Coming Out As A Bi Man: A Spotlight On Zachary Zane
I was 26 when I first met someone who identified as a bi man. Thinking about it now, it seems a bit odd, but to this day, I only personally know 3 or 4 bi men.
As someone who came out as bi and now identifies as queer, this fascinates me. I know plenty of queer and bi cis women, but so few bi cis men. Or, at least, that’s what I think. It’s quite possible I know a lot more bi men than I think I do.
Due to society’s tendency to degrade, disbelieve, and erase bi identities, the coming out process (if there is one at all) can be confusing, painful, and full of anxiety. For men, the pressure to uphold the traditional and antiquated masculine ideals probably only complicates this. I don’t know anything about that, but whenever I speak to other bi folx, I’m always stunned by how similar our stories are.
I had the pleasure of speaking to journalist and activist Zachary Zane about his journey to coming out as bi. You may know Zach from #WeNeedAButton, but right now, we’re going to take an up close and personal look at what it was like for him to come out as a bi man.
Zach grew up in Los Angeles in a very liberal, loving, Jewish family. He had gay uncles on both sides who played a large role in his life.
He was teased in school for being gay due to his “feminine mannerisms,” including limp wrists.
“I even had an acting coach tell me, ‘Hey, regardless of your sexual orientation you need to macho up what you’re doing,’” Zach recalled. He liked to sing and did water polo, which he says made him an easy target for ridicule. But despite being effeminate, he liked women, which was confusing.
He attended Vassar College, which, for those who don’t know, is an extremely small and queer-friendly school. Two weeks into his first semester, he hooked up with a guy when he was really, really drunk.
“I had to get drunk to do it. I was so nervous,” Zach said. “I ended up vomiting repeatedly in the middle of hooking up, and then the next day I thought I was straight.” He didn’t hate it, but he didn’t love it. “I think I really expected to have this big ‘Aha’ moment because all my life people in ridiculed me and thought that I was gay, so I thought maybe I was.”
Listening to Zach brought up memories for me. The lack of bi representation, especially when we were growing up, presents a false choice: you’re either straight or secretly gay. For bi folx, that results in a lot of internal confusion. I personally recall thinking to myself as young kid that everyone must feel this way (attracted to multiple genders), but that part of growing up was picking a side.
For the next four years, Zach was consistently hooking up with guys, and each time he was hammered so he could get to a place where he could actually do it. This also gave him what he calls plausible deniability. “Hey, I was just drunk and horny. I’m not actually gay…”
Oh, the denial. It’s crazy what internalized homophobia and lack of representation will allow the mind to do. Despite years of X-rated AOL chatroom sessions, queer hook-ups on the DL, crushes that I admitted to in my journal, I was able to tell myself anything other than the truth.
Zach’s clandestine hook-ups with guys at Vassar created anxiety. “Everyone was so gossipy there,” he said. “And a lot of people were dismissive of my identity.” Guys took pride in hooking up with him since he wasn’t out, and despite not wanting other people to know, by senior year, the word had gotten out.
“I wanted to figure out my identity, but people were constantly telling me what my identity was. It’s so confusing when people are telling you you’re gay, you’re straight, you’re this, you’re that.”
After he graduated, he moved to Boston where he worked as a smoking cessation researcher and counselor, and continued to hook-up with men. After five years of hooking-up with guys and not coming out, he talked to his brother about it. “He was like, ‘You know, guys experiment for a little bit, and that’s fine. But after five years, that’s not experiment. That’s more than an experiment.’”
He was compelled to see an LGBTQ therapist. During the second session, he told the therapist his life story, about his love of women, yet his attraction to men, and how confusing that is. “He cut me off and he said, ‘Zach, it sounds like you’re bisexual.’ And I said to him, ‘Does that really exist in men?’ And he said, ‘You’re too smart to think that.’”
For Zach, it wasn’t a lack of intelligence, but a lack of visibility and representation of bi men like him. He knew plenty of guys at Vassar who came out as bi and then would later come out as gay. He thought of the bi identity as a stepping stone, not as something stable. But talking to his brother and his therapist convinced him otherwise.
He started coming out as bi to more family members. At a certain point, his brothers knew, his sister knew, his gay uncles knew, and friends knew. The only people close to him that he still needed to tell were his parents.
Despite his parents being liberal, Zach was petrified to tell them. “I think of these people who actually know that their parents could respond in a poor way, and they still have the courage to tell them, which is incredible,” he said. “I came from this loving family and still honestly almost had a panic attack when I was telling them.”
Hearing Zach talk about this really resonated with me. Similarly, my parents were always nurturing and accepting of me, but I dreaded coming out to them. I dreaded their response, even though I had no real reason to. To my surprise, my mom kind of opened the door to me coming out. She said to me, “You know I don’t care if you date a man or a woman, right?” I was stunned, so relieved, and so grateful. The floodgates opened and I haven’t looked back.
Something similar happened to Zach with his dad when they were out to lunch one day. His dad hinted strongly at the fact that he goes to a lot of gay clubs. “Then there was an awkward pause and I had no intention of telling them at that point. But then I was like, you know what, he’s giving me this opportunity to do it. It was like, well, this is happening.”
The only thing that upset his mom when he came out to her was that she was the last to know.
Today, Zach lives in New York City. He has a boyfriend and they are in an open relationship. He decided while living in Boston that he hates academia, he abandoned the idea of getting a PhD. He now works as a journalist and activist. He writes about bisexuality professionally for publications like Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, Playboy, bi.org, and more. He is currently also the ambassador for the #WeNeedAButton campaign.
When dating, he still gets skepticism from time to time, but it doesn’t bother him anymore. “On Tinder I put that I’m bi” Zach explained. “Even though I get infinitely less swipes from women in general, the women who do match with me are bi or queer 99% of the time. It just shows you that no straight woman would even match with me just because I have that I’m bi there.”
Occasionally some guys will tell him that they don’t believe bisexuality exists or that be must be gay. When that happens, “if I’m feeling up to it, I’ll explain why what the guy’s saying is wrong,” Zach told me. “Other times I’ll just politely leave the date altogether. I’ve done that. I just don’t have the patience or time anymore.”
Zach is secure in his identity, and when I asked him what he’d tell kids who may be struggling right now with a bi identity, he said: go online and find your queer community.
“That’s one thing I wish I did,” Zach reflected. “There’s a huge bi, queer, questioning community on Twitter, on Reddit, on lots of sites, and if you are struggling with that, talk to people online, become friends with them. It’s a lot easier talking to people who understand. They’ll be able to teach you and mentor you, provide support for you to then be able to come out to your family and friends from real life. When I was growing up these communities were harder to find. Now, there’s no reason to go through this alone.”