Homosexual, and to a somewhat lesser extent, heterosexual people have a tough enough time of it forming their sexual identities in adolescence. But for bisexuals, who don’t have the benefit of the societal structures, support organisations and role models straight and gay people do, struggle to forge a clear sexual identity for themselves. But it can be done: in stages, say the experts.
Bisexuals must invent their own identity
Some researchers have noted that being bisexual is in some ways similar to being biracial. Mixed-race persons generally don’t feel comfortable or accepted by people of either ethnic group, and feel that they don’t belong or fit in anywhere, as their existence challenges the very concept of race. Like bisexual people, they spend most of their lives moving between two communities that don’t really understand or accept them. Like biracial people, bisexual people must struggle to invent their own identities, ones that correspond with their own experience. Forming a bisexual identity helps bisexual people to structure, make sense of, and give meaning and definition to their reality.
Stages of Bisexual identity:
For most bisexuals, there are at least four steps or stages to fully acknowledging and becoming comfortable with their identities as bisexuals:
1. Confusion over sexual orientation.
Most bisexual people start out feeling very confused about their attraction towards people of both sexes, questioning their own reality and wondering: “Is something wrong with me?” Some spend their entire lives in this stage, hiding their sexual orientation, feeling isolated and alone with the inner turmoil over their dual attractions.
Many go through life identifying as straight or gay in order to be accepted and make sense of their sexual orientation. Because their own experience does not conform to either community, they feel intense external pressure to choose one and identify with it. Without any language to frame their own reality, and no visible role models or community available to them, bisexual people must have sufficient self-confidence and belief in their own identity in order to eventually transcend this stage.
2. Discovery of the bisexual label and choosing to identify as bisexual.
Almost all bisexual people acknowledge that discovering the label “bisexual” was pivotal in understanding and accepting their sexual orientation. Most experience great relief when they hear the word “bisexual” for the first time, because they finally have a word that mirrors their experience and feelings. For some, the negative stereotypes of bisexuals as “promiscuous,” “fence sitters,” neurotic or vectors of Aids prevent them from identifying with the label or claiming it for themselves, but most agree that it comes closer than any other to describing their lives. Instead of rejecting the label, many bisexuals invent their own definition and create bisexual lifestyles that fit their individual lives.
3. Setting into and maintaining a bisexual identity.
For many bisexual people, this step is the most difficult. Intellectually, they feel good about being bisexual, but emotionally, they experience extreme conflict living in the real world as bisexual. Often scorned by family and friends and rejected by spouses or potential partners for being bisexual, they find that to develop and maintain a bisexual identity requires inner strength, self-reliance, confidence and independence. Many overcome these obstacles by forming their own community, finding accepting friends and lovers and staying out of the closet despite the consequences.
4. Transforming adversity.
For most bisexuals, coming out and staying out of the closet is an ongoing process, which must be repeated with every new social situation, workplace, friend and lover. Many see this process as the most important form of political action towards creating visible role models and a cohesive bisexual community. Because most bisexuals have suffered through the first three stages alone and in silence, they want to make it easier for other bisexuals to recognise and embrace their sexual orientation without years of inner turmoil and loneliness.
Many also get involved in bisexual political organisations as a way to increase bisexual visibility and promote bisexuality as a viable identity. Just as gay people were only able to win some rights through fighting in both the social and political arenas, bisexuals will only win political and human rights through coming out of the closet and developing political clout.
What does this mean for you?
Does any of this sound familiar? Are you struggling with ambivalence or confusion over your sexual orientation? Or are you ready to embrace a bisexual orientation? Are you seeking community to share your developing identity with others? If so, reach out for support now. And joining bisexual social or political groups is also a great way to see visible role models and to allow your bisexual identity to evolve in a way that fits you.
One-to-one counselling or therapy can also be helpful in sorting out feelings and gaining clarity and self-confidence. Take care to seek out a non-judgmental therapist who is supportive of bisexuality and has expertise in bisexual issues.
And last, but certainly not least, there are now many excellent books on bisexuality, which help you understand and fully embrace your sexual orientation.
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