By Miki Perkins
It was acbout a year after they got married that her husband came home, very upset. He’d realised he was bisexual and attracted to men, he told her. At first Rebecca Dominguez felt hurt, because James hadn’t been honest with her.
But the news itself, she told him, was not bad. After all, she also felt attracted to women: “To have been angry would have been incredibly hypocritical of me.”
So they had series of long conversations about trust and safety. She wanted to know when he was going out late to meet someone, and when he was home safely. “What if he hooked up with an axe-wielding maniac?”. They talked about safe sex, and how to avoid sexually transmitted infections and HIV.
Now, 20 years on, they are still married and live in the Melbourne suburb of Fawkner. They both still identify as bisexual, and polyamorous, and also share their home with James’ male partner and Rebecca’s male partner.
All four get on well and have similar interests. Last week they collaborated on a surprise birthday party for James. Often, it’s when they are all in their study/computer room that relationship issues get addressed. “We can just swivel around in our chair and talk to the relevant person,” says Rebecca.
“To have been angry would have been incredibly hypocritical of me”, Rebecca Dominguez
Better fathers and lovers
The lives of women in relationships with bisexual men are the focus of new research from Deakin University, published in a book: Women in Relationships with Bisexual Men: Bi Men By Women.
The 80 women interviewed were, or had been, in relationships with bisexual men. Some were monogamous, some were “open” or polyamorous, and there was a mix of marital and de-facto relationships.
About half of the women interviewed viewed their relationship in a positive light, and the other half were unhappy with their experience, says researcher Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli.
Negative stereotypes about bisexual men abound, she says. These include that they are “untrustworthy” and have secret affairs, are actually gay men unwilling to “come out of the closet”, or transmit STIs or HIV to their female partners.
“We need to lift the stigma for women who choose to be in relationships with bisexual men. They say bisexual men actually make better fathers and lovers”.
Bisexual men had often grappled with their own ideas of masculinity and came with less “baggage”, interviewees told her. They wanted equitable relationships with their female partners, and were supportive of them exploring their own sexuality.
But one third of the women interviewed felt they had little control over their relationship. Many had discovered their male partner was having sex with other men by accident – discovering condoms in a pocket, for example – and felt their partner’s bisexuality was being imposed on them.
And while they felt angry, many also said they wished society was open-minded enough that their husband had felt able to talk to them about it.
Some women experienced discrimination in both the heterosexual and LGBTI worlds because their relationships were considered “wrong” to both, says Dr Pallotta-Chiarolli.
The way society still classifies sexuality can be problematic, she says. Some people fit comfortably into binaries but others don’t.
Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli’s co-researcher, Sara Lubowitz, has been married to a bisexual man for 30 years and has done some research on the subject which ended up in a book. Their relationship has been monogamous, apart from some early casual sexual encounters at ’80s dance parties.
Being open and honest with each other about finding other people attractive made all the difference she said. “That would be true for anyone’s relationship: if there is honesty then no one gets hurt, right from the beginning.”
Rebecca Dominguez is now the president of the Bisexual Alliance Victoria, and says she fights to make bisexuality more prominent in the LGBTI community, where it often gets forgotten or ignored.
She is open with colleagues, friends and family about her polyamorous relationships. Most people just tell her they’re glad she’s happy. A few friends have never spoken to her again.
It’s important for people who are bisexual to be able to describe themselves in that way, even if they are in a monogamous, hetero relationship, she says.
“Being free to say you feel that attraction, even if you don’t act on it, is part of who you are”