Ed. note: I’m off this week. The wonderful Tobias Rodriguez is filling in for me. Tobias originally hails from Texas and now lives in New York where he works in social media at a reproductive health organization.
When I walked into a large bar in Brooklyn Sunday night for a screening of an episode of The Outs, a web series about two ex-boyfriends in Brooklyn, I felt really gay. But with my girlfriend right next to me, I also felt really straight. I was in some ways both at the same time. I was, and am, bisexual.
It’s become both common knowledge and a studied phenomenon that female sexuality is fluid. In television and in movies, bisexual women have their own storylines, and in the last few years, a large number of female celebrities have come out as bisexual. While it seems like bisexuality might as well be commonplace for women, people assume that male sexuality stays on the gay-straight binary. For bisexual men, this is experienced as bi-invisibility, and it has serious consequences.
The assumptions are endless. While the gay-straight binary is enforced in different ways for bisexual men and women, bi men in particular face less acceptance from their peers. Even in young progressive circles, many people still think that bi men are “on their way” to coming out as gay. And while bisexual men are assumed to be gay, most gay male spaces often don’t make room for bi men who date women. For many bi men, neither straight spaces nor gay spaces feel comfortable. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to create bi-specific spaces. Queer spaces and support groups aside, bi people are still invisible.
As a bi man, feeling rejected in straight spaces isn’t unexpected, but the rejection from gay spaces stings. LGBT communities pay no heed to bi people unless they’re partnered with people of the same gender. And even then they’re labeled inaccurately as gay. For example, most gay male spaces, like clubs and bars, don’t make room for bisexual men who date women.
The Outs is a perfect example. When a friend of mine introduced me to the web series last fall, I don’t think I’m being overdramatic (much) to say that it changed my life. My roommates watch it, my girlfriend watches it, her roommate and her sister watch it, my friend’s ex-boyfriend watches it, my other friend’s friend from OkCupid watches it, and more than enough people to fill a bar multiple times for screenings. It’s like Girls, except better. And much, much gayer. It focuses on the way two young gay men attempt to navigate their lives and relationships post-break up. I love the show. It gives me lots of feelings, some happy, some sad, but always pretty real.
Spoilers ahead: the two main characters, Mitchell and Jack, break up before the show starts. Their relationship ended after Jack cheats on Mitchell with Mitchell’s best girl friend’s supposedly straight boyfriend, Drew. Mitchell walks in on Drew and Jack after they’ve had sex, and both Jack’s and Drew’s relationships are ended. Prior to the hook-up, there had already been speculation about Drew’s orientation—the audience sees him watching gay porn, suggesting that he’s a closeted gay man. The next time we see Drew in the show, he’s making out with his new boyfriend in a Brooklyn wine shop.
It’s not uncommon for people to come out as gay after being in heterosexual relationships. But when the gay/straight binary is so enforced, these storylines become a media trope that disregards bisexuality. Because Drew is now partnered with a man, he must be gay–no one mentions the idea that Drew could be bisexual. When closeted people only have the option of coming out as gay, as opposed to bi or queer, we perpetuate two harmful tropes: that there are only two sexual orientations, and that the gender of your partner determines your sexual identity.
Biphobia and bi-invisibility are not new concepts. And yet, as we challenge heteronomativity and homophobia in straight spaces, so too must we challenge the bi-invisibility that continues to exist in LGBT spaces. Bisexual people deserve to be respected, believed, included, and taken seriously by their gay peers. Biphobia is not that different than homophobia: it’s the fear of the unknown, of the different. As we look to eradicate prejudices and homophobia in straight communities, so too must we eradicate the prejudices we hold onto within our LGBT communities.