Why be out as bisexual?

This is a follow-up to my post on National Coming Out Day and the subsequent Bisexuality Q&A.

Several comments asked why I thought it was necessary to be out as a bisexual if I’m currently dating a guy.  After all, I admit that although bisexuality is part of my identity, it’s certainly not the most important thing to know about me (that identifier is: giant geek).  And isn’t it all kinda moot if I’m not currently single?

Let me run through the reasons I make a point of being out:

I can’t wait to fight for my rights until I know I need them

I’m currently dating a boy, but I don’t know for sure I won’t end up with a girl, in which case the question of gay marriage is gonna get a whole lot less abstract.  I’ve got plenty of reasons to be pro-gay marriage beside self interest, but I want to mention this point because it’s a reason my bisexuality isn’t irrelevant to me when I’m not dating a girl.

Being ‘in’ requires self-censorship

It’s easy to think of not-being-out as the default setting, the path of least resistance.  But being in the closet actually requires me to police my actions and words for no good reason.  For instance, when a group of friends and I were discussing the pros and cons of Avatar, I probably wouldn’t have been able to add to the pro tally that Michelle Rodriguez is really really good looking.  

Ok, so maybe Michelle Rodriguez is a bit of a shallow example.  If I wanted to go into the closet now that I have a boyfriend, I’d have to lie by omission when I talk about my past or switch pronouns when I tell the story of my most disastrous blind date.  I see no compelling reason to censor my history.

Being ‘in’ cuts me off from a community

If I weren’t open about being bisexual, I wouldn’t be able to be part of the queer community.  Because I’m out, I was able to have a fun queer film festival with a bi friend, since we both like seeing movies where we feel this special point of commonality with the protagonist and each other.  I can give romantic advice to bi or lesbian friends and express sympathy born of experience when they find out the cute girl in the math class is straight.  Ceasing to identify as bisexual whenever I am with a boy means ignoring the ties I have to these people.

Finally, being out gives me a chance to fix misconceptions

One commenter who thought bisexuals were only happy when dating boys and girls simultaneously mentioned that he didn’t know any bisexuals personally.  Well, now he knows one.  Being out and visible is a chance to combat the stereotypes that all bi girls are polyamorous, promiscuous, secretly gay, really good with power tools, etc.  (Ok, I’m definitely not a counterexample to that last one, but I could introduce you to some bi friends who are.)

The fewer bisexuals you know and the more you tend to know of them rather than know them personally, the harder it is to imagine us as a diverse group of people, not an archetype.  And that’s particularly frightening when some of the archetypes people carry around are so negative.

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  • Eva

    Good on you. It’s all about emotional honesty; both with yourself and other people.
    This makes me think of a girl that I taught last year; she sat on her own every lesson, would not speak or interact with others, including myself. Her mother told me that she couldn’t shut her up at home, but at school, not a peep.

    Thanks to facebook (of course!) I’ve just learnt that she is ‘ftm’, something that I know nothing about (to my shame) but stands for female to male; she will go through surgery in a few years when she is old enough. I’m so glad that she has been able to ‘come out’ and become part of a new community of help and support at this young age instead of enduring a lifetime of anguish and soul searching.

    Not specifically related to your post, I realise, but I immediately thought of her.

  • dbp

    About 15 to 20 percent of breast cancers are triple negative or basal-like [26,35-41]. These tumors tend to occur more often in younger women and African American women (more on race/ethnicity and subtypes of breast cancer) [26,38-41,43-44]. And, most BRCA1 breast cancers and many BRCA2 breast cancers are both triple negative and basal-like [43,46].

    Triple negative/basal-like tumors are often aggressive and have a poorer prognosis compared to the estrogen receptor-positive subtypes (luminal A and luminal B tumors) [26,36,38,45].

    • dbp

      Whoops, my apologies. Not only did I post this in the wrong window, but submitted in an incomplete form. Sorry all.

  • dbp

    Since I was one of those debating this point in the last thread, I guess I’d better engage here. I think we’re missing each other’s mark somewhat.

    I have a collection of points, but the comment system somehow things they’re spam, no matter how I try to slice them up. It isn’t a length thing, apparently. Leah, any idea why comments would be so consistently rejected? Anyway, I’ll try posting whatever pieces seem to make it through.

    1) You’ll notice that I wasn’t arguing from the perspective of “if [a bisexual is] currently dating a guy.” I was speaking very specifically about someone in a covenant marriage, with the force of the argument progressively less in situations of lesser commitment. If I’m just having a fling with someone, I’d want to keep my options open, too.

