Relationships: When Things Don’t Work Out

Hey, Cha-Cha here.

It’s been a minute, I know! Forgive me – this blog is very much alive, and for all the bi/pan/fluid people out there, keep sending me submissions! – I am checking it, I do get your submissions, and they will be up SOON. For new readers, see the “About” tab for the submission guidelines. 

Life’s been hectic, as it always is. So here’s a piece about relationships. If you feel so moved, give feedback and share in the comments. Or if you want – send me a post! /shameless.plug – on to the article! 


When Things Don’t Work Out

I think that because of the position that LGB* people are put in, as differing from the norm, as not right or desirable, at worst as evil, we tend to celebrate Things Working Out: Marriages Working Out, Protests Working Out, Lobby Days Working Out, Our Organizations Working Out, etc. Varying themes include Wins, Successes, Celebrity Moments. It’s understandable: in a society which places an “everything you are is evil / sinful / doomed to fail” onus over all our heads to one degree or another, we can’t just expose the horror stories of prejudice, discrimination and violence that we face for being who we are. Those of us interested in same sex partners also wind up pressured to show that being LGB can Work Out, that this Makes Us Happy, that This Is Okay, etc. That our lives can be good, fruitful, happy, loving.

In my experience, this “positive pressure” is especially true in the realm of Relationships Working Out.

And I’m not saying it’s bad to celebrate Things Working Out! Not at all. I mean, for the Record, Things Can Totally Work Out, everybody, they totally can, and frequently do, and thank goodness or there would really be no point for me at least, and all would be horribly depressing!

But what I have noticed is that the pressure to defy the increasingly vocal and scary bigots, from the God Hates Fags people to the slightly more politely worded Professionally Bigoted Politicians, to even in some cases our own parents and community,  can manifest as a weird pressure to grin and make everything okay.

When it comes to bisexuals, this pressure to show Things Working Out, in my experience, can be even worse.

This can manifest in a lot of different ways:

–  “See? I’m a real queer! See how great my relationship with my same sex partner is!” 

–  “See? It’s possible to be bi and be happy! Look how normal (read: good) my family with my opposite sex partner is!” 

–  “See? I’m not crazy / a slut / a bad person! Look how great my relationship with my six partners of various genders and orientations is, and on top of that, our pets love us!” (Alternatively: “See! I’m married and monogamous! I’m not one of those slutz! Accept me!”)

There are about 10 million variations on the theme.

But here’s the thing:

Nothing works out, all the time, for everyone.

Especially, relationships don’t always work out. This is true for humans generally, and I know this is gonna be a shocker, but it’s also true for bisexuals, pansexuals, and more fluid-sexual people.

But when it comes to our community, somehow, way more can wind up on our plates than the heartbreak of a relationship that’s just ending. And a lot of it has to do with how society at large perceives same-sex relationships, and on top of THAT, how both straight society and mono-sexual gay and lesbian communities perceive bi, pan, fluid people.

Recently, folks, I had a relationship not work out.

It happened to be with a same sex partner. It happened while I am still with my primary, opposite-sex partner. It happened with a person I don’t know too well. And it happened in a community where I am very spottily “out” – meaning, in some spaces, not in others, and the city is small and it feels like everyone knows each other. (I feel like “out in some places, not in others” is a theme in my life as a bisexual – blog topic for another day.)

In the spirit of exploring how a combo of homophobia, biphobia, and “positive pressure” contributes to break ups like mine being more uncomfortable and challenging than they would otherwise be, here are the things that happened to me when myself and this other person, also a woman, ended up having problems and not being together anymore:

