How Building a Space for Bi Men Helped Me Find My Own Voice

Finding a voice for a silent majority is a surprisingly difficult thing to do. Bi’s may make up over half of the LGBTQ population—but when we search for signs of our own community we oftentimes come up with very little. There’s no singular ‘bi look’ (I refuse to accept it’s cuffed jeans and the colour purple) and bi friendly spaces can be few and far between. It can sometimes feel especially difficult if you are a bi man—a group that has been routinely erased and dismissed as gay.

This lack of representation is what led TV writer and playwright Robert Cohen to ask himself “where are all the bi guys?” thus planting the seed that would blossom into the first episode of the Two Bi Guys podcast. Rob and his co-host/co-creator Alex Boyd have built the show into an audio sanctuary for bi folk to feel seen, celebrated, and most importantly, heard.

Two Bi Guys has a special resonance with me. Back in 2018, I too was searching for a bi community after having recently come out and had stumbled upon a NYC bi discussion group aptly named BiRequest (we do love our puns) that was regularly held at The Center in the West Village. This group is where I first met Rob—tall, handsome, with an easy smile—he had also been looking for answers to questions only fellow bi people would understand. Little did I know that the experiences we had there and the numerous late night diner conversations after our meetings would lay the groundwork for many of the topics investigated on the podcast.

BiRequest was such a life changing group for me and a source for many of the happy memories I have from my days living in NYC. It was a place to learn, a place to feel safe, and when I was feeling cheeky, a place to find a little fun. In all honesty, the first time I ever asked a man out on a date was someone from BiRequest, even though they started every single meeting saying “this isn’t a hookup group. There are apps for that.

The community I had within BiRequest was one of my most precious queer sanctuaries. I was allowed to be messy self still figuring out the edges of what it meant to be bisexual as a Hispanic man in his late 30’s. I’m keenly aware of just how much I still miss that group.

three men standing next to each other (Alex Boyd, Dante Cole, Michael DelRay) in a soundbooth. one is wearing a white henley shirt, one is wearing a dark tee with a harness over it, & the last is wearing a grey tee. photo by Rob Cohen

Nowadays, Rob and I find ourselves in very different places. He’s on the sunny side of the States aka Los Angeles, while I find myself in the lovely, but largely locked down, London. The ubiquitous Zoom call is what brings us back together for our chat. With a curly mop of pandemic hair and still sporting that winning smile, Rob looked at ease on the west coast where he and his partner Moxie (they/them) had landed right before covid froze the country.

Queer friendly LA was a far cry from his upbringing in the New York City suburbs. Rob’s childhood could’ve easily looked like any John Hughes film from the 80’s: comfortable, white, and overwhelmingly hetero. He attended a public school that was “quite straight in hindsight” and these formative experiences sadly made him feel that the world was “straight as the default” and “very binary”.

These restrictive boxes led to a lot of self-doubt and confusion for Rob while growing up. The awkwardness he had with certain boys, which were in reality early crushes, was only exacerbated by his feelings for, and relationships with, girls. He was “so absorbed in the default heteronormativity” that he pushed aside his queer desires to convince himself that he was straight. Does this story sound familiar to anyone else?

Rob didn’t meet a real life bi person until well into his 20’s, only after having moved to New York City proper. In a funny quirk of fate, one of his early bi idols–Raúl Esparza the award-winning Broadway star–ended up working on the same TV show that gave Rob his first network television gig, Law & Order: SVU. Raul’s comfort in his own skin was the first example he had seen of someone who owned their bisexuality without shame.

Those years on Law & Order: SVU exposed Rob to even more facets of sexuality—many that resonated with him personally—because researching human sexuality, and the crimes that stemmed from it, was part and parcel of writing for this show. Seeing himself reflected back in several of the queer storylines made him interrogate long suppressed emotions, though these moments of self-exploration weren’t all positive. 

Rob had his first taste of bi erasure when a fellow writer—commenting about a male character struggling between his family and his secret male lover—said out loud, “Once you suck a dick, you’re gay.” No one in the writer’s room contradicted that statement. The silence from his peers had a profound impact on Rob.

Our conversation pauses at that moment to reflect on those words. Words we had both heard said to our faces, in some form or another, numerous times over the years.

His first time meeting non-celebrity bisexuals was actually at BiRequest. Like many baby bi’s, Rob thoroughly researched in-person bisexual groups because he needed to “take it off of my computer” since most of his non-straight sexuality had only been in the digital space.

This shift from the internet to the real world is a common milestone for many bi’s hoping to explore the complex emotions they’ve been wrestling with inside. The low stakes of a discussion group felt safe to Rob, but even then it took many false starts before he worked up the courage to walk through the door into a room full of queers.

That first meeting was cathartic. It felt normal to discuss things about bisexuality with a room full of strangers, as weird as that may sound, because the environment was so relaxed. Rob himself ended up “saying things about myself that I had never really said out loud”, sharing feelings that “he thought he would’ve otherwise taken to the grave”.

