The Bisexual Closet Has Two Doors: A Reflection in Two Parts (2/2)

Part Two: The Challenges of Coming Out as Bisexual

I did not know at that time that I would find myself attacked by some people in the gay and lesbian community. I became a bisexual activist very quickly, partly because I’m wired to be an activist, and partly because I felt like I needed to make up for lost time. For every time someone made a homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic remark that I let slide by for fear of breaking my cover, for every time someone cracked a gay joke (I still remember one that was popular as hell when I was in high school, the punchline was “Roll-AIDS”) and I stayed silent, for every time I walked past a queer bar and didn’t go inside, or went in and sat quietly hoping no one I knew would see me, for every time I could have done something and didn’t. It’s not my penance, it is my purpose.

I started going into the corners of the web I had avoided for fear of being found out. Silly, I know, but the terror was a deep one. I find these days I am not as scared to be out as I was scared when I was in, because everything that I’m still afraid of being out was also a threat then, compounded by the fear of letting my mask slip.

I recall an incident when I was hitchhiking. A trucker gave me a ride, and told me how the last person he picked up was a fag, and how he beat the hell out of them and left them by the side of the road. I was sitting on the floor of his truck (no passenger seat, no seat belt, no nothing), totally vulnerable and knowing that I did not dare do anything but lie my ass off and look confident while I did so – a skillset that I do not have. I omitted like crazy and got out unhurt by pure luck.

So poking around on the web, I saw page after page after page that either didn’t accept bisexuality as a real orientation, or claimed that we were cheaters incapable of fidelity. That we were just self-hating gay men. That we were lying in order to make ourselves look more masculine and therefore more attractive to men who preferred macho. That my wife was my beard. In some cases where the arguments were made to seem more sophisticated, that we were soaking up straight privilege, that we were hurting trans*folk, that we were too stupid to read a dictionary and know that “bi” means two, so if your attractions went outside the gender binary in any way, you weren’t bisexual, but something else (pan/pomo/omni/Try/no label are some of the ones I hear, a phenomenon I’ve heard called “Anything-But-Bisexual”).

The bisexual closet has two doors. The first one is the one you hide behind when you’re pretending to be straight, and while there are powerful cultural forces (and people who we’ve given power over us, like family and friends and employers and politicians and preachers) pushing on the door to keep it closed (“Why don’t you just keep it in the bedroom! You people are sick! You’re making an immoral lifestyle choice!” are two things I’ve had shouted at me on Pride marches and a third I’ve heard in other contexts) it is fear that causes us to pull on the door from the inside to keep it closed.

If you are gay or lesbian, once you bust down that door, it’s down. The coming out process continues, of course – it’s not a single event – but from the day you choose to live openly, the only people you have to explain yourself to are people in the straight community. The queer community accepts you, as do its Allies. There are organizations there to help you live Out – PFLAG, GLAAD, more and more schools have GSAs.

(Hmmm. Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Gay-Straight Alliance. Why do I feel like there’s something missing?)

When you are bi, once you get out of that first closet door, you run smack into another one. This one is more like a one-way mirror than a clearly marked door – you can see out, but it seems like no one can see in. Sometimes you can see so clearly that it’s like it’s not even there, at least until you walk right into it and bloody your nose.

That’s when you start to notice that unlike the gay and lesbian people in the community who never have to explain to each other or to you what being gay or lesbian is like, you do have to explain over and over and over that you’re bisexual, and often you find yourself explaining what it means. (I can say it so fast now that I sound like the disclaimer at the end of a used car commercial – “bisexual means having the capacity to have sexual and/or romantic relationships with both the same and other genders”.)

I don’t generally mind explaining. It’s obvious to anyone still reading this blog that I have no problem talking on and on and on. But while I don’t mind explaining to groups of people who have come to learn something they didn’t know, I do grow weary sometimes of explaining to people who should know – to psychologists, to instructors, to people who are committed to equality for gay and lesbian people, to gay and lesbian people in person and online, to people who are the heads of communications for organizations that have LGBT in the title but think that gay and lesbian issues are the only issues that exist, to people who comment on queer media and have decided that bisexuality doesn’t actually exist. It bothers me when lists of queer icons don’t mention the bisexuals on their lists as bisexuals, or when well-meaning organizations think it’s appropriate to list serial killers as bisexual icons because they just can’t find any others.

