“But we’re living in a time where it’s much more accepted than it ever was before,” argued my close friend Cam* (who is a lesbian) as we discussed sexuality, fluidity and how amazing it feels to finally feel free with the way your body sets on fire at the thought or touch of another. Surprisingly, we weren’t discussing coming out as gay or lesbian, but rather what it means to finally accede to the idea that one has desire and love for both sexes. (And any combination or absence of gender; we mustn’t forget our gender non-conforming folks, after all.)
The “b” word—bisexuality—is still a touchy topic in both gay and straight communities alike. Why? Sexuality is both complicated and simple. Its simplicity is illuminated when we merely accept who and how people love without attempting to understand the whys, because (as with many things in life) the whys might be none of our business. “Whys” aside, I’m thankfully having more and more conversations about sexuality, both publicly and privately.
I have been researching sexuality (at least a year seriously and academically), because I am committed to speaking about Black love holistically and from a deep place of love, acceptance and respect. And I know I’ve been a hypocrite: accepting queerness to a certain degree and loving the queer people in my life, while simultaneously being ignorantly queerphobic. I had to grow up. After all, #blacklovematters. It is essential to our continuous struggles for human rights, and our queer brothers and sisters are standing next to us (and many times leading us) as we climb.
A year isn’t enough time, and I wish I’d started my journey sooner. Because of how much Black identity matters to me, I wish I knew years ago what gender presentation was, or that people get to choose which gender they identify as without society’s permission. Because I am such a lover of women and myself a womanist, I should have known more about the misogynoir that even women who love other women experience in their relationships and communities.
As someone who writes about how much #blacklivesmatter, I should have known how dangerous it is to be a Black transgender woman in the world. And as a solider of love, I should have better understood how difficult it is for the world, still, to accept bisexuality as an authentic sexual and emotional orientation.
Although being bisexual is more accepted and recognized today than it’s ever been, there are still many, both gay and straight, who refuse to acknowledge or open up to loving bisexuals. Crissle, the always hilarious pop culture commentator, summed up most peoples feelings about bisexuality in Nneka Onuorah’s documentary The Same Difference when she commented, “I think overall people have a general disdain for bisexual girls… like just overall ain’t nobody got time for that kind of situation.”
Also in the film, DJ Tony K (who dates bisexual reality TV personality Ariane Davis) says she usually doesn’t date bisexual women, because she prefers dating a woman who has “experienced the lifestyle and knows exactly what she wants.” She goes on to say: “I don’t have time to be worried about if she’s going to go back to a guy.”
Which is where the trouble begins for bisexual women who want to partner with lesbians: the idea that bisexuality is a fad, phase or some kind of confusion. Another male friend, Jay*, admitted: “Most of my exes had experiences with other women, and I found it titillating. Although, none of them identified as bisexual.”
So it seems that many straight men can accept bisexuality, as long as it’s a thing their partner did while experimenting and being “wild” in college, and as long as they’re willing to leave that wildness and attraction for women in their past.
“That’s that sh*t I don’t like,” argued another friend, Mia (who’s been out as a lesbian for over 20 years). “I used to love chasing bi girls. But no matter how much I courted them and loved them, they never chose me. They either always cheated on me or left me to marry some guy and move to the suburbs.”
It seems that bisexuals cannot be monogamous (regardless of who they choose to commit to), and that, if given the option, they will always choose a “normal,” more traditional life. Bi women can, indeed, partner lovingly and faithfully with either of the sexes they are attracted to, and their sexuality should not be valued only through the male gaze and the option for men to get their threesome fantasies poppin’.
But at least bisexual women are allowed some space to own their sexuality in both hetero and queer spaces. This is not an option at all for bisexual men. Writer Patrick McAleenan explains why there seems to be such a small number of openly bisexual men very clearly. “Few would disagree that it’s seen as more acceptable for women to show affection to one another and be more physically close than men are. As a result, male bisexuality is more hidden.” He goes on to write:
Many writers and psychologists have wondered whether most self-confessed male bisexuals are simply homosexual men either in denial or trying to “have it both ways— having sex with men while holding on to heterosexual privilege. Aside from the potential hurt that may be caused if the bisexuality is revealed, bisexual men face a real threat of abuse or violence.
The threat of abuse or violence may be even more real for bisexual Black men because of the myth that Black women are most likely to contract HIV/AIDS from bisexual men living “on the down low,” even though these misconceptions have been addressed heavily in the medical community. NPR’s Michelle Martin cleared up this fallacy in an interview with Dr. Kevin Fenton (the openly gay former director of the CDC’s National Center on HIV/AIDS) here.
Overall though, it appears that bisexual men are simply viewed as gay men. There is no space for experimentation or fluidity, and so many men who are bisexual simply don’t come out as such because of our rigid ideas about manhood and, thus, male sexuality. When I asked a group of women if they would date a man who openly identified as bisexual, most of them quickly said no, even though many agreed it is unfair that bisexuality among women is so openly accepted (and even praised in some very superficial ways).
“It seems that people feel bisexual me can’t be trusted, like we’re disingenuous or scheming. I don’t introduce my bisexuality until I know an interaction with a woman or man is going somewhere meaningful,” emailed a reader who read my recent conversation on bisexuality via Twitter.
Living Black and free is a continuous conversation for me. I am happy to be on the voyage toward exploring what freedom means to all of us. One of the primary ways that we can give people the confidence to seek ultimate freedom is to lovingly accept who and how they love (and sex!). So let’s get free(r) by making more space in both gay and straight communities for those who identify as bisexual.
*Names are changed for anonymity.
Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and soldier of love. Follow her musings on Twitter at @jonubian.