Coming Out as Bisexual

Dear Loren,

I am a gay-leaning bisexual man, and I still love my wife after being married for forty years. I’m struggling with the morality, risks, and benefits of “coming out.” There doesn’t seem to be a good way to do this as a bisexual without harming my wife, damaging our relationship, and complicating her relationships with our mutual friends and family. My wife and I are monogamous, and I have no interest in changing that. What is to be gained by being publicly open? Did you ever consider coming out as bisexual? Perhaps it’s a generational issue.

Coming out is not an event but rather a process. Some people believe that unless you make a public declaration of your sexual orientation, you haven’t completed that process. I disagree.

I wrote about my process of coming out at forty in my book, Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight. Some of the most serious criticisms of the book have come from members of the LGBTQ community: “You were just hiding behind your wife! Your marriage was a sham! You’re lying; you had to have known you were gay.”

Although some people say they knew they were gay from the time they left the womb (including my husband), many of us, for a variety of reasons, did not have an understanding of our same-sex attraction. And in my case, I buried it so far in my subconscious that I couldn’t even see it.

I believe the coming-out process involves several steps; they vary from individual to individual and may be more fluid than linear. The first step is coming out to oneself. When we have a limited exposure to an “outside” group (e.g., the gay and bisexual community), we make judgments about them based on stereotypes. We think, “I’m not like them,” which really means we don’t think we look or act like the stereotypical image in our head. We can shed those stereotypes only by meeting a diversity of LGBTQ people we admire and respect and who may look a lot different from what we expected.

I did go through a period when I thought I might be bisexual. This happened during a time in our history when no one talked much about bisexuality as a distinct identity. I was married to my wife and had begun to have sex with another man. The only word I had to describe my behavior was “bisexual.” I heard someone speak who said, “Bisexuality is simply a transition from straight to gay,” a statement that is now aggressively challenged by those who claim a true bisexual identity.

After we have been able to admit same-sex attractions to ourselves, the next step in coming out is to tell someone whom we know will accept us without judgment. This step can be challenging if we don’t know someone who fits this description. And the biggest fear for most of us is once we’ve said to another, “I think I might be gay/bisexual,” we lose control over how that information is shared.

The next steps are to tell a larger group of people and then finally to share it publicly. But how one proceeds through this process is entirely up to each person.

Some may share it with a spouse; others, like you, may find it too threatening to a relationship they want to preserve. Some will come out to friends but not at work, maintaining some separation of their work and personal lives. Although we often magnify the risks of coming out, the decision to come out may have definite consequences.

For you, I find that little would be gained from your coming out in a grand way. You have said that you wish to remain married to your wife and that you are monogamous, so I don’t see any ethical need to tell her. Although some might understand and trust that you will remain faithful, not all would feel empathetic to the festering internal struggle you are experiencing with this. I sense that you feel it would upset her greatly. Does marriage demand that we reveal all our secrets?

I do feel that you would find comfort and relief if you disclosed this to someone. Do you have a trusted chum? (Unfortunately, many men do not.) As I mentioned in my last newsletter, a good support group would be helpful, although unfortunately far too few of them exist. Another option would be to speak with someone who is more open about being bisexual, even if you don’t know him or her well; most will accept your need for discretion. Finally, you can always use the Internet to find others to chat with about this. But I caution you, many people have been “busted” when spouses have discovered even rather innocent online chatting.

You are not alone. My essay “The Messy Realities of Bisexuality” points out the important distinctions between sexual attraction, fantasy, behavior, and identity. I agree with your comment that this issue is generational, although not entirely. Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s wrote about sexual orientation as a continuum between exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual. Perhaps most of us lie somewhere between the ends of that continuum.