Bisexual advice: To Come Out or Not to Come Out as Bisexual?

Over the last few decades, the notion of same-sex attraction has increased in terms of mainstream acceptance, legal rights and Recognized in some parts of the world. A growing prominence and Visibility in mainstream culture is a strong indication that being queer is no longer verboten. The rite of revealing oneself to be gay or lesbian is a virtually universally recognized concept; it would be hard to find many people unaware of what is understood by the euphemistic, innocent-seeming expression “coming out.” However, bisexuals are not as readily recognized as needing this important step.

Coming out is an emotionally trying and sometimes dangerous path towards self-actualization. The decision (and the factors one must consider before it), have been documented and described in ways as vastly different as individuals themselves—even those who’ve never faced such a struggle can identify.

These chronicled stories make a significant case for the importance of coming out; for the well-being and strength of both the individual and the queer community as a whole. The greater the ratio of people openly identifying as having same-sex orientation, the more difficult it becomes for homophobes and moral objectivists to argue that same-sex attraction and sexual behaviour is abnormal or deviant.

While there are scores of movies on the subject, and pretty much every young-adult TV series features the obligatory gay kid and their coming-out saga, there are nowhere near as many depictions of bisexual characters, leaving those of us out here in the real world little to identify with. Revelations of this identity are even more scarce, when they are shown they’re played for laughs (There’s Something About Mary, Dodgeball), an excuse to show girls making out (See: previous) or, the revelation is, by the character, deliberately intended to spark controversy within the narrative, as opposed to an unfortunate consequence (Velvet Goldmine, which, however, in other ways provides a unique and fun display of bi pride)

Another way mainstream entertainment has skirted the issue is to show characters engaging in bisexual behaviour—from kissing (that infamous scene in Cruel Intentions), to “what the hell, I’ll try it” one-night-stands, to relationships with both genders, (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) without the character ever addressing the concept of bisexuality. (Was anyone else confused when Willow started dating Tara and suddenly was gay, never mind the years she spent head-over-heels for both Xander and Oz?)

There are few, if any, pop culture representations depicting realistic personalities, be they fiction or not, as they struggle with the need to reveal their bisexuality, no realistic reflections of the diverse issues and reactions one might be confronted with. The reasons to come out are left unclear for the bisexual individual.

So the question is not just whether to come out or not, but also why? What issues are relevant? Who needs to know? Who should know, and when does it become necessary?

Something to remember is that “coming out” is not one singular event, it isn’t a binary “you-are-or-you-aren’t.”. As for those coming out as homosexual, people growing to understand their bisexual identity are never completely “in” or “out” of the closet; coming out is in an ongoing process that never really ends. We are constantly meeting new people and finding ourselves in new situations, and even if you never hide a thing, make it a point to tell everyone from family and friends to disinterested cashiers or your parish minister, and write “I’m Bisexual” on a nametag, one’s sexuality is never implicit; you’re still coming out over and over again as you shift from “undefined” todefined”.

By that definition, the same logic does apply, to a certain extent, to the straight-identified person as well—nobody “knows” officially if someone is straight until they reveal themselves to be so, but because heterosexuality is seen as the default or “normal” setting to which bi/homosexuality is the “other”, it’s much more likely that one will be “presumed straight until proven otherwise”

This notion is one that is particularly problematic and is quite relevant to the issue of coming out, as it rears its ugly head over and over again the more you explore different societal and communal attitudes and beliefs. By presenting it as a deviation from the norm, as opposed to one of many possible-yet-common options, the subtle yet dangerous precedent is laid out, for the equation of same-sex attraction with the “undesirable other” always present in the dichotomies people find familiar and comfortable: innocent/guilty, normal/abnormal, right/wrong.

It is here that bisexuality has an opportunity to break the dichotomy. While many still lump bisexuals into the “other” category with homosexuals, growing bisexual presence is also slowly introducing shades of grey, thus blurring the boundaries.

In light of this, one issue considered crucial by many, is that by staying silent, you are helping to reinforce the very hierarchy that makes the decision so difficult. Many believe that hiding one’s sexuality is tantamount to agreeing with those who find it something to be ashamed of. Instead, making one’s voice heard, even to the smallest personal degree, will present a dissenting view of those preconceived notions.

The survival and continued progress of establishing visibility and acceptance of the bisexual community, still widely considered socially and morally questionable, is impossible without having the numbers to back it up. However, we cannot accomplish these goals by forfeiting the happiness and quality of life of individuals..

