Bisexual people experience both same-sex and opposite-sex sexual attraction, but can also include attraction to any/all genders.1 Coming out as bi can feel confusing, daunting, and overwhelming. But it can also be exciting, joyful, and liberating. This article provides a guide for bi folks on the unique considerations for coming out as bisexual.
What Does It Mean to Come Out As Bisexual?
Coming out as bisexual means telling other people in your life about your sexual orientation – that you are attracted to multiple genders. The process itself includes coming to realize one’s own sexual identity and deciding if, when, and how one would like to share it with others in their life.
If you are considering coming out as bisexual, you might already feel the unique experience of bisexual “erasure.” Many bisexual folks feel a pressure when coming out to explain how they fit into our culture’s binary expectations of sexual attraction – that is, are you more straight or gay? This question erases the genuine experience of attraction to multiple genders. The irony is, more people identify as bi than gay or lesbian!2
What to Consider Before Coming Out as Bi
Before coming out as bi, our social networks typically assume that we’re straight, unless we’ve already come out as gay or lesbian some time earlier. In either case, people in our lives feel like they understand our sexual orientation.
Coming out as bi will change others’ perceptions and understandings of your identity. This can be profoundly freeing. Once you’re out, there’s no need to hide the fact that maybe you’re seeing or engaging intimately with genders beyond those that you’ve expressed interest in previously. Moreover, folks in your life who are bi or bi-allied may want to connect with you more deeply on this shared identity.
On the other hand, coming out can bring on a big shift in your sense of self, which can require some processing time to get used to. In addition, some folks in your life might have a negative reaction, which can feel stressful during a vulnerable time of identity transition.
Before coming out as bi, you may want to consider the following:
- Take stock of and be confident in your truth: Your journey is your own – how you identify your bisexuality and what that attraction looks like is something only you can know. There’s no debating your experience with others – there’s only sharing it as you understand it and as you feel comfortable doing so.
- Identify what you hope and fear coming out will change for you: This is a good way to be clear with yourself about what changes coming out as bi will cause in your life. This can help you prepare mentally for both the good and the bad.
- Let go of expectations: Coming out as bi can elicit a range of responses from others and even yourself. Some folks in your life may surprise you with support or negative reactions, while you may feel yourself thrilled one moment and overwhelmed the next.
- Prepare for questions: Many folks who are not bisexual are very curious about the bisexual experience. They might share this curiosity with tact and grace, or with judgment and prejudice, but either way you can anticipate and prepare for some questions and if/how you’d like to respond.
- Know that bisexual attraction can feel confusing: You might feel romantic attraction to opposite sex people, and sexual but aromantic attraction to same-sex people, or something else entirely. This can be confusing and even frustrating to explain to oneself let alone to others, but you’re not at all alone in this experience.
- The ‘double closet’ can feel challenging: Many people who are bisexual can feel non-belonging in both heteronormative and queer communities. This can feel frustrating because of the lack of bisexual-specific cultural spaces.3
Making a Plan & Preparing for Negative Reactions
It can be helpful to make a plan for coming out, even if it’s just a general one in your head. As you plan, consider:
- Who would you like to come out to first? Many folks find that it can be helpful to come out first to someone or a few people in your life that they know will be accepting and supportive, as this person or several people can be sources of support as you continue to come out to others.
- What do you want to say? This may change depending on each person you’re telling, your relationship with them, and how you anticipate their reaction. Being clear with yourself about how you came to recognize your bisexuality and how you’ve navigated being in the closet can be helpful reflections to form a base message that you can adjust for different contexts.
- How do you want to say it? Your “how” might differ depending on relational context as well. Some folks prefer to tell close friends and family in person or over the phone, while telling those further out in their social circle through social media, text, or email. There is no right “how” to come out, there are only the ways you feel comfortable and appropriate for each relationship.
- What support system do you have? As alluded to above, a support system can make such a difference as you come out as bi. This can include friends and family who are accepting and supportive, but can also include other bi or bi-allied people that you’ve met through other social spaces and who might only know you as bi already, and it can include a bi-informed therapist or support group.
