You Need Help: How Can I Be My Authentic Self While Navigating Bi-Erasure and Biphobia?

Q:

I came out as bi/queer a few months ago in my early 40s and have been seeing a queer therapist to help navigate the rollercoaster with my partner, a cis man, and life with young kids. I have many queer friends and have spent a good amount of time in queer spaces, but the bi people around me seem to mostly be “quietly bi.” Queerness feels like a really important part of me, and the idea of being quietly queer or just not making a thing about coming out, feels similar to being closeted. I told my therapist that I feel like people, including some lesbian friends, think that bisexuality is like, just a little queer or maybe “half straight.” I feel hella queer! But I feel self-conscious about claiming that in a visible way or even sharing that coming out has been a pretty significant life event. I feel like people think bi-identity is like a side-note/non-issue. I know I need to just call bullshit on that but it’s hard, especially with awkwardness of coming out late in life, and several friends saying they knew all along.

My closest friend, a radical queer person in her 50s, has been urging me to make my coming out process really about myself (reading books, looking inwards) and not so much about experiencing queerness in community or in more external ways. (This was in part because my partner was feeling inadequate and worried about me being in queer spaces; he has made a ton of progress there and is encouraging me to go to community events, etc.) My friend is like, this can be a part of you, and you’re still the same person and it doesn’t have to be a whole thing.

I’m out at work, with my parents, with random friends, but I’m pretty visible because of community work and social media presence, and it feels super awkward (but necessary) to come out in bigger spaces. Are people just going to eye-roll me when I come out as bi? (I feel like the queer label resonates more but “bi” helps make sense of my relationship with a straight person.)

How can I be my authentic self and explore queerness and queer joy, while navigating all the bi-erasure and biphobia that tells me my identity doesn’t really matter?

A:

Hello fellow bisexual and welcome to the queer fold! I am so thrilled for you that you found yourself and queer identity and that you are excited about living your hella queer life!

There are so, so many different ways to be queer, and to be bisexual specifically. For some people, it feels right to be, as you put it, “quietly bi” or queer, and some people, like you, really want to make a splash about coming out and put their queer identity front and centre in their lives. Neither approach is wrong, and of course there is a spectrum here between these two options. There’s also the possibility that you might move around on this scale at different times in your life. I know I have. Sometimes I go from being in your face queer to quietly bi in the span of a day!

One of the issues bi+ people face in terms of being out and loud and proud is that sometimes our partners don’t indicate our queerness to other people. This isn’t our fault, it’s just the result of living in a dominantly monosexual world where everyone’s orientations are assumed by outsiders based on the gender of their current partner. It happens to bi+ people in queer or same-sex relationships too, but some of us (me included) would at least rather be mistaken for gay than straight. But it still sucks to not feel like your true self isn’t being recognized as you move through the world, no matter what you’re being read as.

For queer/bi people like you and me, monosexism (the assumption that everyone is either straight or gay) and biphobia (hostility etc towards bi+ people) are unfortunate issues that we have to live with. I hear a lot of the effects of these shitty realities in the fears and worries you shared in your letter: “Are people just going to eye-roll me when I come out as bi?”, feeling “self-conscious about claiming that in a visible way or even sharing that coming out has been a pretty significant life event,” and worrying that others think “bi-identity is like a side-note/non-issue.”

I want to encourage you to follow your heart and do what feels right to you as the hella queer, queer enough, legitimately queer person that you are. We can’t get rid of biphobia and monosexism – I wish! – but we can work to do our best not to let them get us down too much. You can acknowledge that you have these fears and validate them while at the same time deciding to march gayly forward with coming out and being out as it feels good and affirming for you.

Only you can decide if and how you want to come out in bigger spaces, as you say, but let’s try to put you in a position where you’re making that decision not out of fear or perceived biphobia. And in terms of what words you use to announce yourself and your delightful queerness, there’s no reason you can’t share multiple identities / identifying words when you come out. Use queer and bi! Explain as explicitly as you want how you feel about the terms. You could even share that you are using bi because it helps make sense of your current relationship but that queer resonates more for you. I’m sure plenty of people will recognize their own feelings in yours.

You ask about “navigating all the bi-erasure and biphobia that tells me my identity doesn’t really matter.” In other words, how to go gayly forward as I just recommended. You do this by building bi+ community and by integrating yourself in bi positive queer spaces like Autostraddle. You can’t control other people’s reactions to your coming out (or to anything else for that matter). But you can create for yourself a network of people who unequivocally support your bisexuality/queerness and who understand the specific joys and challenges we face.

Are there any bi groups to join where you live? Do you have any bi+ friends you could reach out to and form a group of your own? I knew someone once who had bi brunches at their house regularly for all the bi+ people they knew. What about social media or apps to connect with local bi+ people for new friendships? Are there any queer organizations with bi projects you could volunteer for? Queer meetups to check out? Bars can be great, but other venues I think can be more fruitful for making deeper connections.

Who knows, in your new efforts at being loud and proud as a bi/queer person, you might urge some of those quietly bi people to be a little louder sometimes, if it feels right and safe to them. You might become a role model for younger bi+ people who need to see a bi adult thriving. You might help other closeted older folks who are shy about coming out as bi and who don’t feel queer enough.

