My Bisexual Guilt

It’s weird, coming out as bi: once you’re out, you might rather you’d just stayed in.

I’ve known I was attracted ““ emotionally, romantically and sexually ““ to both men and women since I was 16. I didn’t come out, though, until almost ten years later, by which time most of my family and close friends thought they’d nailed my personality down as tightly as could be expected. Adjusting to this new information has proven to be surprisingly difficult for some of them.

I guess my perspective on it is skewed. I’ve known this about myself since puberty, while they’re all having to re-jigger their mental picture of who I am. Deep down, though, a little voice is shouting: why is this such a big deal? My bisexuality, although it was hidden for years, doesn’t change who I am. I have not vanished and replaced myself with some individual whose sexual deviancy must be taken into account. My mother, who said, “I don’t know what this means,” when I told her I was bi, didn’t seem to be able to understand that nothing about me had fundamentally changed.

Of course, none of this is any different than coming out as gay or lesbian.

What is different is that, as bisexual, neither side wants you. Being bisexual sometimes feels like being a child in the middle of a custody battle ““ except no one wants custody. And that’s where the guilt begins.

LGBT people ““ we’re right there in the name, before “trans*” and after “gay.” I identify really strongly with the gay movement; certainly anyone who is anti-gay and -lesbian is anti-bisexuality too, right? We’re all on the same side, which is the side of non-straightness. Discrimination hurts us all. But neither the straight nor the gay sides seem to feel that way.

I hear it when, while joking about what a terrible gay I am because I’ve never seen Rocky Horror, a lesbian friend chips in with “No, you’re a terrible gay because you have a boyfriend.” I hear it when my brother, after a night of drinking in which we both flirt with the same woman, says he’ll make me an omelet “only if you promise never to fake-lesbian cock-block me ever again.”

We’re doubly outsiders, the bi folks. Straight people think that we’re greedy, or assume all bi chicks are really just more likely to make out with a girl while their boyfriends can watch. Gay people think we ruin the cause, that somehow we lend credence to the idea that gays can be “cured” or turned back to heterosexuality. Obviously, these are broad generalizations and definitely don’t apply to everybody, but it’s surprising how often these attitudes are the ones that prevail. I feel guilty that we can’t find a space for bi people, and that I might be letting the side down because I’m on the spectrum somewhere, rather than sitting firmly on one end.

Bi folks can “pass.” I have a male partner right now, so the front I present to the world is overtly straight. Inside, I know it’s a lie. How different would my life be now if my partner were female? How would people’s perceptions of me change? I feel guilty that my life is so comparatively free of overt prejudice compared to other LGBT people, whose differences are more easily perceived from a distance.

I can’t speak for other bisexual people, but I go through cyclical kinds of sexuality: a while liking men, a transitional period where men and women are equally attractive, full on love for women. These cycle through without warning or definite duration. What do I do if, someday soon, I wake up and have to tell my partner that I’m no longer attracted to him, because another side of me has kicked in? I feel guilty that I may never be able to have a stable relationship, and that I’m a terrible partner as a result.

Mostly I feel guilty because, even despite all the marches and pride stickers and “It Gets Better” videos, my upbringing still can’t be erased. Generations of stern German Lutheran ancestors are looking through time and chastising me ““ not for my sexual preferences, but for my inconsistency and inability to pick a side. It’s exhausting, being unable to reconcile two sides of myself into what should be a healthy whole. It’s not for nothing that I often describe myself as “half gay.” I know that, strictly speaking, it’s not accurate, and it’s a label that many other bisexuals despise, but for me it’s often the only way I can come to terms with who I am.

I’ve submitted this article as Anonymous, despite being a regular contributor to Persephone Magazine. Yet another little guilty failing: being unable to own up to these feelings, even if it’s under an alias. Forgive me that. Just like all the straights and all the gays, I’m only human.