I finally let go of the inside of the door, and pushed back against the pressures that were keeping me in. Coming out is a political act, but it’s also a profound psychological one. It was not easy to come out, but I don’t regret it – if I have any regrets it’s that I didn’t do it 25 years ago.

There are some queer circles where I have found acceptance and community. My school is one of the good ones – I’ve been invited to give a presentation on bisexuality next week to the GLBT Alliance (Hey! Look at all those letters! One of them means me! Cool!), the queer community accepts me, and the straight community is very supportive. In fact, the President of the university not only gave an address at this year’s local Pridefest, but signed a proclamation that today is Coming Out Day at the school. The staff and student body alike have very little tolerance for homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. I’m not going to say it doesn’t exist, but it’s not as a rule institutionally or culturally supported, at least not in the areas of the school I am in. We even have a Pride residential community.

And yet, in ways small and large, anytime I step outside the comfortable bi-friendly queer bubble that we’ve built on my campus, I run smack dab into that other door, the one other queer people are pushing on to keep me out of sight. They tell me, “well, it’s your own fault because since you’re married to someone of another gender you can pretend to be straight easier, you’re making yourself invisible by not being queer enough.” They tell my polyamorous friends, “well, it’s your fault because you don’t want to settle down with one person of the same gender, so you’re not assimilating, you’re too queer, and that makes us look bad.” They tell my friends who are in same-gender relationships “well, why don’t you just be gay and quit lusting after The Enemy, you’re going to break that woman’s heart.”

They say that as bisexuals, it’s duplicitous for us to be in a relationship with anyone but another bisexual. That’s when they admit we exist at all.

For thousands of years, Polynesian people told stories about crossing the ocean on small rafts. It wasn’t until a White guy did it that the popular and scientific establishments accepted that it was indeed possible.

For years, many very public gay and lesbian activists said that we don’t exist. Only after a researcher partially recanted his horribly flawed study on male bisexuality did some of them become willing to accept that maybe we are real. Of course, there was no need for scientific studies to convince them that they existed, after all, they could tell their own attractions without empirical evidence.

The only way to show the world that gay and lesbian people lived among them and were deserving of equal treatment was to come out. The only way for bisexual people to be recognized by both the queer and the straight worlds is to come out. Twice.

So Come Out, Come Out, wherever you are, because you can’t get much accomplished if you are hiding – or being hidden.

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About fliponymous

Bisexual activist, thinker, writer, husband, father, Licensed Professional Counselor.
This entry was posted in Bisexuality and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to The Bisexual Closet Has Two Doors: A Reflection in Two Parts (2/2)

  1. Blown says:

    Nice pair of posts. I’m just awakening about the fact that what only I know is such a burden to carry…
    Luckily enough you had support from your wife. I can swear I’d get support from mine, even though I believe she loves me much… I believe she might accept it, but not understand it…
    And eventually, I’m not sure what the gain would be to me, nor to the bisexual community. It wouldn’t change anything, I’d continue monogamic, and so it would look like a defect…
    I think that for most of us, bisexual people, there’s no way out. You’re just more lucky than most 😉
    Congrats for going public anyway, you deserve respect.

    • fliponymous says:

      Thanks!

      One point — if there is no gain to you to come out, then it doesn’t make sense for you to do so, although (anecdotal evidence) it’s amazing how much my internal pressure eased once I was no longer the Keeper Of My Secret. But as far as benefit to the bisexual community, the more people who come out who do not fit the myths and stereotypes that are used against us, the less effective these attacks become. And since there is no one person who fits every stereotype (because let’s face it, some of them are inconsistent with each other, like “bi is cisgender attractions only” and “bisexuals will do anything that moves”, every person who comes out strengthens the community, gives the hundred or thousand or million other people who are just like them a path out of isolation.

      I’m lucky, and privileged (white, cismale, college student, middle-class in spite of financial disadvantage, physically and mentally abled), but that doesn’t mean that I can’t use that luck and privilege to help other people lift themselves up.

      • Blown says:

        I understand your points. One way or the other, there will be pressure. I just prefer to take the pressure on me that to impose it on my wife and relatives. Trust is sometimes a thin line, I don’t want to risk damaging it. My pleasure is accessory to my life. I’m not sure I would help the community by telling my about deepest nature, but I can help the community blogging about it as I do. Every little thing serves its purpose. Awareness is everything. 😉

        • fliponymous says:

          Indeed!