– A lot of my straight, guy friends didn’t appear to understand what the problem was, that this was really painful, or that this was a serious thing at all. It took a lot of hard conversations to get certain men to understand that this was not a lesbian-themed porno-fantasy** they were watching, this is my actual life, and it actually hurts, and they should actually give a crap. In other words, that it was actually at least as big a deal as any other relationship painfully ending. I feel that this lack of understanding had partly to do with the fact that it was about two girls, but also to do with the fact that several of them knew I had a male partner. It was like I should be okay because (a) I still had one partner and (b) the underlying assumption that it was only about sex with her. The reasons for these assumptions are complicated, and this paragraph really only scratches the surface, AND it’s not intended to slander the men involved, who are good people with good hearts – none of us can know about what we haven’t been exposed to, especially in a society that pretty much relegates girl-girl relationships to fantasies for men. AND at the same time there was learning involved in this experience, and we are (mostly) closer for it – AND at the same time, I didn’t really sign up to be that learning experience, and kiiiiinda could have done without, coz I have a lot going on in my life. And I wonder if maybe, if I’d been more out, we would have learned sooner and been better prepared, as friends, for Things Not Working Out, AND there were all kinds of reasons why I didn’t want to be out. And all of these contradictory feelings are true, in the sense that I really felt them all, sort of all at once.

– More things I felt: that this experience was further confirmation that I am a fake queer – the fact that I couldn’t Make It Work with this woman.

– Experiences: A lot of folks called to ask if I was okay. They were overwhelmingly queer women and queer men, and also trans folks of various orientations. Their concern was touching, AND there were times if I wondered if my straight, cis friends… noticed… anything wrong. Or were they just afraid to say the wrong thing? I’ll probably never know.

– I felt insecure about being poly. Maybe it’s a lifestyle that can’t work out, I thought. Intellectually, I know this isn’t true. But emotionally, I feel colonized by ages and ages of one-person-oriented people giving me crap for being poly-oriented, and it all came up again for me.

– As a bisexual, I worried that my being poly is just contributing to the stereotype of us as “sluts” who “can’t settle down.” Again, my intellectual brain was like, “Oh stop, you are so far above this.” But emotionally, I’m not. I’m fighting internalized bi-phobia and internalized poly-phobia like so many others. It sucks.

– I worried my parents were right about me – that this is wrong, that I’m wrong, that I’m a cheater and a fake and just trying to be “different.”

– I felt terribly guilty about bringing my bad moods about the situation home to my primary. I thought, “if he were with a straight girl, this wouldn’t be happening.” I wondered if I should pretend to be straight again. I know that this won’t work… I’m embarrassed that part of me still wishes it would.

– From an LGBT-oriented relationship help hotline, I experienced a very nice young woman who clearly didn’t know what to do with me or my call. She kept sounding really uncertain. I have no idea what part of me was throwing her off, or if she was just having a bad day, but I hate having to wonder.

– I worried that I am just “bad for women.” What does that even mean? I don’t know. But the thought kept rolling around in my head.

– I experienced, from a lot of straight people, pretty much total disregard for the situation. It was like they just couldn’t believe it was so painful – I mean, I have a boyfriend right? Also girl-on-girl, nothing serious, and HAWT, right. I would get so angry, on top of everything, about this.

– From some straight people, mostly men, I experienced INCREDIBLE solidarity, respect, and support. From these folks, I learned what it would be like to be in a world where my orientation, relationships, etc, is truly nothing to bat an eye at, and when there are problems, we deal with them as a community.

This post, like so many of my posts, is not intended to be a Conclusive Statement On The Issue. It is definitely not to say I Was Right and somebody else was Wrong, or I’m a Victim, or anything like that. What it is, is a collection of thoughts and experiences, exploring the impact of “positive pressure”, biphobia and homophobia on the issue of relationships (and other things) Working and Not Working, and I think it gets written as much in the comments as it does on my computer. It’s definitely influenced by the fact that I’m a woman, that I’m cis, that I live in the communities that I do and have the background that I have – would love to hear from some people with different backgrounds than I have: is any of this similar, is it all different, how is it for you?

So what do you think, readers?

What have other bisexual, pansexual, fluid, omnisexual, + folks experienced, when things don’t work out?

