As we begin to learn more about gender and sexuality, it’s clear: sexuality is not black or white. So why does it seem that men are not allowed to be bisexual? Why do they have to be one or the other? Don’t men get to experiment with their sexuality in the way women do?
In mainstream media, we see bisexual women, gay women, and gay men, but when do you ever see or hear about bisexual men? If you do, it’s usually followed by: “He’s really gay and just doesn’t want to admit it yet.” There is often the secretly gay character on a show or movie who has a wife or girlfriend, but meets with men and has sex with them. These men are never portrayed as bisexual, only as deeply closeted gay men. I decided to interview men and women in regards to this topic. All names have been changed to protect privacy.
One of my interviewees—we will call him Jim—said this about the portrayal (or lack of portrayal) of bi men in mainstream media: “Men are marketed as this brutish, aggressive, conquering archetype. Now, while we’ve started to culturally realize these ‘roles’ are damaging to boys growing up, there are no real positive bisexual male role models—or even male role models, period—that treat everyone with respect, grace, and tenderness. I struggle being the only male in my son’s life that tries to teach him the right messages against an onslaught of the other examples, expressions, and biases that occur at school and by the parents of his classmates.” Jim is married with children and his wife is also bisexual.
I asked Jim if being bisexual was a challenge in his relationship. “I met my partner within a polyamory-ish/open-minded community, so this introduction of my bisexuality was simple (many past relationships ended on this revelation). She initially had some challenges accepting that my sexuality is who I ‘am’ and not who I ‘was’, even though she is bisexual as well. As we unraveled her gay male programming, she understood that I’m not a closeted gay man and that even though many people are confused about what being a bi male means, I am not confused about who I am.”
I interviewed a couple together who are both bisexual and in an open, happy, healthy relationship. We will call them Victoria and Thomas. I asked Thomas if being bisexual was something he didn’t share openly: “Yes, God yes; you keep that close to the vest. It’s easier to tell new friends than old friends. It’s easier to do a clean slate, like ‘Hey, this is who I am,’ than telling someone you have known for years, ‘This is something about me you didn’t know.’ It’s not even about getting into trouble; it’s just a lot of questions. Or perhaps even giving the person the idea that you’re not who you say you are.”
Since Victoria accepts Thomas’s being bi, I asked her why she has no reservations about this aspect of their relationship: “I came out when I was 19 [as] bisexual to my family and friends. My last boyfriend was bisexual, but he wasn’t out about it. I asked him once if he liked men, because I could sense it. We talked about it and had a few threesomes, a handful of foursomes, and that was it. I wanted to do more of that, but he was not comfortable with it, so we broke up. When I found Thomas, I realized he was the perfect man for me, because he was comfortable in his own skin and he was accepting of me.”
I asked both Thomas and Victoria why they think men don’t like to admit they are bisexual. Thomas said, “I think for a lot of guys, if you get to the point where you actually have to question your sexuality, it’s a thing that you never want to approach. You spend your life trying to be masculine, because that is what you are supposed to be. So the fact that you have done something that is considered emasculating, that’s the last thing you want on your plate. Also, as a bisexual man, there are no websites for you to go on for hookups, except Craigslist.” Thomas said.
“My ex-husband told me he had a bisexual experience when he was in college and never told anyone. I told him it turned me on and he said he wasn’t into it and I think that was a protection. I think he liked it more than he wanted to admit, so I would push it a bit. Like, should we watch gay porn, or do you want to try this and he would get uncomfortable. I think he liked it and was very ashamed of it,” Victoria said.
There is that word again, shame. Why is shame such a factor with men being attracted to other men? Thomas said: “If you sit around with a bunch of dudes, just dudes, there are going to be a lot of fag jokes, ‘you cocksucker’ jokes, or ‘you like to take it in the ass’ jokes. It’s there since high school, right up there with ‘I fucked your mother last night.’ It’s an insult as a man, for someone to say you’ve been with a man, much less if you, say, gave/received oral or anal sex. It’s the last thing you want to get caught doing.”
I asked Jim if he felt more men were bisexual, but ashamed to admit it: “Yes, I think that most men could be bisexual if they were not culturally programmed otherwise. I feel that boys and men are continuously shamed to ‘do the right thing or give up’ by committing to one of the binary [orientations].”
I asked Jim if he was open with people about being bisexual: “I don’t broadcast the information out of context, and generally don’t understand why I would be expected to share the information with someone that is not a potential playmate. It doesn’t help that I receive or observe a lot of judgment about bisexual people from males and females. Often the worst judgments have been by gay people.”
Thomas and Victoria, who are in the swinger community, told me that in swinger sex circles, bisexual men are often persona non grata. We specifically discussed the Lifestyle Lounge site and Thomas said: “If we are going to a Lifestyle Lounge party, I’m straight for the night. Mind you this is a website you can go on and say, ‘I want to plan a gang bang with my wife and watch her physically get pummeled and drilled by multiple men.’ Yet, if you are a bisexual man, it is not acceptable. On the forums in LL, most of the men on the site say, ‘I’m not bisexual; don’t even go there.”
Thomas has a friend we will call Dave: “A friend of mine at home is the best example of a man I know who is bi, and absolutely terrified to tell his partner, because she would leave him in a heartbeat if she knew. He’s caught between a rock and a hard place, because if he tells her, she’ll leave, so for him it’s just easier to live with the lie. I remember once Dave said to me, ‘I wish I could just move somewhere, start over, and be openly bisexual.’ This was pre-San Francisco, when I was living in Southern California. I didn’t do a lot of the things I do here in Southern California, or anywhere else. Yet I did get to start over when I moved to San Francisco.”
I asked Thomas what he had to say to all the closeted bisexual men out there reading this: “There are women out there who do like bisexual men. It’s probably better for bi men in the long run to be out about it than keep it in the closet. I know it’s totally doable to just lie; maybe you get that craving once a year, or every six months. But it’s really just easier to be bisexual and out about it. There are a lot more women than you realize who are okay with that. I think life is a bit more fun when you can be true to yourself. Even men I have played with, once I ask them how long have they been bisexual, they say ‘I’m not.’ Mind you, we have just been sexual with one another. Most of the bi men I play with are not out to others, and in a way, not out to themselves.”
The common theme among all of these men in regards to their bisexuality is that they don’t disclose it—not because they are ashamed of it, but because they are afraid of how people will react. As one of the men said: “I’m very selective about sharing this, because homophobia is alive, well, and kicking.” But these are men who are very comfortable with who they are and have partners that are supportive. This is the exception and not the rule.
In San Francisco, we live in a bubble. It’s easier here to be who you are, because people are much more accepting. I understand why many men not living in San Francisco are afraid to share something society shames, and that makes me very sad for them. If you are a bisexual man, know you are far from alone; there are more bi men than you realize. I got more interview responses from men than I could include. Bi men exist, but it’s not always a safe thing to admit to in this black and white world. Thank you to all of the men and women who were willing to share a very private part of their life with me.