Ian McKellen’s Character on “Vicious” Displays Unfortunate Biphobia


Ian McKellen as Freddie in “Vicious”

In an episode of British comedy Vicious, character Freddie Thornhill, as played by Ian McKellen, dismissed the very idea of bisexuality. The show depicts an old gay couple, played by McKellen and on-screen hubby Derek Jacobi, as campy queens. The comedy that follows usually brings a good underbelly laughs — except when bisexual people are the butt of jokes.

In episode 3 of Season 2, Jacobi’s character Stuart wanted to learn to ballroom dance with Freddie. They go to a class with some friends and have the hardest time learning to dance together. When they return to their apartment, they discuss the male ballroom instructor:

“And what was he anyways? Gay? Straight? Who can tell the way he was carrying on. And I refuse to believe there’s such a thing as a ‘bisexual,'” Freddie, McKellen’s character, said.

The line exudes biphobia as Freddie dismisses the reality of bisexual individuals. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time bi people have been on the receiving end of “jokes” in Hollywood scripts.

While McKellen does not presumably share the sentiments expressed by his character, it’s incredibly disappointing that an openly gay celebrity would agree to such a script. Certainly, McKellen wouldn’t say a homophobic line on television, definitely not a transphobic line. This allowance for supposed jokes to be made at the expense of bisexual people has unfortunate consequences. While bi people outnumber gay and lesbian people combined, fewer of us are out of the closet – due to social stigma being perpetuated against us. It’s a sad state of affairs if biphobia is so accepted in the LGBT community that even Sir Ian McKellen (a man whom many of us love and respect) feels safe using his celebrity voice to spread a biphobic idea.

These types of decisions don’t happen in a vacuum. Humor stops being just humor when it contributes to the systemic oppression of those already marginalized. Because too many people still don’t believe bisexuality exists, Freddie’s line only further perpetuates that hurtful idea and directly contributes to discrimination against bi people. It’s even more disconcerting that an advocate for the LGBT community would allow his platform to be used to perpetuate bi invisibility.

WATCH the episode below. Freddie’s comments begin at 8:30. What do you think about Freddie’s comment?

Eliel Cruz
Eliel Cruz is a speaker and writer on religion, (bi)sexuality, media, and culture at Bisexual.org, The Advocate, Mic, and Religion News Service. His work has also been published in the Huffington Post, Everyday Feminism, Washington Post, Soujourners, DETAILS Magazine, Quartz, Rolling Stone, and various other international platforms.