Monday, July 31, 2006

Cruising for girls

So lesbians are learning to cruise. At all-night women-only saunas and via the internet. Allegedly. It's no longer just gay men after some no-strings how's your father.
In a feature in the Guardian today,,1834025,00.html, one Jaq Bayles writes about this "new" lesbian sexuality. Well, if lesbians were having more casual sex, it wouldn't be so surprising, would it? Thanks to gaydar and internet sex sites for people of every sexuality, everyone's doing it. Potential lovers are just so easy to get hold of.
A couple of months ago a friend/one-time girlfriend and I agreed (in a half-jokey way) that we would never have got together if gaydar had existed then. Certainly, there's a lot more women to choose from: if I wanted to find a 25-year-old blue eyed banker who also liked salsa dancing, that wouldn't be too much to ask. Gaydargirl has plenty of bi women, or lesbians who are happy to date bi women, too.
There's also a massive increase in swinging due to the internet, and I have interviewed several women who told me they had got into it precisely in order to have casual sex with women. But as their male partners were always very much in evidence, that was sometimes a bit hard to organise.
One of the reasons why lesbian sex - or indeed any sort of casual sex - is so much easier to get via the internet is that it takes away so much of the physical and emotional danger. I do remember about 15 years or so ago some lesbians tried to set up a cruising area on Hampstead Heath. But it never really took off. I certainly would never have gone there, even if I was crawling the walls, and the physical danger aspect is a definite part of that. It was also the idea that you were really ceding control: in the semi-dark, how can you see if you fancy someone? What if it all turned out to be an emotional nightmare? What if you got cold feet?

Trained to change behaviour
Radical feminist Sheila Jeffreys says that women are being "trained" to change their sexual behaviour by sex entrepreneurs. Now I hate this idea that women are these pure beings, existing in some kind of pre-lapsarian state - until some nasty men, or pseudo-men, or women acting as agents for men - come to corrupt them. Only then will they want to have heterosex / S/M / promiscuous lesbian sex - depending on the decade she was writing in - rather than the utterly egalitarian un-messy (in any sense) lesbian sex that she thinks best for women. I may be parodying her views - or at least exaggerating them - but not by much. Women do always, and have always, liked all sorts of different things sexually. There was always casual sex and some lesbians have occasionally slept with men. The idea that it has suddenly started is nonsense.
Where I do sort of agree with the nay-sayers (in this case a bloke, queer theorist Stephen Maddison, is the idea that "cruising is a commodified, competitive and highly ritualistic business". Yup, no chance for an older, unattractive, shy person. And he also says "Gaydar culture institutionalises erotic interplay, turning adventure and wonder into a sexual McDonald's."
True. How much more spontaneous to meet a short-term sweetie walking down the street or in a bar, with no money changing hands, data being captured, or cookies placed on your computer. But much more of a risk - and much less likely that you'll get the person that you want.

Monday, July 24, 2006


So, singer Nelly Furtado is bi. (See <> which was posted on the Bimedia yahoo group by the ever-efficient Grant Denkinson). Thinks women are beautiful and sexy. Believes everyone is really bisexual and loves hanging out with her gay friends. And that experimentation is a part of human history.
These days, it seems almost mandatory for female stars to talk about how much they like girls. But has anyone ever seen one with an actual girlfriend? Or even talking about a woman they fell in love with x years ago who was so important to them?
Hello... I don't think I hear many voices calling.
Rebecca Loos has many faults, no doubt, but at the very least she was a proper bisexual, not bi-lite. She had real relationships with women, lived with at least one. Anne Heche was deeply and publically involved with Ellen DeGeneres in between boyfriends. Madonna may or may not have been involved with Sandra Bernhardt but they were "linked"... about 15 years ago.
Any more? Do let me know.

