Sharing in the personal thoughts and reflections of another bisexual person through a blog can be an intimate and powerful experience. If you’re uncomfortable with your bisexuality, then witnessing others confidently identifying as bi and expressing themselves openly on a blog can be really empowering.
Blogs can also help us to better understand our own bisexuality, providing us with the opportunity to recognise ourselves in the experience of others, and to learn about unfamiliar and different experiences as well.
A self-described ‘angry bisexual with a keyboard’, Patrick RichardsFink is one of the most articulate voices in the bi blogosphere. He covers the full gamut of bisexual issues, including identity, bisexual erasure and gender. I particularly like Patrick’s writing on the experience of bisexual men. Also check out his writing on biphobia, starting with this passionate post.
Sue George has been blogging about bisexuality for nearly ten years, making hers one of the longest running bi blogs out there. A journalist by trade, Sue writes beautifully about a wide range of bisexual issues. I recommend taking some time to browse her substantial archive of posts, as many of her early posts remain relevant today.
Sue’s current focus is the experience of older bisexual people. Her excellent ‘Bi and Over 50’ interview series is well worth checking out.
Eloquent and thought-provoking, this blogger details his experience as a young bisexual man coming out to family, friends, and work colleagues. He writes about his efforts to reconcile his sexual orientation with his religion, and also reflects on sexuality and Bangladeshi society.
This is a blog providing valuable insights into bisexuality, religion and culture, but it’s also very good on the universal issues that we face as bisexuals, such as the process of self-acceptance.
This new blog established itself earlier this year with a great series of posts providing advice on how to set up a local bisexual group. Hannah also writes about biphobia and media depictions of bisexuality, as well as reflecting movingly on her experience of bisexuality, family life and bereavement. Her recent post on the lack of LGBT-specific sex education in schools is excellent.
Eliel Cruz is a talented and prolific writer specialising in bisexuality, religion, media and culture. While Eliel doesn’t have a personal blog, he writes regularly online in The Advocate, Huffington Post and Mic. I especially like his articles which reflect on his own experience, such as this one on biphobia and this one on bisexual identity.
Being bisexual in a society which doesn’t understand or accept bisexuality is difficult. When bisexual people look for help and information, they often don’t find what they need. Organisations like BiNet USA and The Bisexual Index do a great job of providing online information, and there are local bisexual groups in many larger urban areas. In general though, bisexual people are poorly served compared to gay and lesbian people. It’s common, for example, for there to be relatively few bisexual-specific resources available at LGBT centres. This increases the importance of well-informed support from individuals who know a bisexual person.
You might be reading this because a friend or relative has come out as bisexual to you. If so, you are doing a great service to that person by exploring how you can help them. Here are some suggestions:
1) Learn about bisexuality and why it’s hard to be bisexual
Before anything else, educate yourself about bisexuality. Understanding bisexuality and the challenges bisexuals face in our society will enable you to appreciate why support for bisexual people is so vitally important.
Life is hard for bisexuals because society doesn’t generally acknowledge bisexuality as a real and legitimate sexual orientation. I’ve written before about the commonly held misguided beliefs about bisexuality which are so hurtful for bisexual people. Learn why the myths and stereotypes are wrong.
Here are some key facts about bisexuality in a nutshell. Bisexuality is a real, common and enduring sexual orientation. Bisexuals comprise the largest group within the LGBT community. Bisexuality is not a phase or a stepping stone to being gay or straight. Bisexuals are no more greedy, libidinous or non-monogamous than anyone else.
2) Be encouraging and positive
Being open about being bisexual is a major achievement. In order to come out, bisexual people have to overcome fear and accept that they will be exposed to prejudice. In short, it takes real guts to come out as bisexual. Celebrate that achievement. Affirm and recognise their bisexuality. Let them know that you appreciate how hard it was to be open about it. Praise them generously for their courage in coming out and being themselves.
3) Show an interest, but be respectful
Being curious about someone’s bisexuality is understandable, and showing that you are interested can be a helpful way of demonstrating that you care and don’t see bisexuality as something that’s outside the boundaries of polite conversation. Limit your curiosity though, in exactly the same way you would if you were talking about any other personal topic. The fact that someone is bisexual doesn’t mean they’ll be happy to be asked intimate questions about sex or sexual preferences, for example.
Asking about a person’s experience of bisexuality, such as how they developed a sense of identity around it, and what kind of problems they have encountered, shows that you are sensitive to their wellbeing and would like to understand and know them better. If they don’t want to talk about those things, then respect that too.
4) Don’t assume or suggest that a bisexual person is really gay or straight
When someone says they are bisexual, assume that they’re telling the truth. While it’s true that some gay and lesbian people initially say they’re bisexual in an attempt to lessen the extent of homophobia they might suffer, this phenomenon has nothing to do with the experience of bisexual people. Similarly, don’t assume that they’re really straight, and are going through some kind of bisexual phase.
