Robert Cohen: The bicoastal bisexual championing sexual fluidity and self-love

By Muhammad Modibo Shareef

April 11, 2024



Robert Brooks Cohen is no stranger to storytelling. Working for more than a decade as a television writer and producer, he’s left his fingerprints all over some of America's most beloved shows, including Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999–). However, despite the seven seasons Robert spent on SVU, one of the longest-running shows in US history, queerness wasn't necessarily the focus of his earlier work.

Fast forward to the present, and bisexuality is now the guiding light of Robert's writing. The self-identifying "bicoastal bisexual" spends his time juggling Los Angeles and New York, writing and creating content that highlights the experiences of bi people. Robert hosts and produces the Two Bi Guys podcast, which he co-created with Alex Boyd. In 2023, he also published his first book titled Bisexual Married Men: Stories of Relationships, Acceptance, and Authenticity. Like many bi folks, Robert didn’t initially realize that he was bi, and his personal growth runs parallel to the expression of queerness in his work. I had the privilege of speaking to Robert. We discussed his work, bi representation, sexual fluidity, marriage, and the importance of allyship, among other topics.


Can you talk about your process of coming out as bi and how it pertains to your work?

Robert Brooks Cohen: I came out pretty late in life, and I feel like it all led in some way to Bisexual Married Men. I identified as straight for so long because I think the hard thing about being bi is that [attraction to the opposite sex] fits in with everyone around us and feels normal right away. So I leaned into that side of myself and just kind of repressed my same-sex desires and didn't think they were important — or I thought everybody has those thoughts, and this is what straightness is. But the older I got and the more I learned and dated and got in touch with myself, I just couldn't ignore these other thoughts. I remember being 29 and thinking, “I don't want to turn 30 without exploring this,” and trying it and seeing if it was the true me or not because I was confused. For so long, I didn't think that bisexuality was a real thing. I had this very binary conception of sexuality as “straight or gay”. But when I finally did explore [my same-sex attractions], I realized, "Oh, this is the same thing." It's just a different person, and their sex doesn't somehow make my feelings this totally different thing.

I explored it for a year or two before I came out, and then once I came out, I just kind of dove in head first. [Laughs] Not to have sex with men, but talking about [bisexuality] and being open about it. I went to this bi discussion group in New York and met my friend Alex Boyd. We wanted to keep talking about it. And we started the podcast. And then the book came out of the podcast. So it all kind of came together, and one thing led to another.

On your podcast, Two Bi Guys, you interview everyone from writers to theologians to sex workers. It's an amazing listen that gives the audience nuanced discussions from many points of view. Describe the process of starting the podcast. What makes the show important, in your opinion?

Robert Brooks Cohen: It's interesting you say that because, to me, bisexuality is related to all these areas of our life. That's what I've tried to do — have guests that come from different walks of life, with different passions and different professions, and then explore how their bisexuality influences those. So, yeah, when I met Alex in this discussion group, we filmed something for a Vice show called Slutever. They did a great episode about bisexual men. Alex, I, and four other guys were part of this filming where we just did a mini discussion group and talked about bisexuality for 90 minutes. They only used five minutes of the conversation, but I think the episode is really good. They picked a good five minutes.

Afterward, Alex and I had the same thought, "I liked doing that. I wish we could share that and more." So right after that episode aired, we decided, "Let's do a podcast," because people aren't really talking much about this stuff. Bisexuality, especially bi men, is still invisible to many people. There were some bi podcasts out there at the time, but most of them were for bi women. We wanted to talk about what we [bi guys] were going through. It's just been really nice over the last five years to have this outlet to share my queerness and thoughts as they evolved. And I've gotten to meet and interview some amazing bi activists, artists, and authors.

How has your podcast helped your personal growth? Have you noticed a difference between the first season and now?

Robert Brooks Cohen: Sometimes I go back and listen to the early seasons. It's not that I disagree with anything I said — it's all in line with how I think — but maybe I had a little bit of the "baby bi attitude". It was still very new and exciting to me, and I was still a little nervous about certain things and hadn't quite formulated my thoughts on everything. With more experience and so many guests who've helped shape and clarify my thinking, I've definitely evolved. But I love that those early episodes are there because I don't think I said anything incorrect or damaging. But I do think I had a little bit of that naïveté just from being new at this. And I think that's helpful for people to hear as they're going through it.

