A new study confirms what we already knew; that male bisexuality exists. Yet, the fact that this was ever in question is testament to bi men’s continued invisibility. A conversation with journalist and very visible bi activist Zachary Zane got Joe von Malachowski thinking about coming out, bi manifestos and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Zachary Zane needed a Zachary Zane when he was figuring out his sexuality.
ZZ: There was honestly nothing! If I could have googled and just saw SOMETHING that would have been so helpful. I guess you could say David Bowie? But his bisexuality was definitely more performative. I think he used it in a way that was definitely more scandalous, and in a way he was definitely more of a femme presenting straight man. Not that I’m classifying or erasing David Bowie!
Zane is right. David Bowie is the classic example of the seeming instability of the bi identity. Growing up as a teenager I too loved David Bowie and I loved him in large part due to his infamous bisexuality. So I was heartbroken to learn that in a 1983 interview with Rolling Stone Bowie had disavowed it. “I was always a closet heterosexual” he claimed, disappointing thousands of closet bi’s like me who looked to him for inspiration.
Turns out I would have been better off if I’d had a Zachary Zane when I was growing up.
The 29 year old journalist, sex advice columnist and self-proclaimed ‘bi-con’ is speaking to me via Zoom from an apartment in Provincetown. He’s taking a break from work and a city that’s still in lockdown.
ZZ: New York has been extreme!
Throughout our conversation he moves from sofa to bed to sofa to patio chasing the WiFi signal. It’s morning there and he is tousled but energetic and never less than entirely charming.
When I was figuring out my own sexuality in my late 20’s, I did have Zachary Zane. He was one of the few prominent voices writing about male bisexuality when I first started googling those words.
A recent newsletter Zane sent out to his followers contained links to over 50 articles he has published about bisexuality. Many of them were the sources I turned to when I realised that I wasn’t straight. He wasn’t so lucky.
ZZ: When I started writing you would type in ‘bisexual man’ and what would come up was research about bi and gay men spreading HIV. Like, that was it!
Zane was working at Harvard Medical Centre and planning for a Phd in Clinical psychology when his current career launched by accident. He wrote a piece for the website XOJane (now defunct) called I Came Out as Bi and Now I Can’t Date Anyone Gay or Straight. (“Definitely a bit of a hyperbolic title,” he concedes.)
The article documented the troubles he had dating straight women and gay men after he had come out, and the shock of realising that rather than doubling his dating options, it seemed to diminish them.
ZZ: The piece really resonated with people. It got something like 25,000 shares and over 100,000 views and I got an opportunity just from that one article to write for this new site called pride.com. They were looking for more bi voices…
so I kinda became one of those bi voices.
He says things have got better since then.
“Now, when you search bisexuality on google, there’s so much out there about bi identity- whether it’s discussing internalised biphobia, media representation and bisexuality, health disparities and bisexuality, dating and bisexuality, finding a bi+ community…”
Why does he think the article resonated so much? Was there a hunger for bi men’s stories?
ZZ: I saw the feedback that I received. People going
'Oh shit, I thought I was so alone, I thought there was no-one like me
this is accurately depicting my experience.’ Because of the feedback I received- that was positive, that was from other bi people- it really did motivate me to feel yes, my voice is underrepresented.
It’s easy to feel that since then Zachary Zane has somewhat cornered the market in documenting the (cis, white) male bisexual experience. I suggest to him that he’s covered it from so many angles that there isn’t much work left for the rest of us to do.
ZZ: But obviously, I know things change. Something I wrote five years ago about bi dating won’t be the same five years from now. There’s always room for updating and being more relevant. I’m also seeing more bi voices – not just mine – which is great. We don’t just need my bi+ voice; we need as many as possible from a diverse range of backgrounds.
Is it possible for someone to exhaust the ways to write about being attracted to multiple genders?
ZZ: I had this column called ‘Good Bi Love’ at bisexual.org. After it ran for 18 months I had definitely written around 100 articles. By the end, my editor was like ‘Zach- I think this column should end.’And I was like, ‘Oh my god! Thank you!’ Because I was running out of evergreen topics to do! You can only do so much! It was starting to get repetitive.
I was interested to interview Zane. As supportive and diverse as the LGBTQ+ community is in London where I live, I have always struggled to find other bi men. We are still far too invisible.
I know this from personal experience. I didn’t come out until I was 27. I’m still not out to my family. I drip fed the news to my friends over many years. It’s important to emphasise that there’s no right way to come out, and no pressure to tell anyone you’re not comfortable with. But with that said, the confidence with which Zane owns and explores his sexuality across the pages of renowned publications has been both daunting and inspiring to me.
