On Aug 26, 2014 Slate ran a transcript of a chat with Emily Yoffe, the writer of their “Dear Prudence” column. In this chat Yoffe told a 27 year old bisexual woman to stay in the closet. This has received much criticism, and I’m tempted to join them in condemning her. But instead I’m going to try to explain why what she said was problematical and hopefully give her the information she needs so the next bisexual that ask “Dear Prudence” a question gets better advice.
Basically, Emily Yoffe, every bit of your response could be called biphobic, or at least bi erasure. Lets go through your entire response and explain why it’s wrong.
You start by comparing bisexuality to fetishes, and that is never a good place to go. Sexual fetishism is being aroused by an object or a situation, while sexual orientation describes what gender(s) you find yourself romantically and/or sexually attracted to. Perhaps a better way to describe it is to say that one is what you would like to do and the other is who you’d like to do it with. Bisexuality is just the fact that the people we are potentially attracted to comprise more than one gender. The main reason this upsets us is that equating the two leads many to believe that A) bisexuals are incapable of monogamy (many of us are, probably about the same percent as monosexuals), B) bisexuals are willing to indulge other people’s kinks (that would need to be negotiated with each couple no matter what their orientation), & C) bisexuals are “up for anything” (which is probably why bisexual women are victims of sexual assault at almost twice the rate of straight women)
You then suggest that ” This would not be news you’d be required to announce at the next Thanksgiving gathering”, I have to wonder, would you suggest that gays or lesbians come out at Thanksgiving? It seems like a bad choice of when to come out to me. I’m in no way an expert on how to come out (I tend to have people discover it before I can tell them) but let’s face it, a simple Google search will give decent advice on how and when to come out.
And then you praise society for accepting gays while at the same time you downplay bisexuality as “sexual exploration”. Most bisexuals are not “exploring”, and saying we are sounds much like those who claim that bisexuality is a phase. This is probably the biggest thing bisexual activists fight against, basically all of bisexual erasure can come down to the idea that bisexuality isn’t real and we are just exploring.
Finally, you finish this response worrying that her coming out would be “discomfiting” to her family. I don’t know how to say this without sounding like I’m doubting your intelligence, but the point of coming out is not about the comfort of those you are coming out to. There are many reasons to come out, but I’ll give you two that you obviously don’t understand. 1. Coming out fights prejudices about groups, by coming out to her family “Irrelevant Closet” would have given them an idea on what bisexuals are really like. 2. Coming out allows open discussion of the past and future, she may be monogamous with a man now, but what if they divorce, or he passes away, or they decide open their marriage up to nonmonogamy? If she comes out now there will be fewer questions later.
Let me tell you the real reason many bisexuals are upset, we get angry at people telling bisexuals to stay in the closet is that we all have heard the same thing ourselves. It may have come from a spouse that doesn’t want people to think that your marriage isn’t a happy one, or a friend who just wonders why you can’t just “be straight”, or even ourselves when we are trying to come up with reasons not to come out, but we’ve been told that there’s no reason to come out. One question I’d like to ask you before getting to my advice for you, if this lady had come out as lesbian, but did not intend to date for awhile, would you tell her she didn’t need to come out to her family until she was pursuing relationships with women?
What do I think you should do now? Well, first of all I think you need to apologize to “Irrelevant Closet” and the rest of the bisexual community. I’d suggest letting everyone know that telling adults to stay in the closet, no matter how relevant they are, is always bad advice. The next time someone asks you if they should come out you should tell them without hesitation yes. If they are bisexual you should tell them to look for bisexual organizations, pointing them at the Bisexual Resource Center, or BiNet USA would be a good start. And while your there it be a good idea for you to acquaint yourself with what bisexuals actually say about bisexuality.