Bisexual Painter Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo. © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1907-1954. Frida Kahlo is considered one of Mexico's, if not the world's, greatest painters. She's inspired generations of female artists and is a feminist icon. She was married to painter Diego Rivera. Although he overshadowed her in their lifetime, Frida Kahlo has become a highly revered artist since her death.

Early Life and Influences

Kahlo grew up in Mexico City with her three sisters and her parents. At age 6 she contracted polio. She spent 9 months bedridden. Her father encouraged her to participate in sports to help her recovery, highly unusual for a girl at that time period. Still, she walked with a limp as a result of the disease. 

Kahlo attended the prestigious National Preparatory School, where Diego Rivera was working on a mural. Kahlo would often watch Rivera work and the two became acquaintances. While at school, Kahlo was involved in a bus accident that would cause her to suffer for most of her life. A steel handrail impaled her hip and she had back and pelvis injuries that plagued her for most of her life. Over her lifetime she had numerous surgeries to try and ease her pain. After spending months in the hospital recovering, she returned to her family home to recover and it is there that she started painting, including one of her first self-portraits.

Marriage to Diego Rivera

In 1928 Kahlo reunited with Diego Rivera and he encouraged her to continue painting. They were both politically active and members of the Communist Party. They married in 1929 and moved around, often following Rivera's career, to San Francisco, New York, and Detroit. 

Rivera and Kahlo did not have a traditional marriage and each of them had affairs. Even though she had her own lovers, she was often hurt and troubled by her husband's affairs. They often separated, divorced once and remarried.

Lover of Women

Frida Kahlo had affairs with both men and women, including her husband's mistresses. She has also been linked to movie stars Dolores del Rio, Paulette Goddard and Maria Felix, among others. Her painting Two Nudes in a Forest (1939) clearly shows her attraction and love of women. One of her affairs was said to be with American painter Georgia O'Keeffe.

In Drag

Frida Kahlo recognized the power of cross-dressing. In a family photograph from 1926 she is dressed in full male attire. She used cross-dressing as a way to express her power and independence.


Frida Kahlo is widely known for her self-portraits. Because of the accident at age 18, she was disabled and lived much of her life in constant pain. Her self-portraits convey this suffering, but also her strength and perseverance. Her self-portraits were often deeply personal, telling of some struggle or tumultuous time in her life. 

Frida in Film

Salma Hayek starred as Frida Kahlo in the film Frida in 2002. She received an Academy Award nomination for her role.

Works of Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo is most known for her self-portraits. Her works show pain and suffering, but also her resilience. She was an independent woman, artist, and an inspiration. Much of her work is at the Frida Kahlo Museum which opened in 1958 in her former residence.


"The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration."

"O'Keefe was in the hospital for three months, she went to Bermuda for a rest. She didn't make love to me that time, I think on account of her weakness. Too bad."

"I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint."

"I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best"


Frida Kahlo was "rediscovered" in the 1970s feminist movement and she was hailed as an icon of female independence and artistry. She's inspired generations of artists, bisexual women, students and LGBT activists

Sources:, The Lesbian Almanac, Gay Pride, A Celebration of all Things Gay and Lesbian by William J. Mann.,