Thursday, October 2, 2014

Bisexuals Passing As Gay

This was originally published in The Gayly, as my September 2014 BiAngle Column.

While so many gays and straights say they don’t know any, or hardly any, people who are bisexual, or who have maintained a bi identity for any length of time, out bisexuals know there are “invisible” bisexuals all over the place – bisexuals who are out to us, but ID as gay or straight to the rest of the world. It’s commonly thought that most bisexuals pass as straight. Few realize how many actually pass as gay, much less, how difficult it can be for those who do.

For example, there’s the friend I initially met not long after he came out as gay. Picking up on clues that he was not really gay, I asked his opinion on bisexuality. He hesitated at first, but then the floodgates opened. He’d been married for several years when his wife discovered his attractions to men. He explained to her that he was bisexual. Despite their active and fulfilling love life, she said there was no such thing as bisexual, insisted that he was gay, and outed him as gay to his family. He explained to them that he was bisexual. They explained that it was okay that he was gay, that they accepted him for being gay, and that he should accept that he was gay too. His marriage was falling apart, and he was grappling with suddenly being outed, while he was still in the process of coming to terms with his same-sex attractions. Insisting he was bi repeatedly was met with bi-erasure, bi-phobia, and bi-ignorance. It was too much to handle; everything was too much to handle. So yeah, he finally “admitted” he was “gay,” and began living as a very openly gay man. Only, he is not.

Recently, an older “lesbian” told me that when she was younger, the feminist-lesbian world that had become her community demanded she ID as lesbian or be ostracized. So, despite having had many sexual and romantic affairs, and long-term relationships, with men, she took on the lesbian label and has been an out “lesbian” for decades. All this time later, she told me her story with an emphasis on the absurdity of the situation, and more than a bit of lingering bitterness.   

While some gay people do present a bisexual ID temporarily in the coming out process, way too often it’s not understood that frequently what’s behind those who change their ID from bi to gay, isn't a maturing in understanding their sexuality, nor overcoming cowardice in coming out as just gay. For many it’s actually a lack of ability to maintain a bisexual identity amid a barrage of pressures to ID as gay, accompanied by a complete void in external validation of their true sexuality. Nor is it understood how stressful it can be for actual bisexuals to have the “Bi now, Gay later,” phrase repeatedly thrown at them.

Once a bisexual is thoroughly involved in the gay community, it’s incredibly difficult for them if they attempt to come out as bi. It can mean losing community, support, friends, and social life, an experience that can be agonizingly traumatic.  

Such was the case for a young man I met at a bisexual symposium back when I was a student at San Francisco State. He explained that he had always ID as gay, but had found himself more and more attracted to his female best friend. When he tried to talk to his friends— gay men — about this shocking self-discovery and growing love, they reacted as if he were a traitor, and ridiculed and shunned him.

It’s high time to change the fact is that too many openly out gay people are truly secretly closeted bisexuals who feel they cannot openly be who they are.
As Don Weise, who was listed among Out Magazine's "100 Most Intriguing Gay Men and Lesbians,” said, when he came out recently as bisexual, “Isn't coming out about declaring who and what we desire in the face of who and what we're expected to desire?” He added, “What matters to me is coming to the most authentic expression of who I truly am and living from that place, openly.”