Human Rights Campaign Foundation, October 2021 | 25 Minute Read.
No matter who we are or whom we love, our identities are valid, and we deserve the right to live openly as our authentic selves.
The truth is that many people experience attraction to more than one gender. Often called bisexual, others choose labels such as pansexual, fluid or queer. Some also choose more than one label, and the label that best bits someone may change over time. In this guide, we use the phrases bisexual+ or bi+ to encompass all of these non-monosexual identities.
Every day, each and every one of us makes deeply personal decisions about how open we want to be with ourselves and with others about our non-straight sexuality, to whom we want to open up, and when and where we want to open up to them. In the U.S. this process is commonly known as coming out, and it varies drastically from person to person.
For bi+ people, coming out can be challenging due to skepticism and stereotypes about our sexuality. Bi+ people can face biphobia both from straight and cisgender people, as well as from some in the LGBTQ+ communtiy, and can be invisible even within our own community.
However, coming out can also be a wonderful experience that allows you to live authentically, to be a role model for others and to connect with others in the bi+ community.
Each of us comes out in our own way and in our own time. Throughout the process of coming out and living ever more openly, you should always be in the driver’s seat about whether, how, where, when and with whom you choose to be open.
This resource was designed to help you and your loved ones through the coming out process in realistic and practical terms. It acknowledges that the experience of coming out and living openly covers the full spectrum of human emotion — from paralyzing fear to unbounded euphoria.
We hope this resource helps you meet the challenges and opportunities that being openly bi+ offers to each of us.
Many bi+ community members and advocates have embraced Ochs’ definition of bisexuality because it is inclusive of different kinds of attractions to people with a range of gender identities. Bi+ people often face the stigma that they are confused about their identity, or that bisexuality is simply a phase. They may face bi erasure when people assume they’re straight when with a different-gender partner, or they assume they’re gay or lesbian when with a same-gender partner. However, bisexuality is very real. Bi+ people are the largest contingent of the LGBTQ+ community, making up nearly six in ten people of the overall community. This is true among adults and high schoolers in the United States.
Bisexuality doesn’t always look the same for everyone, and bi+ people may experience varying degrees of sexual and/or romantic attraction to different genders. Regardless of the degree or depth of your attraction, if you have the potential to be attracted to more than one gender, you are welcome to identify as bi+ and as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Although bi+ people make up a majority of the LGBTQ+ community, we are often met with skepticism when asserting our identities. People can make assumptions or try to assign labels to us based on the gender of our past or current partner or partners, and often bi+ people find ourselves in the position of coming out over and over in order to correct those assumptions. Bi+ identities are not fads or phases, and bi+ people are just as valid as gay and lesbian people.
Additionally, keep in mind that even if one label (or more than one label) speaks to you, you are not stuck with that label forever. As humans, we learn about ourselves and grow throughout our entire lives, and we may later find that a certain label doesn’t fit us as well as it once did. While bi+ identities should not be seen as stops on the way to being gay or lesbian, or actions that someone does for attention, it is ok if one day you wake up and realize that you’re not exactly who you thought you were. No one should ever be shamed for moving in and out of bi+ identities.
From birth, most of us are raised to think of ourselves as fitting into a certain mold.
Our culture, and often our families, teach us that we are “supposed to” be attracted to certain people and look, act and carry ourselves in specific ways. Few of us are told that we might have a sexual orientation that differs from straightness, or that we might feel compelled to express ourselves in ways that aren’t traditionally associated with our sexual orientation.
Despite the increased visibility of LGBTQ+ people over the last few years, bi+ people are still often less visible than gay and lesbian people. Bi+ visibility in popular culture also often contains harmful stereotypes about bi+ people — that we’re promiscuous, incapable of fidelity, or that we have to “pick a side.” As a result, it can be more difficult for bi+ people to find the place where we belong. Some bi+ people have long struggled with living the lives we think we’re supposed to live, instead of the lives we know we were meant for and want to live. This is due to things like biphobia or bi erasure from both straight and cisgender people, and LGBTQ+ people. There is no one moment when it’s “right” to be open about your own sexuality. Some come to question or recognize their sexualities suddenly and immediately take action. Others take more time.