  • dbp

    Great, I got one through. Let’s try the next one…

    2) The “rights” you speak of wanting to fight for are homosexual rights. No one disputes your rights to heterosexual relationships. But every one-on-one relationship you have is either one or the other, of necessity. Even if the person you’re dating is bisexual, it still falls into one or the other, because these relationships are categorized by biology, not sexual preference.

  • dbp

    3) I don’t buy the ‘self-censorship’ side of things. First, because people do, in fact, make comments about whether they think someone is sexy (even straight people about those of their own sex). Second, talking about the past is just talking about the past. It’s natural that your state in life changes how you act and think of yourself. While the former captain of the football team is married he can talk about his past as the alpha male with a different girl every night of the week, but he doesn’t get anything out of it if he thinks of himself in those same terms, as someone with those same options, while married. And, if his wife dies, he can go back to whatever sort of life he chooses– no problem. Third, I personally just don’t buy that sexual attraction must be the overriding factor in any normal social context, conversation included; in fact, I think that exercising a little editorial control over how one speaks is actually key to a well-ordered mind. This isn’t a principle I apply specifically to sexual matters– actually, I refer to it (if only to myself) on a much more daily basis in regards to anger. If you don’t let yourself flare our verbally when upset, you are much less likely to get carried away emotionally than otherwise. The same goes for matters of attraction: there’s nothing wrong with talking about it in the right circumstances, but to feel compelled by that attraction is letting the cart get before the horse. So, again, the self-censorship thing seems a bit misapplied.

  • dbp

    4) Community: This is largely the same as the above point. Defining “communities” around simple attraction seems really odd to me; not that there’s anything wrong with it (heck, people have conventions for more trivial things). But I go back to my extreme hesitation about sexual attraction being considered so fundamental that it needs to form the basis for all even non-sexual social interaction. You can support homosexual rights (or “bisexual rights”, if you think there’s something distinct about those) without any particular personal affinity for those lifestyles yourself, so it isn’t like you need to tout “bi cred” to play in that field.

  • dbp

    Geez, sorry about the serial commenting here. Continuation of point 4:

    Recall that my suggestion isn’t that our subject (a covenant-married bi) suddenly start thinking of him- or herself as ‘straight’ and blabbing about it to that effect. My suggestion is rather that such a person consider that their sexuality is now defined by their state in life (when they were single, you might say it was the other way around, because they were making choices on the basis, partly at least, of instinctual attraction). If someone asks me, I could say I’m heterosexual, but who would ask me that, and why? OK, yes, it does happen; it’s happened to me, though only once. So, fine, in that case answer as you like; but it’s hard to picture the question being asked unless A) the person is a public figure behaving in some way as to arouse curiosity along lines specifically related to sexuality, which probably isn’t appropriate for people in covenant marriages anyway; or B) there’s a pick-up in progress. And if the latter, it doesn’t matter if your sexuality goes their way: you’re still committed and probably shouldn’t be encouraging any advances. My point is, there’s not a great deal at stake in either scenario that would seem to compel you to discuss your preferences. And, on the other hand, constantly thinking about mere inclinations that have no bearing on your practical life, or could tend to be actually detrimental to choices you’ve made, seems to me to be a sketchy proposition.

  • dbp

    5) The “bi lady” from the last thread (was that post always from Anonymous?) also raised a point worth addressing– about how social interaction must necessarily affect one’s relationships with other people, and especially in cases of, for instance, cuddling or changing clothes. This was nearly convincing to me, but after some thought (believe it or not, I honestly am trying to think through these issues, and am open to the points you both have raised) it doesn’t sell the case for me. Suppose I flipped the situation around, and I found someone physically repulsive. Do I somehow owe it to myself to advertise that? Am I somehow not being true to myself if I don’t make gagging sounds or something? Of course not. If I go to the gym and find someone’s exposed privates kinda gross, I don’t have a responsibility to inform them of such. It also isn’t impolite for me to use the same space as them, as long as I behave politely. Are you surprised, by now, if I come back to the point that attraction (or, in this case, aversion) is not the be-all of social interaction?

    But if this poses a stumbling block for anyone, there are and always have been ways to avoid being cuddled or stripped-upon (if you’ll forgive the construction). You don’t need to cite sexuality to avoid such things. There are all sorts of reasons why someone might not be uncomfortable with such situations, and they need not justify themselves with some question of attraction in order to politely decline that sort of thing.

