Stop Calling “Straight” Men Who Have Sex With Men Straight
There are those who will turn countless backflips to preserve heteromasculinity and erase male bisexuality. Consistently there have been LGBT publications that promote content of men who have sex with men but adamantly refuse a queer labeling. The clicks and traffic given to these stories point to a fetishizing of these men and a morbid curiosity of their claimed heterosexuality which ultimately harms the bi community.
While these individuals may not claim a bi identity, what they’re engaging in sexually, is by definition, bisexuality. Sexuality doesn’t always have to include romantic attraction or even sexual activity. As bi activist Robyn Ochs has so eloquently defined bisexuality: it is
“the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”
Agency around identity labels is a cornerstone for the LGBT community. Allowing us to name ourselves as we see ourselves is important. Yet, there are times in which that agency allows groups of individuals to use their identity in ways that harm others in the LGBT community, whether directly or indirectly.
As an activist that works in bisexuality, as well as faith and sexuality, I’ve seen this done a number of times. In faith spaces, I’ve seen individuals weaponize agency in labeling themselves against LGBT people. In the “ex-gay” community, gay men who claim they’ve been converted use their labels against other gay people. Their attractions remain the same even if their sexual activity is celibacy. But as an activist I have a duty to call them gay because of how some Christians will use their stories to harm other gay people. Whether or not they engage in gay sex, they’re romantic and/or sexual attractions are still oriented to the same-sex.
This parallels the phenomenon of “straight men who have sex with men.” The agency around identity labels is important but it’s also important to call a spade a spade when those labels, or lack thereof, harm our community. And this does harm the bi community. The harmful form of bi erasure is perpetuated by both straight and gay communities. It isn’t about vanity. Marginalized communities that are erased aren’t seen and our issues aren’t addressed.
It also upholds toxic ideas of masculinity that are rooted in cisheteronormativity. This is what those who both claim heterosexuality while having sex with men and those who promote them really mean: Bi men who claim bisexuality aren’t masculine. To vocally admit you’re into men (and really we are discussing this in a cis context so we are talking about cis men with a penis) somehow makes you less masculine. And being less masculine is obviously bad. This is even worse if you’re a bi man and feminine, a topic I’ve previously explored. In this context, a man cannot be seen as “masculine” and bi.
It’s particularly upsetting to see “straight men who sleep with men” receive more respect than bi men do inside our own queer community. Instead of listening to bi activists, non-bi people often attempt to define biphobia and bisexuality for us. This isn’t to say we are all in agreement in the bi community. We definitely disagree on things. Still for the most part, the bi community sees these stories of “straight men who sleep with men” for what they are: bi-erasing propaganda.
Ultimately, people can call themselves whatever they want, and they absolutely have that right. But what we can do as a community is understand the ways this harms bi people. We can choose not to promote these narratives, and begin to deconstruct the biphobic systems that keeps people from claiming their bisexuality.