Bi the way, straight men don't exist - but fear does
Bisexuality is nothing new, yet half of bisexual men are afraid of coming out
Stonewall has published its LGBT in Britain – Work Report, which has found one in three LGBT people fear telling colleagues their sexuality or gender identity. While this figure alone is shocking, the report found that some of the biggest problems are felt by bisexual men.
According to the survey, 49% of bisexual men are not out to anyone at work, compared with 7% of gay men and 4% of lesbians.
Bisexuality is nothing new, documented in artwork as far back as ancient Greece and seen just about everywhere in the animal kingdom. So why is it so difficult for a man to openly declare he is bisexual in 2018?What this really comes down to is society not understanding men well enough, in particular how their sexuality works.
Recently researchers at Cornell University concluded that men are never 100% straight. By measuring eye dilation when exposed to both male and female solo pornography, they came to the conclusions that “straight people do not exist”.
Straight to the point
The concept, of men’s sexuality being a spectrum, is nothing new. In 2016, YouGov found 43% of 18-24-year-olds in the UK do not identify as entirely gay or straight.
Another study, published by Kinsey, suggests that about 60% of pre-adolescent boys engage in some type of homosexual activity. And YouPorn have documented that straight men watch gay porn a quarter of the time (your porn history doesn’t lie).Many men’s first reaction to this is denial and a need to reassert their straightness. However, the truth is that findings like these shouldn’t be seen as an attack on men. Understanding that there are different types of men who need support in different areas is what is important.These findings blur the lines around what is straight, bi or gay. Once we realise that male sexuality is a spectrum, we can see that some men might think another man is attractive, but that is as far as it would go. Some men want to get naked with each other but draw the line at touching. Some men might want to have sex with a man but wouldn’t dream of a relationship. And some men don’t find women attractive at all.The problem historically has been that if you don’t fall in to that latter category of “no attraction to women”, you take your chances and call yourself straight.
Some may wonder that if bisexuality is so common, why are we only just now talking about it? Where has it been? It’s important to understand that bisexuality is invisible – there is no imagery that sums up being bisexual.
For example, when I walk down the street holding my girlfriend’s hand, people presume me to be straight. In contrast, four years ago when I walked down the street with my boyfriend, people perceived me to be gay.We don’t understand bisexuality because even though we see it every day, it looks gay or straight. As a result, when bisexuals do find a partner and settle down, they become labelled with the sexuality of that partnership. From the outside, people perceive them to be gay or straight. Their bisexuality looks like a phase.
Unfortunately, that means younger bisexuals coming to understand their sexuality have few role models to observe.
Luck and understanding
As a bisexual man, I think the path to understanding your bisexuality is perhaps the most confusing one of all. For gay men, puberty is the time they start to realise they aren’t straight. As the other boys start to notice and discuss the girls they like, young gay men start to question why they don’t feel the same.
I didn’t have any of that. I found girls attractive and I wanted to get to know them better. It wasn’t until I reached 20 that I realised on reflection there were males in school that I had been attracted too – a feeling that I’d wrongly interpreted as admiration and aspiration at the time. The boys I’d thought were cool were actually the boys I’d wanted to kiss.I was lucky. I moved to university in London, perhaps the most blasé place on the planet. No one knew me and with seven million people present I didn’t have to be a consistent person. I could go home with a man and no one would be any the wiser. I had the courage and the space to explore, to reach the conclusion that I was attracted to men and women.
Many are not so fortunate. In the culture we live in, men are not encouraged to explore their sexuality. In fact, any sign you may not be 100% straight is seen as a weakness. Many bisexual men I have spoken to over the years struggle with the idea of coming out due to the idea that it might make them less attractive to women. Is it then any wonder that half of bisexual men are not out to their colleagues?
The trend runs deep. A 2014 study by PEW social trends found that only 12% of bisexual men are out of the closet compared with 77% of gay men. That means that almost 90% of bisexual men are in the closet.
Several reasons exist for why so many men feel that they must keep their sexuality private. One factor is that the majority of bisexual men end up with women. In fact, 84% of self-identified bisexuals in committed relationships have a partner of the opposite sex, while only 9% are in same-sex relationships, according to Pew Research.
While some may think these findings indicate a clear preference, the cause is largely understood to be the result of there just being far more straight people in the world than gay people. An opposite-sex relationship is simply more likely.
For some bisexual men, then, coming out seems like too much hassle – they’ll probably end up in a heteronormative relationship. However, there are mental health consequences here.
About a third of bisexuals report high levels of anxiety, they are 40% more likely to describe themselves as unhappy, and feel less worthwhile than straight, gay and lesbian people, according to the Office for National Statistics.
So, while some men may be uncomfortable about confronting these attractions, for the sake of their mental health, it is important to live as honestly as possible.The findings from Stonewall prove that there is much work to be done to understand and support bisexual men in particular. We need to start focusing on the positives of bisexual men.
For example, an Australian study by the School of Health and Social Development found that “women in relationships with bisexual men say their partners are better lovers and fathers than straight men”.
Researchers concluded that this was because bisexual men were more open to designing a relationship that works for women, rather than a straight man who would come in with certain assumptions of what that relationship should be.
Being bisexual is normal. Men may be used to having to appear a particular way to be perceived as strong, but their sexuality is no more negotiable than their skin colour. Whether you see them or not, bisexual men are everywhere.
– © The Daily Telegraph