One reason is obvious: While heterosexual or homosexual people can generally let the gender of their dates convey their sexual orientation, bisexuals have to explicitly, verbally out themselves to become visible.
That can get exhausting. Especially because when we do come out, we’re often met with disbelief and told that we must actually be gay, straight or are kidding ourselves or going through a phase. As a result, I’ve spent way too much energy assessing when it’s appropriate, safe or worthwhile to bother coming out. And I haven’t always made the right choice.
Here are five times I wish I’d outed myself but didn’t:
For over a decade, I’ve used dating sites and apps whenever I was single. Although I’ve always listed my sexual orientation in my profiles, I never used to make a point of bringing it up beyond that. As a result, I’ve dated too many people who were disappointed to discover on the fifth or sixth date that I was a “real bisexual” who’s had relationships that span the gender spectrum. Whoever I’m dating needs to accept my bisexuality as real and valid. (If they don’t, it’s a deal-breaker.) I could’ve saved myself a lot of time by putting this on my first-date checklist sooner.
During the year I lived in Taiwan, I usually just said I was a lesbian. This was partly due to the language barrier — explaining bisexuality in English is challenging enough, and my Mandarin skills weren’t up to the task. I was also primarily interested in dating women at the time, so it seemed like the simplest option. But Taiwan’s LGBT community is vast and diverse — and after I left, I wished I’d put in the extra effort to be honest and help represent my community.
3. To more of my exes’ families.
In the past, I’ve talked myself out of coming out to partners’ families by reasoning that if I were dating a brunette monogamously, I wouldn’t feel compelled to disclose to their folks that I also sometimes really like to date blondes. But not outing myself as bi in these scenarios has meant that I sometimes wound up awkwardly referring to previous partners as “friends” in order to keep things from becoming “confusing.” That always feels dishonest and a little shameful, and I missed out on opportunities to represent bisexuality in a positive light for older people who might otherwise not encounter it.
4. To more of my own family, sooner.
I came out to my immediate family in stages as I figured things out for myself — first in the form of “I’m not totally straight, but I don’t like labels, guys”; then as “probably just a lesbian”; and finally as “actually ‘queer,’ which is an okay word now, I swear, and also definitely bisexual.”
But when it came to my extended family, who are Catholic Republicans, for far too long I underestimated their ability to accept me for who I really was. For years I hid my relationships with women from my grandparents, with whom I’m otherwise very close. I came out to them only after one of my younger cousins proved it safe by bravely outing himself as gay. Rather than hiding such an important part of myself for so long, I wish I’d trusted them to love me unconditionally — and that I had stepped up to help pave the way for my cousin.
Research shows bisexuals are significantly less likely to come out to their medical providers than gay men or lesbians are. Unfortunately, I’m part of that statistic. During my first visit to my current primary-care doctor, declining to mention my fluid sexuality felt like a justifiable omission, akin to fudging the truth about how much I drank throughout my 20s when visiting my childhood pediatrician.
Three years later, though, enough time had passed that it felt awkward to speak up and add that to my medical record, even though by then, it felt important. Bi people are more likely than their gay and straight counterparts to experience a broad range of mental and physical health issues, and our doctors need to at least see us before we can expect that to improve.
There’s plenty of evidence that staying in the closet is bad for your health. But beyond the personal benefits of coming out, visibility is also critical to social progress. It’s not always safe for bisexual people to disclose their sexual orientation. But for me, a relatively privileged white, middle-class woman, the risks are usually small.
I owe it to myself and my community to be out and proud as often as possible.