Like many others in my community, I am an invisible man.
I'm a middle-aged white male college student. Happily, authentically, monogamously married to a person of another gender for over 20 years with a teenage child.
And I am queer. Bisexual, to be precise. Have been as long as I can remember it mattering to me. (Important note: I want to be very clear that I don't speak for all bisexuals. This is only one bi man's perspective and experience. If you're bi, and you have similar or different experiences, I invite you to share them.)
One thing I'm not is in a state of denial. I know who I am, and I was never confused about it. Others certainly have been, but when I discovered that I could be attracted to the same and other genders, my reaction was pretty clear. It was to hide it from everyone. I stayed in the closet for almost 30 years, with a few notable exceptions.
I'm not in the closet anymore, haven't been for a few years now. Not just out -- I'm joyously out, Proudly out, and quite loudly out.
Despite that, a lot of people assume that I am straight. They base this entirely on the perceived gender of my partner. A smaller group assume that I am gay and that my relationship is at best social cover, and at worst using my wife as an unpaid housekeeper and babysitter suffering and crying at home while I run around and have my fun at truck stops -- obviously those last don't know me (or her) at all.
The thing that the people who try to define who I am purely by my behavior -- and not all of my behavior, but a thin slice of what I do -- are missing is that attraction and behavior are different things, even though attraction influences behavior.
There's a word back up there in the third sentence. Monogamous. It's an important word to me. Perhaps not so much to some others -- there are plenty of people who reject the idea of "one and only one other," and I have no issue with that. My way is not the only way for everyone, but it is what works for me and for my partner.
The nature of my relationship, however, does not change my sexual orientation. That has not changed, even when I publicly denied it. When I was in the closet, though, I never actually told people I was straight. I would duck the issue, change the subject, or deflect with words that seemed to give an answer while not actually giving any information. If I had been more comfortable with that kind of technically not-lying obfuscation, I could have gone into politics.
When, after years of hiding I finally came out of the closet, I did it by telling the true story, untold for 18 years, of how my partner and I met -- a story that I had condensed into "a friend fixed us up" until the day I could tell it openly.
There was a young man. He was amazing: kind, gentle, strong, funny, musical, with a generous heart, classical features, and long wavy hair that fell in locks and smelled like rain. She was dating him, and I was chasing him. He told each of us about the other, and one night she arrived at my door to drive my roommates and I to a party. We looked into each other's eyes and we've been falling ever since.
She has always known I'm bisexual -- how could she not? We swoon over some of the same guys. One of the things she finds attractive about me is that I neither conform to nor expect others to fit stereotypes of gender and sexuality.
There's an unfortunately common idea that while it's perfectly possible to be straight or gay without having to do anything to prove it, in order to be bisexual we either have to have frequent three- or moresomes, or alternate genders of partners in strict same/other order -- to "maintain balance." A lot of the myths about bisexuality are built on these assumptions.
Are there people who fit the stereotypes above? Sure. Is it their right to do so? Absolutely. Criticizing someone for "reinforcing a stereotype" is dirty pool, a way of telling them that their choices are not valid because "it reflects badly on the community." This is a problem faced by people in all minority groups: race, socioeconomic status, gender expression, sexual orientation. No one has the obligation to "be a credit to their [whatever]."
But the presence of people who fit a particular stereotype doesn't mean everyone in the group does. Being bisexual doesn't make me by definition something other than monogamous, just as being monogamous doesn't make my sexual orientation the one that allows people to stick me in a proper little box based on my partner's perceived gender -- straight or gay. I'm not half-gay, or some imaginary 50/50 based on the (outmoded, inaccurate, and behaviorally-based) Kinsey scale where every attraction to one gender means less of an attraction to another.
I'm attracted to people of my gender, and I'm attracted to people of other genders. My sexual orientation doesn't define everything about me, but that doesn't make it unimportant. By coming out, I have in a sense made my orientation everyone's business, for many reasons (congruence and community the largest) but my relationship(s) are no one's business but the people directly involved. What matters is not who others think I am, but who I know I am.
There's a popular bumper sticker that says "Start Seeing Motorcycles." The intent, of course, is to keep cyclists from getting run over by people who just look right past them and assume the lane is clear. It's time to start seeing bisexuals, and one way to do that is to stop making assumptions about someone based on who they are with rather than listening when they tell you who they are.
Follow Patrick RichardsFink on Twitter: www.twitter.com/fliponymous