Rob knew that bi people speaking freely from their own authentic experiences was an incredibly special experience, but sadly one that was rare for those folks living outside of queer friendly cities like NYC. If only he had found this kind of open, shame free conversation when he was a young closeted bisexual, it could’ve changed the entire trajectory of his life not to mention prevented years of self-doubt.

two men (Alex Boyd, Rob Cohen) sitting next to each other with a microphone between them. one’s wearing a white tank top that says PHLUID & the other a grey v-neck tee. photo by Moxie Peng
Photo by Moxie Peng

With the help of fellow BiRequest alumnus Alex Boyd, a Crisis Services Supervisor at the Trevor Project, they started the podcast Two Bi Guys as a way of replicating that supportive and judgement free space they had found at BiRequest and tailor it to the bi male experience—one that is so routinely erased that there are people who still refuse to believe it exists.

Those early episodes felt part therapy session, part confessional, and the most frank discussion of the male bisexual experience I had ever heard outside of a support group. Rob shared the struggles of his straight identifying upbringing and Alex, in an interesting counterpoint, shared his early days identifying as a gay man, after having been put into that box by his own family, before realising his feelings for women were a valid expression of self.

After such a nakedly honest start the response from the community was immense. “So many people after that aired contacted me…the response was kind of amazing,” reflects Rob. “So many people came out to me after that. It was really an illuminating experience that once you put this stuff out there, there’s more people interested than you might think.”

The podcast quickly shifted the spotlight from Rob and Alex to a multitude of other voices within the community, showing how diverse bisexuality truly was; from the first bisexual grandmaster of NYC Pride to bisexual professional athletes to PhD’s studying queer identities and even… bisexual porn stars. 

Rob giggles at the mention of the porn stars. Unsurprisingly, that was one of their most popular episodes right next to the pilot. “The secret of Two Bi Guys is that I just wanted to talk to some porn stars, so this is my excuse,” he confesses with a grin.

Platforming voices other than their own cis white perspectives was an early motivation for the podcast, since not only was there already a plethora of white male voices in the podcast world, but bisexuality is a spectrum spanning across class, gender, and racial divides yet was rarely shown as such. “We were always trying to think what experience can we share that we haven’t yet.”

This was an opportunity to dispel stereotypes while also revealing the vast size of the bisexual community. One such stereotype being dismantled was the very existence of bi men. Too often we’re lumped into the gay category or erased in our relationships or still closeted because biphobia made it feel like there’s no place for us in the world.

Episode after episode of Two Bi Guys we heard about bi men thriving in their lives and professions, bi men finding themselves later in life, bi men realizing that bisexuality frees them from the gender roles and gender expressions forced upon us by heteronormativity. From what is often considered a silent majority, it was a transformative experience hearing these voices share their authentic truths.

I ask Rob how it has been becoming the voice for bi men he himself wished for when he was younger. “I think it’s great, but I don’t really feel like that. I don’t really feel like anything’s changed and it’s hard for me to actually imagine that other people see me that way. But I think that’s great because there wasn’t that before. So many queer male voices that I had heard, and continue to hear, are gay. That’s underrepresented too, but within this [bi] community it’s a different perspective, it’s a different outlook. I have a lot in common with gay men, but I also have a lot that is different. I don’t want to necessarily be that voice, but I want ‘that voice’ to be there.” Rob briefly pauses to consider, “It’s a tough question to answer. It’s a little bit surreal still.”

“It’s weird for me because it happened so fast from the time that I came out. I still identify with the version of myself that was scared to walk into BiRequest, so to think of going from that to not only putting stuff out there, but then having a lot of people listen to it, is weird.”

“We get more and more messages to our Two Bi Guys social media, even these days, even when we don’t put out a new episode, being like ‘thank you for this! I couldn’t find this anywhere else,’ and that just encourages me to keep doing it. I don’t care if it reaches a million people, the group that it is reaching it’s having an impact on.”

The momentum isn’t slowing down for Two Bi Guy’s third season with stellar guests lined up like legends of bi activism Robyn Ochs and Shiri Eisner along with special guest hosts to further bolster their ongoing effort to expand the kind of voices heard in bi spaces. Even with the notoriety of the podcast growing globally, Rob still finds himself chasing a few dream guests such as gender fluid actor Nico Tortorella, Oscar-nominated writer/comedian Travon Free, and acclaimed singer Frank Ocean. 

At 2 seasons, 20 episodes, and clocking in at over 870+ minutes of bi representation I was curious to hear what lessons Rob had learned from producing this wealth of material. The biggest takeaway he had was to “trust yourself” and “be your authentic self” instead of going after perfectionism because perfect doesn’t exist and to speak about your own personal experiences without sweeping generalisations or representing them as the entirety of the community.

What did the future hold for Rob outside of Two Bi Guys? He’s currently working on several TV pilots with bisexual leads, is shopping around a series on Kitty Genovese (a famous queer NY murder victim from the 60’s), and is collecting an oral history about the experiences of bi married men which may become an offshoot of Two Bi Guys or its own podcast.

No matter which direction Rob takes his creative momentum, I’m certain Two Bi Guys will continue to help those baby bi’s still struggling with themselves to find answers in a supportive (online) space just like I did with BiRequest.

For those of you looking for more about Rob you can find him on Twitter and Instagram or you could always subscribe to the Two Bi Guys podcast available on iTunes, Spotify, and wherever you listen to podcasts.

Rob Cohen

He / Him | Twitter | Podcast

a smiling man (Rob Cohen) next to a microphone. photo by Moxie Peng

Written by Gabriel Novo

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