What a Difference a Decade Made: New York Times Cover Story on Bisexuality

By Ian Lawrence-Tourinho

March 20, 2024



In early 2014, we got a call at our office informing us that a story about our organization, the American Institute of Bisexuality, was going to be featured in the cover story of the March 20th edition of The New York Times Magazine. There was just one problem: they couldn’t find enough bisexual people for a photo shoot.

Yes, literally.

America’s paper of record, with investigative and journalistic resources that any newsroom in the world would envy, could only find three bisexual people to photograph in all of New York City.

Well, challenge accepted. amBi Los Angeles, the chapter of which I was and am a Co-Lead, rose to the occasion. In response to us offering the Times dozens of real-life, ready-to-photograph bi people, they rented a large, professional studio in Hollywood and flew out the one and only Hannah Whitaker to document us for the magazine. From morning through early evening, like clockwork, a member of our bi group showed up every 15 minutes. They were first sent in for hair and makeup and got help putting together their wardrobe. Then, each went into the studio for a quarter-hour of photos with Hannah. Reflecting the demographics of our group, we turned up in our beautiful diversity: younger and older, all shapes and colors, students, professional models, doctors, seniors, and even a circus performer. They fed us and treated us like celebrities. As the day progressed, a growing group of us hung out in the green room in what felt like a day of celebration.

The Times was blown away. A few days later, I got a call from them on my personal cell phone. They were so grateful that I’d organized this turnout of what they’d previously believed were rare unicorns, that they decided to put me on the cover of the magazine itself. At the time, that gave me great pause, and I even considered saying thanks, but no thanks. As out as I was by that point to my immediate family and friends, The New York Times has a global audience, and, at least in those days, was on display in just about every major newsstand (not to mention Starbucks) in the world. This was going to out me to my entire extended family, high school friends, and anyone who ever looked me up — permanently. Long story short, I took the plunge and it was absolutely the right call.

Today I wouldn’t give it a second thought. Coming out on such a grand scale turned out to be a big relief. I must say, having grown up in the '80s and '90s, what surprised me the most was how little people cared. And in the late 2010s and into the 2020s, if anything, people who found out I was bi seemed to go a little too out of their way to show how accepting they were. That said, I live in a very progressive state. In any case, in the ten years since that NYT article came out, I found myself living in a far more accepting world than I thought possible in 2014, let alone when growing up. And I was, and am, grateful for it.

Looking back a decade, I think it’s a testament to the great progress we’ve enjoyed as a movement that The New York Times would be unlikely to choose such an awful title if they were publishing a piece like this today. “The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists”? Really? Of course we do! And that isn’t even what the American Institute of Bisexuality or the sex researchers we worked with were trying to do in the first place. Like everything, the truth was more nuanced. With the methods sex researchers used to measure sexual arousal, there was a conspicuous gap in the ability to show bisexual arousal patterns, particularly in men. It always raises questions when you can measure and record some phenomena and not others. Are your methods wrong? Are your assumptions leading you astray? Well, in this case, it turned out that the recruiting criteria were largely to blame. And discovering what went wrong helped address the biases and blind spots that held back too much of sex research.

It helps to remember that the 2014 article was essentially an apology to the bi community for the Times’ 2005 article announcing “Gay, Straight, or Lying” (another horrible title) about sex researchers’ inability to measure bisexual arousal in men. And as ridiculous as it seems today, up until the mid-2010s, it was commonly believed that bi men didn’t exist. I myself was told by a therapist in San Diego (whom I immediately fired) in 2003 that, as a man, I couldn’t be bi and that we would have to begin our work by untangling my confused sexuality. If I hadn’t been part of Fritz Klein’s Bi Forum community and been deeply affirmed as a bi man already, I might have believed her and wasted all kinds of time, money, and mental anguish trying to “fix” something that wasn’t broken.

In any case, research progresses at a glacial pace. In 2020, many of the sex researchers involved in the work who were covered in the 2005 and 2014 NYT pieces published an article in PNAS, the journal of the National Academy of Sciences, titled “Robust evidence for bisexual orientation among men”. This, of course, drew predictable chuckles and complaints from many in LGBT and activist circles, but it helps to remember that this sort of research also puts to rest the doubts of people like my one-time therapist who aren’t necessarily at the cutting edge of culture. Decades too late or not, I’m glad we’ve scientifically laid to rest the issue of whether men like me exist or not.

Research may move at a crawl, but culture in the 21st century certainly does not. The decade since the publication of “The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists” has seen milestone after milestone for the bi community. Here are some highlights:

1) Bi Pride has become a thing

In September 2018, the city of West Hollywood (then home to LA LGBT Pride), in conjunction with amBi, held the world’s first-ever citywide bi pride event. After a bi pride march through the streets, Mayor John Duran made a Bisexual Day Proclamation and welcomed revelers to the celebration. Stand-alone Bi Prides have since been celebrated in locations around the globe.

