Zachary Zane: From Bi.org to Boyslut Fame
May 09, 2023
Zachary Zane started out writing here at Bi.org before becoming, among other things, a columnist at Men’s Health, Cosmopolitan, and Queer Majority as well as writing for The New York Times, Playboy, Rolling Stone, GQ, Vice, and Slate — to name just a few. But not only is he a former coworker on the rise, he’s also a dear friend.
Right now Zane is hot on the scene with his new book, BOYSLUT: A Memoir and Manifesto (2023), hitting bookshelves everywhere on May 9th. Before embarking on his whirlwind press tour, I got to sit down with our prodigal son of sorts to talk in-depth about his storied career so far — from nascent realizations of his sexual orientation, to being a bi writer, to how to deconstruct sexual shame, and how close he got to having Jon Hamm reading his book for Audible.
JENNIE ROBERSON: Zach, how did you come to realize you were bi?
ZACHARY ZANE: Wow. It seems like such a simple question, but it’s actually a little complicated.
I was struggling with my sexuality for a while, and I had my first hookup with a man when I was in my freshman year of college. I was very drunk, and after it happened I wasn't really sure if I enjoyed it. ...I remember speaking to a few of my gay friends being like, “Hey, I did this. I'm not sure if I'm into it.” And their responses were: “It doesn't really sound like you're gay. I feel like you would've been more into it than you were,” but then I kept on getting blackout drunk and hooking up with men for five years, and that's pretty gay.
But the thing is, at the time I was doing this, bisexual visibility was [much lower than it is today]. I remember googling that I might be bisexual my sophomore year of college, and what came up were pretty much only stories about bi men having or spreading HIV [and] research associated with that. And then every single man who I knew that identified as bi in college shortly afterward came out as gay.
So while I am egocentric, I'm not delusional. I was like, “I can't be the only guy in the world with a bisexual orientation.” But there was little bisexual visibility online and few articles about it. I had no in-person interaction with bi people, but it was confusing. Why did I keep getting drunk and hooking up with men? And during this time, I was also dating and loving women as well.
It wasn't until after college I saw a therapist — an LGBT-specific therapist. The fact that I sought him out obviously means something. And during our second session, after I was launching into this monologue again about how I'm so confused [about why] I'd hook up with guys and girls, he paused me. “Zach, I’d like to be blunt with you. You seem very clearly bisexual. Is there something I'm missing?” And I was quick to respond, “Oh, that doesn't exist in men.” And he responded, “Zach, you're too smart to think that.” Which was honestly one of the best responses he could have given.
When he almost granted the permission to be bisexual — or elucidated that bisexuality is an option, to borrow from Fritz Klein's language — I was very quick to take it. I found it really resonated with me.
At first, I thought I was bisexual and hetero-romantic, meaning I was physically and sexually attracted to both sexes, but could only date and love women. [But] that was actually a little bit of internalized biphobia I needed to get over, and eventually, I admitted to myself and realized that I'm attracted both physically, emotionally, romantically, to people of both sexes.
It really is great to have a therapist who can cut through the nonsense, isn’t it?
That's actually why I sought him out! I don't like when a therapist says, “What do you think?" I'm like, "I have anxiety and OCD. I thought about this 10 million times over. I need an outside perspective, and I need someone to break the loop. I need you to be extremely blunt and direct with me. And the fact that you were an attorney for 20 years before transitioning into being a therapist is part of the reason why I'm going with you specifically because I need direct advice.”
Which I think allowed him to be more direct in a way maybe most therapists would not tell a client what his sexuality is.
What has your experience been like being out as a bi writer?
For the most part, good. I think I was really one of the few mainstream bi writers when I started writing about eight years ago. The first piece I wrote was for xoJane, and it was one of their “It happened to me" pieces titled, “It Happened To Me: I Came Out As Bi And Can't Date Anyone Gay Or Straight.”
