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In case you didn’t know, bisexuals have always existed (see: Virginia Woolf, Oscar Wilde, and even, reportedly, Eleanor Roosevelt.) But if you’ve noticed that people are waving pink, purple, and blue-striped flags now more than ever, you’re not wrong. According to a recent Gallup poll, the percentage of people who identify as LGBTQ+ has more than doubled from three percent in 2012 to seven percent in 2022. A look at the percentage of people in younger generations who are bisexual and feel comfortable telling a polling org suggests an even more striking increase. While less than one percent of Baby Boomers identify as bisexual, six percent of Millennials and nearly 15 percent of Gen Zers report they do.
So, to what do we owe this honor? A combination of increased representation, a shifting social landscape, decreased structural homophobia, and a greater understanding of what bisexual does and does not mean (spoiler alert: it doesn’t exclude trans or non-binary folks), to name just a few factors, says bisexual activist Robyn Ochs, co-editor of the anthology Recognize: The Voices of Bisexual Men.
That said, with more and more people coming out as jean-cuffing, chair-straddling bisexuals, it’s essential that the people in their lives—in particular, the ones they are romantically and/or sexually involved with—know how to respond with the support, compassion, and celebration the news deserves. But given that there isn’t a “My Partner Just Came Out As Bisexual 101” class in high school, if you were recently on the receiving end of such a share, you probably have some questions.
Whether your long-term boyfriend just surprised you with this information about themselves, your spouse revealed they've been thinking about how to come out to you for awhile, or your live-in partner just mentioned they want to explore their sexuality further, read on for seven tips on how to support your bi+ significant other.
1. First, Take a Deep Breath!
Even if you’ve long-considered yourself an LGBTQ+ ally, you might be surprised by how nervous or insecure this drop makes you feel. Ochs says that before you panic, remember that by sharing this info, your partner is telling you that they trust and value you.
“It takes an incredible amount of courage to come out to someone, and if someone comes out to you, it usually means they trust you a tremendous amount,” she says. So go on, give yourself a little pat on the back!
Also keep in mind that this info on its own doesn’t have to mean anything about the structure or future of your relationship. Unless your partner (or you!) explicitly says that they (or you!) want to shift the dynamic towards something more open or end it altogether, nothing needs to change.
Of course, your response also plays a huge role. Your partner probably isn’t going to want to be with someone whose internalized biphobia keeps revealing itself in stereotype-induced jabs or constant questions about whether you’ll be abandoned for someone of a different gender, for example. But remember: How you react to your partner’s expansive sexuality is within your control.
And if you’re worried that internalized biphobia has made its way into your psyche and is therefore interfering with your ability to fully accept this truth, start consuming content from bi+ creators and reading about the myths of bisexuality. This can help overwrite the falsities, keeping your fears at bay and your dialogue with your partner open.
2. Ask Them What Bisexual Means to Them
Ask 100 bisexuals what the word means and you’ll get just as many definitions. The fact is, while there are one or two official definitions that many sex and LGBTQ+ educators lean on, the identity means different things to different people who take it on, says Ochs.
“Expressing your gratitude, then asking someone what the term means to them is one of the best things you can say to someone who just came out to you,” she says.
You might say:
Thank you for telling me. Would you be willing to tell me more about what your bisexuality means to you?
I love you. I’d love to know how you landed on that specific label!
I’m so grateful to you for sharing, is there a definition of bisexuality that most resonates with you that you can send or explain to me?
3. Remember: Relationship Orientation ≠ Sexual Orientation
Having the potential to be attracted to multiple genders (aka being bisexual) is different from having multiple attractions currently, or acting on those attractions, says Ochs. “People wrongly assume that bi+ folks always want to have multiple partners, or be sleeping with people of different genders at all times,” she says.
Sure, that may be the case for some bisexuals (*raises hand*). But “it is absolutely possible for someone to be bisexual and monogamous,” says bisexuality activist Zachary Zane, author of Boyslut: A Memoir and Manifesto, sex expert for Fun Factory, and Cosmopolitan’s very own “Navigating Non-Monogamy” columnist.
