Straight guy reveals how his bisexual girlfriend coming out opened his eyes to prejudice – and how he loves her all the more for it
James Matthewson, freelance tech and politics writer and parliamentary staffer, discusses the ways in which biphobia is rampant even in the LGBT+ community, and the ways in which this has taken a toll on his girlfriend, Lisa-Marie, who is bisexual.
I was 16 years old when we met, about to turn 17. She was 17 years old, about to turn 18, and we were at college.
Ten years later, we’re still together, stronger than ever, living in our fourth house together. We both knew pretty early on that we were in it for the long run and our creed from day one was all about honesty, openness and crystal-clear communication.
Easier said than done when you move into a flat together as teenagers, working two jobs each to make ends meet, accompanied by all the usual stresses that life, love and money can bring.
I had always felt confident and secure in my own sexuality and had no reason to suspect my partner, Lisa-Marie, felt any other way. We had grown up in a time when more and more people were coming out, but were still facing the indignity of playground bullying and the ritual childhood humiliation that made school an unbearable place for so many young people.
As a young, straight male, I didn’t give much thought to it and would myself freely use terms such as “gay” to describe any negative situation I encountered.
It wasn’t directly affecting me and so, I didn’t care about it.
However, since I had met Lisa-Marie my world had changed in many ways, I was more empathetic and cared generally about things more, I felt I had a stake in the future of the world and wanted it to be a nice place. Of course, I sympathised with the injustices faced by the LGBT+ community but did I fully appreciate them? No.
About three years into our relationship we continued having frank and honest discussions about the world and everything in it, it was then that I noticed whenever we spoke about sexuality there was something missing in her usual confident approach.
I could tell she wasn’t entirely comfortable. Further emotional conversations led to less of a confession and more of a realisation.
From a young age, Lis had been attracted to women.
She knew this deep down and forced thoughts of other women from her mind and she told me how her early teenage years had been plagued with late-night worries about being gay, what would happen if she was, what her life would be like and what her family and friends would think of her.
Because of this she had never told anyone, she never acted on her natural instincts, after all part of her was still attracted to men, but the word ‘bisexual’ never even came to mind, it wasn’t something she had considered outside the existing realms of gay or straight.
She would tell me that these thoughts and self-doubts played on her mind regularly and whilst pursuing heterosexual relationships she managed to suppress that part of her life and part of her identity.
Hearing all of this, I was shocked and surprised but above all else I was sad. How could the woman I love feel so ashamed of herself that she would have to suppress an entire aspect of who she is?
It broke my heart. As we kept talking about this over a period of weeks, I had a stomach-churning revelation, those throwaway comments at the back of the classroom, those thoughtless insults and playful jibes, all of the behaviour I classed as ‘normal banter’ had a devastating impact on millions of children in schools across the world.
It was reinforced in sex-ed classes and it was hammered home in the media, on television and in friendship circles. As a young woman with the world at her feet there was one undeniable fact she could not escape – if Lisa-Marie wasn’t fully straight, she wasn’t fully normal.
I never worried, I wasn’t concerned about our relationship or what this meant for us but I was angry at myself for being part of that culture and I felt that karma had finally paid me back in kind.
I was seeing the effect of my childhood actions and it was upsetting. Seeing my partner grow and accept who she is and what role her sexuality plays in her life was inspiring.
We became involved in LGBT+ rights campaigns and Pride events, but there was always something amiss. Being in a heterosexual relationship means people react to you in a certain way.
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At Pride events we were just ‘allies’ which never bothered me, but I could see the toll it was taking on Lis.
She was part of this community, but because she was in a heterosexual relationship, she didn’t get the same recognition and didn’t want to shout about her sexuality in every single social situation.
She started being honest, not only with herself, but with close friends. Then something surprising happened, several friends said the same thing, they had experienced the same feelings.
People we knew (who we had assumed were heterosexual because of their relationships) were now telling us they too identified as being bisexual, some polyamorous and others pansexual. It was like the curtain had been lifted on a hidden society, living in obscurity.
For me it was fascinating and I am still incredibly proud to see my partner fully embrace who she is. I’ve had friends ask if it makes me feel ‘insecure’ or ‘worried’ often using the prevailing tropes of bisexual people as being promiscuous or ‘greedy’.
But I realised that the more I opened up, the more others would too and if this experience could change my perspective perhaps it could change others.
There are still many frustrations faced by bisexual people in heterosexual relationships and many of our assumptions and attitudes can cause discomfort that we aren’t even aware of, but as I decided to write this piece with her guidance and support, I asked Lisa-Marie if she thought things could change and her words made me realise they can.
“Just by speaking out, being honest and learning to love ourselves, anyone can change anything.”