When I was 15, I confided in my psychiatrist that I was questioning my sexuality.
"I think I might be gay," I told him.
He responded by asking, "Do you like women?"
I replied truthfully, "Yes, I do."
"Then you're not gay."
"Well, maybe I'm bisexual."
"Bisexuality doesn't exist in men."
That was the end of the conversation. No further questions allowed or needed. I cannot be bisexual, because bisexuality did not exist in men. This wasn't opinion. It was fact.
Three years after this talk with my psychiatrist, I hooked up with my first man in college. It was my second week of freshman year, and I told myself I needed to experience the touch of a man. I had been questioning my sexuality now for years and had sexually fantasized about men more times than I cared to admit. Roughly 2,500 miles away from my hometown, I felt that now was the time to safely explore without word getting back to my friends and family.
So I went to a party, got hammered, picked a random guy, and decided that he was the lucky winner. Midway through hooking up, I ran to the bathroom to vomit. That's how drunk I was. That's how drunk I needed to be to be intimate with another man.
The next day, I didn't feel anything, besides my huge hangover. I didn't have a revelation that I was gay or bisexual. I didn't have an "aha" moment, like I was expecting. I thought I would kiss a man and my sexual identity would become crystal clear. I'd either think to myself, "This is what I've been missing my whole life," or "I'm definitely not into it," but when I felt no polarizing response, I felt more ambivalent about my sexuality than ever before.
"Maybe it just wasn't the right guy," I thought to myself. So I tried hooking up with another. Again, no epiphany. I tried another and another. I hooked up with at least two dozen guys in college, and not once while sober. Every morning I woke up with another guy in bed I'd have an existential identity crisis. Why did I do this? I must be gay! No, I was just drunk and horny. I like the attention. I'm straight and open-minded. I never came to any decision about my sexuality, and spent many sleepless nights psychoanalyzing myself. Finally, senior year of college, I actually had penetrative sex with a man, thinking that might push me one way or another. Still, no clarity.
It was only after I saw a specialized LGBTQ therapist once I had graduated college that I began to realize and fully embrace my bisexuality.
Unlike my old psychiatrist, this therapist said point-blank during our second session that he thinks I'm bisexual. When I told him, "No, I'm confused," he asked me why I kept saying this when I stated that I had clear sexual attractions towards both men and women.
I told him why: I had never met another genuine bisexual man in my life. Every bisexual man I knew identified as bisexual for a brief stint, and then shortly after identified as gay. Not once had I read, heard, met, or seen a bisexual man.
Bisexual men were mythical creatures out of fairy tales. Being a real, grown-ass man, I figured I couldn't be bisexual. He told me that bisexual men do indeed exist, and after coming out as bisexual myself, I'd meet more and more bi men.
He was 100% correct. Since coming out as bi, I've met a number of people who also identify as bi.
If only I had seen some representation of bisexuality in the media that didn't reinforce negative stereotypes, or met an out bisexual man in my four years of college. I can only imagine how much quicker I would have embraced my sexual orientation. How much happier I would have been years earlier. How many nights of tossing and turning I could have avoided.
Even though roughly half of the LGBT community identifies as bisexual, we're seldom represented in the media. Nevertheless, more and more millennials are beginning to view themselves as bisexual and sexually fluid. A recent YouGov study discovered that a third of 18-24 year olds in the U.S. and Israel put themselves along a continuum of sexuality, rather than at either end. In the UK, roughly 50% don't view themselves as 100% gay or straight.
Even though there are a huge number of us, and the number of bisexual-identifying people is growing, we often feel invisible. We often feel alone.
This feeling of isolation contributes to a slew of mental health issues that highly correlate with bisexuality. Bisexuals have high rates of depression, suicidality, self-harm, smoking and alcohol abuse, and intimate-partner violence. Recent data from a Human Rights Campaign study revealed that bisexual youth are less likely than lesbian and gay youth to feel there's a supportive adult they can talk to.
These feelings of isolation also keep us closeted because we don't feel as if we have a bi community. We don't think people will accept us. It's estimated that only 28% of bisexuals come out. Research from Dr. Eric Schrimshaw of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health revealed that most bisexual men know their sexuality. Their reasons for not disclosing it don't arise from confusion, but rather they don't come out because they fear rejection from their partners and ostracization from their families and communities.
Bisexuals face additional hardships that monosexuals (either gay or straight) don't experience. The only way to change this is through visibility.
This is why this week--Bisexual Awareness Week--is so important. This is why bi-visibility matters. This is why it's crucial that we come out as often and to as many people as we can. Not only will your decision to come out create more visibility for others, you will also start to meet other bi folks, and can become an integral member of the bisexual community. So please, come out and share you story. Let's make it easier for the next, growing generation of bisexuals to be out, comfortable, and proud of who they are.
Zachary Zane is a writer whose work focuses on sexuality, gender, and relationships. His work can be seen at zacharyzane.com, and you can follow him on twitter @ZacharyZane_.