Sacrificing too much personal fulfillment in the name of public good leads to resentment toward your own community if your personal life suffers. When coming out can negatively affect your life, it doesn’t matter how many people are out; if ruined lives are what the public sees of bisexuality, they’ll determine bisexuality is to blame (and likely not their own judgmental attitudes towards it)

In addition to sharing most of the prejudice and bigotry aimed at same-sex attraction, the process of making bisexuality public comes with its own set of new challenges, prejudices and misconceptions. While straight moralizers tend to lump bisexuals along with gays in their denouncement, support from the gay/queer community is often surprisingly lacking, despite the mutual concerns. It’s often seen as a negligible issue compared to their struggle, particularly when many bisexuals have the luxury of “passing” as straight due to appearance or having a partner of the opposite sex.

Everyone has their own unique collection of consequences, pros and cons to weigh, in addition to those more universal attitudes towards bisexuality, when considering coming out. For some, the safety of ambiguity on the matter means they won’t be kicked out of their home unexpectedly without the resources to make it as an adult independently, others choose silence to protect their right to see their children from a homophobic spouse or ex who would gladly paint them as a deviant. For many, however, challenging the prejudices of a parent, ex, or co-worker by coming out as bisexual—and not fitting the negative stereotypes—can be a healing experience after years of collected shame.

Even keeping quiet except for an anonymous account on an internet community space can be a significant and meaningful step forwards into self-acceptance and sharing advice.

Most bi-identified people inevitably choose a level of openness somewhere between the two extremes; bisexuality can fall into a grey area of self-identification. While some people find it a big part of who they are, and a crucial detail in understanding their life, there are those who may experience bisexual feelings but because they’re in a long-term (hetero- or homosexual) relationship, don’t ever see themselves acting on it. For those, it may feel a rather inconsequential part of their self-definition, and may see the subject being blown out of proportion, creating insecurity or trust issues that needn’t be there. However, in these cases it is well worth considering whether your relationship can indeed be healthy if you’re unable to reveal the whole truth about yourself, or to ask yourself if you’re comfortable being with a partner who has firm prejudices about something they don’t know you to be.
A need-to-know basis might work for some, and could be the best solution for all involved. Others might only feel held back by secrecy, and unloading/sharing the information with trusted (and later more casual) friends can be a therapeutic exercise as well with the unburdening of secrets. I personally advocate complete honesty from the beginning, within the context of any sexual or romantic relationship, but others do prefer not to know all the details of issues they may wish to turn a blind eye to, and that too is a highly individual choice to make.

By breaking down stereotypes and gaining recognition, gay and lesbian couples have demonstrated their capacity and desire for the “normal” lifehaving regular jobs, raising children, driving to soccer practiceIn short, a facsimile of the traditional “nuclear” family. As many follow the model expected of hetero couples as closely as possible for a pair whose only deviancy from said model is that their genitals match, we have seen more and more acceptance of the gay lifestyle, and the perceived threat of dangerous and perverse queers is slowly being worn away, However, as the mimicking of hetero behaviour patterns allows the mainstream straight presence to see gays as “just like them”, this can seem in some ways to make the struggle for bi acceptance even more difficult.

As in many other areas, the bisexual relationship is forced to question or challenge the social script that exists about acceptable/unacceptable relationship practices. Specifically, there is the polite fiction practiced by many couples; that potential attraction to a person who is not your spouse/significant other just doesn’t happen, and if it does then that is a sign of trouble in the relationship.

While this is a broad generalization, we can see examples of how this constructed understanding is reinforced and performed; whether it is not allowing a partner to visit a strip club or partake in porn, judgmental attitudes towards your lover’s past, or even being upset if the partner’s eyes glance too long at a random attractive body, these reactions aren’t challenged, and are in many ways seen as inherently justifiedeven in your fantasies you should be faithful, it implies.

However, revealing one’s bisexuality, particularly within an existing relationship does not allow for this fiction to flourish or in fact exist at all. Even at its most simple interpretation, bisexual identity is an acknowledgement and admission to (at least!) two potential sources of desire, capable of existing simultaneously within a single individual. While these factors may make the process seem daunting and barely worth the hassle, keep in mind those reasons that make you WANT to come outthink of all the fun you’re opening the doors to! In addition to gaining a sense of community, there’s the possibility of exploring new lovers, new relationships, new ways to experiment, and most importantly, yourself.

Ultimately, the decision whether or not to come out and to what degree is intensely personal, and the variables that affect this decision cannot possibly be summed up across the board with any one sentence or a simple proclamation of DO IT or DON’T. I encourage you to listen to other people’s stories, issues, concerns, experiences and triumphs, considering which factors may be relevant to your own situation.