I find 'passing privilege' really difficult to talk about. On one hand, it does give me access to privileges and acceptance that non-passing people do not get but on the other hand, those privileges are conditional on me keeping myself closeted.
There is a gulf between 'passing' and being accepted. Passing is explicitly being accepted on false pretences. I have a male partner, I look pretty heteronormative and people read me as straight. My alleged straightness is not a lie I am telling. it is their stupid assumptions that bisexuals don't exist, a woman partnered with a man must be straight and that there is a queer 'look' that can be easily identified. Either I am constantly outing myself or I am being constantly pushed back into the closet.
Am I to blame when people make false assumptions about me? Where is the line between accepting that people will mis-label me and taking advantage of that mis-labelling? How soon do I need to out myself to avoid being considered 'deceitful' and 'untrustworthy'? (It is no coincidence that these are negative stereotypes of bi people!) How much should I do to make myself look queer in straight people's eyes, even if it doesn't feel comfortable for me? It is really difficult to avoid blaming myself for people's homophobic & biphobic assumptions about me, my appearance, my relationship, my queer identity. It is difficult to avoid internalising the belief that I am not queer enough, not brave enough, not honest enough.
Passing as straight gives some conditional privileges in straight, mainstream society, (even if it is not true acceptance) but it can lead to rejection and harrassment in LG communities unless I choose to 'pass' as lesbian, closeting myself again. The assumption is that because I pass in straight communities, I do not need queer community and I am greedy for expecting the community to include me. But I am NOT fully, genuinely accepted in either community and two half-hearted welcomes do not add up to a community where I can feel safe and respected. 'Passing privilege' can be used to blame bisexual people for their own oppression, unless they meet a set of shifting, unstated requirements - looking queer enough, being out enough in straight spaces but not too out in LGBT ones, having an appropriate sexual CV to demonstrate our queerness.
And yet ... I took my time coming out to my family and it didn't get questioned because I had this convenient male boyfriend to bring home for the holidays. I can talk about my partner at work without playing the pronoun game. My appearance fits a norm and that gives me some protection against harrassment by randoms. Passing has brought me some privileges and I have been able to avoid internalising some of the negative effects because I have access to a bisexual community. This has helped me identify and fend off bi-erasing microaggressions from straight and LG(bt) communities.
Some people have a worse experience and are marginalised in both straight and LG(bt) spaces. I am pretty convinced that this experience of dual marginalisation is the underlying cause of the horrifying statistics about bisexual people's mental health problems, experience of violence and reluctance to be out. Being constantly isolated and undermined is destructive and that experience is emphatically not a privilege.
I approach the issue of passing privilege from a quite defensive posture in two different ways. I think that people mistake 'passing' for acceptance and therefore dismiss the way passing harms us. On the other hand, I have not experienced much direct oppression myself and I am wary of 'playing the victim' by claiming to be more oppressed than I am. I suspect being relatively privileged on other axes plays into that defensiveness - I don't want to ignore those factors.
I do think that there are actual benefits to passing and I think they make life easier for people who can pass. For example, I work with a homophobe and I am not out so it does not affect our working relationship. My friend is a non binary trans woman who does not pass as cis - she could not work with him in the same way because she does not pass as straight even for a minute. Feeling erased is NOT as bad as fearing for my job. Not outing myself to a homophobe is a choiceI can make. It is not a uniquely bisexual thing and it does not make me responsible for his homophobia (he is a twat) but it does benefit me.
However, it strikes me that I have viewed passing privilege as a specifically bisexual issue because I have seen it used to undermine and exclude bi people. However, the same criticism (of 'taking advantage' of passing) would apply to any queer person who is ever mis-identified and does not immediately correct that identification. Holding bisexuals *more* accoubtable for that than monosexuals is another way of saying we are only conditionally welcome.
(This post was previously published in Purple Prose, edited by Kate Harrad (http://thorntreepress.com/purple-prose/
), which is a collection of interviews, essays, poems and commentary, written for and by bi people in the UK.