Ross Capouch is public about his bisexuality. But he’s never brought a boyfriend home to meet his parents.
“That’s still really, really terrifying for me,” he said. “Even though they know, they’ve never expressed outright support.”
Capouch, 24, has brought girlfriends home over the years. So when he told his parents he was bi, they were confused.
It’s made him uncomfortable talking to them about the men he dates, even though he’s always been open with them about women.
He feels like he’s out in words alone. Like he can’t actually share that part of his life with them.
Fifty years after Stonewall, gay and lesbian folks are more visible than ever. Seventy five percent say they’re out to the most important people in their lives.
But only 19 percent of bisexual folks are out, according to a new Pew Research analysis, which many in the community say points to a lasting stigma around bisexuality, in and outside of the LGBTQ community.
Capouch was once ghosted by a date after telling him he was bi. He since made it a habit to openly state his sexuality on dating profiles.
“Perhaps some of the ignorant side of gay men think that when bi guys are done with a man or get rejected by their families they can just ‘date a girl’ and all will be rectified,” he said.
Molly, 25, grew up in the Midwest, and came out to her parents as bisexual just six months ago, after moving away for grad school.
She’s currently dating a woman, and while she’s met her partner’s parents, Molly’s own parents haven’t been fully accepting.
“My mom has said, ‘Why would you choose the harder life, if you can just date a man and be fine?’” Molly said. “They’ve said things like, ‘Oh, maybe you’ll date a man and decide you’re not gay. Their hope is that in five years, I’ll be married to a man and be very straight passing.”
This stigma itself is nothing new.
As a young man in the 1980s, Rohn Jay Miller dated both men and women. Miller uses the words bisexual, pansexual and queer to describe himself.
Back then, he joined a softball team for gay men. One of his teammates repeatedly called him a “closet case” — implying that he was secretly gay, not bisexual.
“I think everybody acknowledges the Kinsey bell curve, at least intellectually pays lip service to it,” he said.
He’s referring to biologist and sexologist Alfred Kinsey, who theorized that sexuality is fluid, that it changes over time and that most people fall somewhere on a spectrum between “straight” and “gay.”
“But what does that mean in practice?” Miller said. “Almost no straight men will admit to same-sex attractions, even though especially through puberty we all go through experiences like that.”
Miller said that many gay men don’t view him as “gay enough.” Sometimes, people treat bisexuality as a synonym for “questioning,” instead of a valid identity on its own.
Lou Hoffman advocated for the bisexual and transgender community in Minneapolis during the 1980s and 1990s. She talked to many folks who said they were actually bi, but afraid that coming out would ruin their credibility in the LGBTQ community.
“So many times people get pinkwashed… where their identity is glossed over,” Hoffman says in the documentary Out North.
Minneapolis has had a gay pride parade since 1972, but didn’t formally include the bi community until 1992. They were one of the first to do so.
Minneapolis is also one of the only communities with an organization specifically advocating for bi folks, the Bisexual Organizing Project, which has been around for more than 25 years. It hosts weekly and monthly meet-ups, as well as a yearly conference.
“There’s a lot of phobia around bisexuality, a lot of misunderstanding,” said Leah Yoemans, the group’s current chair.
Yoemans said that the bisexual community has its own challenges within the broader LGBTQ community. Bi people are more likely to be unemployed, in poverty and have poor health than lesbians and gay men. They’re also more likely to be victims of relationship violence or sexual assault, and less likely to feel part of the LGBTQ community.
Chloe, 22, first came out as bi to friends and family at age 18. Like many bi folks, she’s had to do it over and over since then.
“I think the first time it happened, it was regarded as a phase,” she said. “I went through a relationship with a man and once again reiterated that I was bi, and it still somehow seemed confusing.”
She’s been out to people she’s dated. One ex, a woman, didn’t believe she liked women, despite the fact that they kissed, held hands in public and went on dates.
Her ex was hung up on the fact that Chloe had never had sex with a woman.
“I think in general, the idea that you need to have sex in order to determine your sexuality is kind of toxic,” Chloe said. “Why should anyone have sex with someone when they’re not ready or comfortable? Why isn’t it enough to know that you are attracted to a person or are in love with them?”
She said bisexuality is often associated with hypersexuality; that people assume bi folks are just bi to be “promiscuous” or “greedy.”
Brianna Prahl, 38, feels similarly. She’s married to a man, and recently realized she’s bisexual.
But she’s never publicly came out, other than to her husband, mostly because she’s never had sex or a romantic relationship with a woman.
“While I understand that I don’t need the experience to qualify my bi-ness, it’s holding me back from telling people,” she said.
She also said coming out wouldn’t change much about her life. She’d still be married. She wouldn’t lose her job, and she doesn’t fear retaliation from friends or family.
Capouch is currently dating a bi woman. The fact that they’re both bi makes him feel completely understood.
“Not having to have that conversation was heavenly,” he said.
But he still worries about how they’d be perceived if they attended pride festivities together. Some, he said, would assume they’re a straight couple trying to co-opt the movement.
Miller ended up marrying a woman. They recently got divorced after 22 years.
Now 65 and single, he had to come out all over again to the people in his life.
He’s back on a softball team, and in a group for gay dads. They sometimes refer to him, tongue-in-cheek, as “the bi guy.” He doesn’t always feel accepted.
But his college-aged daughters give him hope for the future. He came out to them after the divorce.
“My eldest just smiled, and said, ‘Oh Dad, I think we’re all fluid,’” Miller said. “Which I just loved!”
Gretchen has reported on the criminal justice system in rural Minnesota and covered everything from politics to millennial truck drivers for Wisconsin Public Radio. She is passionate about public media as a public service. She’s also into music and really good coffee. Follow her on Twitter @gretch_brown.