I couldn't tell you how happy I was when my best friend came out to me as bi. After years of dating men, she realized that she was not only attracted, but actually preferred, to date women, too. After she came out to me, we spoke about our identities in depth. I was so excited to have someone else I grew up with claim the bi label.
Recently, she just got out of a monogamous relationship with her girlfriend. Not only was this woman the first woman she's ever loved, but the first person she's ever loved. The breakup has been a rough one for my friend. As we all know, the first cut is always the deepest.
Post-breakup, my friend started talking to me about what she was looking for in a partner moving forward. The pronouns she used were she/her. And when she spoke about the events she was attending, she'd talk about going with a bunch of other lesbians, which in my mind implied that she was labeling herself as a lesbian.
I asked her how she was identifying these days, and she told me she wasn't quite sure. While attracted to men, and still more than happy to sleep with a man who treats her with respect, she's finding herself more attracted to women and wanting to date women.
I then proceeded my whole spiel, quoting the modern definition of bisexuality created by bisexual activist Robyn Ochs, "I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted — romantically and/or sexually — to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree". I emphasized the latter half of the definition saying that she can still be bisexual without having an equal attraction to men and women. I also commented that attractions to various genders may indeed change over time. I know at times I find myself much more attracted to men, at other times, I find myself more attracted to gender non-binary folks and women.
She then told me that she was getting flak from some of the lesbians she was meeting. Not necessarily outright discrimination for being bi, but she was definitely being judged and not feeling "queer" enough for the women she was hanging out with. So she found herself not speaking about men she was attracted to and tacitly agreeing that she was a lesbian until she eventually started claiming the label.
"It's easier", she told me.
Immediately, the activist in me took over my every thought. My gut response was to tell her to protest, to say this is why it's more important that she claim the bi label. She should be speaking up, letting them know that their preconceived notions about bisexuality are biphobic, and the way that they speak about women attracted to more than one gender is absolute hogwash. She deserves to be with them and exist in queer female spaces just as much as any lesbian.
Then I took a deep breath. She wasn't coming to me as an activist. She was coming to me as the only other person she trusts who's attracted to multiple genders. She was coming to me as a friend. She was coming to me as someone who's struggling to get out of bed every morning because the heartbreak from her last relationship doesn't seem to be healing with time. She really thought she was going to grow old with her last girlfriend. We all did.
She, at the current moment, doesn't have the strength to be an outspoken bi advocate. She's just trying to get through the week without crying every day. To put the burden on her right now wouldn't be right.
If she feels more comfortable among her friends claiming the lesbian identity, so be it. I told her this, followed by, "This isn't the advice I'd say publicly". (Though here I am, saying it publicly because I do think it's important.)
I told her that the bi label will always be there for her. That it absolutely fits her identity, and she should never feel any shame or embarrassment for claiming the label. But if right now, it helps her get over her breakup by proudly proclaiming that she's a lesbian, then that's what she should do. And I (and hopefully other bi folks too) won't ever blame or shame her for doing so. She needs to do what's right for her at the moment.
That's the beauty with labels. They aren't stagnant, and you can claim multiple
I know women who claim both the bi and lesbian labels proudly. At first, that really confused me, but after speaking with them, I began to understand why they claim what initially seems to be two contradictory labels.
At the end of the day, as sexual minorities, we need to engage in self-care. While I hope my friend does eventually claim the bi label and join the community as an activist, that's not my — nor anyone else's — place to say. And she should do so in her own time.