I know from personal experience how much it hurts when people have questioned my bisexuality. The first person I came out to as a teenager told me I was a confused straight person. The second person I came out to told me I was gay. Both were wrong, but their lack of acceptance affected me deeply, and I went back into the closet for many years.
It’s just not respectful to tell someone that they don’t know their own mind or experience. Bisexual people have to pluck up a lot of courage to come out, as they know that many people don’t believe that bisexuality really exists. Show bisexual people the respect and admiration they deserve, and believe what they’re telling you!
5) Don’t suggest they limit themselves to heterosexual relationships
Sometimes people suggest that a bisexual person should choose to have relationships only with opposite sex partners in order to avoid prejudice directed at same sex relationships. The problem with this approach is that it validates society’s hostility to bisexuality by encouraging bisexuals to suppress part of their sexuality. The best way for a bisexual person to be happy is for them to feel free to have relationships with whoever they want, not to deny part of themselves.
Remember a bisexual person has no choice about who they are attracted to, just like a gay or straight person has no choice about who they are attracted to.
6) Challenge biphobia and homophobia when you encounter it
If you can, whenever you hear comments and beliefs which put down bisexuals or homosexuals, challenge them. Politely let the speaker know that you find what they are saying unacceptable. Do this even when you’re not in the company of a bisexual person.
Try to challenge beliefs and assumptions in yourself and others that there are only straight people and gay people. For example, when you see a same-sex couple holding hands in the street, consider that one or both people may be bisexual. Notice how often the term ‘gay and lesbian’ is used without including ‘bisexual’. Try to include ‘bisexual’ when you talk about a relevant matter. Changing this kind of understanding creates space and awareness in your mind and the minds of others for bisexual people.
7) Let them know you are there to support them long-term
Having an ally, someone who sticks up for you, who understands bisexuality, who’s there to help, makes a huge difference to any bisexual person. Let them know that they can talk to you if they have a problem relating to their bisexuality. Bisexual people face an ongoing battle against biphobia and misunderstanding. Being open and available, should a sympathetic ear be needed, is a great service.
Earlier this week I interviewed one the UK’s most prominent bisexual activists, Marcus Morgan, founder of The Bisexual Index and Teaching the Difference. I wanted to find out what factors had been important for him in developing a sense of wellbeing and confidence in his bisexuality over the years.
Our conversation covered topics such as bisexual identity and community, coming out, and the importance of engaging with other bisexual people.
Here are some of the highlights from the interview:
How did you come to identify as bisexual?
Marcus Morgan: When I was a teenager I was gay, I wasn’t attracted to women at all. So, the big priority for me was to move away from my family and community, and find a larger setting to explore my sexuality and the gay scene in the UK. When I went to university I joined the gay society and started going out in London, and I met my first boyfriend, who I went out with for about two years. I also moved into shared accommodation with other people from the gay community.
I started to find that I was having very strong feelings towards some of my female friends. It wasn’t something that I acted on at the time, as I was clear then that I was gay, and my friends were lesbians. I tentatively discussed it with one friend on one occasion. This led me to feel that something had changed. It wasn’t that I’d had a revelation about something that I’d been all along, or I’d found a side of myself I’d been suppressing. I’d been quite happy being gay. I very much enjoyed the community, the pubs and clubs in London in the early 1990s. But I was now finding out a different part of myself.
I thought that if I am bisexual, then I need to meet other bisexual people, I need to find out how they see their sexuality. I contacted a large lesbian and gay phone service, and told them I was looking for a bisexual group. The person on the other end of the phone gave me the details of a group in London, and then he said to me, ‘I feel obliged to ask, are you sure you’re bisexual? Because a lot of people come out as bisexual as a stepping stone to coming out as gay. Wouldn’t it just be easier for you to come out as gay first?’. I was taken aback by this and I said ‘Well, I’ve already come out as gay, I’ve been gay for nearly 10 years!’. He said, ‘Oh, well maybe you’re going in the opposite direction then and it could be a stepping stone to being straight for you.’ Anyway, he gave me all the details for the group. Now it’s nearly 25 years later, and I’m still bisexual!
Six months later I plucked up the courage to go to the bisexual group. It took me a while to build up the confidence to go because I was expecting the people at the group to be incredibly comfortable about their sexuality, and thought they might look down on someone who was uncertain. I didn’t have a mental image of what the people would be like, as there wasn’t really any imagery of bisexual people to hang onto at the time.