Just one look
Is it any more than an easy popularity ploy for female celebrities to imply that they find women attractive? Such celebs are exotic, interesting but still pretty safe and always always conventionally feminine. After all, women don't seem to mind it, men are presumed to enjoy it, and the queer community can claim another star on their side. And the celebrities - they sell more of whatever commodity they are trying to sell. That hint of bi shifts units.
When this celebrity-bi stuff first appeared, I was pleased. I thought that the more publicity about bisexuality there was, the better. That simply discussing the issue, getting it out in the open, increasing visibility - as we used to say - was an end in itself and would benefit all of us.
Now, I'm more than a little peeved. This kind of "straight-bi" confession is what many people think bisexuality IS. And for some, their bisexuality is like that. But when there is only one view of bisexuality that ever appears in the press, it just seems to me like oppression under another guise. That how my sexuality - for instance - is and has been is as hidden as ever. It certainly doesn't help bi women who want to be taken seriously by lesbians.
And let's not even get started about bisexual men. Bi celebrity boys? In your dreams. Anyway, that's a whole other rant!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The B letter in the L Word

Yikes! How time flies when you're supposed to be writing a blog. The real world of bisexuality has been pretty quiet in the last week, dear reader, but one thing that has been exercising my neural pathways is the new series of the L Word. After simply adoring season one, I'd been worried about this series: season two had some storylines of staggering implausibility, and dreary longeurs where they were doing the TV version of Phil Space. It was all too easy to see why it never made it to UK terrestrial television. Season three, however, is cracking... in some ways. I have seen three episodes now (lucky me, having a "screening" DVD) and there are some really interesting plot twists and turns. Real life (maintaining long-term relationships, illness, homophobia, George Bush) impinges good and proper. But there is one serious disappointment.

Blithering bisexuals
Yes, you've guessed it, it's the bi characters. Jenny is still recovering from her period in a mental hospital after self-harming, and Alice... well she's turned into an obsessive stalker, turning her flat into a shrine to Dana. Why can't one of them be solid and boring? Repressed? A multimillionaire? A tennis star? Or at least more grounded. Of course, many people have issues with their mental health - yours truly certainly not excepted - but why the bi characters? Both of them. Isn't this just another stereotype: bisexuals as confused, unstable, yada yada yada. Studies from respectable bodies such as MIND have shown that bi people have worse mental health than other groups, but lesbians don't do tremendously well either and we don't see that on the L Word. OK it's entertainment, the women look great, the plot romps along, but that needn't stop proper issues being addressed and - bisexuality aside - it doesn't.
Still maybe there's hope. There are hints that at least one other character might be entertaining heterosexual fantasies. Three guesses who it might be.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Bisexuality over 21

This post is a kind of an answer to Laura's comment (posted in response to Time to be a Rubber Fetishist, below). She said:

"When I was at university lots of girls and boys were experimenting with same sex/different sex relationships and flings but to my knowledge very few continued into adulthood... perhaps because there weren't any role models?"

The invisibility of bisexuals (pretty much everywhere outside of an organised bi community) is something I'm going to come back to again and again in this blog. The reasons for it are complex but this is it in a nutshell...
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.
It's also a vicious circle: because bisexuality is so invisible, and because there are so many myths and stereotypes about it, people in general dislike bisexuals. Therefore few say publicly that they are bisexual. Why would people tell others they are bi if the reaction they would get is overwhelmingly negative? Bisexuality is very often - at present - fraught with difficulty: no approval from friends or family, only a tiny community of people to support you even if you can find them, no "bisexual scene" to come out to.

"Well, of course, I dabbled when I was a student"
So is this the only (only!) reason that Laura's friends stopped their experimentations? Well, first of all let's look at that word "experimenting"... It might be simply that - you try something, you decide you don't like it, you don't repeat the experience. Personally, I tried horse-riding: I don't regret it, but I have no desire to do it again. Some people, for sure, who have experimented with both sexes are just trying it on for size. Trite as it sounds, experimentation when you are a young adult is part of growing up. (Although people experiment at other times of their lives too.)
But the difficulty for me is that the words bisexuality and experimentation are often muddled up together. Many people's bisexuality is considered - by themselves and others - as only about experimentation, just a temporary thing while they sort themselves out. Then there's that other synonym "dabble" - over-used by straight and gay people alike. It makes our desires sound like a bit of a joke, something to be taken lightly - when my own sexual feelings have been serious as cancer. And you don't dabble in love, for instance, or long-term relationships, only sex.

