Thursday, December 28, 2006

Not upset at all

I've been reworking my new book The Truth About Bisexuality; I'm determined it will appear in 2007, come hell or high water, or indeed online publishing. I just read parts of it again and remembered Margaret, who is quoted below. She is the non-bi partner of one of my male interviewees - a refreshing counterpart to the betrayed wife stereotype.

Margaret, 61, librarian, Victoria
I was aware of Neville's bisexuality before we got together. I was informed by a jealous friend but I think he would have told me anyway. I already liked him a lot and being bi made him positively exotic. The fact that being attracted to either gender probably precluded absolute fidelity was also a positive. I was quite paranoid about emotional comitment. Freedom was what it was all about.
Neville and I moved in together (in a communal house) quite soon after we got together but with a specific agreement that we didn't "own each other" that we were both free to dally where we would. I actually did more of that than Neville and was very open about my activities.
He often does talk about his adventures later, so I don't really know if/when he's looking for sexual partners. These days I think it's more a case of if an attractive opportunity arises. I've met and really liked most of the people from BiVic but if he's off with any of them I don't know. I think if I did I'd handle it with equanimity but I can't say for sure. Emotional reactions are horribly unpredictable. I think I might feel rather insecure about a long-term sexual relationship (although he says that won't happen) because he might find he'd prefer to move in with him/her and I might lose my best friend, not to mention a great lover. Short of that, I'm very happy with the way things are. There's a feeling of closeness without being hemmed in.

HIV doesn't worry me. I trust Neville to be careful and trust him absolutely to let me know if there are any slip-ups. When you're over 60 a life-threatening illness that probably wouldn't kick in for 10 years isn't too much of a worry.
It's difficult to answer what effect Neville's bisexuality has had on our relationship. If anything, I've enjoued talking about his experiences. Maybe this is me vicariously living a more daring life? As to how his bi-ness affects his personality, that's rather a chicken and egg question. I certainly don't wish he was totally straight. I think being bi makes him less likely to be trapped in the male stereotype. I also have a theory that bis make better lovers - more aware that there are all sorts of ways of going about things, maybe more imaginative and responsive.
My sexuality is ideologically bi but in practice hetero.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

You can't have one without the other...?

Love and
It's a special anniversary in the UK today - exactly a year since the Civil Partnership Act came into force, and lesbian and gay couples could get hitched. Lots of them have, too - 15,672 up till the end of September. Many congratulations to those - like Elton John and David Furnish - whose first anniversary it is today.
I think it's fair to say that the move has been wholly popular. No mainstream political party has uttered so much as a squeak of disapproval in recent years. When Elton John and David Furnish got married, even the notoriously homophobic Sun newspaper was celebratory in its reports and the streets of Windsor were thronged with people wanting to wish them well.
Even the gay couple in the Archers (an extremely popular BBC radio soap set in a middle-England farming community) - Ian and Adam - got married without a huge amount of disapproval. Their cross and annoying fathers came round, sort of, and the only person who expressed overt homophobia was given short shrift.
The idea seems to be that to not allow stable gay couples equal rights in terms of inheritance tax, pension rights, next-of-kin arrangements and so forth is against human rights. Which it is.
Nevertheless, the media is looking for the downside, in particular gay couples who are now getting divorced. Darryl Bullock and Mark Godfrey, one of the first couples to get hitched last year, have split up but are delaying their divorce, not wanting to go down in history for being the first to do so.

But civil partnership isn't exactly the same as marriage, something that's both good (the history of women being owned by men, for instance) and bad (not the same symbolism or gravitas). One of the main reasons for not calling them "weddings" or "marriage" is to appease people or institutions whose religion tells them that marriage is between a man and a woman only - and mainly for the purpose of having children.
There is also a whole rubbish-heap full of nefarious doings in the notion of "marriage". The historic idea of a woman being owned by one man (her father) and passed to another (her husband) - which is still overt in many parts of the world and persists everywhere in the way that most women change their names. The idea of penetrative sex defining marriage: you have to have sex or the marriage can be annulled. I don't know if that's true everywhere, but certainly in the UK it is. You must not have sex with anyone else and you can divorce on the grounds of adultery. Presumably all that's to do with procreation and the need to know who is the father of a particular child. Then there's also the symbolism of two complementary (male and female) beings becoming one - the unit, the couple, headed by him. And Him - God. In civil partnerships, whether or not you are actually having sex is irrelevant.

Love and marriage
The UK is by no means alone in legally recognising some kind of gay marriage or partnership: the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada and South Africa (the first being celebrated on 1st December this year) all have same-sex marriage. In many places around the world - mainly Europe, but also parts of Australia, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and others - at least some form of civil union is permitted.
In the US - from where I am frequently sent petitions to sign and organisations to join on this subject - the situation is totally different. There, 26 states have constitutional amendments barring the recognition of same-sex marriages; by contrast, four have legal unions that sound similar to civil partnerships; three recognise unions offering some rights. Only Massachusetts currently recognises gay marriage.
The majority of readers of this blog are Stateside themselves, and I extend my good wishes to them. I don't need to tell them that they have a huge fight on their hands. As an American ex-pat friend said to me recently, "Anyone who lives in the US and doesn't see the profound level of homophobia there is in a state of deep denial". And he used to live in California!
It also seems pertinent to me that the US has higher rates of heterosexual marriage than do most countries in Europe - so not being allowed it marginalises gay people even further.

Go together like a horse and carriage
Personally, I am not married and never have been, although my current relationship - with a man - is now 11.5 years and counting. The idea of changing my name to Mrs Husband and being a subservient appendage used to make me feel faint; there was also the idea that you were selling out, giving in to convention. Not to mention building a great big dividing line between you on one side and the queers on the other. I don't feel either of these so much now, but I'm still not rushing to any register office. I don't think I would if my partner was female, either.
My gay friends in general seem to agree with me; none has tied the knot yet. Like me, they are likely to think that the legal changes in the UK are more to do with the government's agenda: everyone has to be part of Labour's "hard-working families" - gay people as much as anyone. There is plenty of money being made out of "pink weddings" too. Just beware if you are poor (cuts in benefits for same-sex couples to bring them in line with straight ones) or you don't want to couple up with someone. People who don't want stable monogamous relationships, or want to partner with more than one person, or don't have a sexual partner at all, are simply left out. Of course, this has a big impact on those very many bisexuals who believe in polyamory: what are they do to? Then, there is the - to me - very compelling idea that this type of legal partnership should not be confined to people who are in romantic couples. What about two friends, or two siblings? Why shouldn't they gain those legal and financial rights?
Still, whichever way you look at it, having the possibility of civil partnership is a huge, step-change type improvement to not having it.
I will be going to my first civil partnership celebration in January, for a couple who have been together for 25 years. Their stated reasons for doing it are practical, rather than romantic, although I think that there is something very romantic about loving someone for such a long time. It seems so unlikely, so against the odds. But maybe I am just an old cynic.
Many gay people don't agree though: they want to have a ceremony just like their straight counterparts. And that is truly progressive, I think: to see that lesbians and gay men, just like heterosexuals, can be radical, or conventional; or good, bad, indifferent; rich or poor; interesting or ordinary. That actually, sexuality should have nothing to do with whether anyone is accepted into society or not. We have taken a few steps here. But there are very many still to go.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

More questions than answers

Do more people than ever, these days, wonder about whether they might not be totally straight or gay? I think they do. In the past, and in most places around the world now, everyone just assumed they were straight unless there was staggering evidence to the contrary. And sometimes they didn't believe even that.
Things are different now in much of the western world, even in repressive countries like the US (Joke. Sort of). This is a feeling, rather than evidence given us by people with masters' degrees in research methodology. Many people on MySpace - where people commonly give their sexual orientation - give it as Not Sure. Not bi, which is also an option. As I said in this post, many people ask (both me and themselves): "Am I bisexual?" which is a kind of questioning too.
Apparently the LGBT acronym is now being joined by I (intersex - which I will leave for another time) and Q (questioning) which means that I'm not the only one noticing this.
So what does "questioning" or "not sure" mean? Different things to different people, I'd say.
When I was a young feminist, decades ago, there were groups for women who were lesbian or questioning their sexuality. (Not bisexual, of course; that wasn't allowed!) The idea behind questioning then, I think, was that women would re-consider their relationships with men in the light of their feminism and subsequently - necessarily - reject them. In short, they'd done the questioning already and answered themselves: men were out. They were just talking it through.
This is a different kind of questioning, though. Maybe those questioning their sexuality actually don't know the answer. They feel nervous that they might be choosing the "wrong" identity. They don't want to close off their options when they don't even know who they are. They might be attracted to all sorts of people but bounce from one gender to another without thinking that is OK. They might not be attracted to many people at all.
This is indicative of a new openness, I think, an accepting that the old ideas of "straight equals good and gay equals bad" are a bit more blurry than they used to be. And my main reaction is: terrific!