I fantasise about an adolescence where I could have looked up to a figure like him. Where would I have ended up if I had learnt to accept myself a decade earlier?
Where are all the bi men?
ZZ: I don’t want to create an oppression olympics but I think it is less socially acceptable for men to come out as bi than it is for women, not that I’m in any way trying to diminish the hardships bi women experience. I simply believe bi men and women present with different challenges…I think there’s also just this level of disbelief around bi men too.
Those challenges will be familiar to anyone who has found themselves having to defend their sexuality at a party, or painstakingly explain it to a friend.
To anyone who has opened up only to be met with a closed mind, an eye roll or a knowing smirk. It’s a phase. You’re being fashionable. Or the stone cold classic; you’re just one stop away from gay town.
ZZ: I think it’s so funny when specifically an older generation of gay men will be like ‘Oh yes! I identified as bi too! And then came out as gay.’ They love saying that and I’m always like ‘Yea, it seems like your experience must be like everybody else’s experience EVER.’ That shuts them up pretty quickly. Having this narcissism or solipsism that your experience must be what everybody else experiences- I find it ridiculous.
We all have our own journey to coming out. But in our hunger for representation and community it is tempting to seek patterns and commonality. There’s strength in shared experience. Even the most frivolous examples take on significance.
Before this interview I read that as a ‘straight’ teenager, Zane’s ‘one in a million’ exception would have been Jake Gyllenhaal. I remember the feelings Donnie Darko stirred in 15-year old me. I put forward my theory that Gyllenhaal is a gateway drug for many young bi’s. “Oh, he’s definitely a staple.”
I ignored my feelings for Jake (and others…but always Jake) for many years because I knew I was attracted to women, and being attracted to women was just…easier. Yet, I was still called ‘fag’ most days at school.
Probably. For a while Zane ignored his feelings for Jake too.
ZZ: It was difficult in a way because I knew I was attracted to women. I had dated women, I had loved women, I had my heart broken by a woman. So I think because I had this experience that did mirror that of my straight friends – and was very authentic and valid – I just didn’t understand what that other thing was, and I ignored it for a while.
Then I went to college and I thought ‘you know what, I’m going to try this!’ And I tried hooking up with a guy and I didn’t enjoy it because I was so drunk and nervous. I expected to have what I call this big lightbulb, ‘aha’ moment. It was like…I’d actually had very good experiences with women and this was just a mediocre experience with a man. So it just kinda confused me.
But I kept having these inclinations, I kept getting drunk and hooking up with guys, and kind of rationalising it in really bizarre ways. ‘Oh I was just really drunk’ or ‘I was just really horny.’
The ‘aha light bulb’ moment so many of us expect. That, in one moment of revelation, who we are and what we want can miraculously come into focus. My first time with a man was not that moment. Nor my second. But is anyone’s first time truly revelatory? We learn what we want incrementally and it can be a slow and painful process.
Zane was lucky enough to have a LGBTQ+ affirming therapist to help with that process.
ZZ: In the second session I was like ‘I’m confused.’ And he said ‘you don’t sound like you’re confused. You sound like you’re bisexual. Why do you keep saying you’re confused? You clearly like men and women.’ And I literally asked him ‘does that even exist in men?’
Zane points out that it didn’t seem like such a stupid question when everyone he knew in college who started identifying as bi did eventually come out as gay.
ZZ: No one had it as a stable identity.
Yea, tell me about it. Not even David Bowie…
My reaction upon reading that researchers at an American university had ‘robustly’ proven ‘for the first time’ the existence of male bisexuality sums up the contradictions and confusions of being invisible. I was struck by an initial wave of incredulity that the study had felt the need to even ask this question. How absurd that my lived experience should be subject to confirmation by scientists. Yet underneath that incredulity was a sense of relief. As if some part of me required that validation. See, I wasn’t lying…
I told you I existed.
I am 31 years old and I am the only bi man in my friendship group. No man from my school has come out as bi in the intervening years, and no man from my University. I have never met another out bi man in the workplace.
I know they are out there. They are hidden by faceless profiles on hookup apps. They are the inspiring, campaigning people at organisations like Bi Pride UK. They are journalists like Zachary Zane. But still, it can be lonely sometimes.
The good news is that things are changing. Science has now ‘confirmed’ what has long been a growing social trend.
Zane points to a recent YouGov survey that found that nearly 50% of GenZ and Millennials believe that sexuality is a spectrum. Similarly, a 2015 British survey found that 50% of young people would not describe themselves as ‘entirely heterosexual.’
