Dear Kelsey, I’m a 23-year old virgin who has never been in a real relationship. Aside from drunk, awkward sexual encounters and even more cringe-worthy dates with guys I’ve met online, my romantic life has been pretty uneventful (if not downright horrible). Then, a month ago, I met a guy — and I’m starting to fall for him. It’s still new, but we’ve been spending every other day together and we can’t keep our hands off of each other. A few days ago, he told me every little thing he liked about me: my smile, my jokes, my down-to-earth personality. He said he could see himself falling in love with me. However, I’ve had a hard time opening up to him. (I’ve had some issues with mental illness that I’m afraid to share, for example.) After a couple of drinks the other night, we started talking about love. I told him that the only person I’d ever been in love with was a girl I met in high school. I assured him that I’m straight now — okay, maybe a little bi. I’d already told him that I sometimes made out with girls, and that had turned him on. But he didn’t know it had ever gone deeper than that. I told him that I no longer date women, but I have in the past, and I’ve had feelings for them. At this revelation, he got an odd expression on his face. He said that was strange and a turn-off. He’d responded very differently when I told him about kissing girls, so I didn’t understand this reaction. We kept talking and eventually he said that it was kind of cool that I’d liked women in the past. He said he could see how a hormonal teenager might have fallen for another girl. But still, there was some kind of discomfort in the air when we said goodbye that day. Or was I imagining it? Looking back, I think I shared that story because I wanted to test his reaction to my secrets. I wanted to see if I would feel safe telling him about my mental illness and such. But I’ve been going through a whirlwind of emotions since that encounter. I really clicked with this person and I am afraid that I screwed up. What if he sees me differently? What if he doesn’t trust me anymore? What if he would like me less if he found out more about me? And if that happens, will I ever find anyone else? Sincerely, Bi-Curious, Confused, and Clueless
Dear BCCC, I’ll be honest. When I first read your letter, I saw a very clear picture of this guy in my mind: kinda beefy, maybe a little too much product in his shiny, black hair. He’s into sports and thinks that watching The Daily Show means he’s up on current events. He’s a little too into his car. I see him sitting across from you at a restaurant, his spray-tanned face jerking into an automatic sneer at your revelation. In my mind, that’s because he’s an uncultured, low-key bigot who doesn’t even have the sense to be ashamed of his own prejudice. But, in the next moment, I realized that, like this imaginary Romeo, I was also revealing a whole bunch of my own biases. You gave me the bare minimum of information and yet my brain instantly managed to fill in the gaps with stereotypes and judgment, the details of this dude-bro expanding by the second. Yikes. That’s the thing about unconscious bias: It’s automatic. Someone bumps into the doorknob, and the closet door just opens, revealing the ugliest beliefs inside of us. If we’re brave, we might pause and take a good look at them ourselves. But most of the time, we’re too busy scrambling to shut that door as fast as we can and hope no one saw all that junk we have stuffed behind it. You’ve just gotten a good look at this guy’s biphobia — a nasty, old fear that lives in many people’s Bias Closet. It has a lot in common with homophobia, but doesn’t get as much airtime because the bisexual community is less visible, and therefore less recognized. “That isn't to say that it's any better or worse than homophobia,” says sex educator (and bisexual person) Melissa Fabello. “It’s just that, because we are a subset of the larger queer community, and biphobia is a subset of homophobia, that specific plight is offered less space in the conversation.”
But all that silence and invisibility leaves plenty of space for ignorance to grow. “There are a lot of stereotypes about bisexual people: that they’re greedy, sexually voracious, unable to commit, or secretly monosexual (either gay or straight),” says Fabello. “That makes it especially difficult to come out and be seen.” It’s a cycle of invisibility, and it’s not just perpetuated by straight people. “After all, monosexual queer people can be biphobic too, which means that we're also silenced within the queer community,” she adds. Whether or not you identify with the bisexual community, you’re still being hurt by biphobia. “What if he sees me differently?” you ask. He does. “What if he doesn’t trust me anymore?” He might not. “What if he would like me less if he found out more about me?” That fear might come true as well. We can’t know what else he has hiding in his Bias Closet (though many of us do have biases about mental illness). But it’s up to you to decide if you want to stick around and find out. My first reaction was to ditch this bozo, but then again, my first reaction was to paint him as a bozo. He might not be. You sound like a thoughtful person, so I’d imagine you’d be unlikely to fall for some meat-headed jerk. Clearly, you’ve clicked with this guy and, up until this moment, you’ve esteemed him. Shitty as that moment was, it doesn’t erase everything that came before it. And his ugly initial reaction may indeed be a temporary one. Many times, when someone actually knows a gay person or a bi person or any person against whom they hold a bias, that bias melts away. Simply by getting to know you, he might realize what an ass-hat he’s being. “We've all said or done something in an emotional moment that we later regretted,” says Fabello. “But it's important to address, quickly and directly.” If you do decide to stick it out, remember that. Remember that there’s nothing shameful about your romantic and sexual past, and there’s really nothing wrong with being honest about those things. He might need a moment to get his bearings, but he doesn’t get to do that forever. Some say the rule of thumb is to give your parents a year to react and recalibrate after coming out to them. A guy you’ve been seeing for a month? I’m gonna say give him a few weeks. And let those weeks involve a lot of conversation. Welcome his questions and share your own feelings and fears. “I think that if a person responds to that conversation favorably, by apologizing for the pain caused and committing to doing better, then it's potentially worth sticking around and seeing how it goes,” says Fabello. “But it's important to make sure that they're actually doing better, like they said they would. Are they reading up on the topic? Are they open to discussing it with you? Are they honest about the feelings that come up for them?” Even if you wind up ditching him, this will be good practice for both of you (not that I’m all that worried about him, the jerk). “Will I ever find anyone else?” you ask? Yes. I mean, I’m not psychic, but statistically speaking, yes, you will find someone else — many someone elses probably. And you will very likely have to deal with biphobia again. (And he will very likely meet a bisexual person again, too.) That’s why, says Fabello, “It's important to keep in mind how prevalent (and hidden) biphobia is, so that you're somewhat prepared for the range of responses that you might receive. I think the question is less about when or how to come out, and more about how to respond when the person reacts in X way versus Y way versus Z way.” Because I really hope you do come out again, you maybe-a-little-bi lady. Yes, it would help the greater good if more bisexual people were seen and heard. But it’s not on you, as the person being harmed, to eradicate the prejudice harming you. That’s not why I’m hopeful. I hope you’ll come out and share your story with those close to you — whether or not you identify with the bisexual label — because you deserve to be seen and loved for who you are. You deserve to live without feeling like you’re keeping a secret from everyone. You deserve to have had this romantic past and not be defined by it — but not deny it either. You deserve the same respect and validation as everyone else. “The truth is that we all hold oppressive, hurtful biases — including toward the people that we date,” Fabello concludes. “And sometimes, depending on where we are in our own processes, as well as the degree to which another person is actively unlearning their biases, we can wait that out and work with them. Other times, we can't. And both of those options are okay.” Whether you stay or go, you’re not doing anything wrong. And whether you stay or go, you haven’t done anything wrong in this relationship — certainly not by telling this truth. The only wrong choice here is to deny or apologize for who you are. You have nothing to apologize for.