Over the past few years there’s been a slow, yet thrilling, shift in the quality and quantity of the portrayals of bi men in media. With characters like David Rose (Schitt’s Creek), Magnus Bane (Shadowhunters), and Darryl Whitefeather (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), bi men are finally being reflected in greater dimensions. In Fall 2016, web series The Feels came onto the scene. Co-created by Tim Manley and Naje Lataillade, the series stars Manley as a bi man, deeply and charmingly in touch with his many feelings.
The Feels has released two delightfully queer seasons as a series of daily shorts, with many of the episodes centering on conversations between main character Charlie and a friend. The dialogues are engaging in their vulnerability. The series has taken on bi erasure, our relationships with our parents, being a butch queer woman who sleeps with men, and more, all through a loving lens.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with co-creator, co-director, writer, and star of The Feels, Tim Manley. What follows is an edited and condensed version of part one of our conversation.
Thank you for talking with me today!
So much of The Feels is, to me, about kindness and community. So many of the tropes that we see about bi people in particular are not about kindness, they're not involved in kindness in any way. Your character Charlie and the people he interacts with are so often creating and sharing kindnesses.
It's meaningful and rare, especially in portrayals of bi people. People in the bi community often encounter challenges in accessing community. We're so often lonely, and The Feels brings connection. Like in the season two episode “Dads” where you talk about how with online media there's not physical intimacy, but you can get that feeling that someone understands you. And so I want to thank you for that, for the way that the show creates rare kindnesses, community, opportunities to be with someone who understands.
I'm so grateful to hear you say all of that. Even that last thing you said about intimacy, like the episode "Dads." Sometimes I think: how do I make something feel intimate? What might be more intimate than two people kissing? It might be a conversation with a friend about your fathers. And then similarly, I sometimes think: what might be more queer than just sex stories? And I don't know the answer to that, but my hope is that this show is actually dripping in queer. I think the show is so queer, even when it is not explicitly talking about [queerness].
And what you say about loneliness and community, I don't think I realized when I made the first season that there was a bi community. I don't think I realized how alone in my experience I felt until people sent me messages and emails about how much it meant to them. I realized how much I needed to hear that.
One of my favorite episodes of The Feels is season one’s “Visibility,” in which you talk to a friend about the challenges of bi visibility. I find it relatable, and it reminds me of how important it is to have bi friends to have these kind of conversations with. Are there any episodes of The Feels that are particularly meaningful to you because of the visible bi content?
There's an episode in season one, “Subway.” It's just Charlie sitting on the train journaling, wondering would he feel more okay if he were straight or would he feel more okay if he were gay. It's sort of a sad episode and it's one that I’d written in a dark room with my laptop screen dimmed down. Not every word in this show from Charlie is really me, but that episode is. I think for years I thought of [my sexuality] as maybe one of the reasons why I felt like an outsider or why I felt like I didn't belong. I want to say when you're bisexual, but at least for me—I can't say for anyone else—but I used to get this feeling like I'm neither one thing nor the other.
It can feel like not belonging. Over time, I certainly now feel the truth is no, I am one thing, I'm this thing, I'm my thing. But that episode “Subway,” I think got at some of the lonesomeness I felt because of being bi.
You’ve mentioned you didn't look at the media landscape and say, there's a need for this kind of character, so I'm going to write this character. You’ve also mentioned you weren't super connected with what the media landscape was at the time The Feels premiered. Is it something you're noticing more now? Do you have any thoughts on the state of men's representation on TV and streaming?
Whatever the state of bi men on TV is, I don't think it yet accurately reflects the actual bi men in this country because there are so many of us, way more than people realize. I say that based on telling stories at shows or having this show on the internet and how many people reach out to me. Obviously I think we need more of this representation. I think there are so many men who don't even realize they are bi because they haven't seen themselves represented on TV. I didn't realize I was bi until I was 22. But if I look back at memories from high school and college, I should have been tipped off. I wouldn't phrase it that I was closeted then because I literally didn't understand not every straight guy wants to cuddle with their best buddy. Representation doesn't only help us to accept and love ourselves and others, sometimes representation helps us see ourselves in the first place.
I feel like male bisexuality could be this key that unlocks and dismantles toxic masculinity in some sort of way. I have to imagine there are so many men who somewhat realize they might be bi. At this moment I'm thinking of publicly straight identifying cis men who have that feeling but are not out with it and can't find peace with it. I feel like it would help to heal toxic masculinity if we saw more bi men in the media.
When I write for the show, when I co-write with other people, I'm always asking: how would you speak if you didn't feel like you had to translate yourself for other people? That's what I want our show to feel like, the untranslated self. I don't yet feel like I've seen that version of bi male bisexuality on TV. But I have to imagine we are going in that direction because I do think there's more representation. We have [Him or Her], Travon Free’s show, and it's probably going to be great.
How did you come to the decision to make the central character of your show a bi man?
The first season of the show was so organic, it was really just Naje and I making art. I had just finished a Fringe Festival show called Feelings, a solo show that was all about falling for my best friend coming out as bi and then being accidentally abstinent for four years. [laughs] When (co-creator and director) Naje [Lataillade] and I were filming the first season, we just decided to tell some of those true stories from my life that I'd also been telling on stage, like at The Moth. I didn't expect people to identify with my stories of being bi. I'm embarrassed to say that, now it feels silly. But I think my sexuality had so often been this place of confusion between me and somebody else, where I had to try to explain it or translate it or define it. Even other bi men I'd met, they also didn't necessarily really know how to talk about it. So I don't think I expected someone else to understand.
So in a way, in the beginning it really was like I was just making something with a friend. But I think that's what allowed it to be so intimate. My hope is that the show feels like you're just in a room with someone you can trust.
The first two seasons of “The Feels” are currently streaming on Youtube. Stay tuned for part two of my conversation with Tim Manley, coming soon to bi.org.