Despite those numbers, those who identify as bisexual tend to get the short shrift in and outside the LGBTQ+ community.
As queer/bisexual writer Ashley C. Ford explained in her 2015 essay “I’m Queer No Matter Who I’m With,” the fact that a bisexual “can’t immediately be exclusively categorized as gay or straight makes people nervous.” As a result, many bisexuals feel pressured to pick a team, so to speak.
What’s more, many people believe that bisexuality doesn’t really exist or that it’s “just a phase” ― an unfair assumption that leads to bisexual erasure, or bi invisibility, as it’s also known.
Given all that, it’s no wonder it takes so many people years to come out as bi. While some say they knew they were bi as soon as they started crushing on boys and girls, others say it took decades for them to identify as bisexual.
Below, 12 people share their particular journey to coming out as bisexual.
Note: Submitted responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity. Some sources asked to be identified by first name only, to protect their privacy.
“It was something I pretended not to notice or indulge in because I didn’t understand those feelings.”
“I’ve had a huge affinity for female characters ever since I was a kid. It all started with Princess Leia from ‘Star Wars.’ I used to rationalize it as seeking a powerful female figure to look up to. While that’s a definitely a part of it, I also wondered what it would be like to switch places with Han Solo and be the one kissing her, holding her hands. I think it never occurred to me those were romantic feelings because of the environment I was raised in. It was something I pretended not to notice or indulge in because I didn’t understand those feelings and I thought I was the only one.
“When I was older in college, I learned about the term ‘bisexual’ and had that affirmative moment a lot of LGBTQ+ folks have, which is, ‘Oh gosh I’m not alone? I’m not crazy?’ I would look back on the female characters I was obsessed with and realized I had similar feelings to male characters I found attractive. Since then, it’s a matter of unlearning personal biases and internalized homophobia.” ― Elise Marie, illustrator
“I love my sexuality and all its fluidity.”
“Realizing I was bisexual was much easier than accepting, embracing and acting on the fact that I was bisexual. I realized I was attracted to men when I was 14, but it took me until I was 24 to really just bite the bullet and start publicly going on dates with men. I had been doing stuff on the down low and had a hard time being ‘somewhere in the middle.’ I was annoyed that I couldn’t just be one or the other and it took me a good 10 years to really embrace it. Now I’m fine with who I am and I accept it’s not always in the middle, either. I love my sexuality and all its fluidity.” ― Remy Duran, reality TV personality
“Not everyone gets the acceptance (or at least mild indifference) I had.”
“In a strange way, my story of self-realization and acceptance wasn’t as difficult as what many others face. I realized I was bi somewhere around the age of 16 or 17, and I just incorporated it into my life. My mother thought it was a ‘phase’ and my father has remained willfully ignorant of the entire thing, as he can’t fathom a reality where one of his offspring would be anything but straight. (I never had a good relationship with him, so what he chooses to believe is up to him.)
“What I choose to believe in is the right of people to be happy and whole, so I try to be there for anyone who might need a hand. I’m open and very out about being bi, and I want to be there to help support everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community. Not everyone gets the acceptance (or at least mild indifference) I had, and, if I can, I want to be there to help make sure they feel valid and whole. ― Addy, 36
“I didn’t discover the term bisexual until I was 17, when someone else came out as bi.”
“I knew I wasn’t straight when I was 11, when I started having crushes on male celebrities and boys in my year. But I didn’t know the term ‘bisexual.’ It wasn’t something that was ever taught to me. I didn’t discover the term until I was 17, when someone else came out as bisexual. However, they were immediately erased, so I still thought I must be ‘gay in denial.’ Gay didn’t explain why I was attracted to multiple genders, but I didn’t see any other options.
“I found ways to deny my sexuality to myself, telling myself I could never have sex with a man, or picture myself in a relationship with a man. This changed when I fell in love with my best friend, a straight guy. The denial got a lot harder and started to cause me serious pain. I knew there was no denying who I was. And so, just before turning 25, I came out as bisexual.” ― Vaneet Mehta, producer and writer
“It took joining a very beige workplace after graduating from college to realize that I wasn’t straight.”
