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.