Becoming a bisexual dad means I need to speak out even louder – for the sake of all our children
This year I became a bisexual dad.
I can’t pretend parenting for the first time hasn’t been difficult – I had to learn how to change nappies, mix formula, burp my daughter, do almost anything with one hand and breathe softly with her on my chest as she screamed with colic. All pretty standard parenting stuff.
So far, being bisexual has been lost along with a list of other parts of me that I’d previously seen as essential, including “Tom Waits fan”, “festival attendee” and “eater of risotto”. Despite being someone who talks about their sexual orientation professionally – I’m the chief exec of Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity, after all – the intensely practical nature of the first few months of parenting has taken precedence over everything else. My previous identity is lost. I am a parent. Though as my daughter gets older and my family grows, I know there will be a time when I will have to have this conversation, most likely again and again and again.
Her mother and I are read as a straight couple, we are after all, a man and a woman – the kind of setup that has been portrayed as “normal” for a long time. Under such circumstances, most people we meet assume we’re straight. In LGBT+ circles, I’m often assumed to be gay. I don’t really mind people’s assumptions as much as the moment I have to correct them. Will they be disappointed? Disgusted? Will they feel I’ve been dishonest?
The truth is that there’s never a great moment to announce you’re bisexual. People are usually more happy with whatever they’d assumed.
Bi people are distinct from lesbian and gay people in many ways, but one of the ways I find most interesting is who we come out to. If you are gay, you will need to come out to your family, your friends, and a number of other people throughout your life. But you won’t need to come out to your partner, to their parents, or to your own children.
I’ll admit, having this conversation with my daughter is not something I’m looking forward to. As much as we will of course bring her up to be affirming and positive towards all LGBT+ people (you’d hope, wouldn’t you?) the thought of her being ashamed or embarrassed in any way breaks my heart.
Facing prejudice from both straight people and gay men and lesbians, it’s easy to see why many bisexual people simply don’t bother telling anyone. As bisexuals, we’re not outed by who we choose to date, meaning coming out is always a conscious decision. Some people will note that many bi people end up in relationships with the opposite gender, as if this somehow confirms they weren’t that bisexual after all. The rather more boring answer is that given that most people are not open to same-sex relationships, it’s mathematically likely that if you are open to everyone you will end up in a relationship with the opposite gender. This is before even considering cultural norms as a society, lack of LGBT+ education, internalised shame, homophobia, biphobia and a host of other, equally depressing factors.
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Despite the steps forward for the LGBT+ community over the past 30 years, many people whether they are lesbian, gay or straight still don’t understand much about bisexuality. Having to come to terms with it yourself, while simultaneously and patiently explaining it to other people is difficult, embarrassing and boring all at once.
Despite all this I’ve come to believe speaking out about being bisexual – and that I’m a bisexual dad – is really important. Tempting as it is to put my head down and blend in to whichever environment I happen to be in, my wish for the future is that people are able to be open about being attracted to different genders without fear of making people uncomfortable, or worse (sometimes, much worse).
Coming out as bisexual is still positively dangerous for many young people in the UK. Just Like Us’ own independent research sadly found that bisexual young people face higher rates of cyber bullying and sexual harassment than their gay and lesbian peers too. Bisexual people face even worse rates of mental health than lesbian and gay people, and I believe the lack of conversation around what being bisexual is contributes to this hugely.
That’s why I believe those of us who are able to speak out with minimal consequences must speak out for the sake of those who are not, even if the conversation might feel uncomfortable, so that change does happen.
We must accept that our initiatives to support LGBT+ people have often left bisexual (and trans) people behind and that specific interventions are needed to understand and support the needs of bisexual young people. And just occasionally, we must become comfortable with being uncomfortable, for the sake of not only us but our children.
Dominic Arnall is chief executive of Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity.
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