(A note on language and inclusivity: I typically use a lot of specialized language like cisgender and heteronormativity, and do stuff to ensure that I’m specifically inclusive of asexual and transgender people, but in this article I am focusing on American bisexual male-identified persons who are not necessarily up on queer theory and academic jargon. I talk about attraction to “men” and “women” because my intended audience are men who by definition have not spent a lot of time in queer circles or taken a lot of classes on gender and sexual orientation. This is Queer 101, or maybe even Queer 050. I am not excluding anyone, I am writing for a specific audience rather than the more general one I usually aim for. Thanks.)
Welcome, Bi Men About To Come Out!
Hi! I’m not sure if we’ve met, but that’s OK, I do know that we’re a lot alike. I’m here to answer some of your questions and hopefully to make the experience you’re about to have a little easier. I’m going to make a lot of assumptions about you, and they may not be accurate – and that’s OK, because the ones that aren’t, you can scroll past, because they will be accurate for someone else. These assumptions come from a few places: my own experiences, experiences of others that I’ve been told or read about, and some research that’s been done. One assumption is that you’ve been in the closet by identifying as Straight. If you are someone who was identifying as Gay, then you already know a lot of this and your experience may vary quite a bit.
There’s a standard “Coming Out” narrative that is available to most Gay men. It takes two main forms: “I never liked women”, and/or “I was married/engaged/dating women because I didn’t realize/was hiding/was trying to change”.
For us Bi guys, those two narratives don’t work quite as well, because we have been and are genuinely attracted to women, and we are also genuinely attracted to men. This seems to complicate things, but it really doesn’t, at least not for you. You know who you are.
Coming out is not easy to do, but it’s the lifting of a giant weight off your shoulders. You’ve probably spent a lot of time cringing inwardly at people who make homophobic remarks. When you’re out, you get to fight back without fear of blowing your cover. That alone is a huge benefit for you, because let’s face it, not being able to stand up for yourself out of fear is emasculating as hell – and one of the ignorant and hateful things that people say about queer men is that they are “not Real Men”. I know – my ex-wife used to throw that one in my face, along with my mother, my peers, and pretty much all of society.
It’s OK. There is no actual Man Law. No one can take away your Man Card, because there are no Man Cards. Man Law and Man Cards are just crap that men who are insecure about their own masculinity make up because someone told them they weren’t “Real Men”, so they try to do it to everyone else.
Coming out as bi is going to confuse a lot of people, and because of this, a lot of people are going to say some really, really stupid things.
They may try to tell you that you’re confused. If you are married, they may assume that you’re going to get divorced, or that you don’t really love your wife and are just using her as a maid and a babysitter and that you’re just out having fun while she’s crying alone and neglected at home. If you are divorced they may assume that your sexuality is the reason for the divorce. And if you’re single, they may assume that you have no interest in women. “Ah, that’s why he’s never settled down!”
You and I know that is bullshit. But the people making these assumptions are people who only understand sexuality on their own terms and aren’t making the effort to see how things really are.
The good news is, that’s their problem, not yours.
All you are obligated to do is be who you are. You don’t have to explain everything to them unless you want to, all you have to say is “I’m bi.” If they want to argue with you that everybody is so nobody is, or that you’re really just gay and pretending to like women, or that because you’re married/involved with a woman you should just keep it to yourself, you can smile and walk away, you can point them to internet resources (I know more than a few which I’ll point out later), or you can explain to them the simple truth.
“I am who I am, I like who I like, and I’d appreciate it if you’d accept me on my own terms. If you can’t handle this like an adult, then I have better things to do than argue.”
There’s going to be a lot of pressure on you about labeling – welcome to something straight people don’t have to deal with as much. A lot of people are going to try to be supportive by saying “Gay or Straight, you’re still the same guy.”
These people mean well, and they are genuinely trying to be your allies. They may not get it right away, but they get a cookie for trying to act like human beings. You’ll have plenty of time to explain to them – or have someone else explain to them – what your being bi means. Don’t lose heart.
