While visibility for gay men has increased nicely over the past ten
years, the same can’t really be said for the visiblity of bisexual men.
Where gay men now have a host of other out gay men — Neil Patrick
Harris, Cheyenne Jackson, Lance Bass, T. R. Knight, Sir Elton John,
Tonex — to put a public face on homosexuality, the list of well-known
openly bisexual men is still depressingly small.
But one name you can add to that list is Mike Manning of The Real World: D.C.
Despite the way MTV has edited clips and teased viewers in promos, and
despite the fact that at least one of Mike’s D.C. housemates, not to
mention one of the guys he dated on the show, insists he’s actually
gay, Manning knows himself well enough to know that he’s truly
attracted to both men and women.
And that’s a good thing for other bisexual men looking for someone to
represent them in the public eye. The 22-year-old Colorado native never
set out to be that spokesperson — heck, he never even intended to be on
The Real World — but now that the role has been thrust on him, he’s willing to do his part.
AfterElton.com recently had the chance to talk with Manning, who is
currently attending college at the University of Northern Colorado in
Greeley, about being such a visible spokesperson, how his friends and
family reacted when he came out, and how making out with a real Prince
Charming cued him in as to his actual sexuality.
AfterElton.com: It seems
like the show has made a great deal out of how you’re supposedly “figuring out”
your sexuality and trying to decide things. And in a recent episode you
specifically said to Eric, the guy you were dating, "I need more time.
You’ve had time to deal with these issues." So what exactly were you
trying to figure out during the episode and during the series? Have you figured
it out entirely at this point? How do you identify now?
Mike Manning: I think during the season, I went on to the show right after
coming out to my family and … my ten closest friends and it was all fine and
great, but most of my other friends didn’t know. You know, you branch out from
high school and you move out of your home town and go to college and a lot of
your high school friends don’t follow you, so none of my old friends from high
I went on the season kind
of nervous and really unsure about how to act. I hadn’t been around many gay or
bi people or lesbians. I was just nervous about it. Not really insecure, but
just more timid because I didn’t have any experience with it. I went on the
show, and from day one, everybody asks me. I didn’t want to come out to the
roommates right up front because I wanted them to get to know me as a person
first and then get to know my orientation and other details about my life, but
it just kind of happened that way that they asked me and I was like, "You
know what? I’m not going to be a hypocrite. I’m not going to pretend to be so
confident and comfortable with it and then lie to their faces on the first day
that I meet them." So I came out as bi, and I told them the truth, and my
relationship with guys and girls and everything like that, but I was still kind
Manning (left) with his Real World roommates
Throughout the season, I
became more and more comfortable with it. I was having conversations with the
girls and even with the guys in the house. We talked about my experiences and
my thoughts about certain things. I worked for the Human Rights Campaign and I
lobbied Congressmen for equal rights, and that was definitely a huge, huge help
because I’m a business person, so I respect professionalism and people that
work hard and are intelligent. Being able to work with HRC really helped me a
lot because it showed me this whole office of super-intelligent people who were
comfortable with themselves and had overcome tons of challenges to get where
they were. A lot of them took me under their wings.
By the time of Eric, that
was later in the season and I was more comfortable with things, but the thing I
didn’t like about Eric is that he would always challenge the gay versus bi
thing. He didn’t believe in bisexuality, and I think that’s the root of your
question. I had accepted myself. I was confident in myself. I mean, Jesus, I’d
come out on national TV to everyone but my ten closest friends and my immediate
family. But Eric would challenge me and say, "I think you’re gay and this
is only a transitional phase, I think you’re just too nervous to come out and
say the word gay, and blah blah blah."
Eric (right) grills Mike about his orientation
To this day we still
disagree on it, even though he’s changed his mind a little bit. He now accepts
the fact that people can be bi, and it is possible for a man to be attracted to
both sexes. That’s good for him. I never understood how anyone could think I
could have anything to hide after I came out on national television. I still
get a lot of flack over the whole bi card, even today, because that’s how I
identify, to answer your last question. I’m still bi.
Yes, I am more attracted
to guys. If I was standing in a room of attractive males and attractive
females, I’d probably take a boy home, or I’d pay more attention to the guys.
