Meet Al

By Greg Ward

May 18, 2019

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“So right now I work as a field technician at a mosquito lab,” Al tells me. “I specialize in entomology.”

Entomology: the study of insects. Bi people are everywhere, not unlike the insects of our world. Numerous and at times hidden, some insects only come out nocturnally, or hide in plain site on the trunk of a tree or branch, and some are completely lost to human eyes burying themselves under the soil or making themselves snug in the safety of a hive.

Al with a Madagascar hissing cockroach while working the Florida State Fair, 2018

It’s apropos that the honey bee has become the symbol of bi people in recent years, stemming from the pun that we are the ‘B’ in LGBT. With people now getting bee tattoos to celebrate their bisexuality, it’s become less of a humorous quip and more a standard in capturing the satisfaction in having bi pride.

Now is a great time to come out bi. And it’s just going to get better. So, Al Runkel, via this interview, via this article, is taking that brave step out of the beehive. He’s here to tell you that he’s bi.

In order to take that first step, one should initially realize their own fears about coming out completely. Sure, Al is afraid, as we all are at this point in our lives, but he’s gained enough courage to make his move; to make history of his own.

“I guess I would say the biggest fear for coming out for me would be rejection from others,” Al explains. “Just others just not understanding or just not, you know, wanting me to be the same who they thought I was before.”

Al’s heard the lies people often tell about bi men. He states, “You hear just, like, ‘Oh, it’s not a thing. It’s not a real thing.’” But it is a thing. And Al is that very thing: A bi man.

And he hasn’t just heard this from the straight community. I ask him if the gay community has voiced this opinion in front of him. “Yeah, I asked them both,” he replies. “Yep. From both ends.” It can be quite discouraging to learn that people don’t think you exist. That’s why we have to let them know that we do. And we should do it in droves.

Al says that he is out to “mostly family” and that it went “Pretty well. For the most part.” He elaborates, “I mean, like, I haven’t heard really much from one of my sisters at all. And my mom, she’s a little dramatic about it. But yeah, but other than that, it was fine. Yeah.”

LGBT bars aren’t a part of Al’s schedule. I find out he hasn’t gone to one. “No. Not really,” he admits. “I don’t really frequent that; those things, really. I mostly use apps and stuff like that. I usually use, like, applications and stuff like that rather than going to bars. I mostly use, like, Scruff, Grinder, Tinder, and Bumble.” He says, “I’m not really into that hookup culture or anything. It’s more getting to meet people and that kind of stuff.”

He also confesses that he’s never been to an LGBT Pride event nor Parade. Which is fine. ~All things in due time.~

I ask Al if he uses any other words to describe himself other than bi. He states, “’Not really. I usually just stick with bi, bisexual. I mean, that’s just how I feel, and who I am, so…. I don’t really ever… I mean, sometimes, you know: LGBT. All that stuff. But, I don’t really narrow down to one end or the other.”

Being in the closet, it’s more difficult to meet people than when you are out. But Al does meet people, although he’s never had a commitment with a long-term male lover. He points out, “Not in a relationship. Not in a solid relationship. I mean, I’ve been on dates and, you know, hang out and stuff like that, but not a, like, boyfriend relationship essentially.”

Many bi people find themselves alone, so it’s important, especially if you are not dating to surround yourself with others who understand you. This can be done online and in real life. That is why we have a bi community: to meet the needs of us; the things only we face as bi.

We talk about the bi community online. Al says he has accounts on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter and hadn’t seen the mass amounts of bi folk until he encountered them on Twitter. There’s even a hashtag: #BiTwitter, and for the last several years Twitter enables Bi Pride Flag-colored emojis during Bi Pride Month in September.

And since you are here reading this, don’t forget the many articles and blog posts on bi.org. For me, personally, I cite bi.org as one of the biggest thrills of my life when I first found their site before I came out. It gave me strength and hope and to see how it has grown in content and viewership is heartwarming, and I’m glad to be a part of it. But, back to our online bi community and newly out Al.

