Good Bi Love: Knowing the Difference Between Ignorance and Biphobia

2/12/2018

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Two days ago, a man I met asked me on an impromptu date later that evening. I haven’t been much in the “dating mood” these days, but he seemed sweet and I figured, what’s the harm in one drink (or nine)?

As dates typically go, I was inevitably asked, “What do you do?” at which point I told him that I’m a writer who focuses on LGBTQ issues, often paying close attention to the bi community.

He cocked an eyebrow. “Are you bi?”

I said I am. Queue eye roll and typical response, “Bi men are just gay men who haven’t come fully out,” he said.

The date, up until this point, had been going really well. Now I was afraid that it may quickly devolve into disaster.

I launched into a extra passionate (I’m about three drinks in at this point) tirade about how this isn’t true. I not only shared my experience growing up, and the struggle and isolation in college I felt for being bi, I also provided all the mental and physical health disparity research. I explained how there’s a vicious cycle that keeps bi men from coming out, and why we often feel pressured to “choose a side” so to speak. And just because one does end up in a monogamous relationship with a partner, doesn’t mean that he has chosen a side. He’s still bisexual.

He was still somewhat skeptical, asking, “When’s the last time you slept with a woman?”

I told him I’d answer that question, but explained how that question is leading and based on false premises. It assumes that you have to be split 50-50 with attractions to be bi. It also assumes that you have to be actively sleeping with various people of different genders to be bi.

While he understood my reasoning, I could tell he didn’t “buy it.” I then told him the truth, about a month ago. He nodded, as if this somehow proved something. (My whole point was that I didn’t want to feel the need to prove something, but oh well.)

He then explained how he came out as bi prior to coming out as gay, and so too, did his two best gay friends. In fact, he has never met an open bi man who hasn’t come out as gay later in his life.

Now think about that for a second. The man was 29. He’d been out since he was 17, all the while living in NY. In his dozen years of embracing his sexuality, he has not met a bi person who openly identifies as bi without having come out as gay shortly after.

Of course he is going to be skeptical. Given what he’s experienced, it would honestly be weird if he wasn’t skeptical.

Now did I wish he didn’t eye roll? Yes. Did I wish he didn’t act like a know-it-all? Of course. Did I wish he didn’t put me in a position where I felt forced to justify my sexuality? Obviously.

But at the end of the 10-minute conversation, where I explained all the struggles bi+ people face, how we’re invisible, and how we often feel isolated from both communities — therefore “picking a side” in order to just be accepted, he got it.

He said, “Thank you. I had never thought about any of this. I never knew. What you’re saying all makes sense. It’s just difficult when I used bi as a stepping-stone, and so too, did every gay man I know.”

I said I understood, because I truthfully did. But I changed his mind. Maybe not 100%. Maybe he still has some doubts. One 10-minute conversation isn’t going to change every single thought he has about bisexuality. Nevertheless, I genuinely believed that he is going to be more open-minded of bisexual men moving forward. He’s going to believe we exist.

This date made me realize something. The man I went on a date with wasn’t bad. He wasn’t biphobic (although he did have some beliefs that were biphobic); he was ignorant. He didn’t know. He was basing his opinions off of his experiences, which everyone does. That’s how humans form the majority of our beliefs.

He did, however listen to me with an open mind, while still challenging me. In the end, he acknowledged why he thinks the way he did, and said that I’ve given him a new perspective that challenges his belief system.

If at the end of our conversation, after hearing everything I said, he still held fast to his same belief system, I would have left the date right there. I obviously can’t go out with someone who doesn’t believe my sexuality is valid. At that point, since he would have had all the information in front of him, I’d have felt more comfortable actually calling him biphobic as opposed to ignorant.

But I think it’s necessary for us, as a community, to acknowledge the difference. If I had yelled, “you’re biphobic” after his first eyeroll and dismissal of my identity, he would have felt defensive. This would have further solidified his belief system around bi folks, and actually may have pushed him to become biphobic. Instead, I assumed he was simply being ignorant. He was basing his beliefs off his experiences. I wanted to see, if providing him with new experiences and knowledge would change his belief system. If educating the ignorant would work instead of yelling at him and calling him names.

And it did.

Zachary Zane
Zachary Zane a Brooklyn-based freelance writer, speaker, YouTuber, and activist whose work focuses on (bi)sexuality, gender, identity politics, relationships, and culture. He's a contributing editor at The Advocate Magazine, a columnist at Bi.org, and currently writes for The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Out Magazine, and PRIDE.