Revealing Research on why Many Bisexual Men Don’t Come Out
Like clockwork, every three months I inevitably receive the same response when discussing my sexuality with a new person. “Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever met a ‘true’ bisexual man.”
My response is always the same. “I’m sure you’ve met many bisexual men, you just didn’t know they were bi.”
Bi people compose the majority of the LGBT community; yet so often, we, as bisexual individuals, feel alone. I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve thought to myself, “where are all the bi guys?” and I’m a bisexual writer! Half of my job is literally networking with other bisexual people. Still, being a part of various bisexual communities, I can’t help but think to myself, “where are the rest of us?”
Even though there are many men who do think of themselves as bisexual and/or behave bisexually in a sexual context (by this I mean they sleep with men and women), often times, they don’t come out.
Dr. Eric Schrimshaw at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health recently conducted a qualitative study with 203 closeted bisexual men to further explore the reasons why so many bisexual men are afraid of coming out to their female partner, to family, and to friends.
The men involved were of all aged 18 or older and from various ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, and education levels. They had all had same-sex sexual encounters (oral or anal) with other men in the past year and had not told their current female partner about their same-sex encounters.
Schrimshaw found that many men aren’t “confused” about their (bi)sexuality. That’s not the reason for their non-disclosure to their female partners. They know they are attracted to both men and women; however, they aren’t open about their (bi)sexuality because they fear stigma, ridicule, and being outed to others. They also fear judgement and being left by their female partners because of their previous same-sex sexual actions.
The study is groundbreaking and influential for a couple of reasons. It is contrary to the popular belief that bisexual men aren’t coming out because they are unsure of their identity. In fact they fear coming of because of biphobia and homophobia. We know who we are and we know what we want, but society is keeping us closeted. This research dispels the biphobic notion that all bi people are “just confused” or “exploring.”
This study also helps to dispel the idea that men “on the down low (DL)” are always black or Latino. Scrimshaw notes that there’s been a lot of research on men who have sex with men and women (MSMW) in these communities. These men are often referred to as being on the DL are thought to spread STIs. It is also posited that black and Latino men have more cultural and religious pressures keeping them in the closet. The trope of the DL man spreading HIV and other STIs is harmful to all bisexuals. It is especially harmful to Latino and African American MSMW. This research shows that being on the DL is more than a matter of race. Bisexual men of all races fear being stigmatized and fear coming out. This is a problem that affects all communities and demonizing men of color for spreading HIV/STIs is narrow minded and unproductive.
The issue isn’t with bisexual men of color, but rather with how the world views bisexual men in general and the way bisexual men are treated by female sexual partners as well as family members and friends. The fear of ostracization, of excommunication from a religious community, and of having your wife or girlfriend leave you because of your past sexual encounters with men all work to keep bisexual men in the closet. Even if you are currently monogamous with your female partner and love her unconditionally, there is a stigma about your biseuxality.
While gay men may fear homophobia from society, from their family, and from their friends, they don’t fear homophobia from their gay partners. No gay man is going to reject his partner because it turns out he’s gay.
Bisexual men (and women) have to face this fear with their partners, regardless of their gender. Many bisexual people fear that a woman or man may leave them because of their sexual orientation. This added stress keeps us closeted and this is bad. As Schrimshaw notes, there are a number of negative health ramifications from being closeted as a bisexual person including poorer mental health, increased depression and anxiety, and more internalized homophobia.
Hopefully, this work will be expanded upon soon, and there will be further studies that build on Schrimshaw’s research. As he notes, there are a number of studies dedicated to studying closeted gay men, but few, comparatively, for closeted bisexual people. There needs to be more research, followed by implementation of that research. Many bisexual people fear being stigmatized, so what can we do? What can the LGBTQ community do? How can the LGBTQ community focus on this huge portion of its population that are not having their needs met? It’s time biphobia is addressed by the larger LGBTQ community, and not just as an afterthought to issues concerning lesbian, gay, and transgender folks.
This is the new frontier. This is the next big fight against bigotry and discrimination in the LGBTQ community. There’s research out now that shows the bisexual community has specific needs that need to be addressed. The question is whether you, and the larger LGBTQ community are going to pick up the tools on the table, and use them to change the world for the better.