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Courtney Act with the cast of The Bi Life
Courtney Act with the cast of The Bi LifeCourtesy of E!

Courtney Act on why she’s hosting the UK’s first bisexual dating show

The RuPaul’s Drag Race star gets candid about the challenges of dating as a bisexual, and gives some advice for dealing with bigots

Remember when Love Island mania was at its peak earlier this year and, even though we couldn’t take our eyes off Dani and Jack’s blossoming romance and Megan’s absolutely stunning plastic surgery, we were also wondering how a TV show featuring exclusively straight people exists in 2018? I thought I had the solution: Love Bisland. Love Island but with bi people. Think of the representation and, more importantly, think of the drama. Anyway, E! were apparently thinking along the same lines, because next week, on October 25, they’re launching the UK’s first bisexual dating show: The Bi Life.

The premise of The Bi Life is simple, and relatively similar to Love Island: nine hot people looking for love are dropped into a villa somewhere near Barcelona. The only difference is the cast can also date people outside the villa (so there’s less cracking on) – and, of course, there’s the fact that they’re all queer: bi, pan and questioning. The show itself is hosted by drag queen Shane Jenek, aka Courtney Act. If you’re a RuPaul’s Drag Race fan, you’ll know her from season seven, and if you’re a regional hetty, you’ll know her from the 2018 season of Celebrity Big Brother, where she flashed her tuck on live TV and attempted (with an almost saint-like patience) to educate the house on the nuances of contemporary gender politics.

Ahead of The Bi Life’s premiere, we sat down with Courtney (who, it’s worth mentioning, was in drag, and looked as fishy up close as she does on telly), and she explained to us why it’s high time we had a dating show about bi people.

Can you introduce The Bi Life to us?

Courtney Act: Sure. We got a group of bisexual, pansexual and questioning British singletons, took them to Barcelona, and put them all in a villa where they lived together. We then matched them up with dates or selected dates for them to choose from.

The sweet thing about this, and something that was instantly noticeable, was that it's not queer people reacting to the straight gaze. It's queer people in a space with each other, not having to explain their identity, and feeling supported. One of the cast members has never been on a date before, period. But he had a group of people there to give him advice and cheer him on. I think people found it really supportive. I watched the first episode yesterday and it's so heartwarming. It’s kind of like bisexual Dawson's Creek goes on Spring Break to Barcelona.

What do you think are some of the unique challenges that bisexual people face when dating?

Courtney Act: It depends on the gender... Talking with Ryan, (he) described himself as being emotionally attracted to men and sexually attracted to women. When we had a conversation about that, it became apparent that the reason he’s not emotionally attracted to women is not so much his attraction, but because when he tells women that he’s bisexual, they don’t react so well. So he finds he can’t be open with women in relationships and tends to just be romantically involved with men.

For women, a lot of the girls said that unless they’re in a gay bar, it’s very challenging hitting on women. Like when men are friendly in a bar, that’s a different kind of friendly, but women are friendly and sometimes that's very hard to read – you’re like, ‘Is this girl into me? Or do we just have good banter?’ And then conversely, in the first episode, we saw one of the girls talking to one of her dates, saying she was bisexual, and he literally was like, ‘Oh yeah? It’s cool if you wanna bring another woman into the bedroom’, and she’s like ‘No, that’s not what bisexual means.’ I think that a lot of straight men do fetishise the idea, and they instantly think like, ‘Oh cool, I get to have sex with two chicks at once’.

“When someone is saying something bigoted, try and remember that it comes from a level of ignorance. Take a breath and think, ‘Who I am is right, and enough’” – Courtney Act

Because bisexual people almost have a foot in the gay and the straight world, their friends can misunderstand them too. Like if a bisexual man starts dating another man, people are like ‘Ah, he’s gay’, but you know, bisexual people remain bisexual, and their attractions can change and flux over time. They can be a lot into men and a little bit into women, or any combination. I think the biggest struggles are other people's perceptions and understandings, unpeeling that socialisation and realising whoever you’re attracted to is correct.

It’s exciting that bisexual people and their experiences are going to be represented on a mainstream TV channel. Was that part of the goal for you?

Courtney Act: Yeah, I mean there's such little visibility and you know, it’s recognised that in television that bisexual people are often represented as villains, like Lady Gaga in American Horror Story, or Tiana in Empire. There was a YouGov survey in 2015 that asked people to plot themselves on the Kinsey scale from 0 to 6, and 54% of people aged 15-24 identified as not exclusively heterosexual. I just think that having that visibility and starting that conversation on a channel like E!, where you're reaching a really mainstream audience, and just starting to show these narratives of people being attracted to different genders, is really powerful because it breaks down the stigma.

I’ve heard a lot of gay people say they don’t believe bisexuality exists. What do you think about that?

Courtney Act: Do you know what, just in the past few weeks, I’ve been shocked at how many gay people I’ve heard saying that. I think it’s because a lot of gay men do use bisexuality as a stepping stone, as a transition sexuality, because it is a safer place for them to identify before coming out as gay. That’s fine, but it’s really unfortunate when they then erase the bisexual identity based on their own experience. I think that gay men in particular need to just listen to bisexual people and believe them when they say they’re attracted to different genders.

Something I really respect about you is how, when you’re confronted with people with different opinions, you’re very patient. What advice would you give to people for dealing with people like this?

Courtney Act: I’m in a position of privilege, because those bigoted ideas don’t have an instant visceral response on me. I acknowledge that I'm really fortunate to have found pockets of people all through my life who've accepted me. I think because of that, and also I’m 36 now, so I try and dismantle those agitations that I notice in myself.

When someone is saying something bigoted, try and remember that that person actually just doesn't understand, and that it comes from a level of ignorance, or from socialised brainwashing, or religious ideas. Take a breath and think, ‘Who I am is right, and enough’, and what this person is saying is simply because they don’t understand life like I do. Trying to foster that feeling of empathy in other people can be a challenge, especially with the Ann Widdecombes of this world. But try. And maybe instead of telling people why, show them, using your own experience.

The Bi Life premieres on October 25 at 9pm on E! UK