I spoke about the struggles I had dating straight women. They didn't want to date me because they assumed I was using bi as a stepping stone and was gonna leave them for a man. And then the gay men I dated were just extremely condescending. They'd be like, “Oh honey, I was bi, too. You'll get there.” And then they moved and tried to kiss me and I'd be like, “Fuck you. That’s wildly condescending. Do not kiss me, do not talk to me.”
And then I fell in love with this bi woman, and it was just so nice. I felt so loved and supported, and they really supported my femininity and my attraction to men. They were turned on by it, as opposed to being threatened by it, and we had this really healthy relationship for a little over a year.
When I wrote [that xoJane] piece, it went viral because at the time there was such a dearth of bisexual articles and visibility, but also the bisexual articles that were out were catered to monosexuals. So it was convincing gay and straight people that we exist, or it was “10 things to never say to a bisexual person”, or “15 myths about bisexuality”. It wasn't actually bisexual content by a bi person for a bi person.
A listicle for the curious, and less for us talking to our own community.
Yeah, exactly! ...And then from that, I got work just writing about bisexuality — talking about internalized biphobia, how to date while bisexual, how to find a bisexual community. Things I hadn't seen online. A lot of questions I specifically was asking myself and others and didn't see answers to. I started reaching out to the community and addressing these issues.
I love being a bi writer. I love the fact that I really feel like I'm actually helping people embrace who they are and live a happier, more fulfilling life. I love that aspect of my job. And I have to remember that when I'm getting vitriol; when I'm dealing with a lot of, “Okay: What is the reason why I do this?”
How do you see yourself as a writer, and how does being bi fold into that? Is it all-encompassing, or is it just one vantage point?
For a while, it was all-encompassing, but it no longer is.
I think for a while it was very much like, “I am the bisexual writer, I'm speaking to bisexual issues. Everything is just going to be through a bisexual lens; it's gonna be bi, bi, bi.” Not to quote NSYNC here.
And then after a while, I realized being bisexual is just one aspect of who I am. Of course it shapes how I see the world, but I also don't wanna be just "the bi guy”. I feel like this vantage point — being bisexual — can actually help gay people [and] straight people, because I do see the world slightly differently. So I was limiting myself by only speaking to bi people and only writing about bi content. But that said, as you asked, it definitely does inform my perspective and I'm very happy about that. I'm proud of that. I don't wanna sound corny and say "unite the world”, but I really think [it] can help people realize maybe we're [all] a little bit more similar than we give credit for.
How did you come to write for Bi.org and Queer Majority?
I think it was a natural progression. I was given a platform where I could really delve into nuanced bi discussions.
One of the things that I really struggled with as a bi writer was writing a lot of 101, introductory content, or writing SEO-type content. But with Bi.org and Queer Majority, I was really able to delve specifically into issues that a lot of bisexual people face. I wasn't allowed to kind of do that 201 or 301 content for other publications, so I really enjoyed writing for these places. It gave me an opportunity to write in-depth in a way I was not given at other publications.
You've written two successful columns for those sites: Good Bi Love and Zach and the City, respectively. How did you come up with those vantage points? What is it like being a real-life Samantha Jones?
It is Samantha Jones! Thank you for not calling me a Carrie Bradshaw, which is what everyone says.
I would never, you're very clearly a Samantha.
Good Bi Love was awesome. I was talking to the editor-in-chief at the time and, at some point, I wrote maybe a hundred articles about bisexuality. There's a lot to say about being bi, but around a hundred articles in, you're like, “Okay, I'm really starting to rehash certain pieces here.”
But [the column] allowed me to explore every single aspect of bisexuality I possibly could; whether it was dealing with biphobic parents or internalized biphobia, how to respond when you're on a date and someone says something biphobic, ...when to address that you’re bi on dating apps or on a date, when can you call yourself bi, the in-fighting between the bisexual and pansexual community. I mean, these are just a few topics I thought of off the top of my head, [multiply] that tenfold. ...I think the impact has been huge. I know Bi.org still shares a lot of the content now, which I appreciate and love.
