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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Who will win in Copeland? The Labour heartland hangs in the balance

The knife-edge by-election could end 82 years of Labour rule on the West Cumbrian coast.

Fine, relentless drizzle shrouds Whitehaven, a harbour town exposed on the outer edge of Copeland, West Cumbria. It is the most populous part of the coastal north-western constituency, which takes in everything from this old fishing port to Sellafield nuclear power station to England’s tallest mountain Scafell Pike. Sprawling and remote, it protrudes from the heart of the Lake District out into the Irish Sea.

Billy, a 72-year-old Whitehaven resident, is out for a morning walk along the marina with two friends, his woolly-hatted head held high against the whipping rain. He worked down the pit at the Haig Colliery for 27 years until it closed, and now works at Sellafield on contract, where he’s been since the age of 42.

“Whatever happens, a change has got to happen,” he says, hands stuffed into the pockets of his thick fleece. “If I do vote, the Bootle lass talks well for the Tories. They’re the favourites. If me mam heard me saying this now, she’d have battered us!” he laughs. “We were a big Labour family. But their vote has gone. Jeremy Corbyn – what is he?”

The Conservatives have their sights on traditional Labour voters like Billy, who have been returning Labour MPs for 82 years, to make the first government gain in a by-election since 1982.

Copeland has become increasingly marginal, held with just 2,564 votes by former frontbencher Jamie Reed, who resigned from Parliament last December to take a job at the nuclear plant. He triggered a by-election now regarded by all sides as too close to call. “I wouldn’t put a penny on it,” is how one local activist sums up the mood.

There are 10,000 people employed at the Sellafield site, and 21,000 jobs are promised for nearby Moorside – a project to build Europe’s largest nuclear power station now thrown into doubt, with Japanese company Toshiba likely to pull out.

Tories believe Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on nuclear power (he limply conceded it could be part of the “energy mix” recently, but his long prevarication betrayed his scepticism) and opposition to Trident, which is hosted in the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness, could put off local employees who usually stick to Labour.

But it’s not that simple. The constituency may rely on nuclear for jobs, but I found a notable lack of affection for the industry. While most see the employment benefits, there is less enthusiasm for Sellafield being part of their home’s identity – particularly in Whitehaven, which houses the majority of employees in the constituency. Also, unions representing Sellafield workers have been in a dispute for months with ministers over pension cut plans.

“I worked at Sellafield for 30 years, and I’m against it,” growls Fred, Billy’s friend, a retiree of the same age who also used to work at the colliery. “Can you see nuclear power as safer than coal?” he asks, wild wiry eyebrows raised. “I’m a pit man; there was just nowhere else to work [when the colliery closed]. The pension scheme used to be second-to-none, now they’re trying to cut it, changing the terms.”

Derek Bone, a 51-year-old who has been a storeman at the plant for 15 years, is equally unconvinced. I meet him walking his dog along the seafront. “This county, Cumbria, Copeland, has always been a nuclear area – whether we like it or don’t,” he says, over the impatient barks of his Yorkshire terrier Milo. “But people say it’s only to do with Copeland. It ain’t. It employs a lot of people in the UK, outside the county – then they’re spending the money back where they’re from, not here.”

Such views might be just enough of a buffer against the damage caused by Corbyn’s nuclear reluctance. But the problem for Labour is that neither Fred nor Derek are particularly bothered about the result. While awareness of the by-election is high, many tell me that they won’t be voting this time. “Jeremy Corbyn says he’s against it [nuclear], now he’s not, and he could change his mind – I don’t believe any of them,” says Malcolm Campbell, a 55-year-old lorry driver who is part of the nuclear supply chain.

Also worrying for Labour is the deprivation in Copeland. Everyone I speak to complains about poor infrastructure, shoddy roads, derelict buildings, and lack of investment. This could punish the party that has been in power locally for so long.

The Tory candidate Trudy Harrison, who grew up in the coastal village of Seascale and now lives in Bootle, at the southern end of the constituency, claims local Labour rule has been ineffective. “We’re isolated, we’re remote, we’ve been forgotten and ignored by Labour for far too long,” she says.

I meet her in the town of Millom, at the southern tip of the constituency – the opposite end to Whitehaven. It centres on a small market square dominated by a smart 19th-century town hall with a mint-green domed clock tower. This is good Tory door-knocking territory; Millom has a Conservative-led town council.

While Harrison’s Labour opponents are relying on their legacy vote to turn out, Harrison is hoping that the same people think it’s time for a change, and can be combined with the existing Tory vote in places like Millom. “After 82 years of Labour rule, this is a huge ask,” she admits.

Another challenge for Harrison is the threat to services at Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital. It has been proposed for a downgrade, which would mean those seeking urgent care – including children, stroke sufferers, and those in need of major trauma treatment and maternity care beyond midwifery – would have to travel the 40-mile journey to Carlisle on the notoriously bad A595 road.

Labour is blaming this on Conservative cuts to health spending, and indeed, Theresa May dodged calls to rescue the hospital in her campaign visit last week. “The Lady’s Not For Talking,” was one local paper front page. It also helps that Labour’s candidate, Gillian Troughton, is a St John Ambulance driver, who has driven the dangerous journey on a blue light.

“Seeing the health service having services taken away in the name of centralisation and saving money is just heart-breaking,” she tells me. “People are genuinely frightened . . . If we have a Tory MP, that essentially gives them the green light to say ‘this is OK’.”

But Harrison believes she would be best-placed to reverse the hospital downgrade. “[I] will have the ear of government,” she insists. “I stand the very best chance of making sure we save those essential services.”

Voters are concerned about the hospital, but divided on the idea that a Tory MP would have more power to save it.

“What the Conservatives are doing with the hospitals is disgusting,” a 44-year-old carer from Copeland’s second most-populated town of Egremont tells me. Her partner, Shaun Grant, who works as a labourer, agrees. “You have to travel to Carlisle – it could take one hour 40 minutes; the road is unpredictable.” They will both vote Labour.

Ken, a Conservative voter, counters: “People will lose their lives over it – we need someone in the circle, who can influence the government, to change it. I think the government would reward us for voting Tory.”

Fog engulfs the jagged coastline and rolling hills of Copeland as the sun begins to set on Sunday evening. But for most voters and campaigners here, the dense grey horizon is far clearer than what the result will be after going to the polls on Thursday.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.