2) We have our own month now

The bi flag was first unveiled during the ILGA World conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, on September 23, 1999 by three American bi activists (Wendy Curry, Michael Page, and Gigi Raven Wilbur). From then on, September 23rd has been increasingly celebrated by bi activists as Celebrate Bisexuality Day. But there was a problem: It meant that every bi group around the world held big events at the same time on what was often a weekday. In 2016, some groups got together to address this and declared a “Bi Week” around September 23rd, but that also led to a lot of scheduling problems, and nobody could completely agree on when that week began and ended. So in 2019, we came up with a solution: Celebrate Bi Pride all of September with Bi Visibility Month. That has since gone mainstream, with a big uptick in (social) media coverage, events, and articles all month long. In 2023, Lisa Diamond, a sex researcher admired in the bi community for her work on sexual fluidity, was asked by PetCo, a multinational pet store, to speak to their employees at their Bi Visibility Month event. Whatever you feel about giant corporations, that’s definitely a sign of going mainstream.

3) Major Stars come out as bi in cover stories of major magazines and are surprised everyone doesn’t already know

In November 2023, Billie Eilish was featured on the cover of Variety’s Power of Women issue. In her interview, Eilish casually mentions her physical attraction to other women.

That resulted in quite a bit of buzz about Billie coming out, to which she responded with surprise, thinking it was already common knowledge.

Speaking of celebrities coming out as bi, in the past few years, Cardi B, Mo'nique, Lilly Singh, Lil Nas X, Alison Brie, Dove Cameron, Da Brat, Lili Reinhart, Janelle Monáe, Kit Connor, Jeff Molina, and many others have added themselves publicly to the list.

4) Bi visibility in the media

In 2006, Brokeback Mountain, a film about two bi cowboys, nearly won the Academy Award for Best Picture. While it won three Oscars, it didn’t win the grand prize. It also didn’t win the grand prize of bi representation by using the word bisexual. In fact, the public looked at obviously bi characters and erased their bisexuality completely, labeling them as gay. In 2024, Anatomy of a Fall, a film with a bi protagonist who actually uses the word bisexual, won the Oscar for Best Screenplay; took the top prize, the Palme d’Or, at Cannes; and was declared Best Foreign Film by festivals across the English-speaking world.

A decade ago, we had a handful of minor characters and villains in film and TV, usually oddballs whose bisexuality was too often a punchline or plot twist. Now we’re used to prominent characters being bi such as Loki, Deadpool, Starlord, and Valkyrie in the Marvel Universe; Sarah Lance, Peacemaker, and Superman in The DC Universe; Petra and Adam in Jane The Virgin, Korra in the animated The Legend of Korra, Jaskier in The Witcher, Julián in The House of Flowers, Darryl and Valencia in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jim and Blackbeard from Our Flag Means Death, and countless others. We now have bi heroes and villains; monogamous bis and poly bis; superpower bis and average Joe bis; bi men, bi women, and bi non-binary folks readily available on our favorite streaming and gaming platforms.

5) Our same-sex partnerships are legally recognized across much of the world now

It’s easy to take for granted today, but in 2014, I could not marry the man I loved. We’d already been together for seven years, but in the eyes of the law, we were simply friends and could never be more. Marriage equality finally came to the US in 2015, adding us to a list of 20 other countries. Today that number stands at 36 and growing.

My husband and I married in 2017, BTW.

6) We’re coming out of the woodwork

Most importantly, with more and more people in the media, sex research, government, and society at large finally coming around on bisexuality, it’s never been a better time to be bi. And with the freedom to be themselves, the number of people out as bi has grown exponentially. According to the latest Gallup poll, a full 7.6% of Americans identify as LGBT, up from 5.6% in 2019 and up from 3.5% in 2012. Within the LGBT population, 57.3% identify as bisexual — representing 4.4% of all U.S. adults (and more people than identified as LGBTQ+ of any sort at all a decade ago).

Among the Gen Z, the numbers are even more striking. A full 28.5% of American Gen Z adults identify as LGBT, and a full 20.7% of Gen Z adults identify as bisexual. Among Millenials, 12.4% identify as LGBT, with 9% of all American Millennial adults identifying as bisexual. Within both generations, nearly 73% of the LGBT population is bisexual.

Here’s how NBC News interpreted the data:

In some ways, 2014 feels like a lifetime ago. I’m thrilled to see how much life has improved for bi people, and how much more we are integrated into and respected by society. But we still have a ways to go. Booming numbers of young people coming out as bi still has to translate into more bi people in positions of power, leadership, and visibility, ensuring that our needs and concerns become central in public policy and societal attitudes. And, of course, we are in the midst of a backlash here in the United States (and other countries) that threatens to roll back a decade (or more) of human rights progress for the larger LGBT community. Let’s not become complacent and instead stand ready to defend our rights and freedoms. Let’s continue to upgrade our culture into one that embraces and celebrates people for who they are, because repression isn’t healthy for individuals or for society as a whole.

In 2034, I hope to look back at another decade with a sense of pride at the progress our community has continued to make. I hope my kids will live in a world that celebrates bisexuality as a natural and normal part of human diversity. And I hope they’ll be free of the stress and confusion that I went through trying to figure out my sexuality and, harder still, learn how to live openly as myself. Life brings us all enough challenges. Rather than struggling with our capacity to love without regard to gender, our energies are better spent on growing, loving, and, dare I say it, making the world a little bit better.