A few months ago, I sat down for the first time with a new mentor: a lesbian in my professional circle, esteemed in her field, whose work I’d followed for ages. When an opportunity to meet came up, we got along right away, chatting like old friends about developments in our work.
“I’ve been looking forward to talking to you,” she told me. “I tend to trust lesbians more.”
I gulped. Should I savor this moment of camaraderie with someone I deeply admire?
Or come out to her?
I’m bisexual. I’ve been out for about a decade now, and I’m pretty open about how I’ve had meaningful relationships with men and women. My wife is a lesbian. The shorthand for us is a lesbian couple; same-gender partners; a couple of gays enjoying our gay marriage. (Okay, nobody says that, but you get it.) There is no convenient way to note that half of my marriage is bi.
It’s no secret that the movement for LGBTQ+ justice has accelerated rapidly in recent years. When my wife and I first started dating, marriage equality was legal in only a handful of states. For generations before us, it was out of the question. We’re light-years away from full equality, but I still feel lucky that I’m coming into my queer adulthood at a time of relative progress.
And yet, as a bisexual person finding my place in today’s queer community, some days I still feel like I’m struggling to be seen.
It’s an easy mistake to make, due in part to our assumptions about people based on their partners (plus a slew of other snap judgments from appearances alone).
Bi folks have reported feeling unwelcome at Pride, for example, if they aren’t accompanied by a same-gender partner, or if their dating history doesn’t include someone of the same gender. Meanwhile, if I show up to parties with my wife or head to an event at a lesbian bar, nobody’s going to ask how I identify. Why would they when it’s so much easier to assume?
Sometimes these moments hit a little close to home. When I was a teenager and questioning my sexuality, I thought my being bi instead of a lesbian could be a saving grace. I thought I could “choose” to fall in love with a man instead of a woman, and then I’d never have to tell anyone I liked girls at all. Many years later, I’m ashamed that I thought it’d be so easy to hide who I am—or that my identity is something worth hiding.
But I try not to blame myself—then a closeted kid with no queer role models—for my misguided attempt at protecting myself. I know now that sexual orientation isn’t based on who you’ve been with; it’s something personal and deeply felt that you know to be true about yourself. And once you’ve figured it out, having your identity affirmed by those around you matters.
For all the progress we’ve made, it’s certainly not easy to be LGBTQ+ in 2019—something that holds true for bi folks, too. It’s increasingly known that bisexuals face a slew of health disparities compared with folks of other sexual orientations. Bi adults face higher rates of ailments like pain, asthma, high cholesterol, and for bi women, cancer and heart disease. In many cases, these disparities are linked to a lack of bi-competent medical care; some bi folks’ hesitation to come out to their doctors; and systemic barriers that keep some bisexual people from accessing healthcare at all.
There’s more. Bi adults are also more likely to be depressed, anxious, or suicidal compared to gay men, lesbians, or straight people. Bi women are statistically far more likely to experience domestic violence and sexual assault than other women. And bisexual youth report being less happy and healthy than other young people.
Why the bleak outlook? Biphobia, mostly.
Too often, bi folks are forced to navigate stigma and shame from queer people and straight people alike. Whether it’s fielding harmful stereotypes about bisexuality or the trite idea that bi folks need to “pick a side,” constantly advocating for your right to exist takes a toll. And fear of being harassed or discriminated against is more than enough to keep a struggling bi person from reaching out for the care or support they need—whether from a doctor, a therapist, or a loved one.
It doesn’t help that there are fewer resources and organizations dedicated to bisexual people, and dismally less funding for bi-specific causes than any under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. Sometimes, it can feel like all we have is each other; all the more reason to shout our identities from the rooftops.
I also need to admit that, sometimes, I’m part of the problem. I refer to myself interchangeably as queer, gay, and bi—not because I’m confused about which one’s right (they all are, kind of), but for a complicated web of reasons. Sometimes it’s easier not to explain what “bisexual” means for the thousandth time. Sometimes it’s about feeling included at spaces deemed gay or queer, but not explicitly bi.
And sometimes, it’s an act of self-preservation. I’ve been the punchline of biphobic comments from gay and straight people alike, and I’ve internalized a lot of the messages I grew up hearing—and still hear—about bisexual people. Undoing that takes work.
Visibility has huge implications for making sure LGBTQ+ people of all identities feel safe and supported as their true selves. When it comes to folks who fall under the bisexual umbrella, representation is on the upswing, but still lacking. As the saying goes: if you can see it, you can be it. When I was growing up, I didn’t see a model for healthy bisexual adulthood in the media or anywhere else. It’s on us—bisexual people with the privilege and safety to be out—to make sure today’s bi kids (and adults!) know it’s okay to be who they are.
On National Coming Out Day and every day, I want to affirm my bisexual identity—and thankfully, I’m not alone.
Social media campaigns like #StillBisexual remind us that the gender of your partner doesn’t change who you are. Vocal bi celebrities like Evan Rachel Wood, Stephanie Beatriz, and Halsey are ushering in a new generation of bisexual pride.
And while coming out remains a personal process that should happen on your own terms, it’s never been more important for those of us who can do so comfortably to announce ourselves, loudly and proudly. I never did correct the mentor who assumed I was a lesbian. I hope if the chance comes up again, I’ll do better.
I’m still here. I’m still queer. And I’m very much still bisexual.