Let's experiment?
So is this the same as "experimenting"? Well, it can be, except that "experimenting" seems to imply something more sexual, more active rather than introspective.
It is both easier and more acceptable to experiment when you're young. No one thinks that a 16, or even a 21-year-old should have seen and done everything (with the possible exception of the young persons themselves!). When you are a youngish teenager, wondering if you prefer girls to boys is perfectly fine, even for old-fashioned biological determinists. It might be hard for you personally, people might be chivvying you to make your mind up, your boy- or girl-friends might be giving you (and getting) hell but you are allowed to go through a "stage". Still, by your mid-20s, everyone expects you to have made your mind up.
Then people also analyse their lives and themselves after the end of a long relationship, which can happen at any time. In fact, the longer the relationship and the older the person, the more intense the questioning in my experience (well not my own experience, you understand…, but that of people I've known). Not to mention the experimenting / dabbling / putting themselves about a bit or a lot.
But there is another questioning group that I discovered in the research for my book: men in their 50s. Commonly, they had lived mainly heterosexual lives up till that time. Not repressed lives, but often happily married ones. Then, sometimes very suddenly, their feelings shifted. Either they just started looking at men; or they had an out-of-the-blue gay-sex experience that knocked their metaphorical socks off; or they felt that mortality was hitting them round the face like a wet kipper and they needed to do as much as they could before it was too late. In general, they found that a lot harder than the people in the previous two groups, particularly if they were or had been in long-term, previously monogamous relationships.
For some people, too, Not Sure is another word for Bisexual - which often pisses off those of us who are Very Sure that we are bi. But when "bisexual" is such a disliked word by so many, perhaps it's not surprising when they say that.
And of course, there's that slightly more developed side of Not Sure and Questioning: Bi-Curious. I'll leave that till next time.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

57 varieties of bisexual - an introduction

Back in September, I put up a post about men who didn't kiss other men, although they had sex with them. It was connected to the - still live - discussion on the subject on Around 50% of men who posted didn't understand why you wouldn't kiss other men if you were having sex with them; the other 50% thought men should keep their lips below the belt, as it were.

That post was meant to be the first in a series called 57 Varieties of Bisexual (like the beans, duh). We who are bisexual in some way or another include people with such a wide variety of behaviours, emotions, fantasies etc etc. As usual, I got distracted, but now's the time to revisit the subject, in what will be an occasional series. This is by way of introduction.

Anyway, what's below is taken from the proposal to my forthcoming (please) book The Truth About Bisexuality.

Does bisexuality exist?

Many people from all walks of life don't think so. They consider that bisexual people are really either straight or gay, with only a few pathetic individuals - oversexed, experimenting, exhibitionist, confused, cheats - in between.
What drivel! This preposterous question would never be asked about any other sort of sexuality. And this is despite the fact that the most cursory glance at history or geography shows bisexuality in some form or another has existed across time, place and culture, whether it has been openly acknowledged or not.
This book is based around interviews with people who consider themselves bisexual. People like these:
* Lisa, 26, a shop manager. A self-described "wild child", she has only had relationships with men, but casual sex with women. Even though she would like to be more experienced with women she doesn't know how to go about it.
* Manny, a 49-year-old hair colourist, who has spent most of his life as a gay man. Nevertheless, he "crosses the fence when the opportunity arises" and his most intense relationship was with a woman.
* Linda, 36-year-old full-time mother, who lives in the suburbs with her husband, children and, more recently, her female partner too. Her husband and her girlfriend are close (non-sexual) friends and, with their children, consider themselves to be a family.
* Danny, 16, who is thinking about his attractions to both boys and girls and writes about them frequently on his blog, although he is too intimidated to do anything about them yet.
* Artist Jay, 38, who is only interested in relationships where she has to be sexually submissive. That is the important thing for her; her partners may be male or female.
* Rob and Donna, in their early 30s, who live in the country with their three small children, and operate a smallholding. Their dream is to form a community with other bisexuals that is based on ethical and environmental principles.
* Charis, 49, who describes himself as a "she-male". He has committed relationships with women but, when dressed as a woman himself, has casual sex with men.
* Ian, a 32-year-old journalist who says he's attracted to all the usual qualities people go for. But, as long as they don't fall into masculine or feminine stereotypes, he doesn't care whether his lovers are men or women.
* Dana, 45, a previously male transgender activist who is in a relationship with a female to male transsexual.
* Natalie, 23, who moves in mainly lesbian circles and is mostly attracted to women. But because she retains sexual feelings for men, she describes herself as bisexual.
* Businessman Alan, 59, who decided that after 40 years without sex with men - because he was married, and because it was socially unacceptable - he ought to see what he had been missing.
* Alex, 30, a researcher who had been married and later identified as a lesbian before she decided that - when she fell in love with a man again - the word bisexual fit her best.
* Sue and Bob, a professional married couple in their 40s, who have swinging sex with other male/femake couples. But although Sue has had sex with women outside of that context, Bob is only interested in men within very strict parameters.
* Darragh, 33, a civil servant who - after a bisexually active few years - has agreed with his girlfriend that theirs will be a monogamous relationship.
So, given that many people clearly are bisexual, why does the question of its existence pop up again and again? For political reasons. Mainstream society finds bisexuality so threatening to the status quo that it needs to make bisexuality as unappealing or impossible as it can. Bisexuality exposes as a lie the notion that people are divided into good straights and bad gays, with a brick wall between the two. It forces a recognition that fewer people are wholly straight or gay than everyone likes to think. That's something almost no one wants to hear.

These are just some of the people I interviewed for my book. What other types of bisexual people do readers know about? Is your bisexuality some other sort to that listed above? I can think of some people I have left out...

P.S. Dizzy, Danny isn't you! He is an American guy with a livejournal page who unfortunately seems to have suspended his account.

Friday, December 01, 2006

No more AIDS, no time soon

Support World AIDS Day

World Aids day is today - yes, information about it is everywhere, but fighting HIV/Aids never stops being important.
Despite the availability of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), HIV is not something that has gone away. Indeed, it seems that the HIV rate among British men who have sex with men is going up. And, just because people can take ARVs, that doesn't make having HIV a walk in the park. Positive people are living much longer and healthier lives (well, they are in the UK anyway) but there are still effects. People do die.
Still, though, still, too many just aren't doing the sensible thing and using condoms. If you want to know what I think of that, look here.
According to UNAIDS, in 2006 there are 39.5 million people worldwide living with HIV. That's 2.6 million more than in 2004.
This year is the 25th anniversary of the first reported Aids cases. How much longer till it stops?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bisexuals I have met - Alan Freeman

So, here's a bisexual I did meet, disc jockey Alan "Fluff" Freeman, who died yesterday.
Of course, many of you readers will have no idea who he was, but to British teenagers in the 70s - and subsequently adults who liked his rock shows - his radio programmes were a highlight of the week.
"Greetings, pop pickers", he used to say on his Sunday night chart show Pick of the Pops. "Not 'Arf".

I had no idea he was bisexual until I read the Guardian obituary last night. Apparently, in 1994 he told a "shocked" breakfast TV programme host that he had been celibate since 1981, but before that was bisexual. According to a (non-bisexual) chat room I often frequent, AF was outed in Michael Palin's autobiography - although it sounds like no outing was necessary. Unfortunately, though, I have no idea what his bisexuality consisted of... Or am I just being nosy?
So how did I meet him? Well, I am using the term "meet" in a very loose kind of way, of course. I was working at the BBC (years and years ago) and I had to collect him from the lift and make sure he could walk the few steps down the corridor to some programme-making bod. He was gushingly friendly and, at that point, the campest man I had ever met, wearing some kind of tunic-thing over his velvet trousers. That goes to show what a very, very long time ago it must have been!

All right. Stay Bright. RIP Alan Freeman

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ages of consent

Something that I am rather uncomfortable about has happened recently. A 16-year-old boy posted on (which has a very explicit over-18s only policy). He posted there asking for people to read his blog as he felt no one was reading it. At the same time, he also said that he knew he'd probably be thrown out for being too young.
Today, though, his post on has completely disappeared. No clue that he ever wrote it.
I caught the blog address before it went, and logged on... His blog is sexually unexplicit, talks about how he feels, his yearnings towards a boy and his ex-girlfriend, and how his father reacted when he said he was bi. It is also very articulate, far more so than most blogs, but perhaps that's down to the fact that he goes to a private school.
What are teenagers meant to do? He needs support, just like people two years older than him do. But they can get it. Of course, young people do need protecting. But they are also sentient beings, raging with hormones, obsessed with sex and love. Dizzy - the boy concerned - is actually full of yearning, rather than "up for it". He hasn't even had sex yet, although intellectually he is certainly mature.
If you are under 18 and want to talk to someone who's not your friend (or presumably those old chestnuts - teachers, priests, parents of your friends) your sexuality has to be mediated by youth workers, part of whose remit is, presumably, to stop you "doing it". Also, I suppose, to protect you from predatory adults. At 17 years and 364 days, young people are seen as innocent flowers who need protecting from dirty-minded adults. But one day later, they can join swinging and hard core porn sites. How is that not daft?