28 thoughts on “My Bisexual Guilt”

  1. Oh, Lord. I’ve been having a whole lot of conflicting feelings about this recently.

    I’ve pretty much always been boy-crazy. But! I’ve been attracted to girls, a little, here and there. Not in the same exact way, so I figured it was just crushes. Then two years ago I was at a party and fell head over heels for this girl I never saw again (and nothing happened with her, I had a boyfriend at the time) and last year a friend of mine who happens to be bi came on to me when we were both very drunk, and it went pretty far – but she had a boyfriend then and I was lucid enough to stop her before she did something she’d regret. She never mentioned it again – I suspect she forgot about it, she was extremely drunk – and neither did I, but since then, I’ve been really confused.

    I’d been suspecting I might be bisexual for a while, but that made it real, and I’ve been kind of running from it ever since.

    And I’ve never told a soul, until now. So…I’m messed-up.

  2. I’m in that really interesting situation Shoshie wrote at Feministe about last year (http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/08/04/i-like-boys-but-also-girls-but-also-boys/) where I am bi but so long as I’ve known this about myself, I’ve always been happily paired in a monogamous relationship with a wonderful man. So there’s this part of me that is VERY REAL but few people actually know about it because there’s never been a point where I was w/ a woman and I never really had a formal coming out. I’m just going to quote her because I couldn’t say it better myself.

    I feel like my sexuality is this weird, awkward thing that sits quietly in the corner until someone assumes that everyone there is straight, and then it has a big ol’ awkward party. It’s become a big question for me, whether or not to come out to people that I meet. Because, at this point, what difference does it make? What does it matter who I’m attracted to? Mr. Shoshie and I are monogamous, so I’m with one person for the foreseeable future. But then, sexuality does come up occasionally and then I feel weird because here’s this person that I’m friends with, that I’ve known for a year, who knows so much about me, but doesn’t know that I also like people who aren’t men. And who I find attractive shouldn’t be a big deal, but somehow it is anyways.

    1. I feel like that too sometimes. Like I said in another comment, I’ve been married to a man for 10 years. It seems like the way I edge it out there and semi-come out to other people is by linking to articles like this, or talking about the dream where Helen Mirren broke up with me, ha. I also had a review of the It Gets Better book published on Pajiba where I effectively came out there, so whoever read it now knows.

      Sometimes it feels semi-cowardly to dance around the subject, but right now, it seems like the only way I know how.

  3. Oh, and a side question: To those of you who identify as bisexual (or its similar monikers), do you ever find yourself wanting to claim people for the “third team,” so to speak? Like, you find out some celebrity is bi, and even though deep down you think it shouldn’t matter, you still want to be like, “YES! GO TEAM!” ?

    Or sometimes your radar goes off a bit and someone strikes you as an equal opportunity ogler, and you want to be like, “It’s ok! Come on out! The third team is awesome! We welcome you with open arms!”

    Yes? No? Does the sports metaphor need to go? ha

  4. I once read a “joke” (kinda one of those sad-funny-because-its-true things) that LGBT is a descending order of acceptance. To trot out stereotypes: Lesbians, you get straight dudes who think you’re hot. Gay dudes, you get straight women who think you’re a great best friend. Blah blah blah. Bisexuals get all the fucked up myths from both “teams” and then trans people are still in that “I’m trying to understand” period from all sorts of people.

    That’s oversimplifying things, of course, but I see the truth in it.

    And I understand you wanting to write under “guest post” anonymity because it CAN be hard and uncomfortable to be fully out when you’re in this seemingly no-man’s-land of sexuality.

    For me, I haven’t had “official” conversations with my parents/relatives, but most friends know, and of course my husband does. (Yes, another “hurdle” in being straight-esque: I’ve been married to a man for 10 years.) It’s not really a secret, but not really something discussed either. So I get you — it’s complicated.

