A Response to WikiHow’s Article “How To Tell If Another Woman Is Bisexual.”

bisexual-683939_1920A little while ago bisexual.org brought to our attention a WikiHow article on how to tell if another woman is bisexual. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, it reads like a how-to for unicorn hunters and is full of generally creepy and intrusive suggestions. I’m going to give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume they really were well intentioned but just didn’t have any idea how to go about it in a less invasive manner. So I’ve put together some suggestions if you find yourself in that situation that don’t involve spying on her social media and trying to analyse the way she looks at other women’s legs.

1. Think about why you want to know if this other woman is bi.
Are you attracted to her but can’t tell if she’s hitting on you or just a member of the Leslie Knope school of female friendship? Or is what you’re looking for bisexual female community? Someone to share experiences with and know you’re not alone. These are both really great reasons to want to find out if a friend is bi. Bisexual women have worse mental health than both straight and lesbian women, and one major reason for this is a feeling of isolation even within LGBT communities where we’re often required to hide our sexuality in order to be accepted. If you don’t know any out bisexual women but think at least one of your friends might be closeted then approaching her respectfully can be a good place to start. Emphasis on the respectfully.On the other hand if you just really want to know if Susan from accounting swings more than one way but you’re not actually interested in anything more meaningful than that I’m going to advise you not to. Its really none of your business what people who haven’t come out to you do in their spare time, no, not even if you’re also bi or queer. Doubly so if you’re actually looking for a unicorn. There are websites for that, leave people you know irl alone.

2.  Think about how she’d react to you coming out if she’s not also secretly bisexual too.
A lot of this depends on how well you know this woman. If she’s openly supportive of lgbt people then coming out to her casually can be a good place to start. If she’s a close friend and you think she’d be supportive even if she doesn’t have rainbow stickers all over her backpack, then that’s still a good starter. Even if she’s not a closeted bisexual too then having an ally who knows about you will help you feel seen and less isolated and that can’t be anything but a good thing. Of course if you’re hoping to ask her out and she doesn’t come out back at you that can be demoralising but there are a lot more girls (and boys, and non binary people) out there so try to shake it off and be glad you have a supportive friend.

If you think she’d react badly if you’re wrong and she turns out to be straight after all do not come out to her. Even if you’re right she might not be ready or willing to come out and defensively spout the party line. For a lot of us its still not safe to admit to anyone who we are for a lot of reasons and if your friend has conservative religious family or seems disdainful of LGBT people in any way then even if you think she’s actually closeted this is not a safe conversation for you to have.

3. You could try asking.
Don’t go trying to analyse her behaviour, I can’t emphasise how creepy that is enough. However sometimes we do notice things about our friends. Sometimes we even notice them before they do (the film But I’m a Cheerleader comes to mind). So if your friend does stare with open longing at other women, gets tongue tied when the office hottie talks to her and is receptive and supportive of LBT people then it might be OK to ask her if she’s bisexual. You have to use your discretion here. Its possible she’s bi and has just never said anything and its even possible she might like girls but because of our heteronormative society hasn’t realised yet that that’s what these feelings mean.

Here’s the thing. If she says she’s not then you have to take that as gospel until or unless she says otherwise. Even if she is and already knows that then there are any number of reasons you don’t know about that could be stopping her from coming out. As for someone who’s bi but hasn’t realised yet, trying to fix them and make them realise they are can actually be really harmful. This is a journey people have to take on their own and telling an lgbt person who believes they’re cis or straight that you know more about their identity than they do can make them double down harder and refuse to admit to themselves who they are even when they’ve started to notice the signs for themselves. It can be frustrating seeing a person whose closeted or confused and insisting that they’re not but that frustration is your problem and not theirs. Just be a supportive friend. That involves listening not telling, so that if or when they finally do realise and want to come out you can be there for them.

Siobhan Ball

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