* Transgender people can be of all orientations. While some of this article may parallel some transgender people’s experience (or maybe not), it primarily has to do with reactions and experiences based on my sexual orientation. As such, I felt funny adding “T” to “LGB” in this context, because transgender and cisgender have to do with ones gender identity, not with sexual orientation (ie, transgender people can be lesbian, gay, bi, straight, etc… just like cisgender people). I have a concern that lumping “T” in with “LGB” all the time sometimes creates confusion as to what “transgender” means, and sometimes winds up erasing the sexual experiences of trans folks… as tho there is “sexual” LGB and then this non-sexual  T “other”.  So, in this context, I didn’t add “T” to “LGB”, because LGB and for that matter straight should already be presumed to include transgender people as well as cisgender people. At the same time, I get that transgender visibility as anything other than bigot-heavy “tabloid stories” is, still, very limited in the mainstream, and it is important to create an alternative narrative that reflects transgender peoples humanity (so sad that this is still needed). I don’t want to erase the “T” in “LGBT”… but at the same time, I have concerns that lumping them all together, all the time, winds up making the “T” invisible, anyway. Would be curious about feedback on this, especially from transgender readers and writers. 


**  Not that there’s anything wrong with porn! I love porn! But it’s a delightful fantasy! And my life is real! With real, complicated, sometimes yicky feelings! To be processed! Okay!


5 responses to “Relationships: When Things Don’t Work Out

  1. Hey there

    Great article – lots of important points. As a trans reader (and writer!) I appreciate your commentary on the politics of LGB(T). From my perspective you’ve got it right, purely by considering it! I think both points you’ve made are really valid. My main contention with the LGB(T) thing is that people use it *thoughtfully*, by which I mean, if your organisation is for gay folk, you shouldn’t use B or T in your acronym just because that’s the most widely-used signifier for HERE BE QUEERS. Obviously the B is more easily included in the acronym, for example if you’re providing particular services for LG folk, those services might very easily apply to B folk as well. However, if you’re going to include T, in my opinion you need to seriously consider whether your organisation is equipped to deal with / receive / support / provide services to T people. If it doesn’t, either change that, or make it clear that it doesn’t by not using T in your acronym. That’s a huge problem, from my perspective, because so often places which have LGBT in their name have no idea what to do with trans/genderqueer people, and that can be like a double kick in the face. “I need help, I’m desperate – OH, here’s somewhere that can help! Oh no wait, actually they can’t.” Makes it worse.

    Sorry, I’ll stop rambling on now! That’s my twopence 🙂

  2. Hey thanks for the response! Yeah, definitely agree about thoughtfulness. It’s not helpful to advertise support, and then not be able to provide it. This also has the effect of preventing communities from recognizing a hole in the service net, and then starting a new org or writing a new grant to specifically fill it. When folks try to be allies casually, without examining what being an ally would actually mean and what actions (not just words) it would entail, more damage can actually get done to the community one is trying to ally with, I think. Good intentions can have bad consequences, and “but I MEANT to…” blah blah blah just isn’t good enough.

    I think there is another side to this, regarding the “B”… you’re right, I think that a lot of LG orgs can provide their services, pretty easily, to B, people, of the cisgender persuasion anyway. But I don’t think this means that they actually DO – ie, just because those services COULD apply doesn’t mean they ARE applied. For example, the hotline I called was an LGBT hotline, but I’m 90% sure it was the “B” and the poly that threw the person on the other end off. Bisexual people do have needs that are unique from L and G people, needs for understanding, extra needs to know we are safe given the history of biphobia in L and G communities, needs for someone who can keep track of it and not judge when we have multiple partners and “more than 2 adult” families, needs for workers who can recognize internalized biphobia and depression produced by suppression, workers with experience helping bi people get on track with their lives. While the physical health resources provided by many L and G organizations can be applied pretty easily to cis B people, I actually think that these other elements are frequently pretty lacking, and not addressed in trainings. So while T people may just walk in the door and realize that this organization, although it says “lgbT” on the door and on its grants, is not actually for them, (because of unavailability of certain services, ignorance, etc, stuff just not being on the menu in other words), I think when someone is B, the bi-ignorance and bi-phobia may not be immediately apparent. But it can come out when a B person goes for an applicable service, and that service is either not applied, or not applied in a way that corresponds to the reality of said B persons life. Simply because of prevalence, I would guess that this happens more at cis-oriented LGB orgs, but I can see scenarios in which it could happen to B trans people at transgender oriented organizations. Someone better experienced in that would have to school me.

