“Straight-passing” relationships: Bisexuality, biphobia and being seen

Although it’s only Pride Month in some parts of the world, like Canada, the UK and USA, it feels like it’s everywhere except Perth right now. But that just means we have more opportunities to talk about Pride, especially online.

There have been some popular, wholesome memes circulating that importantly wishes a “Happy Pride Month” to various groups of under-represented people, including people in “straight-passing relationships.”

The phrase “straight-passing” annoys me.

I get that it’s well-intentioned, and meant to apply to so many of us in the Bi+ community – your relationship appears straight because you seem to fit the template of a heterosexual, cis-gendered, monogamous couple. But the word “passing” suggests some kind of deceit, like you’re passing off Coke as Pepsi, or presenting something fake as the genuine article.

I’ve covered, almost extensively, biphobia and bi-erasure in previous articles – how bi+ people can be treated like they are too straight for the queer community, how romantic prospects will turn cold when they learn you are bi or pan.

And there’s no biphobia as strong as that which is internalised.

When you are in a relationship that is perceived as heterosexual, you can sometimes feel like you are a fraud – but it’s a lie that bi+ individuals benefit from straight privilege, the evidence is in the stats around mental health outcomes for our community.

The phrase “straight-passing” can exacerbate that feeling. Are you just passing yourself off as straight when you are something more shameful? Even if you are closeted to everyone, including your partner, you are not “passing” because there is no failing. You are just you. And you are valid.

Jenine Giles met their husband when they were both studying the same course. “My now-husband thought I was a lesbian and in a relationship with one of my friends at the time, until I corrected him about my being bi,” Giles says.

“I feel very dismissed by my own mother in this aspect of who I am. She was disbelieving when I told her about my girlfriend when I was seventeen, and now seems to think it was actually just a phase as I am now married to a cis man. I really can’t be bothered correcting her at this point.

“I feel like I don’t quite fit in with the gay experience of having to announce (or hide) one’s sexuality, and neither with the straight experience of having my sexuality correctly assumed.”

Belinda Cooper says that with their boyfriend for 6/7 years, they experienced “various degrees of gender dysphoria and internalised biphobia.”

“I accepted my gender identity and my sexual gender desires in the end,” Belinda says.

“With my girlfriend when we’re together we are visible as two femme-presenting humans together, and I don’t feel invisible as a queer.”

Eilidh King grew up in what they refer to as a “rough part of a small town/city in the north of Scotland” and says at that time hiding their sexuality was done for self-preservation, but now they are out to all their friends as bi and don’t try to hide it.

Just the same, they say, their straight friends seem to struggle to remember this fact.

A friend once referred to Eilidh and their partner as “a straight couple,” Eilidh says. “They were a bit surprised when I pointed out that neither of us were actually straight.”

More damaging was the time a straight male friend told Eilidh he was surprised their partner was bisexual, “and to be careful because, in his experience, men only say they are bisexual when they are too scared to come out as gay.”

“I’ve had people act disgusted at the notion that my boyfriend has been with other men,” Eilidh says. “In the past, these types of comments made me angry and sad. I hated that, because my life is different from theirs, they think it’s ok to judge me, and rudely voice their opinion. It’s like my love life has become public property.”

“Now, instead of getting angry, I challenge the behaviour,” Eilidh says.

Belinda says the phrase “straight-passing” makes them angry, saying “some lesbians who use it are so plain jane conservative — they don’t have a queer activist bone in their body.”

“I feel, fuck them,” Belinda says, “But also internal fuck me because it was my lesbian identity that I had for a long time that has caused my internalised biphobia. That internalised biphobia made it hard for me to love the person I loved because he is male.”

Belinda offers advice for other people who are in what appear as heterosexual relationships from the outside: “Disrupt their assumptions about the world. Weave things into conversations, that pride sticker on your phone as you reach into your bag and pick it up, and make out with your different gender presenting partner.”

The overall message from the bi+ community is one of positivity. “I see you, and you are not alone,” Jenine says.

Eilidh agrees, “Your feelings are valid. Even if you have a stronger preference for one gender, you still count. You don’t have to live your life to anyone else’s standards.”

Visibility is important. Join the Bisexual+ Community Perth at facebook.com/groups/bicommperth

Jay Chesters