Howdy! I’m an out and proud bisexual woman. A good friend of mine who identifies as lesbian recently asked me why bi+ folx don’t just stay closeted and in hetero relationships to avoid the prejudice, pain, and judgement that so often comes with being gay. I was a bit taken aback by this question. I talked to her about that a lot of bi+ folx don’t come out, possibly for that reason; finding community for myself in queer spaces; that dating men vs dating women isn’t just substituting genitalia; that I feel different levels of attraction to different genders; mental health in the bi+ community; that being out is important to break heteronormativity and that we should all be fighting to crush it; etc etc. But she still feels like she doesn’t get why someone would “choose” to date someone of the same sex if they didn’t “have” to because of being gay.
These conversations have been challenging my perspective on being out as bi+. I struggle with classic bi mental gymnastics of “am I queer enough,” and I’ve started to wonder, “Why do I date women if I don’t have to? Am I forcing space in queer community for some reason?” The question is really screwing with my brain. Could you provide some outside perspective on why other bi+ folx come out or bother to not be in straight-appearing relationships? As someone who mostly knows folx who identify as either gay or straight, it would help me to get outside of my own perspective. Thanks!!
Meg Jones Wall, Writer
Oh friend, this sounds like a really difficult conversation, especially given that this is someone queer that you love and trust. And I feel like the question of “why would someone come out when they could stay in the closet” is inherently problematic, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but I want to start by celebrating this particular identity that we share.
Bisexuality is beautiful, and nuanced, and complex, and frequently misunderstood. As bisexual, pansexual, and/or sexually fluid people, we can have so many different kinds of relationships, attractions, and communities; can connect with people in a wide variety of ways; can participate in self-love and self-discovery through all sorts of experiences. I’ve learned so much about myself through relationships with people of different genders, and I love that I can be attracted to all different kinds of people, with different identities and different kinds of lives. To me, that’s not a problematic thing that we have to hide — it’s something wonderful that we should get to celebrate and explore.
I think it’s odd to assume that people only come out so that they can date people of a different gender or identity than they did before. There are dozens and dozens of reasons to come out, but I think “because I wanted to” is a perfectly valid one. Sometimes we simply want to be seen for the full and complete person that we are, and coming out allows us to do that no matter who we’re dating. Bisexuality is a perfectly valid identity to claim, and doesn’t have to be tied to who you choose (or choose not) to date. I also think that seeing bisexual people as somehow “choosing to suffer” as out and queer (as opposed to the suffering that your friend seems to want us to do by pretending to be someone we’re not, or willingly hiding our identities in “straight-passing” relationships because it’s allegedly “easier”) is a really specific way of viewing the world, and completely overlooks the erasure that our communities so often face in queer spaces.
We get to be in relationships, romantic or otherwise, with whoever we like. It’s a privilege that we have, a joy, a gift. Being bisexual is a queer identity, just like being a lesbian is — and your friend making you question yourself for wanting to be out, acting like you’re “not as queer” because you somehow have the option to opt-out of her definition of queer relationships, to me feels like an insensitive and even harmful thing.
You belong in queer community. You are part of the queer community. You are queer enough. Bisexuality is valid. Being out is a choice you get to make, for absolutely any reason you like – even if it’s just because you want to be.
What does the world gain from having more struggling, closeted bisexuals hiding in straight-passing relationships, or pretending to be something that they’re not? How could that possibly be better than people celebrating the full magic of who they are?
Rachel Kincaid, Former Managing Editor
I’ve been thinking about why this question your friend posed feels so odd to me — it has the ring of one of those intended gotcha questions that people ask to try to prove a point, although I think from context it sounds like it was meant genuinely. What I am trying to puzzle through in response to wondering why a bisexual person would ever be open about bisexuality (which is different than the question of why we would date someone else queer, though we’ll get to that) is how that’s different than really any other choice we make about self-disclosure.
There’s a thread of social narrative around bisexuality that figures it as something exotic, totally unique in terms of identity formation, an edge case — in reality, there are a lot of identities or even behaviors that can offer us community, connection, or pleasure in some contexts and isolation or stigma in others. Why do people share their political values publicly when that could cause conflict with some people in their life? Why would anyone talk about their kink life with vanilla friends they aren’t going to have sex with when it could lead to stigma? Why would anyone, say, disclose past trauma when it’s scary and vulnerable and isn’t going to make the trauma go away?
Put this way, the answers are, I think, pretty obvious — they’re the same as what Meg talks about eloquently above, and are pretty commonsense. Emotional intimacy and authentic connection, even casually, are basic human needs, and they aren’t possible without sharing our internal experiences with others, so we sometimes make the considered choice to do so despite risk. In all the examples I just shared, there are also people who choose to never do those things, and in those cases, I think we also consider the reasons pretty clear: they considered the risk and it wasn’t worth it to them; their assessment of the possibility of the shame seemed more urgent than their assessment of the possibility of connection.
