Pride, with Prejudice: When Biphobia Creeps into Same Gender Relationships

14993627065_484af81058_zWe mainly think about biphobia in terms of harm to bisexual-identified people, but in reality it can affect anyone. Holly Matthies examines one of the more insidious ways it can manifest.

For me, Pride means minding the stalls for the political party I belong to and the local bisexual support/social group Biphoria. I love it: you’re away from the worst of the overwhelming crowds, and people come over if they’re at all interested in your stall and ignore you if they’re not. It’s nice to feel helpful: to hand out stickers and flyers, answer questions, let people know what we do.

It didn’t take long after I first started doing this at Pride (in Manchester, though I’ve since been to various ones across the northwest), in 2009 or so, to start expecting that something unpleasant would happen when I sat down behind a trestle-table full of purple bisexual literature and goodies.

Maybe it would just be a muttered comment or a glare, as if we’re accusing a person of something awful or trying to give them bisexual cooties, instead of just saying “would you like a sticker?” Maybe they’d say something they didn’t even know was biphobic (like the person who said “I run an LGBT group for older people but we never have any bisexuals” who then went on to spout enough biphobic stereotypes that we weren’t surprised no one either ever told her they were bi and/or didn’t come back). Maybe someone will loudly equate bisexuality with bestiality (which I only heard of happening once, years ago, until it happened three times on the first of Manchester Pride’s three days this year).

But for the most part, people are friendly and interested and if they didn’t want a “bi & proud” sticker they were likely to take one that said “I ♥ bis.” I was cheered by the numbers of couples where one person would take a bi sticker and the other would take the bi-friendly sticker.

But something less cheerful happened too: a man wandered over towards us, looking vaguely interested in our stuff, and we stall volunteers said hello or some other such friendly thing. Then the woman with him pushed him along past our table in a way she probably intended to seem playful. “Oh, no, you’re not getting him,” she said to us. “He’s been mine for twenty years!”

My fellow stall-volunteer and I exchanged a raised eyebrow and a quiet comment as they disappeared: “we’re not trying to take him away?” “being bi doesn’t wear off after a while!” and similar.

Perhaps this is what led to the woman returning — or maybe they’d been having their own conversation — and telling us, “oh, he says he’s unsure now, so you might get him back!” I narrowed my eyes at her and the other volunteer didn’t say anything either. The woman laughed uproariously to indicate that she’d said something funny, but we still didn’t react so she went away.

The two of us boggled at this. I said “I’m married to a straight person but he’d never talk that way” and she said “yeah, it’s only when you see people acting like this that you sometimes remember this actually happens.”

her wife volunteered “she was bisexual until she married me” and she pulled back from the stickers and our table.

I was angry at the woman at first — did she think we were trying to recruit people? does she think bisexuality is impossible in a long-term relationship? (my fellow volunteer said she’s been married for 22 years and her bisexuality hasn’t worn off yet, which made me laugh) — but then I was just sad for that man, who within his relationship faced such suppression and policing of even the slightest interest in a bisexual group’s stall.

And I was sad for a woman I’d heard about from Saturday. I wasn’t at Pride but a friend who was told me about this woman who had started to go for the “bi & proud” sticker but then her wife volunteered “she was bisexual until she married me” and she pulled back from the stickers and our table.

I think and talk a lot about how prevalent biphobia is in general, but seeing it so active within people’s relationships was especially sad and surprising for me. Perhaps because, like I said at the time, my own relationships have luckily been free of this notion that the relationship itself somehow replaces or switches off my bisexuality. I take for granted but experiences like these at Pride make me feel that I’m fortunate to have my bisexuality supported by all the partners I’ve had since coming out, whether they are bi or not.

Maybe something else we don’t acknowledge enough is that most straight and gay people seem to expect that their partners will share their orientation, or at least they’ll feel more comfortable if their partners do. As a bi person, it’s never something I’ve paid much attention to (I’ve had straight, bi and lesbian partners), but I think it can be important. Because as a consequence of bi people often having non-bi partners, this kind of biphobia and ignorance can embed itself in a person’s closest relationship. If your partner misunderstands bisexuality as something incompatible with monogamy, they’re going to see a bisexual’s identity as a threat to a monogamous relationship.
I wonder how many bisexuals have been tucked back into the closet by partners this way, however well-meaning or kind or gentle their intentions. And I wonder what we can do to help those people.

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Holly Matthies

Holly is a bisexual immigrant to the UK. She lives in Manchester and volunteers with lots of projects relating to bisexuality, disability, and other ways to make people's lives better.

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