Saturday, July 31, 2010

The invisibility of bisexual men

Stephanie Chen of CNN News discusses The Last Person Out of the Closet: The Bisexual Male. She talks with Robert Winn, a bisexual man who is married to a woman, about his struggles with coming out:
This may sound like the best of both worlds, but being openly bisexual can be complicated. He frequently battles the stereotypes of bisexuality: That bisexual men are promiscuous. That his relationships with men were just an adolescent phase. That his bisexuality is imaginary. That he's really a gay man trying to camouflage his orientation.

"There is a whole list of assumptions of what my life might be like, that somehow she is some sort of front for me because I'm not willing to accept I'm gay," he said. "People are confused by bisexuality. There's just not a lot of support for people who fall in the middle like me."
His wife Christine, while supportive, does manage to compare her husband's bisexuality to an annoying behavior she must deal with:
"I don't think about it [his bisexuality] as a part I have to accept," she said. "It's just a part of him like any other husband who loses their socks on the floor or doesn't take the trash out."
I tend to come to the conclusion that the reason why it is more difficult for bisexual men to come out than for bisexual women can be attributed to females performing bisexuality for men, and the seemingly default homophobia that is socialized into Western men from birth. As Chen says:
Some say that coming out as bisexual has been easier for women than men. In recent years, several Hollywood female stars have proudly declared their bisexuality. Female celebrities like Lady Gaga, Lindsay Lohan and HBO "True Blood" actress Anna Paquin have said they are bisexual.
"It's [female bisexuality] something that's tolerated because sometimes men see it as entertaining and exciting for them," said Denise Penn, director of the American Institute of Bisexuality.
Christine Winn has felt a lot of struggles in the marriage as a result of her husband's out bisexuality, like feeling "ostracized by the gay community" because Winn's physician peers and the people within the GLBT community that he worked with assumed he was partnered with a man. Robert sums up why he ultimately decided to come out to his wife early on:
"I didn't want to turn 40, and then come out to my wife about it," he said. "I wanted to be open with her about who I am and what I think. Thankfully, she was willing to accept me."
(emphasis mine)

They are a couple of decades older than I am, I suppose, but I'm really rather taken aback by the gratitude Robert feels in her acceptance-- especially since she described her relationship to her husband's sexuality to be like her reaction to his bad habits. I simply can't imagine being upset with a spouse being bisexual. If Jesse were to tell me tonight that he's gay? Yeah, that would upset me, for obvious reasons: my husband would have just told me that he isn't attracted to me physically, and in addition to that, I'd feel hurt and confused at the secrecy and deception involved in maintaining a romantic and sexual relationship with me.

Bisexual, though? What would I have to worry about? If you're either male or female, then your bisexual partner isn't telling you that he or she isn't attracted to people of your gender. I don't see any issues beyond that. I used to wonder if maybe there would be more opportunities to cheat on your partner with no longer eliminating one half of the population by default, but then quickly realized that was based on the myth that bisexual people are promiscuous or always non-monogamous. One's sexuality doesn't determine whether or not someone will be faithful in a monogamous relationship.

I'm pleased the story has made it to a mainstream news outlet such as CNN; I am, however, disappointed in the cautious and apologetic tone of the content, as it continues to marginalize and "other" non-heterosexual people and couples.