A bisexual guy explores why society is so unwilling to believe that men are bisexual, and looks at the stereotypes often associated with bi men. By Jake Pitre.
“People are so prejudiced against bisexuals. It’s like the only group of people you can still make fun of. Bisexuals … and Germans.” – Elijah, Girls
One of the most dispiriting things to see—among many—during the media whirlwind around Amber Heard’s allegations of domestic violence against Johnny Depp, was how many publications mentioned or highlighted Heard’s bisexuality as a factor. As in, her bisexuality made her deceptive, or made her story unbelievable, or made it plausible that she had been cheating on Depp with a woman, bringing on a reaction, or various other absurd and harmful interpretations.
Reading through all this, I realized that, as a bisexual man in my early-20s, I never see most of these particular dehumanizing and promiscuous characteristics mentioned when it comes to bisexual men. Bisexual women are Sharon Stone’s deviously murderous psychopath in Basic Instinct. But what even is a bisexual man? As I’ve become increasingly aware of my own bisexuality over the past few years, working as a writer and making my way through academia, I’ve realized more and more that there are deeply-rooted associations that people make with a bisexual person—some apply regardless of gender, but many come from centuries-old ideas of masculinity and femininity.
Male bisexuals are usually characterized as power-hungry and insatiably desirous. This is true of TV characters like Frank Underwood on House of Cards and Oberyn Martell on Game of Thrones, but it’s also true of how people talk about real-life figures like Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and actor Alan Cumming… or, you know, Alfred Kinsey. There’s something terribly masculine about the way this works—the conflation of power with sexual freedom. As forward-thinking as David Bowie was when it came to sexuality and gender, he famously backtracked on his statements about his bisexuality, as though he had used it to help craft his powerful and otherworldly persona while rejecting it in his own life.
Although different assumptions are made about women who identify as bisexual, bisexual men in particular are often assumed to be making the baby steps necessary toward being fully gay. It’s true—some men do this, but somehow those men have made the idea of a truly bisexual dude seem less credible to many people. Studies have found that straight people have more negative feelings about bisexuals—especially bi men—than they do for gays and lesbians (who themselves are often the worst perpetrators of discrimination and minimization of the bi community).
Dr. Qazi Rahman, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said in an interview earlier this year with Gay Star News, “When we look at self-identification studies, men will either identify as straight, gay or bisexual. However the prevailing scientific view is that bisexuality in males doesn’t physiologically exist.” Did I read that right? The prevailing narrative is that I don’t exist?! Many within the LGBT+ community will say, “I’d never date a bisexual,” or they assume all bisexual men just need time to figure out that they’re gay, because perhaps it’s what they went through themselves, and narcissistically believe their experience must be universal (this was the author and political commentator Andrew Sullivan’s justification, for example). Perhaps it’s due to our lack of visibility, or maybe it’s just because it’s far less conducive to the heteronormative whims of straight men, but it seems that society is much less willing to believe men are capable of bisexuality than women.
A study in the Journal of Bisexuality, published by the American Institute of Bisexuality, found that compared with their exclusively homosexual and heterosexual counterparts, bisexuals have reported higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance use, victimization by violence, suicidal ideation and sexual-health concerns. Could this be partially related to our invisibility? Sexuality is so complex, and it seems that funding dollars are going toward many studies (like Dr. Rahman’s) that tell us nothing at all about bisexuality. Why do we have these higher rates? Why doesn’t anyone believe us? How can we make them believe?
I am currently in a convenient opposite-sex relationship, so it would be easy for me to assume heteronormative standards and not even acknowledge my bisexuality. Why would I, when there is so much biphobia and so many people who don’t even believe my sexuality is legitimate? It can be suffocating to live with so many people projecting all their bogus ideas about what your sexuality means to them onto you. As LGBT+ issues have risen in awareness and been commodified, commercialized and institutionalized, it has become easier to leave some by the wayside. But I insist on talking about my bisexuality because I don’t want to contribute to bi erasure. More bisexual men need to talk about their desires, and who they are as people. We need to take control of the education and the narrative. I understand that it’s easier to take a more well-defined role—to just stick with either column A or column B. But that will be harmful to yourself, and ultimately to sexuality in general. You’re in column C, motherfucker. Tell it.
Put simply, some men want to fuck men and women (or people of genders, or gender nonconforming people) just like some women do. The fact that I am in a relationship with a woman doesn’t mean that I am really just figuring out that maybe I’m just straight after all. To hear that “bisexuality in males doesn’t physiologically exist” is to set a dangerous precedent that suggests we are liars or jokes or fence-sitters.
I also understand the aversion to labels. I am constantly troubled by my own label, because it never feels exactly right, and labels often work against us more than for us. But there is no binary. A label like “bisexual” may be a little uncomfortable, but it brings attention to the fluidity of sexuality and to the fact that human desire is not a phenomenon that can be easily understood. Labels aren’t perfect, but they’re the start of an important process that is rooted in affirming that bisexual people exist.
Sexuality is complicated and varied, and being attracted to people regardless of gender is a luxury for bisexuals that those who find themselves on a binary struggle to trust or comprehend. But though that is mostly their burden, I think it’s our responsibility, as well, to talk honestly and talk more. If the struggle is to understand, we have to be clear. For me, as an example, it’s not a simple 50/50 split. I would say I am generally more romantically attracted to women but my sexual attraction is consistently about equal to all genders. And that’s just for right now. Every bi person will probably give you a slightly different answer. And that’s okay. We’re all in column C, and we need to be adamant about it to foster a real sense of community, or at least to start a shift away from long-gestating stereotypes and give a real sense of what it means to like all genders, and to be okay with that.
Jake Pitre is a freelance writer and Master’s candidate in Film at Carleton University.