We realize who we are throughout all stages of our lives — when we’re children or teens, seniors, married, single, with children or without. There is no wrong time in your life to be who you are.
When you’re ready, no matter when that is, we will be here for you.
Disclosure of your bi+ identity to others can be both critical and stressful. Some bi+ people may feel little need to disclose themselves, while others feel the desire to tell people as soon as they realize it themselves. Both of these timelines, and everything in between, are valid.
Despite the fact that bi+ people make up a majority of the LGBTQ+ community, we are far less likely than our gay and lesbian peers to be out. A recent Pew Research Center analysis found that only 19% of bi+ people were out to “all or most” of the important people in their lives, compared to 75% of gay or lesbian people. As a result, coming out as bi+ can feel like a lonely decision. But coming out as bi+ can allow us to find the community we need.
Given the vast diversity of bi+ people, there’s no single rule to be applied as to whether a person should (or can safely) disclose their identity to others. Throughout the self-disclosure process, it’s common to feel:
Scared • Unsafe • Confused • Guilty • Empowered • Exhilarated Proud • Uncertain • Brave • Affirmed • Relieved
All of these feelings, and others, are normal, no matter the intensity or duration. Disclosure can be a complicated process. What’s important is to check in with yourself and the emotions you are having along every step of the way.
When you’re ready to tell that first person — or even those first few people — give yourself plenty of time to prepare.
It can help to think through your options and make a deliberate plan of whom to approach, the right time to do so and how to do it. For people living at the intersection of other marginalized identities, it may be more difficult to come out for a variety of reasons (see below for more resources). You can also consider asking yourself the following questions:
Do I know what I want to say?
Many people are still answering tough questions for themselves and are not ready to identify as bi+, especially at the beginning of the disclosure or coming out process. Others may know they are bi+ without knowing exactly what that means to themselves or to others. That’s ok. Maybe you just want to tell someone that you’re starting to ask yourself these questions. Even if you don’t yet have all the answers, your feelings and your safety are what matter. To work out what you want to communicate, try writing it down, typing it out, or speaking it aloud to yourself first.
Who should I tell first?
Who you disclose to first can be a critical decision. You may want to select people who you suspect will be most supportive, as their support can help you share with others. Consider who might be your champion — is it a close friend or colleague, your favorite teacher or professor, a parent or sibling, or another trusted person in your life? Also, know that this kind of news can travel quickly. If you’d prefer that people keep your news confidential, be sure to tell them so. It’s also important to plan for the chance that someone, intentionally or not, may share your news with others before you have the chance to do so yourself. Set the boundaries that make the most sense to you and try to do things at your own pace, no matter what that pace may be.
What kinds of signals am I getting?
Sometimes you can get a sense of how accepting people will be by the things they say. You may notice the way people talk about bi+ characters in movies or TV shows, or they may share their involvement in LGBTQ+ rights organizations with you. While these signs are important and encouraging, remember that some people may not react in the way that you expect. The most LGBTQ+-friendly person in the office may react negatively, while the person who said something insensitive about bi+ people might end up being your strongest supporter. Be sure to keep an open mind, and gravitate toward those who support you — especially those doing so with open arms and no qualms. Sometimes people who are in the LGBTQ+ community, but don’t identify as bi+ or know much about bi+ issues, might not be supportive as you might expect. Biphobia and bi erasure can still come from within LGBTQ+ community, so it’s important to keep that in mind.
Am I well-informed and willing to answer questions?
People’s reactions to the news that you’re bi+ can depend largely on how much information they have about bi+ issues and how much they feel they can ask. If you’re well-informed, open to answering questions, and feel comfortable and safe doing so, it can go a long way toward helping others understand. If you prefer to just send a couple articles or books to people in your life, that’s ok too. See the end of this resource for ideas.