Reading these posts about bisexuality, the articles, journals, and collected data surrounding our bi community fosters a sense of belonging; illuminating a realization of one’s bi-ness that destroys all doubt that one might have had before.

Encountering this world of bi people on Twitter had done just that for Al. He says,

I think a lot of it’s helped to kind of see the frustrations, you know, that I’ve had, like, you know, the ‘They’re not a real thing’, or the ‘Oh, you only want to do hookups’, or ‘We only want you for hookups/for threesomes.’ That kind of stuff. I kind of see, like, that people are having the same frustrations and…. but, I’m feeling is also: normal. And then I’m not the only one who experiences this and it kind of solidifies, you know, who I am.

Al with a luna moth from the field, 2017

As the community grows and spreads out, because more of us are coming out, it also paves the way for people in the spotlight to step forward. And in turn, as more celebrities poke their heads out of their dressing room closets and embrace the light of day as openly bi people, it inspires others around the globe who are itching to come out, to do so.

Al realized this, and it benefited him. So now he’s ready to come out to everyone as bi. Al recalls, “Whenever I do a search, I’m just always amazed by the amount of people that, you know, they’re out and proud and that kind of stuff. And it’s great to see, you know, famous people willing to come out and kind of be a beacon for us non-famous people essentially.”

But, it took awhile for Al to get to this point in his life.

Al explains how he initially realized he was bi. He recounts,

So that was an interesting experience for me, personally. Going through high school, you know, you’re: ~’I’m straight. I’m straight. I’m straight.’~ I mean, I had these weird feelings, but whatever, I just ignored that. And then, you know, college. Undergrad hits, and I’m kind of like: ‘Maybe I’m not. Maybe I’m asexual? I don’t really know. Maybe I’m just confused’ and all that stuff.

Actually I had a time for like a year or something that I was convinced that I was asexual and then I just kind of like stopped, and took a step back and kind of just looked around and I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’ So, it was halfway through my undergrad and I was like: ‘I think it’s both. I think I’m interested in both.’ and you know, it’s about the time, kind of like in the middle of my undergrad, I realized, you know, that that’s what it is: It’s both. Not just one. You know? Woman walks by, or guy walks by, that catches the eye… and luckily my campus is a very liberal campus, so it was like, you know, there are people to talk to about it and stuff, and kind of like see, you know, it’s not fear. That that is a normal thing. That’s an actual thing.

It intrigued me that in his journey to bisexuality, Al once identified as ace. And that’s a thing in the bi community. I know many bi people who identify as asexual, as well. I, myself, am gray, a portion of the ace umbrella, also called gray ace, grace, or gray-A, as I’ve never been sexually attracted to a lot of people in my life. So I ask him what made him think he was ace (because he can still be).

I think it was a lot of the confusion, or maybe, like, you know, ‘Am I interested in both?’ and everything and I’m like, ‘Am I actually interested in, like, sexual?’ or am I just like: ‘Oh, I want to be friends with all these people.’ And I just thought for some reason: ‘It just happens to be features that I like’ and stuff like that. And I was just convinced it was just wanting to be friends with, like, everybody and, well, certain people specifically and then I was, you know, it kind of clicked after that.

He laughs.

The journey to discovering who you are isn’t always that set in stone. I identified as straight for a very long time. So did Al. We were quite comfortable in that definition for ourselves, but not comfortable enough to stay there because it wasn’t true, and that didn’t sit well for either of us. I also thought I was gay. Al thought he was ace. Although there is certainly overlap among these sexualities and lack thereof, fastening to a single word, bi, as the most defining word to describe your sexuality, can be empowering.

Al has had plenty of reservations about coming out long before he got to this point. He highlights some of these as he admits,

I guess a lot of it would be just, you know, I’ve seen other people come out before and just how people react, I guess, to it, and, you know, kind of treat you differently; treat you strangely, I guess you could say. Just you’re not the person you were before, even though you totally are. And just kind of like, you know, kind of diving into, like, the other side of things and, like, you know, the same sex stuff and all that.

He hesitates before he resumes speaking,

And then, I guess, also the fear of, just, like, ‘Am I leaning to one side more than the other side?’, ‘Does that matter?’, ‘Do I need to worry about that?’, ‘Is that, like, a thing?’ and all that kind of stuff.

