Question from the search terms: “do nb people have straight privilege”?

This question popped up in my search terms last month:

do nb people have straight privilege?

The quickest answer to this question is that for the most part, no, non-binary people don’t have straight privilege. The reason for this is that most non-binary people aren’t straight to begin with (I don’t know any non-binary people who identify as straight, but I’m sure some exist!), and you can’t have straight privilege if you aren’t straight!

Non-binary people may, however have access to what’s called straight-passing privilege, which is a much more complicated thing, and I am somewhat dubious about calling it privilege at all.

Straight-passing privilege is concept that’s relevant to any couple that, when out in public, appears to be a straight couple, even though one or both of the people in that couple may not be straight. So straight-passing privilege is highly relevant to bisexual and pansexual people (who are very often in hetero relationships), as well as to some non-binary people (and some of the people who date us!)

The reason straight-passing is sometimes referred to as a privilege is because it does allow some LGBT people to benefit from some aspects of straight privilege. Bi people in hetero relationships can get married to their partners pretty much anywhere, while bi people in relationships with people of the same gender can’t (the situation is more complicated for ‘straight-passing’ couples with at least one non-binary/trans person in them though). Straight-passing couples of all kinds can be pretty sure they’re not going to have to deal with anti-LGBT harassment, while couples or individuals that are visibly LGBT are inherently at risk whenever they are out in public. These sorts of things are the trappings of so-called straight-passing privilege.

But the thing about being straight-passing is it’s a double-edged sword – the flip side of a straight-passing person’s (potential) greater safety and access to legal recognition of their relationship is the fact that, by virtue of being straight-passing at all, that person’s actual identity (and their history of marginalization due to that identity) is erased.

To be straight-passing is to be, in some respects, invisibilized. To be straight-passing is to be invalidated in your actual identity. The fact that bisexual people’s orientation is so often over-written by our current relationship status is, in fact, blatant bisexual erasure. It’s a symptom bisexual people’s oppression, and so to call it ‘privilege’ is extremely questionable.

The same argument applies to non-binary people here – if people think I am straight because they perceive me to be a woman, and because my partner is a cis man, that’s not a privilege; that’s just me being misgendered. ‘Privilege’ that only exists as long as someone is making incorrect assumptions about who I am is not really privilege at all, as far as I’m concerned.

So, again, the TL;DR here is a resounding “No, nb people do not, (in general) have straight privilege“. We are sometimes extended some of the benefits of straight privilege by people who have misread who we are, but this ‘privilege’ is only available to us at the cost of hiding our identities.


  1. Do you think single people ever have straight-passing privilege, or is it the same thing? Like you know, say a femme lesbian or someone gender conforming enough to be easily assumed straight even if they aren’t. Like me, a cis woman who presents pretty femme but it’s actually asexual and somewhere between panromantic and aromantic…. :P

    I know this invisibility and erasure is hurtful to most of us, bisexual folks are not better off psychologically than gay or lesbian folks, etc…

    It’s always a complicated issue to address though.

    1. Oh, interesting question!

      I kind of feel like this is is just another aspect of heteronormativity for the most part – basically everyone is assumed to be straight unless they actively work against that assumption (and even then, most people are really bad at picking up on those clues), so to call that a privilege seems kind of silly? Actually being straight is a privilege in part *because* of this assumption – you never have to correct people or explain yourself – so when it happens to people who aren’t straight, I wouldn’t call that a privilege really. Just a thing that happens to everyone sometimes.

  2. Interesting topic. I look forward to hearing other people’s take on it too. I did a binary transition and now my partner and I are perceived as a straight couple and that definitely erases my transgender identity and her lesbian identity, but brings with it a lot of invisibility and freedom we haven’t been able to enjoy in the past. We see pros and cons to it but I do feel like we get privileges now that we didn’t use to receive when we were perceived as a lesbian couple. Personally, I do identify as straight now ( I guess, don’t really think about it much.) so it doesn’t bother me but my partner has very mixed feelings about it.

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