I’m Ross, and I’m bisexual…
The very first inkling I had that I was bisexual was while watching Astro Boy cartoons as a child in the ‘80s. There was something about his asymmetrical haircut, soft voice and big eyes that made me feel things beyond the realm of a regular six-year-old fanboy. Of course, at the time, I had no perception that my feelings about Astro Boy meant that I was ‘different’ in some way. I assumed everyone felt that way about Astro Boy.
It wasn’t until 1998—the year I moved out of the family home on the Sunshine Coast to go to university—that my sexuality and identity started to take shape. In a new city, surrounded by new people, far away from my parents and Lutheran high school, I saw myself clearly for the first time. The only problem was, it scared the hell out of me.
Discovering that I was bisexual triggered a wave of anxiety attacks, depression and self-loathing. I found it very difficult to accept about myself, and also very confusing. I’d never met another bisexual person, so the revelation left me in a state of identity paradox: I had discovered who I was—and yet, I had absolutely no idea who I was. One thing was clear though: the happy, innocent boy from the coast with the Ray Martin haircut was gone, and in his place was a petrified young man who craved acceptance.
My first week at university
In my very first week at university in Brisbane, it happened. As I waited in the foyer of B Block at QUT’s Gardens Point campus for one of my classes to start, I gazed out across the lawns and saw someone that made my heart rate spike. At first I didn’t think much of it—it was how my body usually reacted when I saw a girl I was attracted to. Then my stomach turned over several times. My brain had only just caught up with the rest of my body. I was looking at a guy.
Panic surged through me. I thought, “What? This can’t be happening. I mean, I’m pretty sure I still like girls. So what does this mean?” In that moment, it felt like a door opened in my mind—a door that lead to a room I’d kept closed my entire life. And suddenly, my life changed forever. I was no longer ‘straight’. I knew that for sure—it was the only thing I knew. But if I wasn’t straight, then what the hell was I? Who the hell was I?
The answer wasn’t something I would come to straight away. I knew what ‘bisexual’ meant, but I didn’t know if it applied to me. I just knew that there was this really important new part of me that I didn’t understand. And I hated it. It felt like something foreign had started growing in me, and all I wanted to do was cut it out with a knife. In reality, it had always been there; the difference was, now I was brave enough to face it and old enough to understand what it meant.
Despite this, I was still really hard on myself. The voice in my head frequently told me that being bisexual meant ‘I wasn’t good enough’. Most of the time I found it difficult to even like myself.
All this confusion and self-loathing then created meta-problems, and I started having anxiety attacks. At one point my doctor sent me to get brain scans because my anxiety was so bad that I was basically hallucinating. All of my senses were on overdrive and I couldn’t work out how to turn the volume down.
The rushes of anxiety I was experiencing were also being fuelled by the thought of my parents not knowing that I was bisexual. So, in an attempt to quell the anxiety, I decided to come out to them. Even the thought of it was terrifying. I had no idea how they would react and I was doubtful that they would still love me.
We gathered in the family kitchen and I told them that I was attracted to girls and boys—that I was bisexual.
Coming out didn’t help my anxiety much, but it felt good to know that I’d been honest. To their credit, my parents took the news pretty well. Even if they didn’t fully understand it or know how to support me, they tried.
A few days afterwards they took me on a camping trip to Fraser Island. But on the first night, a leaking gas bottle set our tent on fire and I had to jump through a wall of flames to escape. For the rest of the trip we slept in a half-melted tent and—unsurprisingly—my anxiety levels didn’t improve.
My bisexuality was obviously as much of a shock to my parents as it had been to me. It was a difficult thing for them to process and come to terms with. Sometimes I felt like I needed to be there for them, and explain things to them as they dealt with the reality of my sexuality, while at the same time trying to be there for myself as I dealt with it. It was the most difficult time in my life. But we talked openly and worked through a lot of things together, which payed off later in life.
Bisexuality in action
After coming out to my parents, sister and brother, I started to feel more comfortable about acting on my impulses. So, at nineteen, I started dating girls and boys. But mostly I dated no one.
As a young bisexual man in peak physical form, my sex life was nothing like a lot of people assumed: a sexual smorgasbord akin to the all-you-can-eat salad bar at Sizzler. I often encountered this misconception—that bisexuals were also hypersexual. While, the reality for me was, dating one person at a time was complicated enough. I was anxious a lot of the time, so I didn’t have the mental or emotional capacity to be promiscuous. When I tried to explain my sex life to people, I likened it to playing a game of darts with two target boards: I was spoilt for choice, but I never really knew which board to throw the dart at.
