“Sometimes men love women,
Sometimes men love men
And then there are bisexuals, though some just say they’re kidding themselves."
Any child of the nineties might remember those song lyrics from Phoebe on the TV show Friends.
As an impressionable kid, those lyrics, comedic as they might be, represented the first time television had told me what to think about bisexuals.
Whoever these bisexuals were, I was taught, they were foolish and cowardly. Too scared to just come out and admit their obvious gayness.
Growing up, the television and the community sold me a binary world view: gay or straight. There were only two viable options, and I secretly dreaded the eventuality of having to pick one.
So I didn’t. I proceeded, undefined, not wanting to belong to either one of these groups. Not out of spite or youthful rebellion, but out of truth. I never really believed I was straight, and I never really believed I was gay.
My lack of label invited much comment from others who seemed concerned that I was somehow incomplete. Confused and in dire need of ‘help’. Caving into the pressure, and scared of having to explain myself, I often simplified and told people I was straight. Or I told them I was gay. I was always ashamed of my dishonesty when I did this, but also relieved at having avoided a potentially complicated conversation.
Well into my early twenties, I still felt pestered into choosing. Picking a label. I didn’t understand how people around me simply couldn’t accept that I was undecided. Still attracted to both men and women, I knew that none of their labels were accurate. And so I remained – Classification: Unknown. Could I be bisexual? Would that label satisfy those around me, at least for a little while?
So I carried on, a proud bisexual man. Little did I know that even THAT label carried its own set of questions and reactions.
Some likened my sexuality to a light switch, flicked in either direction on a whim. Some have regarded me as foolish and simply afraid of admitting my attraction to men. Some have just called me greedy.
Every time I tried to explain my sexuality I was met with a wall of resistance, all expectations and labels. Some reactions have been positive, while others not so much. Women revolted at by what might not be ‘a proper man’, somehow deficient, effeminate and less capable than his heterosexual counterparts. Gay men intrigued at the prospect of an outwardly straight guy sexually available to them.
What is it about bisexuality that so confounds?
Labels and categories inform so much of how we interact with others. They flavour our expectations of how people will (and should) behave and force us to see otherness where none exists. In a society so bent on ‘outing’ celebrities and public figures, the bisexual man or woman circumvents this game and evades inquiring minds by sitting on the fence and defying categorisation.
But with this unquantifiability comes stigma. The general consensus seems to be that bisexuals are untrustworthy slaves to their hormones and are incapable of maintaining a monogamous sexual relationship. These stigmas are the result of fear, ignorance and the hefty baggage of often empty social tradition.
So where does that leave me?
For a while I was torn—wondering if I was guilty of the self-deception others had accused me of. I badly wanted to be with a man, but was still attracted to women. I always remained open to the traditional idea of a ‘wife and kids’, but still entertained the notion of settling down with a guy. The one thing that remained the same were my emotions – be they lustful or romantic – they were not gendered concepts. I could be in love with a woman in the exact same way I could be in love with a man.
My boyfriend of two years doesn’t seem to care. He loves me, whether I wear a label or not. I’ve come to believe that love and sex are universal constants that both exist on a near infinite spectrum of diversity. A label cannot describe the depth and colour of my sexuality. One measly word cannot encapsulate my emotions and desires. Love is love. Sex is sex.
The older I get, the less I care about conformity and the opinions of strangers. A person can only really be judged by their actions, and so I try my best to infuse my conduct (sexual or otherwise) with respect and compassion, leaving all other judgements to God or the universe to dispense.
And so, for lack of a better name, the world calls me bisexual. Those closest to me call me Jim.
Reprinted with permission from The Good Men Project.