Keeping it quiet
Here's another possibility, though: maybe Laura's friends did continue their same sex/different sex behaviour into adulthood, secretly. Many people, probably most, who say to themselves "I am bisexual" or use terms like "my bi side" or have sex with men and women within, say, a five year period, won't tell their friends. I still, even now, get people saying to me: "Oh you're the only one I've ever met". What they actually mean is: "You're the only person who's ever told me they're bi".
But if bisexuality really was that rare then I'd never meet any either - and outside of the bi community, it's rare that I meet people who are openly bi. What I have had, instead, is people "confessing" to me once they know I am bisexual. These confessees, women and men, know perfectly well their sexual and emotional attractions are not confined to one or other side of the gender divide and sometimes they have acted on these feelings. What they don't know is how to cope with them. Honestly, if I had a pound for every person who asked me if I thought they were bisexual...

People like us?
So is it the lack of role models that stops people continuing with same sex/different sex relationships - or talking publicly about them?
To be sure, that's part of it. And perhaps the massive publicity that a certain sort of female bisexuality (bi-try, "party-trick lesbianism", whatever) has had in recent years means that young women are more inclined to express their sexual feelings for each other. Whether that means it's easier for them to have actual relationships is another matter. Heterosexuality rules today as much as ever.
But I think the whole idea of role models is a bit flawed. A person who is my role model might be a total turn-off for someone else. There are female bisexual role models out there if you want them - from Frida Kahlo to Angelina Jolie - although I'm not sure what real relevance they have to, say, an ordinary London woman with an office job.
That's not so true for men. I can't think of any celebrity-style bi male role models who are alive and famous right now. And all this invisibility is far worse for men. Indeed, they are often told that there aren't any out bi men... because no men are really bi.
There are non-celebrity role models though - Robyn Ochs, say, who compiles the Bisexual Resource Guide in Boston, and speaks about bisexuality here, there and everywhere. But whether the woman in the street would know about her is another matter.
Role models or not, what is essential, though, is for bisexuals and bisexuality to be more visible, more prominent, in order to counteract all the propaganda and misinformation about us. My blog is one microscopic part of that - as are the bi resource and community sites on the web, and the real world groups when you can find them and even, perhaps, the sex and dating sites. Then, more people will come out as bi, negative stereotypes will be challenged, and the vicious circle might become a virtuous one.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Time to be a rubber fetishist

So, the UK's sexual health is getting worse. According to figures released yesterday, syphilis is on the increase 10 years after it was almost eradicated, with a 23% increase in 2004-2005, 39% 2003-2004. This is the,,1812907,00.html>.
That's just an extension of a problem that has existed since the mid 90s. Between 1996 and 2002, according to the same body (The Health Protection Agency) syphilis rates in British men went up by 960% and in the West Midlands by 4,800%. God knows what they were doing in Brum.
It's mostly those old baddies "gay and bisexual men" who are contracting syphilis and, apparently, 60% of all new diagnoses of syphilis were in men who are HIV positive. This isn’t in the Guardian story, but is reported here>.
Now the girls are getting in on the act. The increase of syphilis in women last year was 2.5 times that of men and many of these women are "suspected of 'swinging'"! Or maybe not, but the HPA says they are mature women, not prostitutes, who are part of "particular social circles". Statistics - oh, you look it up! - show that young women are having more sexual partners so it's not a huge leap to imagine that mature women might well be at it too.
So what lies behind this increase in syphilis? Of course, this is a complex issue, one with many causes and effects. The restriction in the hours of many clap clinics, for one. And the fact that, unlike queer people of my generation, young gay/bi men haven't seen their peers die, horribly, in their thousands. Or, indeed, been to parts of the developing world where people are doing that right now. Syphilis and HIV differ in many ways, of course, but they are both spread by unsafe sex. And that's what more and more people in Britain are practising now.

You know what to do
Of course, there's a simple solution. Every time you have penis-penetrating-anything sex, especially with someone who isn't your regular partner, use a condom. Use a condom and, again... use a condom. And given that syphilis can be acquired by oral sex. Well, you do the math. OK, so sometimes people carried away by the moment and forget or stop caring. If you are infected by someone who swears they are true to you and always have been, then that is a horrific breach of trust. And asking all people, even monogamous ones, to use condoms all the time is unrealistic and not something that the NHS seems to be doing.
But if you horny people who have sex with multiple partners actually used condoms regularly when you shagged, instead of thinking that infection wouldn't happen to you, or condoms take away the sensation, or that you choose your partners carefully and never go with anyone who "looks gay" - all of which have actually been said to me by people, male and female, with straight faces (pun intended) - then rates of sexually transmitted infections would go right down. And you wouldn't even have to give up your fun.

