Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy new year

It's a fortnight (plus two days) since I posted my last blog. Yes, despite my last new year's resolution to post more often on this blog, time and life took over and I just haven't. Ah well...
Anyone who read my posts earlier in the year knows that it's been a tough one for me, and I'll be glad to see the back of 2007. 2008 should be much, much better. I hope you have a good one too.

The next episode of my thoughts and theories on all things bisexual will arrive around the middle of January. Hope to see you then.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Queer London

No, not a description of life as we know it now but an absolutely fantastic book that I have been reading. Queer London, by Matt Houlbrook, is about gay life from 1918 – when the first world war ended – to 1957, and the publication of the Wolfenden Report, which recommended that sex between men in England and Wales should no longer be a crime. Life in London, obviously, and between men – slightly less obviously. Things were rather different for women, so that’s another book – in fact, one that I am reading now – and blog post.
It was a very mixed picture for gay men in London at that time. For instance, in the 20s and 30s, there was quite an active gay pub, club and café scene, with lots of cottages (at that time, old-fashioned metal pissoirs that were in the middle of the street) where men could pick each other up. For most of that time, too, there were four or more Turkish baths where you could be steamy in several senses.

But of course, having sex with another man was illegal and from time to time there were clamp-downs. Clubs would get raided and cottaging individuals would be targeted by agent-provocateur style “pretty policemen”. (Pretty policemen were still operating until at least the 1980s, as I remember.) Men who were caught faced prison and subsequent ruin.
Homophobia was rampant – as Quentin Crisp, above (probably in the 1930s) testified. But not everyone experienced homophobia in the same way, and many gay men were in great demand as entertainers. Fine if you were amusing, I suppose, not so great if your bent was in the sphere of road digging or accountancy.

Bi men
One of the most fascinating things for me about this book was to look at how sexual identity, and the categorical division between straight and gay men, has developed. Boy, oh boy, were things different then – probably until the 1950s, when being “masculine” started to preclude having sex with men.
So while there were men who were only interested in having romance or sex with men, there were many other men who were quite happy to do so some of the time.

For instance, there were young men (especially but not only working class) coming to London and mixing in same-sex environments where women were not available. They often had homosex and sometimes romantic relationships with each other too. Then, when they decided it was time to marry, they got a girlfriend, married her, and generally speaking said to themselves: on to the next part of my life now. Sometimes/often, they remained close friends with their male ex-partners who were doing the same.

Sometimes there was a financial involvement in this. For instance, people like gay writer Christopher Isherwood (in his case in Berlin in the late 1920s-early 1930s) had boyfriends who were romantically and sexually involved with them, and kept by them, Then, in their mid or late 20s the boyfriends got married. In neither of these cases did they seem to be “turning their backs” on their “gay pasts” and saying it was a mistake and they were really straight after all. It was much more of a moving between gay and straight behaviours.

There were other young men who were primarily into girls but unabashed about the fact that they would have sex with another boy if girls were not available. As one said: “I had sex with a brown-hatter last night for a laugh”. There was no sense of losing face or masculinity by doing so. Straight men, on the other hand, were often seen by men who were committedly gay as “trade” or TBH (to be had). Or indeed Naff (not available for fucking).

Then there were soldiers - the Guardsmen (why Guards specifically, as it seems to have been?) who would have sex and fun with older wealthier men – who usually gave them presents, meals and drinks etc. This was semi-prostitution but there seems to be no real sense that the Guardsmen were doing it solely for money – they were “made a fuss of” and got, rather than spent, money. Working class masculinity was part of their attraction for their admirers.

Middle class men seem to have found it a bit more difficult. According to his autobiography (Emlyn: An Early Autography, 1927-1935, long out of print) playwright and actor Emlyn Williams found it difficult to reconcile his feelings for men and women. According to Matt Houlbrook, middle class men were more likely to feel guilty about breaking their marriage vow. Being masculine, for middle class men, was more to intimacy and fidelity, rather than physical strength. EW came to London and had deep relationships with men but remained attracted to women. When his male lover died, he got a girlfriend but was still attracted to men. When another man let him down, he married his girlfriend.

Anyway, I loved this book and Matt Houlbrook – an academic at Liverpool university – has also written an interesting paper for anyone who wants to look at the role make-up played in gay men’s lives in the 1920s-30s.

Between the Acts

Some of this is fleshed out a bit more in the book Between the Acts. It’s the life stories of 12 gay men from the earliest years of the 20th century, who were interviewed during the late 1970s when many of them had become involved in the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. Several of them mention getting married themselves between the wars – with various degrees of success – but one, Sam (with the chapter heading The Dancer’s Life) also talks about being the boyfriend of (several) married men,
In one instance, Sam’s boyfriend’s wife is tolerant of, even happy about, their relationship. When she is about to give birth to her third child, Sam actually moves in to look after the family.
I love that anecdote. In history, in life stories, we get to know some of the complex real lives behind the simplistic stereotypes.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Bisexuals lost in France

I’m doing a spot of travel writing at the moment (yes I told you I didn’t just write on bisexuality) and I’m in Avignon, France.

Gay behaviour, or people who look as though the might be gay, are not terribly thick on the ground in France as a whole – so I was rather surprised to find myself in what seemed to be a gay restaurant. Le Brigadier du theatre serves traditional provencal food, and is decorated in high camp style with gold and silver cherubs, red walls, and chandeliery dripping from all vertical and horizontal surfaces. And men (well, one other woman who seemed to be with a gay couple). Tables full of men.

I don’t pretend to understand French culture. Not really. They have a big thing about the naturalness and inevitability of male/female relationships – or rather L’Homme et La Femme. Masculinity and femininity (for men and women respectively!) rule. Then there’s the influence of the Catholic church, the family… In southern or Catholic-influenced Europe, as distinct from Anglo-Saxon Europe, sexuality is considered to be a private matter and not something to shout about. As a result, the gay scene and identity has never taken off in quite the same way.

Can we see you?
The Parisian group Bi Cause (because love is a right) seems to be up and running, though. They meet every week and there’s a lot on their website if you can read French (and I think you can translate sites through some kind of online magic too, no?) Apparently, there’s an article by Catherine Deschamps (who wrote the book Bisexualite Le Dernier Tabou – not translated into English as far as I know) in the newest Journal of Bisexuality - which I can't find an online link for! - talks about Bi Invisibility, something that was discussed a great deal in the English-speaking bi world 10 or 20 years ago. We now have rather a lot of spurious bi visibility – as I said before – so this kind of discussion has died away. Perhaps French pop stars don’t paw each other a la Madonna and Britney.

When in France
I have plenty of previous in France. As I wrote before, I spent part of my yearning youth in Paris. I expected to encounter bisexuality there (why?) but certainly didn’t. Instead, I found men, men and more men – pests that they were. I didn’t know till later that I was living on the edge of an upmarket red-light area.

But in the 1980s, when I worked at an organisation called the Women’s Film, TV and Video network, my colleagues and I went to the women’s film festival that was and is held annually in the Parisian suburb of Creteil. Many of the women at the festival embraced a kind of high femininity which we from the UK found both regressive and baffling. One of the festival programmes showed a woman directing a film while also wearing a ballet tutu. I mean to say?!

When we were there we (my non-sexual friends and I) went to the Turkish baths at the Mosque – and what an eye-opener that was. I’m not saying that there was any actual sex going on there between the women – oh no no no – but what there was was the highest level of sexual tension, rubbing of body lotion into one’s friends bodies, and basic staring that I have ever seen anywhere. Maybe it’s not like that now – the last time I went, I was on my own and it was entirely different – but in the 80s, it was awesome. Literally.

