Honestly, taking shots at Dear Prudence is, well, like shooting fish in a barrel. Occasionally I pop over to Slate because I can be a bit of a masochist and apparently I enjoy reading things that I know will infuriate me, but every now and then, even I have to protest vociferously at precisely how ridiculous Prudie is being.
Case in point being a recent gem uncovered by Lindy West, in which Prudence compares bisexuality to plushophilia and BDSM (because these two things are totally identical), tells the letter writer to stay in the closet, and then doubles down when called on it. I mean, really, Prudie. Really. Here's the original letter:
I am a happily married, 27-year-old mother of two. I have recently revealed to my husband that I am bisexual, something I have only recently admitted to myself. He is completely supportive and we agreed that this does not change anything in terms of our monogamy. The only issue is that he thinks it would be irrelevant to come out to friends and family since I am in a heterosexual marriage. I know that my family will be accepting, however, now I’m worried that he is right and it would seem out of place to make such a revelation.
Okay, not a terribly uncommon situation. It's not that unusual for bisexual people to feel pressured into identifying as heterosexuals because of social stigma, and also because of bisexual invisibility -- and biphobia within society at large. Once people get more comfortable in their lives and have more time to think about their sexual identities, sometimes they realize that they're actually bisexual, and that they want to be out about that.
Starting with her husband makes sense, for obvious reasons, although I could have done without the embedded stereotype that bisexual women are tramps. Astoundingly, it is in fact possible to be both bisexual and monogamous, to be attracted to people of multiple genders yet only date one at a time. (For example, I have heard that some straight people are monogamous despite the fact that they are attracted to men or women as a general class in addition to within the context of their specific relationships.) But I'm glad that her husband didn't react to her revelation with disgust or outrage, and that they're feeling secure in their relationship.
However, the pressure to stay closeted is really dubious. While people may choose to conceal their sexual orientation for reasons of their own, it's manifestly unfair to effectively tell people that they shouldn't scare the horses by keeping their sexuality to themselves -- this runs counter to what the gay rights movement has been fighting for so long.
Maybe it's personally irrelevant, but it's socially relevant. The more bisexual people people of other orientations know and interact with, the more accepting they become in the long term, and the more they understand bisexuality. When someone is comfortable with being out and wants to come out, more power to her.
So reasonable advice in this case might be something along the lines of: "I understand your husband's concerns, but if you would feel more comfortable being out about your sexuality, that's legitimate. You might want to discuss the fact that sexuality can be fluid, and that you're coming into a different understanding of your sexuality, and that you're happy to answer questions or direct people towards resources, if you're so inclined."
However, that's not what Prudie said.
Let’s say you discovered a late breaking interest in plushophilia, or you now realized you were turned on by being a dominatrix. This would not be news you’d be required to announce at the next Thanksgiving gathering. The rapidity with which society has accepted, even embraced, gay sexual orientation is a glorious phenomenon. But you are confusing your personal sexual exploration with a social imperative. It would be one thing if you left your marriage because you were pursuing relationships with women. That would be worth talking about—if you wanted to—as a way of explaining the dissolution of your marriage. 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.
Keep your gross homocooties to yourself, lady. Why on Earth would you want to make people uncomfortable by letting them know a little more about you? It's fascinating that being an out heterosexual is not only the expected norm, but accepted as something totally reasonable -- this isn't viewed as private information. Yet, being a sexual minority means that you make people uncomfortable, and you shouldn't gross anyone out by being open about your life.
Being bi and in a marriage with someone of the opposite gender doesn't mean you need to conceal your sexual orientation. Given bi erasure in so many spaces, one might in fact argue that there is actually a "social imperative," despite Prudie's opinion on the matter. Bisexual people in heterosexual relationships are often labeled as heterosexual against their wishes, and the only way to push back on that is to be out and outspoken about it.
One reader wasn't impressed, and pointed out why it's both relevant and potentially important for bi people to come out even after years of being in an established relationship.
I have to disagree with you on keeping bisexuality to oneself if you’re in a heterosexual relationship, Prudie. A 2013 Pew Study found that around 70 percent of bisexual people are not out to their family and friends. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people who think bisexual people just don’t exist until you read that statistic. Gay and lesbian acceptance has dramatically improved in the past decade especially, and it’s because gay and lesbian people, and their allies, are vocal about it. I’m not saying during the family reunion this woman should say “Can you pass the butter, grandpa? Oh, and by the way, I’m sexually attracted to women, but am still monogamously committed to Jared.” But, there will be many opportunities to let the people in her life know in the context of the fight for marriage equality and sexual orientation as a federally protected class. If a homophobic, or even ambivalent person, knows more LGBT people, the less likely they are to hold prejudice.
Here's Prudie's dismissive response:
Good points, but such things have to be taken in context. 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. If a married person realizes he or she is not by nature monogamous, but is not going to act on urges to have sex with other people (whatever their gender), I don’t think they have to tell their nearest and dearest this.
In other words: "Despite the fact that you want to come out, I think you should bow to your husband on this one and conceal a vital part of your identity." Prudence is deeply mistaken about how attraction, sexuality, and orientation work. Being bi isn't about "sexual desires" that you're forced to repress. It means that you have an interest in men and women; just as monogamous heterosexual men, for example, may find many women attractive, but not necessarily sexually interesting.
The only reason to tell someone to conceal their sexual identity is if you think coming out would endanger them (in which case, that person needs to be able to access a safer space), or if you think that the individual should be ashamed of her sexuality. Telling a bisexual woman who wants to be open about herself that she should conceal her identity sends a loud and clear message that she should be ashamed of herself.
This reinforces the thinking that bisexuality is bad, and, moreover, that bisexual people automatically flop to one orientation or another when they're in a relationship with a man or a woman, as though "bisexual" refers to a constantly variable state of attraction (though for some bisexual people, of course, it does). Bisexual women are often labeled as lesbian when dating women, as heterosexual when dating men -- and consequently, they're forced to be explicit about their sexuality if they don't want to be swallowed up by invisibility.
If a woman feels comfortable about coming out and wants to make that a part of her life, she should be supported in that decision, not told that she should be quiet about her disgusting sexual inclinations.