What Not To Say Someone Who Has Come Out As Bisexual
There is a pervasive myth that coming out is easier for bisexuals than for other members of the LGBTQ community, but as this bisexual woman knows, that's simply not the case. Coming out can be difficult for anyone, but coming out as bisexual has its own challenges. Bisexuals are often not accepted by either the gay and lesbian or straight communities, are often not taken seriously, are asked ridiculous and sexually probing questions that are not asked of other people, and are often erased from the conversation completely, all of which can leave them feeling more isolated than before they came out. If one of your friends or colleagues comes out to you as bisexual, it's important to support them — part of which includes not asking questions which can be hurtful and isolating.
Coming out at work is particularly difficult because as Emma Brice told Matthew Jenkin in The Guardian, we often have to explain our sexuality twice. "You always need to come out to every person at least twice," said Brice. "They forget or your relationship changes and they express shock and surprise that you're now going out with someone whose gender is different."
I have known I was attracted to women since a relatively young age, but since I was raised in a conservative Catholic community in the Midwest, I largely kept it to myself until I was in my early 30s, when I began admitting I was attracted to both men and women and began a long-term relationship with a woman.
After that relationship ended, I was careful how I spoke about past relationships at work or with new people I met at professional conferences. I simply used terms like "my ex" instead of saying "he" or "she" or ever calling my ex by his or her name. And honestly? This kind of mental pronoun juggling is exhausting. People who knew me from my relationship with my ex-girlfriend were shocked to hear that I was once married to a man and vice versa. "But wait," they'd interject, "I thought you were a lesbian?" or, "But weren't you married to a man?" Then I have to explain bisexuality to them, which for me means I am attracted to people. Physical attraction for me comes after a person has already turned me on intellectually, and that person can be someone of any gender.
If you want to support your bisexual friends and colleagues, here are three things not to say when they come out to you.
1. "Oh, You're Confused and Just Going Through a Phase."
I've heard this one many times, often from seemingly well-meaning people. For some people who are straight or gay, the idea that a person could be neither straight nor gay can be perplexing.
Here's the thing: We're not confused. We know that we are physically and emotionally attracted to both men and women. There is nothing confusing about that to us.
In an essay for the Independent, Jake Firthsen wrote, "I have on multiple occasions been told by people who identify as homosexual that I am gay and just not brave enough to admit it. Or that I am in some way a poser and am acting the way I do for attention. To those people I would always ask whether any other area of their lives was binary? Were they always either happy or sad and nothing in between? Did they always pick the exact same type of person as their partner? Is it ever really that simple?"
The idea that love or attraction has to be a single box is limiting. Bisexuals are not looking for attention — most of us actually have a really hard time telling people. To put it in very simple terms, some people like dogs and some people like cats, and some people like dogs and cats. A person can like more than one thing or more than one type of person.
Additionally, many people in the gay and straight communities are often reluctant to enter into romantic relationships with bisexuals because they fear the person will eventually leave them for someone of the opposite sex, thus, in their minds, confirming what they suspected all along — that we really were gay, or we really were straight — which is not the case.
Instead of telling the person who is coming out to you that they are confused or just going through a phase, it's OK to ask them what being bisexual means. Really listen when they answer and tell them you support them. It really is that simple.
2. "Do You Want to Have a Threesome?"
While I can't speak for everyone, for me, the answer is no. The stigma that bisexuals are bed hoppers and just dying to join you and your partner for a ménage à trois is way off the mark.
This phenomenon is particularly rampant on dating sites. I have been messaged multiple times by couples who, after seeing on my profile that I am bisexual, quickly ask if I want to join them in bed for casual three-way play.
But as Lux Alptraum explains in an article for Fusion, bisexual women do not want to be your "sex unicorns." In her description of "unicorn hunters," aka "couples on the prowl for the girl of their dreams, the one who’ll bring their fantasies to life without asking anything in return, Alptraum nails the issue with assuming a bisexual person will automatically be interested in a threesome: "Though there’s nothing wrong with a couple experimenting with group sex, or using the internet to seek out someone to play with, so many of these couples end up reducing bisexual women to fetish objects, treating us as interchangeable playthings rather than actual human beings."
I am generally not a casual person when it comes to sex, so unless a bisexual person has expressed to you personally or written it in their dating profile that they're open to a threesome, it is best to err on the side of not asking them to join you and your partner in bed.
3. "So Who Will You Date Next, a Man or a Woman?"
I met a man at a music festival who was obsessed with this question, like there was a math equation I could plug values into in order to determine who my next romantic partner would be. He kept asking me, "So who do you think you will date next, him or her?" as he pointed to different people milling about the festival grounds. "It depends who I meet," I replied for the fourth or fifth time.
Actress Maria Bello, who wrote the 2015 book Whatever Love is Love (after her New York Times "Modern Love" column went viral) upon realizing she was in love with her best friend Clare, told NPR's Fresh Air guest contributor Anna Sale that finding the language to talk about being a "whatever" (Bello's term for simply loving another human romantically) varies:
It's funny. Sometimes people say, "How long have Clare and you been together?" I always say, "Well, what are you asking? Is it from the first time we met? Was it from the first time we kissed? Was it from the first time we had sex?"
People ask me about Jack's [my son's] dad: "How long were [you] together?" A magazine asked us that and I said, "We're still together. We will always be together no matter how this relationship changes." ...
I use different words. Sometimes I'll say, "My girl," [about Clare] sometimes I'll say, "my girlfriend." I rarely use "partner," because I think the labels of partnership can be so limiting.
As a bisexual woman, I can understand that being attracted to men and women it is hard to grasp for those who could never imagine being with a gender other than the single gender they are attracted to. However, to put it in the simplest terms, bisexuals are looking for the same things as everyone else from their relationships, love, acceptance, mutual attraction, and security.