Portrayal of non-hetero men in media still lacking

Stephanie Chen of CNN News discusses The Last Person Out of the Closet: The Bisexual Male. She talks with Robert Winn, a bisexual man who is married to a woman, about his struggles with coming out:

This may sound like the best of both worlds, but being openly bisexual can be complicated. He frequently battles the stereotypes of bisexuality: That bisexual men are promiscuous. That his relationships with men were just an adolescent phase. That his bisexuality is imaginary. That he’s really a gay man trying to camouflage his orientation.

“There is a whole list of assumptions of what my life might be like, that somehow she is some sort of front for me because I’m not willing to accept I’m gay,” he said. “People are confused by bisexuality. There’s just not a lot of support for people who fall in the middle like me.”

His wife Christine, while supportive, does manage to compare her husband’s bisexuality to an annoying behavior she must deal with:

“I don’t think about it [his bisexuality] as a part I have to accept,” she said. “It’s just a part of him like any other husband who loses their socks on the floor or doesn’t take the trash out.”

I tend to come to the conclusion that the reason why it is more difficult for bisexual men to come out than for bisexual women can be attributed to females performing bisexuality for men, and the seemingly default homophobia that is socialized into Western men from birth. As Chen says:

Some say that coming out as bisexual has been easier for women than men. In recent years, several Hollywood female stars have proudly declared their bisexuality. Female celebrities like Lady Gaga, Lindsay Lohan and HBO “True Blood” actress Anna Paquin have said they are bisexual.
“It’s [female bisexuality] something that’s tolerated because sometimes men see it as entertaining and exciting for them,” said Denise Penn, director of the American Institute of Bisexuality.

Christine Winn has felt a lot of struggles in the marriage as a result of her husband’s out bisexuality, like feeling “ostracized by the gay community” because Winn’s physician peers and the people within the GLBT community that he worked with assumed he was partnered with a man. Robert sums up why he ultimately decided to come out to his wife early on:

“I didn’t want to turn 40, and then come out to my wife about it,” he said. “I wanted to be open with her about who I am and what I think. Thankfully, she was willing to accept me.

(emphasis mine)

They are a couple of decades older than I am, I suppose, but I’m really rather taken aback by the gratitude Robert feels in her acceptance– especially since she described her relationship to her husband’s sexuality to be like her reaction to his bad habits. I simply can’t imagine being upset with a spouse being bisexual. If Jesse were to tell me tonight that he’s gay? Yeah, that would upset me, for obvious reasons: my husband would have just told me that he isn’t attracted to me physically, and in addition to that, I’d feel hurt and confused at the secrecy and deception involved in maintaining a romantic and sexual relationship with me.

Bisexual, though? What would I have to worry about? If you’re either male or female, then your bisexual partner isn’t telling you that he or she isn’t attracted to people of your gender. I don’t see any issues beyond that. I used to wonder if maybe there would be more opportunities to cheat on your partner with no longer eliminating one half of the population by default, but then quickly realized that was based on the myth that bisexual people are promiscuous or always non-monogamous. One’s sexuality doesn’t determine whether or not someone will be faithful in a monogamous relationship.

I’m pleased the story has made it to a mainstream news outlet such as CNN; I am, however, disappointed in the cautious and apologetic tone of the content, as it continues to marginalize and “other” non-heterosexual people and couples.

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6 Responses to Portrayal of non-hetero men in media still lacking

  1. EAMD says:

    I am a bisexual woman partnered with a man, and I have never, ever been told that I must “really be a lesbian”–it is always that I must “really be straight”. This is just my personal experience, but I think this is another reason why it might be perceived as “easier” to come out as a bisexual woman versus as a bisexual man–because women aren’t actually taken seriously (or at least taken as seriously). I am not a threat to anyone’s sense of gender norms or expectations because really, I might have a cute little experimental streak, but I’m just a straight lady who wants a good man.

    • April says:

      Your experience sounds very similar to the experiences expressed by many of my female bisexual friends; especially if she’s femme-presenting. And paired with the idea that women being sexual with each other is so often seen as strictly for the purpose of performing for a man (or several), or for only a man’s pleasure (think of how many “threesome” conversations people have where two men and a woman is ever discussed seriously… rarely), it’s as if you can’t be a “serious” bisexual woman unless you look like what people presume a lesbian “really” looks like, or unless you’re partnered with another female.

  2. Jim says:

    I am pretty sure that the main reason it is harder for men ot come out as bisexual than women is the difference in the way masculinity and femininity are understood in our society. Given the “hegemonic feminity” of most children’s childhoods, not just at home but also in school enforced by draconinan punishments of men who stray too close, it’s predictable that feminini9ty is going to be seen as the default seting while masculinity is something that has to eb achieved, somnehow, some way, a big puzzle to little boys. That means that it will always be psychologically fragile for these men. and for them, and probably for little girls grwoing up in the same environmemts, almost nothing a woman can do will compromise her femininty, but almost anything a man does can be spun to cast doubt on his masculinity. This would almost impossible for a owman to experience, and quite difficiult even to observe. And this probably explains the dismissalsl I have seen from (non-feminist) women about men’s anxiety around masculinity – they dismiss it because they have never faced the same thing WRT to their femininity. Femininity anxiety is not a feature of this culture. Hotness maybe – body image stuff, etc – but actual bedrock femininity, not so much. So sex with women is not going to materially affect a woman’s femin

    One of the few ways a boy can “become a man” in this society is sex with women, which is presented as a big challenge. Stepping back from that is bound to be seen as an acceptance of failure in the manhood sweepstakes. Women may or may not see sex with men as lessening a man’s masculinity. Men definitiely see it that way, a sa lesser form of sex. And there are women who make the same kind of comments.

    • April says:

      almost nothing a woman can do will compromise her femininty, but almost anything a man does can be spun to cast doubt on his masculinity.

      Another way of looking at this: Masculinity is a desired human trait or goal, while femininity is not. Women are praised for being feminine and acting masculine; men are not, under any circumstances, allowed to act feminine.

    • Jim says:

      It’s probelmeatic to simply say that femininity is nt desired. For one thing, desire doesn’t happen on its own; someone has to do it for it to exist. Who is doing the desiring?

      Men have always paid big money, in one form or naother, for femininity. Women have desired whatever formn of femininity thier culture prescribes to have gone to incredible lengths to achieve it – foot binding is the worst example I can think of right now.

      Femininity is highly desired. It is just that it is generally detested in men, by both men and women.

      But in the case of litle boys, rejecting fmininity is the price of achieving any individuality and of growing up at all. If infant and toddler boys had more men in thier daily lives, this might be less the case.

    • Danny says:

      Women are praised for being feminine and acting masculine…

      I think its a bit more nuanced than that. Women are praised for performing certain parts of masculinity. For instance a woman beats a guy up in a bar (regardless of who started the fight) and she is praised. While at the same time if a woman wears things like baggy pants and loose fitting shirts, clothing associated with masculinity, she gets harassed for being a “bulldyke lesbo”.

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