October 20, 2011

Can you see me now?

I am not gay. I am a boy who is attracted to and can fall in love with girls. I know this is a somewhat strange way to begin a blog post for our lives, but it is on this point that my post hinges. So you might be thinking, “What does this have to do with LGBT issues?” Well, as an answer to this question I will also say this, I am not straight. I am a boy who is attracted and can fall in love with other boys. If this first paragraph confuses you, please read on, this post is for you.

I am a bisexual male. I feel attraction to both genders, and have the capacity to form romantic relationships with both. One of the frustrations I have that I feel is unique to bisexuality is that as a bisexual you have a tendency to be “invisible”. What I mean by this is that people generally assume that you are either straight or gay, never in between. If I’m talking about a boy I like, I’m gay. If I’m talking about a girl I like, I’m straight. I will tell you, these misconceptions are very annoying. The same problem applies to the spaces I occupy.

Back at home, I was straight. There was no question about that. Granted, I was single for most of high school, but that didn’t matter. Though I only started to discover myself in my senior year of high school, by the end of the school year this was bothering me. It didn’t really help matters that I had a girlfriend. Even after I told my parents that I was bisexual, I was still straight. My dad actually told me once, “You aren’t really bisexual. I mean, you have a girlfriend and you haven’t dated or slept with a boy. So really, you’re bicurious, not biactual.” Now spellcheck is telling me that the words “bicurious” and “biactual” are not real words. Well, that’s because they’re complete loads of (words I can’t say on this blog). The fact that I haven’t actually slept with a boy has no bearing on the attraction I feel. But I am on the edge of a tangent, and that is a post for another day.

Here at Duke I seem to have the opposite problem. Since the atmosphere here is much more accepting and queer friendly, I’ve found the strength to come out and not hide who I am. The problem is, people don’t seem to understand who I am. Though I still do have to deal with the expectation of heterosexuality, at Duke I have been mistaken for gay several times as well. I do understand how I could be a bit misleading as I have a rainbow bracelet I wear daily, I fly a rainbow flag from my window, and I spend my free time on West Campus in the LGBT Center. This doesn’t change the fact that it bothers me to be constantly misread. I mean, how does one show that they are bisexual? Short of walking up to a boy and planting a kiss on him, then turning to a girl and doing the same, how can I avoid being misinterpreted? I do wear a bisexual pride necklace, but most don’t know what it is. (For the record, it’s pink, purple and blue. Ask me about it and I’ll show you, or use the magic of the internet.)

Though these misconceptions bother me a bit, I’m generally loath to speak up about it. Though I cringe when I get lumped into the “gay” category, I don’t like to speak up for fear of being annoying. I’m generally better about speaking up when lumped into the “straight” category, but that doesn’t happen to me as much anymore. (It’s a wonder what a rainbow or two can do) Contrary to some beliefs that I’ve heard, being bi is not “half-gay”. We are a completely distinct orientation, nuanced and varied like any other. It is time that we are seen.

(I understand that I haven’t really given an idea to avoid bisexual invisibility, because I’m honestly not sure. Any ideas would make awesome comments *hint hint*.)


  1. Kyle,

    I'm a senior in a fraternity, and I'm bisexual. And unfortunately, the only way I've found to avoid bisexuality invisibility is to stay mostly in the closet. My fraternity is very accepting and has an openly gay brother who was accepted with open arms when he chose to come out.

    Drawing strength from him, I began to slowly come out to my closest friends. One by one, little by little, I was able to explain to my friends how I wasn't sure if I'd end up with a girl or a guy--both can be great. I explain it best as, I'm really interested with what's on the inside; it doesn't matter to me what equipment he/she has as long as he/she matches me and makes me better.

    It was great until I came out to the wrong friend. Albeit extremely supportive, she is blinded by the bisexual invisibility and can't possibly accept me as bisexual. I'm now scared to come out of the closet any further. I would love to tell my brothers and the rest of my friends, but now I'm scared that the same thing will happen.

    It's great to know that I'm not alone in this fear. Even if your post comes with no solutions, at least you have given me some sense of camaraderie.

    - M

  2. Posts like this are really important for those of us who really wouldn't know any better otherwise - thanks for allowing yourself to be seen.

  3. Kyle,

    Great post! I think the best way to overcome this invisibility is just to correct people. I think it's just a lack of people having significant exposure to bisexuality. Sure, people say LGBT but the focus is always on the L and the G. I don't think that a lot of people are aware that bisexuality is actually real and not just a term. Thanks for showing that you do exist :)

    PS: I do see you now. Like, actually. You're right in front of me.

  4. Hi there, Kyle. This may or may not be in my top 5 favorite posts on the blog, FYI. (And there are LOTS of posts on the blog :P)

    I can identify a lot with what you've written here, and can see you troubles. While I don't come out to people (but I AM open about my sexuality) I'm sure the majority of people just assume I'm a really enthusiastic ally because I happen to date men more than women... and also the fact that the last time I did date a woman, was in the 10th grade, so... ANYWAY, while I do relate a lot, I won't say that I can relate completely. I say this because you're a guy, and for some odd reason, men have a hard time asserting their bisexuality/I've observed that it's really difficult for bisexual men to come out and be accepted as bisexual and not just gay.

