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, bisexual.com, 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 - www.suegeorge.com, 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.