Now you see me
This Bi Visibility Day, DIVA's Danielle Mustarde looks back at why having a boyfriend didn't make her any less queer...
Now you see me, now you don't...
One from the DIVA archives this #BiVisibilityDay 💙💜💗
My friend shuffles toward me in her seat. Her forehead wrinkles and her gaze drops as she opens her mouth to speak. “So, how does your boyfriend feel about you working at DIVA? Is he not, um, worried?”
She sips her coffee and tilts her head to the side, giving the impression that she’s actually a little worried about the prospect herself.
“Worried about what...?” I ask.
Of course, I know exactly what she means. That as a woman attracted to people of all genders, I might walk through those doors into the sparkling and sapphic realm of DIVA, lose all self-control and be gladly whisked into the bosom of the first woman I happen to meet. (Well, maybe...)
Jokes aside, the exchange got me thinking. People seem to care a lot about how my boyfriend is feeling. I’ve often had people – friends usually – ask: “And how does your boyfriend feel about you being bisexual?”
Yet I can’t remember anyone ever asking how I feel having a heterosexual, cisgender, male partner despite the fact that in a mixed-orientation relationship, there are two, often very distinct experiences.
Both my and his experiences are perhaps a little more exaggerated than usual as I often write on gender and sexuality, and although ours is not an “outwardly” LGBT relationship, I continue to be an active part of my local community. This does, however, have the potential to cause space between us. Not a rift, but definitely “space”.
If I’m attending an event or speaking to him about a piece I’m writing, he’s genuinely interested, but he doesn’t always get it. By contrast, with a female or non binary partner, it would be something that they were both inherently part of and invested in.
Of course, occupying different spaces within a relationship, or society more generally, doesn’t have to be an issue and I’m sure for a lot of people it isn’t. In fact, one big positive is that we can have much more balanced conversations about the world as a result of our contrasting perspectives.
Yet, being openly bisexual and in a relationship with a heterosexual man has meant that I’ve often felt both within and on the fringes of queer culture simultaneously.
It’s not that my identity itself changes as the gender identity of my partner does, but rather the complexities of relationships, and actually, the dynamics of the relationships with those around me.
Not just the way I’m perceived by someone in the street; friends and family move nearer or farther depending on the gender-composition of a relationship and, whether intentionally or not, you are perceived in another way as a direct result of that.
Even some of your nearest and dearest can treat you differently based on your current relationship.
My dad, for example, reacted very differently toward my first relationship with a woman than he had toward my first boyfriend.
For starters, where he was more than happy to acknowledge that my boyfriend was in fact, my boyfriend, he didn’t acknowledge my relationship with another woman until I made it unavoidable for him to do so, and actually, we had our first and only “real argument" to date as a result – although it must be said, wine definitely played a part.
Similarly, your friendship circles inevitably change. I spent a lot more time with other LGBT people when I was in an explicitly LGBT relationship. Luckily, this has more to do with the make-up of our friendship groups than any real “exclusion” by either straight or queer friends, something that others aren’t always so lucky to avoid...
Another phenomenon I’ve become explicitly aware of is heterosexual privilege. Having been in relationships with men and women there are certainly differences, and out of that, simply put, come both “advantages” and “disadvantages”.
If I’m out with my boyfriend, it would never cross my mind to do that moment’s scan of where we are and who’s around before holding hands, as I’ve definitely done in the past with a girlfriend.
My relationship is certainly “privileged” in that sense. But at the same time, I’ve also experienced what feels like the reverse. I was at a lovely, intimate event in Sheffield aimed at queer women recently — a film screening showing documentary shorts — and almost everyone had come along with a partner, but in that circumstance, I couldn’t bring mine.
I absolutely understand the reasons why it was a women-only space, but it still felt odd not having the choice to do so when a girlfriend would have most definitely been there with me.
In that sense, I don’t get that same enjoyment of sharing in being a part of the community and, more generally, unless you’re explicit about your bisexuality, it often just doesn’t occur to people that you might identify that way.
I’m an LGBT person in a non-LGBT relationship, and as The Bisexuality Report (2012) notes, “Bisexual people who are in monogamous relationships are more likely to be ‘invisible’ (due to sexual identity being assumed on the basis of their current partner)”.
And at work? Well, besides the occasional bemused: “But, I thought you were [insert gay or straight here]?!” I’ve been lucky so far to not have faced any major discrimination.
Yet, according to the same report, the workplace is where many bisexual people feel most discriminated against, despite UK legislation prohibiting discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in the workplace.
The report detailed, amongst other examples, instances of constant questions about sexuality in a work setting, fears around being recategorised as LG or heterosexual despite coming out as bisexual, no bisexual networks within organisations, and little support from employers.
One respondent reported the following, after she’d come out to her boss: “She seemed to treat me as a flake. Making little comments all the time about how I can’t stick at things, how I’m not a team player. One time she told me not to apply for a promotion because they wanted ‘someone loyal, who could commit’.”
Shocking as it may be to see it printed on a page, these kinds of attitudes and stereotypes surrounding bisexuality are still prevalent. Just last week I mentioned I was writing this piece to a friend whose immediate response went along the lines of: “So... threesomes?” (Really).
I have certainly in the past (and admittedly, on occasion still do) feel that momentary bout of “imposter syndrome” when turning up at an LGBT event with my boyfriend in tow, but it’s so very important to continue to be active within these communities and for people who, like me, are less visible then others, to be given space to have their say.
It’s important to continue to identify as bisexual, pansexual or queer, to keep reminding people that you can be in an mixed gender relationship and still fly that flag.
Although some may still feel that non-binary sexualities “muddy the water”, I say keep muddying it. Muddy it until there’s no need to replicate those hardened structures left in place by centuries of patriarchy and heteronormativity. Muddy it so that no one feels the need to label themselves. Muddy it so that the fluid and spectrum-like nature of sexuality (and gender) become the new norm.
This article first appeared in the June 2017 issue of DIVA magazine. (Danielle's current girlfriend will be glad to know).
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