Tim Manley: An openly bisexual man, writer, storyteller and educator wanting to tell his storyFeature Story, Latest Issue, Section 4A Thursday, August 3rd, 2017
In 1940, a teenage boy made what is arguably the most significant archeological discovery of the twentieth century: The Chauvet (Sho-vee) Cave. In it, artwork from Upper Paleolithic life can be gleaned from the show of horses, bison, hyenas, tigers and a range of other species, both predator and prey. Hands were sketched on these now iconic walls that have traversed through time for thousands of years.
So why do I bring this up? Well, mainly, because Tim Manley, a bona fide openly bisexual man, writer, producer, director, activist, friend to puppies and kittens, is wanting to tell his story, too, in much the same way his predecessors did only with more modern means.
One of the publicists I work with, Dara Avenius, introduced me to Tim by way of The Feels. This very charming web series first appeared in 2016 as a cleverly arranged injection of videos during June’s Pride month. Each day, Tim posted short videos about how he felt, thought and perceived the world around him frequently with very funny results. They weren’t thought out with elaborate plots but, oftentimes, plucky and random observations about life that are both familiar and haunting and, like our way-off ancestors, lasting.
But the fact that Tim is bisexual and frequently addresses the issue helps make The Feels something of a rarity, not only for its unique storytelling narrative, but the way in which Tim delves into an aspect of LGBTQ life that is rarely addressed with anything remotely resembling seriousness.
We caught up with him to ask about life under the YouTube microscope.
San Diego LGBT Weekly: What was the genesis for The Feels?
Tim Manley: My co-creator and co-director Naje Lataillade (who is from Chula Vista, San Diego!) and I met as NYC public school teachers, and always wanted to collaborate on something. He was a filmmaker, I was a storyteller. We decided to start shooting these short pieces, not sure what they’d be. There was a good deal on renting camera equipment, so we ended up shooting the whole first season in a week. It was a total accident, but I think that’s why it was so personal and intimate.
You’re a gifted storyteller but what about the short form narrative you’ve used in The Feels was most appealing?
A lot of what we shot was semi-scripted, semi-improvised. This allowed us to find these little surprises, these moments that (to me) felt true. For some reason, I’m not so interested in a perfectly-constructed plot right now. Maybe because my actual life doesn’t feel perfectly-constructed. I’m interested in these small moments that feel like living, and episodes that feel like little bursts of humanity. That the show is fiction based in reality gives us a lot of flexibility, and I hope allows us to find even more truth than a 100 percent “true” story.
Those are your sketches that are used at the beginning of each ‘episode’ aren’t they? Did you ever pursue art?
They are! I was an art kid in high school, and took a class or two in college. I drew comics for a while, and I’m working on a novel that’s half comics. I don’t have too much formal training, but a lot of my favorite artists don’t.
What are your top three favorite reels in the two years you’ve done The Feels?
Hm. Three faves right now are Liminal, Touch, and Sunshine. But the three closest to my heart are: Subway, Responsibility and Vision.
You’ve managed to de-politicize bisexuality while speaking to larger issues about loneliness, despair, hope, etc. Do you view your bisexuality through any sort of political prism?
There are video essays that break down and make explicit arguments about political issues. I’ve learned a lot from these, and other people are really good at making them. (Like Dylan Marron, hero to us all.)
Rewriting this season after the election, I thought a lot about what we were saying. Feedback from smart friends helped weed out the episodes that were either too short-sighted, too flippant or too heavy-handed.
The result is that relative de-politicization of sexuality and gender. My hope was to show the humanity and humor and heart of the characters. And my belief is that this is actually subtly radical. It is intended to be a very loving, gentle form of protest.
As a white cis man who can pass for straight, any micro-aggressions or odd experiences related to being bi are profoundly outweighed by my other privileges. My sexuality and body are inherently politicized, and I’m always asking myself how I can use the power I’m provided to create and support change.
While I don’t always speak explicitly about these things, I am trying to make work that secretly subverts expectations of gender, relationships (romantic and otherwise) and mental health.
Bisexual men and women frequently feel isolated not only by society at large but within the LGBTQ community. Has that been your experience?
It was hard when I first came out, in 2008, and I wasn’t confident in the language around my sexuality. Gay and straight friends alike didn’t know what to make of me, and neither did I. I sometimes didn’t tell dates, regardless of their gender, that I was bi.
Truthfully, I don’t think I realized how isolated I felt until we made this show, and people started writing to say they were so grateful to see bi representation. I really didn’t expect that to happen. I didn’t know how much I’d needed to hear that others felt the same way.
When I was still a teacher, I was the advisor for my school’s Gender-Sexuality Alliance. One day a student asked how I identified and I stuttered through an answer – “Well, I’ve dated and loved people of all different genders, and, I know some people don’t think it exists, um, and you know labels are weird, but, um” – and another student cut me off and said, “We get it, Mr. Manley. You’re bi. Nobody cares.” Young people will save us all.
When did you come out and what were the circumstances like?
I dated a girl through high school and college I thought I would marry, and when that ended I fell for my male best friend, who was straight. We were close buds – talked for hours, would sometimes sit with an arm around the other person – but there was this part of me that wanted more. It was a complete surprise and I had no idea how to name it. He didn’t feel the same way, but his heart is as big as the sun, and we’re still best friends.
A version of that story is told in The Feels episode, Almost.
Do you have any sexual boundaries as a bisexual man?
Oh sure. I mean, like anyone else, right? I like to feel safe, loved and alive.
Can we expect a season three of The Feels?
I think so. We’re taking a minute to breathe after this second one, but Naje and I are always scheming about what’s next. I’m especially excited to continue to expand the view beyond this one main character.
Who would your ideal sexual three-way include?
Oh, God. Two people who’d be as uncomfortable with that question as I am.
You can check out Tim’s web series The Feels at thefeelsshow.com
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