Bisexual activist Lewis Oakley examines the issues affecting bisexual men on Bi Visibility Day
It’s Bi Visibility Day this Sunday, and that means we get to talk about the issues affecting bisexual people that are so often ignored the other 364 days of the year. One issue that impacts bisexual men in particular is the lack of out and open bisexual lads.
A 2013 study of LGBT Americans found that only 12 per cent of bisexual men are out of the closet, while research from Stonewall found that, here in the UK, 49 per cent of bi men aren’t out to anyone at work (compared to seven per cent of gay men and four per cent of lesbians).
So why the stark difference? Have bisexual men been left behind in the LGBT steps towards equality? Fighting for such a different rainbow of people at the same time may mean some issues are swept under the carpet; we have to understand that the issues keeping gay men in the closet are not the same issues hindering bisexual men.
When talking with bisexual men, I found one issue repeatedly cropped up. Many worried their past relationships with men would negatively impact their future chances with women, and as a bisexual man myself I’ve lost track of the amount of times a woman I’ve not been romantically interested in has turned to me and said “Ugh, I could never date a bisexual man.”
Mathew, 28, from San Diego shared his similar experience.“I can’t tell you how many women I’ve talked to that have said they would never date or even consider being with a bi man,” he tells me. “I’ve been outright rejected on dates or when talking with a woman who finds out I’m bisexual. There is an immediate change in how they act and look at me. This behaviour is completely accepted as rational and normal for so many women I’ve talked to.”
Some bisexual men are concerned that women perceive their bisexuality as a feminine trait – something 19-year-old Jack, from New York, worries about.
“It’s the whole ‘gays must be feminine’ stereotype tied in with women being expected (and even conditioned) to find hyper masculinity attractive,” he says.
“I think this is one of many reasons that keeps bi men closeted and cause them to be in and out of the closet in certain ways. They might date multiple genders while not disclosing to their partners that they’re bi for fear of rejection.”
Of course, no one is saying women need to be attracted to bisexual men. Yet everyone needs to mindful that rejecting a bisexual man purely on the basis of his sexuality can be a form of discrimination. Women that say they wouldn’t date bisexual men need to ask themselves why? Is it because of some misguided prejudice – do you think you’ll catch HIV or he’ll eventually leave you for a man? If those are the reasons then that is biphobia – and it is disgusting.
This is all the more frustrating because research has found that women who date bi men are often very happy with their relationship. In one study, conducted by the Deakin School of Health and Social Development, researchers found that women in relationships with bisexual men said their partners were better lovers and fathers than straight men. The women interviewed felt that bisexual men were more open to designing a relationship that works for them.
All relationships are different, and many bisexual men feel staying in the closet was the right choice for them. Spike, from Colombus, was married for 16 years and never told his wife about his bisexuality.
“My marriage was everything to me and I would have never ever risked that marriage by revealing or acting on my sexuality,” he says. “Simply put, my wife was far more important than my bisexuality and risking that relationship was not a gamble I ever would’ve taken. And I still stand by that decision as the right one.
“I can guarantee that were it not for that divorce, I’d still be mum about my bisexuality.”
Another issue for many men is that there aren’t many male celebrity role models, or a dedicated community, for bi men to draw on and feel a sense of strength. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy as bisexual men remain in the closet when they don’t knowingly meet others like them. We don’t have many out, famous, bisexual men to completely change the public’s mind on what a bisexual man looks like. This void means that to be a bisexual man you automatically have to be the spokesperson for your sexuality.
This is something that troubles Ashley, 45, from Manchester. “As there are no clear examples and role models that are talked about regularly, it means most bisexual men think that society wants them to choose between being gay or straight,” he says.
“Saying you’re bisexual is often mocked or dismissed. It’s easier to go along with society’s demand for you to fit into a neat little box. Even now with talk of fluidity in the media a lot, the bisexual term seems to be being overlooked.”
One issue that may be impossible to tackle is that bisexual people are by their nature invisible. For example, when I walk down the street holding my girlfriend’s hand people perceive me to be straight. In contrast, four years ago when I walked down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand, the world perceived me to be gay.
We are a visual species and to some extent will always be judged by the sex of the person we happen to be in a relationship with. I’ve never heard of anyone walking down the street and saying “you could so tell he was bisexual”, and short of wearing T-shirts with bisexual written on, that issue isn’t likely to change.
Constantly being labeled “gay” or “straight” because of the person you happen to be dating can be exhausting, as Matthew, 28, from San Diego shares:
“Coming out isn’t a onetime thing. It’s a perpetual experience with everyone you meet. The constant correcting of people who may say that you’re ‘gay’ gets exhausting. It actually can really hurt sometimes. [Telling people I’m bi] has often been met with numerous inappropriate comments or responses. Sadly, even close friends don’t acknowledge or ‘believe’ my bisexuality because to them, ‘it doesn’t exist’.”
Ultimately, society just hasn’t given fair thought to bisexual men. We have seen all sorts of relationships play out on film and TV in recent years, but bisexual men still aren’t hugely represented. One bisexual who didn’t wish to be named said “fewer people understand bisexuality” than other sexualities.
“People might find it difficult to relate to a guy who has had girlfriends but then suddenly has a boyfriend, as was the case with me,” he says.
As we move forward, it’s important to be mindful of bisexual men, to understand their struggles and realise it is a valid sexuality. Your perspectives of it not being real or that bi men can’t commit are unfair stereotypes being put on people who are just trying to live their life. With so many bisexual men in the closet, what can you do today to help bisexual men around you feel more comfortable?