The Anxiety of Coming Out as Bisexual
Originally Published: October 9, 2018
Revised: January 3, 2019
Coming out. This process can be liberating but also anxiety-producing and in some cases downright terrifying, whether you identify as bisexual, gay, transgender, asexual, gender-fluid or any other LGBTQ identity.
Just after my eighteenth birthday, I publicly came out on my social media as bisexual. (I also feel comfortable with the labels pansexual or queer, but I more often refer to myself as bisexual. It’s the first name for sexual attraction that resonated with me.) Although I’m currently comfortable with my sexual orientation, the years leading up to my coming out Instagram post were filled with stress, internal debates and waves of anxiety. At the time, I felt isolated and alone.
I now know these feelings are not unique and other LGBTQ individuals can relate. I recently talked to several teens who also struggled with whether or not to come out; they talked about their worries but also about finding a sense of community and belonging once they made the decision to come out.
The stigma and stereotypes around bisexuality, as well as the threat of losing those closest to me, made me debate whether or not coming out was a good idea.
Stigma and Stereotypes
Up until my sophomore year, I thought I was heterosexual. It wasn’t until I was 15 and met a girl who made my heart skip a beat that I realized my capacity for love and attraction went beyond cisgender guys. While this was empowering and exciting, it was also scary as I began to think about the many misconceptions people have about bisexuality and what my family and friends would think if I came out.
One misconception is that bisexual people are “hypersexual,” attracted to everyone they lay eyes on and unable to control their sexual desires. I feared my female friends would be uncomfortable having me at sleepovers. What if my water polo team didn’t want me using the same locker room as them? Another myth is that bisexual people are either gay but not ready to fully commit to the label or straight and looking for attention. I couldn’t bear the thought of my mom and dad thinking this was just another “rebellious teenage phase.” These myths already caused me to sometimes doubt myself, and I didn’t think I could handle hearing them from my biggest supporters and role models.
The stigma and stereotypes around bisexuality, as well as the threat of losing those closest to me, made me debate whether or not coming out was a good idea. I convinced myself I could live a mostly happy life by only having romantic and sexual relationships with guys. After all, I had loved and dated guys before. It couldn’t be that hard to just not tell anyone about my attraction for girls? Could it?
So for a year and a half, I lived my life in the closet. I continued dating only guys. I didn’t tell anyone about my growing crush on a beautiful girl, and I pushed the desire to kiss her down every time it appeared. I was living my life and presenting myself as heterosexual…for the time being.
Fears and Anxieties
My worries and fears about coming out are echoed by other bisexual and queer teens. Sometimes they’re related to family. “I’ve always been scared to bring up sexual orientation with my parents because I’ve seen them talk about bisexuality in a bad light,” says Valentina, 16, of Hollywood, FL.
Sam, 17, of Portland, OR, who identifies as queer, has avoided coming out. “My parents are conservative when it comes to LGBT issues, and it’s much easier to ignore the issue for the time being,” he says.
Some of his partners have believed that bisexual people cheat on their partners due to their “greedy” desire for more than one gender.
Sadly, there is a risk that homophobic or biphobic relatives might behave aggressively and disrespectfully toward an LGBTQ family member. Some teens face homelessness, abuse and harassment after coming out, making staying in the closet the safest choice for them. Thomas, 18, of Princeton, NJ, who is bisexual, says, “I understand and respect those who are still in the closet.” One’s identity is not invalid because a person has not come out. An individual deserves respect, support and validation whether in the closet or out.
Coming out to peers and partners can also be scary. Thomas shares how the threat of “discrimination, judgment or…prejudice by sexual partners” can make him worried about being open. Some of his partners have believed that bisexual people cheat on their partners due to their “greedy” desire for more than one gender. He has also been fearful that partners would not believe that bisexuality is real and would instead assume he must be gay if he’s dating a man or straight if he’s seeing a woman.
Many bisexual and queer teens say they feel pressure to stay closeted. Nora, 17, of New Brunswick, NJ, who is bisexual, says, “I’ve considered never coming out. Since I do like boys, I thought it wouldn’t be that hard.” For both Nora and me, anxiety around having our sexual orientation accepted made us consider not coming out and “passing” as straight. Being able to pass as heterosexual is a privilege some bisexual and queer people have. Abigail, 19, of Boston, who identifies as queer and uses the pronoun they, says they are often viewed as heterosexual because of who they tend to date and how they dress. But to Abigail, passing means not acknowledging who you are. Abigail says, “I’ve struggled with trying to find my sexual orientation and gender….It’s hard since having a more fluid sexual orientation and gender identity aren’t always accepted.”
When there is little visibility and education about different sexual orientations, it prevents our families and friends from understanding and accepting us and also makes those of us who identify outside the categories of heterosexual or homosexual feel alone and lost. When we’re not given the vocabulary or space to discuss LGBTQ identities, it’s harder to get comfortable with our sexual orientations. We then question whether or not it would be easier to let the world assume we are heterosexual and stay in the closet.
Finding Relief and Support
Despite these anxieties, many still choose to come out and embrace their sexual orientations. Nora says, “I started to have crushes on girls and realized that it would be hard to just ignore that side of myself.” The mental burden of hiding yourself can be heavy and exhausting.
Thomas says, “Coming out has made me more comfortable with myself and happy in my own shoes.”
Naomi, 18, of Princeton, NJ, who identifies as queer, says, “I know for certain that if I weren’t out, I would be unhappy and insecure and my mental health would suffer.”
Coming out can also open the door to new communities. Surrounding yourself with people who understand the struggles you’re going through can be healing. For some, coming out opens the door to clubs, organizations and friends. “I have so many friends who either identify similarly or who support me that I might never have met if I were in the closet,” says Naomi.
Abigail similarly says, “Accepting my queerness has let me find communities of people I never would have known.” LGBTQ teens often fear that coming out can lead to the loss of friendships and relationships, but most people I talked to found that embracing their sexual orientation brought new, supportive people into their lives. Gay-straight alliances, LGBTQ organizations and informal communities of people that don’t identify as heterosexual or cisgender have given anxious LGBTQ teens a group of people to lean on.
In my sophomore year of high school, I made the decision to “pass” as heterosexual and stay in the closet. But my attraction toward girls continued to grow. After joining my local gay-straight alliance under the cover of presenting as heterosexual, I heard stories of how freeing it was for other bi folks to come out. This gave me the motivation I needed to start slowly coming out to trusted groups of friends. While I did face several insults, I learned to have pride in my sexual orientation and find supportive communities. I took the next year and a half to explore my identity and come out at my own pace, and by the time I reached college, I had the confidence to hang a rainbow flag on my dorm room door. To those who face the same fears I once did, know that lots of others support you. Whether in or out of the closet, your identity is valid.
Need support coming out or figuring out if you’re ready to come out? Check out the Human Rights Campaign’s “A Resource Guide to Coming Out.”
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