On September 5th, Queen fans around the world, myself included, celebrated the 70th birthday of the man who is without a doubt one of the greatest rockstars of all time. Despite his untimely death in 1991 at the age of 45, Freddie Mercury has left an indelible mark on the music world. He had a notoriously flamboyant stage presence but when away from the spotlight, he was a rather private figure and there is still much speculation and misconception surrounding his personal life more than twenty-five years after his passing.
As someone who identifies as bisexual, I am consistently appalled by the fact that in media, there is a visible lack of bisexual representation and it has only been in recent years that bisexuality has begun to become more accepted as valid. One of my personal idols in this respect is, you guessed it, Freddie Mercury. However, an astonishing percentage of media still portray him as gay in spite of the fact that, he was openly bisexual. He had relationships with both men and women and never formally came out as gay. This is a classic example of bisexual erasure, or the tendency to avoid the topic of bisexuality or to otherwise question or challenge its validity both in historical and contemporary contexts. It is conducive to biphobia, although it may not seem overtly so. In the case of Mercury, there may be several reasons behind the denial of his sexual orientation.
My theory on the matter is that one of the main reasons that his bisexuality is often ignored is his cause of death. Mercury suffered from AIDS and died of bronchial pneumonia brought on by the immunodeficiency-causing virus at a time where it was still highly stigmatized. His death came only a day after officially confirming rumours that he did indeed suffer from AIDS. With the epidemic in the 1980s, the disease was demonized and was mainly associated with the gay community, as a majority of those who suffered from AIDS in the US were gay, including the first man to be diagnosed and the man to be dubbed as Patient Zero. In fact, AIDS used to be known as Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID).
Because Freddie Mercury was known to have sexual relations with other men and he ended up contracting HIV/AIDS, it makes it very easy to ignore the rest of his personal history and focus solely on this fact. The correlation between homosexuality and AIDS may be a large reason why Mercury is often remembered as gay, along with the fact that his last long-term partner before his passing was a man. He was also notoriously promiscuous, a quality which, at the time, was also more commonly associated with the gay community (even though now many bisexuals are labelled as ‘greedy’ or more promiscuous than monosexuals). Of course, the stigma surrounding bisexuality must still play some form of a role, given that even many years after his death, this misinformation is still prevalent. Fun fact: Freddie Mercury’s Wikipedia page never explicitly states that he was bisexual and instead focuses on him being gay. It is only at the bottom of the page under ‘Categories’ that the word ‘bisexual’ is even used in the entire article.
Throughout my own research, I could only find a few sources that denied that Mercury was gay and maintained that he was bisexual. One of main ties that bind the claims that he was gay was from a 1974 interview in which he is quoted as saying, “I’m as gay as a daffodil, my dear!” The main issue with this quote is when it is taken out of context. In 1974, Mercury was still in a long-term relationship with Mary Austin and the two did not break it off until 1976 and later briefly rekindled their romance. The two remained very close friends even after the split. It is true that around this time, Mercury had begun an affair with a male American music executive, which was his first documented homosexual relationship. However, he still had relationships with women well into the 1980s, the most famous of which was with Austrian actress Barbara Valentin. Not only could Mercury have been using gay in the sense of happiness, but the term bisexual was still not commonly used at the time. In an obituary written in The Star after his death in 1991, Mercury is described as a “self-confessed bi-sexual” and is quoted saying,
Love is like Russian Roulette for me, I’ve tried either side – male and female – but all of them have gone wrong. […]
Forty years after the release of Bohemian Rhapsody, Mercury’s biographer Lesley-Ann Jones revealed that the song was Mercury’s way of coming out and that he played at being straight for the sake of his family. In spite of the evidence that supports this claim, Mercury himself never never made any statement regarding the song’s meaning and all statements regarding Rhapsody‘s purpose as a coming-out piece were made by other people and after Mercury’s death. In the blog post in which Jones reveals this information, she also mentions that when she personally asked Mercury about the characters in his magnum opus, he never gave her an answer.
Taken all in all, there is still a significant amount of mystery and conflicting accounts regarding whether Freddie Mercury was bisexual or not. Unfortunately it is unlikely that the world will get any definitive proof aside from his personal history and a handful of interviews. In spite of this, failure to acknowledge even the mere possibility that Mercury was not gay and was instead bisexual is testament to the fact that the world is still not yet ready to fully accept bisexuality’s validity. Regardless of who he was in his personal life, Mercury was one of, if not the greatest showman of the 20th century. His musical legacy continues to live on years after his death and his and Queen’s reign as one of the most influential rock bands lives on.