- Are you safe coming out? Depending on your social context, the relative safety of coming out as bi can be different. Do you see potential for physical violence or emotional abuse in response to your coming out as bi? If so, you may want to create a safety plan with your support system to be able to leave and/or avoid such situations if they arise. You do not need to tolerate acts of violence or abuse in response to your coming out.
- Who might have negative reactions, and what might they be? While ideally we could come out to guaranteed support, this doesn’t always happen. Sexual orientation changes can elicit a range of responses including surprise, disbelief, ignoring, religious or cultural judgment, among others. Having a sense of who folks in your social world might have these responses, and what they might be, can help you consider how to respond to these negative reactions – or even if you want to engage with them.
How to Deal With Negative Responses
The possibility of negative responses is often what can make coming out feel nerve-wracking. The truth is, sometimes people do have either outright negative responses or at least surprisingly unhelpful ones. This is particularly true when coming out as bi because of the phenomenon of bi erasure.
Some folks might overtly reject your bisexuality as “just a phase” or inquire about your sexual experiences with different genders asking “but how do you really know?” Others may make your coming out more about themselves, saying things like “why didn’t you tell me earlier, do you not trust me?” Still others may react with sadness or grief, equating your truth with something that makes them upset.
Make no mistake, these negative responses can be traumatic experiences, which by definition overwhelm our ability to cope.4 Fortunately, however, you can do some preparatory thinking to minimize the trauma.
- First, consider your truth, including how you came to recognize your bisexuality and the fact that you may have doubts and confusion as you begin to come out.
- Second, brainstorm possible negative responses, such as those listed above, among others that feel more specific to your social context, and consider how you would like to respond to them, or even if you’d like to respond to them (yes, that is an option!).
- Third, consider if you’d like to pre-empt any negative responses with specific folks you come out to by saying something like “I know you might feel negatively about this, and you may need to talk about it with a therapist or a friend, but please do not share those feelings with me.”
Coming Out to Friends
For many people, friends are a form of chosen family, connected by shared interests and experiences (neighborhoods, schools, teams, etc.). We relate to different friends at different levels of emotional intimacy and through different social contexts. You may want to come out to different friends at different times. Many folks start by coming out to close friends who they know will be accepting and supportive, and come out to other friends later on. Be prepared that some friendship dynamics might go through an adjustment period while your friends get to know you better in your bisexual truth.
Coming Out to Family Members
When coming out to parents and family members, it can be helpful to remember that your coming out also slightly changes their identities. Once you come out, they become parents, siblings, and relatives of someone who is bisexual. If they are not familiar with bisexuality, they may react with initial feelings of what this means for both you and them.
Will your life be harder as a result of being bisexual? Will you have the family they (and perhaps you) imagined? Will their friends and family think of them differently because their relative is bisexual? You are not responsible for managing these emotions and answering these questions for them, but it can be helpful when coming out as bi to anticipate these initial responses.
For some folks, coming out to family members they are close to is all that matters, and they decide to let those family members tell other members of the family as they feel comfortable and ready to do so.
Coming Out to a Spouse/Partner
Coming out as bi to a spouse or partner may feel particularly challenging. This is because typically, spouse/partner relationships are built on romantic and sexual intimacy. When one partner’s sexual orientation changes, this can challenge the expectations on which the relationship has been built and sustained.
You and/or your spouse/partner may wonder if the relationship can continue unchanged or if you’ll want to explore options like ethical non-monogamy to fully experience your bisexuality. Your spouse or partner might also express feelings of grief, loss, and anger as they adjust to the new reality and any changes or uncertainty it may mean for your relationship.
While you can be there for your spouse/partner as they adjust to your coming out, it may be best to ask them to process their negative reactions with a therapist before unpacking them with you.
Coming Out at School
When coming out at school, consider the support systems your school may already have in place such as a Gay Straight Alliance club, your guidance counselor, or your favorite teacher as these can be valuable sources of support. (If you live in Texas or Florida, new legislation is making it more difficult to come out and find support at school, so check out these resources).5
Nevertheless, whatever state you live in, you may want to explore resources from organizations like GLSEN, Advocates for Youth, and the Safe Zone Project which include more specific information for coming out in the school environment. Building on this support, you may wish to come out first to close friends who will be accepting, so that they can be sources of support for you as you come out to others in your school community.