Coming out at 16
I came out to myself- and no one else - when I was 16, so I feel for him. At that time, where I lived anyway, there was no gay scene, no queer people, no feminist movement that might have offered support. But no one thought that 16-year-olds were completely incapable of judging things for themselves either. If I had wanted to write about sex, anonymously or otherwise, being 16 wouldn't have been a problem. The world at large didn't think that 16-year-olds were helpless. I could have gone to adult gay or feminist groups and no one would have stopped me. They would now. And, certainly in the UK, people are infants for longer and longer periods, reliant on their parents for money, support and housing in ways they weren't in the recent past.

But at the same time, have done the only thing they can and banned him - for their protection, as much as his. According to the United Nations, people are children until they are 18, which seems unneccessarily patronising to me but I am sure has its uses in terms of stopping young people being forced into marriage, the army and so on.
Sexual sites of any and every sort, everywhere in the world, have 18 as their lower age limit. I imagine that's because no countries have a heterosexual consent limit higher than that (although homosexual activity may be illegal, or you may have to be married for sex to be legal).
Investigating, I see that the highest age of consent for gay and lesbian sex is South Africa at 19. I wonder what their thinking is? As far as I can tell, all European countries have lower limits: Austria, 14; Denmark, 15; France 15; Germany 14/16; Greece 15/17; UK 16 etc The info is here.
However, I feel that their response Teens, Sex and the Law is very patronising.
But it's no-one else's business. Why do we have these laws?
Although many young people are mature enough to know how to deal with it if someone tries to get them to have sex, some teens are not grown up enough to know what to do. Age of consent laws are there to stop young people from being exploited by adults.

Yes, but... for instance, why would someone be considered not old enough to fight against that exploitation at 15 in the US, but would be in Denmark? What about those differing ages of consent for straight and gay sex? And, while of course people should categorically not be exploited, what about those many people who aren't being? The answer is they will carry on ignoring the law just as people have always done and do more and more these days.
And, of course, one 16 year old can be so much more mature than another. My own son at 16, for instance, had his feet firmly on the ground. He did all the teenage stuff - exactly what is none of your business! - but he always came home, did his homework, and went to school on time. At 22 he is a fine young man.

Nevertheless, I feel uncomfortable reading Dizzy's blog in a way that I probably wouldn't have done 10 years ago. There is so much - frankly - hysteria about both young people having sex and predatory sex on the internet. Much of what I see about teenagers on the internet in the press is about protecting them from the dangers. I do think that Dizzy has done one thing wrong, though: called his blog Just another British Schoolboy. It's the schoolboy bit I find tricky; that's the bit that might attract weirdos. I think I would probably have been unhappy about my 16 year-old son doing this.
In fact, a lingering sense of unease prevents me linking to his blog. It's not hard to find though. But I do long for an adult discussion on this - one that involves people who are not necessarily legally adults yet.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Ch-ch-changes part three: 1997 to 2006

Our beloved [sic] prime minister looks very young in this picture, and it makes me realise that Tony Blair has been in charge of the UK for a bloody long time...
I stopped abruptly at 1997 in the last post; at work, hungry (it was 8pm after all), and I wanted to go home. So I didn't carry on talking about the end of the 1990s.
It's always more difficult, I think, to consider what's happening now, and the effects of the recent past. In nine years, however, things have changed dramatically. Indeed, change seems to have speeded up. It's not just ageing that's doing that I think - it's how things actually are.
1997 was a very significant year for people in the UK - that majority of readers who aren't, don't look away, please! Two things happened. After 18 years of right-wing government, the Labour party got in. Of course, nine years later right and left parties in Britain have both moved closer to the centre until they've pretty well collided, and many of the changes they have instituted (plus the war, of course) have been nothing short of disastrous, but that's not how it felt at the time. It really did seem like the dawn of a new age.
For queer people in general, there have been many good things to come out of the Labour government: equalisation of the age of consent for gay men and everyone else; repeal of the hated Section 28 part of the local government act - which essentially stopped school teachers from talking to their students about homosexuality in case it was perceived as "promoting" it; civil partnership laws - which, although they aren't officially called "marriages" mean that lesbian and gay couples have more or less similar ways of legalising their relationships than do straight couples. This liberalisation is similar to that experienced in many European countries, South Africa and Canada - where you can get properly married.
That's all great. But while it's more or less acceptable in most circles - even the Tories - to be a respectable, nearly-as-good-as-a-heterosexual gay, I'm not sure that, for instance, gay men who go cruising are accorded the same degree of respect. And there's still a constant rumbling of homophobia under the surface.
The other thing that happened in 1997 was the death of Princess Diana. The subsequent hoop-la about her death was one of the most extraordinary things I have ever experienced. It made me feel as if I had been transported to some parallel medieval universe, where beautiful dead princesses had been given magical powers to heal the sick and make previously sane people weep hysterically about the effect she had on them.
The "Diana effect" apparently killed off Britain's collective "stiff upper lip" for good. And perhaps that made people talk about their feelings - including their bisexual ones - a lot more.

Internet, internet
When, in 2000, I wrote an article about bisexuals and swinging in the UK for the Journal of Bisexuality, my explorations on the internet came to nothing much. People contacted each other through the secondhand sales magazine Loot, and contacts magazine Desire. Now, anyone and everyone who wants to meet a partner, whether for swinging, marriage, or table tennis, can find them through the internet - whether they live in Birmingham, England, Birmingham, Alabama or Hong Kong, Sicily, the Cook Islands, or Korea.
For people who have grown up after the internet was already widespread, it's hard to overstress the difference it has made. I got my first email address in 1998 - I had to go to an internet cafe to access it - and was staggered to receive a mail back the same day. Previously, correspondence between the UK and US would take at least five days - something that seems actively prehistoric now.
These days, like most other people of most ages and in many parts of the world apart from the poorest, I get friends, information, community, news, music, humour and intellectual stimulation from the internet. I am in more and easier contact with my real-world friends and keep up with a wider variety of people. I am back in contact with people I knew at school. I can discuss things with people on the other side of the world and think nothing of it. A woman I don't know can tell me about a new sub-set of sexual identity (see comment on post below) and I can find out about it within minutes. How is that anything other than fantastic?
But the internet has had one unpredicted effect: the decline in real-life community and political activity. If I can find a bisexual community on the web, why do I need to make a massive effort to travel miles and, very nervously, go to meet people I don't know in a pub? If I can MSN someone about my confusion about my sexual identity, why should I ring a phone line? If I can blog about it, and people send me plaudits, where's the problem?
Well, I'm not sure. But I do know that, for instance, the London bisexual women's group of which I was a founder member, and which was flourishing throughout the 1990s, seems to have ground to a halt. After all, if you can go to gaydargirl and get as many sexual partners that you want, what's the problem?
Well, friends and community are as important - perhaps more than - as lovers. And a virtual community cannot take the place of one that is flesh and blood. You can find community on the net, and meet people from that community in the real world, but if many members of that community are on a different continent... Oh, I don't know. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ch-ch-changes. Part two

Of course, I failed you again and had no chance to carry on posting last night. So anyway, here's a continuation of those changes that I've noticed.

1990s: I've slapped up a picture of Madonna here because it seems to me that she was one of those "bi-try" women of the early 90s. Think her book Sex. Think all those other songs... Justify My Love, was it? Think her giggling appearance with Sandra Bernhard on the David Letterman show.
Of course, there was also the flowering, if you can call it that, of "lipstick lesbianism" which is generally agreeed to have started when KD Laing was seen on the cover of Vanity Fair being "shaved" by Cindy Crawford. Whatever, there was a decline in the separatist feminism of yore which made it easier for women to say they were bi. Sadly. Can't we have fun, acceptance and feminism?
Bi men were still having a terrible time, although the introduction of ARVs in the mid-1990s meant people weren't dying in such huge numbers, or so rapidly. Thank God. Although outside of the wealthy West, and indeed inside it for people with no medical insurance or national health service, it wasn't a great deal of help.
Then queer theory started being taught at universities. Ah, queer theory. Very important to many people, and certainly a good tool in deconstructing gender, but a bugger if it hasn't been explained to you. I try to muddle through but given that it wasn't invented when I was at university its jargon can be an uphill struggle.
The bi community started off the decade pretty healthy, but in the UK anyway, it seemed to me to be wobbling a bit. The bi community has always had far more than its fair share of computer geeks and they started setting up listservs and message boards which meant that meeting in person became less significant. The general public took a few years to catch up...
Then, in 1997 - very important to us in the UK but not elsewhere - the election of the labour government. Lots of anti-gay laws repealed, true, but lots of changes in society that haven't helped anyone...

