It Ain’t No Lie, Baby
By Daniel Crocker
My first boyfriend killed himself. We didn’t call ourselves boyfriends, but we went to the movies together, went to dinner together, and had a lot of sex. Part of the reason we didn’t call ourselves for what we really were is that it was the ’90s and things then weren’t what they are now. More than that I think, even though he was out of the closet, was my insistence that I wasn’t gay. And I wasn’t and am not. I was a bit of a coward, though.
I didn’t realize at the time that there was another option or, as it turns out, countless other options. And who knows, maybe I’m being presumptuous to think that he would have wanted to call me his boyfriend. He was beautiful and wild and unpredictable. He had a lot of suitors. Still, I do sometimes wonder if things would have been different if I, at that time, could have just went all in so to speak.
It wouldn’t be until several years later that I came out to my friends as a bisexual male—something seemingly as rare as a unicorn. That’s when things got weird. Some of my friends shrugged, and said, “So?” That was the best response possible, and I appreciate each and every one of them. Others weren’t sold on the idea. How is that possible, they wondered, you’re married to a woman.
The reaction from my gay friends could be even more baffling. I heard the old standby, “Bi now, gay later” plenty. That one didn’t bother me at first because so many gay men I knew at the time did go through a period where they told people they were bisexual. They were just testing the waters. But, five years later, it started to get a little old. When I agreed to sit on a panel hosted by the university I attended as the “representative bisexual” most of the questions I got were variations of, “What does your wife think about you cheating on her with men?” My relationship is monogamous I said . . . over and over and over.
My oldest friend, a guy I grew up with, went to church with, love like a brother, had one of the hardest times believing it. His dad was a preacher. Once, when we were young, we were having a conversation about homosexuality in my bedroom. He had not yet come out of the closet and wouldn’t until his early twenties, but it was something we’d talk about now and again. Maybe he was seeing how I would react, but I believe him when he says he just hadn’t been able to admit it to himself yet. We lived in a community that was violently homophobic.
“Look,” I said. “If I was gay I’d march up and down the street telling people. There’s nothing wrong with it.” I don’t know where I got this attitude. Not from my parents, any adult I knew, and certainly not from my hellfire and brimstone church. A church where, mind you, I made the mistake of wearing an earring. The preacher, looking right at me the entire time, went on a rant against homosexuality before saying, “When I was a kid, if a boy had an earring it meant one thing. It still means that today.” Amens all around.
I think what my friend meant when he told me I wasn’t bisexual was that he really expected, if I were, that I would be marching up and down the street telling people. I still love him. He’s incredibly accepting of who I am. We’ve been friends for thirty years. We Skype on Sundays to watch a classic episode of Doctor Who—a tradition started when we’d watch it Sunday nights on PBS. But, I digress. However, I wondered that if he, someone who knew some of the men I had slept with, didn’t buy it, why, I thought, would anyone else?
As I got older and stayed with the same woman, who also identifies as bisexual and was the most supportive and understanding of anyone I first told, things got stranger and stranger. The years went by and I started thinking, maybe it’s no longer right for me to identify as bisexual. Maybe, and this is even worse, I thought it doesn’t even matter one way or another. I wondered if I wasn’t just appropriating the Queer world at that point. This wasn’t just because so many people told me that I needed to equate my identity with current sexual practices, but also because sometimes I’m just an idiot and believed them. Where I fall on the spectrum is closer to heterosexuality anyway, if not by a large margin. I’m more often attracted to women, so I thought let’s just ignore this other, important part of myself.
When the world opened up a bit and more people accepted a wider range of identities, I was still keeping it to myself. In fact, when asked, even by friends who I knew would be accepting, I would say, I’ve had relationships with men, but I really don’t like to put a label on it. Eventually, I kept silent so long that I really started to doubt myself. At one point I thought, and I am really ashamed of this, that since I was molested by a man when I was a kid maybe that had something to do with my sexual identity. Maybe, my faulty logic went, I really am just confused.
That was stupid. Though being molested certainly caused a lot of problems for me over the years—anxiety, addiction, depression, the usual, it had nothing to do with my sexual identity. I knew exactly where I stood, I just didn’t want to say it. Too many questions—most a variation of, “So, how does that work? What in the world is your sex life like?”
Too much scoffing and doubt. I just let it sit.
According to a Pew Research Center survey from a few years back, only 28% of bisexuals come out of the closet. My guess is that in men alone that number is even lower. There’s a growing list of female celebrities that have come out as bisexual. Good for them. It’s truly wonderful and they are role models. For men, we have Billie Joe Armstrong, Christopher Hitchens and a handful of others. Otherwise, we’re stuck with speculation. What about Jack Kerouac? His actions were bi, so let’s claim him whether or not he ever wanted to admit it.
I strongly doubt that there are less male bisexuals than female bisexuals. I wonder, and I’m not sure of this at all, if people are more likely to take a woman’s word for it. For one, it feeds into an absurd and insulting male sexual fantasy. I also think that we’re socialized to think that women have a more fluid sexuality. Of course, I could be wrong about all of that. I’m not a scientist. I’m just speaking from personal experience. It’s not any less jarring for a woman to come out as bisexual, I’m sure. It’s not easy for anyone. Again, they just ask us so many questions. They assume we’re all confused, sex-crazed cheaters.
Men, I think, just haven’t been as strong as women when it comes to battling these stereotypes. There’s this unfortunate but still prevalent attitude that any man who has ever slept with another man is gay. He can say he’s bisexual until he’s blue in the face, but many assume he’s doing it with a wink. Men are also socialized to be “manly.” Even among the most enlightened of us, those of us who realize that such a concept is faulty and dangerous, we can still secretly harbor it. Women, I’m sure, have similar experiences, and I look forward to continuing to read those stories.
As far as my first boyfriend goes, one of the last times I saw him was shortly after I got married. He was drunk. Things got violent. He screamed at me, “I loved you the most.” For a long time, I thought, well that’s why everyone hates bisexuals. That was unfair though—to both me and him. The last time I saw him, he seemed to be more at peace than I had ever seen him. It was a good night. He’s a constant reminder to me that there was a time when American literally drove young, gay men and women to death. Of course, sometimes it still does.
Frankly, I was able to hide behind my perceived straightness whenever I wanted and that made things easier. I had a wife and two kids and it was pretty obvious that we all loved each other. I’m guilty. Even now the thought of publishing this fills me with dread and anxiety. This is the first time I’ve really come out to anyone who is currently in my life except immediate friends. Eighty percent of bisexual men keep it to themselves. Bisexual men have a higher rate of mental health problems that gay men do, and research shows that may be because of their desire to keep their sexuality secret. To hell with fear and anxiety. I don’t want to be a coward. The more men who come out as bi, the easier it will get. The more myths will be dispelled. This is me, finally, marching up and down the street and yelling it.
About the Author: Daniel Crocker is the author of three collections of poetry, a novel, and a collection of short stories. His book Like a Fish is available from Sundress Publications, and his e-chap, The One Where I Ruin Your Childhood, can be downloaded for free from the Sundress site. His newest poetry collection, Shit House Rat, has been reviewed here on As It Ought To Be. His work has also appeared in New World Writing, The Good Men Project, The Chiron Review, The Kentucky Review and over 100 others. He’s the editor of The Cape Rock, co-editor of Trailer Park Quarterly and the Co-host of the Sanesplaining podcast.