“Hi, I’m a 16yo girl, and recently with all the media storms all over Tumblr, and also just life in general and the people around me, I’ve been thinking a lot about my sexuality. I think I’m at least bisexual, but I keep seeing labels that are wider just, in general, that include trans people? Is there a better label that just ‘bisexual’, is what I’m really asking.”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Hello! I want to say, for the record, that I am thrilled to hear that the world around you has challenged you to think about your sexuality, and to wonder and explore and dig into the feelings you have, both about yourself and toward other humans. I say this because I think there are a lot of people out there who are afraid that, by being open about the existence of many sexualities and genders, we might be confusing or influencing young people to be something that they aren’t. Newsflash! Being open about sexuality and gender allows people to actually think about who they are! Which is great and awesome and wonderful. So. Thank you for allowing me that brief moment on my soapbox.
*steps off soapbox*
For starters, the term bisexual does, for many, 100% include trans and nonbinary people! Let’s dig in a little deeper:
When I came to understand the word bisexual I also thought that the term – based on the prefix ‘bi’ – meant that I was saying I was attracted to men and women. I should also mention that it was 1998 when I first used that word to describe myself, and so that is what I meant, because in 1998 I didn’t have any understanding of gender outside of the binary. I knew there were men and I knew there were women, and I felt attractions toward them both! I held onto that understanding of the term for many years (and went on a whole journey with my own labels, which you can hear about here), and over time I learned more about gender identity, the gender binary, and the many genders that exist both within and outside of that (false) structure.
Armed with a new understanding of gender identity, I also realized that I was attracted, like you are, to people of all genders, rather than just the two I’d been taught about as a kid. And, through that whole process of rediscovery, I learned a lot about both the term “pansexual,” and how the term “bisexual” is understood by many (bisexuals included).
Pansexual is a term used by many to mean that they are (like you!) attracted (romantically or sexually) to all genders. If you like that word, then it can be your word, for sure! But but but. You must also understand that the word bisexual is used, by many, to express the very same sentiment. Certainly, there are people who identify as bisexual that may use that term to explain their attraction to two genders, but there are very many who use this term in keeping with Robyn Ochs definition, in which she states:
“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.”
This is how I understand the identity, and expresses what I mean when I tell someone that I am bisexual. I am attracted to people of all genders.
Now, let’s stop here for a very important second: Words are words. Which is to say that, the way I use a word may carry different meaning then the way that you use a word. The underlying piece of this whole conversation is that, if you are choosing a word or identity label for yourself, YOU have to feel comfortable with that word! It also means that, no matter how many people I talk to, and regardless of the fact that I identify as bisexual myself, that does NOT make me an authority. Words can mean many things to many people! That is why we should always leave room when we hear that someone identifies in a particular way, because their relationship with that word may be different than our own.
My advice to you is: keep asking, keep learning, keep reading. There are a multitude of identities out there, and an endless supply of words to choose from… but at the end of the day your truth will never be contained within just one word. The term bisexual is absolutely inclusive of all genders (many also view the ‘bi’ in bisexual to be an expression of “self” and “other,” meaning they can be attracted to someone of their own gender, as well as someone who is a gender other than their own), and there are many other words, or combinations of words, that can also help you express yourself and your identity.
I hope this helped, or at least confused you enough to keep asking more.
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Hey, my name is Virginia and I'm 14. I'm not sure of my sexuality, but I know I'm not straight, which I'm very open with at school and with all my friends. However, I'm not out to my parents. I sort of decided I wouldn't tell them until I was 100% sure, but I feel like they should know since so many of my peers do. I know you're not supposed to come out until you're ready, but can I be out to my school and not my family?
-Question submitted by Anonymous
The short answer here is: you can absolutely be out to your friends at school before being out to your family, and there is nothing wrong with making that choice if it is what feels best to you right now.
However, there is a little more to this dilemma, which I am going to take in two parts. First, let’s talk about waiting until you are “100% sure.” I get it, I reallllllyyy get it, but I don’t know that there is a guarantee that you will ever get to 100% on the SURE-ABOUT-IT meter, you know? Some of us do get there, but not all of us, and as someone who hasn’t ever felt SURE about one word lasting for my lifetime, I can tell you it is okay to never make it to 100%! I’ve been talking about this a bunch lately, but I think it bears repeating – our desires and identities and sexualities can change over time, and that doesn’t make any identity on our life’s continuum any less valid than any other identity! Meaning, if you come out to your parents today as ‘not straight,’ that is enough of a descriptor, and you don’t have to stay inside of those particular words forever.
Your parents likely don’t expect that you will only talk to them at the ‘end points’ of your life journeys. For starters, most of these journeys don’t have clean ‘end points,’ and I’d imagine most parents would want to be a part of the experience, the questions, and the beautiful parts that come in the in-betweens. If you think that your parents will be accepting of your sexuality overall, then telling them you don’t know exactly who you are yet, but that you know you aren’t straight, is a damn fine way to come out!
Second, I want to talk about the conflict you might be feeling in keeping something about yourself from your parents. This kind of decision is a really hard one to make, because you are negotiating between wanting to feel ready, and also wanting to feel like you can be open about who you are with people that you probably interact with a lot, and who also probably mean a whole bunch to you. It really is a tough call to make, which is why it is so personal to each person’s experience, and why it is so important to check in with yourself often about how you’re feeling.