We also went to a then-famous lesbian club Le Monocle (14 blvd Edgar Quinet, in the 14th arrondissement). It was odd. Although there were women there who were obvious couples, there were also men who’d clearly gone there to gawp. Remember, this was at the time when, in the English-speaking world, lesbian-feminism ruled. I just googled the club, and it still exists – the new Monocle – as a swingers club.

That tells you a lot you need to know really. There is a massive swingers scene in Paris (just look at the loisirs section in Pariscop magazine). Man and Woman united –naturellement – but with the saucy naughtiness that stereotypical Frenchness implies.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Underground at the House of Homosexual Culture

This coming Saturday, I’m going to be spending the day at the above, running the tea stall. There’ll be beverages, and fairy cakes – of course – and Santa’s little helpers of every gender. The wonderful writer Sarah Waters will be opening it. So if you’re in London, come on down.
I won’t be the only bi curiosity on show: those socially-minded folks The Bisexual Underground will have a stall. They meet monthly in a London pub for darts, board games, chatting and so forth.
And I think the Bi Underground is about it for the organised London bi scene at the moment – I can’t even tell if the London Bi women’s group is still going, or the London main group that was active for 20 years. Of course, there are places like fetish superclub Torture Garden – a “not safe for work site” - of course, where there is no shortage of behavioural bisexuality on display. Male/male couples, female/female couples, female/male couples, groups of friends or lovers, people who are clearly transsexual or whose gender is hard to determine… Everyone can be gorgeous if they have made an effort; everyone has a chance of being desired by someone there.

Is there a bi culture?
I’ve been asking myself this question quite often lately and I think the answer is probably, sadly, no. The reason for the question is that I’m hanging out a lot with, and seeing lots of events advertising: lesbian and gay culture, lesbian and gay communities, bla bla bla. This event is, after all, organised by the House of Homosexual Culture. They are great blokes and I love them. Bisexuals have a place on the gay scene, and always have had, even if we haven’t been recognised. But is that enough? Could there ever be a house of bisexual culture?
It's hard to imagine. Bi people are too diverse. That’s why I have a link called 57 Varieties. Some bi people veer towards gay culture, others straight. There’s no one thing we all want.
There’s a queer culture – encompassing all sorts of people who happen to be not mainstream heterosexual, but which leaves out many “straight-acting” bis. And there are subcultures with lots of bisexual people – swingers to anarchists and hippies (well, I think the anarchist bit is true, anyway).
But can you call the few bi groups, conferences, newsletters and so on a culture? Not really. I’ve tried to define (for myself) what “a bisexual culture” might encompass but I can’t. Clothes, creativity, music, secret signals to indicate to someone that you might be bi? No. There isn't any of that.
There is, though, a history of bisexuality – in particular how it was seen by the general public - ranging from bohemians and the Bloomsbury Group in the 1920s and 30s, David Bowie in the 70s, the influence of feminism and the sexual liberation movements around the same time, plus the organised bi community. That’s something you can trace, and I’ve stressed that quite a bit in this blog. It’s something to hold on to.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bisexuals a bit less jolly... revisited

I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently about unforeseen consequences – the “unknown unknowns”, if you like. You have no idea that something could happen because A had never crossed your mind as having anything to do with B. It certainly resonates with what’s happened to my blog viewing figures.

Ever since I posted up a picture of Angelina Jolie on this blog a little more than a month ago, my reader figures have gone through the roof. Well, as far as “the roof” for a non-publicised, non-monetised, non-famous blog like this is concerned. Today, more than 1,000 people will read this blog. Well, I say read, but in actual fact it’s more like: click on for a nanosecond, see what’s here, then click off immediately. This blog is currently listed as number two on Google Images’ places to see Angelina Jolie. And then last week, put a link to this blog right in the middle of a story. Mini jackpot.

So, if all I wanted was “clicks”, then all I’d have to do is post endless pictures of Angelina Jolie – with perhaps the occasional picture of a buff-looking man to attract a few people who were into them.

What's it all for?
But that’s not all I want. I want people to actually read this blog, to think about what it says. Some of them have, I suppose. Some people who would never access sites that are purely and simply about bisexuality. When someone does stay on this site for half an hour, and they have found it through her picture, then I feel really encouraged.

And that, I suppose, is why I think I was wrong with some of the things I said about Angelina Jolie. I stand by the idea that, if we “ordinary people” rely on slebs to be our role models and to show us how to live our lives, then we are sunk. The issues we face are simply too different, and we will never be able to change things if we rely on help from “above”. But. It seems that Angelina can reach parts that I certainly can’t – and nor can the bi community, or health educators, or politicians, or books, or less glamorous spokespeople. Obvious really.

She is a larger than life person, yes, someone with a special life, which is one of the things I have a problem with. But as that is what many people really want her for, and, although this may sound harsh, to live through her, then she certainly is valuable as a spokeswoman, a beacon for, bisexuality – or indeed anything else.

Because she – or her image – is certainly doing something I can’t.

The next post will have absolutely nothing to do with celebrity. Promise.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Tila Tequila and the MySpace bisexual

You couldn’t make it up – although someone obviously has. A bisexual dating show where a woman who is quite literally famous for being famous is getting “16 gorgeous straight guys!" and "16 hot lesbians!" to compete for her affections on the MTV show A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila. It sounds positively demure besides her previous series: Pants-Off Dance-Off. And that’s “pants off” in the underwear sense of the word, rather than simply an overly constricting pair of trousers.
Now Tila Tequila is most famous for having completely invented herself as a sleb through self-promotion, and clearly she’s very good at it, with currently 2,170,161 MySpace friends – more than when I looked a couple of hours ago. Now she’s a singer/actress/presenter/model/stripper/all-purpose brand, and good luck to her I suppose.
She has also been credited for giving rise to the term MySpace Bisexual, which Urban Dictionary defines as:
“A girl who makes out with other slutty chicks at parties and then claims to be bisexual because it's trendy to say so and gets people's attention on Myspace.
Pretty much any girl on Myspace who lists her sexual orientation as "bisexual". Hence, Myspace Bisexual.

Well, being a “girl” who lists my sexual orientation as “bisexual” on MySpace I obviously have a quarrel with that. Actually lots of quarrels with that. You could equally well call them “Girls Gone Wild”. But moving on…

Now this show has attracted a lot of commentators – both bi (who hated it), anti-celeb (who hated it) and homophobes (who hated it). But also, unfortunately, people who didn’t necessarily hate it but considered that it gave a marginalised group (bisexuals) some much-needed publicity.

Yet, given that millions of people are watching this programme, what can we make of it? In fact, it reminds me in some ways of the Jerry Springer programmes of the 1990s, where bisexuals took their place among all the other freaks who wanted to show off in public.

It seems to me that the problems with A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila are a) that she had to lie to the contestants, making out that she was straight/lesbian – and Any Fule Kno that bisexuals lie; and b) that because there is nothing else about bisexuality on TV, this is seen as What Bisexuals Are Like.

The world at large has a strange and unusual view of “bisexual relationships”. Even Ms Tequila herself says: “The show will be about me finding love as a BISEXUAL!!!!! THAT IS CRAZY, RIGHT?”. Er no… how sad it would be if that were true. But it isn’t and I can’t believe she thinks so either. The world is actually full of bisexuals having good, bad and indifferent relationships, if people only knew. And they certainly aren’t going to be finding out through this show.

Of course, there are stereotypes a gogo in this programme, but that’s reality TV. Anyone who seriously thinks that, say, The Bachelor, is a realistic view of heterosexual relationships needs to be thrown into a vat of Mills & Boon novels and left to claw their way out.

The problem isn’t that there are wacky views about bisexuality in the media – there are wacky views about everything - it’s that all of them are wacky. Isn’t it about time that there were some genuine ones too?