But I’ve talked to my gay guy friends who have never been with a girl or who
have been with a girl once or twice, and I know I’m more attracted to a female
than a gay man would be. I am aroused by naked girls, and they’re not. For
whatever reason — my genes, my makeup, my hormones, whatever you want to blame
it on — God made me attracted to both sexes. That’s just how it is. I’m more
attracted to guys, and I’ll admit that. I’ll admit that to you in an interview,
and I’ll admit that on national television. I don’t know where people get the
impression that I’m too insecure to admit that I’m gay.
Mike’s portrait for Adam Brouska’s NOH8 campaign
AE: What I think is going on
is projection. I think it has very little to do with you not being able to
"accept that you’re gay," as it does with that fact that male
bisexuality is so invisible out there so some people tend to discount it’s
existence. I’m really glad to hear you still identify as bi. We hardly ever get
to interview bisexual people because there just aren’t many who are high
profile and public.
MM: I agree with you so much about the lack of visibility. To be honest, I
didn’t even think that there were many bisexual guys out there until I did the
show and that first episode. The night of that first episode and over the
course of the next few weeks, I probably got two thousand messages from guys
from 17 to 30 around the USA
saying, "Finally, it’s good to have bisexual guy come out on TV." Or
"I’m bi and I’m closeted and have been for 30 years. I can’t tell my
Just all these stories of
bisexual guys in Utah and Connecticut
and Maine, and even places like New York where you’d
think it would be more accepting. It’s just insane how many people are waiting
for somebody, a bisexual male to be on TV that they can identify with. I was
floored by how many messages I got.
AE: That’s amazing. That
leads into my next question, what does it feel like to become the poster child
for male bisexuality?
MM: I don’t know for what reason God chose me for this, and I don’t know
why this is happening, but I feel so blessed and so privileged to have so many
people listen to me. I don’t know if it’s because of my political views or my
religious views or just the fact that I’m on TV, but I have a small platform
now because of the show, and a lot of people care about what I have to say. I’m
so blessed because there’s a lot of issues that are important to me, mainly
equal rights and the things I worked on with HRC, that I now have the platform
to vocalize and make a change.
Doing this how is my way
of reaching out and showing people that A) stereotypes are bullshit, and B)
gay, lesbian, and bisexual people deserve the same rights under the same
government as every single other person has. I’m privileged to be the voice of
AE: You said in one of your
interviews that you had dated women up until your sophomore year in college.
That would have been in Greeley,
MM: Yeah, that was in Greeley.
I also did an internship in my sophomore year in college and I lived in Orlando, Florida for a
while, so I also had a serious girlfriend in Florida.
AE: Greeley is not the most progressive place. Marilyn Musgrave used to be the
representative there. In fact, I think she was at the time you were dealing
with this. What was it like realizing your sexuality wasn’t strictly 100%
heterosexual in Greeley?
MM: It was kind of like a secret you couldn’t tell anybody. It was
something I had to hide for a while. I’d been thinking about it ever since I
moved out of my house and came to college. I really started thinking about who
I am, and who I want to be with, and my parents. I always had those thoughts in
the back of my head. I always knew that I stared a little extra at guys in the
locker room after hockey practice or wrestling or whatever, but I never really
acted on it.
So my sophomore year, I
moved to Florida
and did the internship with Disney, and it was kind of a more welcoming
environment. I think that if I’d stayed in Greeley and not traveled to Florida,
then I would have had a much harder time accepting it because I didn’t know any
other gay person at all, as you can probably imagine. But because I went to Florida, I was exposed
to an environment where it was not just tolerated, but accepted. I was like,
"Wow. This is what I’ve been missing. There is such thing as a man who is
attracted to another man."
I still had a girlfriend
when I left Greeley, and when I came back to Greeley, I was like,
"Screw this. I’m done trying to pretend. I’m done trying to hide just
because I live in a conservative area." So I ended up meeting another gay
person, and got introduced to a few more, and made some friends, and I was
like, "Okay. I actually get along with these people." Granted, I
still hung out with my straight friends, but I think that if I hadn’t done the
Disney program, it would have been a lot harder for me to come out.
AE: When you were in Florida, was it a
particular person you met, somebody you had a crush on, or was it just meeting
actual gay people?
MM: [laughs] I think it was… [laughs] It’s kind of funny. My first hot
and heavy kiss with a guy was with Prince Charming in the Magic Kingdom.
[laughs] If it was one particular person, I think Prince Charming helped turn
me. It’s funny, because I went to a cast party and Cinderella tried to rape me
and I ended up kissing Prince Charming.
AE: Are you still in touch
with Prince Charming?