Coming Out at Work
Every work culture is unique and considerations for coming out as bi in the workplace depends so much on that organizational context. First, let’s think about job protection. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that employers may not discriminate against or terminate employees for being a sexual minority (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, LGBTQ). However, many employers affiliated with a religious institution are exempt from this ruling.6
As such, before coming out at work it might be helpful to review your employee manual and/or speak with an HR representative about protections for sexual minorities in your workplace and/or how others in your organization have come out before as a reference point.
Secondly, similar to the school context, consider what organizational resources exist that may be sources of support for you, such as an LGBTQ Affinity Group, which are increasingly common at large companies. Thirdly, you may wish to come out first to a close coworker and/or manager so you’ll have a base of support as you come out to others in your workplace.
Coming Out to Lesbian, Gay, and Transgender People
As you come out, you may explore LGBTQ+ social environments like dating apps, clubs, bars, and events. In addition, you may also already have LGBTQ+ friends, family, and coworkers, especially if you’ve previously come out as lesbian, gay, or transgender. Such spaces and communities can sometimes be more dominated by lesbian, gay, or transgender identities, and you may experience firsthand bisexual erasure or invisibility.7 This phenomenon occurs in heterosexual communities, of course, but many bi folks do not anticipate it in LGBTQ+ spaces.
It’s not necessarily the norm, but it’s possible that some folks on the lesbian, gay, and queer ends of the sexual orientation spectrum may react negatively to your coming out as bisexual. This might sound like “you’re really gay you just haven’t fully come out yet,” or “you’re really straight you just want attention from us.” Unfortunately, bi-specific social spaces are less common than those specifically catered to heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, and queer communities.
Rest assured, however, that you are very much not alone. As referenced above, the single largest group in the LGBTQ+ community is bisexual.8 So it’s likely that even in those very spaces where you may encounter these reactions, there are other bisexual people right around you! You might want to consider how you’d like to respond (or not respond) should you ever experience these reactions to your coming out as bi.
Advice for Family & Friends
If your friend or family member comes out to you as bi, you might feel a range of initial reactions. You might wonder how long they’ve known, how their attraction differs between sexes/genders, and if their life will be harder as a bisexual person. You might also wonder what this means for you – will you need to come out yourself as a friend or relative of a bisexual person? All of these reactions – and others – are typical, but your first order of business in responding to a friend or family member who comes out as bi is acceptance.
When someone comes out as bi, they are in an extraordinarily vulnerable position. The best thing you can do is to thank them for telling you and tell them that you accept them. You might also ask if they want to talk about it, and let them share whatever they want to share.
Finally, you might ask them if there is anything you can do for them to be supportive. If you are a parent and your child comes out as bisexual, there are a number of ways to support your bi child after initially responding with love and acceptance.
If you have questions, you might tell them that you are curious to learn more about their experience, and ask if they are open to hearing your questions. If they say no, don’t take it personally. This moment is about them sharing their truth with you, not an inquiry. If they say yes, proceed with caution as you ask questions – being mindful to not be judgmental or dismissive in your words or tone.
If you do have negative reactions – of any kind – or curiosity that may not feel immediately appropriate to explore with them – try to keep these to yourself in the moment. You are not a bad person for having initial challenging reactions or questions, but before exploring those with your bisexual friend or family member, do some reading in the vast array of internet resources on bisexuality and consider speaking with a professional, bi-affirming therapist who might support you first.
When to Seek Professional Help
If you’re wondering if you’re bisexual, are considering coming out as bi, or have already done so, you may be experiencing a range of emotions and thoughts. Sometimes these can include symptoms of anxiety and depression that can feel overwhelming and are actually likelier among bisexual people than gay and lesbian people.9
If so, psychotherapy with a licensed professional therapist, especially a bi-affirming therapist can be helpful. A professional therapist can support you in understanding why this experience causes such a range of intense emotions, teach you coping skills to manage these feelings, and join you in processing your experience, and navigating next steps.