    The most stark example of the “bi not apply” thing in health services, that I have found, is an assumption that being bi means I am less at risk for emotional health issues that impact queer people. It’s like, “oh, you’re only X percent gay, so you’re X percent less needy than these monosexual homosexual clients I have over here. You’ll be cool. Less attention for you, then.” It was a failure to see B as its own thing, with its own issues, and not as a “percentage” of L or G.

    I have also encountered the assumption that I am less at risk for HIV. This service gap frightens me. ALSO also, I am frequently not asked about herpes, or anything that I am at high risk for with unprotected sex with women (and MEN, for that matter!)

    With disease, what matters, of course, is what you DO, not HOW YOU IDENTIFY. But how I identify often appears to confuse service providers not versed in bisexual health, and leads to wrong assumptions about what I do, which become dangerous when that leads to lack of information and services provided. I usually gently correct, and assert which services I need. But what about those who can’t, or won’t, or don’t know what services they need?

    These physical health experiences have usually been at straight oriented places, while the emotional ones have often been at queer oriented places (I could be biased there, quite possibly I don’t even look for emotional support and straight-esque health spots anymore). But what does that say about our advocacy, as a queer community, that when I go into a straight testing spot they know what same-sex sex IS, but seem unsure what a “bisexual” is or needs? And this is “cisgender bisexual”, remember, as for “transgender and bisexual”, god, they wouldn’t have a damn clue.

    THOUGHTFULNESS, as you said. That is what’s missing under all these assumptions, I think more starkly for transgender people, and also for bisexuals generally of any gender. I think that when one advocates “thoughtfulness” for transgender people, it looks different than “thoughtfulness” looks for bisexuals, but there is a common theme here, an ask for a different way of thinking, for an end to these assumptions. As long as we are sensitive and don’t start assuming that these struggles are the same OR that there is no overlap (trans bi people do exist, after all!) I think there is a possibility for some real solidarity here.

    What do you think?

  3. While I don’t know you well outside the context of this blog, from what you’ve expressed, I think you are a smart, thoughtful, reflective individual whose love, affection, frustrations, moods, and sensitivities are worthwhile to consider in the context of any relationship with you, friendship, intimate partnership, or otherwise. Let me repeat that: YOU ARE WORTH IT. And we all appreciate you, so very much. The you that is present and willing to work at being bi, being poly, and representing with all your humanness and love and frustrations and moodiness how tough it is to be us, bi and poly and all of us along the spectra that somehow still fail to define us.

    Being smart and being reflective and being cerebral, however, has its limitations for me. The more I know, the more I discover that there is much I don’t know. All I know is what I feel. Because really, when we feel something deep, meaningful, resonant – we are nobody-but-ourselves. And, according to e.e.cummings, “To be nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

    Thank you for fighting.

    When I feel something for someone, it makes me scared, and it makes me angry for becoming so vulnerable, and if I’m already risking everything in terms of family relationships to be with this person, it upsets me when I feel that this person has the capacity to wound me deeply. So I put up walls. But I can’t help feeling the way I do about the very few special women who, despite my strong compulsion to date men, nonetheless attract me. Even though I’m mostly attracted to men, and even though I can “pass,” have been “passing,” and continue to “pass” as straight in my current relationships, the very few women who manage to break me out of the mold (of being like everybody else) are exceptional human beings, and I love them for the beauty I see within.

    So it doesn’t really matter to me if these human beings are male or female, whether we have a good sexual connection, or whether society cares to accept us. What really matters is what this special person does for me, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

    I recently went through a similar experience as you, and while I can’t know what it’s like to be in your shoes, analogy’s all we got… I do feel that I effed up, that we’re both a minefield of triggers and old hurts and that we’re wounded by childhood traumas, but I also feel that I wasn’t ready to engage in a relationship with this woman. I fell for her far too quickly and too deeply. In falling, I felt as Icarus must have felt – enlivened, enraged, and all sorts of “on fire.”

