As a bisexual ciswoman, pride in my sexuality has been important to me throughout my journey of coming out and being true to myself. As is so often the case, navigating my relationship with my sexuality has been a complicated process. With so little representation out there, it often felt like I had to carve out the path for myself. Fortunately, representation of the LGBTQIA+ community is growing more and more in popular culture, and it’s truly wonderful to start to see people who love and feel the way I do in TV shows and movies.
However, my relationship with my bisexuality has become even more complex given that I am now in a monogamous relationship with a cisman. I’m a queer woman in a hetero-presenting relationship (meaning it looks like I’m straight, in this heteronormative world), and that is a complicated situation to be in.
For one thing, I now experience a great deal of privilege within the context of my romantic relationship and its impact on my life. And when I talk about privilege here, I’m referring to systemic privilege that I experience as a result of being in a hetero-presenting relationship in a deeply heteronormative world.
I don’t mean I get extra brownie points or that my relationship is immune to flaws or criticism. What I mean is that there are no institutional barriers that prevent me from loving my partner the way I want to. I do not get second looks when I hold my partner’s hand in public; it’s never assumed that my partner and I are “just really close friends”; when I tell people I’m in a relationship, they use he/him pronouns for my partner and do not misgender him by doing so.
I never have to worry about whether or not our relationship will be viewed as valid and legal in the context of marriage or adoption; my healthcare providers are geared to provide me with the kind of sexual healthcare I need because everyone assumes that when I tick ‘sexually active’ it means I’m having heterosexual sex, and the list goes on and on and on.
It’s undeniable that these privileges exist as a result of me being in the hetero-presenting relationship that I am in.
However, I also experience a great deal of bi-erasure, because everyone assumes I’m straight. Bi-erasure is a concern for pretty much anyone who is bisexual because our world really likes clean labels that put people in distinct boxes. It is why bisexuality is so often dismissed as a ‘phase’. If you’re a bisexual man, you’re usually assumed to be ‘on your way to gay’. And bisexual women are ‘just experimenting’.
So, a bisexual person in a monogamous relationship is very seldom still seen as bisexual. Obviously, those of us who are in hetero-presenting relationships experience privilege in a way that bisexual people in relationships with people who are the same gender as them, and/or non-binary and/or trans people do not. One way or another, bisexual people are not really given the space to exist proudly in their identity when they are seen as being in monogamous relationships.
To show you what I mean, I’d like to unpack just one way that my sexuality has been consistently undermined while I have been with my partner:
The assumption is that I can hook up with other women and it’s ‘not really’ cheating.
This assumption is wrong on just so many levels. For starters, cheating is the disrespect and violation of your partner’s trust, and that is wrong regardless of anyone’s sexuality. My partner and I decided to be sexually exclusive, which means we don’t have sex with anyone other than each other. End of story.
Secondly, it is disrespectful toward bisexuality in general. The idea that me having sex with a woman is somehow not ‘as unfaithful’ as me having sex with another man implies that there is something inherently ‘less’ in sex between women. This links back to the harmful nature of assuming that penis-in-vagina sex is somehow the only kind of ‘real sex’ (you can read more about this idea in an article I wrote a few months back here.) To assume that having sex with a woman whilst in a hetero-presenting relationship doesn’t constitute cheating is inherently homophobic and there are no two ways around that.
Thirdly, it’s transphobic in nature, if not overtly then very much covertly. Because our ideas are so heavily rooted in cisnormative, heteronormative structures, when someone says that I could hook up with other women, they are almost always thinking of exclusive ciswomen. They aren’t even acknowledging that there are genders outside of my partner – who is a man – and the other people I could have sex with – who are women, which completely ignores and invalidates anyone who identifies as non-binary.
Also, again the idea revolves around penis-in-vagina sex being the only ‘real’ sex. As far as they are concerned, I can have sex with other women because it’s not ‘real’ sex, so it’s not ‘really’ cheating. As such, it’s assumed that all women don’t have penises, so if I’m having sex with other women, there can’t possibly be a penis involved. But if what they really mean is that I could have sex with other people who have vaginas, then they’re not really talking about women, they’re simply essentializing my sexuality to ‘penis or vagina’, not ‘everyone across the spectrum of gender’.
Being bisexual is an integral part of who I am, and it is not something that changes because of who I choose to love and be with at any point in my life. So, just in case anyone needs to hear it today, your bisexuality is valid, and you deserve to be respected and loved, regardless of what the world may assume about who you are and who you love.