Figuring out that I was bisexual took me a really long time. Part of it was I don’t remember seeing any positive representations of bi people in the media as a teen. (Actually, I can’t remember seeing many representations of bi people, period. )
It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I met someone who proudly identified as bi—and refused to take any shit about it—that I understood my identity was nothing to be ashamed of.
In the spirit of being the person I needed to see when I was younger, here are eight things I wish someone had told me while I was still figuring myself out:
You’re not alone.
I didn’t know any other bi people growing up, and even after I started connecting with the LGBT community, it was years before I met an out bisexual. Because the stigma surrounding bisexuality is real (and amazingly persistent, even in 2017), bisexuals are been less likely to come out that lesbians and gays.
So, even among queer friends, it can feel like you’re all alone.
But you’re definitely not: Bisexuals make up more than half of the LGBT population. Thankfully, the world is becoming a friendlier place for bi folks every day, and young people are increasingly more comfortable identifying as something other than straight.
If you don’t have any other bi friends yet, don’t worry—you will.
There’s lots of room under the big, bi umbrella.Getty Images
One of the reasons it took me so long to embrace my identity was the misconception that bisexuality meant you were attracted equally to both genders. (Well, and that there are just two genders.)
Even when I knew for certain that I wasn’t straight, I still meticulously avoided the bi label, instead identifying only as “queer.”
I wish someone had told me sooner that there’s room under the bi+ umbrella for pansexuals, polys, queers, and anyone who isn’t strictly gay or straight.
It’s okay if your orientation is in flux.Getty Images
I wasted a lot of energy agonizing that I’d eventually have to “pick a side.”
There’s not a lot of space in our culture—even within the LGBT community—for ambiguity. As great a rallying cry as “Born This Way” is, it can also be a little intimidating. It would have been great if someone told me I wasn’t obligated to silence any part of myself to please others.
It’s not uncommon for people to come out as gay, and then later identify as bi (or vice-versa). That doesn’t means that bisexuality isn’t real, or is “just a phase.” It’s perfectly healthy to evolve.
Your identity won’t change just because you’re in a relationship.Getty Images
Because I didn’t have any bi role models, I sort of let my relationships speak for me. When I was with someone perceived as a straight man, people assumed I was straight. And when I was with a woman, people assumed I was a lesbian. For the most part, I didn’t correct them—mostly for fear they wouldn’t believe me if I said I was bi.
Unlike monosexuals, bi people can’t rely on our partners’ gender expression to out us. We have to out ourselves over and over to be seen. I wish someone would have explained that being in a monogamous relationship doesn’t erase your identity.
Now, when I meet people who don’t understand how you can be bi and monogamous, I use this analogy: If you met a gay guy who was abstinent, would you think he’s no longer really gay?
Bisexuals have a long history of fighting for LGBT equality.Spencer Grant/Getty Images
When I was a baby queer in San Francisco, the “B” in LGBT seemed to missing from a lot of the stories I heard. Bisexuals’ roles in the LGBT rights movement continues to be erased ( as viewers of When We Rise may have noticed.) But many early activists were bisexuals, including Brenda Howard, who coordinated the first Pride march a month after Stonewall. I wish someone had told me sooner that we’ve always been a part of the movement.
You’re not required to be a “good bisexual.”Getty Images
After I came out as bi, I quickly learned about the uglier stereotypes—that we’re confused, or slutty, or only exist to fulfill people’s threesome fantasies. I’ve been in both monogamous and open relationships, but once I started identifying as bisexual, I felt pressure to always look like a “good bisexual,” just to defy those preconceived notions.
I would’ve loved for someone to explain that, regardless of your orientation, there’s nothing wrong with being as sexually adventurous as you please (as long as everything is safe and consensual, of course).
No, you’re not paranoid: life actually IS harder for bisexuals.Getty Images
Bisexuals consistently fare worse than gays and straights in everything from physical and mental health outcomes to employment stability and intimate-partner violence. Researchers believe, in part, that’s because we face discrimination from both the LGBT community and the straight world.
I wish someone had told me sooner that I wasn’t imagining things or being a wimp when I felt like I was facing an uphill slog, and that there’s no shame in seeking out help.
You have tons of allies. It’s just a matter of finding them.Getty Images
One of the reasons it took me so long to claim my identity was that I had the sense bisexuals weren’t really welcome in the LGBT community.
After a gay man asked me if I was “just going through a lesbian phase,” and a woman I’d been casually dating revealed she found the fact that I’d slept with men “disgusting,” I started keeping part of my identity secret in queer spaces.
Now, I refuse to hide, and I’ve been delighted to find that things are steadily improving for bi people within the LGBT community. Thanks to the hard work of bi activists and the increasing visibility of out and proud bi celebrities, it’s easier to find allies from all walks of life—our families, friends, colleagues, and communities.
Never apologize for being who you are, and never give up.