A lot of men who are reasonably high-profile have come out as bi, or say they reject labels altogether, say things like “Well, I just don’t use any label for my sexual orientation. I’m just Not Straight.” “Not Straight” is a label, and for most people outside bisexual circles, it is a synonym for “Gay” – for being attracted only to guys. Even the ones who clearly say they are bi frequently get labeled as gay, and it’s going to happen to you.
Gay is not a dirty word. There’s nothing wrong with being gay. But for you and I, it’s just not accurate, because we’re attracted to women too. It’s not that we’re “afraid to be gay”, it’s that the raft of assumptions that come with the word can cause problems.
One of the most important things for you to do when you come out is to find a supportive community, either in the flesh or on the internet. If you are lucky enough to live near what people tend to call a “gay city”, there are resources for you – NYABN (New York) or BRC (Boston) or BOP (Twin Cities) or BABN (San Francisco Bay Area) or amBI and LABTF (Los Angeles) or DC or Houston or Austin or Chicago or Denver or Salt Lake City, for example. There are other cities and places with bi-specific resources, this is by no means an exhaustive list — some of these cities have multiple resources.
If your search for community is limited to the internet because of your geography, those sites have lots of links, and there are thriving bi communities on social media platforms as well as places like BiNET USA and Bi.org (which is a portal with a lot of links for UK organizations).
Reach out and find the bisexual community. Knowing them – knowing us – will help you, and by joining the community you also make it larger, and easier for the next bi guy in your shoes to come out and be himself on his own terms. Some queer communities are welcoming to bisexuals, and some are not. If you find yourself being rejected by your local gay community, don’t go back in the closet – again, it’s their problem, not something wrong with you.
If you are married, and the reason you’re coming out is because you’ve finally figured out who you are – that you’re doing that very first coming out, the coming out to yourself – she’s the first person you should consider talking to. There’s a pretty good chance that she’s known this for a long time (or, if you’re like a lot of us, she has been the only person you’ve always been out to). If not, if it will be a surprise for her, make sure that you come out to her simply and clearly. It shouldn’t be a big production, but it also shouldn’t be an offhand “Oh yeah, I’m bi” while you are heading out the door somewhere. Be prepared for it to take some time, to have an open and honest conversation. If you are not planning to have sex outside your relationship, let her know that. If you feel you do need to reach out to other men in a physical way, she should know that too, and how you handle that will have to be something you decide together.
In either case, you will have to do some renegotiation of your relationship boundaries. They may end up in exactly the same place as they were – my wife and I have renegotiated several times, and the boundaries have not moved. By renegotiating, even when they don’t change, we’ve been able to be sure that we’re both seeing them in the same place.
If you are going into a relationship (with anyone, gay or straight) be sure to let them know. For one thing, they might themselves be bi! And honesty is never a bad foundation for a relationship.
If you have a therapist, talk to them about it – but if they immediately tell you that you’re on the fence, that you’re really gay, or if they assume you want a divorce for that reason, then you should ask them for a referral to someone who understands bisexuality. Write this down on a notecard and take it with you – they should know what it is, and if they don’t, then they need to know: ALBGTIC Competencies for Counseling LGBQQIA sections C3, C11, and C13. If you don’t have a therapist, but you want to see one (either for individual or couples therapy), in your first intake session ask about these competencies. Remember that as a client, it is your fundamental right to find a therapist that will understand you.
The most important thing is to be yourself. If your masculinity is important to you, know that being bi doesn’t change the man you are.
If after identifying as bi for a while, it turns out that your attraction to women isn’t a real thing, that in retrospect it was an act or something forced on you, that’s OK too. You have every right to be fluid, to change how you label. Bi guys ask you, however, not to assume that what was true for you in this case is true for everyone. A lot of gay men have done damage to their brothers by telling them that everybody is really gay or straight.
The other side of this is defending yourself by saying “everyone is bi”. Number 1, you don’t have to defend yourself. Number two, it’s just not true.
OK, Bi Guy, I hope this helps. I and lots of others are here for you. Be who you are, and you’ll be fabulous.