Outing Oneself Appropriately

Jun 19, 2021 | 2020 Fall - Out at Work

By Elisabeth Anderson

As a bisexual woman in a monogamous marriage to a man, in a community with few “out” people (I am a staff member at a small private school with no current members in its queer student organization), I struggle with how to “out” myself at work. I’m comfortable talking about my sexuality, but when is it appropriate to talk about who you used to date with co-workers or your boss? When in college, I flaunted bi pride buttons on my backpack, wore t-shirts that outed me, and joined queer student groups. But as a 40-something adult, I no longer have a place for my buttons and can’t wear a t-shirt to work.

I’m out to several co-workers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some people I told 10 years ago have already completely forgotten or assume I’m “not bisexual anymore.” How do you come out when it doesn’t come up in conversation? From time to time, I can get away with bringing up my ex-girlfriend in a story, but many don’t even pick up on that and just hear “girlfriend” and think she was a good friend. Either that or perhaps they think I went through a “phase”—dating girls in college but decided to be straight now.

At times I have found myself reflecting on how outing myself as someone who has had a stillborn child as being similar to outing myself as bi. In both cases, I could easily pass, and in both cases, if I bring the topic up, it often makes the other person feel awkward. But if I’m truly honest, they’re not the same at all. While both can be awkward, I only get sympathy when I share my stillborn experience. And while I may not get outright hostility for outing myself as bi, there will be those who judge me negatively.

So, what is the best way to out myself? I have put rainbow stickers up at my desk, but rarely do others notice them and they don’t say bisexual. I put a rainbow sticker on my cell phone for a while, but many other co-workers had it as well—so I knew students only saw it as representing “safe.”

My best idea so far has been to get a wallet sticker for my phone. It’s the one place I could put a make-a-statement image in a socially appropriate way. Unfortunately, my Google searches have come up short. I’m not sure what image I want. A bisexual flag would be too subtle—no one here would know what it means. Perhaps I need to just make my own. If anyone has ideas on where to find something like this, I would love for them to share them with BWQ. I’m dying to out myself to more people.

Elisabeth Anderson lives in the U.S. Virgin Islands with her husband and two sons. She is forever grateful for having met Robyn Ochs when taking two of Robyn’s classes at Tufts University.

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