    As far as tips on visibility, you're doing a lot more than I am (by wearing your necklace). I've thought and thought about how to combat invisibility and I've done nothing but pull up blanks. But I did write a post (sort of) about bisexual invisibility last year and I'm so incredibly happy you're stepped up and written about it too. As far as visibility goes on campus, the pride flags, love = love tshirts, and BDU blog do a lot. So using one of those three mediums is excellent. Anyway, just keeping being who you are. People will eventually get it, or so I hope.

  5. Great post, Kyle!

    I think it's so unfortunate that even the most accepting people struggle to understand that things like sexuality and gender really are on a spectrum. Even the best of us like to put labels on people, or put them into the infamous "box" without any kind of wiggle room, so to speak.

    Even some of my good friends fail to understand how someone isn't really gay or straight, but somewhere in between. It's frustrating to have to explain that sexuality is not a choice, and that it's ridiculous to suggest that bisexuals need to "make up their minds" on whether they are gay or straight. Your willingness to post on this issue is a great step to get people to open up their minds and rethink their views on sexuality. The more we discuss it, the more good that can come out of those conversations.

    Keep up the great work!

  6. M,

    Thanks for commenting. Honestly, I get the same feeling of camaraderie from knowing that others are in the same confusing and often frustrating position. About your experience, I’m no expert on sexuality, but I notice that most coming out stories aren’t smooth or perfect. Believe me, I can totally relate to that kind of experience. As you may have gathered from the quote from my father, he believes that bisexuality is a sort of half gay, half straight limbo or an identity assumed by experimental youths who are just curious. So yes, I know how hurtful it can be when someone you’re close to can’t accept your identity, even if they honestly mean well. I also absolutely understand the fear of inching any further out of the closet. As much as I’d like bisexuals to be visible from an ideological standpoint, coming out is obviously a very personal choice. It’s helped me a lot in various ways, and I don’t regret it, but in no way do I think it’s your “duty” to come out. Absolutely your call. If you want to talk anymore about this, or anything else (and this goes for anyone reading this who has questions/wants to talk but is uncomfortable commenting), my email is kab67@duke.edu.

    Good luck with everything, I wish you all the best.

    P.S.- I like your way of explaining things. I use a metaphor with hair color personally. As in, to me gender is like hair color. I’m conscious of it, and it does change the way I’m attracted to people, but it doesn’t ultimately affect whether or not I CAN feel attraction to someone.

  7. Kyle,

    This is a great post. =)

    Thanks so much for having the courage to write so openly on the blog about such an important topic,

  8. It doesn't surprise me much that bisexual invisibility is a common problem that people on the sexuality spectrum face. Generally someone is characterized most significantly by those features that depart from the norm. This tendency is implicit in and drives social frameworks such as white privilege and male privilege. In the case of male bisexuality, what makes you most different is of course not that you date or sleep with women, but that you do so with men. I can imagine that it is frustrating to constantly be shuffled from the straight to the gay category and vice versa, depending on your partner at the time. I realize that the frustration is recognition of the fact that you are not actually transitioning from a moment of heterosexuality to one of homosexuality and back rather than simply experiencing attraction that is not defined by gender. I imagine that there are many misconceptions about bisexuality from both sides of the coin. In general the question of ability to choose a sexual preference comes into play, but of course this logic is entirely in disaccordance with the very way that sexual attraction seems to work. Straights may be confused by bisexuals and (particularly homophobic) gays may be jealous as a result of this misconception. Ultimately, though, what is it that we ought to change? Is it simply an appreciation of what bisexuality truly means or are we looking for some kind of more significant cultural shift? Of course, we can start with general education of what it means to be bisexual and to experience sexual interest in people, without consideration of their gender identity. Sharing experiences and stories goes a long way. Beyond that, though, this seems to be a situation in which one simply must live their life and live as an example. Date whoever makes you happy and your friends will learn what it means to be bisexual.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. It's a very important issue that is rarely discussed and merits further conversation.

  10. Hey Kyle,
    Just wanted to let you know that you are amazing and I appreciate this post so much. It is so difficult to be labeled, especially when those labels are misconceptions. I don't know if I necessarily have a solution to this problem. But I would say that defining your sexuality to other in this new atmosphere is definitely going to be a process that requires a lot of patience and understanding. As much as it may hurt for people to address you with misconceptions, those can also be opportunities for you to graciously educate those around you about who you are, whoever that may be :)

    PS I prefer sexual continuum, it sounds more exciting.

  11. Thanks for posting this. I feel like I could've written something similar myself. As a grad student who grew up in the 80s and early 90s, I wasn't even able to contemplate that I might be bisexual until about 7-8 years ago. My first year at Duke I got involved with the campus LGBT community, but since I was in a long-term relationship at the time w/ someone of the opposite sex, I never felt like I fully belonged. It felt like LG folks were as hung up on binaries as straight folks. (Hopefully that's gotten better.) So I ended up hanging out mostly with folks I already knew and who happened to be straight. I'm known for years that I wasn't "straight" but after coming here, I realized I wasn't "gay" either. "Bisexual" doesn't sound quite right b/c I'm not actively having sex with people of both sexes. I love the word "queer" but don't use it much b/c it seems most people misunderstand it. Sometimes I just settle for saying I'm "not straight." For some reason being called "straight" really annoys me whereas being called "gay" doesn't.
    Good luck during your time here at Duke! Thanks for making yourself more visible in support of those of us who don't fit the affectional binary. And know that you aren't alone either.