Coming Out: Top Tips

It’s National Coming Out Day, internationally, this week. It’s on the 11th or 12th of October depending on who you ask and where in the world they are (like the three weeks of events last month for “Bi Visibility Day”, these things seem to grow beyond their names!) – and it’s thirty years since that first Coming Out Day in 1988.

If you’re thinking of coming out as bisexual, either on the day or just any time soon, here are some top tips…

TELLING YOURSELF IS THE FIRST STEP. Probably as you’re reading this you’ve already done this… but in a sense, you’re the only person you need to tell. Understanding that you are bisexual can often cause you to re-evaluate things that have happened in your past, or feelings you have had for people but dismissed.

“Am I bisexual?” is often a question where what we really mean is “Am I bisexual enough?”

You probably know who you find attractive – be that sexually or romantically or both – but often people will try to tell us that if we are in a monogamous relationship, or have only ever had partners of one gender, we aren’t “really bisexual”.  It is strange because those same people rarely think that a young heterosexual isn’t straight just because they’re a virgin, and they’re usually aware that even married people can notice that people other than their spouse are attractive. We often talk about this as being “bisexual erasure” – pretending that people are gay or straight really to avoid having to deal with bisexuality being valid and real.

So if you’re finding yourself attracted to people of more than one gender, but have been nervous of putting a label on it, perhaps now’s the time. Get yourself alone, look in the mirror and whisper it to yourself: I’m bisexual.

Telling anyone else is harder! You might want to prepare yourself by reading something like Getting Bi In A Gay / Straight World to have rehearsed some of the things that might come up.

And coming out is a lifelong thing – especially for bi people, as we are more likely to find people ‘decide’ that they know our sexual orientation for us based on a current relationship. By and large it gets easier over time – and for most of us it can be hugely liberating, no longer always trying to watch what you say and how you behave around people for fear of ‘giving it away’.

TELLING FRIENDS. It can be helpful to ‘test the water’ first with anyone you are thinking of coming out to, by talking about bi and gay people more generally to judge attitudes. For example bis on TV or in the news – this week, the new Channel 4 show The Bisexual could provide an excuse for that conversation. Sometimes people are OK with their friend being bisexual despite making negative remarks about bi people when they are talking in the abstract, but it can be a good way to get an idea whether they will be positive or hostile.

TELLING CO-WORKERS. This can be tricky depending on the workplace: we know people who have found things to be absolutely fine, but some bis have had negative experiences especially in more ‘macho’ lines of employment. The law is on your side since a European court ruling in the early 2000s said you can no longer be sacked for being bisexual. But if work colleagues do have a problem with your sexuality, it can make going to work a long-running strain on your mental health. On the other hand, if things go well or even just OK, you are no longer having to watch your tongue in every conversation about queer people in the news or about your relationships and past partners.

TELLING YOUR PARTNER. Partners can be really scary people to come out to because if they react badly there is a chance, even if only a small one, that it could lead to the end of your relationship.

TELLING YOUR FAMILY. As with partners, they may already have a clue. If you live with them then – as with your partner – you might want to have prepared a “plan B” should things go badly and you find you feel it would be better to spend some time elsewhere like at a friend’s house. Even if you don’t live with them, it might be helpful to know about organisations like FFLAG – families and friends of lesbians and gays (which is more bi- and trans- inclusive than their name suggests). www.fflag.org.uk

REMEMBER: YOU DON’T HAVE TO TELL ANYONE. Not right now. It can wait. If you’re about to tell someone and you realise they are taking their driving test in ten minutes, leave it til later. If you are financially dependent on the people you’re telling, you might want to take time to make plans for what to do if they take the news badly. Come out when it is safe and sensible for you.