“That’s the power of visibility”
We’re seeing more and more people identify as bisexual or pansexual or fluid. I think as we see more of just the population embrace the label, we’ll see more celebrities more openly embrace the label and I think it’s just great.
Of course, with more people identifying as fluid comes more discourse around what that actually means as an identity. Zane’s brand of bi is not for everyone. Slutty, unapologetic and hedonistic, he is hilarious and unflinching in the documenting of his sexcapades. Has his oversharing ever got him in trouble?
ZZ: We live in the era of oversharing! My first piece was the XOJane piece (as part of the column) It Happened to Me and if you know that column…it was the commodification or the fetishisation of personal experiences. Like- they’re giving you $50 to be like ‘I stepped on my aborted foetus and did a ritual witch experiment with it.’
(Note: this article doesn’t exist. I checked.)
ZZ: They were mining the most personal, outrageous experiences possible, so I became a writer in a time when oversharing was in. That said, I definitely do get things cut when they’re ‘too much’ though that has less to do with my bisexual experiences, and more to do with me being unnecessarily graphic.
At Men’s Health there are definitely some things where my editor has been like ‘this is hilarious, this is amazing, this is important, but Zach, you know we need to cut this.’
And my editor at Men’s Health is an angel. Shout out to Jordyn Taylor. She’s literally an incredible editor who’s allowed me to write openly and queerly at Men’s Health, which is not, specifically, a queer publication.
As a millennial myself, I cannot envisage reviewing prostate massagers for Men’s Health Magazine in such loving detail, but I am glad that Zachary Zane is there to provide that service
Queerness is often de-sexualised as it moves mainstream
and this is a trend that Zane aggressively resists. Sometimes incurring the ire of those who are looking for more sedate depictions of bisexuality. But this doesn’t worry him.
ZZ: Their argument is so poor… I saw this more a few years ago than now. The Model Bisexual. Where it’s like ‘I’m bisexual, I’m monogamous, I’m not slutty, I don’t live for threesomes.’ But right now I’m seeing- at least on Twitter and social media- definitely a push to be like ‘no we are here [slutty bis] and we are equally a part of this community.’
On a more serious note he adds;
ZZ: I think it’s important to remember the difference between the bisexual stereotypes that are ethical, and the ones that are not. If you say that bisexual people enjoy threesomes- there’s nothing inherently wrong with threesomes. If you think they’re unethical, you’re being sex-negative. Period. But there are certain tropes – ‘bisexual people are liars and more likely to cheat’ – No! That’s a bad stereotype. That speaks to our character in a false and harmful manner. I think right now, with more visibility, there is enough space for people who are happily married, and people who are more open, slutty, and live for threesomes. I think there’s space for all of us right now.
So what advice would he give to the next generation of young, slutty bi’s out there looking to him for guidance?
ZZ: Ah! Relating it to my experience! Thank you for tailoring your questions specifically to me so that I know the answer to them!
I point out that his newsletter is called BOYSLUT. He’s kind of a poster boy for this stuff.
Zane says that being honest about your identity and what you’re looking for is important. But equally important is embracing rejection as a positive force.
ZZ: Remembering that if you get rejected that is a good thing. It means that if you say something and you gave someone the opportunity to reject you and they do so based on the information that you gave them, then that’s good! Then you are being consensual. That’s why you give people the opportunity to reject you. It is a good thing to be rejected in these situations!
He also points out that these conversations are easier if you find a sex positive or ‘slutty’ community.
But for those of us seeking more of Zane’s advice, we won’t have to wait long. A book is incoming. Or is it a manifesto?
ZZ: It’s a memoir/manifesto about my life. I’m sharing stories about how I overcame issues surrounding my identity and sexuality, and how I grappled with my masculinity. I hope in sharing these stories, people will learn a thing or two about themselves.
I don’t care whether you’re bi, straight, gay or anything else, I think we all need to unlearn the sex negative things society instilled in us and learn to be more open – both sexually and in every other aspect of our lives.
But this is it! This is the big bi project that we’ve been pushing for. And I hope this shit becomes a New York Times bestseller and becomes as impactful as it can be.
It’s an entertaining idea. A bi manifesto called ‘BOYSLUT’ filling stockings all over the US come Christmas 2021. Who knows…
I end the interview by asking to take a screenshot.
ZZ: No! Oh my God! I haven’t showered!
I thank him for his part in my own journey. For writing those articles I would eventually turn to to understand myself. For choosing to be visible for those of us who aren’t always so confident.
He is graceful and says he loves hearing this.
I notice later that I am blushing like a shy teenager in the screenshot.
Growing up I needed a Zachary Zane. I’m glad the next generation have him now.