Editor’s Note: This story first ran in Qnotes on September 9, 2016.
This month the community celebrates bisexual visibility, shining a spotlight on part of the LGBTQ community that is all too often ignored. Here is an anything-but-exhaustive list of bisexual individuals throughout history.
Dancer, singer and actress Josephine Baker was the first black woman to star in a major motion picture, 1934’s “Zouzou.” Baker began her career in vaudeville and later rose to prominence while performing in France. Ernest Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” Baker refused to perform for segregated audiences and was active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. She was also noted for her support of the French Resistance during WWII. Her adopted son described her as bisexual, claiming she had relationships with both men and women, including artist Frida Kahlo. Baker was married four times.
Hans Christian Andersen
Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen is well known for having written some of the world’s most famous fairytales, including, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” The Little Mermaid,” “The Snow Queen” and “The Ugly Duckling.” He also wrote novels, plays, travelogues and poems for an adult audience. While Andersen avoided sex and did not have any successful relationships during his life, he did fall in love with both men and women.
Painter Frida Kahlo had a distinctive, individualistic style, often labeled with categories that do not quite stick, such as folk art and surrealism, which she rejected. She is most well known for her self-portraits. When the Louvre acquired her ”The Frame” painting, it was the first work of a twentieth-century Mexican artist that they purchased. She would go on to gain much more notoriety after her death. Kahlo was married to fellow artist Diego Rivera and also had relationships with women throughout her life.
Actress Greta Garbo was a star who successfully made the transition from silent films to “talkies” and was one of the biggest stars of the early film industry. During WWII, Garbo worked as a spy for the British government. She also became an art collector later in life. Garbo never married, but appears to have had relationships with both men and women, with recent biographies bringing her relationships with women to light.
Simone de Beauvoir
Writer, philosopher and activist Simone de Beauvoir was one of the most influential thinkers of her time. Her writing explored feminist theory, as well as existentialism, which came in the form of novels, essays and biographies. De Beauvoir’s longtime partner was fellow philosopher, writer and activist Jean-Paul Sartre, but she also had relationships with women throughout her life.
One of the most famous and critically acclaimed painters of the 20th Century, Jean-Michel Basquiat first gained notoriety as a graffiti artist living in New York City. His work married elements of figuration, abstract expressionism, neo-expressionism, graffiti, poetry and folk art. His work often dealt with socio-political issues and spoke out against colonialism and racism. He rose to fame early and created all of his work before his death of a drug overdose at just 27. Basquiat never came out as bisexual, but is said to have had relationships with both men and women. Author Jennifer Clement writes in her book Widow Basquiat, “He was attracted to people for all different reasons. They could be boys, girls, thin, fat, pretty, ugly. It was, I think, driven by intelligence.”
Composer, conductor, writer and pianist Leonard Bernstein is best known for writing the score for “West Side Story,” as well as the film score for “On The Waterfront.” He also wrote music for ballet, opera and orchestral performances, among others. Bernstein was also a philanthropist whose efforts focused on increasing music, dance and theater instruction in schools. Bernstein left his wife when he decided he could no longer conceal his bisexuality, but returned to her when she became ill, caring for her until her death. He is also said to have had relationships with both men and women before marrying his wife.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Writer Edna St. Vincent Millay won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923, only the third woman to win the award. Millay also wrote prose under the pseudonym Nancy Boyd. Much of her writing explored female sexuality, feminism and antiwar concepts. She was married to a man, but both of them had lovers throughout the relationship. Millay was openly bisexual.