People who are attracted to both men and women face specific challenges during the coming out process. Unfortunately, misinformation about bisexuality is widespread, and many bisexual people find that when they come out, they must also work to educate those around them about their sexual orientation.
Coming Out to Oneself
Often, the coming out journey begins long before you’ve said a word to anyone. The realization that your sexual orientation may be different from others’ may trigger internal reflection that can last days, months or years before you’re comfortable talking about it. Some people have known their entire lives that they are attracted only to men. Some have always known that they are attracted only to women. Some have always known that they are attracted to both men and women. And for others, it’s never been that simple. Attractions may vary and develop over time. If you don’t necessarily feel you fall under the categories of gay or straight, it’s often difficult to figure out what to call your sexual feelings.
You may wonder if you are sufficiently attracted to both sexes to be considered bisexual. Although some bisexual people do describe themselves as “50-50” — equally attracted to both genders — that’s not the case for everyone. Bisexual people may not always be equally attracted to both sexes, and the degree of attraction may vary over time and as one’s sexual identity develops. No “test” exists to determine what amount of attraction to each gender is necessary to identify as bisexual.
Some people work through a period of being attracted to both sexes and ultimately wind up being attracted primarily to one sex. And some people acknowledge their bisexuality after a period of identifying as lesbian, gay or straight. The journey is different for everyone. But figuring out your sexual identity can be complicated. It could take several months or several years. You may find it to be a lifelong process.
Whatever your experience, it can help to talk to someone else about it. It’s normal to have trouble putting your thoughts into words, but you may find that a trusted friend or relative will listen to you anyway. You might also consider looking into local bisexual organizations in your community where you can find support from others who have gone through the same experiences.
Coming Out to Family as Bisexual
For many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, coming out to their families is a momentous occasion in their lives. Because coming out to your family is a key step in the process, it helps to prepare yourself for how they might react.
You may find that some members of your family are unfamiliar with bisexuality. Many people view sexuality as a straightforward, cut-and-dry matter, so you may have to explain that for you, it’s more complicated. You might need to educate your relatives about the basics of bisexuality and what sets you apart from gay, lesbian and straight people. You could also be asked questions stemming from the widespread myths about bisexuality, so you may want to think about possible answers to these questions before you initiate that first talk with your family.
Parents, in particular, can raise difficult questions after a child comes out to them as bisexual. Some parents might say they could understand if their child was gay or lesbian, but they aren’t sure what to make of a bisexual child. And some parents view their bisexual children as “part straight” or “not really gay,” and hope that they will find opposite-sex partners. Bisexual children who find same-sex partners may find their parents expressing dismay that they would “choose” to have a same-sex relationship, even though they’re also attracted to people of the opposite sex. Likewise, parents of bisexual children with opposite-sex partners may express relief that their children turned out to be “straight” after all. In addition, if your sexual orientation evolves over time, you may find yourself having to come out multiple times. For example, you may identify as lesbian or gay at one point in your life, but later come to identify as bisexual. And if you’ve already told family members that you are lesbian or gay, you may find yourself in the difficult position of having to come out to them again — this time, as a bisexual person.
Educating your family will be an ongoing process. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that while the facts surrounding your sexual orientation may seem obvious to you, it may represent a significant change from the way your family has always viewed the world. Although you’ve had time to grow comfortable with your sexuality, you are your family’s only source of information on the subject. Try to remain patient with them and answer their questions openly and honestly. The key point to remember is that all relationships, whether they are same-sex or opposite-sex, deserve respect and understanding.
Coming Out in the Workplace as Bisexual
Coming out to your coworkers can be yet another difficult step. However, should you decide to be open in the workplace, your decision could have a dramatic impact on those around you. For many of your coworkers, you may be the first bisexual they’ve ever encountered. While deciding whether to come out in your workplace, keep in mind that more and more businesses are welcoming gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees into the workforce, and implementing policies such as domestic partner benefits, non-discrimination ordinances and inclusive diversity training that protect LGBT workers. However, it’s important to keep in mind that only 21 states and the District of Columbia have laws protecting people from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. It may be a good idea to find out about employment discrimination laws in your state and consult your employer’s written policy on discrimination before deciding whether to come out to your coworkers.
Coming Out in Society as Bisexual
Bisexual people are often invisible in mainstream American society. Many of the few portrayals of bisexual people in the media have depicted them as the targets of jokes or stereotypes. As a result, when coming out to friends, acquaintances and others, you may find yourself facing prejudice based on your sexual orientation. This can be true even among lesbian and gay peers. But by coming out to your friends and acquaintances, straight and gay alike, you can help educate them about the realities of your life.
Bisexual people who are in relationships also face their own set of issues. Among the general public, most people still assume that people in same-sex couples are lesbian or gay and that people in opposite-sex couples are straight. People in relationships who identify as bisexual are put in the position of having to either ignore these assumptions — implicitly allowing them to continue — or confront the people who made them. If someone mistakenly labels you as gay or straight, and you choose to tell them that you actually identify as bisexual, you could help to further educate them about the realities of bisexual lives.