Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Let's not talk about sex

So, Abby Lee - author of the brilliantly entertaining blog "the girl with the one track mind", which led to a book of the same name - is probably stopping her blog. The reason: her real identity (Zoe Margolis) was "outed" by a gutter publication masquerading as a Sunday newspaper.
As a result, not only has she had to leave home, but all her friends, family, lovers, work colleagues and passing acquaintances, know what she does, who she does it with, and when and where she masturbates. Being outed means she can't write candidly any more.
This brilliant blog details the attempts of a 33-year-old single woman to find sexual partners. She thinks about sex a lot (ie has a one track mind) and writes about what she does and who she does it with in a witty and engaging way.
What's happened to her has certainly given me pause for thought, both for myself and as a feminist. Now I've made it a personal rule that I won't write about anything here that I wouldn't want my family or my (obviously liberal) employer to see. This blog is about the politics of sex, not actual shagging - especially not any that I've ever done myself! I post under my real name: given that I'm a career journalist/writer, it would be stupid not to. Still, if I ever slip up and say something that isn't in the public domain - that I identify as bisexual, am in a long-term relationship with a man and have had relationships in the past with women and men - then I might have problems.
It's partly because I am a journalist that I am so disgusted by what's happened. Many of us try to be ethical in our dealings with other people. Ms Anna Mikhailova, however, the author of this "expos", is obviously motivated entirely by ambition. While knowing full well that Abby/Zoe is worried about her perfectly legal and moral exploits being known to the world, she goes ahead and does it anyway.
The undivine Ms M throws around plenty of damning words: "shameless", "commitment-free", "low-brow pornography". She also throws into doubt the fact that Zoe actually wrote the book. "Much of its commercial value depends on readers believing it is the true account of a sexually liberated women". Why would anyone think it wasn't? Abby/Zoe writes about fancying some of the actors she works with. Well, why wouldn't she? Anna M hides her prissy moralism very badly.
Of course, she is obviously trying to make her mark - an internet search of her name reveals four pieces done at the Sunday Times (two as a joint byline) and many others at a publication called Oxford Student, so perhaps she was on work experience at the ST.
The ST, a Murdoch-owned paper, has behaved really hypocritically - they published a piece by Abby/Zoe, and excerpted her book. Then, a few weeks later, they do this to her. Why? It seems needlessly mean, particularly as Abby/Zoe writes at length about how worried she is that she will be "found out".
There is no reason for the public to know the real identity of Abby/Zoe. In fact, I doubt if the public is actually interested. She is not a public figure, a celebrity, a member of parliament. She's an ordinary woman on the crew of British films. Or she was. Now, she's not getting any work.

Women, know your place
So for me, this issue has some led to some pretty thumping political conclusions. 1) If you (a woman) want to be taken seriously or have a career, don't write about sex. 2) don't believe for a second that you can think about, or act like, men do when it comes to sex.
The media has decided there are two acceptable ways for women to be sexually - and everyone knows that when women try to be sexual in unacceptable ways, they have to be punished. The first is: woman who wants a long-term relationship, or is already in one, and within that wants sex. If she is young and innocent, or has been married for a long time, fine. If she is over-30 and single, it's going to be tough because there is cellulite and weight gain, men who won't commit, the biological clock, and career demands to worry about. She will have to resort to some kind of manipulation - or at least bloody good luck - to get a man. It's the Bridget Jones scenario. But Bridget Jones started off as a satire.
The second is: kiss and tell girl, who has sex with footballers, and as a career goal wants to be famous, which she will achieve by posing naked for men's magazines. She is invariably under 25. Most of the women in Big Brother fall into this category.
If you might in any way fall into this latter camp, then you can forget any idea that you have the right to think. After all, a one-track mind can only focus on sex; women's poor little brains are much too small to actually have an intellect too. If you think about/write about sex - and especially if you are involved in the sex industry at all, in any way, ever - then you are necesssarily a stupid victim, probably not knowing what is good for you due to sexual abuse or other abuse by men. Look at all the hoo-hah surrounding the Belle de Jour blog/book. BdJ is or was an escort who blogged about it, and the supposition is and was that it couldn't be a real prostitute writing it because it was too well done. Now, I have no idea who BdJ is, whether it is a female escort or a male jobbing hack or a team of people, but in a way it doesn't matter. It's the supposition that all prostitutes are dimwits, incapable of stringing a sentence together / no intelligent woman (who wasn't a junkie) would ever be in the sex industry that I object to. And good liberal journalists (like me) are as likely to believe that as anyone crawling up the posterior of Rupert Murdoch. Perhaps they should check out a blog like this.
But anyway, Abby/Zoe is not in the sex industry. She is simply a woman trying to follow her own desires, writing about wanting sex in a way that many women can recognise. I certainly can. She doesn't write about wanting a boyfriend, about being insecure, about wanting to settle down. Occasionally, she even writes about having sex with women. But in no sense is she a victim in her search for sex.

