Ten Things To Think Really Carefully About Before Saying When Someone Tells You They Are Bisexual
Congratulations! Your friend/family member/colleague just came out to you as bi! *
That’s awesome—you’re obviously a person they trust and value, one they expect to treat them with care and respect in responding to this information, which in some contexts can cause people to lose their jobs and income and health insurance, or be at risk of physical and/or emotional violence, or be cut off from other friends and family and faith and community members. You must be incredibly great for them to put themselves at such risk with you.
There are a lot of painful stereotypes and myths out there about bisexuals, and most people who are coming out as bi have heard them long before coming out, so they know that with a lot of other people they’re going to get the proverbial “whole lotta ugly from a never-ending parade of stupid.” But not you.
They’re cool with you, and know, or at least hope, you’ll be cool with them.
You, um, don’t want to screw this up, right?
Of course not. You’re a good doobie. You wanna be down with the Bis as a Fierce Ally. Whether you identify as straight, gay, lesbian, pan, omni, asexual, or some other orientation, whether you’re cisgender or trans* or genderfluid/queer, you want to show you are worthy of this bisexual person’s trust in you.
So, if you’re thinking of saying one of the following phrases, or something close to one of them**, you might want to pause, take a breath, consider the context, think how you’d feel hearing it if the roles were reversed, and maybe, just maybe, say something else.
Or just give a hug. Hugs are almost always good responses. Sometimes they’re the best ones.
*While some of what’s on here would apply in the situation where a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, or other partner has just come out to you as bi, those are obviously different situations and probably deserve their own list, since your romantic and/or sexual relationship to that person may be directly involved. This list is really for those relationships that are only familial, professional, and platonic.
** Every single phrase here, or something very close to it, has been said to me or to bi friends during their coming out processes, by people they regarded as close, trustworthy friends, family members, or colleagues.
10. Why are you telling me? I don’t care who you sleep with or what you do in your bedroom or private life. It’s no one’s business/it doesn’t matter that you’re bisexual.
Easy there, Privacy Patty: they’re telling you because it does matter, to them, that people know—or at least that you know—who they are as a whole person; don’t go confusing that with what they do, or don’t do, in their personal sex life. A lot of non-bi people try to over-sexualize bisexuality this way by making statements suggesting it’s all, always, and only about sexual activity, rather than about sexual orientation. If you’re straight or gay, think about how you’d feel if someone said something so important to who you are as a person was unimportant or no one’s business.
9. Oh, everyone’s a little bit bisexual. (Translation: Oh, I don’t think anyone’s really bisexual.)
Good for you, you know your Kinsey Scale; here’s your gold star. Now: shut up.
Please don’t ever, ever let this first phrase pass your lips in earshot of a bi person, particularly one who’s coming out to you. Because it actually, logically and emotionally, means the second phrase. If everyone’s “bisexual” no one is. And this person is telling you, usually after a long and sometimes painful process of figuring shit out, that they are. Please don’t let your response invalidate the very identity they’re fighting to claim and be proud of. Bisexuals exist. Deal with it. And deal with us with respect, not suspicion about our existence.
8. What happened to make you this way? When did you decide? How do you really know you’re bi if you haven’t been with w amount of x gender(s) y number of times and performed z sexual activities?
Life. Same as you. They didn’t. Same as you. (They might be able to talk about when they first knew, and might want to, and if you’re gay or lesbian you might be able to identify with that experience, so go ahead and ask that.) Sexuality isn’t a formula or a certification course: you don’t solve it with the right integers, nor do you earn or achieve it with the right prerequisites or courses. It just: is. Just like your sexuality, their bisexuality isn’t dependent upon what they’ve done with whom, how much, how often, or in what variations. You’re smart. You can do this. This isn’t that tough: just think of your own experience and analogize.
7. So, do you sleep with both men and women and others and how does that work? So you’re non-monogamous? So, you’re monogamous anyway?