A lot of people who come to the podcast for the first time start with that first episode, and they're probably in a similar place to where I was. I think that's good. They're evolving as they listen to it — hopefully, they can hear that same evolution in me.

As an artist, how has your bi-related work affected you in comparison to your non-bi television work?

Robert Brooks Cohen: It's been huge. I worked at Law & Order: SVU for seven seasons, and I was not out there in any public way. Everything I have been discussing was happening at the very end of my time there. I started going to the discussion group, BiRequest, during my final year at SVU. Slutever came out around that time. I couldn't have started the podcast until I left because it was a conflict of interest. I wasn't out when I was at SVU. In that writer's room, we always talked about sex and queerness in terms of gay and straight characters. I found myself a couple times pitching bi characters or sexual fluidity, but it never really got taken seriously, and it never got into the show. I think because I wasn't out, people didn't know bisexuality was authentic to me. They didn't know that I had this experience. And so we never really had bi representation on the show.

Right after I left SVU, I came out publicly. That's when Slutever aired and when we started Two Bi Guys. Now all my writing has queer elements, and a lot of my writing is very focused on male bisexuality. Even though I loved SVU, it was liberating to be more out and be able to write about this stuff and tackle issues that I am more passionate about now.

Have you gotten any pushback for being more visible in your work?

Robert Brooks Cohen: I don't usually receive very direct pushback, but that doesn't mean it's not there. I do think that the fact that I was starting to pitch queer storylines and think outside the box wasn’t very good for me at a network TV show. The people that I worked for in that environment were basically all straight. There was very little queer representation at a network show like that, especially not bi male representation. And so, even if nobody said anything to me directly, it was outside of what the writers and the network expected. It was difficult to navigate for me.

Even now, when I submit or share queer-themed writing, I get comments like, "How universal is this? How can straight people enjoy this too, or have a way into this?" or "Where's the connection for other people?" That's a good thing to think about in your writing. At the same time, you're telling stories that a lot of people have no experience with and no relation to. So it's hard to balance the two.

One of my favorite parts of Bisexual Married Men is when you discuss how coming out allowed you to examine and question the different social hierarchies. How does self-exploration push you to be more connected to the queer community?

Robert Brooks Cohen: Coming out changed my outlook on everything, including my political views and my sense of solidarity. Once you come out as bi, your bisexuality isn't believed, or other people think they know better than you. People look at me as less masculine, or in some sense less powerful. Having that experience for the first time was eye-opening. I always thought of myself as an ally, but before I came out, I didn't get what being a member of one of these groups was like firsthand. I'm not saying it's the same to come out as bi as it is to be black or to be a woman. It's not the same, but it offers you a little bit of a window into that experience. It makes you realize you should believe other people when they tell you about their experiences. [It teaches you to] trust other people and try to even the playing field for everyone and have more fairness for everyone. It affected my worldview in that way.

Your book focuses on bi men married to women, and you're married to a trans woman. How does your experience being married to your partner intertwine with the themes of your book?

Robert Brooks Cohen: Well, I think the trans community is the most marginalized right now in our culture. We have to stand up and fight for them. Bi and trans are obviously not the same, but both have a connected understanding of fluidity — whether it’s sexuality fluidity in the case of bi or gender fluidity in the case of trans. I met my wife before she transitioned. She came out to me as gender non-binary pretty soon in our relationship. Then over a few years, she transitioned. I think that there's a nice interplay of our bi and trans in our relationship because she knew that since I was bi, her transition wouldn't be a disqualifier for me. Before me, she had only dated gay men, and I think that may have kept her closeted about her gender because that was also how she saw herself. And it's like, how could she be with [gay] men if she is a woman?

