I Only Look Straight: What I Want You to Know as a Queer Woman in a Hetero-Appearing Relationship

Most of the world reads me as straight. I’m a feminine-presenting cisgender woman in a primary relationship with a cisgender man. This means that I move through the world with a sexuality that is widely misunderstood and often derided. So here’s what I want you to know, as your friendly neighbourhood straight-passing bisexual…

Being invisible isn’t actually a privilege

Something that bisexual or pansexual people in straight-appearing or opposite-binary-sex relationships often hear is that we have “straight passing privilege.” I won’t deny that there are elements of this that I sometimes benefit from – I never have to fear holding my male partner’s hand in public, or worry that we’ll be beaten up if we kiss in front of the wrong people. However, the bigger picture here is one of invisibility and erasure.

The assumptions made about my sexuality based upon who I am in a relationship with make me feel invisible. The idea that I’m “straight now” because I have a boyfriend, or that I would be “gay now” if my partner happened to be a woman, feeds into the biphobic trope that our sexuality is defined by what’s in our partner’s pants. Similarly, when I receive acceptance for being in a heteronormative socially-sanctioned (straight-appearing) relationship, I am hyper-aware that things might look very different if the person I’m with happened to be a woman. In other words, the acceptance I receive for superficially appearing straight is based upon a lie – because I am not straight. And I have to constantly weigh up whether or not any given situation is a safe place to “come out.”

There’s no such thing as a “Gold Star Bisexual”

I have a pin badge that says “Gold Star Bisexual.” It makes me laugh because it plays upon the (ridiculous and biphobic) idea of the “Gold Star Lesbian” – a lesbian who has never had sex with a man. However, many people unfortunately harbour the idea that in order to be a “Gold Star Bisexual” – or a real bisexual – one must have had sex with people of multiple genders.

Thing is, you don’t need to sleep with anyone to prove your sexuality. You can know exactly who you fancy without ever having had sex with anyone at all! The fact that I’ve had sex with men, women and non-binary people in my life doesn’t make me any more valid as a bisexual than someone who identifies as bi and has only slept with one sex… or someone who identifies as bi and is a virgin!

I don’t have to perform monogamy to prove anything about bisexual people

I happen to be in a consensually non-monogamous relationship – my partner and I practice both polyamory and swinging. We’re not hugely “out” about it to the world at large and tend to keep our activities on the down-low except where it feels safe, but time and time again I’ve “come out” about this aspect of my identity in queer spaces… only to be told that I’m playing into harmful stereotypes about how bisexual people cannot possibly be faithful.

I know plenty of monogamous bisexual people. I know plenty of non-monogamous gay and straight people. I know people of all sexualities who cheat, violate boundaries, break rules and betray their partners. Your preferred relationship structure, and whether you carry it out ethically, is nothing to do with sexuality! It’s not my responsibility to perform monogamy in order to give bisexual people a “better” image (who says monogamy is “better” anyway? It’s just a different and equally valid choice!) To suggest otherwise is respectability politics at its finest.

“Too pretty/feminine to be queer” is homophobic and offensive, not a compliment

I was once told (by a gay man, nontheless) that I am “too pretty” to be queer. I’ve also heard numerous times some variation on “you like girls? But you’re so feminine!” Thing is, these compliments are actually based on outdated, inaccurate and homophobic tropes. The notion of “too pretty to be queer” is based upon the idea that women who love women choose to do so because we are too unattractive to “get” a man. The idea that all queer women must be butch or present in a masculine way is based entirely on a harmful stereotype. Butch women, femme women, in-between women, and those who don’t ascribe to these labels at all can all be queer… and we’re all equally valid! Telling me I don’t fit your idea of what a queer woman looks like betrays an awful lot about your ignorance.

I need a queer community more than ever

Having to constantly choose between being invisible and possibly putting myself at risk by coming out is exhausting. I desperately need a space where I can be myself, be visible, and not fear  judgement as a result of my sexuality. This is why I go to Pride and why I spend time in LGBTQ spaces as often as possible. It’s also why the inevitable discourse that comes around at this time of year – “do bisexual people in straight-passing relationships belong at Pride?” – is so upsetting year after year after year.

So next time you’re in a queer space and see a couple who appear heterosexual, think twice before you decide they don’t belong there. One or both of them might be bisexual, pansexual, transgender, asexual or non-binary. You don’t know. And the best thing to do is not make any assumptions!

Photo by Jéssica Oliveira on Unsplash

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