About a month ago on Twitter I decided to affirm myself publicly for the first time ever. I don’t even remember what triggered it at this point, but I do know that it was nerve-wracking. I know it gave me anxiety. I know it took me at least seven minutes to hit send. Screw it, I figured, it’s long overdue. With it being Pride month and all, I decided to finally correct the label “lesbian” that I’d let people identify me as for the last 15 years (and what I even called myself publicly). I finally rejected the label for its false portrayal and it felt great! It was empowering. All of my negative thoughts about “coming out” again were nowhere but in my own head. In the moment, I did it for me and no one else but as the day went on and messages started to slip into my DM box, I realized that there were a number of women who felt the same burden—the burden of being in a second closet: bisexuality.
Women were feeling pressure to not identify with whom they really are because of the negative stereotypes associated with being bisexual. These women didn’t want lesbians looking at them differently, didn’t want friends and family questioning the strength of their relationships, and didn’t want random men thinking they had a shot. (We are not attracted to every human we see—let me point that out for those who don’t get it.) It was at that moment I began thinking about writing something a little more formal than tweets. I wanted to do it for the women like me who, for whatever personal reason, chose to hide their true identity and suffered in silence because of their decision.
Let’s be clear, bisexuality is real. It is not a phase and it is not greed. It is real.
There have been so many times I’ve sat at a dinner or lunch and silently let people bemoan their distrust of bisexual people. Too many times I’ve had no pride and dialed back my words and let such hurtful dialogue pass because I didn’t want to out myself. Over the last couple of years, I began to speak up more but not from a place of one who is bi, just an understanding lesbian. It was a step. But sometime last fall after a speaking engagement, I could feel another conversation veering in the direction of “Why can’t they just make up their minds?” and it was at that moment I decided I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t not be the in-person example of a bisexual woman who doesn’t personify rampant stereotypes. I finally came out. Again. At 35. To people I’d just met that morning. It was weirdly emotional because I felt like I was too old and established in married life to do this but it had to be done. You see, it’s the feelings we don’t voice that weigh us down the most and this had been weighing me down for years.
Of course my wife has always known about my identity and we’ve had countless conversations about it over the years. Those talks weren’t so easy in the beginning, but there came a point at which she has wiped warm, and salty tears from my eyes and said “just be yourself, whoever that is.” Between my being bi and see-sawing gender expression I was a bit of a mess. Suppression was eating away at me. Depression was draining me. Constant denial of who you really are takes a toll on you—hadn’t I learned this already when it came to admitting I wasn’t straight? Of course, but back then it was one challenge at a time. Straight people had a hard time accepting gay people and everyone, including gay people had a hard understanding bi people. There was no need to bring that part up, I’d thought. What did it matter once I got married? I’d wondered. But it matters. I could not erase a part of myself and still expect to live a full and actualized life.
For far too long bisexual people have been stigmatized. We’ve been incorrectly labeled as confused individuals who want the best of both worlds and are incapable of committing to anyone. These are lies. We’re not straight and experimenting. We’re not gay and in denial. We’re bisexual, period. So please, do not push your insecurities on us. Do not push your fears onto us. Do not push your confusion on us. We know who we are, it’s you who’s confused if you can’t grasp that there are more than two sexual orientations and it’s not a threat to yours.
To those who are in the shoes I just stepped out of. It’s okay to be yourself. It’s okay to say it early in a relationship—if you scare the other person off then oh well. She or he probably wasn’t the right person for you anyway. At the end of the day, owning one’s sexuality is not so much about announcing it to other people as it is about affirming one’s existence and personal identity. It’s not allowing social norms to erase you out of existence because that’s what is most comfortable for other people. We have enough problems in the world and don’t need to put unnecessary strain on our mental health in an effort to please people who cling to stereotypes.
If you’re in a new relationship, there will come a time when you have to stand up for yourself and say, “If you’re going to love me, love all of me. Accept all of me. Don’t be threatened by my existence. My promise to you remains and all I ask of you is to let me be me. I’m not going to hurt you.”
To those who are partners or spouses of bisexual people and feel nervous about your future. Relax. Whether your relationship lasts or not has nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with character and compatibility. Bisexuality is not an excuse for infidelity. And as we all should know by now, love is something you do, not something you float in. Regardless of what your sexual orientation is, love is doing things you know will strengthen your relationship not damage it. It means being honest all the time and admitting if something needs to be tweaked so you can feel whole. That goes for both people because the truth is there is bound to be some part of either one of you that’s a little extra to the marriage. Roll with it and use it to find ways to make you both stronger, loving and accepting people.
Bisexual people don’t want to feel guilty just because we find someone of the opposite sex attractive (imagine that). There’s no need to feel insecure. We don’t want to feel guilty for acknowledging our attractions—if home isn’t a safe place for that kind of self-actualization then nowhere is. So yes, bisexuality is real. You can be bi, be married to someone of the same sex and not be confused, not want the best of both worlds and not be a dormant boomerang waiting to be flung back across the rainbow fence.
There is a quote that I would like to leave with anyone reading this. I don’t know who originally said it, but I think it’s important to share in this time where too many people are quick to define their #relationshipgoals by cute photos of random couples. The quote is: “Be careful of admiring other people, quite often, they’re admiring someone else.” I repeat it just as a reminder that what’s most important in life is to be the best version of you that you can be. Be yourself. Be fulfilled. Be happy.
There is someone out there who needs to hear this right now. There is a marginalized group of people within a larger group of marginalized people who need to know the world will not end if they step into their truth. Someone reading this right now needs a sit-down with her partner and to have the talk about how she’s really feeling. Someone needs to practice saying aloud who she is so she can begin adding back the color of her existence. And to that someone, no one can force you out, but I know that personally I’m no longer comfortable in that second closet. It’s too dark with unfounded fears, too damp with decades-old tears and too crowded with the imaginary judgement from others. It’s unnecessary so I’ve stepped out and locked the door behind me. Today is the day I am saying as loud as I can: I’m bisexual and I am proud.
Cheril N. Clarke is the author of five novels, several e-books, and three plays. She is one of the most popular writers of fiction that features, but is not limited to, African-American lesbian characters. In addition to creative writing, Clarke is also a business owner and speechwriter. She has written for C-Suite executives in Philadelphia as well as local politicians in Southern New Jersey. Clarke lives with her wife and business partner for publishing LGBT children’s books, Monica Bey-Clarke, in southern New Jersey.