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Mark Bentley Cohen Is Bi, Hung, Fit...and (Old School) Married

by Scott Stiffler
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Feb 19, 2015

For a community that prides itself on celebrating diversity, one color of the rainbow tribe is still likely to be found marching in the back of the parade.

What is it about the fluidity of bisexuals that engenders such skepticism, even scorn?

Leave it to another largely misunderstood group, the Canadians, to challenge our notions about sexual identity, personal integrity, and the road to heightened intimacy within a long-term relationship.

Coming to NYC's Frigid theater festival, not-so-straight from Vancouver, Mark Bentley Cohen's "Bi, Hung, Fit...and Married" is a frank and emotionally mature look at his evolution from a conflicted searcher to a confident sexual explorer who obtained happiness the old-fashioned way: by being honest with himself, and those around him.


His wife's reaction

Married to his wife Lianna for well over a decade, Cohen, the father of a teenage boy and girl, found himself on the cusp of 50, having sex with men behind Lianna's back, and at a point where "the relationship between my wife and I had come to an end. Neither of us was very happy. I came to the realization that I am bisexual. I had grappled with this aspect of myself my whole life. So I told her our marriage was over, at the very least the way it used to be."

In a scene whose metaphorical implications were positively biblical, that confrontation took place during a trip to the mountains, and by the time they came down, "We had agreed to toss our old marriage over the cliff and form a new partnership based on wanting to be together rather than having to." It wasn't exactly Moses emerging from his summit with two stone tablets in hand, but it worked.

Cohen recalls that his wife's strongest reaction didn't come from the revelation that he was experimenting with men, but from his decision to do so without telling her. "The trust was broken," notes Cohen, who in the coming years would discover that "this is often the biggest sticking point" in fractured relationships.


Abandonment fears

"One of the biggest fears is that your partner is going to leave you for someone else," says Cohen, "or that they're going to be extremely jealous, with one person going out and the other staying home, knitting socks or something. But there's no motivation to leave someone who's allowing you to explore sexually."

That exploration began soon after the mountaintop moment of clarity, with a man joining the couple for "a super-fun" romp. Since then, Lianna has "had a relationship with another man who joined us for a threesome. They'd get together [without me], and it's been amazing."

A year later, Cohen says the formerly frosty couple was "thriving in this non-monogamous scenario" where the freedom to roam inevitably led back to a bed shared by a couple who had been transformed by the experience. For Cohen, it was a confirmation of his bisexual feelings, and for his wife, it was an identity formed outside of the "conception of herself as a mother, daughter and wife, which [in this new reality] did not match up with these ideas of sexual freedom."

Cohen, who began a bisexual support group and would later teach non-monogamy workshops alongside Lianna, refers to the turning point in their relationship as "fantasy release therapy. We have these built up-energies that we've not allowed out. They often form blockage in a relationship, because that person is not communicating [or expressing] an entire aspect of themselves. Intimacy is created when we allow somebody into hidden aspects of ourselves. When someone comes out [in any way, about anything], that person is very vulnerable. The person on the receiving end is overwhelmed by the vulnerability, which forms an intense connection between the two people."

Apart from navigating tectonic shifts in their relationship and self-identity, the couple found themselves at odds with a culture in which there is "one officially sanctioned relationship narrative-and that narrative goes boy plus girl plus love equals forever, and that this idea of one true love is the way to go. Lifelong heterosexual monogamy really only works for a tiny percentage of the population," asserts Cohen.


Sharing his journey

Bucking that system, and sharing your journey with others in a workshop or support group setting, is one thing-but putting it on the stage and asking people to buy tickets? That was a prospect every bit as intimidating as coming out, and one that took just as long to achieve.

"I've wanted to do a one-person show my whole life," says Cohen, "and I managed to postpone it until I was 50." He applied to the Vancouver Fringe Festival, which chooses its participants by lottery. Every name called was another bullet dodged until the very last performance slot, #160, went to him. "I leaned back on the chair and screamed out, 'Oh, no, my life is over.' I'd been writing screenplays for 25 years, but I'd never done a one-person show."

"Bi, Hung, Fit...and Married" premiered in September of 2012. Since then, he's performed it at the 2013 Queer Arts Festival in Vancouver and as part of the 2013 Seattle Fringe Festival. He also presented it at the International Conference on the Future of Monogamy and Nonmonogamy at the University of California, Berkeley, last February. Lianna often joins him on stage after the show for a talkback session with the audience. Each of these NYC Frigid Festival performances will offer an opportunity to speak with the couple (at a nearby location after the show, perhaps over drinks?).

Cohen says the greatest amount of conversation generated has centered not on sexual identity, but on the topic of non-monogamy, which, he notes, obligates the audience to confront their own "issues of personal and relationship stagnation." A less pleasant surprise: the pushback from gay men.

During Queer Arts Festival talkback session, recalls Cohen, an older gay couple challenged his declaration of attraction to men and women. "I had just bared my soul on stage," says Cohen, "and was sitting there with my wife, and this guy asks me, 'So are you telling me you believe bisexuality actually exists?' What can I say to that question? What can I say to people who think you go from straight to bi to gay?"

The strongest criticism came from within his own family when Cohen's father (who came out as gay 40 years ago) rejected his son's declaration of bisexuality, telling Lianna, "Mark's going to find a guy and leave you. He's gay. But fortunately, that wasn't true. We've been together 20 years, five of those with me being out."

The mission of his show, Cohen says, is to further the notion that "Humans are a lot more flexible and transformational than we as a culture allow. Modern relationships have to transform to allow for this fluidity. There are more single adults in the US now than any time in history. The vast majority of us do not participate in that (monogamous marriages). We are not broken, it's the narrative that is broken-the assumption being that any relationship that is not a lifelong one is a failure. Where did we get this idea?"

"Bi, Hung, Fit...and Married" is performed Fri 2/20 at 8:50 p.m., Mon 2/23 at 5:30 p.m., Sun 3/1 at 5:10 p.m., Mon 3/2 at 8:30 p.m., Thu 3/5 at 7:10 p.m. & Sat 3/7 at 3:20 p.m. At the Kraine Theater (85 E. Fourth St., btw. Bowery & Second Ave). For tickets ($15), visit horsetrade.info. Also visit bihungfit.com.


Scott Stiffler is a New York City based writer and comedian who has performed stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy. His show, "Sammy’s at The Palace. . .at Don’t Tell Mama"---a spoof of Liza Minnelli’s 2008 NYC performance at The Palace Theatre, recently had a NYC run. He must eat twice his weight in fish every day, or he becomes radioactive.


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