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...