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“My boyfriend doesn’t make me straight”

My friend shuf­fles to­ward me in her seat. Her forehead wrin­kles and her gaze drops as she opens her mouth to speak. “So, how does your boyfriend feel about you work­ing at DIVA? Is he not, um, wor­ried?” She sips her cof­fee and tilts her head to the side, giv­ing the im­pres­sion she’s ac­tu­ally a lit­tle wor­ried about the prospect her­self. “Wor­ried about what...?” I ask.

Of course, I know ex­actly what she means. That as a woman at­tracted to peo­ple of all gen­ders, I might walk through those doors into the sparkling and sap­phic realm of DIVA, lose all self- con­trol and be gladly whisked into the bo­som of the first woman I hap­pen to meet. ( Well, maybe…)

Jokes aside, the ex­change got me think­ing. Peo­ple seem to care a lot about how my boyfriend is feel­ing. I’ve of­ten had peo­ple – friends usu­ally – ask: “And how does your boyfriend feel about you be­ing bi­sex­ual?” Yet I can’t re­mem­ber any­one ever ask­ing how I feel hav­ing a het­ero­sex­ual, cis­gen­der, male part­ner de­spite the fact that in a mixed- ori­en­ta­tion re­la­tion­ship, there are two, of­ten very dis­tinct ex­pe­ri­ences.

Both my and his ex­pe­ri­ences are per­haps a lit­tle more ex­ag­ger­ated than usual as I of­ten write on gen­der and sex­u­al­ity, and although ours is not an “out­wardly” LGBT re­la­tion­ship, I con­tinue to be an ac­tive part of my lo­cal com­mu­nity. This does, how­ever, have the po­ten­tial to cause space between us. Not a rift, but def­i­nitely “space”. If I’m at­tend­ing an event or speak­ing to him about a piece I’m writ­ing, he’s gen­uinely in­ter­ested, but he doesn’t al­ways get it. By con­trast, with a fe­male or non-bi­nary part­ner, it would be some­thing that they were both in­her­ently part of and in­vested in.

Of course, oc­cu­py­ing dif­fer­ent spa­ces within a re­la­tion­ship, or so­ci­ety more gen­er­ally, doesn’t have to be an is­sue and I’m sure for a lot of peo­ple it isn’t. In fact, one big pos­i­tive is that we can have much more bal­anced con­ver­sa­tions about the world as a re­sult of our con­trast­ing per­spec­tives. Yet, be­ing openly bi­sex­ual and in a re-


la­tion­ship with a het­ero­sex­ual man has meant that I’ve of­ten felt both within and on the fringes of queer cul­ture si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

It’s not that my iden­tity it­self changes as the gen­der iden­tity of my part­ner does, but rather the com­plex­i­ties of re­la­tion­ships, and ac­tu­ally, the dy­nam­ics of the re­la­tion­ships with those around me. Not just the way I’m per­ceived by some­one in the street; friends and fam­ily move nearer or far­ther depend­ing on the gen­der- com­po­si­tion of a re­la­tion­ship and, whether in­ten­tion­ally or not, you are per­ceived in an­other way as a di­rect re­sult of that. Even some of your near­est and dear­est can treat you dif­fer­ently based on your cur­rent re­la­tion­ship.

My dad, for ex­am­ple, re­acted very dif­fer­ently to­ward my first re­la­tion­ship with a woman than he had to­ward my first boyfriend. For starters, where he was more than happy to ac­knowl­edge that my boyfriend was in fact, my boyfriend, he didn’t ac­knowl­edge my re­la­tion­ship with an­other woman un­til I made it un­avoid­able for him to do so, and ac­tu­ally, we had our first and only “real” ar­gu­ment to date as a re­sult – although it must be said wine def­i­nitely played a part.

Sim­i­larly, your friend­ship cir­cles inevitably change. I spent a lot more time with other LGBT peo­ple when I was in an ex­plic­itly LGBT re­la­tion­ship. Luck­ily, this has more to do with the make-up of our friend­ship groups than any real “ex­clu­sion” by ei­ther straight or queer friends, some­thing that oth­ers aren’t al­ways so lucky to avoid.

