Good Bi Love: Help Your Friends And Family Help You
The best bit of professional advice my father ever gave me, was “Make it easy for people to help you.” People, in general, like helping other folks if they can. It makes them feel good about themselves. However, it can be a pain in the ass to help people, especially when people request “help” in the vaguest form. It’s necessary to be specific, and to make it simple for them to do a favor for you.
So when I asked someone for a professional favor, I would be clear to explain the exact way they could help as well as do everything possible to take any burden off of them. For example, I’d offer to draft an email introduction for them. Most of the time, people took me up on that offer. All they had to do was copy, paste, and press send.
Afterwards, regardless of whether I got the job or not, I would profusely thank the person who offered up the favor.
In recent years, I’ve realized my father’s wisdom extends far beyond any professional capacity. It pertains to my work as an activist and my personal life.
When I came out as bi, my family had a nearly impossible task. First and foremost, their job was to accept and embrace me. They passed with flying colors. Their second responsibility, however, was much more difficult, they needed to engage with me as a bi person.
How much do they bring up that I’m bi in a manner that respects my identity? How do they approach talking about my dating life? Is too much or too little to send over every article that pertains to bisexuality? Do they joke about it in a way that’s loving, or are they not allowed to joke? Do they only talk about it when I bring it up? And so on and so forth.
As a society, we often discuss the need for parents to love and support their queer children unconditionally directly following the big coming out moment, but we don’t give them much information on how to be supportive long-term. We don’t give many actionable items beyond “embrace them and show them you love them.”
Great. But how? That’s a lot easier said than done.
Right after I came out, I wanted my family to continuously support my bisexual identity without reducing my identity to being bi. This is no easy feat.
Sometimes, I would find myself annoyed with straight and gay family members and friends for making everything about my bi identity. While they did this out of love — and to illustrate their support — it got on my nerves.
“You know there’s more to me than being bi?” I’d think to myself.
But at the same time, I have weekly column dedicated to bisexuality. I write for major outlets about queer representation and the struggles that come from having a bi+ identity. Every aspect of my life is actually consumed by my bisexuality.
So what the hell else are they going to talk about with me? Anything that extends beyond a superficial, “Have you seen any good movies lately?” (which would still devolve into talking about queer films), would immediately involve my bisexuality.
I found myself not wanting to talk to people who supported me. I didn’t realize this at the time.
(Before continuing, I want to acknowledge how lucky I am that this was the biggest issue I’ve had with family members. Nevertheless, as society slowly grows more accepting of bi+ identities, I think this may be an issue [no matter how small] that bi+ folks may encounter.)
Here, however, is the clincher. Not once did I ever specify exactly how I wanted my supportive friends and family members to talk to me about my sexual identity. This was largely due to the fact that I wasn’t exactly sure how I wanted them to speak to me about my identity. Since I didn’t know, I didn’t (or couldn’t) articulate it. I then wrongfully took out my frustration on them.
What I needed to do was follow my dad’s advice. Make it easy for them to help me. Tell them how I want them to engage with bi identity.
On repeated occasions, I could have easily said, “Ooph. I talk about bisexual representation at work. Can we talk about something else? I’m tired of talking about bi stuff.” Then suggest something else to talk about. Or even better, talk about them and their lives.
Weirdly enough, after having this revelation, I no longer found myself annoyed with folks about how they interacted with me and my sexual identity. The mere acknowledgment of the predicament helped me realize that my family had actually been walking through this minefield with a surprising amount of grace, without any help from society or me.
Moving forward, however, I know how to help my parents, friends, and family members become better allies. Tell them what they can do. Tell them how to interact with me. Tell them exactly how I want to be treated.
And if I’m not exactly sure, I can tell them just that.