Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Bisexuality: an Interview with Lewis Oakley

By Jamie Paul

April 19, 2024



Photo credit: Pexels/Lukas

Between his mainstream media writing, his podcast “Bisexual Brunch”, his radio and television appearances, his Bi.org advice column, “Ask a Bi Dad”, and raising three kids, author and bi activist Lewis Oakley has his hands full. But that hasn't stopped him from writing his first book, Bisexuality: The Basics: Your Q&A Guide to Coming Out, Dating, Parenting and Beyond (2024), published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Drawing not only from his experience as a bi man, but his extensive writing, research, and advocacy as a prominent bi media commentator, Oakley’s book is the bi advice mega-column so many have been waiting for.

I sat down with Lewis to discuss Bisexuality: The Basics. In our wide-ranging conversation, we spoke about his writing process, how on earth he found the time, coming out as bi, gay biphobia, bi dating, negative health disparities, building bi community, labeling problems, anti-bi algorithms, and more.

Jamie Paul: Could you talk about your inspiration to write Bisexuality: The Basics?

Lewis Oakley: I’ve been writing about bisexuality for years now, and every time I put out an article or do a radio interview, a lot of bi people reach out to me. Usually they’ll say, “Thank you for this article, I actually had a question.” Many people feel I’m one of the only bi people they know, and they don’t even know me personally, but they feel they can open up to me. I saw that as a big responsibility, so I always replied to people and did my best to give them advice. But I couldn’t keep up with the demand, my inbox was so full I just didn’t have the time. That’s when I decided I should start an advice column [“Ask a Bi Dad”]. And that’s gone so successfully that a publisher reached out and said we should make this into a book where I summarize the most common questions I’m asked and some of the ones I don’t think are asked enough.


The book is structured very much like an extended advice column.

Lewis: Yes, absolutely. It covers lots of topics. There are so many questions about coming out, but it’s not just one question. It’s “How do I come out to my wife?”, “How do I come out to children?”, “How do I come out to my family?”. It covers all these different variations, plus the role gender might play. I talk a lot about dating, relationships, and worries people might have. How to interact with the LGBT community is another one. A lot of people think of the LGBT community as this big, loving family, whereas for a lot of bi people, sometimes that’s not the case.

Talk about your writing process a little bit. How long did it take to write?

Lewis: Not to brag, but it did take quite a while to write this book. The big thing for me was figuring out what the questions would be. Once I had the questions, which I’d answered many times before, I had to decide exactly how to address them. When you’re putting something in print, you become more of a perfectionist. You want to make sure you’ve got every point you’ve ever made on that subject. Then sometimes, you think, “this is too long, so what can I cut?”

The writing of the book wasn’t so bad. I think the perfecting and the checking afterward was what I found quite tricky, but I’m a dad of three kids, so it wasn’t like I had a lot of time to sit around writing this book. I would pull out my phone and, after getting the kids down, try to get an hour or so of writing on my notes app. I would sometimes be on trips or trains, and I’d be writing chapters. It worked, somehow, but I would not advise people to write books when you’ve got three kids, because it was very challenging.

Well, it’s certainly a very digestible book. It’s the kind of book you could read in a long afternoon, which is important in today’s attention economy.

Lewis: That was the big thing for me. I wanted to write a book that people would actually read. It’s a book for bi people, absolutely, but I hope this isn’t just a book for bi people. There are sections for people who aren’t bisexual but want to know more about bisexuality. I hope it’s a book people can pick up, flick through, and understand bisexuality better than they did before. I didn’t want it to be an overly complicated book.

You give coming-out advice to basically every kind of bi person in the book. Kids to parents, parents to kids, coming out to one’s spouse, friends, etc. Is there a single piece of universal advice you’d give to anyone who’s coming out as bi?

