“We’re Just Not Hung Up About Gender”: Bisexuality & Binary/Non-Binary Relationships

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© Charles Hutchins

I’m a 32-year-old cis female, currently in my first relationship with someone non-binary. There seems to be an assumption in various less enlightened circles that, as a bisexual, this has been my specific aim all along. That in my dear partner Faust, 39, I have at last found “The Best of Both Worlds”. Oh dear. There is no denying the fact that smashing gender norms is sexy, but I find it most attractive when people present the way they feel comfortable – whether this is draped in pink glittery scarves, wearing army boots or both. In my eyes, this is what makes me bisexual, not a desire for “a bit of both”.

On the other hand, we have the still-raging bi = binary debate, with many insisting that “bisexual” isn’t an acceptable label for those with the potential to be attracted to people who fall outside the male-female gender binary. I decided to talk to some other Biscuit readers who are cis/binary and dating someone non-binary, and vice versa…

I’ve been with my partner, let’s call them Fi, since we were in our teens – although it was all top secret until we left school,” recalls Elaine, 25. “Back then Fi identified as female but when we were about 20 they told me they didn’t feel quite right being a woman, yet didn’t want to be a man. I told them I’d already sussed that out years ago!” Fi now identifies as genderfluid. “Fi might feel more demi-girl one day and more genderqueer the next. Then, a few days later, the demi-boy comes out. I love Fi however they presentnot as a fetish object, not as the sum of their genitalia, but as Fi.”

Bisexuality to me is about the capacity to love anyone regardless of gender – not directly fetishising them because of their gender, their genders or their lack thereof!” Has she ever had problems with the bi label? “I never warmed to pan (no joke intended), because bi suffices for me,” she responds. “It’s grown to encompass so much more than what it was understood to mean before the dialogue about gender got to this point. I wouldn’t criticise anyone else for what they wanted to call themselves, though. I just ask them to show me the same respect, and don’t make assumptions.”

I’ve mainly dated non-binary people,” Kate, 44, tells Biscuit, “so this is nothing new to me.” Her non-binary partner, however, had never dated a femme before her. They always had a thing for butch women, and I’m quite over-the-top feminine, so I was surprised they were interested! Five years later there still haven’t been any escape attempts. We fit together as people, even if we’re not each other’s fantasy pin-up. It’s hard to describe.”

Kate called herself pansexual for a while, before returning to her original bisexual label. “I realised that there was no need for me to change according to how certain others might judge me,” she explains. “To me, and I think to the majority of other bi people, bisexuality means being attracted to more than just the male/female binary – it means being attracted to degrees of male/female, in whatever permutation, as well. We’re not hung up about gender. It seems quite simple to me.”

Lola, 28, identifies as agender. They met their cis-male partner at BiCon.“Why should we be so proscriptive?” Lola asks. “’Bi’ as a prefix does mean two, but we can still call a tricycle a bike and people understand. Language evolves. We need to pay more attention to people who say they feel excluded by the label and work with them to see how we can change that.”

This is Lola’s partner’s first relationship with a non-binary person, although he’s dated trans people before. “He offers support in a really open, active way and will always ask if he’s not sure about something.” Previous partners have been less sensitive. “One guy I had been seeing said ‘Oh, I know what she is, I’ve been down there!’ when discussing my gender identity with one of my friends,” Lola sighs. “Even when men stare at my chest in the street, as they often do, I feel they are misgendering me in a very misogynistic way.”

Indeed, Lola has been trying to get breast reduction for the past five years because they feel their chest size does not fit with their gender identity. How does her partner feel about this? “He likes me regardless of my chest size,” Lola answers. “He just wants me to be happy.” Finding that the NHS only has the systems in place to help women with “low BMIs and even larger chest sizes” or trans people wishing to transition, Lola is now fundraising for the operation at www.helplola.co.uk.

Fred, 37, identifies as trans and genderqueer. They have been with one boyfriend for seven years, and another for six and a half years and with their girlfriend for two years. “I met all my partners through bi community events and two of them have identified as bi for a lot longer than I’ve known them,” Fred explains. “The vast majority of people I’ve dated have been cis. I have dated some trans people but I don’t have a preference either way and there are a lot more cis people out there.”

How does Fred feel about the bi = binary debate? “I’m bi, which to me means I’m attracted to people with a similar gender to mine and people with a different gender to mine,” they answer. “There’ve been trans, genderqueer and non-binary people in the bi community forever; bisexuality doesn’t exclude the possibility of attraction to non-binary gendered people. I have pansexual friends and bisexual friends and I think people should use whichever labels they feel most comfortable with.”

Ed, 40, identifies as genderqueer and has been with their straight male partner for 13 years. “My partner’s definitely dated people with non-normative genders (at least one ex has transitioned),” Ed reveals. “My previous partner was cis as well. I suspect if we weren’t together, I’d have done more to physically transition closer to how I feel. I may still do so, but my partner’s definitely a consideration. He’s excellent and flexible but he does mainly fancy women. I don’t have much discomfort around my body – it’s really not very me but it’s quite nice and it’ll do.”

I don’t think hostility is an inevitable outcome of visibility, but I reckon my squeeze and I unwillingly get a lot of goodwill from being misread,” Ed explains. “Lots of people see us as a straight couple. I find it pretty hard to stay out as non-binary (despite my frankly stereotypical short hair and sharp suits, and my partner using ‘they’ and correcting people if they ‘woman’ me). But even when I clearly articulate it, it sort of slips out of people’s understanding again. I turn back into ‘that woman who said that thing about gender’ rather than ‘that non-binary person’.”

Me and Faust

Last but not least, I ask Faust for a few words. “I think it’s great that we’re the same dress size!” they beam (I’m short and fat, they’re tall and slim – somehow it works). “Seriously, though, the most difficult part of being genderqueer and in a relationship with a cis woman is the assumption based on anatomy that I should be the ‘man’ and somehow dominant and assertive. Misgendering only upsets me if I know someone is doing it on purpose.”

“It’s never occurred to me as either a genderqueer person or as someone attracted to all genders to give up using the bisexual label. I respect people’s right to use the labels they want, but please don’t attack others who don’t use the same label. That goes for both sides of the pan/bi debate!”

“Genderqueer” photo licensed for use under Creative Commons

Featured image © Jenny Davies

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Charlotte Dingle

Charlotte 'Lottie' Dingle is Biscuit's founding editor. When she's not running freelancing for a diverse bunch of clients ranging from Cosmo to Occupy, she enjoys teaching life drawing, discussing life/the universe/everything with her beloved (but smelly) 22-year-old cat, writing flash fiction for her MA course, getting pretentious tattoos, listening to folk music, creating surrealist art, trying to change the world and drinking red wine. Oh, and My Little Pony. Don't forget My Little Pony. Her favourite biscuits are cream crackers (do they count as biscuits?).

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