You mention your close queer friend who is urging you to come out and discover yourself in one way, by looking inwards. It might be that was the best way for them or they may be suggesting that because they think it will be the best fit for you. But a friend should ultimately be supporting you in deciding how you want to come into your queerness and be a queer person in the world, not telling you how you should do it. No, coming out doesn’t have to be a whole thing, but it certainly can if you want it to be! And there’s no reason that you can’t both look inwards and do some reading (I have suggestions below!) and participate in external queer community.

Also, re: some of your lesbian friends saying bisexuality is like “half straight”: not cool! It’s up to you whether you want to take on educating these friends on misconceptions about bisexuality or not. But I would encourage you to seek out queer friends, whether they’re fellow bi+ people or not, who don’t think like this and who accept you for the particular flavor of queer that you are, no less or more queer than anyone else in the community.

As Autostraddle’s resident lesbrarian I can’t help closing my advice with some bi+ books recommendations. These are (mostly nonfiction) books that will hopefully both help you make sense of yourself and arm you when you (sadly) inevitably encounter people who don’t accept your queerness at face value. I hope they also make you excited about bi+ activism and community. Check these out:

Greedy: Notes from a Bisexual Who Wants Too Much by Jen Winston

Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution by Shiri Eisner

The Romance Recipe by Ruby Barrett (a romance with great representation of a newly out bi woman in her thirties!)

Bi: The Hidden Culture, History, and Science of Bisexuality by Julia Shaw

People Change by Vivek Shraya

The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg

Tomboyland by Melissa Faliveno

Vow of Celibacy by Erin Judge (a slice of life novel about a bi fat woman in her 30s)

Much love and luck to you on your new queer journey!


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Casey

Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer, librarian, and new parent. She writes for Book Riot and Autostraddle about queer and/or bookish stuff. Ask her about cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer books, drinking tea, and her baby. Her website is Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian. Find her on Twitter, Litsy, Storygraph Goodreads and Instagram.

Casey has written 124 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. LW, this is so amazing. Congratulations––on having the courage and joy and self-reflection to not only realize this part of yourself fully, but be so excited about it!

    I agree with Casey that it seems like you know yourself and what you want, and this letter sort of seems like wanting permission to do it? I think AS gives you enthusiastic permission! To be super public, to make a big deal out of coming out if you want (or not if you don’t), to read, and to intentionally prioritize being in queer spaces – all of it if you want.

    But I also don’t want to minimize the discomfort of what you’re navigating, and the often very real prejudice or assumption from outside and within the queer community. I think these feelings are common for those of us who are queer but are in straight-presenting relationships, regardless of what age/stage we came out. And it’s not just bi people, right? I live in a rural area that is very nuclear-family focused; we have friends where one of the members of the couple is trans but within our town they are read/perceived as just any other (presumed straight) family with a couple of kids. Which is both great and also possibly complicated, depending on what you want/who you are.

    I am a fellow queer person who is in a longterm monogamous marriage with a cis straight man (who is very supportive), and has young kids; I have similarly complicated insecurities/concerns as you do about the complexity of being queer/bi in gay spaces and the larger world, even though I came out in middle school and was principally in gay relationships before meeting my husband (he affectionately refers to himself as my “rare but lasting exception”). For instance, I work in higher ed and next year am teaching a class on queer listening, sonic practices, and art, and I almost felt sheepish proposing the seminar (like, are people judging that I don’t have the “right” to teach this topic?).

    Finally: I mentioned this once previously in an AS comment section, but I really adored Melanie Fields’ (Jo from ALOTO) interview on the podcast Come Out, Come Out – she speaks very candidly and generously about her experience navigating her queer identity and community while also recently marrying a straight cis man.

  2. All of this advice isI’ve got a bi pin and an inclusive pride flag pin on all my bags, and those tiny gestures make me feel much more seen in negotiating public spaces as a very femme presenting bi woman in a small southern town –

  3. YOU ARE NOT ALONE, original advice seeker. I’ve been having this struggle for a long time. I’m afab, femme, pansexual, and in a relationship with a cis man. It has taken time for me to find a balance, especially since I live in a place that I don’t always feel safe being out. I take a similar approach to Gina by wearing a small, subtle, pride pin or bracelet every day. Most days it makes life feel a little better. I am often complemented on the item(s) by people who later come out to me who also don’t necessarily read as queer. I often tell them where I got it which usually confirms that it is indeed a pride item. While the subtlety often doesn’t make me read as queer and leaves me mostly invisible – It does seem to mark me as someone who is likely safe to come out to and facilitates our coming out to each other. Another thing that has given me peace is volunteering to do remote work for organizations that support bi+ people specifically.

  4. Casey thanks so much for mentioning Vow of Celibacy (my novel)! I’m also a bi+ woman in my 40s with a spouse and two young kids. And a happily married character in the novel I’m working on comes out as bi in his early 40s too. I think it’s more common than we can really ever know, and certainly more than we see represented in media. I know tons of bi+ people married to same- and opposite-sex partners. In my work — and in the work of a lot of other creators out there — exploring how queer characters navigate these questions and our diverse identities will always be a major theme. Here’s to being hella queer!

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