Bi the Bi: Two Bi Writers on Big Bi Issues
This blog post is part of an ongoing conversation between two bisexual activists. A.J. Walkley and Sarah Smith* are both monogamous, bisexual, cisgender females who are in long-term relationships. A.J. is in a relationship with a cisgender male, and Sarah is in a relationship with a cisgender female. Both A.J. and Sarah are committed to remaining visible as bisexuals in spite of society's tendency to want to label A.J. as heterosexual and Sarah as a lesbian. Together they came up with the idea for "Bi the Bi: Two Bi Writers on Big Bi Issues" as a way to help eliminate stereotypes and bias against people in the bisexual community.
Question: Why disclose your bisexuality when it hurts a partner?
A.J.: This blog post's question came from a reader who told us that she is "baffled" when she encounters individuals who have been in long-term, monogamous relationships and their partner comes out to them as bisexual down the line. Based on the way this reader framed her question, it seems that the experiences that she has had with this matter ended negatively. I would reframe the question to read, "Will disclosing your bisexuality to your partner hurt them?" because, in many cases, if not most, being honest with your significant other about your sexuality will not be a source of pain; on the contrary, it should bring you closer together.
I would venture to guess that if a bisexual individual in a relationship discloses their bisexuality and finds their partner hurt by the disclosure, the hurt is stemming from a misunderstanding about bisexuality and a fear that the bisexual partner will cheat on them with someone of another gender. The bisexual individual should inform their partner about what "bisexuality" means and what their own bisexuality means to them, because bisexuality can take many forms. Some bisexuals are monogamous, some are polyamorous, some are celibate, etc.
Sarah: You make good points, A.J. Given her email, it seems that the woman who sent us the question thinks that it would be kinder for bisexuals in relationships with non-bisexuals to stay in the closet. I get the impression that she didn't read our last post, which was about many reasons why it's important for bisexual people to openly identify as bisexual.
Will it hurt the bisexual person's partner? If the bisexual person knew they are bisexual and didn't tell their partner, but they feel ready to now, there may be pain. The bisexual person was probably dealing with internal and external biphobia, and that was their reason for lying. However, that doesn't absolve them of responsibility. They will have to work to rebuild their partner's ability to trust them, as is the case whenever anyone lies in a relationship. It's better to feel the pain of the truth coming to light than to never know the love that's possible with full honesty.
Any couple dealing with a mixed-orientation relationship will be helped by having good information. There are many resources that people can use to educate themselves about bisexuality. Education helps people feel empathy and reach understanding.
A.J.: You're right, Sarah. There are good resources available to help people better understand bisexuality, and to help people in mixed-orientation relationships. We'll list a few of them at the end of this blog post.
My boyfriend didn't understand bisexuality when I first explained it to him. He had fears because of his own misunderstanding of bisexuality, but those fears were allayed when I assured him that I was monogamous and wanted to be with him more than I wanted to be with anyone of any other gender.
For a couple dealing with a partner's bisexuality years into the relationship, those fears may be harder to dispel. The partner who was previously unaware of their significant other's bisexuality may wonder why it's necessary for them to disclose it if they want to continue the relationship. For the bisexual individual, their sexuality is an innate part of themselves that likely needs to be expressed in some way, shape or form. That could simply mean outwardly identifying as bisexual and being proud of that identity.
It could also mean wanting to become more involved in the bisexual community, which shouldn't be something that they feel the need to hide from their partner.
Sarah: I wonder if the person who sent this question to us was assuming that the partner of the bisexual person would feel hurt because they weren't finding out only that their partner was bisexual but that their partner wanted non-monogamy. Like you said earlier, those things don't go hand-in-hand.
There's a myth that bisexuals can't be satisfied unless they have partners who are different genders from each other. Some bisexuals say, "I need both," and that may be true for them as individuals, but that doesn't define bisexuality. Bisexuality simply means having the capacity to be attracted to more than one gender. In the same way that a person may have the capacity to be attracted to short people and tall people, it doesn't mean that they will marry a tall person and then one day say, "My attractions to short people aren't going away. That means I have to have sex with one of them."
If a bisexual comes out in a monogamous relationship and they say that they want to have sex with people outside the relationship, then the couple is dealing with two distinct issues. One issue is bisexuality. The other, separate issue is non-monogamy. The majority of people who practice some form of consensual non-monogamy (like swinging, polyamory or open relationships) are heterosexual. Some gay couples and some lesbian couples also have non-monogamous relationships. People should avoid the cognitive error of conflating bisexuality with non-monogamy.
So why disclose even if it hurts a partner's feelings to find out that you're bisexual? The reasons are many, and we haven't covered them all here. What did we leave out? It's your turn to weigh in. Are you in a relationship with a bisexual person? If you found out some time into the relationship, did you feel hurt? How did you work through your feelings? Are you a bisexual person who has successfully disclosed your orientation to a partner? Do you have advice to share with others in a similar situation? Please share in the comments below.
- Bialogue has multiple resources on mixed-orientation marriages.
- Ask Tiggy answered a similar question earlier this year and includes several resources as well.
- Patrick RichardsFink wrote a wonderful blog post last year that discusses coming out as bisexual to your spouse. It's well worth a read.
- For general resources to learn more about bisexuality, check out Midwest Bi Activist; they have a great social media presence, with multiple platforms to connect on.
- If you're interested in attending a conference on bisexuality, here's a list.