Is this a good time?
Timing is key, and choosing the right time is up to you. Be aware of the mood, priorities, stresses and problems of those to whom you would like to come out. If they’re dealing with their own major life concerns, they may not be able to respond to your disclosure constructively. That being said, sometimes it may never feel like the right time to come out. Consider coming out when it feels best for you and when the person you are coming out to is in a position to receive that information.
How can I be patient?
Just as it may have taken you time to come to terms with being bi+, some people will need time to think things over after you disclose that news to them. The reason you’ve chosen to be open with these people is that you care about them or that you found it necessary. If they react strongly, it’s probably because they care about you, too. Be prepared to give them space and time to adjust. Many bi+ people who disclose their identities without expectations of immediate understanding and who establish an ongoing dialogue find that people who were initially unsupportive can become their strongest allies.
Is it safe to disclose?
If you have any doubt at all as to your safety, carefully weigh your risks and options for disclosure. Bi+ people face the real threat of harassment and violence that can be fatal. Knowing this, some bi+ people choose to disclose being bi+ in a safe space with friends by their sides, or to delay disclosing their sexual orientation until they are in a supportive environment. Also, remember that laws do not always include "sexual orientation" in prohibiting discrimination, thus leaving bi+ people vulnerable. Be mindful of this as you begin to share more with those around you.
What do I do if someone reacts badly?
Not everyone will react positively. This is an unfortunate fact of being bi+. Our world is changing, but not everyone is there yet. You may lose friends when you disclose — and they may not be the ones you expected. What’s important is that you know your truth, and that you don’t let other peoples’ uninformed opinions direct your own narrative. You know who you are, and that is enough. It will be hard, but many more people will accept you than you may expect.
It’s common to want or hope for positive reactions from the people you tell, but that may not happen immediately. It might help to try to put yourself in their shoes and anticipate their likely reactions, potential questions and next steps.
The person to whom you disclose being bi+ might feel:
Surprised • Honored • Uncomfortable • Scared • Unsure how to react • Distrusting • Supportive • Skeptical • Relieved • Curious • Confused • Angry • Uncertain what to do next
You may want to verbalize the range of feelings they might be having and reassure them that it’s ok to ask questions. People will generally take their cues from you as to how they should approach things, so if you’re open and honest, you’re more likely to get openness and honesty in return. That said, reactions vary and no one is entitled to make you feel bad about your sexual orientation, though you should still be prepared for your own emotions based on their reaction. It is okay to feel sad, upset, or even angry if someone reacts poorly. Maintain awareness of your own feelings and make a plan for how to process a wide variety of responses.
It’s also important to keep in mind that people may vary in their knowledge of bi+ people, even those in the LGBTQ+ community who are not bi+. Some people may already know a lot about bi+ identities, some may have deep misconceptions, and others may not even know what those words mean. While you cannot control others’ knowledge, you may want to provide them with factual resources that point them in the right direction. See the end of this resource for ideas.
When you disclose your sexual orientation to your parents or caregivers, they may:
Embrace you with open arms and surprise you by knowing more about bi+ people than you expected.
React in ways that hurt, such as crying, getting angry or feeling embarrassed.
Need to grieve over the dreams they’ve had for you before they see the new, more genuine life you are building for yourself.
Ask where they “went wrong” or if they did something to “cause this.” Assure them they did nothing wrong and didn’t cause you to be bi+. You can also let them know that there is nothing wrong with being bi+.
Think of being bi+ as a sin, or attempt to send you to a counselor or therapist in hopes they can “change” you.
Ask what the chances are of you choosing a different-sex partner.
Say it is easier to just “pick a side” and choose to be gay or lesbian, or straight.
Assert that being bi+ is simply a phase.
Already know or have an inkling that you are bi+.
