BI FOR THE LONG TERM
Must bi people hide their identities when they fall in love?
“So you’re a lesbian now?” said my ex-boyfriend casually, placing his pint glass down on the table and checking Twitter for the cricket scores. It was a week before Christmas and we’d met up to shoot the breeze in a local pub. The pub kitten had decided I was her favourite punter, St Etienne were playing on the jukebox, they had my favourite ale on, I’d been chattering excitedly about how many shares one of my articles had had, he’d been telling me about his new job... and everything was feeling well chilled and lovely. But those five words changed that in an instant.
Sighing heavily (and, I’m not ashamed to admit, holding back a few tears of frustration), I said: “No, I’m bisexual. You know that. I run a website for bisexual women. You dated me for about six months, during which time I was editor of one of the leading UK lesbian and bi women’s magazines.”
He looked at me for a moment. “But if you’ve just started seeing this woman and you aren’t planning to see other people, then doesn’t that make you a lesbian? You’re only going to have sex with a woman, so you’re a lesbian.”
“Erm, no,” I responded. “I’m no more a lesbian now than I was straight when I was dating you. I never cheated on you, as you know, but I don’t recall you telling me I couldn’t agree with you that Shirley Manson was fit because I was now ‘straight’. Or you saying, ‘ Hey, you’ll have to quit your job now you’re straight – I’ll buy all the beers from now on!’”
“But,” he stuttered, taking a particularly large swig of beer, “doesn’t saying you’re still bi within a relationship with a woman essentially mean you are admitting that you’re open to running off with a man?”
I rose from my chair, walked towards the bar and asked for their strongest shot.
Bisexual identity within a relationship can be a particularly wriggly and unpleasant can of worms. Indeed, some decide to leave the “worms” firmly underground. Jemma, 25, has been with her female partner for three years. “I just couldn’t tell her,” she says sadly. “She wouldn’t understand – she’d see it as a huge betrayal. She’d start asking all sorts of questions: ‘ Why do you have to say you’re bi when you’re with me now?’ ‘ What if my mates think that means I’m not enough for you and laugh at me?’ It’s just more than my life is worth.”
How does keeping the secret take its toll on her? “It’s not much fun,” she responds. “I’ve had to swear my friends to absolute secrecy and keep reminding them not to mention the fact I’ve had a relationship with a man when she’s around. Hiding something like this within an intimate relationship makes it feel somehow incomplete. I’ve heard all about her previous long-term relationship but she can never know about the man I spent nearly three years dating in my late teens – the only person I’ve ever loved apart from her.”
Melody, 33, tells a very different story. She’s been married to her male partner for 10 years. “He’s always been accepting of my bisexuality,” she tells DIVA. “He’s never treated my bisexuality as a phase, a fetish, an opportunity for having multiple partners or a threat that I might cheat. These are things previous partners of mine have struggled with when involved with me.”
Wendi, 52, enjoys a similarly understanding relationship. “My wife is very aware of my attraction to males,” she says. “However we both recognise and understand the difference between admiring a person’s attractiveness and pursuing a more intimate connection. Trust and faith in each other is ultimate!”
Dana, 43, is out to her husband – but not sure he entirely “gets” it. “This is complicated,” she explains. “He completely accepts it, has no issues with it, not a problem. But I’m not sure he understands that it’s an important part of my identity, even when I’m not involved in same-sex activities.”
Outside perceptions of bisexual people’s long-term relationships can also involve a huge amount of prejudice and bi- erasure. Rita is 31 and has been with her girlfriend for 18 months. “I’ve lost count of the times people – my girlfriend’s friends in particular – have referred to me as being a lesbian despite my having told them I’m bi,” she says. “I used to argue it out with them but eventually over time I’ve become ground down and now I often just let it pass. It absolutely kills me inside, I won’t lie. I’m a keen bi activist and people erasing part of my identity like this is so hurtful.”
Amina has been married for just over a year. “Everyone just assumes I’m straight,” she reveals. “It’s awful but I don’t usually, well, put them ‘straight’! I wouldn’t know how to have the conversation and explain my bisexuality. Biphobia is bad enough when you’re single: when you’re attached and committed to someone it’s even harder to explain it – and to justify why you need to talk about it.”
Sadly, the Christmas girlfriend came and went (well, mostly went). A few heated email exchanges did little to explain to my poor clueless ex – who shall of course remain nameless – why I’d suddenly necked five absinthes, commandeered the jukebox in order to play everything David Bowie/goldfrapp/skunk Anansie/ Blondie/grace Jones/ani Difranco/ Peggy Seeger/ Lou Reed/sia/ The Black Eyed Peas/green Day/ Placebo/janis Joplin/ The Dresden Dolls/ I’m-about-to-go- over-the-wordlimit had ever recorded and then left the pub.
If anything, informing him of the brevity of my latest girl- on-girl relationship instilled something of an “I told you so, you confused woman” mentality in him. Infuriating, to say the least. Eventually we reached an impasse and communication dried up. For all I know, he could well be sitting in a darkened room somewhere, painting Warhammer figures and waiting for me to come back and be “straight” with him again. He’ll be waiting a long time.
“I’m a keen bi activist and people erasing my identity like this is so hurtful”