While coming out can be incredibly validating, the reality is not always as poetic, specifically for bisexual people.


By J.R. Yussuf

Today marks the 31st anniversary of National Coming Out Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of civil rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. A main goal of this celebration is to help create an environment where living openly and honestly is possible.

But while coming out can be incredibly validating, a way to filter out people who are unsafe to be vulnerable around, symbolic of personal growth, a mark of acceptance of yourself and can allow people to see you in your totality, the reality is not always as poetic, specifically for bisexual people.

According to a new Pew Research analysis, 19 percent of bisexual people are out to close people in their lives, compared to 75 percent of gay and lesbian people. Though it’d be better for optics if that number were larger, we must first contend with the fact that the world does not make it safe for us to be out.

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There will be no shortage of people who paternalistically encourage coming out as though it is an eternal salve, nor, worse still, people who try to guilt bisexual people into coming out as though anyone else’s curiosity proceeds our right to agency over what we tell to whom.

But as a bisexual person, you do not owe anyone disclosure. Not your family, not your partner, not your close friends, not your healthcare provider and not LGBTQ+ organizations. Your agency to decline to reveal this information is not compromised in the least by having a bisexual orientation.

This paramount agency extends beyond disclosure. It also applies to the choice to only engage a particular gender(s), which also doesn’t invalidate your bisexuality. I’ve known I was bisexual for a long time, yet it hasn’t gotten any easier being repeatedly told that I’m actually gay because of my dating history, and that bisexual women are actually straight – an overt symptom of the phallic centric cultural climate we live under. I also know firsthand that communicating attraction to more than one gender while in a relationship can be seen by one’s partner as a signifier that infidelity has occurred or a declaration that the relationship has reached its end, which makes me rightfully cautious about disclosing (though I can’t exactly take back what I’ve already put out on the internet).

There are many reasons why I do not come out (irl) that range from not wanting to be attacked to not wanting to be interrogated about my dating and sexual history to not wanting my admission of having a bisexual identity mean that everyone has access to my body to not wanting my donated blood to automatically be rejected to not wanting to be harassed about whether I would date a transgender person or if I’m aware that using the word “bisexual” invalidates non-binary people – which it does not (all of this would be worse still if I were a bisexual woman or a trans person or non-binary).

In these moments of disclosure, I am also expected to hold space for people to vent their frustrations over some past bisexual lover who did them wrong or who they felt insecure next to. I am expected to be inept in explaining the oddity of my own existence, whether or not I am polyamorous, the Kinsey scale, sexual history versus identity versus orientation, gender roles, how gender impacts bisexual visibility and gender fluidity.

This happens on any given day, whether I’m at a bar, a professional event or at a café. It is exhausting and a mood killer, and the same is not expected to the same degree of gays/lesbians or straight people if their orientation becomes the topic of conversation.

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Bisexual people need to be loved and liked just like everyone else, even if certain aspects of ourselves remain hidden. You have a right to privacy. You have a right to not share everything about yourself and every aspect of your experience. Biphobia and bi-erasure are not problems for us to solve (as they were not created by us) by offering ourselves up like martyrs time and time again to be killed, violated, interrogated, ignored, gaslit or discriminated against.

It is not our personal mandate to convince each person we interact with to believe bisexuality as a valid identity worthy of acknowledgment and respect. Boundaries keep us safe, and withholding personal information about yourself can allow you to be more in control of how the world reacts to you (even though this can come with a sizeable cost). 

But even if you could be perfectly safe, with no threat of losing your job or relationship or being harmed in any other way – though this is highly unlikely – you still do not have to disclose your sexuality. When Ms. Corey, from the notable documentary Paris Is Burning, said she realized that she “didn’t have to bend the whole world, [that she] just had to get through it,” she was really in her proverbial bag. And that sentiment is one that clings to me as I come up with my own changing parameters around disclosing, which does not center anyone outside of myself.

People who very strangely demand to have access to this information will make up all kinds of stories about you in order to cope. Let them.

The onus should not be made ours, we should not be asked to reveal ourselves in a world that is not made safe for us to do so on this day or any other. The eagerness for more bisexual people to come out needs to be examined and redirected toward the failings of a larger society which refuses to make space for bisexual people to safely exist.

J.R. Yussuf is a Nigerian-American, New York native. J.R. deeply believes in the importance of personal power, and in addition to being an actor, is the 1st place winner of a 2016-2017 Reader Views Literary Award in the Self-Help category for The Other F Word: Forgiveness, a book for anyone who has ever struggled with forgiveness and letting things go. Yussuf maintains a YouTube channel devoted to self-improvement, emotional intelligence & forgiveness. His writing has appeared in the anthologies Best Bi Short Stories: Bisexual Fiction, finalist for a 2014 Lambda Literary Award and a 2014 Rainbow Award and Double Consciousness: An Autoethnographic Guide To My Black American Existence which soared to #1 Best-Seller in Kindle African American Poetry within it’s first week of being released, as well as Black Youth Project, Positively Positive, The Good Men Project, Escarp, Instigatorzine, and The CultureLP. Yussuf created the tag #bisexualmenspeak for bi+ men & masculine identified folks to have the space to speak for themselves & talk about how being bi+ impacts the way they move through the world. Learn more at www.JRYussuf.com