Identity

What to Do When Your ‘Straight’ Boyfriend Comes Out to You as Bi

Make it about him. Support him if he wants to tell friends and family. Don't make assumptions about “what it means” for your relationship.
June 7, 2021, 4:13pm
An illustration of a girlfriend and her boyfriend talking in bed
Illustration by Blacksneakers

I was lucky enough to discover my bisexuality when I was a single guy, so I never had to come out to a girlfriend while we were in a committed relationship. Still, I have some idea of how intimidating it might feel for a boyfriend to come out to his partner in a “heterosexual relationship.” I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had men—especially older gay men—cock their heads to the side when I tell them I’m bisexual. I’ve even heard the response, “Oh, yeah? I was once bi, too.” I have to do everything in my power not to yell, “Just because you used ‘bi’ as a stepping-stone to gay doesn’t mean I am. It turns out everyone doesn’t have the same exact sexual journey and attractions as you do, you self-centered schmuck!”

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That’s the thing about coming out as a bisexual man, either to a partner or just to anyone at all: People often don’t believe us. They think we’re just taking a pitstop on the way to Gay Town. On the flip side, if they do believe we’re “genuinely” bisexual (whatever the fuck that means), they’ll then assume a buttload of negative stereotypes about us: We’re greedy, we’re confused, we spread STIs, we’re incapable of being monogamous, and so on. And if you’re a woman in a relationship with a man who comes out to you as bi, he may be concerned that you believe untrue stereotypes about his sexuality, or that you’ll think he’s not into you. He might worry that you’ll be upset with him, or even leave him.

But there’s good news for you now that you’ve got this information about him: As a girlfriend who’s wondering how to best go about supporting your just-out bi boyfriend, you can help reduce the stigma that your partner might be nervous about, and it’s actually pretty easy not to be a biphobic jerk about this. Still, you’re allowed to have some questions! Let’s go ahead and break down some of them and see if we can eliminate some of the more common concerns here. 

What does it mean for our relationship if my boyfriend comes out to me as bi? 

Whatever you both decide it should. “It depends,” said sex and relationship therapist Todd Baratz. “Every relationship and individual is unique—each has their own different structures, needs, and desires.” What your boyfriend is telling you, first and foremost, is something that’s true about himself, no matter what else happens from there. (If he’s also telling you because he wants to start sucking dick at The Eagle, well, that’s a little trickier. I’ll delve more into this in just a second, though.)  

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“Is the person who is bi simply declaring themselves? Or are they coming out in hopes that they can explore their sexuality with other partners?” Baratz asked. “This is basically the deciding factor for what the outcome of the ‘outing’' will be.”

Jan, a 28-year-old man, lived with his girlfriend, Lara-Jean, also 28, for three years before he came out to her. (Only their first names are being used to protect their privacy.) The two were monogamous throughout their relationship, and Lara-Jean didn’t know that Jan was bi. “Telling her was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” Jan told VICE. “I feared she’d push me away.” Still, he knew he had to come out to her: He feared keeping this secret in and lying about his identity would destroy their relationship, and, as he put it, “I wanted her to know everything about me.” So he sat her down and told her he was also attracted to men. 

Lara-Jean tried to respond positively, but felt scared Jan’s telling her about his sexuality meant he wanted to leave her. “I wanted to give Jan the feeling that everything would be OK,” she said. “But seconds later, I began to cry because I didn’t know what his coming out would mean for us,” Lara-Jean said. The overarching question for Lara-Jean was: What will change in our relationship, now that I know my boyfriend identifies as bisexual? “I was very confused and insecure,” she said, that Jan was going to leave her to be with a man, which Jan straightforwardly explained was not going to happen.

If your boyfriend is just telling you about his bisexuality  to share this part of his life with you, or because he wants to connect more with the LGBTQ community, then, really, nothing too major needs to change. You may just have to watch a lot more RuPaul’s Drag Race. Maybe he’ll bleach his hair blonde. You’ll tell him it looks good when it doesn’t, and that’s it. He’s still [insert your boyfriend’s name here]! He’s still the same man you fell in love with. His personality is the same. Really, the only different thing is that he’s attracted to men.

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That said, your boyfriend himself may be unsure at first whether coming out to you is a mere declaration or if he wants to explore his sexuality with a man. That sometimes changes with time, but for now, he just knows he’s attracted to men, too, and wanted to share that with you. That’s OK! “What this means” can be an ongoing discussion you and he have as he learns more about his desires.

Does this mean he’s not attracted to me?

Nope! Not at all. If he says he’s bisexual… he’s probably bisexual. Let’s start by believing him: If you felt loved and sexually desired before he came out as bi, then there’s no reason to stop now. (I know I keep belaboring the very inarguable point that bisexuality is real, but I sincerely cannot tell you how often people still do not believe me when I say I’m bisexual, even after the New York Daily News called me a “bisexual mega-influencer.”) 

You know how your attraction to others doesn’t disappear when you’re in a relationship? Sure, if you’re monogamous, you’ve agreed not to sleep with others, but that doesn’t mean you stop looking at hot guys when they walk down the street. You may fantasize about that scruffy man in basketball shorts you saw on the subway earlier that day when you’re masturbating. That doesn’t mean you don’t love your boyfriend. It doesn’t mean you’re not attracted to your boyfriend. It just means you’re attracted to other guys too—because you are a goddamn human.