“There is a difference between sexual orientation and relationship orientation,” he explains. Your sexual orientation is simply who you have the potential to be attracted to, while your relationship orientation names whether you want to be monogamous, polyamorous, or something else.
“Sometimes, people come out because they do want to open up the relationship, but other times, your partner is telling you because they don't want to feel like they're hiding a fundamental aspect of their identity, and they want you to know and love all of them,” says Zane. When the latter is the case, again: Nothing has to change in the relationship.
So, before assuming your partner is coming out with different sexual and relationship orientations, Zane suggests talking to them about it. “It's totally fair to ask outright in a non-judgmental manner,” he says.
Some lines you might use:
Do you see this changing the nature of our relationship?
Does this impact your interest in being in a monogamous relationship with me?
Can I ask if this means anything for our relationship agreements?
4. Consider Exploring Their (Bi)Sexuality With Them
No matter your relationship structure, there are ways you can accompany your partner as they explore their sexuality, says Zane. (Or even experiment on your own at the same time, if you so desire!)
Your own sexual preferences and predilections will impact how you do that. Tag-teaming this exploration could include slightly-more tame experiences, Zane says, like going to a gay bar or queer event, listening to the Two Bi Guys podcast, watching Red, White & Royal Blue, book-clubbing a book like Greedy or Boyslut, or hitting up queer night at the local climbing gym.
5. Show Them You Care
If your partner likes to receive love through gifts, now is a good time to show them you support them with some good ‘ol fashioned capitalism.
Kidding! Kind of!
“Gifting your partner small, bi-themed trinkets like earrings or flags can be a really nice way to show them that you love and support them and their bisexuality,” says Ochs.
If you share a home, adding some bi-themed household goods (think: coffee cups, bi icon posters, or a calendar) can give your partner tangible proof that you are proud of their sexuality—and are happy for anyone who enters your home to know, she says.
6. Don't Out Your Partner
Even if the first thing you do after getting a bonus, seeing an ex in public, or clogging the toilet is blasting your group chats, your partner’s sexuality isn’t something you should put in a mass text—at least not without their permission. You may be the very first person besides themselves that your partner has come out to, notes Ochs. And telling your bestie (even confidentially) without their permission qualifies as outting them.
That doesn’t mean you need to lock your lips and throw away the key, but it does mean you need to tread lightly. “Have a conversation with your partner where you ask permission to share the information with a friend or two, and explain why you might want to do that,” suggests Ochs.
If your partner still needs time to warm up to the idea, consider working with a queer-competent therapist—a person who is legally obliged to keep this intel between you.
7. Support Your Partner If They Do Decide to Come Out Publicly
If your partner wants to tell their pals, post an announcement on social media, or add bisexual-colored hearts to their Instagram, get out your pom-poms and play cheerleader.
While bisexuality is more common now than it was in the early aughts, people who come out still face discrimination, disbelief, and other prejudices on the regular. Your continued affirmation and affection during this time can help give your partner the strength they need to be themselves, even when the haters get mouthy, says New York-based licensed psychotherapist Rachel Wright, MA, LMFT, host of The Wright Conversations podcast.
Given society’s preference towards men over other-gendered folks, bisexual deniers typically assume that bi+ men are actually gay, bi+ women are actually straight, and bi+ non-binary people are just confused. Depending on your own gender and presentation, it’s possible that your partner’s coming out will put you face-to-face with these kinds of falsities, in addition to other brands of judgment. Do your best not to let all of that negativity get to you, Wright says. Instead, stand up to anyone who comes for your partner and assure them that you want to celebrate their identity and that you love them because they are bi+, not in spite of it.
At the end of the day, this all might seem like a lot to process. But ultimately, this is your partner's journey, and if you’re reading this, it’s clear that you already have the most important tools you need to support them: love and care! Your main job now is just to show—in ongoing actions and words—how strong that love can be.
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