¡hola papi!

‘I Slept With a Woman. Am I Still Gay?’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

¡Hola, Papi!

After a long period of isolation, I started seeing someone so that I could commiserate with another human weekly. The caveats? He’s married, and his husband’s in the military on deployment (but knows about me, so it’s not a home-wrecking sitch). It’s been kind of nice; I get all the emotional perks of a relationship without having to confront the hard questions about deal-breakers. We’ll call him my married, fake boyfriend. 

My married, fake boyfriend’s husband has a best friend that predates the marriage. She had us over for a wine night. He went home. I stayed over and we decided to cuddle. 

Now, I’ve always considered myself a Kinsey 5. I’ve never been with a woman before beyond making out at a college frat party, and my attraction was more along the lines of, “Yeah, sure, some women are really hot, I guess.” So an academic, not professional, Kinsey 5, if you will. 

After a couple glasses of wine, I got some on-the-job training and started getting physical. Not all the way, but enough that any illusions I was fully gay went out the window. 

Now I’m just confused. Is this something I should explore more? Do I even tell my friends? I’m not about to change my Tinder settings, but it feels like I’m coming out all over again. Or am I? Please advise!

By and Bi (or not?)

Hi there, BB!

Wow, you’re really running through military man’s relationships like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider while he’s away. First his husband, then his best friend? Who’s next? His father?

Well, that’s a letter for another day. I’m also going to more or less skip over the ethics of meeting up with people right now because to be honest, I don’t understand the rules. I guess I’ll sternly tap my foot and say, “You better be wearing a mask, young man,” and call it a day. That’s better than the U.S. federal government’s response, at least.

Yes, we’re here to discuss your Identity™ or whatever. And lucky for you, BB, I’m somewhat of an expert. I have an identity or two myself. I have them sitting right here on my mantel: Mexican. Husband to Melissa. Loving father of two. Tech guru by day and Call of Duty enthusiast by night. Hmmm. I’m in someone else’s house. In any case, let’s rev up the Bisexual Detector and see if it lights up when we wave the wand over your cranium, which is how these matters are solved.

Just kidding, BB. I don’t have the budget for one of those. So I suppose instead I’ll just offer you my thoughts, which are free.

I want to start by acknowledging the realities of bisexual people and the biphobia that keeps many people, even those who identify as Not Straight, from embracing the bisexual moniker. The rest of us have a lot of work to do toward building a world where everyone feels comfortable enough to put a name to their experiences.

But I also think human sexuality is more complex than the institution of language can possibly contain. I would say that’s true of gender, race, and all manner of social phenomena. We don’t have BuzzFeed personality quizzes because we understand ourselves, BB. We have them because the self is a rogue psychological landscape; a deep, turbulent ocean of being, the depths of which we’d need several lifetimes to explore to attain even a rudimentary understanding of “I.”

Language is not reality. Language is a crude tool for structuring a reality, one we can (somewhat) agree upon so that we don’t regress into a meatbag free-for-all, fun as that might sound in theory. And I do believe, BB, that your problem here is a language problem. You are seeking a word, a “correct word,” that will properly encapsulate this dimension of yourself that you previously weren’t aware of.

But I think we should, at times, be more flexible with language. It was created to help us understand ourselves and connect to others, not to create borders around which we can lawyer and punish people who transgress upon them. In the process of figuring yourself out, you shouldn’t be afraid that you’re committing identity fraud because you’re not sure which word to use for yourself yet.

Are you bisexual? Well, that’s not something I can answer for you. You might be. Or you might just be “a mammal who craves body heat.” Or there might have been something about that situation, specifically, that got you going. There might have been something about her that stirred your passions. There are so many things it could be. But it’s less important that you hold a trial, present the evidence, and land on a verdict, and more important that you find a way to move through life in a way that suits you.

That means: If you like women, find a woman who likes you. If you’re attracted to someone, be they a man or woman or nonbinary person, be attracted to them. You can always, always be. What you call it, how you understand it, those things can and will change. That’s the messiness of identity, BB.

Language will fail you over and over again, because it’s an imperfect tool we made up. If you ultimately decide you’re bisexual, then congratulations! I will alert the Bi Council, upon which sits Frank Ocean and Cynthia Nixon. They will issue you your passport and you can be on your merry way.

I also suggest you reach out to some bi friends and get their thoughts, as I’m sure they can give you deeper insight into experiences that will help you contextualize your own.

But as you run the numbers and talk to your friends and look up new porn and search your soul, try not to let the burden of taxonomy stress you out too much. You’re only human.

I eagerly anticipate the letter from the military man whose personal life you’re chomping away at like a horse wearing a feed bag of someone else’s relationships.

Con mucho amor,

Originally published on August 10, 2020.

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, here.

‘I Slept With a Woman. Am I Still Gay?’