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29 August 2014updated 12 Jun 2021 9:58am

Why coming out matters

Your sexuality is an important part of you, and no one should be allowed to diminish that.

By Eleanor Margolis

This week, Slate’s advice columnist Emily Yoffe (Dear Prudence) advised a bisexual woman not to come out. According to Yoffe, within the context of this woman’s happy marriage to a man, her sexuality is irrelevant, and even slightly icky. She compares coming out as bi in this situation to announcing to your family, over Thanksgiving dinner, that you’re into plushophilia (sexual attraction to cuddly toys). Suggesting that bisexuality is on a par with wanting to hump a Beanie Baby is, in itself, hugely offensive. But this is just one element of a damagingly shoddy piece of advice. Here’s my own advice to Yoffe’s “irrelevant” closet case:

Dear Irrelevant,

I’d like to start by saying that you’re not. Your sexuality is an important part of you. I’m not making an assumption here. It clearly matters to you enough to seek answers about it from an advice columnist. You mentioned in your letter to Dear Prudence that you had only recently admitted to yourself that you’re bi. It’s such a shame that, for so many of us, sexuality is still something with which we have to “come to terms”. Perhaps it wasn’t easy for you to accept that you’re attracted to women, and for that you have not only my sympathy, but, I’m certain, that of LGBT people all over the world.

And unfortunately, “coming out” still exists. So far, you’ve come out to your husband, which is admirable. I’m glad to hear that your sexuality doesn’t matter to him, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t matter to you. In fact, it matters to him so little that he’s asked you not to come out to anyone else, because he sees it as immaterial. I’m so sorry to say this, and I’m sure you’re perfectly aware of it, but it seems to me that he isn’t (yet) entirely accepting of you.

This probably isn’t deliberate. Not all straight people understand the importance of coming out – why would they? When you’ve gone your entire life without having to think about the social and political ramifications of who you prefer to sleep with, you may not realise that sexual self-acceptance is even a thing.

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I know from personal experience that keeping your sexuality to yourself is hard. It’s not tricky or a mild annoyance – it’s full-on difficult. A bit like trying to hide a fridge. How would you go about hiding a fridge? I don’t even know. However you did it, it would probably be a lot of effort for the negligible reward of having successfully hidden a fridge.

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So, I’d say this: having to hide fridges is oppressive. If your bisexuality feels like a big part of who you are, then talk about it with whoever the hell you like. Tell them you belt out Tegan & Sara songs in the shower; that Charlize Theron in lycra was the only good thing about Prometheus – whatever you want. Celebrate yourself.

Coming out as bisexual is important, even for people in hetero relationships. And I’d urge you to show your two kids that no one should have to conceal their sexuality. You’ve said that you’re committed to your marriage, and everyone should know that you’re no more likely to leave your husband for a woman than you are for another man. It just so happens that you’re bisexual, and that isn’t, as Dear Prudence would have you believe, a fetish. It may not be something you’ll ever act on, but it’s still something to be cherished.

Wishing you the best of luck, whatever you choose to do,

Eleanor, lesbian