The B-word

Why does bisexuality still make us so uncomfortable?

“I want to tell you something, but I’m embarrassed. I don’t want you to think bad [sic] of me.”

Uh-oh. Nobody wants to hear those words during a date, especially on a sunny January afternoon in Paris. Things were going so well with Alex, whom I’d met three months earlier in Frankfurt, his hometown. We were talking history, politics, and travel while strolling along the Seine. Did he have to ruin everything with a confession?

“Last night I went out and…”

All the details about the previous evening’s nightclubbing adventure followed. Hours after he arrived at a disco whose name he couldn’t recall, a guy approached him at the bar.

“My friend has been lusting after you all night,” he said, pointing to a young Haitian woman nearby.

I thought I knew where the story was heading. I once had a fling with a guy in Buenos Aires that began the same way. Alex’s twist: He and the girl ended up naked in his hotel room’s twin bed. She left at 6am, and a few hours later, he was making plans to meet me at noon under the Eiffel Tower.

“So are you telling me you’re bisexual?” I asked, hating myself for hoping it was just a drunken one-time experimental thing.

“Yes. I’m more into men right now, but I’m still attracted to women.”

I could have lived without the TMI hook-up tale, but knowing that was his way of coming out to me, I had to give him props for owning it. Although it’s no longer the community’s overlooked stepchild, the B in LGBTQ still doesn’t get enough acceptance and respect, even within our own ranks, even from some of us, like me, who have figured out what Aaron Carter apparently hasn’t.

Related: Aaron Carter says he isn’t actually bisexual, that whole coming out thing was “misconstrued”

Backstreet Boy Nick’s little brother recently made B a scarlet letter, as so many others have before him. After coming out as bi last year–“I definitely embrace my bisexuality,” he said on the LGBTQ&A podcast in December–he now claims it was misconstrued. He says he wants to have a family… so he’s actually straight!

Earth to Aaron: Bisexuality isn’t a flashy suit you can pull out of the closet when it suits your publicity machine, nor does it switch to straight because you want to be a daddy. Oh, and love, marriage, parenthood, and bisexuality are not mutually exclusive.

I knew all that, but I couldn’t calm my own Sturm und Drang over Alex’s confession. I told him it didn’t matter to me, but I lied. Although our date would still qualify as one of the best days I’ve ever had in Paris (full disclosure: I’m not a fan of the city), everything between us changed after he told me he’s bi.

“Look at that amazing church,” I said, fumbling for something to say for the first time that afternoon.

I wondered if he noticed the suddenly uncomfortable silences. Our easy, playful banter shifted to tentative and awkward. The B-word never came up again, but I couldn’t think about anything else.

No, I’m not the type who side-eyes bisexuality. I accept it in theory. I don’t see it as a layover on the way to straight (for women) or gay (for men), as I’ve heard some people describe it. The B in LGBTQ is as legitimate as any of the letters surrounding it.

But if I’m being completely honest, a certain green-eyed monster was controlling my innermost thoughts. I hated myself even more for being swayed by the stereotype that bisexual people are sluttier than the rest of us because they have more options.

I recently watched a 2017 The View interview with Younger star Nico Tortorella that took me back to that Saturday afternoon in Paris. The actor talked about being bisexual (he married his longtime lesbian partner on March 9) and made an interesting observation about how people react to it:

“I think the most flack I get – and other bisexual friends I have get – is actually from inside of the [gay] community and not from straight people.”

Related: Nico Tortorella gets the most flack from gay men

He deftly dodged panelist Sunny Hostin’s question about how his sexual duality affects his partners, but I assume both genders must have reservations. I would. With Alex, I did.

After his bi revelation, everyone we passed became competition: the sharp-dressed black man who looked like he’d stepped off the pages of L’Homme, the cute white guy who served us our late-afternoon burgers, the long cool woman in a black dress on the Metro – every woman on the Metro.

I’m a fairly jealous guy by nature, though none of my exes would know it. I hide it well. I put in extra effort with Alex that day. When he asked if he could see me again later in the evening and kissed me goodbye, I figured I’d succeeded.

I had to concede failure, though, for overreacting on the inside. I never consciously think of guys I date in terms of their sexual identity, so why did it define Alex for me? I must have dated bisexual men in the past, but until Alex, no-one had ever openly tagged himself as one. I’ve dated men with ex-girlfriends and even ex-wives, but the women were never literally yesterday’s news.

Alex’s attraction to women wasn’t ancient history, so I had to accept it in the present tense. Despite my misgivings, I was determined to try. We had our second date that evening, and I hope we’ll have a third one the next time we’re both in the same European city. I’m disappointed in myself for continuing to feel somewhat conflicted, but I’m glad I didn’t dismiss him.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be as comfortable with B as I am with G, but in this brave new LGBTQ world of sexual fluidity, maybe there’s still hope for me. Maybe there’s still hope for everyone who struggles with B. There’d better be, because without it, there is no LGBTQ.

Related: Can you guess which of these people is bisexual?