An­other phe­nom­e­non I’ve be­come ex­plic­itly aware of is het­ero­sex­ual priv­i­lege. Hav­ing been in re­la­tion­ships with men and women there are cer­tainly dif­fer­ences, and out of that, sim­ply put, come both “ad­van­tages” and “dis­ad­van­tages”. If I’m out with my boyfriend, it would never cross my mind to do that mo­ment’s scan of where we are and who’s around be­fore hold­ing hands, as I’ve def­i­nitely done in the past with a girl­friend. My cur­rent re­la­tion­ship is cer­tainly “priv­i­leged” in that sense. But at the same time, I’ve also ex­pe­ri­enced what feels like the re­verse. I was at a lovely, in­ti­mate event aimed at queer women re­cently, a film screen­ing show­ing doc­u­men­tary shorts. Al­most ev­ery­one had come along with a part­ner, but in that cir­cum­stance, I couldn’t bring mine. I ab­so­lutely un­der­stand the rea­sons why it was a women- only event, but it still felt odd not hav­ing the choice to do so when a girl­friend would have most def­i­nitely been there with me.

In that sense, I don’t get that same en­joy­ment of shar­ing in be­ing a part of the com­mu­nity and, more gen­er­ally, un­less you’re ex­plicit about your bi­sex­u­al­ity, it of­ten just doesn’t oc­cur to peo­ple that you might iden­tify that way. I’m an LGBT per­son in a non- LGBT re­la­tion­ship, and as The Bi­sex­u­al­ity Re­port (2012) notes, “Bi­sex­ual peo­ple who are in monog­a­mous re­la­tion­ships are more likely to be ‘in­vis­i­ble’ (due to sex­ual iden­tity be­ing as­sumed on the ba­sis of their cur­rent part­ner)”.

And at work? Well, be­sides the oc­ca­sional be­mused: “But, I thought you were [insert gay or straight here]?!” I’ve been lucky so far to not have faced any ma­jor dis­crim­i­na­tion. Yet, ac­cord­ing to the same re­port, the work­place is where many bi­sex­ual peo­ple feel most dis­crim­i­nated against, de­spite UK leg­is­la­tion pro­hibit­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion on grounds of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion in the work­place. The re­port de­tailed, amongst other ex­am­ples, in­stances of con­stant ques­tions about sex­u­al­ity in a work set­ting, fears around be­ing re­cat­e­gorised as LG or het­ero­sex­ual de­spite com­ing out as bi­sex­ual, no bi­sex­ual net­works within or­gan­i­sa­tions, and lit­tle sup­port from em­ploy­ers.

One re­spon­dent re­ported the fol­low­ing, af­ter she’d come out to her boss: “She [seemed] to treat me as a flake. [Mak­ing] lit­tle com­ments all the time about how I can’t stick at things, how I’m not a team player. One time she told me not to ap­ply for a pro­mo­tion be­cause they wanted ‘some­one loyal, who could com­mit’.”

Shocking as it may be to see it printed on a page, these kinds of at­ti­tudes and stereo­types sur­round­ing bi­sex­u­al­ity are still preva­lent. Just last week I men­tioned I was writ­ing this piece to a friend whose im­me­di­ate re­sponse went along the lines of: “So… three­somes?” .

I have cer­tainly in the past (and ad­mit­tedly, on oc­ca­sion still do) feel that mo­men­tary bout of “im­poster syn­drome” when turn­ing up at an LGBT event with my boyfriend in tow, but it’s so very im­por­tant to con­tinue to be ac­tive within these com­mu­ni­ties and for peo­ple who, like me, are less vis­i­ble then oth­ers, to be given space to have their say. It’s im­por­tant to con­tinue to iden­tify as bi­sex­ual, pan­sex­ual or queer, to keep re­mind­ing peo­ple that you can be in an mixed gen­der re­la­tion­ship and still fly that flag.

Although some may still feel that non-bi­nary sex­u­al­i­ties “muddy the wa­ter”, I say keep mud­dy­ing it. Muddy it un­til there’s no need to repli­cate those hard­ened struc­tures left in place by cen­turies of pa­tri­archy and het­eronor­ma­tiv­ity. Muddy it so that no one feels the need to la­bel them­selves. Muddy it so that the flu­id­ity and spec­trum­like na­ture of sex­u­al­ity (and gen­der) be­come the new norm.

Now, where’s that boyfriend of mine? I need a proof­reader.

Turn­ing up at an LGBT event with my boyfriend in tow, I feel a bout of im­poster syn­drome

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