Tom Daley: Why do so few men admit to being bisexual?
With Tom Daley coming out as bisexual, will other men follow his lead? And if not, why not, asks Patrick McAleenan
As a gay man, I have mostly avoided dating bisexual men, but perhaps that's because I fell in love with one once. (He’s now married. To a woman.) Or perhaps there's another reason. Perhaps I haven't met enough of them, which would be understandable considering they are often compelled to remain closeted when it comes to their split sexuality.
If that last point seems a stark generalisation, consider this. There's a pretty long list of famous women who have come out as bisexual: Anna Paquin, Evan Rachel Wood and Lindsey Lohan, to name a few recent examples. But with his admirable coming out earlier this week, diver Tom Daley is the most notable famous man. David Bowie circa 1970 doesn’t count. It was a long, long time ago.
Daley’s revelation is considered significant because he is a sportsman at the peak of his abilities, and very few top athletes have outed themselves over the years. But will the news lead to a mass coming-out among male bisexuals? I sincerely doubt it.
You can understand why. Society as a whole views bisexual males and females differently. I’ve sat at many dinner parties where the female guests have openly admitted to same sex attractions or experiences, but a man doing the same is simply not the norm. While a woman might receive a nod of approval, a bisexual man can still generate a stunned silence and a quick skip to the next course. We may have relaxed about out-and-proud gay men, but guys who admit to a dabble still face the questioning stares, and whispers of “is he gay, straight or lying?"
Of course, men and women differ in sexual responses, attractions and desires. Women tend to be more flexible in their sexuality, but whether that’s innate or a function of living in a society where Katy Perry is worshipped for singing a song called ‘I Kissed a Girl’, and Madonna snogs Britney Spears on stage, remains to be seen. Young women are regularly bombarded with the message that bisexuality is something sexy to explore and display, but mainly for one reason: men like it.
Had Justin Bieber released a song about flirting with bisexuality, it would have been career suicide. Had Michael Jackson followed Madonna's marketing strategy and kissed a male singer on stage, his reputation would have been destroyed long before his unfortunate demise. Male bisexuality is simply hard for many straight people to tolerate.
Few would disagree that it’s seen as more acceptable for women to show affection to one another and be more physically close than men are. As a result, male bisexuality is more hidden.
Many bisexual men are also in relationships with women who have no idea their partner likes both her and other "hims". It cannot be easy for a man to confess to his girlfriend that he is bisexual, and his partner is bound to worry that bisexuality is the beginning of the end of the relationship, which will conclude in a “bi now, gay later” scenario.
Many writers and psychologists have wondered whether most self-confessed male bisexuals are simply homosexual men either in denial or trying to “have it both ways” - having sex with men while holding on to heterosexual privilege. Aside from the potential hurt that may be caused if the bisexuality is revealed, bisexual men face a real threat of abuse or violence. A 2013 hate crime report by Galop.org.uk, London’s leading anti-LGBT hate crime charity, showed that 1008 homophobic crimes were reported in London during 2012/13. Prejudice, stigma and abuse of bisexual people originates both within and outside LGBT communities, and is a hidden problem.
But if male bisexuality remains underground, then there's no way to have an open conversation about it and the myths and challenges surrounding it.
Once that conversation is out in the open, we would soon reach an important question: why does it matter if men are bisexual or not? Whether they are largely gay but just haven't accepted the fact yet, or largely straight with a touch of gay thrown in, out of date ideas about who gets to have what kind of sex are bad for everyone. There are potentially many men who feel they have to suppress healthy, normal sexual feelings to avoid judgement, or even worse.
Male bisexuality remains a challenging and confusing subject for most people, and often most of all for the bisexual man himself. The only way that will change is if we're prepared to talk about it more.