There are a couple of great articles that discuss bisexuality and pansexuality here on Queereka, and on Skepchick. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point to them first, before forging ahead with my own discussion on the topic. There is an amazing article on pansexuality by Heina Dadabhoy, and an amazing article on what not to say to your bisexual acquaintances by Dae.
One thing that happens when you do date different gendered partners, is that you gain and lose queer visibility, or “straight passing” privileges depending on who is sitting across the table from you on a date.
There are specific issues with perceived sexuality, when you aren’t straight or gay. In general your sexuality is perceived solely on the basis of who you are standing next to, at that very second. If you come back five minutes later with a person of a different gender, the perception of your sexuality will shift. Funny enough, this perception seems only limited to gay or straight. Bisexuality or pansexuality is like the Shrodinger’s cat of sexualities, in that for the population at large, their observation is was what matters in a very monosexual way.
This ability to fly under most people’s radar when you are in a “straight” appearing relationship has it’s benefits. You get to go grocery shopping, without being stared at when you snuggle in the cookie aisle. It means when you apartment hunt, you are just another married couple, and even if the landlord is a prejudiced ass, you won’t find out about it.
I have talked online with some transgender men that are straight, and have been a part of the lesbian community, about their feelings about losing queer visibility when they transition. For some transgender men, there is a real loss of community because as a straight man, they don’t fit the lesbian scene anymore. Yet, they are still the T, in the LGBT, and that loss of community is disconcerting.
I find myself on the opposite side of that, in that I have been married to the same man for 21 years, and now that I’m transitioning, I’m not just shifting the gender the world sees, but also my relationship status.
I have always been very fluid in my sexuality, but my husband is mostly straight. We joke he is just “gay enough” to stay with me and accept me now that my exterior is matching my interior. However, it does mean I accidentally made him gay for all intents and purposes in how we are perceived in public.
This changes a lot of things. Now, as two men, we can’t fly under the radar at all. People notice us holding hands, or showing affection because we are now so incredibly gay, when six months ago, we were another unnoticed straight couple.
For me, with my sexual history, this isn’t exactly new. Being from a small town, I remember the early 80s, and some rather dark incidents with being perceived as a lesbian because my girlfriends and I had the temerity of holding hands in public.
Now I live in a very progressive area, and often get smiles when my husband and I hold hands. Part of this is the geographical area, and part is that today is a good day to be gay. With LGBT+ rights being a discussion on the public stage, the world is finally coming around to accepting that we do exist, and it’s fine. Never before have so many folks lined up to give me supportive gestures, like telling us we are “cute together.”
For my husband, this is a first. At the age of 42, he gets to experience queer visibility in all it’s glory. Unlike a lot of us, he’s not had the benefit of the LGBT+ community to work out the kinks of his newfound gay persona. In fact, he never really thought he’d have a gay persona.
So how do you work out accidentally becoming very visibly gay? My husband is taking it in stride. He’s always been a staunch ally, and now finds his beliefs put into practice as he shakes out his own sexuality, and how it is that he’s still attracted to his “wife”, now that “she’s” his husband.
It has required some thinking. Do we continue to hold hands, and show affection, even when the cashier is scowling? Do we try to look like just roommates when apartment hunting? For us the answers shifts, mostly when he is worried about my safety. Being a giant, he’s never worried about his own. However, this queer visibility has really driven home for him, that there are sometimes situations where folks can be dangerous to us.
This ability to be visibly queer, or go incognito, is a characteristic of the more fluid sexualities. However, that doesn’t mean we are in straight or gay relationships. I identify as pansexual these days, with the option to find a more concise definition, and he’s got a touch of something he’s declined to identify yet. However, we are both very certain that neither of us have ever been straight or gay.
This shift means we will go publicly from being perceived as straight, to publicly being perceived as gay, though. Nowhere in there is the option to retain our sexual identities, because we are what people see the very second they see us.
This invisibility is part and parcel of being bisexual or pansexual, because public perception doesn’t include a convenient box for “accidentally gay”.
My partner experiences this as well, since I’m genderqueer and can look a wide varieties of ages and genders, depending. We have fun with it sometimes. 😀
I am queer, but have never had a long term relationship with another woman. One of the side effects of this, for me at least, is that I get people forgetting that I am not straight. Some people say really stupid things.