    The dead horse I keep beating is just that I feel the basic assumption that attraction as such is of such prime importance to our identity is wrong. The issue gets muddied with homosexuality because it goes beyond attraction to actual questions of recognition of marriage and legality of homosexual activity, etc. But bi-ness brings the ‘attraction’ side into full relief, and I think it shows a flawed and (honestly) kind of dangerous presupposition in our society– a danger every bit as applicable to hetero- as to bi- and homosexuals. If you start to define yourself primarily by your appetites, you start to cede the self-determination proper to your will to instinct. Instinct has a proper place in the human person, but it isn’t on top of everything else.

  • dbp

    OK, I’m done. And in the process I figured out why my posts were being flagged. Leah, apparently your comments system objects to too many instances of words similar to ‘sexuality’ in one post. Especially on posts like this, your commenters might be running into this (and perhaps giving up, as I almost did). Just FYI, in case you want to check some settings.

    And, again, sorry for the serial commenting.

  • Jonas

    dbp , you’re over-complicating things. If you’re sexually attracted to both sexes, you’re bisexual.

  • dbp

    Jonas: Sure, of course; that’d be “dictionary bisexuality,” like what Leah calls “dictionary atheism.” I don’t think it covers the whole story.

    My point isn’t really only about bisexuality, though; it’s just here where it gets thrown into the clearest relief. People these days seem inclined to organize their identities around their appetites, and not even to realize that there’s another option; they feel like they’re ‘lying’ if they don’t publicly proclaim those appetites, find others similarly-inclined, and tune all their social interaction to them. I’m not saying that that’s categorically wrong; certainly there’s nothing wrong with choosing who one associates with. But the point is that it ought to be considered a choice, and a free one, not necessarily compelled by one’s sexual instinct. In other words, it is the mindset that can’t envision any independence from one’s appetites that I find so insidious and, frankly, dangerous, because it subtly inverts what I think is a healthy control of the will over desire. It would be like if a Trekkie stopped simply enjoying going to conventions and instead felt they couldn’t NOT go to conventions without ‘living a lie.’

    Again, this inversion of will and appetite can happen just as much in heterosexuality; it’s just masked better because there are other considerations aside from appetite that also factor in. That’s why I dwell so much on the covenant marriage example.

    • leahlibresco

      I have no idea what how “being sexually attracted to both sexes” doesn’t cover the whole story of bisexuality. What do you think is being left out?

      ‘Dictionary atheism’ is boring because it just tells us how someone feels about one truth claim (the existence of God) but doesn’t provide any information about their ethics and philosophy. I’m not sure what bisexuality is supposed to explain beside the set of people you could be attracted to.

      • dbp

        My point was not about bi-ality* per se, but about the modern perception of what that simple fact of attraction demands of an individual, and of an individual’s sense of identity. The very fact that you draw the line for bi-als as ‘out’ or not illustrates the point. I don’t see why someone attracted to both men and women is somehow ‘in the closet’ if they don’t themselves take or (for others) draw particular notice to those attractions. It’s exactly the same as if a person who finds redheads attractive is married to a brunette and therefore chooses, out of respect for his wife and his own choice, not to talk, or indulge the thought if it arises mentally, about how hot that red-haired lady in the office is.

        Sexual attraction is just a kind of appetite, nothing more, and a person owes nothing in particular to his appetites, if they don’t serve his higher goals. This is the truth that is lost in discussions of sexuality these days. It applies to homo-als, hetero-als, and every other orientation equally, but it is especially clear in this case. “Dictionary bi-ality” fails to capture the assumption that arises from a disregard of this principle: the assumption that either a person is ‘out’ or is ‘living a lie’ (or self-censoring, or whatever). The attraction itself need not imply either alternative, but it is absolutely taken as given for the most part, because modern trends of thought suppose that sexual orientation must be the bedrock of a person’s whole life. “Dictionary bi-ality” just isn’t what most people talk about: they talk instead about “bi-ality as identity” (or whatever you want to call it) and never realize the difference. I hope that clears it up at least a little.

        Anyway, I think there’s a terribly important principle at stake here, but it’s clear that I’ve failed to make this point clear (or at least convincing) to anyone. So I’ll bow out now (and probably should have earlier). Sorry for carrying on at such length.

        * Note: the spam filter won’t let my post through with so many words with ‘sex’ in them, so I’ve done some ‘self-censoring’ of my own. Thus ‘bi-ality’ etc.

  • Sorry for my English. One thing is to be an homosexual, another thing
    is to be an homosexualist. Barack Obama is an homosexualista, but he is not an homoxexual. The Argentina¨s president -Cristina F. de Kirchner, is not a lesbian, but she is an homosexualist. In the contrary sens, Rupert Everett is an homosexual, but he is not an homosexualit, etc. etc.