Dan Savage tells me that I’m straight because I’m a cismale in a long term monogamous relationship with a ciswoman. It doesn’t matter to him that we met because we were interested in the same man, or that I had sexual relationships with men before I met her – that was just experimentation, confusion about my identity. It doesn’t matter that my sexual fantasies include my own gender as well as genders different from mine. As far as he’s concerned, I’m just an open-minded straight guy.
To another person, I have no reason to attend a conference for queer people. Everyone is bisexual, he says, so it’s just plain silly for me to identify myself as such. According to him, all labels for sexuality should be set aside, because we’re all human beings.
According to the local plasma company where college students augment their income, I am “MSM” – a man who has sex with men. And because I have had unprotected sex with a man at any time in my life, I am a potential disease vector, and thus ineligible to get my $35 for half a liter of claret.
According to someone else, I’m gay. Because I work with the queer community, because I identify myself as belonging to the LGBT population, I clearly have no attraction to people of genders other than mine.
According to yet another person, I’m not only gay, but maliciously so, using the woman I am married to as a free housemaid and babysitter, condemning her to a loveless marriage with either no sexual fulfillment or only that which I can bring myself to fake while I go out and spend my energies in the arms of a myriad of anonymous men.
To another unasked opinionator, since bisexuality is an exact 50/50 split of attractions, and no one is exactly 50/50, no one is bisexual, so I’m just a self-hating gay man who’s afraid of the label “gay” and need to grow up and get together with a man so I can experience real love for the first time.
To some others, I am not only a fence-sitter, but a bench-sitter, because bisexuals are not active in the queer community and have never fought for gay rights. Rather we just sit back and soak up our straight privilege.
In the eyes of some, my use of the word bisexual is offensive and hateful because it indicates a deep hostility to transfolk, that it’s the equivalent of using “chairman” or “postman”, that the very word erases anyone who is not in “the gender binary”.
To others, it means I am only sexually and romantically interested in cisgender people, that I don’t love people for who they are but am only interested in a very specific and narrow range of genitalia, that all of my judgments about people are based on what genitals they were born with.
To a lot of straight men, I’m just a faggot, a pervert, a probable child molester, and someone whose urges are so uncontrollable that I will rape them at the first opportunity because either they are the most attractive men on the planet or my tastes are so indiscriminate that I don’t care about anything but my own sick pleasures.
Some people think that I obviously have a boyfriend on the side, or hang around rest stops for quickies with truckers, or that if I am monogamous, it’s because I am repressing my real self.
There are even a few who want a cookie for recognizing that I actually do exist because a researcher finally recanted his previous work saying I didn’t. Because science knows everything about everything, so if one study says I was straight or gay and lying to myself about it, that must be the case, but now I’m permitted to exist – weird and immature, or some third sex, or really a woman trapped in a man’s body, but now that Science Hath Spoken, I can be there. Over there, please. Far away. I still can’t be here where they are standing, after all, I might assault them.
To some people I’m angry.
Those last people? They may be right. But I’m not angry all the time.
What I am all the time is a person trying to get through life, trying to carve out a better world for my family and for my communities. And when I think about sex, which is not every seven seconds like some people think all men do, I find myself attracted to lots of different things. Strength. Vulnerability. Intelligence. Softness. Hardness. Things that are not necessarily restricted to any particular gender.
Gender presentation is important to me, in fact – but it doesn’t have to be cisgender, and it definitely does not have to be the elements that are considered by society to be “appropriate” for their “sex”. It doesn’t have to be exclusively masculine (I like men who are sensitive, a little soft, men who are able to be tender as well as forceful). It doesn’t have to be exclusively feminine (I like women who are strong physically and mentally, woman who can open the pickle jar when I can’t, women who don’t shave any part of their bodies). It doesn’t have to be either – I can look at someone, speak to someone, be attracted to them, and walk away with no gender label for them at all, people who use pronouns like ze and hir.
Some people think it’s trendy or hip to claim to be bisexual. As a bisexual man? There’s nothing hip or trendy about it for me. It’s not something I choose to be because it makes me more enlightened or more open. It’s not about being more attractive to gay men by being “straight-acting”.
It’s just who I am.
And it’s something I hid from almost everyone for almost three decades, and it’s something I probably would still be hiding today if I hadn’t been lucky enough to come out in a place where the queer culture embraces bisexuality as a valid identity.
I came out because I could no longer be dishonest. I could no longer walk around presenting myself to the world as a straight man, turning a blind eye to homophobia – I didn’t even know about biphobia yet – because I felt like speaking up could blow my cover. Avoiding contact with the queer community. Isolating myself. The classic long-term closet experience.
As a bi man I face the same prejudice and ignorance from the homophobes as a gay man in the straight community, as well as some specific challenges from both the straight and the lesbian/gay communities. Challenges like being erased, and then blamed for that erasure. Challenges like having a therapist ignore the stress being in the closet caused me because he didn’t understand that I could be married to a woman and still be queer. Challenges like hearing an identity development model that requires rejection of heterosexuality for full maturity quoted weekly.
And the old Kinsey Scale Blues. I am so, oh so tired of the Kinsey Scale being shoved in my face. “So, what percentage straight are you? Oh, you don’t look at it that way? Well, I need a number. Let’s see, you haven’t had sex with a man in two decades and change, so I’m going to say 80%. That means you’re only 20% gay.” “Bisexuality is Kinsey 3, half-gay and half-straight. Oh, you’re not ‘half-gay’, you’re a whole person? You’re gay all the time and straight all the time? That just doesn’t make sense according to this authoritative model that’s been around for 60 years and all this research is based on it so it must be the only valid way to look at it.”
I’m not half anything. I’m bisexual, through and through, and I have been, in spite of the research, in spite of the attitudes, in spite of whatever myths are current. As long as I have been aware of my sexuality, it has been directed at a few people across a wide range of gender identities – less people than a lot of straight people I know.
I’m an integrated person, and coming out was a stage of that integration, a way to bring my public face into congruence with my inner self.
I have become a therapist – an out, bisexual therapist – who is trying to build a practice working primarily (but not exclusively) with people who are bisexual. So they don’t have to spend time they should be working on themselves trying to explain to me that, yes they really are bi, no they don’t need me to help them get off the fence and pick a side, yes they are feeling rejected by both the worlds they walk in, no they aren’t promiscuous and greedy by definition (but that if they have those traits, it’s because they do as individuals, just like straight and gay people can have those traits). So they don’t have to educate me before they can start helping themselves. So they don’t have to explain what a mixed orientation marriage is and risk being told they need to divorce so they can be who they “really” are.
I am all of me.