Unless you’re a fan of the paranormal, the name Ryan Buell probably isn’t one familiar to most gay and bisexual men. But when the 29-year-old paranormal investigator and host of A&E’s Paranormal State revealed he was bisexual in his new memoir, his profile in the GLBT community increased dramatically.
Even in 2010, most bisexual men choose to be discreet about their sexuality for a variety of reasons. But when Buell realized that his prominence in the paranormal research field, not to mention the fact he is quite public about his religious beliefs, meant he might be able to open some eyes about the issue of bisexuality, he knew he had to speak up.
AfterElton.com recently caught up with Buell to discuss his coming out, his conservative Southern family’s reaction and much more.
AfterElton: The book seems to be mostly about your experiences dealing with the paranormal and your experiences on the show. What made you decide to discuss being bisexual in it?
Ryan Buell: If you don’t believe in the paranormal, you can at least look at it as metaphors. That’s how I like to see it. You’re dealing with the afterlife, you’re dealing with the unknown, you’re dealing with questions about God and spirituality. Paranormal investigations is really just a way for looking for God and looking for those questions. It doesn’t matter who you are, what your skin color is, your sexuality, your religious faith … we are all in our own ways looking for those answers.
In the book I kind of talk about my struggle with faith and religion, particularly the Catholic faith. Obviously … growing up I come from South Carolina; this stuff was especially taboo, let alone homosexuality, bisexuality, lesbianism. I mean, the South is … it’s very true, it’s very much old-fashioned.
kind of came about when I was dealing with parts of my faith and doing this work and … suddenly whenever I tried to work with clergy they would shut their doors in my face and say “I spoke to so-and-so who said this about you.” It kind of came out about, you know, Ryan is, you know, he’s … he also like guys.
AE: When did you realize yourself that you were attracted to both men and women?
RB: Well see, that’s the weird thing because as I wrote in my book, I didn’t know there was … it was hard for me to find the time when I knew that, because for such a long time I thought it was, you know, I didn’t see a difference. I didn’t know that was taboo. I grew up kind of sheltered, I guess, where growing up I didn’t see this or hear about it until my teens.
For me I didn’t know there was anything wrong until I was about 13 and I started hearing people say “fag”, “Oh, this person’s a fag, don’t talk to him” you know, blah blah blah is when I began to realize that. When I started to become more self-aware about it, I would say maybe in my mid-teens. It’s not like I only liked guys. I know there’s some people who believe there’s no such thing as bisexuality and I know that’s something that’s taboo even in the gay community, but… I would say my mid-teens.
RB: But just to answer the question about why it’s in the book, it’s because struggling with my faith and religion and everything like that and dealing with this world where I deal with a lot of religion, you know…one of my mentors was a woman named Lorraine Moore who’s very, very old-fashioned. She kind of approached me about it and asked, you know, if I was bisexual and I said yes.
I decided to put it in the book because I was wanting to talk about faith, my struggle with faith, and how I was essentially told God would hate me for who I was and I decided after talking with Lorraine, who’s religious and said, you know, priests are just men. They’re fallible too and that doesn’t mean you should turn away from your faith. So I decided to come out because I’m just tired of … I’ve had a few gay friends who just said, you know, “I’m not religious, I’m athiest. Why would I want to believe in something or someone who says I’m going to Hell?” That’s why I decided to come out.
AE: Because you wanted an opportunity to show that not everybody who’s religious believes that?
RB: I write in the book that I got an email from a guy who wrote to me and said “Ryan, you’re very much in the spirit world and you do a lot with religion, you have a lot of faith. I’m opening up to you that I’m gay and I was told by my church that I’m going to Hell unless I change my ways, that I’m sick. That if I die before I repent I’m going to Hell. In your experience, have you ever come across any gay spirits who said to you, ’I’m not able to go to Heaven because of my sexuality?’”
He was essentially looking for proof that during my investigations that some spirits are Earth-bound and can’t go to Heaven because they’re gay. That really just broke my heart because here was this guy who thinks he’s sick, who thinks God is going to send him to Hell for who he is.
That’s why I came out. I don’t think I’m going to Hell. I wrote in the book, too, that we don’t need to change for religion. Religion needs to change for us. Homosexuality and bisexuality are not a sin. Who wants to wake up and be beaten up or be called names? I’m so tired of seeing kids who commit suicide on the news. I’m a private person. I didn’t want to come out.
It’s not that I’m scared or ashamed – I’m not. It’s just I’m a private person and I don’t want to share these things about myself. It was scary to come out. My family is very old-fashioned and conservative. I didn’t want to bring this up.
AE: What’s the reaction with your family been?
RB: It’s mixed. My mom was obviously way more supportive and my stepfather, who really helped raise me, I was really worried about him being judgmental since he comes from a very old, traditional way of thinking. He was just beyond supportive and that really just made me feel great.
I was more worried about my father’s side. I remember when I was young, one of my cousins was gay and we were around talking about it – I think I was 12-years-old, 13-years-old – and they were talking about gay people and my dad said proudly around the table, “No son of mine would be gay. I’d kick his ass right out the door and never look back.”
He was grinning as he was saying this, like, proudly. I was like, wow. In his eyes you could be a murderer and you’d be okay, but if you choose to love somebody of the same sex, that was just too much. I was really more worried about that and to be honest, I still haven’t fully told my father’s side. I guess I’m gonna have to address it soon, because the book comes out in a week.
AE: You have dated both men and women in your life?
RB: Mostly the gals, but yes. Definitely I’m kind of…how do I say…non-discriminatory?
AE: It seems like so few men still come out as bisexual and it seems like even fewer men who primarily date women do so. Why do you think so few bisexual men come out?
