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Shrien Dewani: Is being bisexual on trial?

Shrien Dewani: Is being bisexual on trial?

Shrien Dewani has pleaded not guilty to murdering his wife on their honeymoon in South Africa four years ago. And in doing so, has told the court he is bisexual and has had relationships with male prostitutes.

No doubt he knew he didn’t have the remotest hope of hiding this little detail once the trial was underway: someone, somewhere calculated that coming clean might just minimise the damage of this awkward fact about his personal life.

Still, is it my imagination: or are the UK press already licking their lips in moral indignation? The tabloids this week include a healthy crop of public comment to the effect that being bisexual is irrelevant to the fact of whether an individual chooses to murder their spouse.

Mixed in with the positive, though, is a smaller, more vicious element that some of the less scrupulous may play to in the weeks to come. Theories about how being bisexual is somehow motive in itself. Or the fear of being discovered. Or the shame. Already spotted, in one newspaper, is the same old tosh about how ‘bisexuals regularly dupe women’.

No. Men dupe women, when they have affairs: and sometimes women dupe men. And men dupe men and women dupe women. It’s a thing. It happens, has happened, since the dawn of time, and ‘being bisexual’ has nothing to do with it.

Let’s add a little perspective. According to Bi UK, studies have shown between 3% and 5% of individuals identify as bisexual.

However, such statistics hide a much more complex reality. Sexuality is complicated. The range and levels of desire as well as attraction vary enormously across an individual’s lifetime – and this is completely normal. Just think of anyone you know: just think about your own personal experience.

Bisexual individuals endure criticism and biphobia from all sides – gay and straight alike – leading to significant depression and a reluctance on the part of many to come out as "bi",’ Dr Caroline Walters, a research associate at Bi UK has said.

‘Bi people are frequently accused of being at best “confused”, at worst, “greedy and promiscuous”: yet while 50% of the population claim to be monogamous, that means the remaining 50% identify as openly non-monogamous.

‘Any deviation from the standard script is all too often seen as dangerous, even though it is, in practice, no more than normal variation.’

That, in a nutshell, is the problem. Those with longer memories (or more years) will remember the 70s and, to some extent the 80s. Then, in the aftermath of decriminalization, there was a slow but grudging acceptance of being gay. Acceptance, that is, so long as gay folks did whatever gay folks did with other gay folks discreetly.

Prime Minister David Cameron might today own there is absolutely nothing wrong with two men or two women kissing openly and in public. But we are less than a generation away from earnest tabloid columnists debating the morality of such an act. Because somehow it was ick and possibly catching: young people might see and ask questions. Heaven forfend: they might even want to try it too!

We’ve come a long way since then as far as lesbian and gay tolerance is concerned and it is left to the Christian fringes to argue, as they still do, that ‘homosexualism’ is ‘part of the same moral degradation as fornication, adultery, pornography and pedophilia’.

The trans community is still lagging some way behind, as last week’s minor eruption over the introduction of non-gendered loos in a primary school provoked the proverbial storm in a ‘T’ cup, as some parents objected that their children were being made to feel uncomfortable for no better reason than political correctness gone mad – aka ‘fighting transphobia’.

And while that may sound like a lot of fury about nothing, the truth is this equation of non-standard with deviant and thus dangerous continues to harm trans individuals across the globe.

In the US, the simple right to use a bathroom of the appropriate gender is being fought tooth and nail by diehard Republicans and Christian fundamentalists, conjuring up visions of trans women as perverts and sexual predators.

Back in the UK, some 90% of trans teachers would not transition in job. They doubt they’d be allowed to, and would rather resign first. It is probably no coincidence that Lucy Meadows was a teacher.

Which brings us back to the beginning: a trial in South Africa, and an inconvenient admission as to bisexuality. It may or may not be relevant, in the end, that the accused had been with prostitutes. However, the gender of those individuals is wholly irrelevant.

As long as significant swathes of the public continue to think otherwise, it is a sad fact that LGBTI remains tolerated but as yet not fully accepted.