What I find interesting about your friend’s question is that the option to “stay closeted and in hetero relationships” isn’t at all exclusive to bisexuals — in fact, it’s historically been so common for gay or lesbian people that we have an entire vocabulary and community history around it, like ‘lavender marriages.’ Gay and lesbian people still do this! Tragically, it’s a pretty common shared experience between everyone in the LGBTQ neighborhood. But there’s something about bisexuality that non-bisexual people project a lot of their fears and hopes and questions onto (much like how cis people tend to with trans people), maybe because it’s positioned as ‘other’ to everything else. So we become the focus of these questions that aren’t really about us in specific at all.
What it sounds to me like your friend is projecting, and what they really mean, is “I can’t imagine a situation where I can be openly gay and dating other gay people and also happy; they feel mutually exclusive, and yet being closeted also feels incredibly painful. I sometimes wish I could decide to live as a straight person and still have a romantic partner, or could just be straight full stop. Why don’t you feel the same way? What’s your secret?” This is a really real feeling, and I feel for your friend! They seem to think this is an obvious and intuitive point of view, and I think part of why you’re struggling is that you don’t share it on a fundamental level; you’re talking about different things. Another way of putting this is that your friend has a different experience of the relative balance of danger & reward when it comes to this particular risk of vulnerability, and they want to understand why, or maybe more accurately how. (This is not, again, a dig at or criticism of your friend — I’m certain they have lived experiences that make this a really reasonable position to be in, as a lot of us do!)
I think this is a longwinded way of saying that in answer to your stated question, bi people come out and date other queer people for the same reasons every other queer person does; because we want to be happy and fully seen and part of our community, and have fulfilling relationships! A different question is ‘what does it mean for larger cultural perceptions of queerness in general and bisexuality in particular when we actively choose queer communities and relationships, and find working through our internalized biphobia and dealing with external biphobia preferable to being closeted?’ What do people have to grapple with when they see us doing that? What narratives does it contradict, what assumptions does it trouble? Much to think about!
Nicole Hall, A+ & Fundraising Director
When I saw this question. I had to think about it for several days, if we’re being honest. I’m so sorry that your friend is being like this. It sounds like you’ve really outlined everything else that I’m about to with her, but you also wrote in, so, I hope this is helpful.
Why not live as a presumed-straight or closeted person when you’re bi+? Why come out?
So, One: I feel for your friend here because if I’m reading between the lines of her question, it sounds like she hasn’t really internalized that it’s really great to be gay. Like, I feel deeply sad for people in opposite sex seeming relationships who feel like they can’t participate in queer culture (HELLO YOU CAN IF YOU WANT AND I HOPE YOU WILL) because it’s a gift to be gay and to know gay people. Also, for gay people who maybe feel like they don’t belong. This comes up for me because it seems like your friend is maybe not seeing value in participating in queer culture and being able to be in queer spaces when you are queer… so I just want to validate you for a second that having access to these spaces is really important for bisexual people and that bisexual people are also an important part of queer community!
Also like… if straight people are hostile enough to your friend that she wonders whether not being out would be a better solution, I invite you to flip that question on its head. If straight people are as terrible to lesbian / queer / bi+ folks as she has experienced, why should she want to center her life around them? Why should you? I personally have found that my life is made better by centering queer community whereas centering straightness can feel like throwing my time and attention into an abyss.
Two: Bisexual people already have elevated levels of intersecting mental health challenges compared to both straights and lesbians. I know you probably brought this up with your friend and also maybe you know this on a personal level, too, so this is for her. Being in the closet is such a huge mental strain. It is really fucking hard on people. It is hard on bi+ people and it is hard on lesbian people. She came out, didn’t she? I know some people have to be or choose to be closeted for a variety of reasons, and while that is valid and can sometimes be the safest choice (mentally or otherwise), that doesn’t make it inherently easier.
Honestly, as Rachel wisely pointed out, the same question could apply to her. Plenty of lesbians have just put up with relationships with cis men, whether because they didn’t realize they were gay or because they didn’t want to come out for reasons that make sense to them and their situations or some combination of the two. It might be helpful for her to contemplate that this is actually an option for her, too. Right now. I would like for her to sit with the feelings that brings up and to think through why she doesn’t want to do that, why she hasn’t done that by now. Likely, they are very similar to your feelings on the topic.
Three: Can your friend control who they crush on? It sounds like she thinks that bisexual people can. Bisexuals may be amazing but we do not also have the secret superpower of being able to target our desires onto a specific person chosen via a cold calculus of privilege maximization. Again, you can choose a partner for privilege. I have been watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, which features this phenomenon. However, I really don’t think that you can direct attraction in the same manner. Again, I am going to argue here that choosing to be with a cis straight man because of privilege is really not that much of a fundamentally different experience for a bisexual person as it would be a for a lesbian because you’re not choosing your partner based on your mutual attraction and affection or shared values, but based on other societal and financial factors. Just like lesbians aren’t attracted to EACH AND EVERY woman in the world, bisexuals are not attracted to ALL cis straight men — and we sometimes aren’t into them at all. So, being bisexual doesn’t inherently make this kind of life decision any easier.