Bisexuality doesn’t equal non-monogamy, ethical or otherwise. Bisexuality doesn’t equal monogamy, coerced or otherwise. Just like every other sexuality. People’s individual relationship statuses are informed by, but not determined by, their sexuality, just like yours is. Do we assume all straight people are non-monogamous? (Statistics would suggest most actually are, over their lifetimes, but “most” isn’t “all.”) Or that all lesbians are monogamous? Why? Don’t ask these questions unless you’re a close enough friend to be in a conversation about relationship issues, rather than sexuality itself. Even then think really carefully about it: the coming out moment probably isn’t the time, unless the bi person coming out to you invites the discussion. And be prepared to discuss your own relationship decisions, if so.
6. What STDs do you have?
Show your papers first, idiot. And it’s “STIs” these days, for “Sexually Transmitted Infections,” and out bisexuals are no more intrinsically at risk for contracting or transmitting them than anyone else. (Closeted people are.)
5. So, it’s just like a physical thing, right?
Yes. Just like your sexual orientation. Oh, wait…what’s that? Fact is: bisexuals feel a whole host of different ways about their sexual/romantic/emotional attractions to people: just like people of other orientations do. These things can even shift over time, from person to person, from relationship to relationship, and within relationships. Just like everyone else. If you’re gay, are you attracted to all men equally? Sexually and emotionally? If you’re straight, do you feel the same exact way about the hot model on the magazine cover as you do about your gorgeous spouse? If you’re a lesbian, have you had a crush on someone you wouldn’t want to actually be in a relationship with, or even have sex with? Yeah? Good, then. You’ve passed Human Sexuality 101, and need no additional knowledge to understand the nature of bisexual attractions.
4. That’s great, but being bisexual isn’t nearly as hard as being X or Y.
Don’t. Just don’t play the Oppression Olympics. No one wins. There’s too much that divides all of us already from our common humanity; engaging in round after round of “Who’s suffered more?” does nothing to alleviate anyone’s suffering or bring us any closer together. And it’s exactly what those who enjoy our suffering want and expect us to do. Knock it off.
3. I can’t believe you’re reinforcing the gender binary.
History check: you know who was on the front lines at Stonewall? Bisexuals and trans* people. Etymology check: do you know what the Latin route of “bi” really means in “bisexual” as bisexuals themselves have defined it? Two, as in “one’s own and other genders.” Note the plural.
(Did you also know that not all lesbians come from a tiny Greek island? And that not all gays are happy and carefree? Words change meaning. Bis are here, we’re queer, and we’ve been *trans-inclusive and *trans-friendly since before most people making the *transphobic accusations against us now were born.)
Definition check: Bisexuality means having the capacity to be sexually, romantically, and/or emotionally attracted to members of one’s own and other genders, not necessarily in the same way, not necessarily at the same time, and not necessarily to the same degree. Nothing in there about reinforcing gender binarism or being trans*phobic. (Refer to Number 4 for another take on why it’s important to drive the stake through the heart of this emerging stereotype about bisexuals.)
2. Who have you slept with? Who else is bi?
Seriously? SMH. They maybe should drop you as a trustworthy friend or stay away from you as a family member or colleague if your response to their coming out is to ask for a sexual dossier and “dirt” on other people.
1. You’re still my friend. I don’t care what you are. You could be blue, purple, or green. I love you no matter what.
This one’s tough, because it’s so common, and so understandable. You want to be supportive, so you come out with something like this. But please refer back to Number 10 and realize that this is just a kinder, less blunt version of it, at best.
And, at worst, it equates bisexuality with something to be ashamed of, something that has to be forgiven or overlooked.
When you tell someone, “I don’t care what you are, I love you anyway!” you’re telling them two things: 1. You’re not listening: they want you to love them as that thing. That’s why they’re telling you. That’s who and what they are, and they want you to care about it. Because they do; 2. What they are is something they should feel awkward over, and that you’re rising above. They don’t want you to. They want to be themselves with you, and they’re not apologizing for it—so don’t forgive them.
Hope that helps you navigate your way through these very important conversations, BiAllies and Would-be Bi Allies! Questions and comments welcome. Do you find these useful if you imagine someone coming out to you? If you’ve come out to someone, do you wish they’d read something like this first?
This. All of this.