An hour later…
Tila Tequila has added another 46 friends.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Black History Month

Right on the very last day, here’s my teensy contribution to Britain’s Black history month. (Do people have it elsewhere? No idea.) Anyway, here are two Black bisexual people that you probably haven’t heard of unless, like me, you particularly like the music of the 1920s and 30s.

So, in chronological order, here’s… Ma Rainey.

Ma – so called as her husband was Pa, and they had a double act, but whose real name was Gertrude - was born in 1886 and was one of the earliest Blues singers. Rainey, in fact, claimed that she had invented the term “Blues” – but that seems unlikely. Anyway, she appeared on stage from the age of 14, and sang the Blues right through the 20s, when she recorded 50 songs in five years.

Among my albums of the 70s, currently in storage, is one called Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues. (If only that were true. But anyway….) And one of the tracks on that amazing collection of feministy, ass-kicking (not a term I normally use, but spot-on here) music is by Ma Rainey. The most famous section goes:

Went out last night with a crowd of my friends,
They must have been women, 'cause I don't like no men.
Wear my clothes just like a fan, Talk to gals just like any old man
'Cause they say I do it, ain't nobody caught me, Sure got to prove it on me.
Ma Rainey, Prove It On Me

Certainly into the girls then – though what she thought of old “Pa” is not known. By me, anyway.

She retired in 1933 – six years before her premature death in 1939 – having done pretty well for herself.

You can buy an album of hers here and if you search around, there are plenty of others too.


A few of the blogs I read have signed up to Elegantly Dressed Wednesday – where bloggers post pictures of gorgeously attired individuals (not usually themselves). I certainly think Hutch qualifies.

Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson, born in Grenada in 1900, spent much of his working life as a cabaret singer in the UK. After a short stay in Harlem, and a brief period in Paris, where he was Cole Porter’s lover, he came to London in 1926. Allegedly the lover of a whole loaf’s worth of the upper crust – from Edwina Mountbatten to Noel Coward – he was enormously popular with “Society” as well as “ordinary people”, singing on the radio a great deal. His voice was soft, sweet and gentle, and he tended to sing romantic ballads…. But he was “tormented” and spent his last years in poverty. What a waste.

There’s not a great deal about him on the internet - wikipedia has a “stub” – but there’s an interesting-sounding biography of him, on sale here.

His music is a bit harder to track down – he has the odd track in plenty of period dance band compilations – but here’s an album which they are practically giving away….

To find out more
Information about bi people is often hard to track down; good stuff – as distinct from racist nonsense - about Black bisexual women or men is even harder. But if you are interested in finding out more about Black British LGBT stuff, rukus promotes events and is organising an archive.
The main Black History Month site is here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Boys keep swinging

A long, long time ago (when the world was new, and the internet not even a gleam in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye) I had an experimenting- bi-curious- questioning boyfriend. He hadn’t done anything with any men at that point, but oh his books… Perhaps they could best be defined as literary gay S/M – Jean Genet, Mishima, and other writers I can’t remember. They had been read, and re-read, and read again. I read them myself, and my mind boggled. Still, I was but a young thing. Innocent, in that eager for life kind of way.
Anyway, he spent a lot of time flirting with my gay male friends. A lot. And we used to go to gay clubs with them, which was quite unusual in those days. There was one guy in particular where you could hardly breathe for the sexual tension in the air between them. After a few months, they snogged at a party – quite publically so that everyone gawped. Soon after they slept together – but after that they hardly spoke, let alone did it again. But why? Had all their sexual tension simply vanished? Or did they just feel awkward? We never really discussed it, so I just don’t know.
Times being as they were, our relationship was very ‘open’ – no one called themselves polyamorous in those days – and he spent a year or so pursuing various people.
Then, suddenly, it all stopped. As far as I know he got married, went to live in the country, and never touched a man again. He seemed to confine his same-sex feelings to the past. It wasn’t as if he was a monogamous bisexual. No, he had “turned straight”. He “didn’t know what I was talking about” when I asked him if he was still into men.
I often think about him and wonder… so was his curiosity satiated? Can you have a “been there, done that” feeling about sexuality? Perhaps you can.

An update
I’ve been wondering a lot about what I posted above, and whether I was right to do it. Was I being ethical? Had I taken someone’s life and just used it for my own purposes? Of course, there is nothing in it that would specifically identify him. The people who were at that party might remember the event as it caused a bit of a stir – after all, he was going out with a girl (me) – but other than that perhaps not even he would recognise this pen-portrait. And while everything I wrote above is true, there are lies by omission: when this was, for instance.
Lifestyle journalists are always slotting their “friends” into their stories: my friend Frances, and her difficult kids; my other friend Maureen and her career failures – but I never believe in them. They are probably the easiest but least rewarding sort of friends: fictional.
But the man above is real. Do I have the right to talk about him behind his back, as it were? Am I exploiting him? Or am I just over-reacting by thinking this is something to worry about?
I have written about him because I think his story raises interesting questions. But I wouldn’t want to hurt him in any way, Above all, he was (and probably still is) a lovely man, and I wish him well.

Friday, October 19, 2007

I’m bi and I fancy a straight girl

One of the women who found my blog recently has found herself in just such a pickle.

So should she do something about it?

No - don’t, please don’t. Although it’s fashionable to think that “all women are bi” I really don’t believe it. In any case, when they (whoever they are) say “all women are bi” they actually mean “will have some kind of same-sex under some circumstances, probably when they are paralytically drunk”. Like Jen Sincero, from A Straight Girl’s Guide to Sleeping with Chicks, who thinks that all women have sleeping with women on their “to do list”.

But if you are sexually and emotionally bisexual, not just “curious”, what you don’t want is to have your feelings trashed by someone who is not sure whether to freak out or not.

I believe that people should experiment (if they want, and as long as they take the feelings of pre-existing significant others into account) but they should always, only, experiment with someone of a similar sort of sexuality to them. So people who are basically straight, or bi-curious, should go for other basically straight or bi-curious or experimenting people. If you are positive that you are really bisexual, then go for someone who’s serious about it too.

The six pint rule
There’s this cute little axiom – all wo/men are gay after six pints, which for a woman would be practically unconscious anyway, surely – and I have met women who have said that they have had plenty of fun seducing “straight” women. Well, that depends what you mean by “straight” (see definitions of bi, above). But, if you are really attracted to someone, do you want them to freak out the next day, acting all disgusted, or start laughing at what you have done together? Mortifying.

Or – worst of all, you are a bit more sober, when you “confess” your feelings and have them say: “I can’t really deal with this right now” and run away, never to come near you again. Or treat you like an object lesson in assertiveness training (very popular in the 80s. but do they exist now?) As in: “I need to make myself clear. I am not interested in you in that way. I really need to be sure you’ve understood that.” Not good. And these are just two of the ways I have been let down ungently. Of course, this can happen whatever your sexuality but there’s nothing like going for someone who really doesn’t fancy women to make you feel crushingly in the wrong.

You might be able to persuade a straight woman to sleep with you, but you can’t make her want to do it again, or fall in love with you. If that’s all you want, then fine. But I think my respondent is more than a bit interested in her “straight girl” and isn’t just up for making a conquest.

