What Changed For Me Once I Started Identifying As Bi
Photo by Rui Silvestre on Unsplash
Not to be the bearer of bad news, but coming out as bi (or pansexual) is just half the battle, and while I absolutely encourage everyone to come out as bi+ (as long as it’s safe for you to do so), I think it’s necessary to be realistic about the challenges (but also blessings!) that come with fully embracing a bi+ identity.
So, for this week’s Good Bi Love, what I would like to do is share a little of my personal journey to accepting my bisexuality. Then I’ll discuss what I thought my life would be like after claiming a bi identity, and what actually happened after I embraced being openly bi.
Alright, here we go!
I’m not exactly sure when I had my first same-sex crush. I do remember, however, running around the playground in kindergarten playing “kissy monster” with my best (male) friend. I’d chase him. He’d run away, and then I’d have to catch up to him to kiss him on the lips. Then that round was done. He would start running around the yard again, and I would again chase him.
I’ve literally been chasing boys since I was 5.
While people always suspected I was gay, I knew I loved women. In high school, I cried for weeks after my first girlfriend and I broke up. A man who’s gay wouldn’t feel as heartbroken as I did. Ironically, it was my attraction to women that was more confusing.
When I confided in my psychiatrist, at roughly 15, telling him I think I’m gay. He asked me, “Well do you like women?”
“Yes,” I said.
He replied, “Well, then you’re not gay.”
“Well, maybe I’m bi,” I responded, to which he bluntly replied, “Bisexuality doesn’t actually exist in men.”
So I thought that had settled it. I’m straight. A medical professional told me so, so that’s that. Cut to a few years later, I’m in college, and I get drunk and hook up with my first man.
I expected to have this huge “aha” moment. I’d kiss his tender lips and suddenly, I would know with 100% certainty that I was gay! But that’s not what happened at all.
I was way too drunk to actually enjoy the experience (however, in order to let myself go — enough to actually do something sexual with a man, I needed to be that inebriated).
Thus, my first drunken sexual encounter only led to more confusion. It was fine. Nothing special. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it. It offered no clarity. I also vividly remember getting his beard hair in my mouth and being weirded out by it.
I figured, Meh… maybe I’m not gay or bi or whatever. I didn’t have that classic, “this is so wrong but feels so right” gay man revelation.
But for the next five years, I got drunk and was sexually active with probably a dozen men, if not more. I don’t remember… because I was hammered.
My brother was one of the first people to help me realize that I’m probably not straight.
“Zach, a ton of men explore, sexually. But when you’re ‘experimenting’,” and he used air quotes while saying it, “with men for five years, you know that’s no longer experimenting. That’s a way of life right there.”
Soon after the conversation with my brother, I started therapy with an LGBT therapist in Boston. At the time, I had just graduated from college and moved to Cambridge for work. On our second session, he interrupted me, saying, “It doesn’t sound like you’re confused. To me, it seems clear you like men and women. You’re bi. Why do you keep saying you’re confused?”
To which I naively replied, “Does bisexuality actually exist in men?”
He looked at me and said, “Of course it does.” He was almost confused why I would believe that bisexuality didn’t exist in men — like I was too smart to be that ignorant.
But my experience up until this point with male bisexuality exclusively involved my male friends in college, who claimed the bi label only to come out as gay shortly after — within a matter of weeks.
So it makes sense why I wouldn’t believe it existed. Growing up, there was significantly less talk about bisexuality in the media, less bi representation on TV, and fewer out bi celebrities who were proudly claiming the bi label — dispelling stereotypes along the way.
But I digress.
Finally, with the help of my brother and therapist, I embraced the bi label. Immediately, I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders.
For years, I spent nights lying awake, asking myself “What am I?” as if I were an AI robot who just discovered its own consciousness. I hated being uncertain about such a pivotal aspect of my identity.
Having a label to proudly call myself was empowering. It alleviated the sleepless nights. I was able to think to myself (and say out loud), “This is who I am. This is who I’m attracted to. This is my sexual identity.”
I then felt comfortable enough to pursue a relationship with either a man or a woman (or person of any/all genders), no longer fearing “What if I’m actually not straight?” or “What if I’m actually not gay?”
Truly, I felt on top of the world after I embraced being bi. And then I started dating… and having to tell other people I was bi. That’s when reality set in.
I thought my life was going to be like the Woody Allen quote, “Bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date, Saturday night.”
Boy, was I wrong. Little did I realize, that many people — in fact the majority of people — don’t want to date a man who’s bi. I’m not going to go into detail as to why this is the case (because this column is already pretty long, and there have been plenty of articles which discuss why gay/straight people refuse to date bi people). But in short, it’s because they believe negative stereotypes about us and they, themselves, are insecure.
In addition to all my dating woes, there was (and still is) the aspect of having to come out repeatedly. Of having your identity constantly rejected. No one tells an over-the-top flamboyant gay man he’s not gay. Sure, they may say he’s going to hell, but they’re not going to say he’s straight (unless for religious reasons). But with bisexuality, people will say you’re not bi. It’s rough to have such a fundamental part of your identity — something you struggled with to embrace for so long (or at least I did) — ripped away from you.
Between the two, I started to feel unlovable and, for lack of better words, like I simply didn’t exist. With age, however, I realized that wasn’t the case. Sure, there were people who wouldn’t believe that my sexual identity existed. And yes, there have been women who have ghosted me after learning I am bi, but there are so, so many other bi individuals in the world who are just like me. Who will love me. Who will date me. Who will validate my existence. There are also plenty of gay and straight people who will do all those same things.
And for the people who don’t believe I am who I claim to be — there’s a silver lining. These are not the people I would want to be date or be friends with anyway. If they are that insecure or ignorant or unwilling to change their beliefs, that’s not someone I want to have in my life.
Now, I’m a little bit older and a little wiser, and the cons of being bi are far outweighed by the pros. Immediately after coming out, yes, it took some work. It wasn’t all unicorns and gumdrops. But now I have plenty of friends who accept and embrace me. I’m used to the trials and tribulations that come from dating. I also no longer need validation from other people about my sexual identity — which I desperately needed right after coming out.
I know I’m bi. I know I’m lovable. I know I’m fucking amazing! I don’t care whether you believe it or not!
There was a little bit of a rough patch the first few years after I came out as bi. It wasn’t all I thought it was going to be. That’s why I think what we need is to change the coming out trope that’s so heavily enmeshed in the LGBT community.
Instead of saying, “It gets better,” we should tell other members of the queer community that it could get worse… maybe a lot worse… before it does get better. But eventually, coming out will be absolutely worth it. Because at the end of the day, it’s better to live your life as your most authentic self than to remain hidden in the closet forever.