mixed feelings is a bi-weekly advice column. Every other Wednesday, a different mental health expert, author, or journalist will respond to your problems and existential questions. If you like this sort of thing, why not subscribe?
dear mixed feelings,
When I was younger I was always looking at girls, not guys. I remember in sex ed they taught that once you start your period you’d all of a sudden be boy crazy…My period came and I was still attracted to girguys too). In high-school it was “cool” for girls to make out with each other…but then I would have feelings for some of those girls. I just pushed [those feelings] aside.
College came around and I took it to the next level, not only making out with but hooking up with girls...Once, a good friend asked me if I was bi. I said “No! I just like guys AND girls,” not really admitting to myself that that's literally what it means to be bi. I met someone when I was 21 and we were discussing kissing girls/guys. She said she had never kissed a girl and I was like “what?! I’m totally gonna change that!” One night…she called me out on it, so I leaned in [and] kissed her…The feelings were so apparent in us both…This eventually turned into an actual relationship, but I was still so confused about these intense feelings for her.
We had our thing for about a year and then went our separate ways. About a year later I met my now husband. We have been together for eight years…For the past few years I can’t stop thinking about being with a female…I get jealous when I see a girl on Instagram in a relationship with another girl. I have dreams about it.
I've finally admitted to myself I’m bi and I feel so proud about it! I want to tell people and just be open about it, but for what reason at this point? I love my husband. We have a great relationship. The only thing is I’m not physically attracted to him. It gives me anxiety thinking about all the what-ifs. What if I’m not meant to be with him? What if I break up my family? (We have a daughter.) I don’t want to not be with him, but I also really want to be (sexually) with a girl. I almost feel like I lost out on being my authentic self because I didn’t come out to myself until I was already married. I didn’t get to experience being openly bi—I had a few friends that knew, but it was mostly a secret. I haven’t been able to talk to anyone about this so maybe I just needed to get it out anonymously. It feels so heavy to have this on my mind. Are there any support groups…for bi people in straight relationships? — ShyBi, she/her
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When I came out, I said I’d never write about being gay. I told myself I didn’t have the right to because I hadn’t struggled enough. I told myself I couldn’t possibly have anything new to add to the conversation that another smarter, cooler, gayer person hadn’t already said. And, mostly, I didn’t think I was gay enough to write about being gay. Sure, I had a girlfriend and that made me visibly queer, but on the inside I felt unbelievably guilty because I knew I still liked men.
As a writer I pride myself on being precise, for cutting right into the marrow of things. But as a person I wasn’t allowing myself to go below surface level. I had let other people define what “queer” meant to me for nearly three years, but I hadn’t let myself reckon with the fact that I was still attracted to men and that the relationships I had before dating queer folks still mattered deeply to me. I knew I couldn’t write off an entire part of my identity just because it wasn’t “cool” to like cis guys.
When I finally came out as bisexual, my whole world opened up. Claiming a label for myself released something in me. It felt like a huge breath of relief. It had a domino effect on everything in my life—my career, my relationship with my partner who feels affirmed by my bisexuality, and most importantly, my relationship with myself. I no longer felt like I was harboring a secret. I no longer felt there was anything to be ashamed of.
Half the battle of embracing a bi identity is shaking hands with the discomfort of fluidity. I am not interested in talking about your marriage. Because, in my opinion, the letter you wrote isn’t really about your marriage. It’s about feeling isolated from your identity. This brings me to the part of your letter I really want to speak to. The part where you said: “I want to tell people and just be open about [being bi], but for what reason at this point?”
so, what’s the point?
One of the most common things I hear from bisexual folks in straight-passing relationships is, what’s the point? The National LGBT Taskforce reported that nearly 50% of bisexual women have considered or attempted suicide. That’s a heavy fucking statistic, but I bring it up for a reason. So many bisexuals simply don’t feel seen—not by heterosexual folks and not by queer folks. Our society is rampant with biphobia, and we are conditioned from a young age to perceive bisexual women as promiscuous, untrustworthy, performative, and experimenting. We’re slapped with these reductive, false labels that insult our depth and leave no room for nuance in our existence–so much so that it feels like we don’t exist at all.