(Note to self. This is a blog. It is not a newspaper article. Stop now and have some dinner. You can write about the changes since 2000 next time.)

Monday, November 20, 2006


It was my birthday on Friday and, as often happens to people with Big Birthdays, I've been thinking about the past and how things have changed in my lifetime. A warning: gross generalisation alert. This is a broad brush look at how I remember things. It is not an Authorised History. Even by me.

1970s. At that point, all the publicity was about bi men, not bi women, due to David Bowie, glam-rock, a supposed kiss that Jagger and Bowie gave each other on stage. Androgyny - for men - was trendy. This must have had some impact on men at large, but I remember many of them being horribly sexist in a way you'd never hear now. Bi people in general were more incorporated into gay liberation - if you loved/were attracted to members of the same sex, you belonged. This seemed to apply to women too - but I never came across any bi women until the end of the decade. I just yearned. Kate Millett, see this post, didn't find it easy at all. On the other hand, this was - apparently - a decade of very active swinging and the Californian bi scene was openly a part of the sexual liberation movement.

1980s. Fun time was over. Bi men were hit pretty damn hard by the Aids pandemic that was first reported in 1981. In the US, many bi men died, including significant bi activists such as and so did some in the UK - actor Denholm Elliot, for instance. But as no one knew or knows how to define "bisexual man" or whether many individuals presenting with HIV symptoms were gay or bi, precisely how many will never be known.
It wasn't a great time for bi women either. A particular sort of feminism laid down that women should be lesbian and, if they couldn't, they were allowed a sort of guilty heterosexuality. But bisexual women were bad, traitrous, "taking energy from women to give to men" etc.
With that in mind, no wonder that this decade saw the establishment of the politicised bi community in the UK and North America.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bisexuals I never met: Brenda Fassie

I'm not sure now whether or not South African pop star Brenda Fassie was still alive the first time I heard of her, but I remember very distinctly how I heard of her. It was an Arena documentary, re-broadcast on BBC4, all about her and her life, following her comeback and forthcoming wedding to Landile Shembe.
She was an amazing woman - endearing diva, yet down to earth woman; massive star living in what seemed to me an ordinary bungalow; a larger than life character possessed of an amazing voice. She was also openly bisexual, a taboo for many Black South Africans.
Dubbed "Madonna of the Townships" Brenda was born in 1964 in the Cape Flats township outside Cape Town, she started singing at the age of five. Her career proper started in the early 1980s, when she and her band The Dudes recorded their hit song Weekend Special. It's a brilliant piece of music - catchy, cheerful, get up and dance-worthy. Other greatest hits-style tunes followed shortly after.
If she had been American, she would have been world famous. South African singers, though, particularly of the Apartheid era, rarely made it outside of the continent and for a long time the only people who knew of her were Black South Africans, for whom she was a superstar.

A hard life
But her life was also very difficult, and not just because of the political situation. She became addicted to drugs, chose a selection of bad husbands and boyfriends and saw her career go down the toilet. Then, in 1995, her girlfriend Poppie Sihlahla was found dead of an overdose. Brenda, in a drug-induced haze, was lying next to her. This horror sent her into rehab.
But while she recorded some more great songs, now in the specifically South African Kweito genre - including one used by the ANC in their 1999 election campaign - the drug problems continued. As did her bad taste in men. Her teenage son Bongani begged her not to marry the last one. He turned out to be a conman only after her money.
In April 2004 she collapsed at home and slipped into a coma. Nelson and Winnie Mandela and Thabo Mbeki visited her in hospital when she was dying. Although people were initially told it was due to asthma, in fact it was a cocaine overdose; brain damage meant she never regained consciousness and she died in early May.

Her fans react
There was a massive outpouring of grief from all parts of Africa, as can be seen on this rather morbid death site. There's a good obituary here about her life and times.

But her music lives on. You can buy some of her albums here and of course, she has a myspace site where you can play some of her tracks. It's here.

I notice that one of her albums that I possess Memeza (Shout) - her big comeback album - is currently for sale on Amazon from £49.35. But I think I'll keep it thanks.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bi men's blogs

Yes, yes, I know I said my next post would be about that pesky old research that said bi men didn't exist, and I have let you down. That's a long post, something I'd have to think about and formulate an argument with. Maybe in a couple of days...
So instead, I'll post some links to bi men's blogs that I've been looking at recently.
Over the past few days, I've noticed people being referred to this blog from a site I'd never heard of before. It's here. Bi-journey is a new blog written by Al, a bi-guy who's just come out to his friends but hasn't had sex with a man yet - indeed isn't in a relationship at all. Much of his blog is devoted to exploring what bisexuality means to him, often talking about sex and being very thoughtful and thought-provoking with it. Indeed, while some of this site is perfectly safe for work, lots of it isn't - particularly the photos - so perhaps best viewed at home.
Al comments a fair bit on another bi man's site defending the raven. Raven is a married bi man, quite sexually active with other men and his wife is also bi. This blog has been going for a while, and as far as I can see a fair bit of it is involved with how he and SR, his wife, make things work for them. Very valuable if you are going through something similar.
I also like Trouser Browser. Like Al, he's also from the UK. TB writes about his rather active sex life, and very witty it is too.
So there we have it. Bi men both existing and writing about it. And yah boo sucks to that stupid research...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Am I bisexual?

So many people have asked me this during my long period of being out, that I thought I'd have a bash at answering it. I don't think people who have never really questioned their sexual identity, worried about the impact of change on their relationships, friendships, whole lives, can really understand how troubling it can be to not know something so fundamental about yourself.

Now, first up, the "I" here is not me - it is whoever is asking the question. I know that "I" am bisexual, whether or not I have had any male/female lovers recently. I know this through my past, my interests, my perspective on the world, my friendships, who I fancy, everything. It's an important part of my identity.

But people who are asking "am I bisexual?" don't have that. Quite possibly they either:

* Are mainly straight or gay, and wonder if having sexual fantasies about the "wrong" sex, or having kissed one at a party, makes them bisexual.

* Have been in a monogamous relationship for a long while, and are now wondering - sometimes obsessively - what a lover of another gender would be like.

* They are young, or going through a period of great flux in their life, and really don't know who they are attracted to.

* They are very much less young, and haven't "done anything" about their bisexuality in a while.

* They don't feel entirely gay, or straight, but feel that the amount of experience they have had with the "wrong" sex doesn't qualify them to identify as bisexual.

* While they were in a gay/straight relationship previously, they are now in a straight/gay one, and intend to stay in it until their dying day.

* Their sexual desires don't fit into other kinds of boxes, including but by no means limited to the following: they are a woman who is only sexually attracted to gay men, or a man who wants to dress as a woman and have what he (or they) see as lesbian sex, or a person, any gender, who is only attracted to transsexuals.

* Or, quite common this, they are a man who enjoys having some kind of sexual contact with other men but needs to keep this within very strictly confined boundaries and never, ever, would be emotionally involved with one.

* Or, also very common, they think they are "sort-of" bisexual, but consider that to be properly bisexual they need to have a 50-50 interest in men and women.

What do you call yourself?

Now, people who ask this question, I don't know if you are bisexual or not. For me, the bottom line (so to speak) has always been: you are bisexual if you think you are, it's self-identity that counts. Not what other people think - for instance, saying that you have to have had sex with both a man and a woman within a certain time-frame or you will have to hand back your bi credentials.
However. However...
Many people who - looking at their behaviour, or history, or all the things that count for me - don't identify as bisexual. Leaving aside for the moment those people who want to identify themselves as "queer", or who think that there are many different genders, not just two, and therefore consider "bisexual" to be reductive, or know that their "wrong" sex behaviour is something too trivial to be bothered with, many actually don't want to think they are bisexual.
What about all those "Men who have sex with men" or "Behavioural bisexuals" much beloved of HIV-preventors? They are more likely to say "I am just sexual" - and indeed some of them have said precisely that to me. Perhaps the much-hyped African-Americans on the "down-low" (probably only differing from the MSM or BBs by the fact that they are African-American) would say something similar. Thinking of themselves as "bisexual" would be giving it too much importance, or taking on a label that all these men would consider inappropriate.
But people who actually ask "am I bisexual?" aren't - in general - playing word games about whether bi-curious or bi-dyke is a better option for them. They are asking about the deeper aspects of bisexuality. They feel uncomfortable in their own skin, about how they present themselves to the world, about their futures. They are looking for answers to some pretty fundamental questions about themselves and the possibility of being happy in the future. Those answers can only come from within the individual - hopefully through talking things through with friends, lovers, partners, possibly therapists, but also through reading and perhaps finding support groups. The internet is hugely helpful here.

