Apart from a UK TV personality and possibly an actor (see I’m not researching this piece much) really I don’t know who Mariella Frostrup is. Oh ok, I’ll go and look her up.
So Mariella Frostrup, journalist and TV personality, apparently with one of the sexiest voices in the UK, wrote another “Dear Mariella” for The Observer/Guardian (according to the Guardian this appeared in both), and again tried to answer someone’s question about bisexuality.
It was an unmitigated disaster – again. I don’t know what qualifications Mariella has for providing relationship advice, but she should steer clear of the bisexual community because I don’t think she even comes close to understanding bisexuality or being able to respond to someone’s questions without indulging in gross biphobia.
This weeks’ column was titled, “Should I tell my fiancée that I’m bisexual and had sex with her dad?“.
And right off the bat, that’s a really difficult question. We haven’t even gone into the letter from the reader, who I’m going to call Neil for ease of reference. That question does however sum up neatly Neil’s question, and my answer would be, “Only if you feel safe to do so, and only if you’re sure your fiancée already knows that her dad is bisexual/not straight, because you really don’t want to out him without his permission either.
Biphobia is a very real thing, I write about it a lot, and it is perpetuated as much by straight people as much as it is perpetuated by gay and lesbian people. Biphobia doesn’t even have to be intentional, just like you can be unintentionally homophobic, racist, ablest, or sexist, you can be unintentionally biphobic, but when an entire community points this out to you, perhaps you should a) apologise and b) get educated. As far as I am aware, Mariella has done neither of these things – so she’s rapidly approaching knowing that she’s biphobic.
Let’s look at some of the incredibly problematic responses from Mariella. Her first paragraph is:
Are you for real? If so, life truly is stranger than fiction. The odds on such a coincidence occurring must be staggeringly high. Yet no matter how cataclysmic it now seems, this is really for the best. Entering into a marriage without a degree of honesty about who you are dooms the relationship to disaster from the outset. This isn’t just some little drunken overnight diversion, but a decade-long bisexual predilection that no doubt still exists. Surely your fiancée deserves to know the details of your sexual tastes?
First she starts up by doubting Neil’s experience. Neil met his fiancée’s father at a cruising location. There are not that many of them, queer people make up around 10% of the population, it’d be more surprising if Neil cruised and didn’t know his fiancée’s father if he also cruised. Particularly if they live outside main cities.
Mariella suggests bisexuality might be a “drunken overnight diversion” instead of a genuine sexual orientation.
Then she uses “decade-long bisexual predilection”. Predilection as in preference or special liking. Mariella claims that Neil has a preference to be bisexual, not that he is bisexual, that he just has a preference for it. You can have a preference for types of people, types of food, holiday destinations, political parties, music, etc, you don’t have a preference for who you are.
Also, to me predilection has negative connotations, it’s often used when referring to men with unacceptable (socially or legally) sexual preferences. Bisexual just is, it is not a preference, it is a person’s sexual identity.
Bisexuality also is not a “sexual taste”, it’s a sexual orientation. We know that Neil has been actively bisexual for 10 years, that most of his partners have been women versus men (which is not surprising as there are more straight than queer people), but does his fiancée “deserve” to know? That’s a really hard question to answer, and really it depends a lot on how safe Neil feels in his relationship. Yes he’s engaged, but there are many reasons why he may have become engaged and he may not feel safe about telling his fiancée everything about him. Honesty is good, but not necessarily at the risk of Neil’s safety.
You are who you are, and embracing a new lifestyle doesn’t render your past inconsequential. Are you so confident that you have been reinvented and that this chapter isn’t just on pause? There’s no reason for you to discount your bisexuality if you choose a partner who’s equally fluid about their sexual predilections or comfortable with yours.
At no point is Neil embracing a new lifestyle. Neil is bisexual, marrying someone does not make you a different sexual orientation. Only when someone says that their sexuality has changed does it change. Neil is not reinventing himself, he is committing to monogamy with his fiancée, that’s what people tend to do, regardless of their sexual orientation. People commit to relationships because it makes them happy.
If you really do care for this woman, she deserves to know the man she is marrying and to be allowed to make her decision about her future based on full disclosure. That doesn’t mean you need to focus on the details (such as the dalliances with her father), but you should fill her in her as delicately as you can on your previous sexual history. We live in far more tolerant times and there are plenty of people out there who wouldn’t see bisexuality as any barrier to a committed union. I can’t promise it won’t change her feelings toward you but that, too, may be a relief in the long term.
I think we can all agree, given that Neil is engaged to this woman and has referred to her as “the woman of his dreams” that he cares for her. Pulling the “if you really do care…” bullshit goes back to the stereotype of bisexuals being unable to commit, and unable to be honest – where the problem often is that honesty can lead to harm.
Despite Mariella’s claim that we live in “more tolerate times” and that “there are plenty of people out there who wouldn’t see bisexuality as any barrier to a committed union” it is fairly evident that she herself doesn’t see herself in that place. And to be honest, biphobia is a huge problem, I have heard too many stories of people being honest with partners and potential partners, and then that person being horrified and wanting to have nothing to do with them.
Mariella doesn’t offer Neil any comfort or practical solutions. She throws biphobic stereotype after bisexual stereotype at him and expects that that is all she has to do. She doesn’t suggest that Neil find the nearest bisexual community and talk to them about their experiences, and seek their support. She leaves him high and dry, suggesting that there is a moral high ground here that he should attempt to obtain regardless of his own safety.