We’re here, we’re queer, and we belong.
By Linh Cao
My heart was pounding in my chest. My breathing was ragged as I squeezed one of my hands with my sweaty palm. I had just come out to a good friend of mine as bisexual and waited patiently for her response. Odds are she wouldn’t reject me outright—we’re millennials in the Bay Area, both having graduated from UC Berkeley. Surely, she’d be open-minded about the whole thing, right?
“Dude, that’s awesome!”
Exhaling a sigh of relief, I laughed.
“I had a girl friend go down on me once too,” she continued, “It was awesome.”
I paused. Her reaction was definitely more positive than what the worst-case scenario could have been, but something about that last comment made my stomach churn. I didn’t know what to say so I responded, “So…are you bi too, then?”
“Nah, when she asked me to go down on her, I said no, so I’m pretty sure I’m not bi. Vaginas scare me.”
Here was a “straight” woman centering herself in the conversation during what I viewed as a pivotal time in our friendship. More than that, she was diminishing my identity as bisexual by comparing it to one hookup that she’d had in the past yet refused to identify herself as bisexual.
My friend’s statement was incredibly rude because — and let’s forget the whole bisexual thing for a second—a friend is telling you incredibly personal and huge news—it might just be big enough to change your perspective on said friend or it might not. Either way, your friend is nervous as heck about telling you because there’s stories about people getting hurt when they tell their loved ones about their sexual orientation. Sure, reacting in a friendly way is a good start, but centering yourself in this? It can make your friend feel like you don’t really care about what they’re telling you and that all you care about is talking about yourself and how their news affects you instead of them.
I felt let down, small, and unimportant. Here I was, telling my friend some pretty life changing stuff, and all she did was make it about her.
I can see why she would want to try to relate, women are conditioned to keep social harmony in conversations. We rarely ever want to rock the boat, so we do what we can to make the other person feel comfortable. Relating to the topic and trying to empathize with the other person, is a way to overcome that discomfort. It’s well-intentioned but good intentions are no excuse for diminishing my bisexual identity.
I was telling her that I do not, and have not ever, identified as a heterosexual woman, that bisexuality was an important part of who I am and who I love.
While there is nothing wrong with hooking up and experimenting with people of the same gender, there is something wrong with quickly equating that with The Entire Concept of Bisexuality when a friend first comes out to you. If I said, “I like hooking up with girls” then, in that case, I think it’s appropriate to relate it your own experiences. But I said, “I’m bisexual.” Jumping to the conclusion that my experience with queerness is the same experience with queerness that she had was incredibly rude and shows that we need more representation of bisexuality to teach people that being bi is not “just a phase” or something to take lightly. It’s a whole identity filled with a depth of diverse experiences.
I wish I could say that was the first and last time I’d experience what it’d be like to come out to a self-centered heterosexual woman with internalized biphobia. It wasn’t. It happened a couple more times with different straight women and every time I awkwardly laughed along, just happy that they weren’t disowning me as a friend, but unsettled at their strange reaction. I wish I had known then everything I know now to have given a more proper response.
Coming out to cishetero men in the past has been hard too, don’t get me wrong. However, I already come into that conversation preparing myself for a terrible outcome, like if they decide to start asking intrusive and fetishizing questions. Also, I tend to filter out the bad men in my life a lot more. With women, I, perhaps naively, assume that because we’re friends and we’re women, I’d be given a certain level of respect when talking to them about deep personal topics. After all, it’s what I tend to do for them. But time and time again I’m faced with the harsh reality that unless you share a marginalized identity with someone, it’s rare to find people who will try to understand where you’re coming from.
To straight-identified women out there, I encourage you to be supportive of your bisexual femme friends when they talk to you about this personal part of their identity. Bisexual femmes are fetishized and ostracized enough. Micro-aggressions from women who we feel like should support us, hurt more than you can imagine.
It takes a lot of strength to come out as bi because we spend our whole lives being told that bisexuals are just “sl*ts doing it for attention”. So to come out and proudly call ourselves bisexual is a counterintuitive act that runs against the instincts that have been hammered into us by the media, our family, our friends, and society. The first few times I did it, I felt nauseous, as if I was claiming an identity that didn’t belong to me because I wasn’t “really queer”.
To go from that to someone who openly advocates for bisexual visibility and proudly identifies as bisexual has been an arduous journey for me. Allowing someone to join me on my journey is an incredibly vulnerable act and it’d be amazing if straight women, and all allies in general, were a bit more mindful of that.
To my lovely bisexual femmes who unfortunately have experienced this as well: don’t worry. It’s not always going to happen like this when you come out. Your experience is not defined by your friends’ experiences. If you’re feeling like your identity has been diminished in any way, know that your identity is valid, your feelings are valid, and you are valid. You are no less bisexual because you came out to them and they made you feel that way.
Ultimately what made me really feel accepted and valid was by surrounding myself with other bisexual femmes, either online or in real life. Though Tinder is a hellscape for dating men when you’re a femme, it’s a surprisingly nice place to find fellow queer femmes. Twitter has a budding bisexual community and Bisexual Visibility Month, this month, is the perfect time to join. There are also great queer communities on Facebook, like Bisexual Solidarity, that are safe spaces for us bis to be loud and proud without any fear of backlash.
It’s still pretty exhausting to come out and talk about bisexual issues and while I encourage more people to do it, I do want to emphasize that I am incredibly privileged to have amazing sources of support in my life. I’ve rarely felt endangered for being queer and I don’t insist that people come out if they feel like it would put them in danger.
Coming out to the straight women in my life has been annoying as hell, but I’ve decided that when I come out to them I’m not doing it for their benefit, or even for the benefit of our friendship — I’m doing it for me and for the bisexual community. We’re here, we’re queer, and we belong.
Author Bio: Linh is a Vietnamese-American writer based in the Bay Area. Her work has been in online publications such as Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Femsplain. In her free time, she likes watching anime and playing video games. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.
Featured Image: By Peter Salanki from San Francisco, USA