So my personal rule of thumb is as follows. Never, ever make a move on someone who hasn’t either got a proven interest in someone the same sex as you, or has loudly and publically declared that they are seriously interested in having that experience. If you are serious about being bisexual, don’t go anywhere near someone who isn’t.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bisexuals a bit less jolly today

I don’t think it’s just my age that makes me feel decidedly underwhelmed that Angelina Jolie is perhaps, maybe, just possibly, not actively bisexual any more.
According to Nicole Kristal, on the website After Ellen, the undoubtedly pulchritudinous Ms Jolie has consigned her bisexuality to the past. And Ms Kristal is bereft.
I’m not. I’m sure I’ve written before about my ambivalent feelings towards bisexual (female) celebrities, or rather, as Kristal’s piece rightly has it The Pop-Tart Publicity Whore Bisexual. You can’t trust celebrities, “bi” or otherwise. And I’m not sure they are doing real bisexual people any favours.
Celebrities aren’t real. They have publicists who decide which bits of the person we can see, where they can go, what they can do, the public words that come out of their mouths. Including the B one. And whether or not they should be pawing other celebrities.
Of course, when you’re young, and alone, you need role models. You need people who are successfully doing what you’d like to. Obviously, in a way, celebrities are the best people to do this – after all, they are in the public eye. You can see what they’re doing. But we can’t rely on them to act consistently, or do something if their PR people tell them it might involve the loss of money/status/fill in gap here.
Angelina Jolie is a celebrity, the daughter of celebrities, the wife of another. That is her job, not being an actress, mother, goodwill ambassador for the UN or anything like that. She doesn’t operate under the same rules as the rest of the world. She lives in celebrityland, an other-worldly place built on money, whose inhabitants can do whatever they like as long as they realise that they cannot be themselves. (This, of course, exacts its price – Britney Spears, another possible bi gal, is currently paying it.)
So who knows what Jolie’s real motives are in anything at all? At the moment, she seems to exist to be a larger than life character whose current role is as the 21st century’s answer to Mia Farrow: earth mother extraordinaire. There’s not much space for bisexuality – or any sexuality – in that.

And another one

I feel a bit the same (yawnsome) about Ani DiFranco – who was interviewed in the Guardian yesterday without “bisexual” being mentioned once. Strange, when according to Jennifer Baumgardner, whose book I mentioned in a post not so long ago, Ani DiFranco was almost single-handedly responsible for the increase in young American women’s bisexuality in the mid 90s. But that can’t be true, surely? Were there no other social factors involved? Even David Bowie – who really did encourage a whole lot of young men to “try it out” – was part of a glamrock movement and a culture that was challenging how men and women dressed and behaved.
Angelina Jolie may or may not still be bisexual. The same goes for any other bi celebrity – past or present. But if we rely on them – rather than less celestial beings - to show us the way, then we really are sunk.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Shock news: men and women not from different planets

For the past three days, the Guardian has been running some very interesting excerpts here here and here from the new book by Oxford language professor Deborah Cameron.

In this book, The Myth of Mars and Venus, she is looking at how women and men do and don't communicate, and has discovered that really we are not so very different. But "men and women pretty much the same really" doesn't, as she rightly points out, sell books and get their authors on lucrative book tours and chat shows. She particularly has it in for the grand-daddy of the genre: Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, by John Gray, which I won't link to because far too many people have copies already.

There are plenty more though: for instance, the fragrant Allan and Barbara Pease "internationally renowned experts in human relations and body language" have a whole slew of books with nonsense titles like Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps. Mr Pease gained this expertise as the youngest person in Australia to sell $1m of life assurance and Mrs Pease by modelling and selling advertising. Real experts, then.

How I hate these books. With their glib little catch-phrases, their wacky cartoons, and their ability to over-simplify the most complex arguments, they are an insult to the intelligence, and it always surprises me that people who seem to have triple-figure IQs believe them. “Men want power, achievement and sex. Women want relationships, stability and love,” they say. What all of them? Always?

Not, sadly, that all of those people talking about men and women being "hard-wired" are dimwits. In the first excerpt from her book, she discusses some who aren't. But they are still mistaken - perhaps in a similar way to Simon LeVay who, when looking for the "gay brain", was mistaken not least because he knowingly and deliberately ignored the fact that some men are bisexual. His initial hypothesis - men are gay or straight - was wrong.

Cameron has a political explanation as to why so many people are keen on these differences being "natural". As she says, people have never been less at the mercy of biology, or men and women less different from each other. However, much of this simplistic writing implies that - because differences are "natural" - we'd all be happier and less frustrated if we reverted to the way things used to be.
But things in the western world have changed so much in the past 100 years: even in the past 20, which they couldn't have done if the previous way of being was wholly natural. Men and women relate differently from when I was a young woman; expectations of how we should live our lives are radically different. Anyone with any sense of history or geography knows that gender expectations vary from from place and time. But those changes that do still exist seem more stubborn.

I think people like these pat explanations because they are easy. Because they don't have to struggle with their partners, because they don't have to make any changes; they don't have to think or challenge anything. Society, in the abstract, doesn't have to transform itself to take these changes into account. We can all go round complaining and tutting about the "opposite sex" as per usual.

Personally, I have also never bought into these man = A, woman = B divisions myself - I can read maps pretty well and have lived with men who iron far more than I do. I hate spending long periods of time chatting on the phone, and I am extremely self-sufficient. No doubt, to some people, I have a male brain. How would that tie in with my interest in the domestic arts, I wonder?

But if you like women, how can you like men?

So what has this to do with bisexuality? Several things in particular. If men and women are so very very different, then other people will perhaps find it impossible that one could be sexually or romantically attracted to both. (Although of course, the difference is precisely what some people like about being bisexual!)

Of course, there is also the all women are bi, no men are bi nonsense which I have written about before. That has a societal explanation too, but again, the "we are hard-wired to X" pops up again and again.

In sexual behaviour, the idea that men and women are very different dies hard. But in my 18 years' experience of interviewing many women about sexuality, and now interviewing men too, I would say that there are far greater differences within any group of women than between men and women. Some people need lots of sex with lots of different people lots of the time. Others are more or less celibate for ever. You can say that men or women tend to do something, but that's it.

These people who simplify sexual differences are likely to have similar views on homosexuality: the Peases, for instance. Headings in their books such as “Why gays and lesbians seem obsessed with sex” give a hint of their agenda. The answer to that question, in case you needed to know, is because men are men and lesbians have higher testosterone levels, making lesbians’ sex drive higher. But is it? Is it really? How do they know - have they done tests themselves? Has anyone ever done any research? I think not. And clearly they have never heard of lesbian bed death either.
So where does bisexuality fit into their world view? Apparently, the “mating centre” in the hypothalamus decides which sex we will be attracted to. In males it needs dosing in male hormones so they will be attracted to women; if insufficient, there will be a greater or lesser (bisexuals, I presume?) attraction to other men.

Hm. Twaddle. Who do you believe - an Oxford professor of language or a salesman and model? Complicated things made not too simple. Differences not so very different after all.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Something for the weekend

It's Celebrate Bisexuality Day on Sunday (23rd) - a bit shocking really in the "where has time gone" kind of a way. So what to do, ladies and gentlemen, what to do?

Well, most people will probably be carrying on as normal, possibly having a drink, or dipping into a box of chocolates, doing usual Sunday stuff. There doesn't seem to be a lot of organised activity this year, compared with last.

The main celebration I can find in the US is in Boston this evening (Thursday 20th) where they are launching a new Bisexual Health book.

In London, there's Poly Day on Saturday - there's a fair old overlap between the organised poly and bi communities, so expect to see some people there.

In Holland, also on Saturday, they are having a Bisexual Symposium.
If, like me, you don't read Dutch it's easy enough to automatically translate it. It seems as if they are getting the results of a big survey of 50,000 people entitled "How Bi Are You", which used Fritz Klein's sexual orientation grid. When I find out some more about it, I'll let you know.

So on to Sunday, and in Glasgow: at the MED cafe at the LGBT centre on Bell Street, they'll be serving bi-pride coloured cocktails during the afternoon and evening.
Is that a sky-blue pink cocktail then, and if so what's it made of?

Apparently, though, Second Life is where it's all at. At a blog called Second Life Insider, I found this.

