How to Survive Being Outed

By Jennie Roberson

January 12, 2021

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Photo credit: Bigstock/Wayhome Studio

I hope this article finds you happy, healthy, and in a peaceful state of mind. There are so many things I wish were true to make this a more perfect world. I mean, of course, ending world hunger and the like, but also other things people wouldn’t expect. I wish everyone could have a Star Trek replicator that produced whatever they were craving on the spot. I wish we could have one day a week dedicated to petting cats and dogs. But on a more serious subject, I wish we lived in a more tolerant and understanding world — particularly when it comes to the LGBTI population.

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And while the world is coming along on that front, it isn’t where most of us would like to be — where every queer could be open and honest about their sexual orientation. Sadly, it’s often quite the opposite — with many of us living in the closet, in fear of personal and/or professional repercussions if we come out. I don’t have to tell anyone with a heart that that sucks on an existential level.

Unfortunately, part of the emotional journey for so many bisexual people is the fear of being outed against their will. Maybe this has just happened to you. Or maybe you’re coming to terms with who you are and want to know what to expect. That’s where I come in!

So below is a very loose guideline of suggestions to do when you’re being outed. Bear in mind I HAVE to give a disclaimer here: this is not a be-all, end-all, catch-all list. Everyone’s queer experience is wildly different, and I cannot give the same advice to a sixty-something teacher who just got outed by the principal that I would give to a teen who confessed to the wrong friend and got outed in a group chat. So please bear in mind your mileage may — and very likely will — vary from these suggestions. This is not a definitive list, but hopefully, it will give some much-needed pointers for your arsenal. Feel free to cherry-pick what works for you! Or throw the whole article away if it doesn’t suit you (though since this is a digital publication, it’s probably not wise to throw your technical device of choice).

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Okay, now that we’ve got that preamble taken care of, let’s get down to business.

Preparation is some of the best defense

Are you reading this because you haven’t been outed yet, but you’re terrified of what could happen? Well, your emotions are valid, and one of the best things you can do to quell those fears is to fortify yourself in multiple ways.

First, if we are talking dire, will-get-kicked-out-of-the-house level of repercussions, try to put together a go-bag, funds, and safe places to go. If you’re a teen, sources like the L.A. LGBT Center may be able to assist you. Also doing research (and making sure you delete your browser history afterward) can go a long way in feeling more secure, in case worse comes to worst.

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If you’re concerned on a professional front, make sure to know your legal rights in your state (or province, country, etc.) so you’re not slammed with shock, which can rattle your defenses. Find out if there are any legal repercussions, or if your company has a policy in place that protects you.

If you’re more concerned on a personal/relationship front, writing out and memorizing some scripts in response may help you. This may give you peace of mind before we get into the following sections.

Build a support network ahead of time (if possible)

Maybe your concern is with being outed at work, but your friends are your rock and you know you can trust them with this information. Or your brother is a vault of discretion, but maybe your cousin would blab to your parents the first chance they got. The point is we all tend to have concentric circles of trust but those circles change depending on the nature of what you’re disclosing. Work on navigating that and being out to those whom you would trust with your life (and vice versa). Even if you feel like your entire community is not in these circles, you can build relationships with online friends you can trust, with some navigation.

The point is we all need someone to lean on (cue the music — personally I’m sick of the song but the message is great). As isolating as our fear of being outed can be, we need to remember we are not alone in this experience. There is a certain comfort that knowing many members of your bi community have likely been through this, too!

Remember: being bi is nothing to be ashamed about

No matter what the person who outed you may think or try to accomplish by weaponizing your sexuality, queerness is a rare joy in this human experience. You have recognized in yourself the power of attraction and love that is so powerful it busts through the binaries of outdated romantic parameters. That is something to celebrate — not hide behind.

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Your reaction colors the reactions of others

Believe it or not, many will take psychological cues from you when the outing happens. They’re looking to see how you take it — are you ashamed? (See above). Are you blasé about it? There is so much we cannot control in this life (including when people are shitty and try to take things away from us), but we are ALWAYS in control of how we react to events. This can be a chance for you to take back your narrative.

Speaking of which, you can elaborate or not elaborate on your bisexuality as little or as much as you want

Sometimes there are questions. Other times there are accusations — often emotional expressions. Answer them, don’t answer them — it is entirely up to you. You do not have to “explain yourself”, or “have something to say about this”. Or you can field questions like it’s a press conference. It is entirely your decision to gauge how much you want to respond, or if you want to walk away from the conversation.

Find a safe space where you can express and process your emotions to what is often a betrayal** 

This is a heavy space you’ve just been thrust into, and you likely need to think about what happened, its impact, etc. Therapy is a great place to sound things out if you have access to it. Going for a walk is another. Find a rage room. Hey, even punching a pillow can be cathartic! The point is to be present with your entire self.

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** Sometimes you’re accidentally outed with no ill will, but that tends to be rarer.

Remember: this is not the end of your story

In the future, with different circles and people, you’ll control how you’re out, if at all. You will likely run into this dilemma again, as bis in particular, tend to come out more often due to bi-erasure and the nature of dating in a heteronormative world. That’s okay.

Remember: this will pass. It will become a memory — one that may sting on recall, but one which you’ll draw from in some way or another. If nothing else, know that your bi community understands in a profound way that few others can truly understand. But the world is starting to catch up — not as quickly as we’d like, but it’s getting there. Take comfort in that.

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Okay, that’s all I’ve got for now. Hopefully this article provided you with a helpful toolkit that leaves you feeling more prepared or ready to deal with the consequences of a (sadly) common phenomenon within the queer community. Remember that you are loved and worthy — no matter what Aunt Beverly tries to say about you. She needs to change up her hygiene routine, anyway.

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