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.wp_postsQueerness 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.wp_postsI 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 “biwp_postshelps 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?
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!)
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!
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.