Despite a third of millennials identifying as neither gay nor straight, bisexual men and women are significantly less likely to be out to their family, friends, and colleagues than their gay and lesbian peers.
In fact, 2019 Pew Research findings showed that only 19% of bisexuals report being out to most or all of the important people in their lives, whereas 75% of gay and lesbian adults say the same. Roughly one-quarter of bisexual adults (26%) are not “out” to any of the important people in their lives, compared with 4% of gay and lesbian adults. These numbers are speculated to be even lower for bisexual men, since, as Pew Research reports, “Bisexual men face less social acceptance than bisexual women, gay men and lesbians.”
Many folks believe negative stereotypes about bi men: they’re incapable of being monogamous, more likely to cheat, actually “just gay,” or more likely to spread STIs. Bi men face what’s often referred to as double discrimination, not feeling accepted by either straight or gay communities.
So when bi men do come out, why do they do it? What encourages these men to tell their family and friends about their sexual orientation? We spoke to 9 bi men to find out.
“The first person I came out to was my wife. I remember being super drunk. I didn’t know how to say the words because I knew once I did the life I had built with her over seven years would be over. As I said ‘I’m bi’ I remembered all the times before she’d ask if I liked men. I’d always said no, trying to say it with the confidence a straight guy would say it with. I remember the times she’d cry in my arms thanking me for not turning out gay, a problem she had in previous relationships. I remembered all the dinners with friends in which they’d argue that no man could be bi. It’s just ‘a layover on the way to Gaytown,’ she’d say in her best Carrie Bradshaw as she unknowingly shot spears into my tender heart.
“I remember sleeping on the couch that night. Tears on my pillow as I thought of how much I hated myself for coming out. Once the words were said my life with her was over, but then my real life began. I was 30. I couldn’t live another day in a lie. It was the hardest two words to say out loud, but it eventually led me to true happiness and acceptance. I’d never take it back.”
“I would say that there were three things that helped me in coming out. The first, and probably most significant, happened at work. I’m currently employed at a major UK university, and a few years ago our vice chancellor came out as a bi. It was such a seismic shift in what being ‘out’ at work looked like—especially seeing as it concerned a bisexual man—it was hard not to be inspired.
“Another factor was seeing how successfully some of my openly bisexual friends were navigating their lives. All the ways I assumed people misunderstood bisexuality were simply not affecting them, and just by being visible they were fighting unhelpful stereotypes. This was then reflected on what felt like a real uptick in positive portrayals of bi folk in the media. People were suddenly talking about bisexuality, and it was mostly positive.
“I guess all that could be just be summarized as: the thing that helped me come out was simply just positive representation—but maybe that in itself acknowledges how little of that we’ve had until recently.”
“Being bi is one of those things I didn’t think twice about. I knew at a young age that I liked the girls as much as I like the guys, and I never really cared what anyone thought of me. But that’s not to say there weren’t times that I definitely hid that part of my life by just not talking about it or acknowledging it. But in general I’ve felt pretty good about it. I mean, being bi is great. You get to fuck everyone. Why would you not want to be able to do that? How boring is it to be straight?
“I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional environment, which sucked in a lot of ways, but one of the great things about it is that I had the freedom to be myself and explore the things I wanted to explore because my parents were never really around, so that gave me an opportunity to come out and be curious without having to worry about parental judgement or what my other siblings might think—I’m one of six kids—because we were all off in our own corners doing our own thing.
“Also a lot of the women in my life have revealed to me (unprompted) that they fantasize about being in a Man-Man-Woman three-way, and so I took that as an affirmation that being bi wasn’t strange or odd or any of that stuff that we sometimes allow our culture to program into us. That knowledge made me feel safe and validated.”
“My whole life I struggled with my sexuality and figuring out who I was. I buried myself in school and work and never felt comfortable opening up when it came to conversations around my dating life. My mindset was that if I excelled in other areas, I could hide behind them.
