Oh, bi the way…

BiWeek Featured ImageI often quote the study completed by the Centers for Disease control in the early 90s whose conclusions included the line, “Americans would rather admit to being heroin addicts than being bisexual.” So I am hardly the first person to notice that bisexual visibility is fraught. As one friend said, “My orientation is bisexual, but my temperament is monogamous, then I fell in love with a man, and there’s just no natural moment to mention to your future in-laws, ‘oh, by the way, I’m bisexual.'” Later, when we were both members of the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Chorus, she said the chorus finally gave her a way bring it up with many people as she would try to sell tickets to the concerts. “No, you don’t have to be gay or lesbian to sing in the group, we’ve had a few straight members. But I’m not one of them.”

Most of the bi people I know (or I should say, most of the people I happen to know are bisexual) have wound up in long-term opposite-sex relationships. Just as a matter of statistics, there are more straight people, so the number of potential partners who happen to be opposite sex is much larger than the number who are same-sex. Some bi people, like my husband, end up in long-term relationships with same-sex partners. That same CDC study I mentioned earlier found that about one-third of people who self-identify as gay are actually bisexual, but keep quiet about it.

Because society—even folks who think of themselves as enlightened—assumes that people will settle down as part of a couple, when you do get into a long term relationship, colleagues and acquaintances assume they can infer your orientation. If you wind up with an opposite-sex partner and they are aware of any of your previous same-sex relationships, they assume it was an experimental phase. If you wind up with a same-sex partner and they are aware of any of your opposite-sex relationships, they assume you were in denial.

And gay people like me who actually did try to convince ourselves that maybe we weren’t really gay but actually bi don’t help your cause. Because there was a time when I described myself as bi, and because many gay people do that as part of their own coming out process, a lot of people assume that’s what everyone who describes themselves as bi is doing. For which I apologize.

I do know that the only way to decrease the stigma of being bisexual is to be out. Just as the only thing that has made people warm to the notion of gay and lesbian rights was for more and more of us to be out to our families, friends, neighbors, and colleagues, that’s what it’s going to take for bisexuals. Yes, it’s scary. But being open and honest is very liberating.

So, come out, come out, wherever you are!

9 thoughts on “Oh, bi the way…

  1. Bi erasure and denial is a terrible thing. More needs to be done to prevent it. Getting the concept of “Hey, it’s okay to like both boys and girls.” Some people think bi people don’t exist, or are just in denial. It needs to end.

  2. “Just as a matter of statistics, there are more straight people, so the number of potential partners who happen to be opposite sex is much larger than the number who are same-sex.”

    I think this is part of it, but I think we also live in a society that does not encourage people to think in bisexual possibilities. Society mostly feeds us ideals of heterosexual romance and heterosexual sex. If one’s preferences do not fall strictly into that, then one has AN alternative: one is gay. And even that is not exactly universally accepted {cough cough wild understatement cough cough}.

    A man who dates women? Straight. When he dates a man? Gay, and was just denying the truth all this time.

    A woman who dates women? Gay. When she dates dates a man? Straight, and we knew that her girlfriends were just “experiments.”

    Crush on a boy AND a girl? Way wrong there; pick one! Like the torturous mental gymnastics you have described some homosexual people (including yourself) making to try to be straight, so some bisexual folks make to be only one or the other. I know I sure did.

    If this comes as a little snarky, it really is not meant to be; I am being sincere. I think that, in a vacuum without conditioning, expectations, and stigmas, we would discover that a much larger portion of the population is bisexual than self-reporting currently suggests. But I am BIased. 😉

    1. There are follow-ups half-written in my drafts queue which make similar points, that I decided to save for later to keep this focused. Particularly since this is bi visibility week, and I didn’t want to gay-splain or man-splain or monosexual-splain. I can do that next week!

      Right now, I can just say, “you go, bi grrl!”

  3. I’ve borrowed an idea from the Episcopal Church to deal with folks for whom “bisexual” is a temporary identity on their way to something else and those like me for whom bisexuality is a permanent state (or as permanent as anything in life is). In the church we have the transitional diaconate for those in training to become priests (and who know that they want to be priests) and we have the perpetual diaconate for those called to serve in that role. Those called to serve as deacons had to do a lot of work to reclaim their order as it had been appropriated by the priest track and it was assumed that no one would want to be ‘just’ a deacon. Society seems to assume that no one wants to be bisexual and that it is only a transitional phase. Not me, sign me up for the order of the perpetual bisexual 🙂

  4. Thank you. I never quite understood where I fell on the scale but I felt there was a special stigma attached to being bi. It felt like you were either slutty and would be seen as someone who would just sleep with anyone or you just couldn’t make up your mind. I felt so super aware of my feelings for women but assumed I was bi so I closeted that part of me out of shame. I even had gay friends give me a hard time. I refused to be made out as a slut or confused. I knew I liked women and I thought I was supposed to like guys so I just went with the path of least resistance. I figured I didn’t need to really explore my sexuality. I am now upset with how I ignored who I was and ultimately how it has brought me to revisit my self- homophobia. I have over the past two years, come out as bi to all of my close friends.

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