“I don’t want to hide anymore.”
These are the words I have been saying to myself (and my therapist) a lot this past year and a half. You see, I am bisexual, and in September 2017, I started the process of coming out: first to my husband and close family, then to some of my close friends, and eventually to my colleagues, youth, and parishioners. And on October 11, 2018 (National Coming Out Day), I finally made a coming out announcement to my social media friends. Well, most of them… (thanks to the “limited profile” and “friends except…” options on facebook.) I was not yet ready to come out to everyone and deal with some of the potential responses.
While most of my coming out experiences have been really positive, liberating, and healing, I was still concerned about writing this blog piece and exposing this part of myself to so many people. You see, even when I came out to people in LGBTQIA+ affirming communities, my sexual orientation was still often misunderstood. (The “B” seemed to be missing.)
“Why does it matter? You’re married.” “I don’t get it. What does that mean to be bisexual and married to a man?” “You’re not leaving your husband, are you?” “Well, it’s not like you’re going to post this on your blog for everyone to see, right?”
I was also asked several incredibly inappropriate and personal questions about my sexual life that I am pretty sure those who asked these questions would never have asked any of their other friends.
These questions have been exhausting.
I quickly learned that I needed to have what felt like a detailed persuasive essay ready to share about why my sexual orientation was legitimate and what it meant for me to come out as a bisexual cisgender woman in a monogamous marriage to a straight cisgender man. And I have come to realize that – like all bi(+) folks – once I came out the first time, I had started my journey of a life-long coming-out process.
Since I started coming out, I have been in conversation with many other individuals who identify as bi(+) and I have come to learn that I am not alone in feeling misunderstood and invisible. Bisexuality is incredibly misunderstood, even in some of the most LGBTQIA+ affirming churches and communities. And while bisexuality is becoming more accepted within society, biphobia and bi erasure are still alive and well.
Bisexual(+) persons are commonly thought to be over-sexualized, promiscuous, incapable of commitment, more likely to cheat, and greedy. (“Why can’t they just choose one gender?”) Sometimes when bisexual(+) people come out, it is assumed that their bisexuality is just a phase before they actually “really come out” as lesbian or gay. (“Bisexuals don’t exist. He is just confused.”) Bisexual(+) individuals are also often presumed to be polyamorous. (While some bisexual individuals might be polyamorous, polyamory and bisexuality are not synonymous.) We are sometimes seen as “not queer enough” or as “just seeking attention.” We are commonly assumed to be gay, lesbian, or straight, depending on the gender of the person we are in relationship with. (“She is married to a man, so she must be straight.”)
Many bisexual(+) people feel invisible and erased, no matter what community we are in. And for this reason, we can feel incredibly isolated and lonely, as we cannot seem to find a place where we belong or are accepted.
In our society, we have been trained to understand the world in the binary: people must fit into one of only two boxes. So it is difficult to understand anyone who does not fit into one of these two boxes and rather falls somewhere on a spectrum. In regards to sexual orientation: it is often our tendency to believe a person can be attracted to and capable of being in a romantic and/or sexual relationship with someone of either another gender or the same gender. Yet, we tend to have difficulty comprehending how people might also be attracted to multiple genders.
(This is similar in terms of gender identity, as well. We have been trained to believe that there are only two genders (male and female), so we often have difficulty understanding that there are multiple genders and that some people are genderfluid, non-binary, agender, or another gender minority.)
Gender preferences for bi(+) people fall on a spectrum. Bi(+) persons may have particular preferences and may not be attracted to all genders equally. Preferences may also be fluid and change at different times in a person’s life.
Every human being is a unique individual. And this is true for those of us who are bisexual(+). Therefore, we need to stop making assumptions and generalizations about bisexual(+) people… And while we’re at it: let’s just stop making assumptions and generalizations about anyone.
One statistic that often surprises people is that bisexual(+) individuals make up the largest population of the LGBTQIA+ community. Yet, because we are still commonly misunderstood, erased, and our sexuality continues to be delegitimized (both inside and outside LGBTQIA+ communities), only 28% say that we are out about our bisexuality to some or all of the people who are most important in our lives.
And according to the Human Rights Campaign, because of all the struggles bisexual individuals bump up against, they “suffer significantly higher rates of depression and anxiety, domestic violence, sexual assault, and poverty than lesbians, gay men, or straight cisgender people.”
If our faith communities claim they are places that welcome, include, care for, and celebrate all persons for who God created them to be, then we – in the Church – must do a better job of actually creating these welcoming spaces for ALL people, including our bisexual(+) siblings (and all others who are being erased, ignored, and marginalized.)
We need to continuously do our research in order to educate ourselves and our congregations about biphobia, bi erasure, and how to best support and include our bi(+) siblings. We need to offer opportunities for our bisexual(+) siblings to share their stories, offer their insights, and participate in the leadership of the church. We need to work hard at not making assumptions about someone’s sexuality and/or what that means about that individual’s personal life. We need to be intentional about using bi-inclusive language in our sermons, liturgy, and every-day conversations, listen as a means to seek understanding, and refrain from asking intrusive and inappropriate questions. We need to shut down all biphobic comments, speak out for and with our bi+ siblings, and join them in advocating for equal rights and treatment. (And we should be doing this for our siblings of all sexualities and gender identities, as well.)
I keep going back to the question I have often received when coming out: “Why does it matter?”
For me, it matters because my sexual orientation is about more than the gender of the person I am in a sexual and/or romantic relationship with. It is about what desires I have, how I connect with people, where I find a sense of community and belonging, and how I look at and interact with the world.
It matters because it is a part of who I am. When I denied this part of me or kept it silent, I carried a lot of shame and withheld a big part of who I am from God, others, and myself. Yet, I was created in God’s image, I am beautifully and wonderfully made in all of my bi-ness, and God loves me just the way I am. And nothing and no one can take that away from me: not even another person’s disapproval, discomfort, or lack of understanding.
It matters because I do exist. And I should be free to feel proud of and celebrate the person God created me to be, rather than be made to feel so ashamed about who I am that I must keep it a secret.
It matters because there are many others who are not out due to their fear that nobody would understand or accept them. I want them to know that they are celebrated for who they are and that they are not alone.
No, I don’t want to hide anymore. And I should not have to because others are uncomfortable or disapprove. And neither should anyone else be forced to hide if they do not want to.
So let us lead the Church in becoming a welcoming, loving, and affirming place for ALL people. Let us create safe, non-judgmental spaces for others to feel they can be true to themselves and can share their stories. Let us intentionally create spaces where people not only feel welcomed WHEN they share, but where they know they will have a safe space to share in the first place.
Some Recommended Resources:
Bisexuality 101: Identity, Inclusion, and Resources (UUA.org)
Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities (Religious Institute)
Connecting the Dots: Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Online Teach-Ins (More Light Presbyterians)
Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran. Some of her sermons and reflections can be found at Musings from a Bricolage.
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