With Zach and the City, that's just been fun. It's very different. Obviously, that's one of those columns, for example, where I'm writing through a bisexual perspective, as opposed to Bi.org where everything was about being bisexual. So this almost shows an evolution in my personal journey as a bisexual writer [and] is more reflective of where I am now. I felt very much like an “it girl”, as the name of the column suggests. It's about me going out into the city and my various experiences about how I'm able to live my life with sexual autonomy — without sexual shame and with sexual freedom — and how I got to that point. ...It's a nice arc, in a sense.
With your writing over at Men's Health — including the advice column Sexplain It — your work takes on a decidedly queer vantage point. Is that by design? Do you have any advice columnists you take inspiration from?
Yes, that is absolutely by design. A lot of it is also I'm answering the questions people ask me, and I have a lot of queer followers. [Laughs] So I was initially answering the questions that people who only knew my work were asking, and then I almost got the reputation of a queer column, so then people started writing in. But I also think I'm better equipped to handle queer issues, in a way. I'm having a much larger impact writing about queer issues at Men's Health than when I used to be a low-level associate editor for Out magazine and The Advocate.
I'm able to reach people who don't feel comfortable going to Bi.org or Queer Majority because it has “bi” or “queer” in the name. But these men are definitely struggling with their sexuality, and if it's on a site they read, they're more likely to click. So I'm actually ...reaching closeted people, people who don't feel comfortable yet searching for bi content. And that is pretty awesome — writing queer content for a straight publication.
The sex columnist I take [inspiration from] is, of course, Dan Savage. Give credit where credit is due. That man is a legend. I know some people get very frustrated because he said some biphobic things however many years ago, which he has since apologized for. And now, if you listen to his podcast [and] how much he's helping bisexual men, it’s incredible. All we can ask for with someone is to learn from their mistakes, which is exactly what he did. And now he probably helps significantly more bi people than I do just because he has such a larger following. ...So I absolutely love that man. He is on the cover of my book! [Laughs] Literally it says: “Zachary Zane is one of the best sex writers working today,” which is a quote from him.
Over at Cosmopolitan, you've just begun a new column called Navigating Non-Monogamy. Do you feel like ethical non-monogamy is becoming a more popular relationship structure? What do you hope readers can learn from the mistakes and stories you tell there?
I think it is becoming a more popular, or at least more interesting relationship structure. It's becoming more valid. The amount of non-monogamy content that's come out in the five years is insane. Every single publication is writing about it, truly. New York Times to Men's Health to Cosmo — [it] doesn’t matter if you are a lifestyle or culture magazine; you have hopped on this train and are writing about it.
The reason why I pitched this column is honestly almost similar, in a way, to Bi.org; a lot of the non-monogamy content right now is 101[-level]. How do I navigate jealousy, or How do I open up my relationship? There's obviously so much more to non-monogamy than navigating jealousy. Now I know how to handle my jealousy and a non-monogamous relationship. That is not an issue I struggle with at all. I struggle with plenty of other things, but they're not being addressed or discussed.
How to take care of your shared Google Calendar?
When I pitched [Navigating Non-Monogamy] to them, I was like, "I want this column to start with ‘how to open up your relationship’ and then to address all these other things." ...I wanna give advice to people who are relationship anarchists who live with their boyfriend, their boyfriend's wife's girlfriend, and their wife's [mistress] — whatever their relationship dynamic is, and speak to them.
So I think right now is the heyday of non-monogamy. There's more interest, but still, it's very geared toward people who are just starting out. And I'm really proud of myself and I'm glad Cosmo took a chance on me and let me do this column where I'm actually speaking to people who have perhaps a good sense of non-monogamy but are still struggling with it the way we all struggle with our relationships in many capacities, regardless of your relationship or orientation.
Other than writing about sex, love, and relationships, are there other subjects you would love to write about? If so, what? Or are you just a one-trick pony, Zach?
No! I've been thinking about this for a while.
