Being Queer in a Straight Passing Relationship

My queerness is a fundamental part of who I am and how I see myself, and this Pride Month is the first in many years that I’ve been questioning my identity. That is not to say that I’ve been questioning my sexuality, but rather how my sexuality is no longer one of the most obvious or loudest parts of my personality to other people. I’m not alone in this situation, as it has been found that 84% of bisexual people can find themselves in straight-passing relationships.

When I was in sixth form, my friend group was made up of an array of people with different sexualities and genders. Being queer, in any way, was the norm, and we all celebrated our identities with, well, pride. We were almost stereotypical: pixie cuts, undercuts, colourful hair, denim jackets, and rainbow patches. If a straight person was asked to draw the gayest group of seventeen-year-olds they could think of, we were it. We had rainbow flags in our room, and our Facebooks were plastered with pictures from Pride. My first experience of young adulthood was completely interwoven with not being straight. 

During my first year, in Drawing Board no less, I ended up chatting to a guy who has since become my long-term boyfriend. Dating a man hasn’t changed my sexuality or my identity, but at some point, it changed the perception that strangers and new people have of me. I don’t still wear my teenage denim jacket of pins and badges, and I’ve grown out my bleached pixie cut into long natural hair. I didn’t stop to think until recently that my appearance didn’t outwardly scream queer anymore, and if I didn’t tell people my identity in some way, they would nearly always assume I was straight, because, well, I didn’t “present as queer”. It was only when talking about a trip with an ex-girlfriend that a bisexual uni friend of mine was shocked as he’d “always presumed I was straight”. Please cue the identity crisis now. 

Despite being the same person, my experience as a queer person has changed since being in a straight-passing relationship. Despite my sexuality, participating in queer events somehow feels wrong due to my straight-passing privilege. Unlike before, where Pride events were where I felt most open and comfortable in my identity, I worry now that as I face fewer challenges when in public with my boyfriend than with an ex-girlfriend that I am somehow less deserving to attend Pride, or that I may be less welcome. I know logically that this is ridiculous, but in cases of large-scale Pride events that are ticketed and logistically limited to the number of attendees, I fear that my attendance would take the opportunity away from someone who needs that community and support more than I would. If a friend of mine were to come to me with these worries, I would be the first to push how every LGBTQ+ person is welcome at Pride, and dating a cis person of the opposite gender does not disqualify anyone from Pride. Yet I still worry. I think it is primarily due to the fact that my experience of Pride was always celebrating overcoming adversity, showing our love for our partners, our friends, and our community. Whereas now, I am aware of my straight-passing privilege and I am safe to celebrate my relationship and my friends all the time, as we have not faced adversity to be who we are. 

During my current relationship, homophobia has become more visible to me. Somehow, as I haven’t been a target for homophobia for a while, I notice how common and horrific incidents of homophobia were in my last relationship as well as how we dismissed it as ordinary and unavoidable. I am able now to walk in town with my boyfriend without being stared at or having homophobic slurs screamed at us, or literally being spat on (which actually happened more than once), which made me notice the privilege that I have gained by dating a man. Especially since nothing has changed about me except the person I was holding hands with, but my day to day experience has changed vastly when looking at safety and respect from strangers. 

Unfortunately, homophobia has become more visible in another way for me too. I have found myself in conversations with people who didn’t know my sexuality and freely used slurs and homophobic language to talk about people or LGBTQ+ issues, because they thought it was “safe and okay” to do so if everyone there was straight. This was an entirely new concept that I had not experienced in an almost entirely non-straight friend group before university, and I was genuinely baffled by the apparent normalcy of homophobia if it was believed that there was no one around who would be offended. I’ve been put in a position to speak out and point out homophobia in conversations and express that even if you’re not talking to someone who you know isn’t straight, it isn’t okay and shouldn’t be normalised.

Because of this, I, like many other queer people, have to “come out” over and over again, in conversation, when telling stories that involve exes, when talking about my personal views or experiences, and many other times. There is a persistent assumption that people are straight until they choose to reveal otherwise, and this is not even questioned if you are a cis female dating a cis man, even though there are multiple sexualities that cover being attracted to more than one gender. When coming out to new people, again and again, I’ve found that sometimes my identity can be trivialised or disregarded. When talking about my ex-girlfriend I’ve had our relationship dismissed as experimentation or as an attempt to come across as “quirky” (yes, actually a quote), rather than as a significant past relationship with a person who is important to me. In addition, people have told me that calling myself queer or insinuating that I’m not straight whilst dating a man is rude or offensive to my partner. I can understand why it has been found that bisexual people face unique pressures in the LGBTQ+ community including increased risk of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and even self-harm and suicide.

Being queer in a straight-passing relationship has offered me privilege and safety from directed homophobia, but unfortunately, this “privilege” has become invisibility, or a method that erases my identity from people’s immediate perception of me which makes me feel like I have to consistently make an effort to just be myself. 

Featured Image | Peter Salanki