Feel a sense of relief.
Telling Partners and Spouses
One reason that bi+ people may not disclose being bi+ is the fear of how partners or spouses will react. Realizing you are bi+ might happen when you have a partner who has always known you as monosexual. Before disclosing to a partner or spouse, it’s important to remember that they may need time and patience — just as you’d expect time and patience while working through your own feelings. Counseling can be helpful to many relationships, as can talking with other people who have been through similar situations. Your partner(s) or spouse may ask if they are still “enough” for you after you come out as bi+ or might not understand that your sexuality can still encompass them. If appropriate and applicable, you can reassure your partner(s) or spouse that this does not change the nature of your relationship. That being said, things may not work out between you and your partner(s) or spouse after you come out to them. Just remember that this does not mean anything is wrong with you. Every relationship has a different dynamic and different needs, and sometimes peoples’ lives move in different directions. Although this can be a difficult situation to deal with, your sexual orientation will forever and always remain valid.
Telling Your Children
There’s no one right or wrong way to have this conversation. Coming out to your children can seem a daunting task. Depending on their ages, you may be worried about them rejecting you or about their safety at school if they tell friends. If you have a co-parent, you may want to have the conversation together, if that’s possible. Or you might find that bringing a grandparent or other supportive family member into the conversation is a good idea. Your children may have questions that they feel more comfortable asking someone else for fear of hurting your feelings. Older children, especially, may need more time to think about the news you’ve shared with them before they’re ready to talk. It may be helpful to arrange a family counseling session to sort through feelings. Giving your children the ability to talk to other children of bi+ parents can be enormously helpful. Regardless of how the situation proceeds, it is important to remain open and honest throughout this process and have faith that your children will understand.
For Family and Friends of Bi+ People
If your family member or friend has come out to you as bi+, you may be wondering how to respond. Everyone does so differently. You might be confused and have questions, relieved to know what’s been on your loved one’s mind, or hurt that they didn’t tell you sooner. You may feel a mixture of all three of these emotions, or many others. You may not even understand what it is that you’re feeling.
Regardless of how you’re feeling, it’s helpful if you can reassure your family member or friend that your feelings for them have not changed. Let them know you will try your best to support them. It’s ok to tell them it’s going to take some time to adjust. In the end, knowing that you still care is what matters most to your friend or family member.
If you have questions for your family member or friend, first ask if they are open to answering questions. While many people will be, not all may want to do so. If they indicate that they are open to questions, be respectful. Recognize that your bi+ loved ones are not your dictionaries and do your part to educate yourself. Don’t ask them to speak for an entire community of diverse experiences and perspectives. Many of the answers you are looking for can be found in a range of books, documentaries, websites and support groups — both online and in many cities and towns across the country. See the end of this resource for ideas.
Much mass media depicts coming out to the world as the “happily ever after” of the bi+ story, but the truth is, life doesn’t end after coming out — it’s just the beginning.
Because the sexuality of many bi+ people is often assumed to be gay, lesbian, or straight based on the gender of our partner(s) or spouse, or our dating history, bi+ people are often invisible even in LGBTQ+ spaces. Stereotypes such as bi+ identities being phases can also complicate the coming out process for bi+ people. Correcting these assumptions often forces bi+ people to come out over and over again and constantly push back against biphobia, which can be daunting and draining. In these situations, remember to prioritize your own safety, well-being and mental health.
After you’ve come out to others, you may feel lighter, heavier, happier, angrier, many of these emotions or none at all. Life will continue to be complex and not all of your problems will be solved. But you will be one step closer to being yourself.
Your partner(s) or spouse do not define your sexuality. That is something to keep in mind when you date as a bi+ person. Your dating history before — and after — coming out as bi+ does not invalidate your sexuality.
That being said, it is important to reiterate that while bi+ identities should not be seen as stops on the way to being gay or lesbian, or actions that someone does for attention, it is ok if one day you wake up and realize that you’re not exactly who you thought you were. No one should ever be shamed for moving in and out of bi+ identities.