I'm excited to move into fiction for writing books, which was initially what I thought I was going to do when I became a writer. Then this whole detour happened with that viral [xoJane] piece. ...It’s not like I'm gonna be writing World War I, historical fiction. It's still gonna be bisexual and polyamorous. It's just not going to be directly about me. And I'm excited to tell different stories we haven't yet seen, because I think there are so many that deserve to be told.
It's tough. You really do get pigeonholed, in a sense. I'm lucky in that I can talk about anything sexuality, anything masculinity, anything LGBT. So I have a pretty large beat.
What if I started writing more think pieces on Judaism? I know it's such a divergence, but I've been connecting more with my Judaism [in] a way that I steered clear from it for like a decade. Again, I don't know if I want to do that, but it's something I've been thinking about.
I don't know exactly where it's going… But I'm focusing more on fiction, and I'm really excited to start writing novels.
Tell me about the genesis of BOYSLUT: A Memoir and Manifesto.
I wrote BOYSLUT because I hadn't seen [any book like it]. I've read God knows how many gay memoirs, in general because I like them, and then in preparation for writing this book. Now I actually think if I ever read a gay memoir again my head might explode. If I read the phrase “authentic self” one more time...
There were a lot of similar stories, and these stories were not mine. It was often a little gay boy from the South who grew up in a Christian family, gets kicked out of his family for being gay, moves to New York City, finds his chosen family, and lives happily ever after. And I’m not [knocking] those stories; they're just not my story. I had never seen a book written about an openly bisexual man and their journey to bisexuality, and how to overcome sexual shame. With all these gay memoirs, I hadn’t seen a bi memoir.
That's why I was inspired to write this book — especially because I receive a lot of feedback [about my articles] from people saying how much my story has changed their life. I'm like, “You’re only getting a small section of my story. What you got is from that thousand words that I wrote about.” But I haven't written about my childhood. I've written a little bit about growing up with OCD, but very little, all things considered. So you're really getting all of me in this book in a way that, especially if you were bi, I think would really resonate with you.
I do want to clarify that this is not just a bisexual book. I went through painstaking efforts to make sure of that. Of course, I think if you’re bi... it might resonate slightly more with you. But this book is for people of all genders, all sexual orientations, and anyone who's experienced sexual shame.
Spoiler: we all have. But I'm using my perspective and vantage point as a bi person to tackle and unpack all this.
We've been friends for years, and there were things in the book I didn't even know about you. So it really is very confessional and a call to arms, and I appreciate that.
You also have a recurring theme of using footnotes as comic relief throughout the book. How did this come about?
Originally, they were not footnotes, but what would happen is... I’m someone who uses a lot of comedic relief. I like adding levity — not in a way that undercuts the story, but... sometimes I think, “Okay: this is a pretty intense moment, and I want you to be able to breathe.”
So I originally had them throughout the book, but not as footnotes. My editor loved them. He said, “I really think your humor is often what carries the book. So include them.” But I worried it might break it up too much. So by having them as footnotes, it’s like, “If you wanna read the footnotes, you absolutely can. If you wanna stay in the thick of it and do this, you can.” So it's almost like a choose-your-own-adventure in a sense.
Keep a choice of either going with the flow or taking a moment to come up for air. I appreciated that, as a reader.
It made reading the audiobook quite confusing. I wasn't sure how to incorporate these footnotes, so I didn't include some of them. You can't have a [listening] option of “Do you want to read the book with footnotes or not?" I was like, “Actually, this might undercut what I'm saying [when] I'm reading it out loud.”
You did let your social media followers in on the process of reading your book. What was it like?
[At first] I did not want to read it. [Laughs]
I realized how challenging of a process that is, even as someone with a musical theater background. But reading it out loud is quite difficult. First of all, your voice just gets sore. I’m someone who's an over-planner. If I’m preparing a monologue, let's say for an audition, I can plan exactly how I want to hit every single word because that's only ten minutes long. I can’t go through the entire book and plan exactly how I want everything to land. It's something that only comes with experience.