    I’m uneasy with using percentages (though it was more comfortable to do so in the past), so I wouldn’t say that I’m 50/50 or 60/40 or whatever. I can’t exactly put a number on it, you know? I find all sorts of people attractive, physically or intellectually, and the list-maker in me feels like that without an actual tally, I shouldn’t write up a percentage, ha. (Can you imagine? An actual tally sheet?! Hilarious.)

    Anyway, thank you for this post. Visibility is one of the first steps, I think.

    1. I think there’s more of a debate there between who is “oppressed” more, lesbians or gay men. The fact that straight men see lesbians as titillating is a pretty double-edged sword; it means that people don’t take lesbians’ declarations of their sexuality as seriously, and it means that lesbians often have to deal with a lot of harassment by straight men (much, much more so than gay men get from straight women) who think that they can “turn” them. Pop culture also seems to take gay men’s sexual journeys a lot more seriously than lesbians’, too; just look at the way Glee has treated Kurt’s coming-out journey compared to Santana’s. Kurt being bullied was given all the seriousness it required, while Santana’s outing was made all about Finn.

      I do think it’s clear though that bisexuals and, especially, transgender people are marginalized within the LGBT community, though. But as a bi person myself I don’t know if I’d say the larger society treats bisexuals worse than gay and lesbian people. Again, I think there are different issues each one faces, and doing an Oppression Olympics to figure out who is worse off doesn’t help anyone.

  5. What bothers me the most is what seems to be an automatic presumption that since I’m bi, I must be promiscuous.  I’m bi so it’s okay to assume I’m interested in fucking you and your girlfriend at the same time? I’m pissed off all over again just typing this.

     

     

     

     

  6. I am bisexual and I understand completely. From the jeers about not being lesbian enough or boyfriends wanting you to be with a girl for their enjoyment. Surprisingly for me, I’ve received a lot of biphobia from other LGBT people than heterosexuals. I cannot tell you how many time I have been rejected by lesbian women because of my bisexuality. The minute the find out they are suspicious I’ll cheat, or that I am actually a lesbian who’s afraid to come out or a million other negative ridiculous things. It’s lousy and hurtful. The irony of some in the LGBT community judging and discriminating against bisexuals is just too much.

  7. And this I why I refuse to put people into corners and try to tell the people around me that you could think in partners instead of straight/gay/bi. I know I’m fighting windmills here, but the more and more I pay attention to it, the more I notice that bisexuals are getting stuck between ship and land (paraphrasing a Dutch verb here).

  8. I’ve considered myself bi since learning this was an option, pretty much. And yep, the guilt is real.

    Being “out” seems to be a matter of degrees – while I haven’t quite shouted my orientation from the rooftops, the people I’ve discussed such topics with all know, but I guess there aren’t that many, and the older I get, the less I bring it up. The guilt part comes from, uhm, not acting queer enough to feel as if I even have a right to speak up as a member of LGBT community – and I’m sure there are many people in there who would indeed tell me I don’t. I’m not 50/50 bi to begin with, and I “pass” as straight because I ended up finding love with a boy rather than a girl, and then monogamy ended up working for me. So now I feel that loudly proclaiming to be bi would likely just get me dismissed as a pretender, that lowest-of-the-low stereotype of a chick who was only bicurious in college; probably not even worthy of actual biphobia, just overall rejection. Imagine how great that feels.

    So yeah, I hang somewhere on the fringes, minding my own business. Eventually, it doesn’t matter much if I’m perceived as bi or just as a sympathetic straight person, while I’m doing my bit promoting LGBT rights.

    1. Oh god, the not being 50/50 thing is why I have a hell of a time describing myself as bi. Am I attracted to women? Yes. But being attracted to men happens more often for me. Oh, and there is the long time boyfriend. So am I bi? I guess so? The term never seems to sit right with me. No one would know if I didn’t make a point of telling them, and I feel stupid having to announce that I sometimes like girls, but I am in a committed long term relationship with a dude. And then I feel like a coward for not being able to talk about it. There is no win condition in this scenario.

