After telling someone I’m bi, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard, “You know, I’ve never met a bisexual person.” I always reply the same way: “You’ve never met an out bisexual person.”
Bisexual people exist. (In 2021, this shouldn’t need to be said, but a shocking number of people still do not believe that bisexuality is real.) In fact, according to Gallup, the majority of adults in the L.G.B.T.Q. community identify as bisexual, at 54.6 percent. Bisexual people are less likely, however, to be out: In 2013, only 28 percent of bisexual people said they were out to most or all the important people in their lives, compared with 77 percent of gay men and 71 percent of lesbians, according to Pew Research Center.
“I believe there can be numerous reasons why bisexual individuals ‘come out’ at lower rates than other sexual minority individuals, and lack of visibility is one of the most common,” says Brian Dodge, a prominent bisexuality researcher and professor at Indiana University’s School of Public Health.
It’s a vicious cycle. Fewer bi folks come out, so there’s less bisexual visibility. The lack of visibility then causes fewer bi people to come out. This invisibility makes bi people feel alone and isolated, which leads to a slew of adverse mental health outcomes. Many studies report that bisexual people have equivalent or higher rates of depression and anxiety than their gay and lesbian peers — which are already higher than those of straight people.
The key to breaking that cycle is doing what many bisexual people apparently avoid: coming out.
This doesn’t have to mean screaming “I’m bisexual” from the rooftops. I just mean claiming a label — such as bisexual or pansexual — instead of just agreeing when someone assumes you’re gay or straight. While there are a few definitions of bisexuality, they all indicate the same thing at the core: an attraction to more than one gender. It might seem quaint to insist on a label in this day and age, but there’s a value to it for an identity that still lacks the visibility of some of the other letters in the L.G.B.T.Q. acronym.
That lack of visibility was clear to me 12 years ago when I first Googled “bisexual man.” I didn’t see celebrities, role models or successful coming out stories. I saw research papers about bi men having or spreading H.I.V.
I needed an outside push to come out. That came from my therapist, who listened to my story and concluded — in a concrete way that finally made it click — that I was very clearly bisexual.
Still, for many bi people, the barriers to coming out are daunting. Bisexual people often experience “double discrimination” from both straight and gay/lesbian communities: Many of us feel we’re not “gay enough” for gay spaces or “straight enough” for straight spaces.
Just last month, the actress Anna Paquin responded to exactly this kind of criticism for being both bisexual and married to a man. A critic had commented on an Instagram post: “I am getting tired of seeing ‘bi’ celebrities constantly advocate for it only to end up conventionally married to men with multiple children, living out the so-called white-picket-fence life,” reports People magazine. In an Instagram story, Paquin responded, “Ah yes … the ‘you aren’t queer enough’ BS.”
Bi people are constantly asked to justify our sexuality this way. If we decide to come out, we may then have to “prove” we’re bisexual in the eyes of others by pulling up a résumé of everyone we’ve dated, loved and had sex with. If we haven’t slept with the same number of men as women, then nope, according to some, we’re not bisexual.
This is based on a ridiculous misunderstanding. Bisexuality doesn’t imply an equal attraction to men and women (not to mention nonbinary folks). It’s not based on sexual behavior (virgins still know they’re gay, straight, bi, or something else). And bisexuals are still bi when in a monogamous relationship.
Being “bi enough” to claim the label weighs on Emily Uz, 27, even though we met at The New Society for Wellness (NSFW), a sex club that is inclusive of the bisexual community. Uz told me she has slept with and dated people of all genders. Still, she said she tends to “subconsciously alienate myself from the L.G.B.T.Q. identity.”
“I don’t experience the same struggles that my queer-presenting friends do,” she said. It “makes me feel like I haven’t earned the right to be a part of the community as anything but an ally.”
Others might instinctively reject the label “bisexual.” The writer Harron Walker wrote a 1,500-word essay exploring her identity after her first time having lesbian sex, in which the only mention of the word was a line where she acknowledged her discomfort with it: “‘Bisexual’ would seem to be the obvious cure for my taxonomical neurosis, but at the risk of committing bisexual erasure against myself, the label doesn’t really do anything for me.”
Walker, a trans woman, explained when I asked her to elaborate that this label just doesn’t feel right to her: “I don’t think bisexual and feel ‘Oh, that’s me,’ in the same way that I’ve felt with other terms of identification,” she told me.
Even when a label fits, adopting it is no easy feat. But there’s power in visibility. And if more of us come out, our role models will soon include more neighbors, family members, friends and colleagues.
So I’m making a request to my fellow bi people: If it’s safe for you to do so, come out, why don’t you? And, for whoever needs to hear this, yes, you are bi enough. We don’t just want you to join the bi community; we need you to — for our visibility, our community, and our well-being.
Zachary Zane (@ZacharyZane_) is a Brooklyn-based columnist, sex expert and activist whose work focuses on sexuality, lifestyle, culture, and the L.G.B.T.Q. community. He writes the sex advice column “Sexplain It” at Men’s Health and the relationship column “Zach and the City” at Queer Majority.
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