Every single time I put myself out into the world with a piece of writing about bisexuality, without fail someone comments saying I should “keep the sex behind closed doors,” or something to that effect. In a New York Times piece on coming out in the workplace in which I was quoted, a majority of the responses harkened to the same idea – that we shouldn’t be brandishing our bisexuality at all, that we should keep our pants on and our closet doors shut. And yet, at the same time, others tell us that bisexual invisibility is the fault of bisexuals and that if we want more visibility, we must come out and stay out.
Are you as conflicted as I am by these messages?
The truth of the matter regarding the coming out process is that it can routinely be more difficult for bisexuals to come out as opposed to gays and lesbians due to the fact that we have to constantly continue to come out to everyone we meet. Unlike a gay man who can introduce his significant other and be rightly identified as gay, for instance, our significant others do not necessarily proclaim our bisexuality, unless we are dating people of multiple genders at the same time.
This means that if we want our bisexual identity to be known, we must verbalize it to everyone we meet – sometimes multiple times. Without verbalizing our bisexuality, we are invisible as bisexuals.
Bisexual activist Robyn Ochs attested to exactly this predicament, saying:
“We tend to assume that a person’s sexual orientation corresponds to the sex of their current partner, so it is difficult for a monogamous person to make their bisexual identity visible to acquaintances. If we are silent, people will almost inevitably misread us. If we speak up, people may think we are providing Too Much Information.”
To be sure, in my own life I have gotten many mixed reactions the countless times I’ve come out to people as bi – from a former employer who asked me if that meant I “thought about sex twice as much as other people,” to friends who didn’t blink an eye; from potential dating prospects who assumed I’d cheat on them at some point or leave them for another gender, to those who thought it was a “turn on” that I was bisexual. Regardless of the potential reaction, however, I still have to come out constantly – sometimes multiple times a day – in order to be identified as bi, a part of myself in which I take pride.
When I reached out to the greater bisexual community for their thoughts and experiences on forever coming out of that ever-present proverbial closet, it was like a floodgate had been opened. All bisexuals have stories to tell about the continuous coming out process we all face for our entire lives and I’ve included just a handful in this piece.
“If you’re bi and married to someone monosexual (as I am; my wife identifies as lesbian), you have to come out to the monosexual friends (which is most of them) and then hope they won’t assume being bi means you’re not monogamous. Not because there’s any shame in being non-monogamous, but because you’d rather not deal with people seeing you as a ‘fair game’ for come-ons. Then there’s the fact that bi folk (myself included) are often members of larger Queer communities and coming out as bi specifically (rather than just sitting under the Queer umbrella) can seem like trying to call extra attention to yourself and what makes you different.’ I do come out as bisexual (over and over and over again, when I meet new people or enter new social spheres), but it never stops being scary. I’m always braced for hostility, incredulity and rejection.” ~ Francesca Maria Bongiorno
“If I had a nickel for everyone who got a confused look and said, ‘I thought you were gay??’… It happened again last week. I talk about my son and people assume that I am divorced. Well, I am divorced, but that was 23 years ago – I’m still quite happily married to his mother.” ~ Patrick RichardsFink
“…we have to repeatedly come out again and again because people don’t believe us the first time we come out. Coming out bisexual is also hard because we can become involved with dating people we think have accepted our bisexuality when we first come out to them, only to find out weeks or months later that their silence was not acceptance and they have been waiting for us to ‘get over’ our bisexuality or ‘pick a side.’” ~ Paige Listerud
“I’d also say you’re forever coming out because people keep not believing you or ‘forgetting’! It’s insanely frustrating. I’m not particularly close with my stepsiblings, but I still see them at least 6-8 times a year. And I find myself having to come out to them (and their girlfriends/wives) as bi over and over again… Likewise with co-workers. People just seem to forget. Yet I’ve never seen any of my co-workers forget who was straight or gay… And it makes me feel just a little bit crazy to be honest… How is it that people who should know this about me just can’t seem to remember?” ~ Sarah Stumpf
“…the ‘privilege’ of passing possessed by invisible minorities also carries as its counterweight the onus of having to actively announce one’s identity group membership in order to avoid being assumed to be other than one is, as well as feelings of guilt or discomfort that may arise when one is silent. If we are silent or neutral, we are subject to misinterpretation, invisibility and even the perception that we do not exist at all. We carry the weight of constantly having to make the decision of how and when to come out, and at what cost.” ~ Robyn Ochs
“I experience this in a weird way because I am a trans* bi person, but also often (visibly) disabled. If I don’t have my cane, then my gender is often the thing people remember about me; for example, “Oh yeah, the trans* person with the blue shirt.” Or, if I have my cane, it is, “Oh yeah, the one with the cane.” These two seem to often completely usurp my coming out as bi… It all seems to come down to actual physical visibility and characteristics. If I have my cane it serves as the strongest visual cue. Without that, my gender nonconformity and trans* status is marked. But, unless I constantly wore a bi pride shirt, [my bisexuality] would be forgotten due to a lack of visual markers.” ~ Aud Traher
Then we have the issue of erasure in the media, even when our bisexuality is originally announced. At the beginning of this month, a teen came out online as bi. As bisexual activist John Clark attests, “I read about a bisexual teen coming out to his mom. Within hours, he became ‘gay’ in the social network. How can we be out when erased?”
Wearing Your Bi Pride
Cynthia Connors a member of NYC’s Bi MeetUp Group utilizes a cheerful “Hi, I’m Bi!” speech when she meets people. She also has some advice for ways bisexuals can be more visible without necessarily being more vocal, especially in the workplace: “Decorate your cubical with nice bi pride stuff (ex: a small bi pride flag in your pencil holder, flower vase or potted plant), then when people ask about the flag, you can tell them… Bring in bi pride cupcakes and cookies on September 23rd – it’s hard for them to preach about how you are dammed and going to hell when they are busy scarfing down pink, purple and blue goodies.”
Unfortunately, the pink, purple and blue bisexual pride colors are not necessarily readily identifiable to those outside of the bisexual community, as bisexual activist Estraven Andrews attested, saying, “I have worn my bi pride bracelet since I got it six years ago to out myself as bisexual. But in six years, not one person who was not bisexual has recognized the bi pride colors. Even wearing the bi pride colors, I cannot come out as being bi… We can’t win. If we wear something subtle, no one notices. If we wore a T-shirt proclaiming ‘I AM BISEXUAL,’ we would be accused of ‘flaunting’ our sexuality in people’s faces. And then we would be asked to join threesomes by strange couples and subjected to hostile remarks.”
While we will continue the fight for bisexual visibility in our own lives and in greater society, I would like to leave you with one last thought from bisexual activist L. King: “Fortunately, your realization about your own sexuality offers you the opportunity to move beyond stereotypes and accept your bisexuality for what it really is: one more equally valid expression of this complex world of human sexuality.”
Happy Bisexual Pride Day and a BIG thank you to everyone who contributed to this piece, as well as those who provided quotes and anecdotes that did not make it in.