September 23 is Celebrate Bisexuality Day the world over, and now it's finally come to SL. Erasmus Hartunian of the BiCafe Beach Place will be holding an event from 5 AM to 7 PM SL Time that will include Live concerts, DJs, Fashion Shows, Art Exhibits, Games, and Contests, with over $100,000 in prizes and give-aways scheduled for every hour of the day.

Interestingly, SL boasts the largest association of bisexuals in the world -- its Bisexuals in Second Life is over 1200 members strong., the longest running social web site for bisexuals founded in 1997, has its virtual home in BiCafe Beach Place, and will be celebrating its 10th year anniversary at this event. Come join the party and show your support!

Hmm.... does anyone who reads this blog go on Second Life? Maybe Second Lifers spend all their time there instead of the wider internet world.... When I get a home computer with a broadband connection that actually works properly, I'll check it out.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bi-curious? Part one

Look around online, through dating and sex sites, and you’ll see it mentioned all over the place: bi-curious. There are sites for bi-curious men, women, guys, gals/girls/chicks, couples. But what does bi-curious mean exactly? Go back 10 years or so, and the term probably wasn’t even invented. My first memories of seeing it date from around the late 90s but it seems to have leaped and bounded into the 21st century.

In recent years, this term is seen more and more – particularly online. It implies bisexuality extra-lite, focusing on the sex. But is that all it is?

What, precisely, bi-curious means is very much up for grabs and indeed seems not to have been publicly discussed - as far as I can discover - except here.Two sorts of (not mutually exclusive) people describe themselves as bi-curious: either mainly straight people who are playing down their interest in the “wrong” sex while wanting to have sex with them (or perhaps playing up a scarcely existent interest for the benefit of, say, gaining a gay audience for their product); and people who are genuinely unsure about their sexuality.

I'll talk about the first group in a future post; this is about the second - people who are literally curious in some way about their sexuality.

These days, it seems there are quite a few people who actually don’t know if they are interested in the “wrong” – usually the same – sex. They might be literally curious as to what this experience might be like. Perhaps – having had a fair bit of sexual experience with one gender, they wonder what it would be like to do it with the other. That’s what the women in the book A Straight Girl’s Guide to Sleeping with Chicks were doing – putting sex with women on their “to do” list. It’s a sentiment that doesn’t speak of any great desire, but rather of experimentation and seeing if you are missing out. (I've written about experimentation on this blog before, but I'm badgered if I can find the link.)

Then again, some predominantly straight people consider themselves bi-curious because they want to experience what they think their girlfriends/boyfriends feel. They don’t have any desire for same-sex partners per se.

Some people who say “I think I’m bi-curious” might, in the past, have said, “I think I’m bisexual” instead. Lindy, who I interviewed for my book, describes herself as bi-curious, rather than bisexual. I asked what that meant to her, and how it differed from calling herself bisexual.

For me, it means that you have been straight in practice, but have had same sex leanings that you have not explored. I think it is different to being bi-sexual. I once said to a bi-woman that I dont feel that i can yet call myself bi-sexual because I have not had a same sex sexual experience. She countered with the argument that the world is filled with virgins who know they are straight. She had a point, which made me think. I guess in the end, I'd rather "try it out" before I make up my mind.

Bi-curious in this context is about questioning your sexuality – something that is generally considered acceptable by lesbian/gay and straight society as long as you come out with a decisive answer at the end of the process.

This is the most popular stereotype of bisexuality per se, indeed what many non-bi people consider it to be. Some lesbians and gay men feel such people are taking advantage of them – trying to get their pleasure without any of their pain and some politicised bisexuals feel similarly - yet I think this is a little harsh. Not everyone actually is sure of their sexuality. They may indeed feel tentative about their desires. Bi-curious is, true, an apolitical definition; there is nothing “out and proud” about it. But so what? Groups to promote safer sex that want to attract the biggest number of men who “behave bisexually” have found that putting the word “bi-curious” in their title has helped reach their target audience.

Bi-curiosity may mean, literally, people being curious about their desires and once their curiosity is satisfied they can go back to their usual sexuality. Or, alternatively, they may change it completely. It is ridiculous to expect everyone to spring out, all guns blazing, to shout out their one true sexuality.

So when, if ever, might you stop thinking of yourself as bi-curious and move on to actually being bi? According to Lindy:
I think if I had some positive experiences, I would class myself as being bi. If I had negative ones though, I would not be quick to discount the possibility of me being bi though...You probably click with some women and not with others - just like with men!

Sites specifically geared towards bi-curious people are:
For women, a fairly extensive site which I am surprised is not better known (by me, certainly.
For men, although I think this is mainly porn.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Divine decadence darling

Like a fair swathe of London last weekend, I had a brief “Sebastian Horsley experience” on Saturday.

I went to The Last Tuesday Society dinner and ball where the dandy/artist/writer addressed us as part of the launch of his book Dandy in the Underworld. Mr Horsley, His Royal Lowness, looked spectacular, wearing a sequinned suit that had to be one of the most gorgeous outfits I have ever seen - like black mirrored water. His famously stunning girlfriend and muse, Rachel 2, was indeed jaw-droppingly, hypnotically beautiful. (I wonder what it’s like to be a muse… do you have to actually do anything, or is doing something exactly what you mustn’t do?)

Anyway, SH has built up a bit of a reputation for himself as being the embodiment of decadence in a Baudelaire, Byron, Earl of Rochester, overdosing 60s pop star, “I have had sex with X-thousand prostitutes” and “my clothes are my art” kind of way. His main claim to fame, in so far as he has one, is being sacked as sex columnist of the Observer newspaper for answering questions about oral and anal sex a bit (lot) too graphically. (But they were the ones who published his answers. They could always have asked for a rewrite.) And the other was through crucifying himself (literally) in the Philippines in the name of art. He fell off.

The reason he’s appearing in this blog is because of his sexual behaviour. His notorious mention in his Observer column of: “I’ve buggered and been buggered by men and I’ve buggered and been buggered by women”. While being simultaneously homophobic and misogynistic, it seems. Still, for someone who writes as if he is appalled by practically everyone, he seems to have quite a few friends, many of them women or gay men.

Not many people can boast (the right word) of being having anal sex with a mass-murderer - the by-then reformed gangster Jimmy Boyle, apparently , like SH does. While Boyle was also having an affair with his wide. Lawks! And unrepentantly taking shedloads of drugs too.

This, then, is the polar opposite of the wholesome bisexual activist approach to bisexuality. It’s the “all life’s pleasures” approach – why wouldn’t you have sex with that gorgeous person? Why wouldn’t you try this that or the other sexual activity – it might be fun?

Certainly, dandyism - which is a growing scene in London at the moment, and one I certainly enjoy very much - has a homoerotic element to it, whatever the overt sexuality of the men who are involved. Personally, I love men who take an unusually close interest in their appearance and could look at them all day. It is possible to make yourself into a work of art: dandyism reminds me of one of my all-time heroes, Quentin Crisp, who certainly knew how to give good front and quip elegantly.

Earthy crunchy me

But I’m useless at decadence myself. If I do something even mildly naughty – such as not going to bed till 4am or getting drunk – it takes me several days to recover. When I had hospital-administered morphine I couldn't believe anyone would take it for fun. I live on salad, for heaven’s sake. I don’t mind observing it, though, from a pretty safe distance.