Lewis: When you are ready to come out, you will know. I think that’s the big one. I definitely put pressure on myself to come out before I was ready, before I was confident in who I was. There are certain friends who say, “Come out, it’s not a big deal”, but there are also some people who think, “I should have come out 10 years ago. How am I 36, and I haven’t come out?” It’s really important to understand that you will know within yourself when it is time. There will be a sort of critical mass inside you that says, “I’m ready to do this.” My secondary piece of advice would be to come out to someone who’s not important first. A lot of people want to tell their parents, or their partner, or someone monumental in their life. Just tell a stranger in a bar to start and build up your experience of coming out. Start with someone who doesn’t matter and work your way up to the more important people in your life.

Could you talk a little bit about your coming-out process?

Lewis: For me, coming out was a tough road. A lot of people don’t understand that bisexual people, in my experience, come out a bit later in life. When I was young, I was attracted to women like all the other boys, and it wasn’t until I got to my late teens and early 20s that I noticed my attraction toward guys. It was a complicated time, and it wasn’t so easy to just come out — not that it’s easy now. I struggled with it for years, and when I finally put a label on it and realized that I was bisexual, there were instances where it really didn’t go down well. Especially because, at the time, I had a boyfriend. The world saw me as, “You are a guy attracted to guys and dating a guy, so you’re gay,” and I had to fight against that.

My biggest “coming out moment” was when my ex-boyfriend and I separated because, for years, I’d been talking about being bisexual, but no one had ever seen it because I was in a relationship with a guy. So when I was single for the first time, people saw my bisexuality in practice. I was going on dates with guys sometimes and other times with girls, and that was when I realized how much trouble people had with bisexuality, particularly within the LGBT community. But I was at the point — and it’s really great when bi people get there — where my attitude was basically, “Nope, I’m not having it anymore. I’m not going to apologize for being bisexual. I’m not going to tone it down. I’m not going to pretend that there’s an issue with this. I’m bisexual, and if you want me to accept you as gay, you need to accept me as bi. You can’t ask for equality just for you.”

When you can be strong in that sense, people usually back down. But I came to realize that many bi people don’t feel that they can stand up for themselves in that way and that I might be able to help. Pretty soon after, I was writing my first articles, picking up a little bit of traction, and starting to understand what role I could play in having discussions around bisexuality more publicly than just with friends.

Along those lines, you have a section addressing the possibility of losing one’s gay friends when they come out as bi. Can you speak about this?

Lewis: In my experience, the people who have had the biggest problem with my bisexuality have been gay men. There are statistics to support this too. There are numerous studies that say bi people, in particular, are not accepted as part of the LGBT community, and there are a couple of factors for that. One is that a lot of gay men may have identified as bisexual on the way out of the closet, and they then assume that’s what every bi person is doing. They don’t see the experience outside of what they went through personally, which is a bit of a problem. When you look at the studies, a lot of gay men who identified as bi on the way out of the closet never actually believed they were bisexual — they were just trying to “lessen the blow” by coming out as bi first. Which, I don’t judge anyone for. Coming out is not an easy thing to do. I think we just have to be mindful of the stigma and false stereotypes this has created, and it's worth clarifying that bisexuality is, of course, a real orientation. I’ll also say, you can’t use bisexuality as a stepping stone to coming out as gay, and then create or endorse biphobia and put that on other people, it’s just not fair.

Another issue is that a lot of LGBT people who think bisexuality is a “phase” go on to work in LGBT groups and organizations. In America, the group Funders for LGBTQ Issues has been tracking LGBT funding for about the last 60 years, and they’ve found that despite bisexual people making up over half LGBT community, they really only get about 1% of annual funding. That’s where this all becomes slightly insidious. We’re being told we’re part of this family, but the work that’s supposed to be done to improve the lives of bisexual people just isn’t being done. We’re lucky if they paint a park bench in the bisexual colors, and then they want a round of applause because, “Oh look, representation!” I don’t care where you put the bisexual flag, I want actual results and tangible work being done.

Switching gears slightly, your book has some sections discussing dating and relationships. What are some tricky dynamics for bi people might have to navigate that gay or straight people might not?