MM: No, I’m not. It was actually a really sad story. His parents ended up
sending him to one of those reparative therapy places after they found out he
liked boys. He’s all kinds of messed up now, so it’s really bad. I don’t really
talk to him.
AE: I’m glad your story took
a different direction. So you went back to Greeley, you met gay people. Did you tell
your straight friends at that point? Did they notice anything was different?
MM: Yeah, a couple months after Disney, I met some gay people and they
explained some things to me. I went to my first gay club and that was cool. I
kind of hid things for a year. I met a guy and tried to date him, but it was
just too hard because I was so paranoid that people would find out — that my
parents would find out, or my brother or sister would get word of it.
I guess my junior year, I
woke up one morning and said, "You know what? This is bullshit. It’s way
too much work to keep up a double life. I’m confident in myself right now, and
I know that I have enough to offer the world that if my friends don’t accept
me, then I can just move on." There are a lot of people in this world, so
if my friends don’t like me because I like boys, then I’ll move on and not
I woke up and I sent a
mass text message to ten of my closest friends. It was easy because I didn’t
have to face them, but at the same time, once it’s sent, there’s no going back.
That was my first leap of faith. The text message said, "Hey, by the way,
you know how I just broke up with Britney? Well, I broke up with her for a boy.
Alright, have a good day."
[laughs] That’s what I
sent everyone. And you know, I didn’t receive one negative comment. Everyone
was like, "It’s okay, Mike. You’re still cool. You’re still the same guy.
We still love you."
It was a little awkward
for about a week, but once we hung out a couple times and they realized I was
the exact same person and I hadn’t changed at all, it was good. I’m still
friends with every single one of the people I sent that message to.
AE: I’m so happy to hear it
turned out that way. When did you very first realize you were attracted to
guys? Was it during your teen years and you just didn’t deal with it, or did
you actually not realize until college?
MM: I think I had suppressed it so much in high school just because of the
crowd I hung out with. I hung out with the guys on the football team and the
wrestling team, and stuff like that. I knew it wasn’t accepted, and I was
actually one of the ones that made fun of gay kids sometimes, as shitty as that
is. That’s the environment that I was in. I suppressed it so much in high
school that I didn’t even want to think about it. I didn’t allow myself to
think about it.
When I came to college, I
was like, "Something is missing. I don’t feel exactly the same towards
girls as all my straight buddies. I pay extra attention when a Calvin Klein ad
comes on TV. None of my straight buddies do." I started realizing little
things when I was at college and on my own and actually willing to find myself.
AE: Last night’s episode had
your mom coming to visit you. What was that like?
MM: I’d told them about [being bisexual] ahead of time and tried to explain
things, but it was still kind of uneasy for everybody, and they really didn’t
accept it. Well, it’s not that they didn’t accept it; it’s just that they were
unsure. It’s like trying to describe something to somebody that they really
have no idea about. They can hear about it and you can tell them stories, but
it’s not easy for them.
The episode only has my
mom, my brother, and my sister because my dad couldn’t make it, but in the
episode, it shows my mom going to the Human Rights Campaign and she has lunch
with my boss, one of my coworkers, and myself. She kind of breaks down and
tells me that in the beginning, she didn’t want me to come out during the
season, she thought it would be hard for me, and she didn’t want everybody to
know my personal business because she thought it was a safety issue and I’d be
discriminated against, and I wouldn’t get the job I wanted, and it would create
so many hardships.
While we were talking, I
got really passionate, and I said, "You know what, Mom? I have the chance
right now to do something great and open people’s eyes about things that are
extremely, extremely important." It was only a couple decades ago that
black and white people couldn’t get married, and now I feel like gay people are
facing the same challenges." I just went on and on, and if there’s no
other reason that I did this season, I’m just thankful that I have that moment
with my mother documented. It was just so emotional and so amazing.
It’s an amazing, amazing
episode and I think it’ll hopefully, if I can get all my friends to watch it,
then it will explain a lot.
AE: It’s good to know your
story has that ending, especially since we started off talking about what happened
to that Prince Charming fellow. Even in 2010, it’s not necessarily a happy
ending. I think your being on the show, it moves the yardstick just a little
further down the field. My hat’s off to you. I think you’ve been great.
MM: Thank you very much. I really appreciate that.
[Editor’s note: In case you missed it, below is a clip of Mike with his mother from last night’s episode of Real World: Washington D.C. Or you can watch the episode in its entirety HERE.]