Bringing a Bisexual Lens to Sexuality, Policy, and Health Research, with Tremendous Support from His Family
Editors’ Note: This story is a part of the #BiStories project, the first national survey exploring the intersections of bisexual Americans and the need for comprehensive non-discrimination protections. The #BiStories Project is proudly led by BiNet USA and Freedom for All Americans. Learn more about the #BiStories Project here – and click here to add your own.
Dr. Brian Dodge is a public health researcher, scientist, and expert on bisexuality based in Bloomington, Indiana. His story is one of resilience and positivity in an environment that has not always been welcoming or inclusive – and he attributes much of his strength to his parents, who have embraced his bisexuality with love, compassion, and encouragement throughout his life.
“I don’t know if there was ever a certain moment that I knew I’m bisexual,” Brian recalls. He came out to his family his first year of college – and anticipating a negative response from them, he was happily relieved to find that they were open to and supportive of his identity. “I was blessed with the best parents in the world – my Dad is an especially great guy,” he explains. His father, David, is a former military service man and criminal defense lawyer, who does prison ministry and a wide range of other volunteer work with veterans and disadvantaged groups. “How he’s come to be who he is today is a mystery to me,” says Brian. “Although he grew up in a very modest and conservative family environment, he is the most open, tolerant, and loving person I have ever met. He is a workaholic, he goes to sleep around 6 pm and wakes up to jog 5-10 miles every morning. I think it’s how he deals with helping a lot of people with their really heavy problems every day. I’ve learned from him not to sweat the small stuff.”
Even as Brian went through his own journey of finding himself, often distraught and emotionally vulnerable, his father remained there for him. “It has not been easy or perfect, especially on my part,” Brian says. Like many bisexual people, he struggled to understand his identity in a climate that often invalidated the existence of bisexuality, especially among men. He met other people who claimed he is confused, lying or in denial about who he is. He encountered hostility in both educational settings and workplace settings, facing dismissal and discouragement from others when he decided to pursue a research career focused on bisexual health issues at undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels, something he ultimately overcame with the help of his dear mentor Dr. Theo Sandfort at Columbia University.
He remembers feeling particularly distressed when other colleagues in the sexuality research community would make sweeping claims that bisexual men “don’t exist.” “I really do think that’s the worst thing to say to someone – to tell them that they don’t exist. Having experienced that in a wide range of contexts, it was a relief not to have that in my own family. I know people who have. It’s heartbreaking to me.”
“When you’re young, everything seems like the fate of the world is hanging in the balance, and your family support is so crucial,” Brian says. “My Dad has always accepted me for who I am, even when I was young, and that for me was a big relief. He always affirmed me and taught me that it’s not only OK to be you — you need to be you. I feel blessed in so many ways in my life, but with my Dad, I feel the most blessed.”
Brian’s support for equality and full protections for sexual and gender minority people — including initiatives that specifically address bisexual health issues – intersects with his own experience working in public health policy. “I think if we don’t address bisexuality in health and policy, we’ll continue to just be erased,” he says. “I see it firsthand, all the time. It’s been challenging for me at times because as a scientific researcher, there are some people who believe you can’t be a scientist and an activist at the same time. But if we’re not advocating and doing some good with our work in public policy, it’s pointless. If we don’t have people bringing up these issues to light in research and policy, we are going to continue being erased.”
Brian was an active participant in last year’s #BiWeek 2015 after meeting advocates from BiNet USA at a bisexual conference in San Diego. This year, Brian and his father will be joining a number of bisexual activists, community organizers, media personalities, and others who are coming together over the weekend in Washington, DC for a series of events surrounding Bisexual Awareness Week (#BiWeek) and Celebrate Bisexuality Day on September 23, 2016. He says, “my Dad and I love to travel, and making this trip to Washington D.C. together seems especially special.”
He explains that his reason for participating in #BiStories is directly related both to his work in policy and health, and to his relationship with his family, which he is eager to share publicly with others. “In order to improve health within the bisexual community and put an end to disparities, we need to have positive images of bisexual people in their relationships and among their families. Bisexual people have happy and healthy families, too. That is a huge void this project will fill,” Brian says. “It hasn’t always been easy or perfect, but I feel most fortunate to have had a supportive family. I don’t know how people do it who don’t have that and I’ll never take it for granted.”