Not that I know what it is really - I read The Decadent Handbook without really being any the wiser about what decadence is. But I suppose sex and drugs and rock'n'roll, with a bit of added death-wish, probably covers it.
Obviously, a life solely consisting of self-destructive self-indulgence is actually pretty boring and empty. Not to mention short. Women never really get to be decadent, either. To be decadent, you need money, leisure, no children or other people to look after; people, preferably servants, to do the cleaning up for you. And perhaps that’s why decadence seems to be having a bit of a moment: because everyone in Britain now is expected to work so bloody, unrelentingly hard. To be career focussed and desperate to pay off the credit cards and the mortgage. To not smoke and only eat healthily and never take any risks we haven't paid good money for (white-water rafting, anyone?) Faced with the hamster-wheel of the modern world, it’s not surprising that people dream of drug-fuelled orgies – of which there were surprisingly few in The Decadent Handbook.

Of course, much of SH’s decadence is really a fantasy – in the Story of O sort of way. I had expected to feel at least queasy at his readings but SH, for all his claims of being the devil incarnate, or at any rate one of his henchmen, was very funny and seemingly self-deprecating. His book sounded very entertaining; his relationships quite sad and difficult.

I had intended to buy it and get him to sign it with some kind of lurid message. But by 2.30am, when I left the ball, he, his books, and Rachel 2, were long gone. Oh, I thought, they've gone off to put their feet up with a cup of cocoa. But no, nothing so cliched. They had changed into matching red sequinned outfits and gone to the second launch of the night - for his Soho exhibition Hookers, Dealers, Tailors.

Alas, like so many disappointed fans, I left with my innocence intact.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Further reading

Two reports on books on bisexuality today – not reviews exactly, rather some observations about them…

Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics is by Jennifer Baumgardner. She’s prominent in the Third Wave feminist movement that seems to be quite lively in the US.

[On one British feminist mailing list I am on, come International Women’s Day, US feminists who happen to be in London always ask why they can’t find out what’s happening. Answer, always, comes there none: nothing is happening, that’s why. If there is anything it’s usually along the lines of “Businesswoman’s association tells you how to reach empowerment through setting up a highly profitable pampering organisation”. Which, to me, isn’t feminism at all. Of course, some sort of feminist movement does exist – see the Observer Woman section of the Observer newspaper section this Sunday (perhaps it will be online too, via where a range of young feminists aged 19-26 talk about what they are doing. Heartening stuff. Still and all, feminism is in a lull before an inevitable storm comes up in the future. Politics goes in cycles, I believe.]

Look Both Ways is a memoir first and foremost – reminiscences about Baumgardner's own experience of bisexuality and how it has and hasn’t fitted in to her life and where it does and doesn’t fit into feminism. She also interviews some famous feminists of the 60s and 70s era to see how having relationships with women was seen and the impact it had on those feminists who had them. But her main argument, I suppose, is that young women these days are embracing a certain sort of light-hearted bisexuality as a positive way-station to being a complete person. Hmm… possibly. Some of them.

What it isn’t about is about bisexual politics. Although she mentions prominent bi activists Robyn Ochs and Lani Ka’ahumanu(both of whom are feminists who have edited books on bisexuality), and the organisation BiNet, she never once mentions the Bi community. I find that baffling… It seems as if she only perceives of the politics of bisexuality within the feminist movement. Indeed, she seems quite clear that there is no bi movement, even though she lives in New York City where I would have thought the most casual search would have found her a group.

Bi America: Myths, Truths and Struggles of an Invisible Community, by William Burleson, is the polar opposite of this – being only about the bi community – in particular in the Minneapolis-St Paul area where the writer lives. Indeed, it discusses exactly what it says on the cover. I just wonder about the many bi people who aren’t in that community: what do they think? “Bi people” and the “bi community” are not synonymous terms, even in the US. Of course, he does mention this, and mentions where else you might find bi people, what exactly the community consists of and where it’s going to. I suppose trying to find out what these “non-community” even more invisible bisexuals think is one of my own hobbyhorses. There’s a lot in here and it certainly would be a helpful book for someone coming out as bi or their loved ones who want to understand them.

These books are also both “very American” – relevant only up to a point to people who aren’t in the US. They’re both enjoyable, interesting and readable books, but they feel to me like they’re written about a very foreign country.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I believe

There's a group on Facebook called "Everytime you say you don't believe in bisexuals, one dies".

Just like the fairies in Peter Pan. And how true that is.

If you are told you don't exist, something about you dies. If your life, your feelings, your experiences are supposedly a mirage, where does that leave you? Nowhere.

But some of us are clapping, shouting, doing whatever it takes to say: I believe in bisexuals. And part of the reason we do that is because we are bisexual ourselves.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Cool kids

I’ve been a bit absent from this blog, as you might have spotted, due to a serious onset of brain fog. You know – no concentration, no thoughts worth thinking, a general d’uh-ness.

Still, today a gentle breeze of positivity and cheer has whisked the clouds away. I’m going to Brighton (the English Brighton, not the New York beach) tonight to see my son graduate from university. A sense of pride is in order!

But anyway, back to bisexuality and I started thinking about telling your kids you are bisexual.

It was easy for me. In 1993, when Women and Bisexuality was published, A was eight. He was very proud of my writing and was inclined to tell people when I had a book coming out. I knew that he had to be protected from other people’s negativity, so I told him very clearly that I could love men, or love women, and that many people didn’t like that. (I mentioned a few who might object). I told him that I had written a book about it, and he should be careful about telling people. He said, very matter-of-factly, “Well Mum, you know what they say: each one to their own”.
Of course, he spent a lot of his childhood, from the age of 0 upwards, hanging out with a big old bunch of queers, but I thought his reaction was terrific. And I still do.

Ms Melancholy, in a recent (and lovely) post, talked about how her own son, of a similar age, asked if two men could get married. When told that, in many places, they couldn’t, his reaction was “that’s not fair”. And it isn’t.

What wasn’t easy for me were other people’s reactions – that I was a promiscuous, bad mother, who was obviously too dazed by my wanton lusts to be able to concentrate on parenting. “He’s going to be so confused,” some said. I mean, it wasn’t as if these people really knew me at all – they just heard the word “bisexual” and their brains lit up. Or switched off, perhaps. I know that these same people are baffled by the charming and generally together man that he has become.

Ironically, of course, while my son knew, in theory, that I could “love men, or love women”, in practice, I hardly dated anyone when he was little and on the rare occasions when I did it was when he was staying overnight with other family members. When I started seeing the man who is now my partner, A was 12 and they didn’t meet until I knew our relationship was a serious one. (Although we had been friends for a long while… but that’s another story.)

So much for the revolving door theory – that I would have so many lovers coming in and out of my life that A wouldn’t know if he was coming or going. In reality, after I split up with A’s father, it was The Wilderness Years for me.

What about you?

In general, other bi people with kids have three ways of handling it. A) “They don’t need to know”. This is usually from people who have a long-term partner/spouse, and see their bisexuality as something purely sexual. B) “I’d like to tell them but I’m afraid of the consequences” or C)“Of course they have to know, how could they not”.
Because so many people think that bisexuality is necessarily temporary, a phase, something that will go away when you “settle down”, nothing of any importance, how precisely to manage coming out to your children is not something that is discussed.
I have been lucky; some people have found their children’s reactions have not been what they hoped. But if they have always known bi / progressive / queer / unconventional people, it’s probably a lot easier.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

25 years too many

I was in lying on the grass in Central Park, New York, this day 25 years ago, recently graduated and weeping with excitement at being in what seemed to me the most incredible, amazing place in the world while the fireworks accompanying the 1812 Overture banged and flashed overhead to celebrate Independence Day.

Back across the Atlantic, a man died in London. At the time, no one knew what was wrong with Terrence Higgins, nor its future significance. That didn't last long.

There's an article from the head of the Terrence Higgins Trust in the Guardian today, together with some audio from Terrence Higgins' partner, Rupert Whitaker.

So - 25 years of appalling pain, horror, sadness, and death, yet many people still behave like it has nothing to do with them.

