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.

Getty
Show Hide image

The UK is dangerously close to breaking apart - there's one way to fix it

We must rethink our whole constitutional settlement. 

When the then-Labour leader John Smith set up a report on social justice for what would be the incoming government in 1997, he said we must stop wasting our most precious resource – "the extraordinary skills and talents of ordinary people".

It is one of our party’s greatest tragedies that he never had the chance to see that vision put into practice. 

At the time, it was clear that while our values of equality, solidarity and tolerance endured, the solutions we needed were not the same as those when Labour was last in power in the 1970s, and neither were they to be found in the policies of opposition from the 1980s. 

The Commission on Social Justice described a UK transformed by three revolutions:

  • an economic revolution brought about by increasing globalisation, innovation and a changing labour market
  • a social revolution that had seen the role of women in society transformed, the traditional family model change, inequality ingrained and relationships between people in our communities strained
  • a political revolution that challenged the centralisation of power, demanded more individual control and accepted a different role for government in society.

Two decades on, these three revolutions could equally be applied to the UK, and Scotland, today. 

Our economy, society and our politics have been transformed even further, but there is absolutely no consensus – no agreement – about the direction our country should take. 

What that has led to, in my view, is a society more dangerously divided than at any point in our recent history. 

The public reject the status quo but there is no settled will about the direction we should take. 

And instead of grappling with the complex messages that people are sending us, and trying to find the solutions in the shades of grey, politicians of all parties are attached to solutions that are black or white, dividing us further. 

Anyone in Labour, or any party, who claims that we can sit on the margins and wait for politics to “settle down” will rightly be consigned to history. 

The future shape of the UK, how we govern ourselves and how our economy and society should develop, is now the single biggest political question we face. 

Politics driven by nationalism and identity, which were for so long mostly confined to Scotland, have now taken their place firmly in the mainstream of all UK politics. 

Continuing to pull our country in these directions risks breaking the United Kingdom once and for all. 

I believe we need to reaffirm our belief in the UK for the 21st century. 

Over time, political power has become concentrated in too few hands. Power and wealth hoarded in one corner of our United Kingdom has not worked for the vast majority of people. 

That is why the time has come for the rest of the UK to follow where Scotland led in the 1980s and 1990s and establish a People’s Constitutional Convention to re-establish the UK for a new age. 

The convention should bring together groups to deliberate on the future of our country and propose a way forward that strengthens the UK and establishes a new political settlement for the whole of our country. 

After more than 300 years, it is time for a new Act of Union to safeguard our family of nations for generations to come.

This would mean a radical reshaping of our country along federal lines where every component part of the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions – take more responsibility for what happens in their own communities, but where we still maintain the protection of being part of a greater whole as the UK. 

The United Kingdom provides the redistribution of wealth that defines our entire Labour movement, and it provides the protection for public finance in Scotland that comes from being part of something larger, something good, and something worth fighting for. 

Kezia Dugdale is the leader of the Scottish Labour party.