“Realizing I was bisexual was a journey of tidbits. I’d always been attracted to women, but I remember reading Cosmo articles which reassured me it was totally normal and common for women to be attracted to each other and that didn’t mean I was (gasp) gay. I think society’s confusion about bi people means we’re treated as heterosexual until proven otherwise, even when we’re doing and feeling queer things. That culture has a lot to answer for and is responsible for so many bi people not feeling queer enough to ever come out, or coming out much later than their gay friends.
“It took joining a very beige workplace after graduating from college university to realize that I wasn’t straight: Most straight women weren’t sexually attracted to other women, most straight women didn’t feel most at home in queer communities and most straight women didn’t have a fraught crush on their spoken-for lesbian friend. That wasn’t normal straight lady stuff. And with that last tidbit of realization, like an anvil with ‘YOU IDIOT’ written on it, I knew I was bisexual.” ― Nicole, 33
“It wasn’t until college that I ever actually told anyone I was bi, and even then it was only to my then-fiancé.”
“Everyone has crushes growing up, and I knew from as early as I was aware of what a crush on someone meant that mine weren’t limited to one gender. Being raised in a strictly fundamentalist religious community, though, meant that I knew that there was only one set of feelings I could ever speak about or act upon. Growing up suffering from gender dysphoria definitely didn’t help matters, either; though I felt inside that I was anything but a straight male, that was the only identity I was allowed to express.
“It wasn’t until college that I actually ever told anyone I was bi, and even then it was only to my then-fiancé in order to assure her that I was not going to cheat on her with anyone of any gender while we were geographically separated. I held that secret from everyone else for another decade, only admitting it publicly after my coming out as a trans woman resulted in our divorce. By then, I was nearly 30 years old, 10 years into a military career, and had nothing to gain by denying it further.” ― An Army soldier, 35
“I wasn’t sure if I was really bisexual or if it was ‘just a phase,’ so I kept quiet about it for years.”
“I [can thank] Joseph Gordon-Levitt for awakening my bisexuality. When I was 13 I was a big fan of the show ‘3rd Rock from the Sun,’ and whenever I saw him I realized I liked him the same way I liked my other big celebrity crush at the time, Christina Ricci. Throughout my teen years I also developed crushes on Taylor Hanson and two boys that went to high school with me. They were both straight, so I never initiated anything with them, but I still fantasized about them. Yet I hesitated calling myself bisexual because 1) at the time the discourse surrounding LGBTQ issues focused solely on gay people, with bisexuals being nothing more than a footnote; and 2) I wasn’t sure if I was really bisexual or if it was ‘just a phase,’ so I kept quiet about it for years.
“I finally came out as bi when I was 29 and engaged to a conservative Christian woman. We broke up shortly after and I started dating a man who was everything my ex-fiancee wasn’t. That relationship, unfortunately, only lasted for nine months, but being with him made me feel ― as clichéd as it may sound ― alive for the first time.” ― Tris Mamone, writer
“I developed crushes on boys in my class and in TV shows. It was a weird, confusing time!”
“I grew up in downstate Illinois, in a rural farm community so small and straight that, even if I had any gay people in my school, they most certainly would not have identified as such. It took me a good long time to reconcile being attracted to both men and women, which certainly didn’t make me fit in more, already being a huge nerd in a school of farm boys and jocks. I watched porn centered on both men and women; I developed crushes on boys in my class and in TV shows. It was a weird, confusing time!
“Fast forward to college, where I remained in denial for quite some time; I had experiences with both men and women there, but found ways to compartmentalize my preferences even in an environment that could have been more accepting of me. It wasn’t until I graduated and moved to Chicago, where I now live, that I reconciled the fact that I might be bi, and I didn’t publicly come out until about two or three years ago. (I told my now-wife when we first started dating, and she’s always been endlessly supportive of me, even after her mother found out via a Facebook post and asked us if that meant we were ‘open,’ hah.) I’m so glad I’m out now, and I’ve found so much great support from people across the sexual spectrum. But I can’t help but wonder how much freer and honest with myself I could have been without the stigma that comes with bisexuality.” ― Clint, podcaster and film/TV critic at The Spool
“Any girl I knew who had kissed another at a party was seen as attention-seeking, a slut, and I didn’t want to be seen like that.”
