"Is it OK to tell people, or should I just shut up?"
I'm a woman who likes women and men. I'm been in a serious relationship with a man several years. Having recently moved back to my home town, I'm wondering about something. My close friends know about my orientation (I don't like the word 'bisexual' because of all its connotations and my general reluctance to label myself) but now I'm meeting new people, colleagues, etc., and I feel weird about not addressing this important part of my life. Is it OK to tell people, or should I just shut up?
To compound things, my parents don't know I've ever been anything other than straight — do they need to know? I wouldn't tell them how many sexual partners I've had or anything else about my sexual past, but ...
Great question, bless you. Also, tricky question, so ... damn you?
There are, of course, excellent reasons to tell. National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11, mark your calendars) exists for good reason; coming out is one of the few personal/sociopolitical acts I truly believe can affect serious change. Most homophobes not of the Fred Phelps God hates whoever God is hating this month variety aren't motivated by hatred for the abomination as much as they are simply uncomfortable. This discomfort is in some ways excusably human, born of bred-in-the-bone suspicion of the Other but seems totally anachronistic now that most of us aspire more to "love thy neighbor" than to "Oook! Stranger! Hit him with a rock!"
The more sexual minority folks come out the less anyone is able to claim not to know any. And the more you come out to people who already know and love you, the less comfortable those people might be, in future, with Otherizing others. Ideally, they become less comfortable with hearing others Otherizing others, as well, and there you go. Presto social change-o.
There are other reasons to just tell people. You want live an authentic life. You don't want to deny who you are, and you don't want other people making assumptions about you. Right?
But there's another school of thought — the TMI Is Bad school. We are surrounded by too much information about everyone and everything and honestly, people, have a little decorum. There is a time and place for everything. Thanksgiving dinner, for instance, is not the time to tell Uncle Morris and Aunt Sylvia that you live with your Mistress and two co-slaves, and you have this very interesting piercing, would they like to see? That isn't being authentic, it's just being shocking and stagey for effect.
So, should you just shut up? I would say generally not. When someone assumes you are heterosexual in that blithe, blind, assumption-making way that people make assumptions, there is no reason not to say — when you want to, "Actually, I'm with Gary now, but I'm bisexual." The end. It might sound odd, but the more often people say it, the less odd it will sound.
And that's the point.
Got a sex question? E-mail Andrea at firstname.lastname@example.org
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