I’m a big ol’ fan of support groups. Is it because I’m a softie? Well, let’s not rule that out. But I’ve definitely learned over the years it’s crucial for my own mental health to have a revered, regular space where I can be vulnerable with others who share the same experience
It’s also important for me, apparently, to have a place where I can rant until I’m blue in the face.
I go to a bi support group — online since the beginning of the pandemic. I know everyone is bone-tired of Zoom, but this is the safest way for a whole bunch of people across both America and other countries to regularly congregate to share, support, and laugh together.
When I started going to this group, I thought I’d hang out in the back and let others take the mic. And I still do this often. But I’m also not, by nature, a shy person. And it’s super important to me to pass on hard-earned knowledge and experience to those who are newer onto whatever scene I’m familiar with — to “send the elevator back down,” as Jack Lemmon used to say. That’s true with actors who are new to town (I’ve been a professional actor for 15+ years), it’s true with writing, and it’s true with those who are newly discovering or exploring their bisexuality.
So there are times when I’m at this bi support group when there are people who are new to their queer experience, and I will go on a mama-bear-like rant. The group has started lovingly calling these monologues “arias.”
A few weeks ago, I busted out an aria in response to someone who was dealing with, what they eventually realized, was internalized biphobia. I got into such a tear that I realized there’s really an article in there, and I wanted to provide something here to those who may be struggling with that. So let’s get to it!
Let’s break it down: What is internalized biphobia? I don’t want to assume everyone knows or is working with the terms I’m throwing around, so let’s start from scratch. Biphobia is a dislike or prejudice against bi people. Internalized means it’s not coming from an outside source, but rather messages you are telling yourself that were likely taught to you at one point or another.
What does internalized biphobia look like? It can take all kinds of forms, but the most common form is self-doubt. (It’s important to be clear that this is different from discernment.) That doubt can often take form in metrics (“am I bi enough?” etc) and shame — like you’ve done or are doing something wrong.
First of all: These feelings are extremely common! I don’t know one bi person who hasn’t felt these types of feelings at one point or another on their journey to self-acceptance and bi pride. That puts you in incredibly good company. You are SO far from alone.
Internalized biphobia is a real thing. Like, well-documented medical phenomena real. And it blows. It blows harder than a foghorn next to your eardrum. And I’m incredibly sorry if you’re feeling that way. I literally can sympathize, because those thoughts can be intrusive and harmful to both your psyche and your self-esteem.
But there’s good news, too! Those feelings aren’t forever. As the German poet Rainier Marie Rilke said: “no feeling is final.” I know it can feel that way because, man, while those feelings ebb and flow, they flow with a vengeance.
I can tell you that it gets better. I know we’ve been saying that as a community on multiple fronts about our queer trauma for a good decade (and literally written songs about it). But you may want more customized help in combatting these narratives in your brain and heart. So let’s take ‘em head-on!
First and foremost: Your feelings are valid. Your identity is valid. Bi activist Robyn Ochs often talks about five major stereotypes on bisexuality, and one of those root ideas is that “bisexuality is an unstable identity.” Which is bunk! Queerness has been observed not only within the animal world (and particularly with bonobo monkeys, which is one of our closest primate relatives), but also throughout history, culture, and our stories.
“But I don’t feel like I’m queer enough.” What is queer enough, anonymous voice in our heads? Is it a body count so high across the genders it’d put former NBA players to shame? Is it having a septum piercing AND cuffing our jeans every chance I get? Is it an obsession with frogs? Doesn’t this all seem like a lot of impostor syndrome with goalpost-moving? It does because it is. A few years ago, a straight dude insinuated I wasn’t bi because of my sexual history (which was none of his goddamn business anyway), and I shouted him down with “I don’t need to bang a man and woman at the same time in front of you to prove my sexuality.”
That shut him up pretty quick.
“Things would be so much easier if I was straight/gay.” Would it, though? Or are there already established communities, structures, courtship rituals and stories in place that make it seem like that’s the case? What I often ask people who are saying this is the following: If being bi was, instead of marginalized, as normalized and accepted as being straight as a post, would you still feel the same way? That often gets them (and hopefully you) to realize that there’s a lot of social pressure and accepted societal roles that are making you feel less-than, when you are anything but.
“But I haven’t had any experience with anyone my gender/another gender.” Do you think a straight person ever asks this about themselves, if they don’t have experience? Nope. You don’t have to have any experience with another person. Bisexuality is about attraction, not action. Once more for the cheap seats: it’s about attraction, not action. You’re still valid if you’re ace or haven’t had your sexual debut with anyone yet or you have twenty notches on the bedpost and they’re all with one gender. It’s all good, buddy!
Okay, I know I’ve gone over a few of the common phrases, and I haven’t caught all of them, but let’s go over some other tactics.
First is awareness of this voice. Whose voice is that saying these things in your head? Is it yours? Your mother’s? Some dude at the bar? It might be someone you normally heed. Try a mental exercise of putting that same phrase into the mouth of someone you detest or whom you can never take seriously. (Feel free to borrow mine: I put those words in the voice of the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons: since the guy is such a hater with zero life experience, I can’t take anything he says seriously.) You’d be surprised — it’s jarring at first, but your brain re-learns the neural pathways and it gets easier to practice it. Think of it as a form of self-love.
The next tool I use is recognizing conditional thinking. The saying goes, “Your first thought is what society has conditioned you to think, the second thought defines who you are.” I don’t think we need to go to quite that extreme, but there’s a lot of truth in this. There’s a lot of people who would profit off of internalized biphobia because you owning your power doesn’t benefit them, doesn’t fit, and isn’t something that works with their narrative. Your second thought — if you give yourself time to reflect on the first biphobic thought and not just accept it as true — is much more likely to be a lot kinder. That’s the one we want to focus on; the more compassionate part of you that realizes that these false metrics and rivers of shame are complete bullshit. Think of how you’d react if you heard your best friend talking to herself the way that the first thoughts did. Your reaction and how you’d kindly be there for her is what we’re going for here, but instead, we’re befriending ourselves.
If you’re into meditation, try to practice thoughtful acknowledgment of these intrusive, harmful thoughts — much like this analogy of watching cars on a freeway. That perspective will be hard at first, but it can and will grow over time.
It takes time to de-program this biphobic stuff from your brain. It’s okay; be patient and gentle with yourself. And know that trip-ups will happen; I still sometimes have stuff crop up and I’ve been getting paid to be bi here and talk about bi stuff for almost five years! It’s all part of the journey, babes.
Okay, so we’re going beyond ourselves to outside sources of assistance. This is okay and important, too! Too much rattling around in our own brains can be counterproductive. Do you have friends you can talk to? A bi discord you can hop onto and talk these feelings out with? A library with resources? Is your therapist LGBT-friendly and do you feel safe talking to them about this stuff? How about... wait for it... a bi support group? It’s good to talk these feelings out. Trust me on this one.
I know it’s hard. I really do. We live in a binary-thinking society: good/bad, gay/straight, black/white. We know that there’s much more of a spectrum of experience and nuance to our lives. Just not that everybody has caught up to that with sexuality. They will. But in the meantime, I hope these points can help you sort things through. You are worth taking care of.
Okay, so that concludes my “aria” on acts of self-care with internalized biphobia. Much like the arias I do at my support group, it’s not perfectly organized or exactly worded. But I’m talking to you the way I talk to those I love about. Because you are so very, very loved, and valid, and bi as the day is long. And that’s worth singing about.