Meet Ingrid. Ingrid is in the closet.
“I lied to myself for ages about being bisexual,” Ingrid confessed. “My first sexual experiences were with other women but they never went ‘too far’ so, at the time, I reframed them in my head as a youthful curiosity. It stayed like that for a long time before I finally accepted that this is who I am.”
It’s easy to stay within the comfortable confines of identifying as straight. Heteronormativity is abundant and has been for centuries as far as we know concerning our modern history of sexuality. But, we know we aren’t straight, that much is certain. We also live in a world where for the last two and a half decades where gay and lesbian champions populate the media and our social feeds and those labels are thrown about in such full force that it seems our only other option for labeling ourselves, our sexuality, is as gay or lesbian or curious, if we know we’re not straight. It makes it easy to not identify as bi. There have been stigmas associated with the label that bi activists are working endlessly to combat. More and more bi people in the digital realm are coming out, and the stigmas are being seen as less apparent, but there’s still that fear that one faces while in the bi closet.
I asked Ingrid to describe, in one sentence, why she hasn’t come out as bi. She replied, “Coming out is like encountering a large dog and not knowing whether it’s friendly or going to attack.” That sounds accurate. I’ve been through this. I grew up in a conservative Christian home, with a massive extended family and community who weren’t afraid to scorn and shame whomever they deemed the pariahs of morality.
The straight world has been atypically supportive in these last few years, and it has never once been so. But, also in the queer world, we face discrimination. Have the gay, lesbian, and ace communities been as uplifting towards us bis, as the straight community has been of late? Ingrid said,
Not particularly. For every supportive individual, you have prominent people like Julie Bindel who dismiss the very existence of bisexuality. Often, I get the feeling that bisexuals are merely tolerated, as opposed to accepted. We’re fetishized to some extent by those who see us as a means to get a threesome, while we’re simultaneously criticized for not ‘picking a side.’ Consequently, I feel that many environments – such as gay nightclubs – that should be open to us are closed off unless we only assume a gay role within them. Admittedly, my experiences are mostly limited to online environments and they’re heavily politicized.
We are a community of labels. Many bi people also use another label to describe their sexuality such as pan or polysexual; ambi and omnisexual; fluid, flexi, flexible, flexisexual, etc. Ingrid stated, “I don’t really use any other words to describe my sexuality.”
Some of the fears associated with why we don’t come out can be ascribed to hateful and vicious things we’ve heard growing up from people we love and respect. Ingrid revealed that she’d heard quite a lot of negativity towards the LGBT community whilst in her youth. She related,
Where I grew up, homophobic slurs were thrown around with gleeful abandon. At the same time, my wider family are religious to the point of near-zealotry – I’ve never heard them use the word ‘gay’ but I’ve heard them use plenty of other words to describe LGBT and none of them are nice. Some of my friends still use insulting words about LGBT people, not directed at them so much, but in the way that ‘gay’ has become a synonym for ‘lame’ in some circles. Part of me doesn’t want them walking on eggshells around me, afraid of saying the wrong thing in case I take offence. I guess when you’ve grown up hearing that stuff over and over, it kinda loses its power, though it’s no doubt had a negative impact on how I see myself.
We have a large online presence; bi people are everywhere in cyberspace. There are a number of organizations across the globe that are there for the very purpose of helping one feel the solidarity that one needs to feel as a bi person, especially when you are feeling lost and alone in the world. I wondered if Ingrid was aware of this and whether or not she had sought these organizations out and got involved. She replied, “I’m aware that there are a bunch of bi support groups and various such things but I’ve never really gotten involved. My experiences with all sorts of online forums have deterred me somewhat from seeking any out for myself. I find online forums too cliquey and intimidating to people that haven’t been accepted into the ‘tribe.’ I’m sure there are forums like that but at this point in my life, I’ve muddled along enough by myself.”
There are few bi bars and establishments in the world and they have only recently popped up, including gay bars that allow bi nights and such. But, going to gay and lesbian bars, or as I like to refer to them (and as the Phoenix LGBT community magazines refer to them) LGBT bars, are one of the few outlets in real life where we can meet other bi or queer people for romance and/or lovemaking. …or just to dance! Had Ingrid been to such places? Were they in her area? Had she been to a Pride parade or festival even? Ingrid said,
I’ve been to gay bars, although mostly when I was younger, and primarily because the drinks were cheaper! I tend to avoid gay bars now. I think part of the reason is that gay bars tend to be for people who are looking for a hookup, date, new partner or such. It’s not something that interests me. I’ve never been to a pride event or other LGBT organization, though. I can’t really say any reason why not (although in the case of a public pride event, I don’t want to appear in someone else’s photograph) but I am somewhat introverted.
The fear of being exposed by a salacious picture as queer. I’ve had that fear. It’s easier in our day to not have to go through life never coming out than it was 75 years ago. Even 50 years ago. So, there’s a chance within your lifetime that you will come out. I questioned Ingrid about what would be the ideal instance in which she would come out. She said, “I will come out to certain people as and when they gain my trust. Coming out to ‘the world’ though is unlikely. Most people don’t need to know and there are certain dangers from my family for being too open with my sexuality.”
With all these fears that run through our minds, we must counter those with joys and comforts. We should think of the things about us and our sexuality that makes us happiest. I wanted to know what about her being bi brought her the most comfort and joy. Ingrid replied, “The only thing I could say that brings me joy about being bi is the person I’m with at the moment. If I was straight, then I wouldn’t be with her. Other than that, I’ve never particularly been glad of my sexuality – with my upbringing, I dare say it’s been something of a weight around my neck.”
Feeling burden-free and powerful is something we should aspire to as a community. Also, thwarting danger is a must for us as bi people. So, if you ever feel like you are in danger, it’s best to stay in the closet until that danger subsides. Despite feeling that close approximation to harm, Ingrid’s next answer surprised me. When I asked her about whether or not she had been in a same-gender relationship she revealed, “Yes, I’m in a same-gender relationship right now.” Very cool. It’s possible to be brave, even in hiding. Live your life despite what the naysayers say. It’s yours and yours only.
That is Ingrid’s story.
In an effort to bring to the public the fears and discouragement of why many bi people choose to remain in the closet, I present to you a series of interviews with those I call “damp bi” folk. Though just as fluid in their sexuality as any openly bi person, a damp bi is someone who cannot fully embrace their fluidity in their sexuality safely or surely, and therefore are only “slightly wet.” This series hopes to instill in the reader a sense of encouragement and hope, for those in the closet, and a sense of awareness and insight to those non-bi folks who want to encourage bi people to live their lives openly and proud.
52% of LGB persons surveyed are bi, according to most recent statistical analyses. Many bi people remain slightly wet. This ranges from gay and lesbian identified people who also have attractions to other genders, straight identified people who are also attracted to many genders, asexual identified people who sometimes have sexual attraction to men, women, and non-binary folk, and the average person who gives no hint of their sexuality but is generally perceived by others to be straight. This suggests numbers may be higher among the non-LGBT demographics. What can you do to encourage bi people to come out? Do you help facilitate a safe environment for bi people to feel comfortable coming out to you? Do you see the importance of people living as their true selves, to be able to talk openly about the relationships they are in regardless of gender?