I was chatting with friends a few weeks ago when the subject of “bisexual invisibility” came up. Sex advice experts have long questioned why there are so few openly out bisexuals, as compared to the gay and lesbian population.
My position (no pun intended) on this subject is that bisexuals are the “Schrödinger’s Cat” of sexual orientation; viewed as either gay or straight until partnered, the point at which they are assumed to be a set orientation determined by the gender of their partner.
Unless a bisexual person discloses their sexual identity, assumptions based on current partners tend to stick.
For those of you unfamiliar, Schrödinger’s Cat is a quantum mechanics paradox in which (more detailed explanation by a super smart person here) things exist in more than one superposition until observed; at that point setting into a single state. In this paradox, the hypothetical cat would be both alive and dead, until the box was opened and observation determined the actual state.
So, how does this apply to bisexuality?
A single man can be perceived to be gay or straight, but when he is coupled with a female, the default assumption falls squarely in the “straight” column. Same man later partnered with a male? Move that checkbox over to the “gay” column. The same is true for bisexual women, except there are generally fewer stigmas attached to this segment of the population (more on that in future posts). Bisexuals in committed relationships can find it difficult to disclose their orientation without elaborate, and extremely personal, tangents in the conversation.
As adults, we need to create space for youth to fully express their identity. Too many LGBTQ youth growing up in unsupportive environments feel the need to hide critical aspects of themselves; hiding that later contributes to an increased risk of negative outcomes. If a child expresses attraction to more than one gender, don’t interpret this to mean that they are confused or going through a phase. That attitude is dismissive and diminishes their sense of self.
Similarly, if a child comes out as lesbian or gay and then decides to also date people of the same gender, try not to get too hung up on figuring out which label to apply. Be the supportive person in their life and educate yourself if (when) something comes up that you don’t understand.
Bisexuality isn’t necessarily a fixed or equal degree of attraction to men and women. Sexual attractions are complex and up to the individual to define. When a child or young adult discloses their bisexuality (or bi-attractions), try not to superimpose your understanding over their reality. Are they being supported in the environment? Are they in a healthy relationship or dating situation? Are they properly equipped to talk about safer sex and using condoms before becoming sexually active? These are the types of questions you can help them with, regardless of their partner’s gender.
Also important to keep in mind….bisexuality is its own orientation (it’s the “B”, right there in the middle). It shouldn’t be considered some kind of cozy rest stop on the way to completely gay city. Admittedly, some people in potentially unsupportive homes might openly identify as bi first in an attempt to come out gradually (again, topic for another post). That said, try not to read too much into it. If a child or young adult comes out as bisexual, they have ownership of their own experience. Enough with the labels already, ask how you can support them.
Trust me, these kids have a much better understanding of their attractions than you think. Your job is to help them navigate the landscape of adolescence and model healthy behavior. Think of attraction and sexuality as more of a spectrum, rather than a tic box on a multiple choice question. And keep up the lines of communication open!