The Queer Issue: You're Doing It Wrong
I'm not bi-phobic—in fact, I love bisexual people so much, I wish there were more of them.
I do find some bisexuals scary, particularly the ones who are always accusing me of being bi-phobic. But I find some gay people scary too, and no one has ever accused me of being homophobic. (Well, no one recently.)
But let's unpack—for Pride Week!—why I'm constantly being accused of bi-phobia, particularly by bisexual men. And it's basically this: I'm unwilling to pretend that what is, isn't.
Here's one thing that is: Many adult gays and lesbians identified as bi for a few shining moments during our adolescences and coming-out processes. (We wanted to let our friends down easy; we didn't want our families to think we'd gone over the dark side entirely.) This can lead adult gays and lesbians—myself included—to doubt the professed sexual identities of bisexual teenagers.
When I meet a bisexual teenage boy, for instance, I sometimes think to myself, "Yeah, I was too at your age." That doesn't mean the kid standing in front of me couldn't possibly be bisexual (I wasn't, he might be!), or that I don't believe bisexuality exists (bisexuals exist, and most of them seem to have my e-mail address), only that my life experience makes it difficult for me to accept a bisexual teenage boy's professed sexual identity at face value. (And to those who insist that my inability to accept someone's professed sexual identity without question makes me a bigot: Ted Haggard, George Rekers, and Larry Craig all identify as straight. You believe them? Or are you a bigot?)
I don't berate bi-identified teenage boys, I don't tell them they're not really bi, and I don't cruise around bi neighborhoods looking for young bi guys to beat up. But I do know that a bi-identified 36-year-old is likelier to be bisexual than a bi-identified 16-year-old, and I resent being asked to pretend not to know it.
And here's another thing that is: Most adult bisexuals, for whatever reason, wind up in opposite-sex relationships. And most comfortably disappear into presumed heterosexuality (including all three of my biggest bisexual antagonists—what are the odds?!).
Now I don't think it's necessarily misleading or deceitful for a bisexual guy in a long-term opposite-sex relationship to round himself down to straight, if that's what he wants to do, so long as he's out to his partner. But judging from the e-mails I get from bisexual men at Savage Love (from the ones after my advice, not my hide), and all the men-seeking-men ads on Craigslist posted by men who are married to women (we used to call those guys "married men"—ah, progress!), there are a lot of bisexuals out there who aren't out to their partners. An excerpt from a sadly typical bi Savage Love letter:
I am a 30-year-old bi male recently engaged to a wonderful woman. I have never told my fiancée about my bi past, and didn't think it was a big deal because I am more attracted to women, and was only in one male/male relationship... but now that we're engaged, I am feeling guilty for keeping this quiet. Is it too late? Should I stay quiet?? I don't want to lose her.
I hope that bi guy has the decency to come out to his fiancée before the wedding, because she deserves better. And so does he. The closet is awful and I wouldn't wish its miseries on anyone. Hiding the truth about your sexuality from someone you love is painful and exhausting... which is why I stopped doing it myself when I was a teenager.
Not only would it be great if more bisexuals were out to their partners, it would be great if more bisexuals in opposite-sex relationships were out to their friends, families, and coworkers. More out bisexuals would mean less of that bisexual invisibility that bisexuals are always complaining about. If more bisexuals were out, more straight people would know they actually know and love sexual minorities, which would lead to less anti-LGBT bigotry generally, which would be better for everyone.
But people get to make their own choices, and lots of bisexuals choose not to be out. While I'm willing to recognize that the reluctance of many bisexuals to be out may be a reaction to the hostility they face from non-bisexuals, gay and straight, bisexuals need to recognize that their being closeted is a huge contributing factor to the hostility they face.
Bisexual activists like to complain that they're the most oppressed because (1) it's a contest, and (2) it's a good excuse. If they can argue—and unfortunately, they can—that lots of gay people are mean to them (some gay people don't want to date them, some gay people doubt they exist) and straight people are mean to them (some straight people don't want to date them, some straight people doubt they exist), then bisexual people aren't to blame for the bisexual closet. Everyone else is.
And they have a point—but it's a self-serving, self-defeating point. Yes, lots of people judge and condemn and fear bisexuals. If those were good reasons to stay closeted, no gay or lesbian person would ever come out. And if bisexuals did come out in greater numbers, they could rule... well, not the world, but they could rule the parallel LGBT universe.
Earlier this year, a researcher at the Williams Institute at the University of California released the results of a study that attempted to estimate the LGBT population of the United States. Some of the numbers that "Gary J. Gates, Williams Distinguished Scholar" came up with were disputed—just 3.5 percent of the population is LGBT? There are only nine million LGBT people in the United States total?—but the most interesting finding was that there are more bisexual adults (1.8 percent of the population) than gay and lesbian adults combined (1.7 percent of the population).
I'm sorry, bisexual activists, but you're doing it all wrong. Instead of berating me for my alleged bi-phobia—and if I'm the enemy, you're in real trouble—berate your closeted compatriots. If they all came out tomorrow, you could put an end to bi-phobia, take over the LGBT movement, and kick my ass out of it.