So what's the answer?

There isn't, unfortunately, one simple answer as to whether "you" are bisexual, certainly not one that I can give. But I can say: you can much prefer one gender over the other, and still be bisexual; you can only want emotional relationships with one gender, and still be bisexual; you can call yourself bisexual at the moment - it doesn't matter whether you will always feel this way; you can be happily monogamous and still be bisexual; you can only want to have sex with blonds (scarcely even seeing their gender) and still be bisexual.
It can be really hard to live with uncertainty, particularly if it feels like things are falling apart, but ultimately please don't worry. Bisexuality can actually be pretty great.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Monday supplement

Drat, I've missed Sunday this week. Nevertheless, there's been a world of bisexuality out there this week, ladies and gentlemen, and here are some bi morsels for your delectation.

Well, I've seen the Doctor Who spin-off this week, and it's kind of fun. All right, it's like Doctor Who without The Doctor, and with lashings of sex and swearing, but I still like it. Bi-factor: pretty high. Episode two featured an alien disguised as a sex-hungry young woman who needed the energy she got from sex with men to survive. They, on the other hand, ended up as a pile of dust. One of the female scientists couldn't keep her hands off her either, much to everyone's surprise as she has a boyfriend. Captain Jack quote: "oh, you humans and your self-imposed categories." Indeed.

Another Tory MP leaves wife shock
Yes, Greg Barker, apparently shadow environment minister, has left his wife of 14 years to be with another man.
So, what's the story? Was he always gay and just hiding his feelings - as did so many tories of yore? Did his feelings change? Did he just fall in love with this particular man? Or did he always have bi feelings he hadn't acted on? Who knows. But here's a good post about it.

Not practising safer-sex yet?
According to Aidsmap, gay and bisexual men with HIV "serosort" themselves, ie if they are negative, having unprotected anal sex with other men they believe to be negative, and if they are positive, doing it with other positive men. Researchers say that, because of this, men who are having condomless sex are not necessarily risking infection, or transmitting infection.
Well that's good. Any strategy that genuinely cuts HIV tranmission is good. But.
Men who thought they were negative weren't necessarily. It is also possible for people with one strain of HIV to contract another strain through sex with another positive person, with all the obvious risks to health. There's also
this. Drug-resistant gonorrhoea in the UK. Yum. Isn't a little bit of rubber a better option?

Further adventures in MySpace
Still not entirely sure that I am making the most of My Space. However, I have "met" Maria Angeline who coordinates the Carnival of Bent Attractions - a gathering of some of the web's most interesting queer posts. And she's nominated one of mine for the next edition. Ooh good!
If you've seen a post anywhere in the last month - on your own site or anywhere else - that is LGBT related, get cracking and nominate it. Deadline 00.00am Wednesday, New York time.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bi-girls of the 20s

Bisexuals I never met, part two

I'm reading a really interesting book at the moment, Shepperton Babylon by Matthew Sweet. He's writing about the British film industry from its beginnings to the 70s, and it's based on discussions with those very very elderly movie people still alive in the late 1990s/early 2000s, who talked to him about what it was like when they were young.

I started reading it really because I wanted to know about Nerina Shute.
In fact, I had intended to post at length about her, because she sounded so downright fascinating, but I think I've come to the end of what I can know about her - at least, without extensive research elsewhere or reading her entirely unavailable autobiography.
NS was Britain's first female film critic - starting in 1928 at the age of 19. She had a weekly film column as the studio correspondent of the biggest fan magazine. Perhaps leading writer on Heat would be today's equivalent. But she was also a very harsh and influential critic, known for being able to make or break a career. There's lots more about her in the link above - her obituary when she died in 2004.
She was also a fierce, passionate, amazing, bisexual - quite consciously so, none of this: oh it was so different then malarkey. "I'm bisexual, you see," she told Matthew Sweet. "Tell me, what do your generation think about such things?" When she came to London in the mid-1920s, she became part of a group of "ambisextrous social radicals", and proceeded to embark on a lifetime of marriages to men, and dalliances with women, to be rounded off with a long-term relationship with a female ballroom dancer that only ended when the dancer died.
NS's autobiography, Passionate Friendships, was only published in 1992 but the whole of the internet yields not one second-hand copy. A few years ago, I read her book We Mixed Our Drinks, published in 1945 but written about her youth in the 20s, and it seems like she toddled along from one club to another, a hotel here, a bar there, having a simply marvellous time. No mention of the sex though.

Gay's the Word

This book (the bits of it I've read so far) is quite fascinating. The utterly gay composer (of the song Gay's The Word) and film/musical comedy star Ivor Novello (who also appeared as a character in Gosford Park, played by Jeremy Northam) used to have a club in London's Wardour Street called the Fifty-Fifty - a direct allusion to the bisexuality of its clientele. The club also appeared under the name The Half-and-Half in the 1932 film The First Mrs Fraser. I remember seeing that - or perhaps just the relevant clip from it - and being pleasantly shocked by its overt gayness. I mean, men in white tie and tails quite openly dancing together...

My name is Tallulah
Then there was the uber-bad girl Tallulah Bankhead. Actress, dope fiend, drinker, "well-known for being a lesbian and immoral with men", who spent a lot of time in Britain that decade. Her quotes are legendary, for instance: "my father warned me about men and booze but he never said anything about women and cocaine". In fact, she's certainly known more these days for her wit and sexual exploits than anything she did on stage and screen.

Roaring 20s
Of course, many people know that the 1920s were jam-packed with same-sex sexual activity (among the upper-class bohemian set, I mean let's not get over-romantic here. Can I say the words "Bloomsbury Group"?) and lots of those people were also married. I remember reading Evelyn Waugh's diaries where he talks with irritation about sharing a ride home with two women and that he was fed up with them "lesbianising in the back of taxis"!
But there was also what seems to have been a dramatic increase in sexual activity in general among girls of all classes. Young women were allowed a great deal more freedom after the first world war - earning their living, wearing short skirts, cutting their hair, casting off their corsets, abandoning their chaperones. And, if you knew where to go, contraception in the form of the diaphragm. Both men and (particularly) women adopted a fashion and hair style that was, for the time, shockingly androgynous. Noel Coward's song Masculine Women and Feminine Men was about precisely that. And here's an amazing site called Queer Music Before Stonewall that includes it.

Well, that's the British film industry. Female bisexuality of the time in Hollywood sounds much, much more frenetic. If Marlene Dietrich had sex with half as many people as it's made out she did, I can't imagine she'd have had time to make any films whatsoever!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sunday supplement

Bisexual-oriented things I've been seeing and doing this week...

Bookish things
At the House of Homosexual Culture's Lavender Library event yesterday, a range of writers were talking about LG books that had influenced them. It made me think about bisexual books that had influenced me. I've already posted about Kate Millett's book Flying. But there are many others too... I think KM turned me in the direction of the extraordinary novel Dusty Answer, written by Rosamund Lehmann and published in 1927. It seems that Virago republished it more recently. It's the story of a female student at Oxford who falls in love with a female fellow student, then her brother. A beautifully written coming-of-age story. Then there's Rubyfruit Jungle, which I can't remember much about but know it was hysterically funny, and The Color Purple - Alice Walker's masterpiece, a fantastically moving novel about an abused African American girl in the 1920s Deep South, who finds love and hope with her father's mistress.

Radio and Television things
Mark Oaten, the married Lib Dem MP who was outed earlier this year as having sex with male prostitutes was on Woman's Hour with his wife this week. It was entirely unenlightening. He said there were lots of reasons for his infidelity but he wasn't going to tell us what they are. His wife - who doesn't sound like she would stand for any nonsense - agreed that she was very angry but they were working things through. We are none the wiser. So what was the point of the piece?

The Dr Who spin-off for adults, with the gorgeous bisexual Captain Jack, starts tonight. BBC3 9pm in the UK. Probably coming to screens around the world shortly.

Webby things
Gert, on madmusingsofme, refers us to Ellie, who refers us to the rules for Fever Parties - very glamorous swinging events. They claim that 80% of women are bi, and 80% of men aren't. Hm. What's the guessing that 80% of respondents are lying?
Perhaps they funded this research themselves. Possibly they did extensive qualititative research on the comprehensively peer-reviewed. Or not. Gert's post on the subject is very interesting and offers food for thought.