Lewis: One of the biggest ones is culture shock. Sometimes, if you’ve been dating a guy for a long period of time, and then you switch to dating a girl — and obviously everyone’s different — but there can be some cultural differences and traps that bi people fall into. When you were dating a guy, maybe it wasn’t an issue for your best female friend to sleep over. But now you’re dating a girl, and actually, your best female friend sleeping over might be an issue. Things like that, where something is okay in the gay world but not in the straight world, which can sometimes be tricky to navigate, especially if you have no bi people around you to say, “Oh no, they don’t like that over there.” [Laughs] We do sort of live in between two cultures. It’s very interesting.


You mention some alarming statistics about negative health disparities among bi people in the book. What are some of the root causes behind this?

Lewis: If you look at the data, bi people tend to do worse in every way we measure success. That’s from earning potential to education, addiction, mental health, and physical health, and that’s awful. I don’t ever want bi people reading this to think, “Oh my God, I’m doomed!” You’re not doomed, we’re going to figure it out. Why could these things be happening? Well, we don’t really know, is my honest answer. I’ll give you some hypotheses, but we don’t really know, because we don’t study these things properly. Researchers find that bisexual people are more likely to smoke and excessively drink, for example, but then they just move on. No one really dives into it more to find out why.

I think there can be a lot of stresses for bisexual people. Depending on what statistics you look at, the majority of bisexual people are in the closet, and living in the closet and feeling like there’s something wrong with you, something bad, something you can’t share with those nearest and dearest, that puts a lot of pressure on you, and that can lead to unhealthy behaviors and coping mechanisms. If you look at bi people being more likely to live in poverty, obviously, if you’re not able to put good food on the table, that can also play a role. It’s sort of a multifaceted situation that’s really hard to unpick.

One thing I’ve heard from many people in this space is that there’s a lack of bi community, and fixing that may not be a panacea, but it could improve a lot of these areas.

Lewis: Oh, absolutely. This is kind of the whole reason for the book and the advice column. A lot of bi people feel very isolated. By and large, bi people don’t often have other bi people around them to ask, “Is this normal”, “Should I be worried about this?”, “What would you do in this situation?”. I often say bisexual people are at the mercy of gay and straight advice. You might have a uniquely bisexual problem or question, but if you’ve only got straight or gay people to ask for advice, you’re not getting it from someone who really understands.

There was a bi guy who reached out to me, and it turned out he lived in London, and we met up and had a drink. While we were chatting, he said to me, “What I’m really worried about is that I watch a lot of gay porn, and I’m in a relationship with a girl, and it just makes me think that everyone is right — that I’ll never be happy with just one person. I’ve got this beautiful girlfriend, and we have good sex, but I still need to watch gay porn.” I just looked at him and said, “I don’t think it’s that deep of a deal. So many straight men in relationships watch porn, and so do gay men.” It wasn’t that I said anything profound, or all that interesting, but I could see the stress lift off his face in front of me, and it was just because someone like him, another bi person, said, “I don’t really think that’s anything to worry about.” Just having that reassurance to bounce off of someone — things like that are really important. That factors into why bisexual people don’t feel they have that big community.

The thing is, bi people, by their very nature, can date people who aren’t bisexual. We can date men and women. Whereas with gay men, for example, they can only really date other gay men or bi men. That forces them to have to find other men. That’s why we have saunas and gay bars and Grindr, and it forces them to build a community in a way that bisexual people just didn’t have to. By our very nature, we don’t need to all come together. If we could only date other bisexual people, we would all know each other and there would have been more of an effort to build that community.

I also don’t think many LGBT organizations really care that much — some of them do, obviously — but a lot just haven’t put that effort in to bring bisexual people together. And I sometimes think maybe the roadmap of the “LGBT community” just isn’t for us. I’ve written that maybe we should all just take over Comic Con, because so many bi people I meet are absolute nerds who love their sci-fi. Maybe we don’t want to go to Pride with banners, maybe we want to go to Comic Con and cosplay. I think it’s about not always looking at the LGBT community and saying, “We’ve got to be like them.” Maybe it’s about finding our own path and building our own community.