What a man can do
If she was a man, no one would be remotely interested. I presume there are blogs about straight(ish) men pursuing sex with women, but no one gives them book deals or is interested in knowing who they really are. And gay men are almost expected to talk about/write about casual sex: Mark Simpson, for instance, who among other things writes fascinating stuff about having sex with "straight" men, is perfectly explicit.
But Abby/Zoe is a woman, and she has not played by the rules. She specifically says that she started blogging to write about sex a progressive, feminist, sex-positive way, something she didn't see covered elsewhere. Interestingly, some of the reviews on the amazon site also think she is pandering to male fantasies. But there are mentally healthy women who are interested in casual sex. There are!
"The idea that men use love to get sex and women use sex to get love is a myth," she says. "In my experience, men want and need love just as much as women, and women seek sexual pleasure just as much as men do. The difference is that it's still unacceptable for men to admit to that emotional need, in case they are labelled weak or feminine, and if a woman is open about her sexual desires, she's instantly labelled a slut." As she has clearly been.
As Natalie Angier, Pulitzer-prize winning science correspondent puts it "Women are said to have lower sex drives than men, yet they are universally punished if they display evidence to the contrary."
Just like Abby Lee/Zoe Margolis is being punished right now. And Anna Mikhailova, traitor to women who want to play by their own rules, has her reward: a byline, a few hundred pounds, and a leg up on a very slippery career ladder.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Choices, choices

In the Guardian today, a woman asks for advice about her desire for a baby (while in a long-term heterosexual relationship) and her simultaneous / conflicting desire to have a relationship with a woman. It's here.

Now, far be it from me to offer advice to anyone. What do I know? What, indeed, do any agony aunts / pundits / readers offering advice on the basis of not-very-much-at-all know? All we have to go on about this woman's dilemma is what can be fitted into the allocated few hundred words.
That being as it may, it seems to me that she is operating purely in a fantasy world: she wonders what it would be like to have a relationship with a woman. She doesn't seem to have anyone actually in mind; she's not mentioning how much she's lusting after someone, or even anyone. Mightn't it be true that, once she actually got together with a woman she'd discover - hey, this is pretty much the same as having a relationship with a man? Or not.
Specifics aside, though, what she is getting at is much the same as many bisexual people who only realise their same-sex attractions after being married or in established het relationships. What should they do - if anything? Who can they talk to? Is there anyone else out there like them, and how have they coped? And, very very important, if they tell their partner how I feel, will she/he tell me to sling my hook? Bugger off. And not in a good way.
Talking to people on the bi helpline (when it was going, in pre-internet days) told me that a very large proportion of people who called were bi men who didn't know what to tell their wives. They felt they would almost certainly be rejected. Indeed, if you read any agony aunt advice to partners of men who are "suspected" of bi behaviour or feelings, you'd say that was almost certainly the case. Indeed, should be the case. The interviews I did for my not-yet-will-it-ever-be published book showed bi men - apart from those in the bi community - having a really tough time of it, with women not
But research done by people like Australians Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli and Sara Lubowitz (well, as far as I know, just them, as most research seems to be dedicated to showing either that bi men don't exist or that they are/aren't HIV risks) showed that the female partners of bisexual men had a tremendous range of responses - from lust to disgust and everything in between. You can get it from here.
The expectation seems to be that bi men are going to be rejected by their partners, but bi women aren't. That's not necessarily true either. What does sometimes happen is that husbands/boyfriends start by thinking it's a great idea, but when it becomes apparent that it's about more than a succession of "hot bi babes" flocking to bed with them, then insecurity starts to niggle away.
So going back to the woman in the paper, shouldn't she be talking about her desires to her partner? OK, it does sound as if she is thinking about having a relationship with someone else instead of him, rather than the more radical possibility of as well as him. No doubt he will be hurt whatever she does. But she is giving a fantasy relationship - one with a phantom woman she has never met - a lot more power than a real one by keeping her feelings to herself.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

California dreaming

I've just come back from rural France - great holiday, thanks for asking - and it's set me wondering: where's the best place to be bisexual? When I say "be" bisexual, what I mean (in brief) is: the ability to be open about your sexuality if you want; the chance of meeting people who might just understand you; and an absence of violence towards people whose sexuality or appearance is not that of the mainstream.
And I've come up with a possibility: California. Now, of course, I've never actually been to the place, my US-side jaunts being restricted to the east and middle of the country. So what I'm about to write is based on no personal evidence whatsoever! Still, when did that ever stop bloggers?
But it does seem to be the place where there is more questioning of conventional notions of sexuality and gender identity than anywhere else in the world. After all, people like Susie Bright and Carol Queen live and work there. It's a state with a long history of accepting alternative politics and lifestyles and where cutting-edge sexual politics do find an audience. Imagine trying to make a living as a queerish sexual pundit in the UK... Even my bank manager laughed.
Then of course, there's those beautiful women in The L Word (or am I perhaps confusing fantasy with reality....?)
Not that London's bad. It's even quite good in that people in general are laid-back about sexuality and not too bothered about how others live. There are places to find sexual partners if you want them. And, importantly, there's the newish civil partnerships, which mean that lesbian and gay couples have sort-of equality before the law.
So where would be a really crap place? Anywhere where same-sex behaviour is illegal; anywhere where strong fundamentalist religion is part of the everyday landscape - and that means large swathes of the US; places where you might go years on end without meeting another "like-minded" individual.
Well, what do you think, you Californians? Is it all a bowl of cherries out there in the sunshine? Or is the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger is Governor enough to get you all heading east?