My myspace page is up and running now. Seems like fun. My first three friends are all people I actually know, the next (Paloma Faith) a singer I like, then a woman who looks like the sort of person I'd like to know, then Stop The War. No need to ask about that one, surely? But one thing I do wonder: is Myspace anything other than an amusing way of wasting time? I am down as "bi" for my sexual orientation, but does this mean anything apart from being contacted by people wanting me to join swingers groups?

My first ever guest post is out now on Dave Hill's temporama. Very exciting! It's actually not about bisexuality, it's about England, but it was fun to do.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What do you look for in a bisexual blog?

I look for intellectual stimulation, a good laugh, and some pictures of hot bi babes. Oh when will I ever find what I am looking for?

Like many other bloggers (surely...?) I am somewhat obsessed about who looks at my beautifully crafted words. I am often to be found on sitemeter, seeing who is reading what, for how long, and where they got me from.
Some of the results aren't surprising. Lots of people have found me through that wonderful site,, where I add my finely honed apercus on topics from coming out to oh, especially coming out, and where my blog is listed as a resource - right under the brick testament which would make a corpse laugh. Unless it was a fundamentalist Christian.
Blog-chums, such as Mark Simpson, Dave Hill, Eine Kleine Nichtmusik and Clare Sudbery, also send quite a few readers my way, as do the blogrings - in particular Blogher, the women bloggers hub. None of this is a particular surprise.

A bit baffled
Unlike lots of things. Why does my domain name -, leased for peanuts back in the day (2001) and never used till now - send me readers from Korea? Only Korea. And maybe only one reader from Korea with different ISPs.
But what fascinates me the most is what people put into google to find this blog. OK, now they probably never become regular readers (most of them click off immediately - "The 0-second click"), and I wonder why they bother. The clue for the reader is, you know, in the title of this blog. So when they google David Blunkett, or glamorous clothing, and come up with Bisexuality and Beyond surely they know what they're getting. Just a teeny bit.
In the past hour, I have had hits from people searching for "naked gay men" and "naked bi men" words which, if they appear at all, come right in a section of text - given that I have never added any Not Safe For Work pictures to this site. Then there's "12-letter words" I have to assume from a scrabble player and "How can I make the right guys in the gym flirt with me?" Well, not by reading this blog, that's for sure.
There have also been some interesting queries too. What about "creative things to do while kissing". It conjures up two images. One, the innocence of some young thing whose sexual behaviour thus far stops at snogging and wants to know about stroking hair, arms, or other fiddling whose sweetness I am just too jaded to imagine. The other, someone with their left hand on their beloved and the right embarking on some elaborate counted cross-stitch.
Now, lots of people come to this blog wanting sex - either pictures of it, or explicit discussion. No doubt if I deliberately put in things like "cute girls kissing" or "hot buns bi-male action" I'd get even more 0 second google hits. Which I probably will do now.

Logging in and out
I also get lots and lots of 0 second hits from people wanting things I can't give. "She-male blog", "attracted to men", "bisexuals experimenting", "am I bi". Actually, the last one deserves a post to itself because that's something lots of people seem to want to know. It'll get one at some point. Real-world people have actually asked me that, although surely they know better than I do.
By far and away the most popular thing that has brought people to this blog, though, lies in this post, where I talk about The Girl With The One-Track Mind, and how she was outed by the gutter press. Abby Lee/Zoe Margolis is one popular lady if google searches are anything to go by, and bloody good luck to her. Lots of those searchers don't just click off immediately either.
My all-time favourite 0 second click, however, is this: "How many women in the West Midlands have sex with horses". Ooh, I know the answer to that, it's right here in my blog... Just let me have a look....

Oh, wait, I've found it. Yes, that's right... A big fat zero.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

One day in history

Today there's going to be the biggest blog-in ever in the history of the world. Not surprising, perhaps, given that the blogosphere hasn't been going for five minutes.

Anyway, what ordinary people [sic] are being asked to do is blog about what happens to them today, 17th October. The idea is that "future generations" will be able to find out what their forebears were doing today. A snapshot - rather like the Magna Carta.

Now I actually do believe that history is important: those who don't learn from the past are condemned to repeat it, or whatever it was. I felt so strongly about that, I even did a history degree. So I'll be posting my bisexual twopennorth. Not that I've done anything that could be considered bisexual today, you understand, other than simply being. Although the night is still young! But I do believe that it's important that so-called ordinary people make their mark on history. If you believe so too - submit your own blog.

You don't actually have to be living in the UK - people with "connections" to the UK can submit entries too. Deadline 1st November.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The day today

It's World Mental Health Day today... and in theory, wherever you are on this planet, there'll be awareness-raising, "empowerment"-giving, celebrity-profiling discussions on the subject.
In the UK, over the past few days/weeks there's been lots of media coverage about mental health: yesterday on Radio 4 there was discussion about David Blunkett and Alistair Campbell's depression; last night on Channel 4 it was an expose of the shocking conditions in some mental hospitals; today on the radio, someone from BT was talking about provision for their staff. Then there was the two-part series with Stephen Fry interviewing celebrities (and the very occasional civilian) about being bi-polar/manic depressive.
Now, this has significance for bi people in general. Whenever anyone has researched the topic, they come to the conclusion that bisexuals (defined how precisely, I wonder?) have worse mental health than straight people, or lesbians or gay men.

Statistics that do your head in

It's only recently that studies have been made that separate bi from gay people. For an article published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2002, Anthony Jorm et al, conducted a community survey of 4824 adults in Canberra, Australia, looking at anxiety, depression, suicidality, alcohol abuse, positive and negative affect and a range of risk factors for poorer mental health. Compared with heterosexuals and homosexuals, bisexuals had the worst mental health, scoring highest on measures of anxiety, depression and negative affect.
Another British study, published in collaboration with Mind (the mental health charity), looked at the mental health of LGB people - including 85 bi men and 113 bi women. Using "snowball sampling", they recruited several thousand lesbians, gay men, heterosexuals and bisexuals, to compare rates of mental health, quality of life and experiences of mental health services. Gay men and lesbians were compared with heterosexuals and with bisexuals. Unsurprisingly, heterosexuals did best.
There were some interesting findings. Using a scale to measure "psychological distress" heterosexual men reported least, and bisexual men most, with gay men and women in general somewhere in between. Levels of substance abuse were higher among gay men and lesbians, but bisexual men were more likely than gay men to have recently used recreational drugs. Lesbians, gay men and bisexuals were all more likely to have been bullied at school than were heterosexuals, with 51% of both gay and bi men, and 30% of lesbians and 35% of bi women reporting it.
Gay men and lesbians were - according to the writers of the study - "more at ease with their sexuality" than were bi people. The former were more likely to be out to their friends and family, colleagues, doctors or health professionals. However, more bisexuals than lesbians/gay men reported that mental health professionals had made a causal link between their mental health problems and their sexuality. 64% of gay men and 74% of bi men had had a positive reaction from their mental health practitioner about their sexuality. Women fared less well: 58% of lesbians had received a positive reaction, but only 39% of bi women had.

Not all in the mind
There are a number of reasons why bisexuals might suffer from "psychological distress". (Of course, I'm not even giving page space to the anti bi ideas of instability etc.) Try some of these: lack of support from friends and families; keeping a significant part of yourself quiet; lack of recognition from the wider society; fear of relationship breakdown; fear that there is something wrong with you; a feeling that bisexuality in and of itself is wrong; and that you will never meet anyone else like you.
The mental health of bisexual people has always been significant within the bi community. Fritz Klein, for instance, one of the founding fathers of the bi movement in the States, was a psychiatrist and wrote extensively on the positive attributes of bisexual people. And the first positive thing I ever read on the subject Bisexuality: A Study by Charlotte Wolff - sadly long out of print - was also written by a bi psychiatrist.
Now there's a new book edited by bi psychotherapist Ron Fox, most conveniently bought here. Affirmative Psychotherapy with bisexual women and bisexual men - for therapists dealing with bi clients - looks at the issues that might arise and how to help unhappy bisexuals become happy ones. I'll write about it more when I've had a chance to read it. Bi psychologists in the UK are also trying to draw together research on bisexuality that will allow it to be taken seriously in the same way as is lesbian and gay psychology.