This ties in with bi invisibility and bi erasure. You write early in the book about the importance of letting people label themselves — or not label themselves — as they see fit. But one issue I’ve observed is that bi people don’t always agree on the labels, and many bi people don’t want to label themselves at all. Could bi invisibility be partly self-inflicted?

Lewis: It’s a tricky one. None of us are the arbiters of what is bisexual, so we can’t tell people, “Tough luck, you’re bisexual.” One of the ways I’ve talked about this over the years is by referring to the “bi umbrella”, which encompasses people who might say that they’re bi, or pansexual, or fluid, or biflexible, or whatever it is. For me, the academic issue is if you are dating more than one sex, you fall into that bi umbrella, and that’s worth studying scientifically to find out, “Are you more likely to catch certain STIs?” or “Are you more likely to be struggling with X or Y?” so that we can improve things. What makes it tricky is when everyone identifies a little bit differently, the bi category dissipates a little bit.

Not to get all tinfoil hat conspiracy theory, but I suspect that some of the avoidance of the word “bisexual” honestly has to do with algorithms and online activity. For example, if you were to put “gay” into Twitter, and see what came up, a lot of it would be about being gay, gay people, etc. If you do the same with “bisexual”, within the first three results you’d get porn. There’s such a strong link between “bisexual” and bisexual porn that people may avoid the word online because they’re worried about the algorithms. That’s genuinely something I’ve seen in the last couple of years. There was a period where Twitter shadowbanned the word “bisexual”, so if you put “bisexual” in your posts they wouldn’t be seen. And that’s not an isolated incident. There’s also a history of people who think bisexual is about being overly promiscuous. It’s a bit of an odd situation.

During your process of writing the book, what was the most interesting thing you learned?

Lewis: About myself personally, I learned how to make something marketable, if that makes sense [laughs]. This is the first time I’ve done a “product”. I write articles, and I go on the news, and I talk about this kind of stuff, and whenever I’m doing that, I’m usually very passionate about what I’m saying. It’s not about money because a lot of the time, I’m not even paid for what I’m doing. But when you’re creating a product, you’re thinking about an end user, you know, “Who’s going to read this book? Why are they going to buy it? What kind of things do they need to know?” It’s very different. As someone who has criticized the lack of bisexual merchandise in the past, here I am, making a mainstream bisexual product.

There are a lot of factors that go into creating a marketable bisexual product. For example, if I were a gay man writing a book for gay men, I’d just be talking to the boys. But writing a bi book, you have to realize that bisexual people can be male or female, or trans or nonbinary, and you have to figure out if you want to answer a question in five different ways or give one encompassing answer. You have to be careful with your language. It was a process of trying to write a book that’s not just a casual article that doesn’t sweat the details and actually coming up with a product that’s got to appeal to many different people. There are so many versions of being bisexual. There are bisexual people who are married to men, or married to women, or virgins, or different genders. One experience is never going to encapsulate it all.

If you could only choose one thing, what would you most want this book to achieve, apart from book sales?

Lewis: I just want bisexual people to have a resource where they think, “Oh my God, someone gets it!” Because that’s what I’ve tried to do over the years and what people have told me that I’ve done for them. I want bisexual people to be able to flip through the book and say, “This is what I’m struggling with, and that’s not bad advice!” I also want people to be able to flip ahead and think, “This hasn’t happened to me, but it might happen.” I want people to be prepared and not caught off guard because they’ve read this book that answered all of the questions bisexual people are likely to run into.

Where can people find the book?

Lewis: The book is available on Amazon and all good retailers. It’s from JKP Publishing, you can go on their website as well. Or just google “Bisexuality: The Basics” and you will find it.

Thank you, Lewis, for taking the time to chat with me!

Lewis: No, thank you so much for having me!

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.