Sunday, December 27, 2009

Telling it like it is

This is the time of year when many of us are thrown together with various loved ones and, while this can be all warm and glowy, it also has its difficulties.

I was already thinking of this when I read this post – which wasn’t specifically about the festive season, but about sharing important things – specifically, your (bi)sexuality.

The nameless male blogger who posts at Bitheway, had a tricky December as he came out to his female partner. She felt he had lied by omission by not telling her before; he had felt unable to discuss it earlier in their relationship as he hadn’t feel safe enough. They are still together, but it has been tough.

Keeping it quiet
As Mr Bitheway said: “There are many things we do keep from our partners (as bisexual men this is typically our bisexuality)”.

Oh, how I wish it wasn’t the case, but I tend to agree. So many bi men – with the exception of activist/ openly poly/ bi community men – tell almost no one they are bi. I’m not thinking about actual sexual infidelity here, but about keeping a whole part of yourself - your history, feelings, experiences – from your partner.

I am generalising in this post, I know – something I don’t do lightly – but bear with me here.

It seems to me that it is much more difficult for bi men to come out than bi women. There are two main reasons for this:

* The widespread agreement that while women can be bi, men are “Gay, Straight or Lying” – the notorious title of an equally notorious article in the New York Times.

Spurious, over-simplistic research (such as that by Michael Bailey) tends to state that, while women are often attracted to people regardless of gender, men almost never are. Therefore, men are really either gay or straight.

This can put bi men into a terrible quandary. What are they really? And, also important, what do their partners think they are really.

Lots of gay men – some of whom wondered if they were bi for a while – consider that, because they aren’t bi, neither can anyone else be. Some hold the strange view that it is easier for men to be bi than gay, which I just don’t believe. People saying it never really try to explain why they think this, they expect it to be obvious. Why is it easy to be told constantly you are deluded and oversexed than to have a community that supports you? And also, it isn’t ever easier to be something you aren’t than something you are.

* A feeling that women (rather than men, I think) will reject them as potential lovers/partners.

This is tricky. Some women can and do reject bi men – sometimes horribly. They have a whole range of reasons for this, believing bi men to be (eg) unreliable, necessarily unfaithful, uncommitted, prone to contracting HIV ... generally not what they want at all.

But there are women who want bi men as their partners. I always did – although I am spoken for now thanks! – but never met all that many. There are others who wouldn’t mind, if only men could trust them enough to tell them.

Come out, come out wherever you are
Of course, the fewer out bi men there are, the fewer bi men will come out. It’s a vicious circle. Because if bisexuality in men is seen to be impossible, more men who are attracted to men and women will believe that they can’t be, leading to fewer bi men being out.

When I was interviewing bi men for my book on bisexuality (see archive, right) many of them found it hard enough to be out to themselves, let along others. They had totally compartmentalised their lives, with that part attracted to men tucked in the depths of their consciousness/conscience.

I do hesitate to give advice on this blog (or anywhere else) – I mean what do I know, life is complicated! But it seems to me that even if you aren’t out about your sexuality to the world at large, dropping hints about it to potential or new partners is pretty much essential. Far better you discover at the outset that it is something they could never countenance, rather than have some big secret hanging over you. Big Secrets tend to have a way of being uncovered.

There was a terrific article I read once about women in happy long-term relationships with bi men. I can’t link to it as I don’t think it’s online and I don’t remember now who wrote it, but the gist of it was... those women tended to be unconventional, who didn’t rely on their partner for all their sense of self/companionship/money, and had their own goals and interests.

There is no shortage at all of such women these days – especially those who are bi themselves. So, bi men, if you want an honest, real, happy relationship with a woman, look for someone who doesn’t want to live in your shadow.


mizztcasa said...

it so sad that bi men are portrayed as they are and that they feel pressured to be in the closet consequently.

i definitely would prefer to date a bisexual, feminist, anti-racist/sexist, spiritual, caring, and intelligent (being) man.

i think your advice hits right on the money - find an open minded, independent woman to be with so that you can be free to be you. that's my dream.

Michelle said...

Totally agree with you both. I think the situation is something of a double edged sword.

The representation of bisexual men is very negative so bisexual men don't feel comfortable standing up and being counted, and because they won't the representation continues to be negative.

Being a 100% gay woman it's very unlikely that I would ever find myself in a relationship with a bisexual man, but if I was I wouldn't have an issue with it as long as I knew up front. I think the issue with men hiding it in relationships isn't always going to be the women / men will be uncomfortable with it when they "come out", it can be as much of a "why is he telling me now, is he having an affair..."

Bitheway said...

