 2014, his frank memoir Not My Father’s Son was published, which included some extremely personal revelations about his childhood and family. “When I was writing about the painful, physically abusive moments, it was like a cloud was over me — but I got past it.”

“Reading it aloud for the audio book version was actually more difficult than writing it,” he says. “It made me realize how intense it is — and the fact that I’m sharing it is going to have a big impact on some people.”

Since coming out as bisexual in 1998, Cumming has been a tireless and outspoken activist for LGBT equality, but he notes that each victory requires renewed focus.

“There’s been a big change in the LGBT activist world now that gay marriage is spreading like wildfire,” he says. “It’s exciting that transgender people are becoming more and more in the mainstream, but they need protections in the workplace and equal rights.”

“It’s easy for activists to become complacent and tired — [thinking] ‘Same-sex marriage is in our state! Hurrah!’ — but the LGBT community has left the T part behind a bit. You can’t be selective about equality.”

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Cumming is also tired of the argument from people within the LGBT community who criticize the focus on marriage equality as an attempt by gays and bisexuals to imitate heterosexuals.

“I get it, and that’s fair. I understand the heteronormative argument,” he says. “But the bigger deal is we should be allowed to do whatever we like. If people don’t want to get married, fine. But we should still fight for every right and opportunity. People are saying ‘I don’t want to get married,’ but you should still have the right to.”

As both Cabaret and The Good Wife wrap up in late March, Cumming will embark on book signings and concert performances in Florida, New Orleans, and San Francisco. 

On April 25, he’ll hit San Francisco as the special musical guest at American Conservatory Theatre’s Annual Gala, and on April 26, he’ll do two performances of his cabaret concert Alan Cumming: Uncut at Feinstein’s at the Hotel Nikko.

For a complete list of Alan Cumming’s live appearances, go to his website.

Follow him on Twitter @AlanCumming.

Adam Sandel is an arts journalist, screenwriter and playwright who lives in San Francisco. He has contributed to the Bay Area Reporter, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Los Angeles Times, dot429.com and StartOut.com. He teaches Literature, Critical Thinking, and Mythology & Folklore at De Anza College.

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