June is Pride Month.
The first time I came out as bisexual, I was swept up in the excitement of my first Christmas with a significant other, my girlfriend. She had given me a beautiful necklace and I wanted to show it off. I had already told people at school about my sexuality, and now I was ready to come out to my family. I remember blurting it out in a spurt of courage that burned my chest, and I expected my supportive mother to merely shrug her shoulders and tell me it was okay. After all, to me, it was as simple as liking a girl instead of a boy.
Her words made me clam up, and while I never agreed with her response, it did stop me from bringing up my bisexuality again.
The idea that it was just a phase is what kept me in the closet for years after, and is what ultimately forced me to have to come out of the closet for a second time.
For every individual member of the LGBTQ spectrum, it’s a powerful and personal decision to express your sexuality or identity. The choice to come out can be heavily impacted by outside influences, including the limited coming out narratives that we see in the media. While Love, Simon and TV’s Supergirl depict positive coming out experiences, the tired trope that LGBTQ identities are just phases to get over in your youth still exists, and people still fall for those myths. This trope is most often seen in reference to LGBTQ women and those who identify as bisexual. (The recent conversations about Rita Ora’s “Girls,” for example).
Now, I’m not saying that experimentation and fluid sexualities aren’t possible. For many people, that’s a valid experience. But this idea that LGBTQ relationships are somehow less authentic, that they’re merely identities to “try on,” needs to go. It’s harmful to not take somebody’s identity seriously. When the straight guy in a movie fantasizes about a woman he finds attractive experimenting with another woman, it reduces women’s queer experiences to performances for straight men. It perpetuates the message that men can fetishize lesbian or bisexual experiences without being inconvenienced by the fact that a woman might prefer women. There’s also a double standard in representation of same-sex relationships. Romantic relationships between two women have been portrayed as hypersexualized, fickle, and temporary, or queer women are characterized as a “challenge” for an interested straight man. But romantic relationships between two men are more concrete — how many times have you seen a straight woman trying to convince a gay man to sleep with her?
Bisexuality, specifically, has been characterized as a passing phase in the media and in real life. Until recently, I never saw television shows that openly acknowledged that ideology as problematic. A January episode of Grown-ish, however, expertly challenges these misconceptions about the community when a bisexual character, Nomi, stands up to a lesbian who accuses her of merely “going through a phase.” Later, Nomi herself meets a man who identifies as bisexual and becomes uncomfortable with his sexuality, asking him if it was just a “one-time thing” — or just a phase. These myths cause many people to internalize biphobia, as the Grown-ish episode demonstrates.
How can people in this community feel comfortable coming out when there are so many messages telling them that their emotions and experiences aren’t real? This “phase” ideology impacts members of the LGBTQ+ community who are struggling with their sexuality — people like me.
Years after I first came out as bisexual and my mother dismissed me, I came out to my family for the second time.
I’d graduated college, was more independent, and had been in a long-term relationship with a woman for years. The “phase” I was going through had only continued. It was a lasting aspect of myself, an identity that I wanted people to know and accept. By coming out again, I put my foot down about who I am and challenged other people’s beliefs about me. Since then, I have a much better, more honest relationship with my mother. She respects and accepts my relationship. Instead of talking about “phases,” we talk about when I’m going to get married.
I may own my sexuality now, but other bisexual people are still harmed by these misconceptions. I spoke to one bisexual woman, Emily, who spent a majority of her high school career realizing she liked girls as well as boys. She kept repeating to her teenage self that “it was just a phase.” Growing up in a conservative and devout Evangelical Christian Baptist family, she was often in church, listening to the pastor shout, “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”
Since high school, Emily has come out as bisexual to a number of friends and some family, but she still worries that other family will tell her she is just experimenting.
When LGBTQ romances are portrayed as mere growing pains or experimentation in movies, music, and television, it does a disservice to those who need to see themselves represented in the media, and not as a punch line or just a coming-of-age right of passage. In a world where more people are identifying as LGBTQ+ than ever before, we need to see well-rounded characters and relationships that reflect the diverse world we live in.