Dear Prudence, Stop Erasing Bisexuality

I like a good advice column as much as the next person, mostly because I like to get a glimpse into the lives of other people. What better way to do that than by reading about their problems? Sometimes the questions are tough and I don’t envy the job of the columnist who has decided to take it on. Other times, well, the advice is so bad that I can’t believe someone got paid to give it.

A recent question submitted to Dear Prudence received the latter treatment.

The question went something like this from someone calling herself Irrelevant Closet: A woman is happily married to a man. However, through a lot self-reflection she has come to the realization that she is bisexual. She plans to stay monogamous with her husband, and he is supportive of her. But they are having a disagreement. She wants to come out as bisexual to her family. He doesn’t think she should. Her question indicates that her husband thinks her bisexuality is “irrelevant” because she’s in a heterosexual marriage. Emily Yoffe, Slate’s advice guru, agrees with the husband.

Let’s say you discovered a late breaking interest in plushophilia, or you now realized you were turned on by being a dominatrix. This would not be news you’d be required to announce at the next Thanksgiving gathering. The rapidity with which society has accepted, even embraced, gay sexual orientation is a glorious phenomenon. But you are confusing your personal sexual exploration with a social imperative. It would be one thing if you left your marriage because you were pursuing relationships with women. That would be worth talking about — if you wanted to — as a way of explaining the dissolution of your marriage. But you say you are planning to not only stay with your husband but remain monogamous. I agree with your husband that making a public announcement about something so private will not be illuminating but discomfiting.

Well let’s not make the relatives uncomfortable by being open and honest about who you are. How uncouth.

Her answer was only a paragraph, but there are a lot of misconceptions that need to be cleared up. First is the comparison of bisexuality to a sexual fetish. While the lines can be blurry at the margins, generally a fetish and a sexual orientation are two distinct things. A fetish refers to a thing that someone finds sexually arousing. A sexual orientation has more to do with how we interact sexually with others.

So the comparison right off the bat is inappropriate and really sets the tone for how the rest of the answer is going to flow.

Yoffe’s answer to this woman’s question is universally belittling, from her description of it as “your personal sexual exploration” to the opinion that it might — might — be worth discussing if her marriage was falling apart from it. Implicit in this answer is that since she’s in a heterosexual marriage, she’s basically straight, right? Just hide the part of you that finds women attractive. It is irrelevant to who you are.

It should go without saying that the person with whom you are currently in a relationship doesn’t get to define who you are. If you are bisexual, you are bisexual. If you are using common definitions, you do not suddenly become heterosexual if you date someone of a different gender and you do not suddenly become gay if you date someone of the same gender. Sexuality, as a general matter, doesn’t work like that.

This is something people seem to have a hard time understanding. Back in July, actress Anna Paquin did an interview with Larry King. Paquin is bisexual, but she’s also married to a man. King did not get it at all.

King: “Are you a non-practicing bisexual?”

Paquin: “Well, I am married to my husband and we are happily monogamously married.”

King: “But you were bisexual?”

Paquin: “Well, I don’t think it’s a past-tense thing.”

Larry King: “No?”

Paquin: “No. Are you still straight if you are with somebody — if you were to break up with them or if they were to die, it doesn’t prevent your sexuality from existing. It doesn’t really work like that.”

Bisexual people are the victims of a lot of myths, from assumptions that they are just confused or doing it for attention to suspicions that they can’t be monogamous. Telling a woman to hide who she is for the comfort of others isn’t helping. Being bisexual, like being gay or straight or a person of color, informs who you are and how you interact with the world. If your bisexuality is something you don’t want to hide, no one should ask you to unless they have a pretty dang good reason. Worrying about confusing your relatives isn’t a very good reason.

Yoffe mentions that just because the question-asker is bisexual, that doesn’t create a “social imperative” to tell people about it. Does Irrelevant Closet have to tell anyone? Of course not. She should do what feels comfortable and what she thinks is safe. Oddly enough, Yoffe is helping create a social imperative to keeping quiet when others don’t see the point in bringing it up.

So, Irrelevant Closet, if you’re out there, don’t listen to Emily Yoffe on this. Follow your heart.

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.

81 comments

Heather O.
Heather O.about a year ago

GRRRR!! I HATE that!!

I always knew I was bi; I just didn't know what to call it when I was younger.

Vicky P.
Vicky P.about a year ago

thanks

Tim W.
Timothy W.about a year ago

I guess people just don't get it. :-(

Alan Lambert
Alan` Lambertabout a year ago

If you want to announce it as the reason you are ending a relationship, that's one thing but until it impacts the family it's no-damned-body's business but those you sleep with.

Tim W.
Timothy W.about a year ago

It is sad that so many people find it so difficult to open their minds to what it might be like for people who experience life differently than they. How nice it must be to be one of those people who exist with the majority and don't feel a need to understand any other point of view or experience.

Rose NoFWDSPLZ
Rose Beckeabout a year ago

I agree with Richard S

Tim W.
Timothy W.about a year ago

Try this one last time.
Just because someone who is Bisexual, chooses to remain in a monogamous heterosexual relationship, doesn't mean they don't still have bisexual feelings or thoughts. Many straight people don't stop to realize how many times in a day a person is confronted with negative comments about sexuality. Even if she is in a straight relationship she would become wary of hearing such negativity. By letting people know that she is Bisexual, not only is she making a point of letting people know that they might not have an accurate idea of what bisexual people like, but she is also making sure that they know she is Bisexual, and therefore less likely to have these people make negative comments in her presence. This is also the same reason that gay people feel the need to come out. I am gay but I am not in a relationship and have not been for a long long time, but that doesn't mean that I am not going to feel a need to let people know that I am gay. After coming out, I encounter far fewer negative comments from people. Most bigots prefer to make their hateful comments when they believe they are speaking to people other than those they speak of.

Richard S.
Richard S.about a year ago

WOW the author is an idiot! Unless there is some kind of major change of life event (such as a divorce because she's decided to be with another woman exclusively) then her sexual orientation is nobody's business but her own.

Francesca A-S
Past Member about a year ago

Definitely don't agree with Yoffe, being in a heterosexual/homosexual marriage if you're bisexual doesn't make you any less bi. Thanks for this article.

Joseph Belisle
Joseph Belisleabout a year ago

I perceive human sexuality as people run the whole gammet. From purely hetero to purely gay. I think that purely straight or gay may not really exists that it's just varying amouts of how much you are both. In essence we are all bisexual but some may just be 99/1 while others are 50/50.
As for letting others know. I agree with the article and other posters that it's up to you. Should you keep quiet? If you want to. Should you tell the world? Ok. Just keep in mind how such a revelation will affect others. In a perfect world, we should all be open and accepting of other peoples sexuality as we should be of our own. But we don't live in that world. Consider how people will react. Above all, if you can, follow your intuition. Timing may be key. Thanksgiving may not be the right time. A summer BBQ when everyone has had a drink or two and their inhibitions are lowered they may be more open to it.