“Growing up, I think I had an underlying interest in women that I refused to look into all throughout high school and I think it was partly due to misogyny. Any girl I knew who had kissed another at a party, for example, was seen as attention-seeking, a slut, and I didn’t want to be seen like that. I almost expressed to my best friend that I was curious about exploring my sexuality but before I could they were making jokes about bisexuality. Anyone who was interested in that exploration was not outright ridiculed but there were jokes about them having crushes on everyone or trying to hook up with everyone. So I squashed all those feelings down until high school was over. The moment I was free from seeing those people every day, I kind of had an epiphany. Literally looking at a post from Zendaya on Instagram, I had a moment of clarity like: ‘Oh, I’m bisexual.’” ― Tayla, 23
“It’s OK to be attracted to multiple genders and even people outside of gender. It’s more than OK, it’s beautiful.”
“I first realized I was bisexual when I was in middle school. That was also the first time I told a friend, but it certainly didn’t become public knowledge, it was more an open secret. Over the years, people I dated knew (regardless of their gender, I made sure they knew) but it was always kind of pushed to the side. For years there were jokes about me being ‘the world’s gayest straight man.’
“When I was 35 and heading toward my second marriage I just kind of snapped. I had so many queer friends of all types being attacked for who they were, and not standing with them seemed criminal. I am a cis-gendered white male, and if I can’t stand by them with that level of privilege then I am no friend. I came out to almost 200 people in the course of a few days. I have never again hidden it or used cagey language, I am out and always will be. I can now say the things I so desperately needed to hear as a young queer person. It’s OK to be attracted to multiple genders and even people outside of gender. It’s more than OK, it’s beautiful. Being bisexual is not something to hide because I am in a place where I can safely say, I am an out bisexual man and I will never go back in that closet again.” ― David Kaye, writer and musician
“Growing up, people gaslit me and said that because I was feminine my attraction to girls wasn’t real.”
“I’m a feminine bisexual man. Always have been so I didn’t really have the option of being in the closet, though sometimes I wonder if that would have been better. Some of my earliest memories are having crushes on girls and boys in my neighborhood and also being called a f*ggot. Growing up people gaslit me and said that because I was feminine my attraction to girls wasn’t real, which was really confusing. What other people said about me made me think that maybe I was gay and I was just trying to escape that, but I kept on having crushes on girls.
“What has helped me is learning that straight men, gay men and bi men are all a combination of masculine and feminine and that it’s so important not to prioritize or glorify being masculine over being feminine. It is an arbitrary thing that so much value is placed upon.” ― J.R. Yussuf, author of “The Other F Word: Forgiveness” and creator of the #bisexualmenspeak hashtag
“Now my bisexuality is something I cherish and celebrate. It is an intrinsic part of me, wrapped into my DNA.”
“How do you become aware of what you are if it’s all you know? For me, I learned about who I was by recognizing my difference. To name this part of myself I first had to learn I was something other than what I was expected to be. When I try to bring those memories back, I remember most the feeling of fear. I could feel something inside me that needed defining and explaining, and I had no way to do that. I’d like to say it felt normal, that I got to enjoy my teenage crushes on people of all genders. I know it wasn’t like that, though, because I remember the creeping feeling of panic when we had to get changed for P.E. I would fix my eyes on a spot on the wall or the ground, keeping my focus away from my peers in case I accidentally caught another girl’s eye and they could somehow discover my nameless secret. I hid this part of me because, although I didn’t have the words to describe myself, I still knew that if I was discovered I would be undone.
“I’m grateful now that my bisexuality is something I cherish and celebrate. It is an intrinsic part of me, wrapped into my DNA, my life and personality. It’s in my work, too; all my life I had this desire to understand myself that never quite felt fulfilled, and now I get to spend my spare time researching the history of the bisexual community. It reminds me that the feeling of being alone, that fear that I was the only person ever to have felt this way couldn’t be further from the truth. Bisexual people have existed forever, despite the erasure and prejudice ― even if we haven’t been able to name ourselves ― we were there all along and we are here now.” ― Mel Reeve, archivist and writer based in Glasgow, Scotland.