          In the end, to come out or not to come out is an entirely personal choice, and I would be the last person to criticize another for not doing so unless they were actively hurting the community — helping the community from behind the closet door is arguably harder than coming out!

          For some people being in is a valid option — as a person who wants to be a therapist, congruence is important, so it was no longer an option for me to hide my nature.

    • yup! it’s kinda things that you need to past on! 🙂

  2. I mostly identify as gay but I’m slightly bi-curious. I’ve done a good share of work for and with the GLBT Community on Long Island and at times on a national and international level as well, and I keep running into biphobic gay people and straight people. Really sickening. Thank you for speaking your truth online. I read all of your 2-part story. I hope your work continues to bear fruit for others, both those who identify as bi and those whose life and/or work depends on them finally understanding. Warm wishes to you and yours! –Sean

  3. Valiant says:

    I’m fifty-three, male, married for the third time, and bisexual (actually I like saying I’m heterosexual in the ORIGINAL meaning). My first sexual real sexual experience was at age fourteen, with a seventeen-year-old girl, but I’ve the next few years I had sex with ten times as many men and boys (my own age) than with women and girls. Like most of the bi men I’ve met, I’m heteroromantic but equally attracted to both men and women. I tend to be pretty picky, fat people turn me off. Sorry, sexy fat people–it’s not you, it’s me

    With regard to biphobia, I think we have two primary obstacles. First, a lot of gay men test the waters of being out by saying their bi. Many actually have sex with members of the opposite gender just for proof of their flexibility. So, when these same former “bis” hear anyone claim to be bisexual, their first natural response is “yeah right.”

    Second, gays have fought the idea of choice for decades. They finally got lucky–a geneticist identified a gay gene. If they’re sexuality is genetically determined, and straight people are genetically predisposed to want to bang the opposite gender, where does that put us? Until someone comes up with a reasonable, comprehensive theory of human sexuality, we’re going to continue to have problems.

    • fliponymous says:

      The so-called gay gene is problematic, because there is no case for a single gene governing something as complex as sexual attraction.

      Bisexuality is not a choice, it just means that our net of attractions is cast across a different spectrum of people than some others — although on an individual level, it’s certainly possible to be bi and attracted to less people than someone who is monosexual but with a different set of criteria in what they find attractive. Just like anyone else, it’s individual.

  4. beamishboy says:

    Nicely written. I can relate to most of your experience, though I haven’t exactly shouted my bisexuality from the rooftops (it’s not a secret, if asked I will tell, but it rarely comes up since most people have no need to know). I am involved with groups for bi/gay people who are in marriages of mixed orientation, and was somewhat surprised to find the same ignorance about bisexuality even there.
    I wonder though how much longer these misunderstandings will be with us. When I see how at ease the next generation is with sexuality it gives me great hope. They seem less concerned with labels and accepting of others regardless of who they love. Perhaps advocacy work will be rendered unnecessary within just another generation or two. How cool would that be!

    • fliponymous says:

      The ultimate goal of any ethical activist is to make themselves obsolete!

      I’m not surprised to find ignorance about bisexuality in groups with bi members — we get told from the day we come out that (pick your myth) and human beings internalize what they hear over and over.

  5. Chad P. says:

    I can definitely relate to the double door closet. I’ve experienced the same thing for coming out as bisexual. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  6. Ingo says:

    It’s still a long way for bisexuals to be accepted like gays and lesbians. You’re right, the only way to achieve this is to come out as bisexual, again and again, otherwise you will be sorted as gay or hetero depending on your actual relation.
    When I was young I didn’t know the label for me, I only knew the labels gay and “normal” and was upset by the fact that I didn’t fit in this scheme. So what was I ? Bisexual meant something different in those days, it meant “has both sexes”, nowadays synonym would be intersexual or hermaphrodite. Because I feared to become gay I stopped a sexual relation with a class comrade. Now I know it better: there is no “danger” to become gay when you’re bisexual. You will stay as bisexual. The only danger for a young bisexual is to believe some gays who deny bisexuality and attack us by saying “you just don’t want to decide yet to become gay”. You cannot bury your heterosexual feelings long, they will return… same holds true for your homosexual feelings of course.
    It took until 2004/2005 for me to join the local bi-group as an activist and to come out (only closest friends knew before). And even then I left out my parents because I attended a strong homophobic reaction. Only yesterday I told it to my mother. A few days before I had seen by chance that I had misunderstood her: it was only ignorance of what homosexuality means exactly, not homophobia.