I went along to the bisexual group, and the person who opened the door was someone from my university gay society! ‘Hi Marcus, so, you’re bisexual too I guess!’, he said. It was the most amazingly warm welcome, because it was someone I already knew. It was just an amazing coincidence. It really made an impression on me about how spaces can be welcoming. One of the things I’ve always tried to do, when I’ve welcomed people to bisexual groups myself, is greet them like they’re old friends who you’re meeting for the first time. I know how terrifying it can be to go for the first time, not knowing what to expect.
What advice would you give to someone who thinks they might be bisexual and are unsure what to do?
I would say find other bisexual people, particularly other bisexual people who are like you and talk to them. Not necessarily about bisexuality, just talk to them. Have the experience of it not being an issue. When I say ‘talk to’, I don’t necessarily mean face to face, it can be instant messenger or commenting on blogs, or tumblr or twitter, or whatever.
The most useful thing you can do is find somewhere that’s home for you. For me BiCon [the UK bisexual conference] is like how I think Christmas is supposed to be. All the family gets together for a big meal and a bit of a party. It’s my bisexual community getting together. Find a bisexual group by contacting an organisation like BiUK or Bisexuals of Colour or BiNet USA. Go along to a meeting or local group. If you’re ok about going to a gay event, go to your local Pride, and find the Bi Stall or Bi group, and just try being bisexual on. Not worrying about it. Just saying, ‘I’m bisexual, that’s ok’. You don’t need to have a detailed talk about what it means yet, you could do that later. Just try accepting it, and finding a space where it can be accepted.
On defining bisexuality
When we set up The Bisexual Index in 2009, there wasn’t anywhere on the internet that set out an easy, understandable definition of bisexuality that people could look at and say ‘that seems to apply to me’. We provided a definition, that a bisexual is someone who is attracted to more than one gender. People can try it out for size. If you like it you can keep it, if you don’t that’s fine.
Back then, if you went to the big gay organisations like Stonewall, they didn’t really define bisexual, or, if they did, they used very convoluted definitions. They’d say things like ‘bisexuality is a fluid attraction towards men and women that can be sexual and/or romantic’. The problem with that is they’d never give such a wordy description for being gay, and it made bisexuality this complicated thing. And if bisexuality’s complicated, then how can you be sure you’re bisexual? And if no one can be sure, then suddenly there’s no bisexuals anymore! I don’t think that’s a deliberate act on the part of the gay organisations, though I’m aware that other people do. I think it’s more about complete unfamiliarity, and that’s why it’s always better for people within a community to define the labels of that community.
– One of the great advantages that bisexual activism has over, say, pansexual activism is that people have already heard of the word ‘bisexual’. So, if someone’s thinking, ‘I’m attracted to 99 girls and Billy in my woodwork class, does that mean I’m bisexual? Am I bisexual?’, we give them a definition as a mirror they can look in. Perhaps they can see their reflection, and say ‘yes, it makes sense, I’ll use that’. We’re very clear on saying to people that it’s not about being 50-50 or simultaneously or currently attracted to more than one gender. It’s about being attracted to more than one. Which is a broad scope, and people can see themselves reflected in that, I hope.
On identifying as bisexual & the importance of labels
One of the things people often say to me in Q&A sessions after I’ve given a talk, is ‘don’t you think we should just get rid of labels?’. I can see that someone who’s confident about their sexuality and has a community and all their friends in place might want to stop being what they perceive as political about it, but labels are absolutely vital when you’re trying to find where you belong in the world. You’ve got to be able to see who is like me, who can I talk to about this stuff, without it being a big thing.
So when people say ‘we should move beyond labels’ or ‘label jars, not people’, I say ‘label yourself’, then find other people who label themselves, then compare labels. Then you can find people who are on the same page as you. If we ignore labelling, then how can we monitor inequality, for example? If we’re not using labels then we’ve no chance.
On bisexual erasure and changing society
People don’t see bisexuality. We sometimes talk about bisexual invisibility which is useful, but it’s not as useful as talking about bisexual erasure. Bisexual invisibility is something that bisexuals need to fix about ourselves; bisexual erasure is something society needs to fix about itself. The weight isn’t on bisexuals to be more visible, because the people who are out there being visible bisexuals are a tiny fraction of the number of people who are bisexual.
It’s far more useful if we can get people to stop assuming that everyone’s either gay or straight. We shouldn’t need to wear a purple T-shirt or a ‘nobody knows I’m bisexual’ badge for people to realise that maybe Bob in the office who’s mentioned that he was out with Jean last week and John this week isn’t talking about his brother, maybe he’s talking about a male partner, and a female partner, maybe he’s bisexual.
– All the surveys suggest there are more bisexuals than lesbian or gay people, but our society is so good at erasing bisexuality and only seeing people as gay or straight that we just don’t know the majority of bisexual people out there. So promoting inclusive definitions, giving people a chance to see themselves reflected in that; having open and welcoming bisexual spaces…these are small things we can do to turn the tide.