I remember while doing the process I was a little frustrated because around Chapter Ten, I'm finally getting into the groove and [the director] starts giving me notes. “Hey, sometimes you do XYZ when you read this way.” I was like, “Why are you telling me in Chapter Ten? You should have told me this from the beginning.” And she was like, "Zach, you were so anxious, if I give you any more notes, I feel like you would've just [gotten more anxious].”
...But usually, for memoirs, they want you to read the memoir, because they want your voice. There was a joke in my book proposal where I said, “When Jon Hamm reads my memoir.” The book is sold separately; Abrams has the print rights and then Audible has the audio rights. And when Audible was interested, they asked, "Hey, so we saw in your proposal that you mentioned Jon Hamm for reading your book... is that something you want?” I'm like, “Wait — I was kind of joking, but can he actually do it?” They answered, “Well, he has read for Audible...” My agent, who was [also] on the phone said, “Zach, no. Zach is reading the book. He's just being annoying.”
For memoirs, they typically want you to read your book. ...For me — especially because I'm a personality as well — there was no doubt that I would be the one to read it.
Do you have any quick tips on noticing shame spirals and removing yourself from them? Or is it something that has to be more hard-won per person?
Obviously, it's not one-size-fits-all, but I would love to give some actionable advice.
Something [helpful when dealing with] shame is trying to look at the root of it. Usually, it's someone trying to control you. It's not that you actually feel bad. Slut-shaming, for example, is a way that men control women. ...So if you're able to take a step back... I think you'd more accurately be able to address it. That acknowledges that your shame is not coming from you. That doesn't mean it's not real, of course. It's extremely real. But it is coming from something else. Looking at the deeper root or cause of the shame can be really helpful to break some of these shame spirals you might be having.
You mentioned both the importance of bisexual visibility as well as growing up wishing you had bi role models, even stereotypes to look up to.
Do you feel a responsibility to dispel stereotypes now when you see them?
Do you sometimes feel like you’re faced with the bi ambassador dilemma where, even though you are so visibly out, sometimes you're not in the mood to wear that hat, but also feel the internal pressure to be a good ambassador? Or have you found a way to shed that kind of responsibility from time to time, for your own mental health?
I think there’s something to be said about acknowledging which bi stereotypes are actually bad and which are not. Take "bisexual people are slutty”. Obviously, it's not that all bisexual people are slutty — but there's nothing wrong with being slutty, right? That's not a bad thing. Of course, you should acknowledge that not all bi people are slutty, but a lot of this comes from the root of “being slutty is a bad thing”.
So for me, obviously I have a book called Boyslut. Being slutty is not a bad thing. I'm embracing that label. Being a bisexual slutty stereotype does not bother me. Of course, people need to have nuance and understand that my experience is mine. It's obviously not everyone's experience, and there are plenty of bi people who are not slutty. But for me, that's not a bad stereotype because I love being slutty.
Then there are some stereotypes where it's like, “We are cheaters, we are liars, we are greedy.” ...Lying and cheating are not good, in any aspect of it.
What I try to do now is dispel the stereotypes that are actually negative and the ones that are not negative, I try to do that pivot to be like, “I actually am this, [but] of course, that doesn't mean everyone else is.”
I don't feel an obligation [to educate], but I do like to. I don't think it is necessarily my job. I think it does help the community, and if I am in a place where I can handle this level of conflict or debate, I will happily take it on. If I'm having a rough day... [maybe I] let one slide. You have to find the balance [for] your mental health.
Do you have any advice for those who are newly out as bi, and/or any advice you wish you could give to your younger self before you came out?
My advice to my younger self would be to breathe and slow down. That's not advice I'd give to everyone. I was always so go-go-go. I needed everything to be in front of me immediately. I was a very impatient person, and that caused me to really struggle with my sexuality because I wanted to have it figured out immediately to know exactly what I am. I needed to have this certainty in the label, in my sexual orientation, in my identity. And when I didn't have that certainty, I couldn't just breathe and relax and slow down.
So I think the advice I would give myself is, in almost all aspects of your life, you can slow down and enjoy it more.
*** This interview has been edited for length and clarity.