    • fliponymous says:

      Thanks for sharing your story! Ignorance is the root of homophobia — and biphobia. When people truly understand who we are, they often quit hating on us.

  7. Carl Resident says:

    I find Ingo’s comments of 10/14, “there is no ‘danger’ to become gay when you are bisexual,” to be encouraging. I am a bisexual male who was seduced by an older boy at age 13 and introduced then to oral sex. This went on for several years with neither of us identifying as gay. In our own words “We were just playing around.” Then at age 19 I went off to military service, later discharged, went to college, had a nice career and have led a heterosexual life, albeit with lapses every 3-5 years of course back into that so rewarding and so fulfilling experience. I find my own personal life and also nature to be full of surprises and happiness.

    • fliponymous says:

      Hi Carl! Although your language choices are your own and it’s not for me to say what’s right for you, I wonder if the description of leading a “heterosexual life, albeit with lapses” might be problematic. Part of our visibility problems come from being labeled by others according to the behavior they can see rather than who we identify as.

      In any case, I’m glad you liked the post and comments and look forward to hearing from you.

      • James Simms says:

        To clarify my point about behavior/identity during my adult life, indeed both were heterosexual and indeed there were lapses into the enjoyment of giving fellatio from time to time but such did not bring with it a change in personal identity until only very recently. I have come now to identity as a bisexual with no need to broadcast this in my day-to-day life since my behavior has remained heterosexual for quite a long time, in fact for years and years. Still there are the memories and that lingering desire to be with a man.

        ________________________________

        • fliponymous says:

          I dig it. Behavior is what you do, identity is who you are. I am glad that you’ve found in bisexual identity an affirmation and a description that works.

          I’ve been monogamously married to a straight woman for two decades, but ask her and she’ll tell you: that in no way makes me a straight guy.

  8. Christian says:

    New to the group and a marvelous group…Personally I was raised labels can be&often foundation for prejudices to those whom are not apart or feel threatened by differences which can fuel hatred.I was raised to love all people,male or female and we may disagree on subjects,ideals and philosophies.Shouldn’t, any judgement if needed?Be of those whom we have been personally influenced through personal experiences either good or poorly ie.(you may not trust one who has stolen from you)or (on flipside trust those whom respected/assisted you),Making our own decision’s on by our own personal experiences,regardless of race,sex or creed..We should respect every individual for their sexual orientation,there is good and bad in all humans.So as I know it any legal consenting adult can have sex or a relationship with either male or female,Personally speaking and sure many would relate that it is possible to love any person regardless of gender.Which in my own personal view of being Bi should end labeling,prejudices,judgements etc and any negativity.But until all come to understand and not feel need to takes sides of Hetro/Gay.Truth being Bi-sexual for myself is not taking sides,but understanding,showing unprejudicial,ability and respect with our individual adult free choice of showing our love to whom we choose not by labels.One day when the sexual labeling has ended personal choice will become universal not influenced by differences of opinion,politics or religion but for love and respect of all humanity in personal rights to choose.

    • fliponymous says:

      I agree in spirit, although I feel at this time we still need labels — working on a post right now about that.

      Welcome to the blog!

  9. C says:

    I’m so happy to have found your blog. I feel that I can relate totally to every word. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Matthew says:

    I think back to how I felt when I was 18 and 19 of just having crushes on people both men and women and pursuing those crushes. I look back at that time as “very innocent” but also very naive. It really was not until the Flawed Bailey study that I had to digest the hard rock that I was completely misunderstood by the culture. My therapist 14 years is bisexual. He is married monogomously since 1974. When people ask him if he is gay, He says “its a part of me.” He is one of the kindest loving decent men I have ever met. We also share the same personality type INFP to give a clue to our character. Where has the myth of the “evil bisexual” come from?

    • fliponymous says:

      A lot of places — and one of the major issues that I started this blog to explore… I’m currently working on an article looking into the causes of biphobia.