Finally, it sounds like your friend has some anger or hurt to work out, but this is not your responsibility, even if it has, for this moment, found bisexuality (and by that virtue, you) as its target. From talking to a lot of people who seem to want to misdirect their anger (because, look, there are a lot of things to actually be angry with, but bisexuality is really not one of them), sometimes you can’t talk them out of it. You cannot really do anything to help someone realize that the call is coming from inside the house when they seem to want so badly not to believe that is the case! They have to figure that out on their own, or not.
My hopes for YOU are that you feel validated by this roundtable. You are awesome and belong in queer community. Queer community is better for the inclusion of bi+ folks. Hard stop. And yes to everything you’ve said about crushing the heteropatriarchy and fighting heterosexuality as a societal default. I hope that you establish whatever boundaries you need to with this friendship to feel healthy and secure and to not have to waste too much time or energy on topics that your friend can educate herself about on this very internet.
Sending you so much love!!!
Adrian , Contributor
You have already offered numerous reasons why being out as bisexual is a life-giving, system-disrupting, community-oriented, and extremely hot decision. It seems like you’ve accepted that nothing you can say to your friend can make her change her mind (I hope she gets the help she needs to heal her internalized homophobia, but you are almost certainly unqualified to provide that). My brilliant colleagues have already offered excellent advice re: her, so I’m going to focus on you.
The trap of “just be straight if you have that option” me in the closet (first as bisexual and later as trans) for several years, and here’s what I had to accept in order to leave it behind: being queer is good, actually. It’s not a tragic accident, and it’s not something we can only have if it is an unavoidable genetic or ontological fact. We don’t have to apologize for it or make it smaller. It is a net positive for me and for you and for the people around us when we dazzle the world with our bisexual brilliance.
Bisexuality doesn’t just impact our relationship configurations. It affects the way we relate to others, the way we connect to our bodies, the way we exist in creation, and the way we see the world around us. When we lean into the expansive possibilities of queerness, we make the world bigger and bolder and more beautiful. When we do so visibly, we set other people free. And when the alternative is self-denial and closets? I mean, that’s barely a choice. Of course it’s not so simple (plenty of LGBTQ+ people compartmentalize their lives for reasons of safety or preference). But from your question, it seems pretty clear that the path of vulnerability, curiosity, and community will take you where you want to go. Shine bright, beloved.
KaeLyn Rich, Writer
Oh, don’t mind me. Just over here reading your question and my fellow beautiful bisexual babes’ answers and, like, OOF. My dearest heart, I can’t add much to what others have said about your friend and how they’re projecting onto you. What I want to address is this line in your original question: “As someone who mostly knows folx who identify as either gay or straight, it would help me…”
It may be true that your network is mainly gay or straight people that are very secure in those identities in a truly binary gender way. I want you to know, though, that you are not a rare bird, a square peg, or even a very precious unicorn. Bisexuals are everywhere.
We are the marginalized majority in the LGBTQ alphabet soup. Because of lack of representation, internalized biphobia, pressure from all sides to stay in the closet, and the complexity of non-monosexual identities, we are misunderstood to be the minority in queer spaces. Babe, we dominate the space. Bisexual people comprise more than half of the LGBTQ+ community in the United States. There are more of us than there are gay men or lesbian women. The bisexual erasure and stigma is real.
I’m guessing you already know all of this because you seem like someone who stays up to date on your bi facts based on the whole college education you gave your well-meaning friend. That said, I want to encourage you to find your bisexual network within the queer community. We are out here and those of us who are able to be and choose to be out and proud as bi/pan/non-monosexual sometimes feel like we’re the only ones in a queer space. It just isn’t true. In fact, it’s possible some of your gay friends are actually not monosexual if you dig a little deeper into their sexual identity.
It’s also possible you need a new space, new relationships with other bi folx who can understand you in a way that monosexuals can’t. Check for bisexual meet-up or support groups in your area (maybe meeting virtually in these times). Follow bisexual influencers. Intentionally seek bisexual friends. Also, just look around you. Some of your married straight-passing friends with kids are bisexual. Some of your lesbian-passing married friends are bisexual. Some of your neighbors are, too. Many of your friends who self-id as queer are actually pansexual or bisexual in terms of sexual attraction. I just know in my heart that this is true, but even if I’m wrong, find your bisexual community.
I promise you, you can’t live your best life as an out and proud bisexual without a gaggle of fellow bisexuals by your side. Think about making space in your life for bi-inclusive spaces where you don’t have to educate others about your bisexuality, prove you are queer enough, or answer biphobic questions. Even if that means seeking out some new, fulfilling friendships and reducing time spent on ones that aren’t supporting your growth. We’re here, we’re bisexual queers, you know the rest.