unbitled:

Ten Things You Might Want to Say When Someone Tells You They Are Bisexual

(Read the companion post here.)

Congratulations! Your friend/family member/colleague just came out to you as bi! *

That’s awesome—you’re obviously a person they trust and value. You must be incredibly great for them to put themselves at such risk with you.

There are a lot of painful stereotypes and myths out there about bisexuals, and most people who are coming out as bi have heard them long before coming out, so they know that with a lot of other people they’re going to get the proverbial “whole lotta ugly from a never-ending parade of stupid.” But not you.

They’re cool with you, and know, or at least hope, you’ll be cool with them.

You, um, don’t want to screw this up, right?

Of course not. You’re a good doobie. You wanna be down with the Bis as a Fierce Ally. Whether you identify as straight, gay, lesbian, pan, omni, asexual, or some other orientation, whether you’re cisgender or trans* or genderfluid/queer, you want to show you are worthy of this bisexual person’s trust in you.

So, here are some suggestions for things you might want to say to your bisexual confidant. Put these in your own words, of course, and most of all: think about how you’d feel hearing them if the situation were reversed. Only you know the full context of your relationship with this person, which should be your best guide to how to respond in a loving, caring, supportive, cool way.

Or just give a hug. Hugs are almost always good responses. Sometimes they’re the best ones.

*While some of what’s on here would apply in the situation where a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, or other partner has just come out to you as bi, those are obviously different situations and probably deserve their own list, since your romantic and/or sexual relationship to that person may be directly involved. This list is really for those relationships that are only familial, professional, and platonic.

10. Thank you so much for telling me! I understand how scary it might have felt to do it, and I’m really honored by your trust in me. I promise to support you however I can. I’m so glad to know this important aspect of who you are.

Just start with the basics, folks: affirm them. And be grateful. It’s a huge, huge deal for most people to come out to someone. Don’t be blasé about it, even in an attempt to show how cool you are with it—that can backfire. You don’t need to weep and hug for hours, but don’t risk giving the impression of blowing it off, either.

9. I believe you, and I’m proud of you for claiming an identity that I know you’ve probably thought a long time about.

This is huge. Don’t question, don’t quibble, don’t debate definitions, don’t—at this point—talk about the Kinsey Scale or the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid. Just take them at their word that they’re bi: because I guarantee you they’ve thought about it a lot more than you have, or ever will, in relation to themselves.

8. When did you first start to realize this part of who you are? Do you remember? There are no wrong answers—I just want to give you a chance to tell me your story if you want to.

Many people coming out of the closet haven’t have the chance to tell their “coming of age” stories in terms of figuring out who they were via early attractions, experiences, and/or relationships. Don’t press for details and don’t pry, but create an opening for your friend to start to tell these stories if they seem like they want to. It can be tremendously important to (finally) be able to tell them.

7. Do you want to tell me about how you feel your bisexuality “works”? I know some bisexuals feel more attracted physically or emotionally to one gender, some feel no real difference, some feel it changes over time, some don’t really think of it this way at all—what’s your experience with this so far? Don’t tell me anything you don’t want to, but only if you think it will help me understand.

As with the last one, tread carefully here, but create an open and safe space for these types of conversations. Some people think a lot about the varying nature of their attractions as bisexuals, others don’t really think about it at all. A common definition for bisexuality, formulated by Robyn Ochs, is that it means having the capacity to feel physical and/or emotional attraction to one’s own and other genders, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree. Let your friend begin to sketch out how their sexuality works in their life, if they seem like they want to—the same way you’d want to be able to explain yours to someone. No more, no less.

6. Are you safe at home, at work, at school, in your other relationships? Do you feel threatened or bullied by anyone because of being bisexual? We can get you help if you need it. It’s important to me that you are safe and healthy.

You actually might want to lead with this one pretty early on. People coming out can be under tremendous risk. Make sure your friend is safe, and get help if needed.

5. I understand this is about who you are, not just about whom you’re attracted to, whom you fall for, or whom you have sex with. But if you want to talk about any past or present relationships or experiences you’ve had that are important to you and that you felt you couldn’t talk about before coming out, you can tell me now. And you can trust me to keep your private life private.

For many people, the impetus to come out as bi comes from actually being in a significant non-monosexual relationship, sometimes for the first time, so be prepared to be introduced to someone important to your friend not long after they come out to you. Otherwise, as with the “when did you know?” line of discussion above, just be willing to let them tell their story, much of which they may have felt the need to keep hidden—often very painfully—until now. You may learn they’ve had great loves, and great heartaches, that you never knew about. Try not to feel betrayed or left out, as natural as that may seem to you, and remember how much pressure there is against being openly bisexual in both straight and gay/lesbian culture. They may really have thought they couldn’t possibly ever talk about some of these experiences for fear of being shunned.