      • Matthew says:

        I think one of the major causes is bisexuality as a bisexual understands it and experiences it is primarily an internal sense of self that is not as easily concretized as “gay”. We can concretize gay – in the form of gay bars, gay commodities, same sex relationships etc. We are a very sense oriented concrete fact based culture. Fluidity and bisexual feeling is in some way efemeral, ambiguous, neither here nor there, we can’t pin it down.

        If you look at mythology and read the stories of native American coyote, he is a man then transforms himself to a woman marries the cheif’s son has babies then transforms himself back into a man. Or Tiriseus transforms himself into a woman and then back into a man. Etc. Bisexuality has this trickster like element. And tricksters are often revered and hated at the same time. The are hated because they continually transgress boundaries.

        Now whether a bisexual person is monogomous, celibate, poly or not I think the ambiguity is upsetting. A friend told me that when her gay friends meet me they can’t quite make me out. “is he gay? Is he straight?” and then she tells them.

        The same disturbing ambiquity can be in trans and genderqueer people. What upsets the easily catagorizable.

  11. I just LOVE this!
    It’s sad that in Poland there’s practically no such thing as bisexual community. Nothing to join and truly be able to share experiences and problems. Sad fact is, I heard more hurting words from gay people than those, who are straight. The were telling me to decide, to stop the “phase” I’m going through or not to lie, cause if I have a boyfriend (very loving and understanding man, btw.) I’m not really a bi. And I was silent with no one to share the experiences. Now that I am older I try to share bi-activism in virtual space to let people now we exist and that we’re real :))))

  12. M says:

    I recently came out (or am in the process of coming out, as I’ve only told 5 of my friends), and I hadn’t realised until this autumn that I was bi. All because I fell in love with a girl for the first time. I am 23, and feel uneasy about my realisation, and also unsure and insecure. Sexuality is something one typically figures out in one’s teens, but for me it took so long. It was probably because I place so much emphasis on fall in love, and maybe I was a bit homophobic/biphobic due to ignorance when I was younger. Thanks to tumblr I’ve learned so much about sexuality and gender, but still I can’t help but think that I might be wrong. In one moment I convince myself I’m bi because I honestly don’t care who I’m with, in the next I doubt myself because I’ve been in love with 3-4 boys and only now at 23 a girl. It is confusing, but I must say coming out to my friends has been a pleasant experience so far. They’ve all taken it better than I expected, and better than I think I would if I were them. I just hope I’m right. I just hope I’m not just infatuated with my female friend because she’s cuddly and kind.

    • fliponymous says:

      M, while some people get a handle on their sexuality in their teens, there are plenty who take longer. I’m glad that you’ve been treated well by the people you are coming out to!

  13. nzchicago says:

    Gay man here. Bi-phobia in the gay community is such a huge mistake. If every bi, queer, hetero-flexible, mostly straight, or bi-curious person in the world was free to completely accept their own personal sexuality, there would be an overwhelming number of allies for the gay community (along with queer-friendly straight people, of course). Personally, I think there is an enormous population of people who are mostly attracted to the opposite sex but have some attraction to the same sex also, and having those people come out would be an amazing transformation.

    • fliponymous says:

      I don’t describe myself as an ally, because I am a member of the community, whereas ally is taken to mean someone who isn’t.

      I absolutely agree that biphobia and erasure within the queer community is a huge mistake.

  14. nzchicago says:

    From the recent articles about the study of pupil dilation as it relates to declared sexual orientation:

    ” As expected, heterosexual men showed strong pupillary responses to sexual videos of women, and little to men; heterosexual women, however, showed pupillary responses to both sexes. This result confirms previous research suggesting that women have a very different type of sexuality than men.

    Moreover, the new study feeds into a long-lasting debate on male bisexuality. Previous notions were that most bisexual men do not base their sexual identity on their physiological sexual arousal but on romantic and identity issues. Contrary to this claim, bisexual men in the new study showed substantial pupil dilations to sexual videos of both men and women.

    “We can now finally argue that a flexible sexual desire is not simply restricted to women — some men have it, too, and it is reflected in their pupils,” says Ritch C. Savin-Williams, co-author and professor in Human Development at Cornell. “In fact, not even a division into ‘straight,’ ‘bi,’ and ‘gay’ tells the full story. Men who identity as ‘mostly straight’ really exist both in their identity and their pupil response; they are more aroused to males than straight men, but much less so than both bisexual and gay men,” Savin-Williams notes.”

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120806084533.htm

  15. Guys 😦 can i have some advice ?

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