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?