4. Are you taking any steps to build a sense of belonging to the wider bisexual and/or LGBTQ community? There are a lot of resources out there for you, and it may be important for you not to feel isolated in this identity at some point.

Bisexuals are the largest proportion of the self-reporting LGBTQ community, but also the most closeted to friends and family and at work, and suffer disproportionately from a wide range of physical and mental health ills and socioeconomic challenges. Encouraging your friend to seek out positive connections to the bisexual and larger LGBTQ community could literally be a life-saving action.

3. If you’re sexually active, do you know how to do all you can to keep yourself safe®, regardless of the gender of the people you may be with at any time? We can get some information together if you have questions.

Without falling prey to the stereotype that all bisexuals are promiscuous and automatically prone to higher rates of STIs (closeted people are, not bisexuals per se), definitely make sure your friend knows the basics of how to be safe. One of the risks of the closet is bad information leading to unsafe sex practices; do your part to help if given the chance.

2. Who else knows? I want to respect your privacy and safety and I will never, ever “out” you to anyone without your prior permission. But if there are people we know in common that you are also out to, and you’re comfortable with everyone who knows being casual about it in conversation, let me know. If you want my help with or advice about coming out to anyone else, you’ve got it—and it’s totally your call. We’ll all follow your lead.

You might be the only person they’re telling for now. You might be one of hundreds. It’s important to know just how and to what extent they’re coming out at this point. And it’s important to know who else knows. Not that you should ever out someone without their prior permission in any context, but mistakes happen, and you’ll want to know just where this person’s “safe zones” are going to be established. Don’t push them to come out to people they’re not ready to, but if they are asking for help—including having you there in a conversation—offer it gladly.

1. You’re my friend. I’m so lucky to have a bisexual friend, because you get to see the world in an amazing way and you’re going to help me understand a little of that. You’re awesome exactly the way you are.

Like #10, affirm, affirm, affirm. Make sure they know you are specifically glad to know they are bisexual and have told you, not merely that you’re “okay” with or “tolerant” of it—they need this identity to be supported and celebrated, not excused or tolerated. Just like you do, with yours.

And there ya have it, Followers and others. I hope this is helpful, just like I hope the companion piece is. That one has gathered more than 330 Notes as of this writing, which I’m thrilled about, so let’s see if we can signal boost this one along with it, okay? I’d like to have the “positive” messaging out there at least as much as the “negative” warnings.

Thanks for reading! And for those of you thinking about coming out: you can do it. It’ll be hard at times, but overall it’ll be the best thing, the healthiest thing, you can do for yourself, when you’re ready. And we’re here to help. If you have any questions, send along a note and I’ll do my best.

What do you think, Followers—anything else to add?

Hey, just wanted to say that this is a really great post! The part that got me most was what you said about brushing it off when someone comes out to you. When I first came out I came out as bi over a facebook message in which I only included people I felt were important enough to me that I owed them a more detailed explanation. I’ll never forget that while most people responded in a surprisingly validating, understanding way (a few even saying they weren’t surprised. XD), there were at least 2 that didn’t even acknowledge it… these 2 people chatted with me later and they didn’t even mention my coming out to them, no response whatsoever. They talked like it never happened. In a way I wasn’t surprised because one of them have always been an extremely reserved, conventional kind of person all throughout elementary & high school, so I guessed they didn’t know how to process anything out of the ordinary. And the other person’s very traditional cultural background might’ve had to do with them not knowing what to say about homosexuality in general…

But it still hurt to have that total absence of acknowledgement. Especially as I cared enough about them to include them in my coming out message in the first place. They were able to talk about anything else but my coming out. It really made me feel like they thought it was so wrong that they couldn’t even speak about it… Or that they thought it was a passing phase so if they didn’t say anything it would just go away. If people don’t know how to react to someone coming out to them, they should go online and look it up or something… look up the advice a gay person or straight ally would give about how to react to someone’s coming out. Because not saying anything to your friend once they’d come out to you is a horrible way to handle it. It only leaves the person who came out to you full of doubts, including wondering if you’re a real friend after all, since you could so easily ignore something about them that required them to overcome so much anxiety to share with you. Even asking them questions in a respectful way is better than completely and totally pretending it didn’t happen.

Staying silent is not an alternative to saying “I accept you.” If you don’t say something about it, all you’re doing is leaving the other person with a millions doubts, constantly wondering what you thought… And that’s going to affect your friendship in the long term, because who wants to be friends with someone who they can’t even be open with about some of the most important parts of their identity?

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