Just when you thought the stigma against bisexual people couldn't get more outrageous, America received some terrible pointers from one of the country's most popular columnists this week.
It's looking as though advice columnist extraordinaire "Dear Prudence" didn't quite live up to her billing in her most recent column, in which Prudence — actually writer Emily Yoffe — encouraged a married bisexual woman to stay in the closet. It's a life choice no heterosexual person ever has to consider, and most certainly one that no LGBT person should ever be forced to make.
In an earnest letter, "Irrelevant Closet" notes her husband's hesitation about the idea of coming out, but truly believes that her friends and family would embrace her sexual orientation. But Prudence believes remaining in the closet is the only way to go, perpetuating stereotypes of bisexual people as threatening, indecisive mates in the process.
"You are confusing your personal sexual exploration with a social imperative," she wrote. "But you say you are planning to not only stay with your husband, but remain monogamous. I agree with your husband that making a public announcement about something so private will not be illuminating but discomfiting."
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Yoffe has been known to tackle gay and lesbian topics with relative ease in the past. But she said the woman’s decision to stay monogamously married to her husband negated any need to share her sexual identity. Nothing could be further from the truth.
To make matters worse, she doubles down on her pseudo-closeting when a reader attempts to point out some flawed logic: "It's one thing to have dated men all your life then realize you want to start seeing women, do it, and then tell those closest to you. It's another to be in a monogamous marriage, have children, and then start telling people about the sexual desires you have that you are not going to act on."
Oh, Prudence, you are so wrong.
Her responses point to a much larger issue of bisexual erasure in both the heterosexual and LGBT communities. She conflates sexual acts, which is about what you do in bed, and sexual orientation, an identity that signals who you're attracted to. Prudence is not alone in her thinking, but this type of misaligned viewpoint is usually heard from homophobic, right-wing pundits — not from a contributor to a progressive site like Slate. Indeed, it's precisely this type of thinking — along with other prejudices and stereotypes — that helps keep so many bisexual individuals closeted.
In a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center, 77% of lesbian women and gay men said their close loved ones knew about their sexual orientation, compared to only 28% of bisexuals. This means as many as 72% of bisexual people are still in the closet. No, Prudence didn’t give all of them her bad advice, but it seems clear that it's hard enough for bisexuals to come out of the closet already, and her words only make the situation worse. This is incredibly disconcerting, as anyone who remains in the closet faces serious risks to their mental health.
Perhaps Zack Ford at ThinkProgress says it best: "As a result of these narrow understandings of bisexuality, coming out as bi is uniquely challenging and not entirely comparable to coming out as gay. In a sense, a bi person often comes out of one closet only to enter another," he wrote. "Studies have shown that people who hide their identities do not advance as far in their careers and are more likely to encounter mental health issues, while those who are free to come out are happier, have fewer mental health problems and improve not only their own career potential but their coworkers' productivity as well."
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The silence of the "B" in LGBT is evident in the community with the lack of bisexual representation in the media and many other organizations. That much became clear earlier this summer, after television host Larry King was visibly confused on air during an interview with openly bisexual actress Anna Paquin.
This type of confusion is reinforced both by statistics as well as by the stories of bisexual individuals working hard to highlight the tricky line many bisexuals feel forced to walk, viewed with confusion by heterosexuals and suspicion from some in the gay and lesbian community. The Advocate recently released a new series on bisexuality, #27BiStories, to help put faces to the sometimes invisible bisexual community. As one of the interviewees said, "I am sad to say that I have gotten most of the biphobic comments and microaggressions from LGBTQ people."
Indeed, bisexual individuals face unique disparities. And when people respond the way Prudence did, it works to further perpetuate the inequalities this community already encounters.
We can only hope that Yoffe, Slate's editors, and others who engage with the bisexual community educate themselves about the orientation. Because there's far too much at stake for this kind of inaccurate, harmful commentary to be officially packaged as good advice.
Image Credit: Eliel Cruz