Written by Alex Neufeldt
The idea of writing this post came to me while reading the comments section of a youtube video by DailyXtra featuring my pastor Pieter. I was irked by the comments of people chastising him for his decision to remain married to his wife, Susie, calling him deluded and selfish. As a bisexual* woman, I am very familiar with having my relationships and identity policed and delegitimized for supposedly “not being gay enough,” or not performing queerness “correctly”. Thus, I was upset that the same thing was happening to Pieter in the comments section. Pieter and Susie’s marriage is an example of a Mixed-orientation relationship- a relationship wherein the partners do not share the same sexual orientation. There are many types of Mixed-orientation relationships, but the one that I will discuss in this post is the “straight-passing” relationship. A “straight-passing” relationship is a mixed-orientation relationship composed of a male and female partner, one or both of whom are queer*. The goal of this post is to demonstrate how policing queer people in “straight-passing” relationships is hurtful and can perpetuate systemic oppression. Words with asterisks beside them will be defined in a glossary at the end of the post. Without further ado, here are some pitfalls of policing “straight-passing” relationships:
- Erases queer people’s identities. Policing LGBTQ+ people in “straight-passing” relationships is effectively telling them that they are “not queer enough”, which erases their sexual identity. It’s also just nonsensical- if you were in a long-term relationship and broke up with your partner, does that suddenly make you asexual*? Of course not! (Unless you were asexual to begin with, which is a perfectly valid identity!) Relationship status does not define sexual identity.
- Misogyny. There is this pervasive notion, within and outside the LGBTQ community, that queer men who are in relationships with women are somehow deluded, or ‘missing out’. This notion stems from the misogynistic idea that women and femininity are inherently repulsive, undesirable, and inferior to men and masculinity. This notion of feminine inferiority, coupled with male sexual entitlement, creates the following narrative: If a man is not sexually attracted to women, or if he is attracted to other men, WHY ON EARTH would he choose to be with a worthless woman!? On the flip side, if a queer woman is in a relationship with a man, no one tells her that she’s deluded or missing out. In all likelihood, she will be applauded for fulfilling society’s gender expectations (or punished if she doesn’t- queer women are all too often victims of ‘correctional’ sexual assault, as a way of punishing them for not being exclusively attracted to men).
- Transphobia/cissexism*. The idea of “straight-passing” relationships is inherently cissexist because it assumes that we can tell someone’s gender identity simply by looking at them. Gender is a lot more complicated than outward appearance. You can read more about gender expression and identity here: http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/05/separating-identity-expression/
- Making ignorant assumptions. There are many reasons for which a queer person might be in a “straight-passing” relationship or marriage. Assuming that such a queer person is somehow deluded, selfish, ‘less gay’ or less oppressed than other queer people because of their relationship status is ignorant and hurtful. Maybe being in a “straight-passing” relationship is safer for them. Maybe…gasp… they love their partner and their relationship makes them really happy! (Incredible, right?!) If someone’s relationship is loving and life-giving for them (and even if it’s not), then it’s not your job to be judgemental or assume things about the nature of their relationship.
- Assumption of “straight-passing privilege”. There is a pernicious myth within the LGBTQ+ community that queer folks in “straight-passing” relationships are somehow less oppressed than, or have privilege over, other queer folks. This is untrue, because it assumes that LGBTQ+ folks in “straight-passing” relationships are just as safe as heterosexuals in relationship with each other. LGBTQ+ folks are vastly more susceptible to experience anxiety, depression, suicidality, abuse, intimate partner violence, addiction, and poverty (among other things) than the general population REGARDLESS of their relationship status! “Straight-passing” relationships can actually increase the likelihood of intimate partner abuse and mental health issues, so “straight-passing” privilege is completely a lie.
- Reinforces oppressive ideals. Policing people in “straight-passing” relationships reinforces the idea that there is only one way to be queer: by adhering to heteronormative* and cisnormative* relationship standards. The LGBTQ+ community should be working to break down these oppressive standards, not reinforcing them! Be queer in whatever way feels right to you!
Asexual: An asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who someone is. There is considerable diversity among the asexual community; each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction, and arousal somewhat differently. Asexuality does not make anyone’s life any worse or any better, they just face a different set of challenges than most sexual people. Asexuality is distinct from celibacy or sexual abstinence, which are behaviours, while asexuality is generally considered to be a sexual orientation. (Source: http://www.asexuality.org/wiki/index.php?title=Asexuality#Proposed_Models_and_Definitions)
Bisexual: Bisexual activist Robyn Ochs defines bisexuality as “the potential to be attracted, romantically and/or sexually, to people of more than one sex, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.” (Source: http://www.biresource.net/whatis.shtml)
Cisgender: is an adjective used to describe someone whose gender identity matches their body and the gender assigned to them at birth– in other words, someone who is not transgender, nonbinary, or intersex. Often shortened to ‘cis’. (Source: http://queerdictionary.blogspot.ca/2014/09/definition-of-cisgender.html)
Cisnormative: is the assumption that all, or almost all, individuals are cisgender. Although transgender-identified people comprise a fairly small percentage of the human population, many trans* people and allies consider it to be offensive to presume that everyone is cisgender unless otherwise specified. (Source: http://queerdictionary.blogspot.ca/2014/09/definition-of-cisnormativity.html)
Cissexism/transphobia: Cissexism is the belief that transgender people are inherently inferior to cisgender people. Examples of cissexist behaviors include dismissing transgenderism as a phase, mental illness, or cry for attention, or considering transgender people to be “freaks,” delusional, or sexual deviants. Cissexism is closely related to, but distinct from, transphobia and transmisogny. It differs from transphobia in that it is part of a system of oppression (comparable to racism, ageism, and sexism) whereas transphobia more specifically refers to a feeling of disgust or hatred (comparable to xenophobia and homophobia). The terms are, however, sometimes used interchangeably and tend to overlap significantly. (Source: http://queerdictionary.blogspot.ca/2014/09/definition-of-cissexism.html)
Heteronormative: is the belief or assumption that all people are heterosexual, or that heterosexuality is the default or “normal” state of human being. (Source: http://queerdictionary.blogspot.ca/2014/09/definition-of-heteronormativity.html)
Queer: Queer is an umbrella term. It includes anyone who a) wants to identify as queer and b) who feels somehow outside of the societal norms in regards to gender or sexuality. (Source: https://community.pflag.org/abouttheq)