I was in a happy long-term relationship when I started to understand I was bisexual.
I’d always joked about having ‘girl crushes’ but there were a couple of these, on friends who were open about their queerness, which tipped me into the realisation. But it took me years to tell anyone.
I wasn’t alone: In 2020, Stonewall’s Bi Report of 5000 self-identified bisexual people showed that only 36% are out to all their friends, and only 20% are out to all their family.
Honestly, I still fall into the latter category – though perhaps writing about it will help to ‘out me’ to them…
Why do so few bi people come out? In my opinion, there’s double insecurity. I feel that there’s uncertainty about the reaction on both sides: fearing homophobic prejudice from straight groups, and fearing lack of acceptance from queer groups for not being a ‘full’ member (especially if you’re in a relationship that appears to be heterosexual.)
It felt like I couldn’t be my full self at family gatherings where ‘queerness’ was an exotic, abstract concept, yet I also couldn’t turn up at a gay bar holding hands with my boyfriend.
With lack of representation and role-models in the media (how many bisexual celebrities can you name?), many people just like me may stay closeted to avoid association with negative stereotypes of hypersexualised, unfaithful, chaotic bisexuals.
For people who are already partnered when considering coming out, there’s additional complications. Being bisexual is obviously different to identifying as gay or lesbian in that you can be in a fulfilling straight relationship.
When I thought about coming out, all I could see were negatives, and it felt difficult to tell whether they were rational or irrational.
I was in a happy five-year-long relationship with a lovely man – why bother to come out? Privately, I didn’t want to upset him, make him think I was cheating, or even risk changing our dynamic. Publicly, I didn’t want to seem like an attention-seeker or pretender. It was easier to stay behind the façade.
I thought that unless I was single, my bisexuality wouldn’t be relevant. But the natural conclusion of this is that if you’re monogamous, you’re always going to feel like there’s ‘half’ of your identity that isn’t allowed.
Bisexual people end up defined, not by their own identities, but by whoever they happen to be dating. It’s another way that bisexuality is erased – and when bisexuality becomes so invisible that it seems non-existent in our society, it’s even more difficult to shed negative beliefs about it.
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The problem with not talking to anyone about it was that it took longer for me to accept myself. It took me a long time to even acknowledge my capacity to fall in love with someone regardless of their gender, or to be attracted to people of different genders, meant that I was bisexual.
Alone in my head, I doubted myself. I longed to be accepted by a community I hadn’t yet accepted myself. Bisexual erasure comes from outside and inside.
The very fact I felt I had to hide it made me feel ashamed of it. Even when I did finally label myself in my own mind, I didn’t exactly feel celebratory, because it didn’t seem to change anything – I was still focused on how other people would react, and how I thought I needed to be different in order to be ‘properly’ bisexual.
I also felt guilty that in my position of relative privilege (as being in a straight relationship meant avoiding discrimination I’d likely have experienced if I’d been in a same-gender relationship, not to mention being a white person who was worked and socialised in liberal spaces) I wasn’t making bisexuality more visible, more normalised. It became a murky, messy ball of worry, inhibiting my self-worth.
Ironically, it was also affecting the relationship I was trying so hard not to destabilise, because I felt like I was hiding my feelings and identity from my partner. I reached a point where I didn’t know if it would be harder to come out or to remain as I was.
Unsure what else to do, I started to write. I wrote about a character realising she’s bisexual, torn between a straight world and a gay world, and (falsely) thinking she has to lead a double life to belong in both.
I used fiction like a thought experiment. These characters became very different to me and made different choices (which are not necessarily the ‘right’ ones – after all, real-life sensible choices aren’t always the most entertaining story!) but they helped me to realise the fictions I had been telling myself about how queer people were ‘meant’ to be.
This would become my debut novel, Double Booked, which I’m proud to say was published last year, for Pride.
I read as many books as I could with bisexual characters (spoiler: there aren’t as many as you’d hope. Casey McQuiston is a great contemporary rom-com writer with lots of representation, or if you’d like something more in the literary canon, try Iris Murdoch!)
I more actively educated myself about queer history, culture, music and films, and joined friends at inclusive events and spaces. They helped me to do the most important thing: to understand and accept myself, regardless of whether I then came out to others. I hope that my characters will help others along the same journey.
In the end, when I did come out to my partner and my friends, they were not only supportive but also, frankly, unsurprised. Think of how much time and angst I could have saved…
You should never feel like you have to come out. Whether you’re Harry Styles or Joe Bloggs, you don’t owe anyone your truth or experiences. Sure, we celebrate and appreciate everyone who does, but until we live in an equal utopia, know that your identity is no less valid because of how many other people know.
That’s why I think coming out to yourself is the most important part.
Immersing myself in queer culture helped me to feel more accepted and accepting, and to shed some of my internalised shame. I don’t believe there is anything shameful about having the capacity to fall in love with someone regardless of their gender.
I’m glad that I came out, because it’s helped me to realise that being bi doesn’t have to be a big deal. I hope that I can be just one more example of an out bisexual living a pleasantly humdrum life. If more bi people were visible, then we’d all have a better sense of how varied we are as individuals.
But even if I hadn’t, I know I’m a happier person for having come out to myself. I lifted my internalised shame and fear, and accepted that queer attraction is perfectly normal and really rather lovely.
Self-knowledge and self-acceptance are surely the main goals in life, and coming out to myself meant realising that being being bi didn’t mean I needed to do anything differently, it was just who I was.
Now, having a ‘girl crush’ doesn’t have to be a huge source of angst.
In my next book, maybe my queer characters will get the joy of accepting themselves from the very start…
This article was originally published in 2022
Lily Lindon’s debut novel Double Booked is published by Head of Zeus, RRP £14.99
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