      1. Yep, I tend to feel like a coward for not talking about it, and at low points, I’ve questioned if I even qualify as bi. But it’s a spectrum, not a damn competition of being the queerest of them all. And my orientation is my own to define, it’s just as valid as anyone else’s, and narrow-minded people who don’t think it’s good enough can go fuck themselves (because I’m not going to).

        Also, I totally ogled a woman walking a chocolate labrador when I was out getting groceries earlier.

        1. I never really question if I’m attracted to women, just if the word bi fits or not.

          Case in point, the following is paraphrased from a conversation with friends:

          Best Friend: I think if you weren’t with your boyfirend, you’d totally be with a girl.
          Me: Ha, ha… Probably
          Other Friend, not so in the loop: Wait, so you’re bi?
          Me: Uh, well, I dunno. I’m me.
          Random Ladyperson standing in line next to us: Good answer.

          Also, cute girl and cute dog? Bonus!

  9. Also, let’s talk about flagging! I cut my hair short and wear pretty gender-neutral clothes because they’re comfy and because I own a lot of geeky t-shirts, but I feel like my bi-ness is invisible unless I’m actively hitting on/macking on someone at a party or whatever. I told my sister that I wanted to buy a funky hat in order to stand out as non-straight a little more and she always came back with “But you’re NOT A LESBIAN!”

  10. So hey, this is me too. I have a long-term male partner who I’m probably going to marry, but have been out to everybody but my parents for about 5 years. I’m volunteering for the Dyke March next week during Pride and am scared to wear the shirt I inked with a giant B at a bi mental health study launch.

    This shit from both sides of the gay-straight spectrum gets us down and worsens our mental health outcomes to just less severe than that of trans* people. But I feel like nobody’s paying attention to us because we get straight privilege some of the time.

    1. I definitely think many of the issues that bisexual individuals face are, in a way, similar to those some trans* individuals face. Basically, if you’re not on one side or the other of the binary, you have to fight even harder for your right to not be silenced.

      Case in point, one of my BF’s long-time friends is a trans* woman, and while she takes hormone replacements (when she has the money for them), she still has a penis and such. Because of that, and also because of her general ambivalence about the vaginal constructive surgery, some people (even in the trans* community!) would say that she’s not truly a woman. Again, it’s a sort of “pick a side” mentality. Either she has to identify with her biological sex and keep her penis, or she has to get EVERYTHING changed and become a “full” woman.

      I see this as indicative a sort of reformation of binaries. Generally, I believe that this sort of dichotomous thinking is an enemy to feminism.

      1. Yes yes yes! The Dyke March this year, for the first time, is welcoming trans*women to march in the parade- anyone who feels like a woman who’s into women is welcome to march. Men, whether male-bodied or not, as well as straight allies of both sexes, are asked to be there for support but not march. The exclusion of trans*women last year led to a HUGE shitstorm and I’m so glad that it’s been rectified instead of everyone being defensive.

        People on the spectrum, unite for great justice!

      2. Silverwane, I love what you said and agree – we still insist on stuffing people into these binary categories and that it is both anti-feminist and, ultimately anti-LGBT. As a bi person, I feel that the fluidity it brings gives me more in common with trans folks than with either LG or straight folks. Identify as queer, a word I love because it embraces that fluidity and ambiguity. It is also absolutely unapologetic. During 14 years in a relationship with another woman, I often had difficulty coming out – much more so to LG people than straight folks because I wanted to be accepted as part of the LGBT community and my political and cultural affiliations are very LBGT-oriented, After we broke up, I decided to hell with it. I was no longer going to apologize for myself. I have an open AND committed life-relationship with a man (that was a surprise, I expected to fall in love with a woman and occasionally play with men). I don’t apologize for my desire, my gender play (I enjoy gender-fuck), or the way I live my life.

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