Lois Shearing explores what it means to be out, but not out-out as a bisexual and why it’s important to respect our identity, even if we sometimes let ourselves ‘pass’.
“You’re b-sexual? I thought you were lesbian,” a colleague whispered to me over drinks recently.
I was so tickled by his mis-pronounciation in English and the way he lowered his voice as if sharing a secret with me, I couldn’t even hit him with my usual sarcastic “of course you did.”
Like a lot of bisexuals, I’m in closet-purgatory at work. They’ve met my same-gender partner (and even if they haven’t, I talk about her enough), yet I’m out to very few of them.
Despite the pins on my backpack (thanks Biscuit mag), most have assumed I’m a lesbian. Even though I’m so open with them about my girlfriend, I still feel uncomfortable coming out to them.
I often find that thanks to some heavily internalized biphobia, telling people what kind of sexual I am feels just as scary as tell them I like girls. Worse than that sometimes, it feels dirty.
Bisexuals, especially bisexual men, are the least like group in the LGBT+ to be out. Only about 30% of bi women are out to their closest loved ones, with that number plume ting to only 12% of men.
I’d argue that that number might be even lower. For all the closeted-as-staight bi people I know, I also know those in closet- purgatory, passing as gay or lesbian.
These people, who in my experience often have a preference for the same gender, have already faced rejection for their same-gender desire and can’t bare the idea 0f being rejected by the queer spaces they have access to for their bisexuality. If you can’t exist safely within hetronormative society, as bisexuals can’t, the thought that you can’t come in from the cold into queer spaces is terrifying.
As the bisexual activist and writer Zachary Zane wrote recently, sometimes you don’t intend to pass as gay, but constantly challenging bi-erasure and the denial of your identity is exhausting. You’re not personally responsible for the “bi brand”, sometimes it’s just easier to let them assume.
“It is 100% okay to not correct someone every single time. It’s okay to not correct people most of the times. It’s okay to be tired, and to think to yourself, “I really don’t want to have to talk about myself right now,” or “I don’t want to have to justify my existence with someone I just met.”” says Zane, in regards to why it’s sometimes just okay to let people ‘pass’ you as gay.
If you can’t exist safely within hetronormative society, as bisexuals can’t, the though that you can’t come in from the cold into queer spaces is terrifying.
It may seem trivial, but after working for years to come out to yourself and accept your sexuality, having people dismiss it and refuse to listen feels belittling and frustrating, especially when coming from gay people who experience the same dismissal from straight people that we do.
Bisexual erasure, or as activist and writercalls in her seminal book Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, coercive-passing, is cited as a contributing factor as why the bi community may be facing such an epidemic of mental illness.
As the It Gets Better campaigned discovered, although feelings of internalized Shame and mental illness decreases for gay men and lesbians after coming out, the same can’t be said for bi+ people (CW: link contains the word trans****l)
In it’s study, the campaign found ‘that depression symptoms, namely thoughts of suicide, decreased from 42 percent to 12.3 percent as teens in all groups transitioned into adulthood and suicide attempts decreased from 15.9 to 2.9 percent. But the “mostly gay” and bisexual teens did not report a significant decrease in some measures of suicidal thoughts or behaviors.’
Of course, the micro-aggression of having people either refuse to call you by, or be continually ignorant about your identity isn’t solely, or even the main reason why lack of self-acceptance and mental illness may be so high among bisexuals. But it does indicate the lack of acceptance and solidarity that may make the problem so widespread. So although a bisexual by any other name would be just as sweet, please call me by mine.
You can follow Lois on twitter at @LoisShearing