The L Word
On a lighter note, the third season of The L Word is starting soon in the UK... Living TV, July 19th, 10pm. A little bird - actually, a medium-sized one - told me she has seen most of it at London's lesbian club Southtopia and this time the storylines are pretty heart-rending. I wonder if Season One's bisexuals (or at any rate, their bisexuality) will stage a come-back?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Bisexuals at Europride

Yesterday was Europride in London - and what a day it was. The busiest, most crowded, most popular shopping streets in central London were traffic-free while thousands of queers gathered with their whistles and their all-pink union jacks. Any and every group - from the Fire Brigade, to LGBT Muslims, to Battersea Dogs' Home - sent their delegation to march or wave from a lorry. Temperatures in the lower reaches of "hot", a cloudless blue sky and the faintest of welcome breezes; Soho to Trafalgar Square full of revellers and ralliers, poofs and picnickers, friends and lovers; an atmosphere of genuine celebration absent from the city's Prides since they became a focus for corporate sponsors and boybands. It was truly wonderful. I have never experienced anything like it.
It was also 30 years since my first Pride. A day when a few hundred still-brave stragglers, most of them men according to my memory, faced down the appalled and bemused stares of passersby to wander into the park to hear Tom Robinson singing "Glad to Be Gay". It felt dangerous and exciting, particularly if, like me, you were only 19. Homophobia was rife and completely mainstream: 1976 was not just another century but another country for people wanting same-sex relationships. Poland, perhaps, where good Catholics go on the radio and pontificate happily about finishing off the job Hitler started - exterminating the queers.

Where were the bisexuals?
So where was the bisexual presence at Europride? Well, clearly everywhere... and nowhere much. There were London Bisexual Group and Bicon banners with perhaps 20 people marching behind them (Well, maybe there were more banners, but not that I noticed). There were plenty of groups with the letter B in their names... but whether they have actual bisexual members to merit that B... well, I wonder. I know that many bi people think that groups add the B so they don't need to take bisexuals into consideration in any other way.
It's a paradox that while there is more discussion about bisexuality than ever - even if it's to claim that it doesn’t exist - and more and more women say that they are bi - even if it’s just that trivial "look at me with another woman, boys" stuff –that politically organised bisexuality seems to be at a low ebb. (In the UK, that is; in north America, things seem much more lively). There are some tremendously active individuals out there, and some great mailing lists and forums to join, but shouldn't a city like London have gazillions of bisexuals - all ages, races and opinions - willing to march together? I know they are out there somewhere - I mean they advertise for sex partners often enough - but what is it about the bi community that doesn't appeal? We used to say that people didn’t have "access to information". No doubt that's still true for a few, but I think more are actively rejecting it.

Bi community... or not
When I was researching my not-yet/will-it-ever-be published book on bisexuality, some of the people I interviewed (who all called themselves bisexual in one way or another) were vehemently against the bi community. Some didn't think sexuality was political (and so probably wouldn't march anyway); but others couldn't relate to the gender-queer S/M geek look that many bis take on; some felt the bi community was just a talking shop and they found that boring; some allied themselves with the straight or gay community according to the sex of their partner; yet others thought that gathering with people just on the basis of a shared sexuality was daft - they wanted to make friends on the basis of shared tastes, interests or opinions.
Myself, I do feel a part of it - although my involvement is mainly online these days. I rarely go to groups or conferences any more (been there, done that); few of my friends call themselves bisexual (sometimes in the face of the evidence); and I feel conventional, middle-aged and gender-straight in bi-groups (and certainly not outside them)!
Perhaps it's because the idea of there being a bisexual banner - both literal and metaphorical - under which to gather, is extremely important to me. That's because pride, in the sense of self-esteem, is something that far too many bisexuals still don't have about their sexuality. I do have it - in fact I have it in bucketloads - but I wouldn't have developed it without the bi community. The bi community specifically - not lesbian, gay or queer - which helped me realise that bisexuality is not just possible, but wonderful.
So come on then, let's make the bi presence bigger, bolder and brighter. At Prides up and down the UK... and everywhere else. I have just one question.