At the time, she couldn't be with straight men because she was not presenting as a woman. So being bisexual, I think, gave her some space and some flexibility to explore herself and figure out what was best for her without fear of being abandoned by me. For me, it's been nice. It's been great to witness her transition and be by her side for it. It's also helped sort of confirm my bisexuality because as she has transitioned, it hasn't changed my feelings about her either romantically or sexually. It's sort of proven to me that gender doesn't change how I feel about a person. I still see her as the same person, and I love her just as much, no matter what. She's more herself, and that benefits both of us.

What are some future projects that you have coming that might excite our audience?

Robert Brooks Cohen: In the response to Bisexual Married Men, a lot of people expressed interest in the chapter on non-monogamy and polyamory. Even straight people are interested in that stuff too [laughs], and more people are starting to open up their relationships. I'm thinking about another oral history or some kind of book about that. I'm also very focused on my podcast, my fiction writing, my TV stuff, and my film stuff. I have a couple of projects that are sort of based on this Bisexual Married Men, too. I have a pilot that's about a bisexual guy who comes out to his wife, and they open up their marriage. I'm trying to shop that around. I also want to do a rom-com movie that's sort of based on similar themes of male bisexuality and fluidity.

In general, I just want to represent male sexual fluidity and other ways of being masculine outside of that box. [I want] more trans stories and gender-fluid stories. I do have another script; I'm writing about a bisexual rabbi who reconnects with his high school crush, who has since transitioned from female to male. It's basically his high school "girlfriend" who is now a guy, and they reconnect. I'm definitely exploring all these themes in my writing. We'll see which one comes out first.

What was the most challenging part about writing Bisexual Married Men: Stories of Relationships, Acceptance, and Authenticity?

Robert Brooks Cohen: Well, the book is mostly an oral history, and I interviewed bi men who are or were married to women. Those stories just really kind of flowed naturally because I'm very curious about all these guys and their lives, and I really enjoyed talking to all of them. And so as I was interviewing them, I would notice the things that seem a little difficult for them to speak about or the things that they're still processing or working through. I really then tried to focus on those things and dig deeper. And I think for some of those guys, it made them a little bit vulnerable or even uncomfortable in the moment. But I think all of them have expressed to me after the fact that they're so glad they shared their stories because it helped them work through stuff and clarify their thinking.

The hardest part though were the other chapters. I wrote five chapters that are not oral history but are just my writing, research, thoughts, and analysis. Those chapters ended up being a lot more work than I thought they would be. I imagined they would be these short little chapters in between. They ended up being longer than the oral history chapters, and there was a ton of research and rewriting involved. It felt a bit like writing a whole book from scratch just to do those five chapters. I'm really happy with how they turned out, but they were difficult.

Who are some bi writers who inspired you?

Robert Brooks Cohen: The reason I was inspired to write my own book in the first place was because I'd been reading so much about queerness, polyamory, and bisexuality. The big one was Shiri Eisner's book, Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution. There's a book called Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men, written by Jane Ward.

Jane Ward was featured in your podcast, by the way. I love that episode!

Robert Brooks Cohen: Yeah, she was in season one. She was one of the first people I interviewed, and I loved that interview. Her book was like my bi Bible at first. It really blew my mind! I really fanboyed over that interview. Another recent one is a book called Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma and Consensual Nonmonogamy by Jessica Fern. I've read it twice now. It's not an oral history, but it has real people's stories from her experience working with couples and doing therapy and coaching. I also had her on the podcast, and she was amazing. The nice thing in my life now is that when I read a great book on these topics, not only do I learn a lot, but then I also get an excuse to interview them on my podcast and meet them!

What are some words of advice that you would tell your younger self?

Robert Brooks Cohen: It's tough because I'm happy with my trajectory and the way everything turned out. Given the environment I grew up in, it would have been really hard for me to come out earlier because I just didn't realize that bisexuality was real. I wish I could go back and tell myself that, but I don't even think I would have believed myself because I didn't see it around me. 

I wish I’d seen bisexuality more. I wish I knew a dozen bi guys in high school who I could have said, "Oh, that's me." But I guess if there's one thing I could tell myself, it's just to be brave about changes because I was always kind of scared of change in any form. I have a lot of expectations of myself and of my life. I think I would try to tell myself to let go of expectations and just be myself and live in the moment.