Another popular assumption I encountered was that I was ‘going through a phase’. Some of my gay friends suggested that being bi was just a stepping stone to me accepting that I was homosexual, and some of my straight friends seemed to think I was just experimenting and that I’d grow out of it. I felt like neither side of the fence was very comfortable with me labelling myself bisexual—like they were eager for this uncertain seesaw period of my life to be over so they could hurry up and label me either straight or gay. Most people found it almost inconceivable that I wouldn’t eventually choose a side. But it felt entirely natural and normal for me to remain grey in a black-and-white sexual landscape.
The media, TV shows and movies that I engaged with all had a similar take on sexuality. They liked to talk about it in terms of straight or gay. But I always felt like they were closer to the truth when they’d talk about sexuality as a preference—that people preferred men or women—not as an absolute. In other words, if the first preference wasn’t available (or that appealing), then a person might choose from their second preference. For example, if a bunch of straight men had to (hypothetically) choose between having sex with Gina Rinehart or Ryan Gosling, would they all choose Gina by default, because she is a woman? That’s what their straightness implied.
I had a strong sense that this idea of sexual-preferences-in-action didn’t just apply to bona fide bisexuals. For starters, I didn’t know how else to explain what so-called straight men often did in environments where there were no women—like boarding schools, prison or the navy. It seemed that sexual encounters were often sought with whomever was around. I even came up with a term to describe it: situational sexuality. The idea being that you might normally identify as straight or gay, but in certain situations your sexual behaviour changed and you no longer fit neatly into either category. So, if you are a straight man stuck on an island, à la Lord of the Flies, surrounded only by other men, what do you do? Evidently, in these situations, some straight men seek the company of other men. Is this really so surprising though? After all, intimacy is a human act, not a straight or a gay act. And human acts aren’t always black or white.
Like a camp Sherlock Holmes
I felt so excluded by the gay-or-straight binary that I started trying to label random people as bisexual to fill the void in between. When I’d witness someone’s contradictory sexual behaviour, I’d get so annoyed and confounded, and I’d think, “How many same-sex encounters can they have and still call themselves straight?” I was jealous that other people could act bisexually without ever labelling themselves as such. Because I felt alone.
It wasn’t easy finding other bisexual people, even in a city like Brisbane—you didn’t just run into them on the street. And if I went to a gay club, finding a bisexual person wasn’t simply a matter of casting out a net (this was the pre-Grindr era). So, like a camp Sherlock Holmes, I started trying to find evidence of gayness in everyone I met. When I thought I’d found a clue, I’d say things like, “Surely that guy is a bit…you know” or “Look what they’re wearing—do you think they might be closet bi?”
But searching for gayness didn’t help me much either. I still felt alone. In fact, the only thing that helped me feel less alone was this mantra: You can’t be the only person in the world who feels like this. You can’t be unique. So you mustn’t be alone. The more I said it to myself and the more I believed it, the less I felt the need to accuse everyone of being secretly five-percent gay.
I also realised that I’d fallen into the same trap that everyone else had. I’d become obsessed with labelling all the different kinds of intimate acts between people—what they meant and what label they belonged to—that I’d missed the whole point: they all meant the same thing. They were all just human acts of love and desire. So, instead of focussing on what other people did (especially who they did) and what they labelled themselves, I did something scary but important: I turned the focus back on myself. And I finally admitted that I needed help to work through the anxiety and self-loathing I felt about being bisexual. I started seeing a therapist.
Going to therapy completely changed my life. I walked into my first session a broken person. I was confused, angry and overwhelmed with anxiety. But more than anything else, I was lost. I still hadn’t met more than one or two bisexuals, and they were just as much of a mess as I was. So, apart from some vague notion that David Bowie might have been bi in the ‘70s, and that men in ancient Rome openly had sex with everyone, I had no idea what being bisexual really meant. I had no role models. I had no one to look up to who had walked this sexually ambiguous life path.
However, through therapy I learned that—actually—I didn’t need anyone. My therapist, Hercules (yes, that is his real name), showed me that I could be my own role model. He said that, instead of looking around me for someone to follow or mould my life on, I could be my own leader.
And for the first time since realising that I was bisexual, I started to feel like I might be OK. I started to feel like I might be enough.
I married a woman
Years passed. Then, in 2010, I married a woman. And in 2014 we had a daughter.
I have no idea what people from my past think of me now. Perhaps they assume that the young, confused boy they once knew grew out of a phase. Maybe they say, with a wink and a smile as they gossip over a cup of tea, “Oh he’s straight now: married with kids.” But I’m not straight. And if I went around telling people I was straight, I’d be contributing to bisexual erasure and assumptions of straightness—the very things that made me feel so lonely and lost when I was younger.
