When champion gymnast Luke Strong and Avery Wilson, a performer from The Voice, both came out as bisexual in July, it was heralded as a watershed moment for bi male visibility.
HIV activist Khafre Abif (pictured) saw it differently, telling Plus that bisexual men like him are looking for transformative changes in how they are viewed and treated.
“While I welcome the visibility their coming out brings to the collective community of bisexuals, I feel being a celebrity in many ways can serve as a buffer to the everyday noise many bisexuals experience from the communities around us,” he says. “I think we have a long way to go before male bisexuality will become more accepted.”
Abif, a librarian and archivist who first found activism as a Florida college student protesting South African apartheid, is tired of his community being a joke, afterthought, or scapegoat. When people throw misconceptions at him about bisexual men lying about their attraction to women or maliciously spreading STIs, he has a quick response.
“I simply say, ‘I have been living with HIV for 31 years and I have been out as a bisexual man for more than 30 years. I have been open and honest with the women and men in my life throughout these years as I stand in my truth. My sexuality has nothing to do with my ability to be in and maintain a monogamous relationship.... The science and my lived experience are proof that bisexual men are not the drivers of the rates of HIV among women.”
The idea that all HIV-positive bisexual men carelessly spread the virus to women is a myth, M. Reuel Friedman, Ph.D., previously told Plus. Friedman helped author a study about HIV-positive men who have sex with both men and women.
“Our meta-analysis shows that bisexually behaving men are significantly more likely than heterosexually behaving men to have HIV but significantly less likely than gay-behaving men to have HIV,” Friedman said, estimating there are over 120,000 HIV-positive bisexual men in the U.S.
In both LGTQ+ culture and mainstream society, the experiences of such men, and all bisexual men, are either erased or lumped together with those of gay men. National Gay Men’s HIV Awareness Day is a glaring example; bi men don’t warrant part of the day’s name, but the Centers for Disease Control describes the observance, held every September 27, as one to “to direct attention to the continuing and disproportionate impact of HIV and AIDS on gay and bisexual men in the United States.”
Abif says attitudes will not change until bisexual men not only come out but begin sharing their truth with people not familiar with the concept of bisexuality.
“The ways in which most people receive their messages about bisexuality comes from media and folks who are not bisexual,” Abif says. “As long as the voices and experiences of bisexual men are not centered in the discussion of sexuality, we will continue to have widespread ignorance about those experiences.”
Abif counts activists like Bayard Rustin, James Baldwin, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and A. Billy S. Jones-Hennin as his bi heroes. For those who want to honor their work and the achievements of the often-neglected bisexual community, Abif says it is as simple as adding a few words to a sentence.
“In the HIV movement, it seems that just saying ‘bisexual’ seem so hard to do for so many,” says Abif. “Saying, ‘Black gay and bisexual men living with HIV’ is just as simple as saying, ‘Black gay men living with HIV.’”
To find out more about Abif’s work, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @CornbreadFish.