Trimingham's loss is a victory for bi-phobia

The Mail's attacks on Carina Trimingham were unacceptable.

When Carina Trimingham lost her case against Associated Newspapers last week, the Daily Mail called it ‘a victory for press freedom’. It is actually a victory for a snide tabloid manipulation of subtext, manipulation of lingering sexual stereotypes, and for biphobia in the UK.  

Not only does this newly preserved press freedom make it perfectly OK to continuously invoke someone’s fluid sexuality as proof of their promiscuous, double-marriage-wrecking depravity, but specifically, in the case of Trimingham, to state that the reason her affair so devastated the wife of her lover, was “because [Trimingham] was a lesbian in a civil partnership, which is a public and legally binding statement of someone’s sexuality.” 

I didn’t realise that’s what marriage or civil partnership meant – an eternal fixing of your sexual orientation. I thought it was just a domestic arrangement thing, often undertaken for love, which may or may not contain an expectation of fidelity, depending on the privately agreed contract of the partners in question.  Nor that Pryce’s primary torturer wasn’t her husband of 26 years and father of her children, but the shape-shifting bisexual hussy that lulled Pryce into a false sense of security before snatching her man on a straight day. But while Trimingham’s bisexuality was decreed completely relevant to ‘the particular sense of betrayal’ she wrecked, in a column entitled ‘If the Daily Mail is homophobic, why on earth do I work for it, Miss Trimingham?’ Andrew Pierce (aka Institutional Gay Voice of Reason) explained why the paper couldn’t possibly be invoking malingering negative attitudes to those who refuse to lick only one side of the stamp: ‘[The judge] agreed that the words ‘lesbian’ and ‘bisexual’ are not pejorative, nor did we use them pejoratively. They were simply factual statements…what we expressed hostility towards was not her sexuality but her conduct” - that deceitful "bisexual" conduct that Pierce had already established was a particular betrayal.  If we as readers thought badly of Trimingham, that’s evidence of nothing but our latent biphobia, you understand, and nothing to do with the Mail’s relentless, undue referencing of her sexuality. And this, despite the fact that Mr Justice Tugendhot still conceded in his closing that: "The distress that [Trimingham] has undoubtedly suffered is the result of the publication by the defendant [Associated Newspapers] of the defamatory and true information concerning her”. Trimingham didn’t sue for defamation; probably because she didn’t trust the law to see the subtleties of how biphobia is perpetuated. The truth of her bisexuality, it seems, would only have got in the way.

After all, we all know what a decadent, rampant, out-of-control condition bisexuality is. If I had a quid for all the times I’d had a woman or man actively edge themselves and their partner away from me, been propositioned for a threesome, or badgered with a "could you just kiss my girlfriend? She’s really curious", being dismissed for not being ‘really into girls’ by gay women I’ve encountered, or asked "so what do you do when you’re in a relationship? Have the other on the side?", I could probably pay Trimingham’s £410,000 legal frees for her. But that’s just part of the switch-hitter’s privilege. As are all those voracious bisexual role models that litter literature, film and (specifically for women) lad’s mags, never running out of partners, only sometimes clean knickers. In recent years, I’ve started using "omnisexual" to describe myself, partly in a bid for inclusivity (I don’t think of gender as a rigid binary so who am I to exclude anyone who thinks that way too?) and partly because if my sexual orientation is going to get mocked anyway I might as well ham it up. Of course, this has only invited more anxiety, requiring my mum, streetwise university educator that she is, to call and ask if this included animals, and the Daily Mail itself to report on my "omnisexual" identity (with inverted commas) in a gossip column when I went to work for a conservative politics magazine a couple of years ago. Like it was "News", you understand.

What does the case of Carina Trimingham prove? Not only that the promiscuous bi stereotype dies hard, but that lack of commitment or respect for others doesn’t come into it when you’re bi - vacillating sexuality is the cause of, rather than the means for, disruptive infidelity – and the conservative faction of the LGBT community knows no better. As Harvard scholar Marjorie Garber put it: "Biphobia is based upon a puritanical idea that no one should have it all". Trimingham seems to have come away with very little, least of all her dignity. I hope she finds happiness with Huhne – and if she does, I await the Mail’s "Trimingham: straight all along” headline.

Nichi Hodgson is a 28-year-old freelance journalist specialising in sexual politics, law and culture.

Photograph: Getty Images

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.