Why me?
World Mental Health Day also has personal significance for me. I've suffered from depression on and off since I was 15 and, at various times, both my parents had it too. In certain places, it's considered stigmatising to refer to a person as "suffering from" a disease or condition: you are a person with depression or whatever. No. NO. NO. You have depression, believe me you suffer from it.
However, rack my brain as I might (both within and without therapy), I can't see what being depressed has to do with me being bisexual and this, I think, is a major-league problem with the "bisexuals have worse mental health than anyone else" stats. If I went to the doctor and said I was depressed and I was bisexual, then it sounds as though the two would be conflated anyway.
For depressed people in general, though, there's plenty of things to help out now that simply weren't there when I was a 15-year-old lying on my bed wondering what was the point of life when we are all going to die anyway. Not least of these is much better anti-depressants, but there is also a great deal of research about what works and support to help prevent things getting too bad.
Now, this helps. And for people trying to improve the mental health of others, I particularly admire these people. And this self-help group.
And if anyone knows of any bi-specific depression support groups, please let me know.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Now you see them

The very picture of a bisexual- bisexual

I was standing there, chatting away in a group of gay men I didn't really know, when one suddenly came out with:
"I bet you say that to all the gents."
Oh, I thought with a bit of a start. Oh, he thinks I'm straight.
Now, given that we were in a gay environment, by with and for gay people, you'd imagine that the assumption would be that I, too, was gay. Nope. There I am, once again, being mistaken for straight.
Of course, he didn't know me, this man, in fact our exchange had barely made the shift from phrases to sentences, let alone paragraphs. Immediately beforehand, I think I'd told him he could lend a hand, or I could lend a hand, or something. Then, while I was thinking whether or how to respond, he wandered off.
There had been no chance for me to say the word "bisexual". I wasn't wearing a badge - something I often do as a bloody great signal that I'm not, actually, y'know, simply geared towards men. And, yes, I was wearing feminine clothing plus my hair is quite long. So I look girly then, or womanly, or at any rate not what they think a lesbian looks like.

Lesbian dressing
Except that lesbians these days often do look girly, or womanly, or not like a lesbian. At least some of them do. And that's the media perception of lesbians now.
There's a letter in Diva this month from a woman complaining that none of the women in the magazine are butch - and she's right. Out and about, there are plenty of butch women, or women who wear androgynous clothes, or who don't look like they're trying hard to look feminine. Though there's obviously a difference between gender presentation and sexual identity, the world at large doesn't always realise that: butch women are lesbians, feminine women are straight. Culturally - just in a couple of places that I know about - what counts as looking butch varies hugely. In Holland, for instance, women in general look a bit "butch" to me. And most of the Cuban New Yorkers that I know personally look very feminine, but are very much into a butch-femme role-play that doesn't always tally with their appearance. I'm not going to spin off into a huge great riff on butch-femme here, but obviously (well not obviously, but still...) the counterpart of Butch is Femme. Lesbian.

So what do bisexual women look like?
Once, on a hot Sunday afternoon a long long time ago, I went to a bi women's group meeting and subsequently met up with a male lover. I was wearing a black vest, black trousers with little green flecks on them, socks in a similar colour-combination, and black plimsolls. I also had, at the time, very long straight hair. "Wow," he said appreciatively. "You look bisexual". Did I? What did bisexuals look like? Within that group, we all kind-of looked like any other feminists of any sexuality. At the time, I wondered if he had some esoteric knowledge that I didn't, but I'm sure now he was just trying to flatter me. Also, perhaps, he was registering some mix of what he considered masculinity and femininity.
Then, I was reminded of a flirty evening at a bisexual conference back in the early 90s. A now fairly well-known queer theorist said to me, looking around wryly at the attendees: "there are butch bi women, and they're probably lesbians, and there are femme bi women, and they are probably straight". I bristled uncomfortably, considering that she had got things wildly wrong.
But there was a weeny grain of truth there. As Fritz Klein said, there are straight-bis, gay-bis and bi-bis. So perhaps straight-bi women look straight, lesbian-bi women look lesbian and bi-bi women...?
There is a "look" on the bi-activist scene: SM/pierced or tattooed/geek/androgynous/bright dyed hair. The successor, in other words, to the anarchist/punk/hippy look of 80s-90s bisexuals. Now, not all, or even nearly all, politically conscious bis look like that, but that's "the look".
For instance, I consider myself a bisexual-bisexual but I don't have that, I've never had it, never wanted to, and don't know that I could have carried it off anyway. Realistically, I look like a middle-aged, fairly low-key feminist, who from time to time dresses up in over the top glamorous clothes.
But to go right back to the beginning, the man with the quote thought: woman in dress=straight. Perhaps, to him, woman with T-shirt, short hair and jeans= lesbian. But maybe not. Whatever he saw, though, didn't register to him as=bisexual and I don't think any look I could adopt would have signalled that either.
Because when it comes down to it, it is bisexuality itself that is invisible and not just the clothes that it wears.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Let them eat cake

If you happen to be in London tomorrow, you should come and join me. I'm going to be spending the day with my lovely chums at the House of Homosexual Culture's Autumn Fayre. It'll be a laugh.
Fancy a day of "desexualising sexuality", bringing the gay scene "out of the clubs and into the kitchen"? This is queer London's answer to the village fete.
Ian McKellen (sir) will be opening it - and selling the first fairy cake - then there'll be gingerbreadmen-icing by Gerhard Jenne (of Konditor and Cook loveliness), needlecraft from Stitch and Bitch, a Tupperware stall, Pasta Portraits, a bring-and-buy sale and very many more. Fun for all the (unpretended) family.
And, although this started off as a boys' event, naturally us girls have muscled in too. I've even heard a rumour that there's going to be an edible representation of the history of political lesbianism. Now that's something many of us have had stuffed down our throats; this might be the chance to eat it in a more leisurely fashion.
I'm serving teas, and if you come up to me and mention this blog, an extra big smile will come free with your 50p beverage.

Saturday 30th September, 12noon-5pm, St John's church, Waterloo Road, London SE1

All proceeds to the Food Chain

Monday, September 25, 2006

They recruit!

It's true what they told you: bisexuals are trying to turn your young people into wicked deviants. The
bisexual recruitment army wants YOU to be the bi-est.
And B*R*A's original 1881 motto: "We're Looking For a Few Good Men, and a Few Good Women, And A Place That Sells Sturdy Beds"
The saucepots!


Saturday, September 23, 2006

Celebrate bisexuality day

Celebration time, come on!

Today, 23rd September, is Celebrate Bisexuality Day. From its inception in 1999, it's a day for bisexuals to get together and feel really bloody proud. The link above explains more.

This year, according to the Bi Resource Center in Boston, events are taking place in Toronto, south Florida, Manchester, Boston, and Sydney. And in Sweden, where you can enjoy a whole entire conference. At least, with less than a teaspoonsworth of Swedish, that's what I gather.

So what would I choose? Maybe the Biversity Fur, Fins, Feathers and Flesh dance party in Sydney. That's a city where bisexuals party hard - and what a great place to do it.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

With his tongue down my throat

Or: 57 varieties of bisexual
1. men who don't kiss men

Picture: Juergen Teller, for Marc Jacobs

There's a very interesting discussion going on at the moment in the forums at A man is asking why men do (or don't)like kissing as he has found that many gay men assume bi men won't do it. Most of the men on the forum say they do like kissing men, consider it essential to enjoying sex. But some don't like it at all. They don't want to kiss anyone (part from their most significant female other), or they don't want to kiss men.
I have found this very interesting myself, although it was not something I thought about at all before I did research into male bisexuality for this new book. It had never occurred to me that men wouldn't want to kiss each other. But then I'm a woman.
Now please, politically conscious bis, don't be cross with me for looking at this. I know it could be construed as stereotypical, y'know, bi men who might be just looking for sex and not relationships or community. Behavioural bisexuals as HIV prevention workers did or do call them. But they do exist. You know and I know they do. So can we not just take a calm look at what might be going on?
Right then - when it comes to boy on boy action, why do some men keep their mouths below the belt?
Here's a much-edited extract of the relevant section of my book, The Truth about Bisexuality, to be published at some time or other. Really.