RB: I’m glad you said that. I thought it would be “Oh come on, there’s no such thing as bisexual people.” The thing is, there are, but it’s easier to hide being bisexual. My one friend jokes about me and he says “You got half a blue side, half a pink side. Which shirt are you wearing today?”
I wouldn’t say it’s easier for us, I wouldn’t say it’s harder for us. To be honest, I don’t have that many gay or bisexual friends. Here in this college town especially, where it’s definitely more liberal and you see a little bit more sexual freedom and experimentation. Growing up and in college, I’ve met a lot of guys who are bisexual, you know, football players, athletes. Traveling in New York City and LA, you know, entertainment people who very much are bisexual.
But that part is more of their secret part, that they may date a girl but then they have something on the side with a guy. My theory is, it’s easier because it’s not like you’re lying to yourself all the way when you’re dating a girl because you’re generally attracted to her. It’s not like that gender turns you off.
I would say it’s difficult in the sense that you do feel society telling you it’s gotta be one thing or the other. That’s kind of the hardest part right now, is saying you have to pick one.
I’ve seen a lot of guys who are married or who seem straight but are very open about having some sort of fling or affair or relationship with a guy. They just don’t want to come out about it. They want to live a straight lifestyle. I think it’s easier to live a straight lifestyle. It’s so acceptable, you know?
I know some people probably go, “Oh, here’s another guy coming out of the closet.” But it’s still very much not fully acceptable to be gay or bi or straight. I’ve even read some interviews with some musicians, like the singer from Green Day, who talked about how he’s bi but from what I understand he’s married. You never see him walking down the red carpet with a guy on his hand, but if you say he’s bi I’m assuming that means he’s had flings with some people.
AE: I’m not one of those gay guys who thinks bisexuality doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, I was at some other websites that posted your coming out and there’s all sorts of comments saying “Oh, of course the guy is gay he just hasn’t figured it out yet.” I dislike that reaction intensely. That’s as bigoted as saying gay people choose to be gay or something. I’ve known enough bisexuals that I understand that it exists and it’s just part of the spectrum that’s out there.
RB: I appreciate that. It’s funny because I remember when I first started to talk to other gay guys, not even to date them… I just was trying to put myself in their culture to be a part of it.
I didn’t have, that I knew of, any gay, lesbian, or bisexual friends for so long, and I was just, like, I should have some. It’s important. It’s a part of who I am. It was so funny because they got upset when somebody started dating a girl or something like that. They’d be like, “You’re in denial!” They kind of rejected me in a sense, where they didn’t like seeing that.
They feel like it’s a betrayal, or it makes them look bad, it makes them feel like they’re wrong for choosing all guys. I’m just saying look, I’m not here to make you guys look bad. I’m just being who I am. I’ve definitely seen gay guys who have a major problem with it.
AE: When you’re attracted to a guy, does it tend to be gay guys? Do they tend to be other bi guys? Or straight guys? How does that work for you?
RB: I don’t know. I mean, look. I can look at a girl and say yeah, she’s really attractive…but then why am I following her boyfriend? He’s pretty good-looking too. I don’t really have a preference. I tend to like, I guess, more masculine guys. Hard-working guys. But I’ve kind of known them all. Some athletes, some swimmers, someone on the football team, frat guys to people who are a little more effeminate.
I’ve done them all and I like to be with someone I can identify with, and I don’t lead, I guess, an effeminate lifestyle. I don’t go to drag queen parties or go to gay clubs. I think I’ve been to a gay club, like, twice in my life. It’s not that I have a problem with it, it’s just, I guess, most of my friends are straight and I don’t feel like because I’m bisexual, I must go now to a gay/lesbian/bisexual club. I just go wherever.
AE: What I was driving at was, if you have mostly straight friends, it seems like it would be harder to find guys to date.
RB: It’s funny because now that I’ve been open about it a bit more, especially the past few years internally, I’ve had them kind of come to me or hit on me. It’s mainly a lot of guys who are extremely closeted, who are dating or married, they have a girlfriend or something like that, but…I guess a lot of bi guys or what you call bi-curious guys are going to gravitate to other bi guys because they feel a little more secure about their masculinity.
These are just my theories. I know it’s a complicated answer, but I’m trying to find other gay/bisexual guys to get to know. My schedule makes it really hard, but I just want people to be themselves. I don’t care if they’re out or not, as long as they’re honest to themselves.
AE: Are you interested in getting married and having kids? Does that depend on the gender, or are you interested in settling down someday either way and having kids?
RB: There’s something romantic about coming home to a wife and kids and I do think about marriage, but I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to say “well, this is going to end one day and I’m going to go be with a woman just because she’s a woman.”
I fantasize about being married to a gorgeous, beautiful wife and having kids, and I do know that I want kids. I’m the oldest of seven. Dad was in the military so he was gone a lot so I really feel like I played a major part in raising them, taking them to school, dressing them, helping them do their homework. Having spent a lot of my time having to help raise them because my mom was a very hard worker and very ambitious, and she’s been a great inspiration.
She went from being a teen mom to putting herself through college and now owning her own company, so it was stressful when we were young. I had to help raise them and as I’m watching them grow up, there’s a part of me that wants to have a child, but I’m not going to turn a part of myself away.
Love’s complicated. Maybe it will be a monogamous thing where it’s just myself and a wife, or maybe I’ll meet a guy and we’ll adopt or do whatever they do to where…artificial insemination or something like that.
I guess I don’t know right now.
For more information visit Ryan at MySpace or Facebook, or purchase his memoir Paranormal State: My Journey into the Unknown at Amazon.com.