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Your boyfriend feels the same about you and other people, just with girls and guys. It might be uncomfortable to hear about his attractions to other people at all! But it’s also just a piece of who your boyfriend is, and it doesn’t mean you have to get into the specifics of who he’s thinking about or when he is—desires can be as private (or not) as any two people in a relationship feel is right for them, whatever gender of person they’re focused on. 

How can I handle my reaction if I still feel a little insecure about his being into people who are a different gender than me?

Is your boyfriend saying that he’s attracted to you, and he’s not going to leave you? All right, then listen! Let him put your mind to rest if that’s a concern. But if your insecurities aren’t about your relationship itself, but more about “what this means” or “who he is,” you need to deal with those feelings privately instead of making your prejudices his problem. 

Since we live in a society that says bi men don’t exist, and he must secretly crave being with a man every second he’s with you, it’s… perhaps not valid, but understandable if some feelings are coming up for you here, since you’ve likely soaked up some social stigma about bisexuality, and they’re driving your insecurities. Try to recognize that for what it is, at its core: internalized homophobia and biphobia. You can learn more about how those prejudices are often expressed, and how to potentially recognize them in your own responses and adjust your mindset accordingly, at bi.org and the Bisexual Resource Center.

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What do I do if he wants to tell our friends or come out publicly? 

Don’t be an asshole! Support him coming out to his friends and family! It will be hard for him, but having you by his side will make it easier. It might not be a walk in the park for you, either. You might get judged. There might be rumors going around that you’re in denial about having a gay boyfriend or some bullshit, and that’s because those people suck and are small-minded. Fuck those people. Don’t let them get to you, stand up to them if they’re bigoted to him, and reassure him you don’t feel the way they do.

What can I do to support him and let him know he can trust me?

“Make it about [him] and not you,” said Rachel Wright, a licensed psychotherapist and sex educator. That means you ask how you can support him, tell him everything is going to be OK, and reaffirm your love and desire to remain in a relationship with him. “If your partner is coming to you and sharing a part of themselves they haven’t before, that means they’re trusting you to hold the space for them to do that,” Wright said.  

Reaffirm that you’re not going to leave him. “Tell him you’ll love him no matter what,” Wright said. Tell him you want to be happy and fulfilled and want to work on this together. Tell him you’re there to support him however that may look. Does he want you in the room when he tells his parents? Does he want you to tell some of your mutual friends (for whatever reason)? Whatever support he needs, give it to him. If he’s not forthcoming with information about what he might need, Wright recommended you make it a point to ask, and continue to check in about it.

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Be open to change. Even if he does know what he wants, he only knows what he wants for now. “Regardless of your sexuality or how long we’ve been in a partnership with somebody, we change, we evolve, we grow,” Wright said. “We find things out about ourselves.” Be open to what his newly revealed sexuality may bring. Of course, have your hard boundaries. If there are things you don’t want to do, like have an open relationship, then make that clear. You don’t have to!

What if that does come up, though? What do I do if my boyfriend wants to act on his feelings by having sex with guys?

That’s where I come in! I will suck the skin off of your boyfriend’s di—but in all seriousness, your boyfriend coming out to you isn’t necessarily about doing so much as being. It’s possible that your partner is happy to stay monogamous with you and express their desires privately through masturbating and porn. It’s also possible that your partner may want to see how you feel about opening the relationship. (Remember: Just because you’re bi doesn’t mean you automatically want to be ethically non-monogamous. A desire for non-monogamy is completely distinct from sexuality.) “This is something only he knows,” Wright said. So ask! (If you’re wondering how open relationships might work, that’s a whole different advice piece.)

Obviously, your boyfriend shouldn’t demand an open relationship with you if you’re not into it. If he really wants to and you’re not comfortable with it, you can say, “Hey, I know you want to hook up with a guy, but I really want to take this slowly. The idea of you with someone else—man or woman—makes me uneasy. I’m definitely not there yet.” (If he pushes back, that’s not a bisexuality issue, but a respect issue—and it’s not cool of him, which you should say to him directly.)

Jan and Lara-Jean were able to get to a comfortable place in their relationship where Jan felt affirmed for his queer identity, and Lara-Jean felt secure in her partner’s sexuality, but Jan had never had a sexual experience with men. “My curiosity got louder and louder to the point where I couldn’t ignore it anymore,” he said. “When I confessed to [Lara-Jean] that I wanted to try having sex with men, it was really hard for her.” 

Over time, they talked it out. Lara-Jean agreed that opening their relationship was right for them because she loved him deeply and knew that Jan loved her. They set a clear boundary that their relationship would be open gender-specifically, so that Jan could explore with other men. While it took some communication and figuring out, Jan and Lara-Jean are now polyamorous, with Jan having both a boyfriend and a girlfriend—which was possible specifically because Lara-Jean didn’t doubt how much Jan loved her—in fact, she said, “Our love has only grown stronger.”

Jan feels the same. “I’m now the closest to Lara-Jean that I’ve ever been,” he said. Whether or not you stay monogamous, this new era of honesty, openness, and acceptance in your relationship can provide a similar opportunity to feel closer—and more like yourselves together, too.

Follow Zachary Zane on Twitter.