Owning your sexuality — and recognizing that fatherhood doesn’t need to be about hardness — presents a necessary alternative
Joseph Guthrie came out as bisexual when he was 32. Acknowledging his sexuality didn’t unravel his sense of himself as a man or as a father. On the contrary: It only seemed to embolden his sense that no single perceived trait could define him. His family, though, felt differently. His queerness, in their eyes, disqualified him as a man — and, thus, as a father. “I haven’t spoken to my father for four years now,” Guthrie says. “When you cut the toxic people out of your life, it makes a massive difference: You’re happier.”
Much of what we consider “toxic masculinity” — bullying, homophobia, aggression toward women — is rooted in patterns typically learned from a father or father figure. However, for many, fatherhood remains the core determinant of masculinity: who can be a father, who should be a father, and what authentic fatherhood looks like. And in many Black families of any nationality, masculinity is such a rigidly defined concept that anything threatening that rigidity must be eradicated. Like Guthrie’s ability to be a father.
There is no real way to understand how common bisexuality is because bisexuality itself is a catchall concept for so many variants of sexual identity. While moonlighting as an adult bookstore clerk in 2018, I found myself talking with a sixtysomething Black grandfather and war veteran who frequented the private club room during our heavier business hours. “No one can know how common your weird is,” he said, “if you strive to keep the weird in the dark.” Five minutes later, the grandfather, filled with his own wisdom, politely offered me $400 for a blowjob. (I politely declined.)
Over the course of the two months I worked at the bookstore, I saw an assortment of fathers walk in and out; he was the most frequent of them, and we talked often. His generation had lent him a conservatism, even with regard to his own sexuality: He didn’t think his interest in both men and women should be a thing spoken of at all, let alone with as much candor as he discussed his work in the church or his military career. To him, everyone in the service was fooling around. He recalled open sex acts in showers and barracks and clear affection between “brothers-in-arms.” Most who survived the service, he said, went on to be fathers.
In the eyes of too many, we simply cannot be like our fathers; our queerness makes it impossible. The thing is, though, we wouldn’t want to be even if given the chance.
“Y’all are just so open with it now,” he once said to me with mild contempt. I couldn’t help wonder how that could be a bad thing: Could a bisexual father’s openness ever be anything less than the healthiest form of masculinity?
For bisexual men — Guthrie, me, and others — masculinity often just feels like another closet, a performance of what you think the world will accept. However, in pursuing happiness in defiance of those constraints, they also give themselves a chance to remake fatherhood into something altogether healthier.
I am not a father. However, I do serve some fatherly roles for a lot of younger boys as a mentor — and, most importantly, I was a son influenced by his father in the wrong ways.
Most of Philadelphia knew him as Bones. For Bones, womanizing was an enterprise no matter where he went. Bones would haunt women until they relinquished everything to him: their bodies, then their money, and eventually their homes. These women would only free themselves from Bones after he ripped their trust out of them — their trust or a child. To Bones, a child was inalienable proof that he meant more to the world than what anyone could take away from him: He was a father. He wasn’t a good father, but he had successfully created a child. And that fact alone earned him respect from other men in his life.
Once Bones forced me onto my mother, there was little concern from him to be involved with me on an individual level. Any facet of his personality that I know, I’ve learned secondhand — he was stubborn, smart, and jovial, and he pursued satisfaction by any means necessary. (These are all traits that I possess, even though men who approach me in my daily life assume they come from my mother in some way.)
Still, on every Father’s Day, Bones received a gift, a phone call, and a proud pat on the back solely on the merit that he fathered a child. My Uncle Silk defended him until his own dying day in 2017 — which happened to be the same day that Bones stole valuables from his home before Silk’s grieving children could return from the hospital.
Bones may have been a parent, but he wasn’t a father. Yet, as a straight man, he claimed those privileges by virtue of little more than ejaculation — and, by extension, claimed authentic manhood as well.
Mike Lowery, like Joseph Guthrie, holds no such emotional distance. He loves his two sons fiercely, cries openly, currently runs a Mixer gaming channel as a streamer, and formerly worked as an amateur adult model who filmed scenes with both men and women. Lowery is fighting a different battle: one against expectations about his masculinity.
Lowery, who came out at 26, currently boasts nearly 25,000 Twitter followers. On the chat platform Discord, where we talk, he runs a community for hundreds of exclusive members — members who also engage in Discord’s many other NSFW subchannels, where on any given day, porn is as popular a topic as gaming tips. Most of them are men who engage other men sexually regardless of their stated orientation, and a good portion of those men are fathers.
Lowery’s time on this forum is limited; by day, he works a conventional marketing job, and at other times, he’s caring for his two young sons, neither of whom knows he is bisexual. (Why would they? The concept of sexuality hasn’t even materialized for them yet.) He is also navigating a romantic life too often burdened by assumptions and misunderstandings based solely on his sexuality. One relationship ended when the idea of Lowery’s openness about his sexuality was misconstrued as a betrayal — no matter how much he tried to explain about how he identified.
However, there is little misunderstanding of who he is as a father. Lowery advocates for crying, compassion, and, most importantly, transparency that didn’t exist for him when he was a child. “It all comes down to teaching a generation to love more and judge less,” he says. “We men, especially Black men, need to show love to our bruthas, no matter who they are.”
Guthrie’s daughter also doesn’t know her father is bisexual, though she’s old enough to understand; she lives in Florida with her mother while Guthrie lives in Delaware. He cannot imagine why her mother hasn’t told her — but that doesn’t mean he wants to tell her himself. “I want her to ask me of her own volition,” he says. Regardless, he hopes one day she does: “If I can be the first person she knows who’s queer, that’s a pretty good launchpad for when she eventually meets other queer folks.”
In online forums and message boards, I routinely see discussions of how fathers have unwittingly (or, more tragically, intentionally) passed their own suffering along to their sons. Isn’t that how the pitfalls we call toxic masculinity came into being — reenacting our fathers’ bad habits because we think we have to be exactly like them?
In the eyes of too many, Lowery and Guthrie and I simply cannot be like our fathers; our queerness makes it impossible. The thing is, though, we wouldn’t want to be even if given the chance. We have broken the generational chain of hypermasculinity that shackles so many men and perpetuates the cycle of pain so needlessly.
I’m convinced that my father, Bones, wasn’t happy with being a father. And even if he was, it was largely because he was taught by his own father to keep a phone call’s distance away from his children. For him, that’s what being a real man was all about. For that gentleman in the adult bookstore, masculinity could accommodate queerness but only in secret. Yet, there’s a third option as well — one that Mike Lowery and Joseph Guthrie are already embracing. If they, like so many others, can step into their own as fathers in a generation that no longer reduces the concept of a “real man” down to a single simple thing, that’s the best outcome we can hope for.