Bimisia was at the heart of this shocking legal case.
Spoilers are contained within this article.
The Staircase is the latest Netflix crime documentary series that has caused a stir. At the heart of the story, Michael Peterson stands trial for the murder of his partner. The documentary follows the initial trial, conviction, appeal and plea deal that is finally reached. It spans a journey that takes fifteen years.
While the trial is interesting, the framing of the case against Peterson quickly grows alarming. Facts and reasonable doubt are set aside due to his character. His character is presented as untrustworthy. Why? Because he is a bisexual author.
The trial became focused upon Peterson’s sexuality. His relationships with men were scrutinised, including his decision to reach out to one man to try to arrange a meeting where he would pay for sex. What this has to do with his wife’s death is never made clear, but it’s viewed as salacious enough that it should be allowed at trial to throw doubt on Peterson’s character.
“The trial became focused upon Peterson’s sexuality”
Peterson claimed his wife, Kathleen, knew about his bisexuality and that he would have sex with other men. He said that his relationship was still happy and that it didn’t impact it whatsoever. Yet, everyone else from the prosecution and potentially the jury were told that this was an unbelievable situation and an amoral relationship which could culminate in murder specifically because Kathleen was presented as accepting polyamory and bisexuality.
After Peterson’s appeal, the judge admitted that perhaps certain evidence around Peterson’s evidence should not be allowed at a potential re-trial as it could prejudice a jury. The myths about bisexuality still prevail in society. Peterson embodies them. To be bisexual is to be doubted, mistrusted and to experience constant suspicion that somehow you are harbouring something horrid, and something evil.
Bisexuality is a valid sexuality, and is not amoral or immoral. It does not remotely reflect on a person’s character and yet a trial risked being derailed because of lingering prejudices around bisexuality. Peterson was initially convicted, and we will never know just how much bimisia played a part in that. What we do know is that his bisexuality should never have been made into an issue at all.
Insidious attitudes towards bisexuality persist. Peterson’s trial wasn’t even that long ago. It was in the early 2000s. Yet, bimisia is hard to break. Too often society thinks in binaries and bisexuals (and biromantics, pansexuals and panromantics) must reckon with queermisia, and a specific intolerance for people who experience attraction to more than one gender. It has been captured in one powerful documentary series, but so often these attitudes plague the lives of bi people in much smaller ways.
The Staircase highlights a lot of flaws with the criminal justice system but none more so than the damage that hatred for bi people can do. The courts aren’t free from prejudice. Michael Peterson was a victim of bimisia, but we will never know if it did play a role in his initial conviction – but surely the doubts say enough.
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