    And I still hurt to think about what could have been. But who knows? Maybe what will be, will be. And perhaps in the future, we can be who we are meant to be, apart or together.

    All I know is – she is not with me, and that’s sad. But, for what it’s worth, even if she doesn’t feel the same way, I will always care for her dearly, no matter what.

    I feel that it’s better to have truly loved, and lost, rather than to not have loved at all. And that’s really all I have to say about the matter – it’s not my business what other people think about me. But what she thinks about me matters more than I’d like to admit. And that hurts me and makes me vulnerable. But – at least I’m feeling, and good or bad, those feelings help me become the artist and the poet I’ve always dreamed of being. So in her own way, she’s helping me, be me. And I’ll always be thankful for her (short-lived, but luminous) presence in my life.

    Peace, QT

  4. Ah, this really hit home for me. I’m bisexual. Due to various conditioning I received when I was a kid, I’m also scared to death to be in a serious relationship AND to have sex without being in a relationship. This means that, since I was a teenager, I’ve had a very…strange, stop-and-start sex- and love-life that tends to defy common narratives. I basically operate by pushing through the fear for short bursts of time, going all out through whatever loopholes I can find and then going back to being celibate when my courage wears out. Over the last few years, I’ve done so many uncommon things with all kinds of people, with no regards to gender, but I’ve never done a lot of the common ones (e.g., I’ve been flogged in front of a dozen people at a sex party, giggling the whole time–my parents forgot to condition me about that :D–but at 26, I’ve never had “classical” PIV intercourse and the thought of it scares me to death). Sometimes I feel like a fake bisexual because I haven’t met most of the “typical” sex- and relationship-related milestones with either men or women. My own unconventional milestones don’t count. I can have all the all-women mutual-masturbation pajama parties I want. None of that earns me the gay half of my bisexual credentials in my mind, you know?

    When I tried to come out to my mother, at 16, she asked me, disgusted, how I could possibly know I was bisexual. She demanded to know if I’d had sex with a woman. No, I hadn’t. I still haven’t, according to the usual definitions. I feel like that disqualifies me from being queer. But then, I haven’t really had sex with a man either, so does that mean I can be bisexual again? But I haven’t had a real relationship with a woman, so…straight by default? But I’ve had a really intense long-distance “it’s complicated” thing with a girl I still love to pieces so…lesbian? I go back and forth like this in my head all the time. Ugh. I know I shouldn’t obsess over it, but I do feel pressure to be a model bisexual if I’m going to claim the title, like I should have exactly equal (and greater-than-zero) numbers of male and female sexual and relationship partners.

    Nothing in my sex- and love-life works out. That should just be proof of the fact that I’ve got some major hang-ups about love and sex (which I DO) but I always want to take it as proof that I am a Fake Bisexual.

    Oh, and good god, yes, have I encountered the “girl-on-girl, nothing serious” thing. I once had the following conversation with a guy at a sex party which was full of plenty of queer people:
    Him: You seem differently lately.
    Me: Well, I just got out of a long-term relationship, so…yeah, I guess I’m different. [This being the long-distance “it’s complicated” thing mentioned above. We worked things out.]
    Him: *sympathetic* Oh…well, fuck him, it’s his loss.
    Me: “He” was a “she”, actually.
    Him: OH MAN, HI-FIVE!

    He quite literally said that. He quite literally congratulated me for having a relationship with a woman. That it had ended (as far as I knew, at the time) was of ABSOLUTELY no concern. And this was, as I mentioned, at a very queer-friendly sex party where there were probably more LGBT folks present than cis, straight people. For god’s sakes, we had the conversation sitting on the bed of a woman who was in a super-committed relationship with another woman. I still boggle at the cognitive dissonance that must be going on in that man’s mind that he could be so disrespectful to me while simultaneously not going around and, I don’t know, pointing and laughing at the couples (threesomes, etc.) all around us.

    • A real authentic gay man

      Wow this blog was badly moralized, I mean ‘at least you still had one partner?’. How selfish of you!

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