Still not putting it on
According to a study reported on Aidsmap, about men on the gay scene in three British cities - London, Manchester and Brighton - 22% of HIV-negative men reported unprotected anal sex with a man who was either HIV-positive or of unknown HIV status in the last year.

Oh dear. No, worse than that. Why are you risking your health/life in this way?
No doubt many of these men have sex with women too - whatever they call themselves. Now, I know that - according to other studies - bi men seem actually less likely to have very risky sex. Of course, no one knows for certain - as the whole thing's shrouded in secrecy - but anecdotal and, to a certain extent, other evidence indicates that bi men are less likely to have anal intercourse with other men than are men who are entirely gay. Still, I don't want anyone to die of this horrible disease; I don't rate bi men more highly than gay men, for instance, or even men operating under the delusion that they are entirely heterosexual and just having sex with another man because... well, why not? I don't want any of them to get it.

And according to another study, men in the US who have sex with men - gay, bi, whatever, make up over two-thirds of US syphilis cases. Incidences of heterosexually-transmitted syphilis have reduced but this is more than made up for by the increase in it between men. Not only does contracting syphilis show that you are having unsafe sex (although it is very much easier to get syphilis than HIV through oral sex) but it also makes contracting HIV more likely.

You know what to do

This makes my blood run cold. I know I've said it before, but really, some things can't be repeated too often.
Please - do I have to hang on to your ankle like a heavy weight and stop you going off for unprotected sex. Use a fucking condom.
You might have not seen people around you dying of Aids, but I have and it's HORRIBLE. Worse than horrible. Please, no roulette games. Unlike a lottery win, it really can happen to you. And even though treatment is so very much better these days, the health implications are still enormous.
A bi male friend of mine, who spent the 70s and 80s in San Francisco, and who - due to a mixture of luck, monogamy and unrelated ill-health - managed not to contract HIV, told me how he met one of his peer group on the street there recently. They were both very shocked as each had assumed that the other had died. And how sad and sick-making that this was a reasonable assumption.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Sticking on some more labels

To carry on from where I left off last week...

“Why," asks my correspondent "is the fact that the gender one is attracted to of such importance in our conceptions of sex and not, say, the fact that we have such a conception in the first place?”

Indeed. And in a different kind of world it wouldn’t have anything like such importance. At the moment, though, for society at large, the biological sex of your sexual partners is by far the most important thing. Not whether you only like people who are older or younger (unless this is by many years); a difference race to you or the same; always blondes or never blondes; short or tall; kind or cruel. All these are seen as behaviour choices, rather than as saying something profound. They are things that can be changed not innate. Sexual orientation, on the other hand, is meant to be innate – although I personally believe it is far more complicated than that.

And as you say, there is certainly no concern over whether I have a partner I never have sex with, always dump them after six months, want sex three times a day, don’t ever really want sex with anyone, like it swinging from the chandeliers or standing on my head. Etc.

To my mind, that’s because the whole way society is organised is predicated on straight good/gay bad. Bisexuality, or in anyway refusing to accept that dichotomous view of sexuality, blurs the boundaries too much. Straight men in particular need to know that the man they are dealing with is definitely straight or definitely gay in order that they know how to deal with him. In addition, the appearance of monogamy is important to the maintenance of the nuclear family. But it’s only an appearance. For probably most people of every sexuality, at least in 2007, long-term monogamy is a goal that they can never quite attain. Bisexuality throws that into question, even if the individuals concerned are 150% faithful.

To those involved though, as distinct from the concerns of mainstream society, other sorts of sexual identities can be at least as compelling. I’m thinking here of people I’ve interviewed and who I have found through predominantly bisexual forums. It seems to become an identity if they feel it is something they are oppressed over and which is fundamental to their sense of self. For instance, to my surprise actually, many of them identified as poly at least as much as they identified as bi. Polyamory – loving more than one person – is increasingly something its adherents are public and vocal about. To me personally, relationships are “poly” rather than people are “poly”. It is me, on the other hand, rather than my relationships, that is bisexual.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Sticking a label on it

I was inspired to write this particular post by an email from another reader, and it's all about identity.

Is it, he asks, that "sexual identity is at the forefront of what it means to have an identity at all". Yes and no. For me personally, regarding my own identity, that's true. Identifying as bisexual is very important to me because it is so very invisible/misunderstood/stereotyped and so I have a vested interest in putting the record straight. But having a sexual identity is absolutely irrelevant to many/most people – as long as they are either completely het or are so casually bi that their same-sex behaviour can be written off as a bit of drunken fumbling that says nothing about them.

Then of course there is the philosophical issue of what actually "identity" means. In the way we use it today, it’s generally speaking about oppression. Another identity that used to be very important to me – "mother" – is not, now that my son is an adult and not in need of my day-to-day care. I am not oppressed as the mother of a 23-year-old! Being the mother of a 3 or 13 year old is an entirely different matter. "Mother" as an identity has changed into “mother” purely as describing a relationship.

In many ways, of course, the whole issue of identity as we see it at all is very historically, geographically and culturally specific. As far as I can tell, most people, most of the time, see and saw themselves as identifying with a tribe, a family, a group, a class – differentiating themselves from people who weren’t part of that group.

Identity is about differentiating yourself from those around you and this applies to all sorts of identity. Therefore I don't need to identify as bisexual when I am in, say, a bi conference. But when everyone assumes I am straight (or at times in the past when they I assumed I was a lesbian) I need to speak the truth about myself. Similarly, if I am abroad I will say I am British whereas here no one would think I was anything else. But I might say I was a Londoner if I was in Scotland, or indeed that I am half-Welsh if the subject comes up.

In the USA, compared to all other countries, identity in general is spectacularly important. As anyone observing that culture knows, people are always hyphenated (Italian-American, Irish-American, African-American and so forth) in a way I don’t think happens anywhere else. Perhaps this is partly why sexual identity is so important there too (apart from the fact that great swaths of the country express levels of homophobia and fundamentalist moral fervour that would only be laughed at in the UK, of course!)

I have rather belatedly been reading Ariel Levy’s book Female Chauvinist Pigs. Among many other very interesting things she talks about the way sexual identity has changed there. “Lesbian” for instance used to be a political label, a rallying cry, whereas now, she says, identity has become a “behaviour-descriptor”. It describes what you do, not what you think or feel. Many women now say things like: “I’m a butch top” etc. While that might help them get the sort of sex they want, it doesn’t really do much for anybody’s liberation.

More on this in the next post...

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I'll get back to you on that

People sometimes send me private emails (as distinct from public comments) about things that I have written - and this particularly applied to my post back in January on Michael Bailey's work about the supposed non-existence of bisexuality in men.
One man in particular questioned how many bi men there are - I would say from a perspective of disappointment, not hostility - as he met very few that he considered to be "really bi". Part of the trouble, he suggested, was that there was no agreed definition of the term "bisexual" - it could mean people who are only marginally interested in both sexes, or those who truly don't differentiate on the basis of gender.
I wrote him a long reply. It's too long to post all in one go, so here's a section...