While this resource is primarily for bi+ people who are in the early stages of self-discovery, many may find this guide helpful as they confront the issue of coming out again and again, among new friends, family and co-workers. Some bi+ people may not disclose their sexual orientation to many people at all, while others find that being more open about their lives and stories can be safe and affirming. Some even choose to speak out publicly about being bi+, becoming advocates by sharing their stories in media interviews or by speaking to students at local colleges and universities or to business and community groups.
No matter the level of outness you would like to maintain, the choice is unequivocally yours. You can also shift your level of openness over time, depending on your comfort level. The journey is completely your own, and your choices ultimately belong to you. Your primary responsibility is to take care of yourself — so make the choices that will keep you healthy and at peace.
No. Although the prefix “bi” refers to two, there are more than two genders. Bisexuality simply means attraction to more than one gender. This can include men, women, non-binary people, gender non-conforming people, and dozens more in a combination that is personal to each bi+ individual.
No, bi+ people can feel attraction to people of different genders in a variety of different ways. A bi+ person may be more attracted to people with genders similar to their own, or more attracted to people with genders different from their own. They may feel romantically attracted to one gender, sexually attracted to another, and any number of combinations for different genders or individuals. They may also experience fluctuations in their attraction to different genders over time. Regardless of how they experience romantic and/or sexual attraction, bi+ people are valid and an important part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Many bi+ people experience bi erasure when others doubt their bi+ identity, claim bi+ people are just confused or experimenting, or that bisexuality is just a “stepping stone” toward being gay or lesbian. Bi+ is its own valid identity, and so are all of the identities under the bi+ umbrella.
Bi+ people also face the stereotype that they are promiscuous or more likely to cheat on their partners. The reality is that bi+ people may choose to have one partner or multiple, just like people of any other sexual orientation. Nor are bi+ people more likely to cheat on their partners. Cheating has nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation.
ASEXUAL: A person who lacks, either in whole or in part, sexual attraction or desire. Sometimes used interchangeably with ace or gray.
BISEXUAL/BI+: A person emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to more than one sex, gender or gender identity though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree. Sometimes used interchangeably with pansexual.
BIPHOBIA: The fear and hatred of, or discomfort with, people who love and are sexually and/or romantically attracted to more than one gender.
GENDER IDENTITY: One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One's gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.
INTERSEX: An umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural biological variations that differ from those classically thought to be typical to either men or women. In some cases these traits are visible at birth, while in others they are not apparent until puberty. Some chromosomal variations of this type may not be physically apparent at all.
PANSEXUAL: Describes someone who has the potential for emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to people of any gender though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree. Sometimes used interchangeably with bi+.
QUEER: A term people often use to express a spectrum of identities and orientations that are counter to the mainstream. Queer is often used as a catch-all to include many people, including those who do not identify as exclusively straight and/or folks who have non-binary or gender-expansive identities. This term was previously used as a slur, but has been reclaimed by many parts of the LGBTQ+ movement.
SEXUAL ORIENTATION: An inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people. Note: an individual’s sexual orientation is independent of their gender identity.
For general information on bisexuality and the bi+ community, visit www.hrc.org/bisexual.
For those who identify as Black LGBTQ+ people, the coming out process can be complex to navigate. Coming Out: Living Authentically as Black LGBTQ+ People is designed for those embarking on their own coming out journey at the intersections of LGBTQ+ and Black identities. This guide aims to recognize the unique experiences Black LGBTQ+ people have in coming out, while understanding that coming out is a personal choice and the lifelong coming out experience is different for everyone.View Here
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Coming Out: Living Authentically as Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual+ was designed to help you and your loved ones through the coming out process in realistic and practical terms. It acknowledges that the experience of coming out and living openly covers the full spectrum of human emotion — from paralyzing fear to unbounded euphoria.View Here
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