I used wonder if people like me ever got married or became fathers, because I had zero examples of people who did. I thought, “What happens to that other bit—the bit that finds men attractive—while I’m married to a woman?” So I talked to Hercules about it. He pointed out that all married men looked at other women, so did it really matter if I looked at other women and men? He was right; it didn’t matter. As with any relationship, what was important was that I felt fulfilled by the person and was faithful. I certainly didn’t feel like I was ‘missing out on anything’ or that there was ‘something I just couldn’t get from a woman’—the kinds of things people assume about bisexuals in monogamous relationships. For me it was quite the opposite: I felt loved, unconditionally.
Telling my partner I was bisexual
A big part of feeling loved and accepted was coming out to my girlfriend (now wife) as bisexual. It was an important step for me and something that she deserved to know, because my bisexuality is innate and permanent.
I imagine that a lot of women might find it a difficult thing to accept about their partner—perhaps even feel threatened by it. And I’m sure that many bisexual men don’t come out because they’re scared of what their partner will think of them. In my case, I was afraid that my girlfriend might suddenly feel like I was only half the man I was meant to be, or that I was only ‘half present’ in the relationship. But I was very fortunate. I found someone who accepted my sexuality, wholeheartedly—and then embraced it.
Since coming out, my wife has been just as encouraging of my celebrity crush on Miranda Kerr as she has been of my crush on Antoni Porowski from Queer Eye.
The sliding scale of sexuality
These days, I’m much more at peace with being bisexual. In fact, as I’ve become more comfortable with my sexuality, the less vital the label ‘bisexual’ has become to me. It’s part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me anymore. So, when I’m coming out to a new friend, I might say something like, “I’m not straight, and I’m not gay. I’m bisexual. But more importantly, I’m Ross. And I’m going to be Ross for the rest of my life.”
Labels are important and still have their place—as a teenager I would have killed to have met a bunch of grown-ups who identified as bisexual. But now, as a forty-year-old man, I prefer to see people as human beings first, and their sexuality or gender identity as just one aspect of who they are—not some overarching definition of their entire being.
Also, I’ve come to see sexuality as more of a sliding scale: with ‘absolutely gay’ at one end, ‘absolutely straight’ at the other end, and many shades of grey in between. (This scale doesn’t attempt to map other labels like ‘trans’ and ‘intersex’ because I don’t feel that I know enough about them to speak on their behalf.)
To me, a sliding scale of sexuality makes more sense than distinct and rigid categories, and more accurately represents the behaviour of people I have observed, rather than a choice of three options: gay, straight or bi. Because, as I’ve found, even if people act bisexually, they will rarely identify as such. Most people find it easier to identify with one end of the scale, because that’s what most of society understands.
On one hand, the sexuality scale makes me feel less alone. But on the other hand, it potentially means that there are huge numbers of people out there struggling with the same issues I did—alone and in silence. People who don’t belong at either end of the scale and are unable to admit the grey areas of their sexuality, even to themselves.
You are exactly how you are meant to be
When I was nineteen and confused about my sexuality, I thought there was something wrong with me. I craved acceptance more than anything else, but it was the one thing I didn’t know how to give to myself. I needed to hear reassuring words, and confirmation that it was OK to be bisexual. Looking back, I wish someone had said to me then, “You are exactly how you are meant to be; you are perfect just as you are”. Because this is the truth that now seems so obvious to me.
Also, I wish someone had told me that after you come out, your parents can grow and change too. That their immediate reaction may bear little resemblance to how they feel about your sexuality in five or ten years’ time. Because now, not only do I feel unconditionally loved and accepted by my parents as bisexual, they’ve become queer advocates. They celebrated with their neighbours across the street when their son came out as gay and then married a man; they support and counsel other parents whose children have come out by normalising queer sexualities; they use the correct terminology and know the difference between gay, bi and trans; and they voted for gay marriage in Australia. I find all this incredibly admirable.
When I first discovered that I was bisexual, I struggled mightily. And, having never met another bisexual person, I felt very alone in it. But over time, and with the help of therapy, I learned to accept and love myself—not despite my sexuality, but because of it. I learned to celebrate it and be my own role model.
Some people may wonder why I (a man married to a woman) would want to write about being bisexual at this point in my life. Sure, it would be easier for me to keep quiet and let people assume that I’m straight, rather than continually having to come out and explain the nature of my relationship: loving and monogamous. But it’s this very fact—that I am married to a woman and have a daughter—that makes me want to write about my sexuality. I have no desire to be another invisible bisexual.
Most importantly, though, I want anyone who is bisexual, or some other sexual shade of grey, to know this: you are enough. In fact, you’re fucking fabulous. So here I am, standing up to be counted. I’m Ross, and I’m bisexual…