"Many men report a great deal of ambivalence about their bisexuality - far more than do women. They seem to want to keep men at a distance, and keep the sex distant too - no kissing, no stroking, no sensuality - simply animalistic.
Here's Jeff:
I am only attracted to men in terms of their genitals, their butts and the unique feeling of pleasure that a penis can give me in my ass.
I never even stare at men on the street like I do with women, but I do sneak looks at naked men in the gym. I guess the clothes must be off. Plus, I have to have chemistry with the right guy. Most men turn me off. I would never kiss a man. Jeff, 42
Some men need a bit of a nudge to understand what's going on. For instance, Steve said,
Ask me to kiss a man I would run a mile. Figure that out if you can.
When I asked him to elaborate, he said:
It's too intimate. I don't want to be that close to a guy. Steve M, 45
So is it all about intimacy, then, closeness? Or rather rejecting it?
As one MTF transsexual (who describes herself as a "she-male", and still lives part of the time as a man) said:
I do not have ANY emotional relationships with men. It's only sex. I cannot imagine even having breakfast with a male partner. As soon as the passion is gone, I look for my things and start to say "goodbye". Cherry, 49
Some of my male interviewees were very ambivalent about having sex with men. They said they only have sexual contact with other men if the situation is right. They do it, then say they won't do it again because they feel sick, but then they do it again anyway. Several men pointed out to me that there is a gradation from gay men to really bi men to men who will have some kinds of sexual contact with other men contingent on all sorts of things and often deny that they really want to do it. For instance, some male swingers will only have sexual contact with each other when women are there too, and claim that there is no desire behind their actions. Their relationships with men do not include affection; or to be precise, if they involved affection (their friends and brothers, for instance) they did not involve sex.
HIV researchers June Crawford, Susan Kippax and Garrett Prestage, working in Australia, found a big difference between bi men who had some involvement with the gay community and those who hadn't.
Evidence suggests that bisexually active men, particularly those who are separated socially from gay communities, distance themselves emotionally from their male partners.
They quote surveys that show that whereas only 60% of such men kissed their male partners, 89% of out gay men did. They used terms like fooling around, and saw themselves as sexual adventurers, having also often done SM, bondage, voyeurism etc. Their sexual practice with men was not central to their lives or who they were." It comes from this book.
The men on have a vast range of identities, politics and lifestyles. They are out and no-not-never-in-a-million years. They are part of bi groups and aren't. But they do go on a site where you are assumed to be bisexual, discussing things to do with bisexuality. To that extent they aren't in the closet. Whatever they are doing, they are doing it consciously.

Girls gone slightly wild
There is another discussion on that site too. A woman says that a female friend of hers has been kissing and cuddling her in a nightclub and she wonders whether the friend is sexually interested; another respondent says that is just what women do in clubs.
So, there is some interesting gender politics stuff going on here - the perceived difference between bi men and bi women. Women having a snog is perhaps the least bi thing they can do, while remaining titillating: Madonna and Britney with their tongues down each others' throats, for instance. Girls in clubs looking round to see who's watching. They are still as straight as a straight thing, if that's what they want. For straight-identified men, kissing is the most bisexual thing they can do. It implies desire, vulnerability, intent. It threatens their masculinity.
While traditional notions of feminity have been largely abandoned, masculinity has changed much less. While David Beckham and metrosexuality mean that men might seem to be in touch with "their feminine side" it only penetrates as deep as their moisturiser. In particular, the fact that men in general look down on femininity and prize masculinity has not changed at all. This is key to the way many bi men see gay men: they equate "gayness" with a lack of masculinity, and this seems to them to be a direct attack on their sense of self.
As one of my interviewees put it:
In succumbing to bisexuality, men are surrendering their masculinity. There's no surrender of identity for [bisexual] women. Clive, 50
He's right. And God knows, surrendering their masculinity is the last thing many men want to do. Patrick Califia, actually writing about transsexual autobiography here (and who is himself FTM transsexual), puts it succinctly:
Such books, he says, "reinforce the vigilance that even the most macho of men are encouraged to feel, lest their precious manhood be swept away in one unguarded moment of tenderness, grief, femininity, or homosexual passion".
Of course, many bi men snog away with each other, fall in love, are part of the gay community, are bi activists out and proud. There are also women - prostitutes but also swingers - who don't kiss their clients or casual sex partners. Probably they want to keep their distance too. But readers, this post is not about them. There are at least 56 varieties of bisexual left. And Be Warned: eventually, I will be writing about all of them too.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Oh those liberals

Swinging all the way

Or, possibly, oh that writer Tim Hames. To quote from this piece from the Times Online (link above):

"Then there is policy. Strange as it might seem to say, what the Liberal Democrats require is more bisexuality. They have to be able to swing both ways. They need a combination of policy stances that would mean that it was not impossible for them to form an administration with either Labour or the Tories. If they were so situated, then they would have the maximum leverage in any post-election bargaining that might occur and much more of their manifesto would be fully implemented."

Yes, strange to say is about right. This is the party that has been most connected to bisexuality with all that Simon Hughes is-he-isn't-he-can-we-say-the-word-bisexual stuff from back in February. He might have lost that election battle, but at least we had a bit of a discussion on that old bisexual thang.
Still, it is good to have the word "bisexuality" used in a positive way for once, as in being able to see both sides, develop a "both/and" perspective, as many bisexuals have said for years.
But still, "gay" is bad, kiddies, as you will know from the playground.

Thanks to Cat from the Yahoo Bi media group for this link.

Monday, September 11, 2006

How Kate Millett turned me on

Or: bisexuals I never met, part one

In the autumn of 1976, I was an au pair in Paris. Dizzyingly lonely, harassed by men every time I set food outside the front door, pretty much centimeless (due to my own inability to negotiate - or mention even - the fact that I was expecting to get paid) I spent a lot of time hanging out at the Drugstore du Rond Point des Champs Elysees. It was a kind of bookshop/newsagents - probably more too, but that's what springs to mind - and there I clapped eyes on the book Flying, by Kate Millett.
Realistically, it was probably the fact that it was a book in English that made me notice it. Perhaps there was more. Perhaps I knew that she was an influential and controversial feminist thinker, author of Sexual Politics, but more probably that came later. I know why I spent day after day in that bookshop, with no money to pay for the book, just reading it standing there propped against the magazine shelves.
The clue is in the blurb on the back:
"Flying is her extraordinary, frank account of the tumultous period when both her book and her own acknowledged bi-sexuality [sic] outraged the public and triggered some of the most violent, far-reaching aspects of the women's movement."
That word, that one word, made me know I had to read it. And I wasn't disappointed. In this, her autobiography. KM - artist, writer, academic, intellectual, wife and lover of women - gives a fearless, naked in all senses, account of her life and loves up till that point (38). Her writing is extraordinarly vivid and personal; she does a lot, mixes with fascinating people at a fascinating time, but there's every sense that she is suffering too.
The book starts with a trip to London, where she recalls her sudden, unwanted rise to fame after the publication of Sexual Politics - an interview in Life magazine, on the cover of Time, being asked in public if she was a lesbian, the pain and guilt of hurting her religious mother.
Sexual Politics, after all, was essentially the first work of feminist literary analysis, and the mainstream was very keen to slap down the new women's movement. The book looked at misogyny in American literature, to illustrate how men in general use sex to degrade women. The work - and KM herself - were overtly against monogamy and the family. In the late 1960s, that was heretical to almost everyone.

Still true today
Unfortunately, some of what she writes is still quite true today: "The line goes, flexible as a fascist edict, that bisexuality is a cop-out. Yes, I said, yes I am a Lesbian. It was the last strength I had."
She was vilified as a result of this enforced coming out – by the heterosexual women's movement for being queer, by radical lesbians for not being enough of lesbian, by straight society for supposedly hating men. She can't, mustn't, write about sex. Just like now. See this post. Yup, I will repeat, women aren't allowed to talk about their sexual feelings and remain intellectuals of good standing.
More than that, though, what I found moving, and could relate to, were her struggles: to find love, to not feel rejected, to keep on creating - through a film of fairly consistent low-level depression and relentless introspection.
People are always talking about the need for role models and KM - wild woman, artist, bohemian - was the perfect role model for me. She was very consciously, openly bisexual. Feminism might have been going hell for leather in 1976, but not where I was and I certainly didn't know where to find it. But she did, she was doing all those things I wanted to do and be, in my tiny, solitary Parisian room.
I didn't meet any women in Paris, 1976. I didn't meet much of anybody: everyone (apart from the men who wanted a piece of my body) kept themselves to themselves, and I was too scared to go to a lesbian club although I walked up and down outside plenty of times. In fact, I couldn't wait to come home.
I finally bought the book myself in 1980 (I wrote the date inside) by which time I was officially a "practising bisexual". I also read some of the others: Sexual Politics (of course), Sita, the Basement, but it was Flying that really blew me away.

Where she is now
The 1980s and 1990s weren't particularly kind to Kate Millett: her influence faded and she had periods of serious mental illness, which she wrote about in The Loony Bin Trip. I was really pleased when I heard she was coming to London to give a talk in the 1990s but her mother was ill, and she never made it. The next time I heard of her, was in an article in the Guardian in 1998 - where she was apparently selling Christmas trees to make a living. Cue righteous shock about what happened to our feminist heroines; certainly from me. Apparently, though, this article - which she wrote - had all the wit and humour taken out by the editor and her life was not nearly as pitiful as it sounded. See here.
Lots of her books are available now, being reissued in 2000 after being out of print for years. The farm (where the Christmas trees came from) she bought in upstate New York with the proceeds of Sexual Politics is now a centre for women writers, artists and musicians around the world. KM herself conducts masterclasses in writing from time to time.
I was so pleased to read this when I did an internet search while doing this post. You can find out more about her by looking at her website
Thank you Kate Millett. You helped me become myself.