Coming Out Bi: A Life-Long Process
Guest post by A.J. Walkley for our series on Bi Pride Day
The idea of “coming out” of the proverbial closet as LGBT+ is thought to be a singular event for many – you come out to your friends, family and possibly coworkers, and that’s it, you are out. For bisexuals, however, coming out oftentimes can be a daily experience, sometimes multiple times within a 24-hour period. The irony comes with the mixed messages the bisexual community routinely receives for being out. In a New York Times piece from May 2013 on coming out in the workplace in which I was quoted, a majority of the responses to the article harkened to the 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.
The truth of the matter is that it can be more difficult for bisexuals to come out as opposed to gays and lesbians. According to a PEW Research Center study surveying LGBT Americans, bisexuals have a lower rate of coming out to family and friends than gays and lesbians (28% v. 77% and 71% respectively), which might correlate with the fact that we have to constantly continue to come out to everyone we meet. We experience this in our individual lives and see it in the public lives of bisexual celebrities as well – just look at actress Evan Rachel Wood who has had to affirm and reaffirm her bisexuality since she is married to a man. Unlike a lesbian who can introduce her significant other and be rightly identified as a lesbian, for instance, our significant others do not necessarily proclaim our bisexuality unless we are dating people of multiple genders at the same time. For those of us who are single or in monogamous relationships, if we want our bisexual identity to be known, we must verbalize it to everyone we meet. Without verbalizing our bisexuality, we are invisible as bisexuals.
Bisexual activist, writer and speaker Robyn Ochs attested to this predicament, saying, “Because of binary thinking, and bisexuals’ categorization by others as heterosexual or homosexual depending upon the perceived sex of their partner, bisexuality tends to be invisible except as a point of conflict. 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.”
When I reached out to the greater bisexual community for their thoughts and experiences on forever coming out of that ever-present 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 below:
Francesca Maria Bongiorno:
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.
If I had a nickel for everyone who got a confused look and said, ‘I thought you were gay??’… It happened again last week.
In polite cubicle circles, we do not talk about sexuality. We talk about our families. This gets interpreted to assumed sexuality. And everyone moves on. Except for us bisexuals, of course. I find myself forever searching for the opportune time to correct the misconception.
Being responsible for ‘educating’ every lover, every stranger, every friend, everyone who crosses our path is a form of constantly having to come out. Having to come out, repeatedly, as the bi man I am, instead of the bi man in everyone’s head, is psychically and emotionally exhausting.
…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.’
Bisexuality is actually the reverse of the Woody Allen claim that being bisexual means you’re twice as likely to have a date on a Saturday night. In point of fact, you’re twice as likely to lose your date when you come out.
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?
While bisexuals will continue to promote bisexual visibility in our own lives and in greater society, I would like to leave you with one last thought from bisexual activist and BiNet USA president Faith Cheltenham, who writes, “If you’re a bisexual person and proud of it, you are courageous, and you are strong. If you are bisexual, you are a free thinker and a free being. If you are bisexual, you don’t fit into a mold; you make them.”
A.J. Walkley is a novelist, blogger and board member of BiNet USA. Walkley holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Dickinson College and is a former Peace Corps health volunteer, stationed in Malawi, Africa. Walkley has three novels to her name: Vuto (2013), Queer Greer (2012) and Choice (2009). Born and raised in Connecticut, she currently writes for The American Institute of Bisexuality’s Bi Magazine and The Huffington Post out of Arizona.