It is a thing. Bi people can be attracted to anyone to any degree more so than anyone else, regardless of gender; regardless of classifying who you love into ‘shape’ or ‘feature’ or ‘sexual organ’ brackets.

~Of course!~

Al enjoying some ciders from The Pierced Cider, 2018

You could be attracted to people with pointy noses more so that those with tiny noses. You could be attracted to people with freckled arms for most of your life before you’re attracted to people who have arms with only one skin tone. You could be attracted to people with thick legs to a greater degree than you are attracted to people with talons for toes. You’re still bi. You definitely can use that word to identify your sexuality. There are bi people who spend decades of their lives with their loves of a particular gender and who are mostly attracted to people of that gender the whole time that they are with that person and they are still bi. That’s the fun in being bi: there a wide range of variance to our being attracted to an assortment of men, women, and nary.

A great place to view that assortment is at Pride events: festivals and parades. Al says he’s never been to a Pride event but when he comes out he will. He confesses, “I would like to. I’m a lot more of the quiet type personally so a lot of bigger parties, and stuff like that, I tend to stay away from generally but I think I’d like to, like, at some point go to at least to one for sure. There’s just never really one around me.” He states that where he used to live there weren’t Pride events near him, but once he moved, they started them up. So, he missed out on attending.

I tell him that it’s not all half-naked people, drag performers, and leather queens; the sort of stereotypes the media likes to show off in their news pieces on Pride. The events are mostly filled with just your average, ordinary folks and their families. I tell this to a lot of bi people who are terrified of attending, because it’s the truth. Al notes, “That’s why I want to try at least once. Just to see. Maybe, I mean, who knows? I might love it and want to do it every year.”

Al giving unicorn hugs at the Brevard Renaissance Fair, 2019

I have one last question I want to ask Al. Often when I asked this question, some people start talking about the negative feelings they have towards their bisexuality, because people, you know, have gone through the ups and downs of being bisexual. And they often focus on the negative aspects, or rather, what they feel are the negative aspects, but I wanted him to sit and think about what about being bi does he love? What brings him the most joy and comfort about being bi?

He thinks for a bit and answers,

I guess I would say, for me, personally, it’s kind of like, a part of, like, knowing who I am. I don’t feel lost, like a did, you know, in high school, and during Undergrad when I was confused, and not sure what was going on, ‘cos, you know, sexuality is a big part for a lot of people, whether you’re ace, or bi, or pan, or whatever. So definitely, you know, kinda completing myself; getting comfortable with that aspect of myself and, you know, knowing that it defines me first. It’s the thing that defines me, and it’s definitely nice to, you know, come to terms with it; understand that. So, that’s probably the most positive aspect of it to me personally.

The interview comes to a close but I feel there’s more that Al wants to say; more he needs to get off his chest, because this is it. Al’s about to come out to everyone.

I think, as well, I’d say, you know, there’s a lot of negatives that comes with it at first, that you were saying, for sure. Like, it’s hard to not focus on, and just the way, you know, it’s been portrayed, and the way people that are straight and gay, people talk about, you know, like, ‘You’re supposed to pick one’ or if it’s a gay person, it’s like, ‘Yo, you’re actually straight. I don’t want a woman that’s touched you’ or something like that, or like, ‘Are you a platinum, you know, gay?’ or whatever, and all that crap. You know, you kind of just have to, like, look over, like, you know, not overlook necessarily, you know, but get past all that.

And definitely, seeing more people in the community definitely helps a lot… especially for me, personally. You know, being able to understand and talk with people that are confused, it’s been great. Hearing other people’s experiences and be able to get your experiences out, for sure, definitely helps overcome any of those fears, and kind of makes yourself more comfortable with yourself.

It’s cathartic to be able to speak your truth. And Al was provided just that. So let’s celebrate Al’s coming out. He’s bi and he’s ready to tell it to the world! Congratulate him on his bravery and wish him a happy life! Congratulations, Al! Way to be brave! Welcome to the bi community!

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