But we deserve to be seen, to be known, and to be celebrated as examples of the human ability to love without limits. Coming out, especially if you’re bi in a straight-passing relationship, can be so important because secrets and shame play a huge role in your mental health. “If [someone] in a heterosexual relationship is keeping [their] bisexuality a secret it just adds more shame,” says Rachel Wright, a queer psychotherapist who specializes in modern relationships and sex. “Think about shame like a cancerous tumor—it just grows and grows unless you do something to stop it. The way we stop that growth is to release the shame. One way we can do that is by sharing and [refusing to] keep it within us.” So, what’s the point? You are the point.
what you resist, persists
When you give yourself permission to acknowledge that you are attracted to all genders, that triumph can be coupled with doubt about who you should “choose.” Our societal brainwashing comes in demanding a black and white answer, and when you factor in monogamy, things can start to feel really fucked.
“When we resist certain thoughts and feelings, they tend to stick around,” says Alegra Kastens, a queer, licensed marriage & family therapist who specializes in the treatment of OCD, anxiety disorders, and body-focused repetitive behaviors. I’m by no means implying that you have OCD, ShyBi, but some techniques from OCD therapy might help you understand intrusive thoughts. “People deliberately try not to think about things, which ends up backfiring,” says Kastens. “This is where acceptance plays a crucial role.” Acceptance doesn’t mean you have to agree with or like those thoughts, but rather accepting the presence of the thoughts and feelings we may not be in control of. “Resisting reality as it is,” Kastens says, “leads to struggling.”
This questioning you’re experiencing is at maximum volume because your bisexual voice has never felt heard. Grief may also be buried alongside your bisexuality. Many folks who don’t feel like they got a chance to explore their queerness experience immense grief and mourning for what could have been. I want you to know that you are entitled to that sense of loss, that it is important to honor it, and that so many other bisexual people join you in that mourning.
take your seat
You don’t have to be in a relationship with a woman to embrace your queerness. “Whether or not a person ever ‘acts on their bisexuality’ doesn’t make them any more or less bisexual,” Wright remarks. Our relationships are queer because we are queer. Just because you are in a straight-passing relationship does not mean your bisexuality has been erased. It’s part of your value system, it informs the ways in which you walk through the world and how you relate to others.
There can be power in a label that feels right. “If one doesn’t feel good, don’t wear it. They stick to cans, not to people,” Wright adds. “If we feel seen in a label and that label is part of a bigger community, we can be embraced by that community.” Queer community has been so vital in my journey, but it is among other bisexual people that I feel the most seen. To have your identity and values mirrored back to you by others is magic. It is healing. It is essential.
Being bi is so much more than the person you share your bed with. “We talk so much about being seen, known, acknowledged by other people but we don't talk enough about being acknowledged by our own selves,” says Wright. “By coming out, if that label feels good and you feel safe to do so, we are doing that for ourselves. Coming out is about you. It’s not about anybody else. It’s not about validating your relationship (whether you’re in one or not), it is about being you in the world.”
I can’t tell you what to do. But I can tell you what I want for you. I want you to celebrate your identity, loudly and proudly, amongst a community of bisexual and queer peers who champion you for who you are. I want you to remember all the reasons why it’s hard out here for a bisexual, how that contributes to the difficulty of honoring ourselves, and still choose to nurture your identity anyway. I want you to seek out a queer-affirming therapist to explore these difficulties with. I want you to remember that in a world that rejects nuance, being bisexual is a superpower.
What an amazing read. As a young adult going through this EXACT thing, “coming to face my bisexuality”. It really helped me release a lot of negative feelings I’ve been having and thinking
if you do not tell your husband .MAKING IT SO MUCH WORSE .would YOU want your husband too TELL YOU IF IT WAS THE OTHER WAY AROUND. very well done for talking about this.MARK