“There was one show in particular that really helped save me: Schitt’s Creek. David Rose was a character I had never seen represented before, and one that spoke to me so much. I never understood that I didn’t have to fit in a box sexually; there was a spectrum between straight and gay. David opened my eyes and made me begin to have a conversation with myself about who I was.
“In September things started to spiral and I found myself in a really dark place. I actually reached out to the LGBT Center of NYC who set me up in a coming out program with Identity House. Without them I wouldn’t have had the confidence to begin having these conversations.
“Here I am almost a year later, getting more comfortable with myself. Trying to open up more and want to start dating and exploring. It’s been hard trying to get out of my head to do that, but here’s to hoping!”
“The process of me not only accepting me sexual identity, but embracing it, was pretty slow. I didn’t really speak about my sexuality. Once I entered university, I once tried all the services the school provides to students: dentist, nutritionist, and finally headed to the psychologist. I really didn’t know I had those accepting problems until I spoke about it. It turns out that it was something that was really affecting me in social interactions and relationships. I told him that I was scared to be rejected by girls and boys. That I really didn’t want to come out because I kinda felt that deep down, the voice of that middle school friend—who said bisexuality doesn’t exist—was speaking.
“I had a few more appointments and finally decided that I would come out to the world. I even scheduled it to be during International Bisexual Day.
“I remember [the psychologist] told me, ‘If people don’t like the fact that you can have feelings towards men and women, then they are not willing to love the whole you, and well, that person is not the one, because there will be that person who’s able to love you for who you are.'”
“I knew I was bi at 13, but came out for the first time when I was 24. Visibility was key. Seeing other bi men come out and live openly and authentically helped me come out. Just a few that come to mind for me: Daniel Newman, Jason Mraz, Nico Tortorella, Brendon Urie … and even Robbie Rogers coming out also had an impact on me.
“Also, moving to San Diego where I made so many LGBT friends put me around people and a community that supported me more than I could have ever imagined.”
“So my fiancé came out as trans and non-binary and I went to the local LGBT center thinking I was a straight ally. While there, a bi influencer who lives in my city made an announcement about all the ways to be that the bi+ umbrella covers, and I was like, ‘Holy shit, that’s me.” Hearing that bi wasn’t always a 50/50 split and that all multi-sexual identities were welcome in the community just opened my eyes. Since then I embraced my bisexuality, learned so much about my attraction to women, men, and non-binary people, came out to the world, and am now on the Board of Directors for that very LGBT center. Just learning about all the ways people can be bi was the push I needed.”
“Basically, it was very easy to come out about my attraction to men. But coming out as bi was NOT easy at all. So much internalized biphobia, especially with regard to HIV. I’m 48 and when I first started realizing I was bi around 20-years-old, there was this huge stigma about bisexual men being the awful dirty ones who were infecting women with HIV. After my divorce that ended in a sexless marriage, I had a lot of very safe gay sex. And I wondered, well, am I just gay? Was I just conditioned to finding women attractive because that’s what I was supposed to do? So in early 2018 I came out…as gay.
“Within a month, I found myself googling ‘gay but think boobs are hot’ and ‘gay but watch straight porn’ and then one night at karaoke, I was watching this woman dance from behind, and specifically watching her butt as she danced and I was like, yeah I’m definitely still bisexual.
“But basically, realizing that my attraction to men and women wasn’t going away, and realizing that I was not going to let prejudice against bi men stop me from dating helped me come out. Not to others so much as to myself. I have a girlfriend now who says she could never date a hetero guy again!”
“For me the biggest hurdle was coming out to myself. I guess I’ve always kinda known I wasn’t exactly straight, but ‘gay’ never really fit for me all through high school. What made the difference for me is that right around when I was 20 and realizing the ways I felt about guys and nonbinary folks coincided a bit with when the public started getting a bit more exposure to bi people existing.
“To be fair, most of the representation I was seeing was a handful of mostly white, female actresses; but for so many years I was operating in a space that didn’t feel like it existed to the wider world. For me it was just having the most basic vocabulary, however faintly, in the public consciousness that gave me the tools to come to terms with who I was and then, over the next few years, come out to my family and friends.”