Well I'm glad to have helped inspire someone else to write a piece. Though I'm not entirely sure what to make of your conclusion.

"Women in happy long-term relationships with bi men... tended to be unconventional, who didn’t rely on their partner for all their sense of self/companionship/money, and had their own goals and interests."

On the face of your conclusions it would seem like I'm with the wrong woman. But it doesn't feel like I am. I love her and I want to be with her, what's more I think we have a long term future together.

Also I couldn't really see myself being in a loving relationship with someone who didn't rely on me for companionship, emotional (and/or financial) support. Nor could I be with someone who had profoundly different goals and interests to me.

Bi men like other men and women are looking for a soul-mate. I find it hard to reconcile that description of a bi-guy's dream woman with the notion of finding your soul-mate.

Hate to be morose, but it sounds like you've just unearthed more bad news for bi-men.

Sue George said...

Ah, bitheway, I did say "tended to". The problem with blog posts is that you can only write so much.

Ideally, I think you should have dropped hints earlier, but you didn't - and as that seems to have been a hurdle you have overcome, why shouldn't your relationship have a chance?

Bi people, of whatever gender, are all different and want different things - just like people of any sexual orientation. If you and your gf can talk things through, and if you both want the same sort of relationship, I don't see why you don't have as great a chance as anyone of making it work.

Also, the study was about long-term relationships - very long term, 20 or 30 years. Such relationships are incredibly hard to maintain these days, whoever you are. Plus, that kind of independence I referred to is much more likely to come about over that time, rather than in the newish stage that your relationship is at.

So don't stress too much about your relationship's future, any research, or my "advice". If my experience of observing relationships is anything to go by, what makes any of them work is: openness, yes definitely, but also tolerance, affection, committment, kindness and love.

bathmate said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
liminalD said...

Really great post, thanks!

As an openly bi man, I find that my straight male friends repeatedly call me gay and talk to me as if I were gay, they look at me with something like disbelief whenever I talk about girls I like or have been involved with, and they dismiss what I've written and said on the subject.

At first I thought they were just forgetful or didn't quite get it, but after some thought it really seems to me that they're kind of uncomfortable with my bisexuality - like I'm an aberration that needs to be put in a box - they're not comfortable with the ambiguity and they want to a simple 'us (straight men)' and 'them (gay men).' And they'd rather put me in the latter group, I suspect because it's less threatening.

While my straight male friends suppress or deny my bisexuality, my gay friends make a big deal of it, they interrogate me and make okes about it - usually in a fairly good natured sort of way, but a number of gay men I know have expressed the opinion that I'm kidding myself, that it doesn't and cannot exist. It's my 'internalised homophobia' and me just 'working through my issues,' and they expect I'll be fully gay one day - despite the fact that I tried that and it just wasn't me. The queer girls I know have been better about it, on the whole.

Straight girls seem to want to put me in the 'gay box' too, mostly, I guess it makes it less comlpicated. I suspect it's easier to simply dismiss me as a potential romantic interest than to wonder if I'm interested or if I'm just being a 'gal pal,' and I guess they think if I am interested that I'm not going to be a good prospect because I'll change my mind and start chasing boy tail. Some of them also seem to think that I'm just kidding myself, that bisexuality is just a state of denial.


Anonymous said...

I probably have to accept being that unusual, selfreliant woman. I really, really like and prefer bi men because I am bi myself and find it almost impossible to navigate emotionally in a straight world.

I've never had or will have sex with a woman, I will never come out, and understand perfectly why bi men will not come out. Being bi is like being an alien from another galaxy.

I wonder if bi men somehow can be perceived socially as women and I think the threath of losing your gender identity would be a very effective control against coming out as bi.

Anonymous said...

My sexuality is certainly something I would mention to any future potential romantic partners as early as it seemed appropriate. I've been through a bit of minor strife in the past as a result of not doing so... don't fancy that again!

Anonymous said...

I appreciate this post and have also found Bitehway's blog refreshingly honest and interesting. I am a straight woman and have been dating my bi boyfriend for two years now. He is not "out" to anyone other than me for all of the reasons you mentioned in this post. It is posts like this one that have made me understand his decision. While we continue to struggle all the time with the bounds of our relationship and what his being "bi" will mean for us, the important part has been total disclosure of past, present and future acts, wants, and needs. It allows us to evolve together as a couple and to face any new challenges keeping our relationship at the centre of it all.
Thanks again for your words.

Anonymous said...

Michael Bailey is a pop psychologist not highly valued academically. Almost all his fame is due to make controversial claims on issues of sexuality. He is the sexological version of Richard Lynn.