In 2013, a Pew Research Center survey on LGBTI Americans found that 84% of US bisexuals in committed relationships have partners of the opposite sex.
Bi erasure is so prevalent that bisexuals in so-called straight-passing relationships – with someone identifying or presenting as the opposite gender – feel the need to signal their sexual orientation constantly.
Many bisexual celebrities have stood up to fight straight-washing. Some public figures, such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz, have been extremely vocal in stating their sexuality.
In an op-ed Beatriz penned in 2018, the actress addressed her upcoming marriage to cis straight colleague Brad Hoss.
‘In October, I will marry a heterosexual man. We’ll make vows that I will take very seriously, […] But I’ll be bi till the day I die, baby,’ she wrote last year.
What’s the straight-passing privilege?
One might argue that bisexuals are granted a straight-passing privilege in their daily life. But why should that be a ‘privilege’ at all?
Presuming someone is straight or gay because of the person they’re dating shifts the focus on their partners rather than on their own identity. And it’s something only bisexual people are confronted with.
Moreover, if you deem passing as straight a privilege, this implies heterosexuality is advantageous or somewhat easier to deal with. This assumption will dangerously reinforce an anti-LGBTI attitude from within and outside the community.
Straight-passing is far from being desirable, let alone a privilege. For bisexual people, it is a blatant erasure of their identity. It is being invisible as members of the LGBTI community.
Bisexuals don’t want to hide
‘I wish this wasn’t a thing. I wish I could feel comfortable enough to go to an LGBTI support place,’ bisexual Lyn Hargrave says.
She explains she was once turned away from an LGBTI support space because it was for ‘people living homosexuality’.
‘I think the whole straight-passing does allow me to live a little more comfortably than others do, it’s true. But I don’t want to hide behind that forever. I would rather be known as my true self. Perhaps one day I won’t be scared to speak up,’ she also says.
However, bisexual non-binary Misty Farquhar says there are some advantages in passing as straight. They have been in a relationship with Rich for 15 years.
‘People don’t often assume I’m in a straight relationship anymore because of how public I am about my identity as a bisexual non-binary person,’ they say.
‘When it does happen though, I often feel invisible but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some comfort in being able to hide sometimes too.’
It requires a conversation – or, in fact, a series of coming out moments – to clarify a bi person’s sexuality.
‘People who are accepting of my sexuality don’t understand that being married does not mean I have chosen a side. I’m not actually straight just because I’m with a man,’ says Hargrave, who married Matt 17 years ago.
‘I am bisexual regardless of the gendered relationship that I am in,’ says Mick Collins from Idaho, US.
Collins is about to tie the knot with Mel, who is bisexual. They have been together for more than four years.
‘I’m still bisexual whether I’m with a man, woman, enby, or sitting in a room alone with nothing but my thoughts. Who I am in a relationship with does not define who I am, who I am defines who I am.’
Is it ‘easier’ for a bisexual to be with a fellow bi?
Collins also explains he finds it easier to be in a relationship with another bisexual person.
‘I don’t even remember how I told her. She might have told me first, then I said something or vice versa. Just before we started dating, we talked a lot through Facebook, then just sitting having coffee together,’ he recalled.
‘I do remember feeling a little relieved, just because it’s easier to be in a relationship with another bisexual. It bypasses so many conversations and the need for reassurances that non-bi’s can have.’
Bisexual activist Kaylee Walker is also in a relationship with a fellow bi person.
‘It was before we even planned the first date that we both came out as bi to each other,’ she says.
‘It was a weird race to make sure the other knew and would not be a biphobic prospect we’d be wasting time on.’
Oregonian Natasha McCracken doesn’t necessarily agree it’s easier to be with a bisexual.
‘I’ve always been open about being bisexual, it’s usually a pretty quick conversation to me. My current partner is from California, and while he hasn’t been with anyone bisexual before, he adjusted to it quickly,’ she said.
‘I told him in passing on the night we met and that was really the only discussion needed. It’s definitely an adjustment for him because of how he was raised. His mother specifically is not the most tactful woman and isn’t very accepting. I kinda just had him jump feet first into my world, and he’s very good about asking questions when he wants to know how to approach a new situation.’
Bis in monogamous relationships
Collins and his partner are in a mono relationship.
‘If I’m in a monogamous relationship then I want to be with that person. Exclusively. All their pieces and parts included,’ he said.
‘This is pretty standard with anyone that is in a serious mono relationship. It’s not any different just because we’re bi.’
He also says: ‘This idea that we’re some sort of slavering sexual dynamo who needs to be satiated by all of our desires is demeaning, untrue, and sounds way more ambitious than most of us have the energy for.’
… and polyamorous relationships
However, this isn’t true for all bisexual people.
In a 2018 study, Dr. Rhonda Balzarini and her colleagues at the University of Western Ontario found that bisexual and pansexual people are more likely to have experienced some form of ethical non-monogamy.
McCracken has always been in poly relationships. However, she said her current partner Sean is her only partner at the moment.
‘I was 19 before I even heard the term polyamorous, and the only things I knew about sexuality were what little I could find online during my limited computer time at home. I truly believe it depends on the person whether or not they’re likely to cheat because since learning about the relationship dynamic of polyamory I haven’t cheated or even considered it.’
Vivian Began from Baltimore, Maryland, told her husband she is bisexual six years into their marriage.
‘It’s been a ride but, we are fine. Stronger, actually. Our marriage is one that would confuse most by its names but, it works amazingly for us,’ she says.
‘He is in a monogamous marriage with me and I am in a polyamorous marriage as I am looking for my female soul mate. We do not interact all together in an intimate way. This is how we are happy.’
Bisexuals beyond the gender binary
Assuming one’s gender from their appearance can prove to be ultimately incorrect, explains bi non-binary Farquhar.
‘There is absolutely a need for education on non-binary sexualities and genders,’ they say.
‘Some people have never really thought about things outside of the binary, so it’s a lot to process for them.’
They furthermore add: ‘I believe that it is the responsibility of organisations that claim to be for LGBTI folk to do this educating. If they are not doing it, then they need to engage with groups who are making this happen.’