The way I view it, you are weighing the feelings against each other to see which is the best decision for your heart and your wellbeing at the moment. If the weight of keeping something from your parents starts to be the bigger, more cumbersome feeling, then I think it is good to consider coming out (even if, as we talked about up there, you aren’t 100% certain of your identity just yet). Now, of course, if you are afraid that your parents will be very upset, or take extreme measures, this becomes a very different conversation (and one that involves having a clear plan in place before taking action), but your message doesn’t seem to suggest that this is part of your fear, Virginia. It seems, rather, that this is about timing what is right for you, what’s right for them, and when you should shift to a place of conversation with your family.
If you can, journal about it, or even just spend a few minutes before you fall asleep each night checking in on how you’re feeling. Make a system, even! Maybe you keep a notebook by your bed and you rank your “I want to tell my parents” feelings next to your “I’m not ready” feelings using a numbered scale or by putting a tally in the column that feels stronger to you. Then, over time, you’ll be able to see if those feelings change or if, perhaps, you really are more ready than you’d initially thought.
The bottom line is that there is no “wrong” answer here. This is your process, first and foremost. Your parents will have a process, too, but for now you have to do what makes you feel most comfortable, most safe, and most balanced.
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My Coming Out Story
In preparation for bringing my MOM to a video in the coming weeks, I thought it would be good to share my coming out experience (if you haven't already heard/read my story)! Leave your questions for my mom + I below, and we will make a video together SO SOON! Yay.
In this week's advice episode I answer a viewer-submitted question! I talk about using the term "bisexual," why identities can be complicated and ever-changing, my own, continuing, coming-out process, and more!
“Is it okay to call myself gay when I am bisexual? Gay has become such an umbrella term that it feels much easier, but I will stop if I’m not allowed to.”
-Question Submitted by buckybarnesfanatic
Okay, okay, okay, okay. There is a LOT going on here, so let’s take this apart a tiny bit, shall we?
You are ALLOWED to call yourself a giraffe if that is what you want to call yourself. Words, and especially identity words, are incredibly complicated things, and you have to pick the one that fits the way that you feel, period. That might mean not even PICKING a word! It might mean using several words in combination. It might mean telling someone your entire history with identity categories when they ask you how you identify, which I will refer to as the “Kristin Russo Method.”
Let me employ the Kristin Russo Method for a moment and tell you my own relationship with identity terms. Perhaps it will help!
I came out when I was 17 and when I did, I came out as bisexual. That word made sense to me because I knew as sure as hell I was crushin’ on girls and I also knew that I would one million percent still like to make out with a boy (especially if he looked like Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise, but that is another story for another day and also really makes clear just how old I am!!). That was as far as my reasoning went in 1998, because at that point I was clueless about gender being complicated and not operating on a binary. Are you still reading?! GREAT. So, I came out as bisexual and rocked out with my identity term UNTIL my mom was like UGH KRISTIN IF YOU ARE BISEXUAL WHY CANT YOU JUST BE WITH A BOY and I was like UGH MOM FORGET EVERYTHING I SAID I AM ACTUALLY A LESBIAN.
I legit just claimed that word as my identity only to quiet my mom. Then, I dated girls for a long time and the word stuck (even though it never felt quite right). Sometime later, I went to grad school and learned the word ‘queer,’ and was like oh THIS is lovely, this feels just like a warm coat on a chilly night, gimme that queer identity marker to roll all around in. Kaboom.
BUT THEN (and, dearest buckybarnes, this is really where I am circling back to you), just two years ago, I started really thinking about how I had tossed that word ‘bisexual’ right to the curb without a second thought. The reason I started to mull it all over again was because I was learning more and more about how bisexual people are completely fucking erased in oh-so-many communities! I experienced queer people saying rude, dismissive shit about bisexual people just as much as non-queer people! Oh, and then there was this whole report released by HRC!!! It really got me BUBBLING, let me tell you.
All of those thoughts were enough to make me unpack my own identity all over again, at the ripe old age of 34. I wanted to take back the word bisexual for myself, I wanted people to hear it and see it and have to think about it more and more, and I felt like my own experience could add to that conversation.
So, buckybarnes, here’s the thing. You’re right. Saying you’re “gay” is an easy answer to give to people. And, while you are honest-to-god allowed to do whatever you want (refer to earlier comments on giraffes), I do want to tell you that sometimes the easy answer actually makes things way more complicated for you (and me, and others) in the long run. I just want you to think about that as you go on your own journey with these words and with yourself and your heart and your attractions and feelings… because I wish I’d thought about that before I tossed ‘bisexual’ to the curb all those years ago.
No matter what you do or what you decide, identifying as bisexual doesn’t mean that you have to always give the same answer, and it doesn’t mean you can’t sometimes just say “Yeah, I’m gay,” and call it a day. I have those days, too (in fact, here’s a little anecdote about me pretending I had a boyfriend at the passport office!), and that’s a-ok. You may, find, though, that having people ask you more questions or wonder about the complicated nature of who you are is sometimes way, way more powerful than the alternative.
Have the best night.