coming out as bi
The official logo of National Coming Out Day—celebrated every October 11th in the United States—is a cute drawing by Keith Haring of a person exiting a closet. If only coming out were that simple: something done easily and only once, and once done, complete.
On the contrary, coming out is a complex process. We come out to ourselves. We come out to our parents, our friends, our neighbors, our parents’ friends, and the friends of our neighbors. We come out to our immediate and extended family. We come out to our classmates, our co-workers and our health providers.
And coming out is not simply a one-time event. It is something done repeatedly throughout our lives. We must weigh the benefits and risks of coming out to every new friend, family member, employer, coworker and so on. The stakes can be high. Unlike people with gay or straight identities, we must decide when and whether to come out to potential romantic partners and risk a negative or biphobic response.
One important issue is health: Like lesbians, gay men and transgender people, bisexuals must weigh whether to come out to health care professionals. On one hand, we may fear a negative response and poor treatment; on the other, our silence leaves providers with incomplete information and may put our health at risk. (Keep in mind that health care professionals are trained to assist people of any orientation. They are also required to keep what you say to them confidential and completely private. And some health care facilities and LGBT community centers can provide you with names of professionals who include a focus on LGBT people as one of their specialties. You can always call and ask!)
Sometimes we must even come out more than once to the same person, to clarify what we have said, or to overcome their denial.
We may also need to come out more than once if we experience a shift in our own identity. Someone formerly identified as gay may decide that the word bisexual is a better fit. Or vice versa. Or you might have fallen in love with one particular man when you had previously only fallen in love with women. Or vice versa.
Finally, not only bisexual people must come out. Once we are out to friends and family, they too must deal with questions of whether, how and to whom they will share information about us.
Why come out? Some of us come out because they feel the alternative is misunderstanding. This is particularly true for bisexuals, as we are so rarely seen by others as bisexual. Bisexuals cannot come out as bi simply by mentioning a partner, or by being seen at a “community” event, and many feel it’s important to validate their identity.
At a more intimate level, the cost of silence can be great. Failure to communicate, to share important information about ourselves, often creates a barrier between us and our loved ones. Ideally, we want those close to us to know us not as their illusion of who we are, but as we truly are.
But unfortunately, it’s not so simple. While there are many good reasons to come out, you may also have reasons to choose not to. Think things through. Take advantages of resources that are available. There are many coming out resources for LGBT youth on the web.
Resources to help in the coming out process:
GLSEN: Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network
PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) has a number of brochures in PDF format, including Be Yourself: Questions and Answers for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth (available also in Spanish as Se Tu Mismo)
The Safe Schools Coalition: Coming Out, by Beth Reis
Do I need to come out?
While many people choose to come out and feel most fulfilled that way, others choose different paths at different times of their lives. Many also choose to come out to some people in some contexts and not to others. Some are only out to the people they are intimate with, regardless of their gender; others include close friends or selected family members.
In general, it is easier to bring this up at early stages of dating or relationships, but sometimes we are less aware or we feel unsafe at the time the relationship starts and it’s not the way it happens.
Many people feel guilty about already being in a relationship (same or other sex) where the loved partner does not know about their attractions and experiences. These aren’t always easy situations, and people work it out in different ways. It is important to ask for help when feeling trapped or unhappy: most places have great community counseling services who are very used to these situations. There are also national and regional phone lines.
You do not need to come out to everyone at all times to be happy, you do not need to be out to reach out to people. You definitely do not need to be out to ask for help or advice. Different people choose different paths, and they should be respected.