On the importance of the bisexual community
I think bisexuality’s really simple. Bisexuality is not something that people agonise over once they get into a community where bisexuality is seen as something that’s simple and you can just be, and get on with it.
– I’ve had very little cause in the last two decades to doubt or be uncertain about who I find sexually attractive. When I came out as bisexual and joined the bisexual community, I was immediately welcomed into a supportive group of people who were of very similar outlook and age to me. I was going to my first Bicon within 6 months of first attending a bisexual group. I was writing for bisexual newsletters by then. I’ve been lucky and privileged that the sort of things I was looking for in a social group were pretty much precisely the things the bisexual community at the time was providing. I had a very soft landing into bisexuality and I’ve not really had any need to question it or doubt it.
Marcus Morgan is founder and coordinator of The Bisexual Index, an activist network raising awareness of bisexuality and the issues that affect bisexual people. He is also an equality and diversity trainer specialising in bisexual engagement and inclusion. His clients include major international companies, government departments and NGOs. He was an author of the Open University’s 2012 Bisexuality Report, and has written on bisexuality for The Guardian and various LGBT publications.
Somewhere between 0.5% and 5% of the population self-identify as bisexual. Many more people are attracted to both men and women, but choose not to identify themselves as bisexual. Why?
The primary cause is social stigma and prejudice. Our culture doesn’t generally recognise bisexuality as a legitimate sexual orientation. Bisexual people receive messages from society that bisexuality doesn’t exist, and that they are lying or confused gay or straight people. We are told that bisexuality is a transitional phase, and that bisexuals are promiscuous and require simultaneous relationships with members of both sexes. Bisexual people rarely meet openly bisexual people in their social circles, or see them depicted in TV or film drama.
Society’s negative view of bisexuality undermines our confidence in our bisexual identity and often leads us to hide in the closet. It’s common for bisexual people to identify falsely as straight or gay to avoid prejudice and ridicule. I used to.
When I first came out as bisexual aged 19, my girlfriend told me that bisexuality didn’t exist and that I was just a confused and attention-seeking straight person. When I came out to a friend, he told me that men who said they were bisexual were really gay. My self-esteem plummeted. Instead of receiving support and acceptance, I was told that I didn’t know my own mind. I decided that coming out as bisexual was a bad idea.
After that, I chose to hide my bisexuality. I alternated between straight or gay identities depending on who I was with at the time. This never felt right though, and not being able to be openly bisexual knocked my confidence. I often felt unhappy.
In my late 20s, I realised that I would never feel comfortable if I couldn’t be honest about who I really was. I finally began coming out as bisexual to everyone. A weight was lifted, and my life got so much better.
So why exactly did identifying as bisexual make such a positive difference? For me it boils down to three things:
1) It Boosts Your Self-Esteem and Confidence
Assertively identifying as bisexual enhances your confidence and makes you feel better about yourself. It’s true that if you hide your bisexuality, then you’ll avoid some of the prejudice and stigma directed at bisexual people. But there’s a cost. You’ll never feel known and accepted by others.
We all want to be loved and accepted. When we don’t receive enough love and acceptance, especially from the important people in our lives, then our confidence and self-image can be low. If you choose not to identify as bisexual, then a major part of who you are will never be known and accepted, even by your closest friends and family.
In addition, if we don’t identify as bisexual because society doesn’t like it, then we validate society’s view that bisexuality is something to be ashamed of, or something illegitimate. This can contribute to internalised biphobia, where we feel that there really is something wrong with our bisexual orientation and identity.
2) You Become Part of a Community
Identifying as bisexual connects you to a community of other bisexual people. You can interact with bisexual people online via forums, blogs and vlogs, or in person at bisexual social and support groups.
It’s hugely empowering to engage with the experience of other bisexual people. It helps relieve the sense of isolation that we commonly feel, and enables us to develop our understanding of our own sexuality.
Building relationships with other bisexual people will also reinforce your sense of bisexual identity. Witnessing others confidently identifying as bisexual is a great confidence booster!
3) You Change Society
Identifying as bisexual challenges society’s prejudice and faulty beliefs about bisexuality. Society says we don’t exist? Well, here I am, bisexual and proud! Society says this is just a phase? Well, I’m still bisexual!
Every person that identifies as bisexual and tells others about it changes perceptions, even if you only tell one person! The more people identify openly as bisexual, the harder it will be for myths and negative messages about bisexuality to survive. Identifying as bisexual, therefore, doesn’t just improve your life, but also the lives of others.
So, if you’re lacking confidence in identifying as bisexual, consider the benefits. It really can change your life!
I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you don’t yet identify as bisexual, what are the main barriers holding you back? If you do identify as bisexual, how did it change your life?