You said that one of the problems is that there are no
precise definitions of bisexuality - it's not
necessarily a 50-50 attraction. To my mind, that's one
of the beauties as well as one of the problems of
bisexuality - it covers so many different types of
feelings / behaviours / attractions etc. Fritz Klein
came up with the definitions gay-bi, straight-bi, and
bi-bi. Personally, although I think this is useful, I
think of sexuality more on the spectrum model - that
some are towards the gay end, some the straight end,
and most of us are floating around in the middle. We
may be more at one end or the other, or slide up and

But is bisex about "doing it", or feeling it, or
having experienced it, or self-identity, or what?
Probably a mixture. I'm sure you know, too, that all
bisexuals seem to be quite different from each other.
I have come across a lot of men whose feelings towards
other men seem tremendously confused. They like the
sex with men, but don't "fancy" them. They only fancy
them once they are naked. They only want to have sex
with them when women are in the room. They only want
very masculine men. Or men when they are dressed as
women (ie transvestites who are only dressing up for
sex, not transsexuals). Some bi men do want to go on
the gay scene and get men, but perhaps not in huge
numbers. Some of them seem to hate the gay scene,
though, not because they don't really want sex with
men but because they find it alienating in one way or

Yes, it is true that men with high libidos do have sex
with people they're not attracted to. But, quite
honestly, so do women. Not to the same extent as men,
but they do. Women who are swingers, for instance. Or
perhaps they are turned on by the situation, what they
are doing, a feeling of "naughtiness" perhaps, rather
than experiencing desire for that person per se.
Someone I interviewed, for instance, described having
sex with men, especially transvestites, as "extra
pervy". Now, of course this is nothing like 50-50
bisexuality, but neither is it *not* bisexuality. This
is where I do think it is all really complicated.

Where I think men (even many gay ones) do seem to be
definitely women-oriented is emotionally. That, I
think, might be where I do agree that men are more
likely to be straight: many bi men only see themselves
as bisexual in a sexual sense. (A lot of men who do
have sex with men have said that they don't want any
emotional intimacy with men. Indeed, that they find it
horrifying, almost. I wrote about this before in a
post about men not wanting to kiss each other.

How far this is because if men have a love
relationship with another man then they really have to
out themselves - to themselves and to other people - I
don't know. Perhaps that is simply too dangerous on an
emotional level. But I personally know some gay men
who don't seem to have allowed themselves to fall in
love with other men, either. They are happy to shag
around, or at least try to, and to have women as their
constant companions. One of my friends calls that
"heterosocial". This, too, is connected to the fact
that straight men tend to rely on the women in their
life for emotional support, as indeed do most women
regardless of sexuality.

Thoughts, anyone?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Big Brother is not watching me

First of all, my apologies to the three-quarters of this blog’s readers who don’t live in the UK. You won't be directly involved in this conversation, and that's just plain rude of me. Except that, dollars to doughnuts, South Korea to South Dakota, you’ll have your own version of this farrago to contend with.
So, another end of May, another season of the manipulative television drivel that is Big Brother. And, comme toujours, we have a “comedy bisexual”. This “comedy bisexual” is a bit different from the usual Chicks (Channel 4’s official description of the women in the house) in that Carole is a 53-year-old member of the Socialist Workers’ Party rather than a WAG wannabe. And a vague acquaintance of my partner’s, given that London’s middle-aged lefties are not exactly thick on the ground these days.
Oh dear. Did she learn nothing from the George Galloway fiasco? Has she never SEEN Big Brother? You can’t expect that ANY of your political views will get over to the viewers untrampled. Perhaps she thought she was increasing bi invisibility/Trotskyist invisibility, to which I would respond – more fool you. The producers will edit out anything sensible and you too will end up in a cat costume.
Of course, there have always been a sprinkling of LGBT BB contestants. Indeed, about three years ago MTF transsexual Nadia won – which said a lot about something, although I can't for the life of me decide what. But if you are interested in having your every move monitored by the general public before being a two-month sleb, whatever else you are in your life, then Dr Sue would diagnose some kind of personality disorder. There are plenty to choose from.
Still, the media commentary will give pause for thought, I expect. Mark Lawson in the Guardian described Carole as a “divorced bisexual” using inverted commas. Not sure why – if she is divorced and says she is bisexual, then she’s a divorced bisexual. The Sun, in its usual caring, sharing way, divided housemates into “beauties” – the women under 30 who all look like models and “beasts” - everyone else. That's probably how the producers see them too.
Anyway, don’t watch – you’re only encouraging them. If you want to do your bit for bisexual visibility, you could always go for a walk with a badge on or something. Or, if you’re in the right place at the right time, you could go to the Big Bi Book Weekend in New York.

Friday, May 25, 2007

This is not a sex blog

No really, it isn’t. And from time to time that’s something I regret.
People who write about sex get, ooh, ever so many hits on their blog. They get book deals and proposals of marriage, and proposals for other things too – probably some of them implausible/unsavoury/frightening.
Loads of people who find this blog from Google – and then click off after one second – come here expecting some bi-girl, bi-guy fantasy action. They must be hideously disappointed to find me waffling on about politics, HIV, dead people who liked pushing the sexual envelope and what's on the telly.
To many people who aren’t bisexual (really rather a lot of them) the sex part is what it’s all about; to many people who are bisexual (but not all, not nearly all) the sex part is what it’s all about. They aren’t interested in the emotions, the lifestyle, the history, the challenges. Just the shagging.
The main reason I sometimes regret writing this under my own name is that it limits what I can say about my life, and that includes the sexual-romantic part. As I’ve said before, I’m not going to put anything here that I wouldn’t want my employer or my family to read. I don’t want the most intimate parts of my psyche known by all and sundry – and I don’t expect my ex-partners/lovers/crushes/friends would like it either. I know that what I actually write here is far beyond what many people would feel happy about shoving out into the public domain without being anonymous but, hey, I am a “professional bisexual” after all. Just not a “sexpert” in the Susie Bright / Carol Queen / Audacia Ray mould.
I had an email chat with Bitchy Jones (a female domme, as you might recall) and she said something very interesting.

“Bisexual women probably get a lot of the same problems I get. When your sexuality matches pretty closely to a hugely popular male fantasy it is no bloody fun at all!”

That summed up why I can relate to her blog, even though I don’t share her sexual interests. It is no bloody fun when people think they know what your sex life, indeed all your life, is like simply because they’re familiar with the stereotypes - and wish that the stereotypes were true. Because while these stereotypes might be pretty damn close to a common male fantasy, they aren’t the same. A real person never fits precisely into someone else’s fantasy, even if they might seem to at a distance. I know, from my own experience, how true that is.
Sorry for being a tease…

Thursday, May 17, 2007

International day against homophobia

Apparently it's international day against homophobia today (17th May). God knows, the world needs it - and you can find out more from the link in the title of this post.

From Amnesty International, for instance, whose LGBT mailing list I am on, I give you this information about Poland:

Pride Marches
"On Saturday 16 November 2006 the Equality March took place in Poznañ, where about 450 people went out on the street to celebrate the International Day of Tolerance. The March was guarded by around 500 policemen with shields, helmets and dogs. There were about 150 counter-demonstrators who chanted anti-LGBT slogans and the police detained one of them. There were no serious incidents due to the police presence. The next marches will be the March of Tolerance which will take place in Krakow on 21 April 2007 and the Warsaw Equality Parade on 19 May 2007.
Homophobic language
Political figures, including government officials, responsible for public statements such as 'If deviants begin to demonstrate, they should be hit with batons.' and 'LGBT organizations are sending transsexuals to kindergartens and asking children to change their sex' have continued to use openly homophobic language. On 20 February 2007, while on a three-day state visit to Ireland, President Lech Kaczyñski attacked what he called “the homosexual culture” and suggested that widespread homosexuality would lead to the disappearance of the human race. Speaking at a Forum of Europe meeting in Dublin Castle, Mr Kaczyñski said: 'If that kind of approach to sexual life were to be promoted on a grand scale, the human race would disappear”. He also stood by his decision to ban a gay rights march in Warsaw while mayor of the city in 2004.
Roman Giertych, Poland's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, openly expressed his wish to implement a pan-European ban on 'homosexual propaganda' during a meeting of European Ministers of Education in Heidelberg, Germany, on 2 March 2007. 'The propaganda of homosexuality is reaching ever younger children' Giertych said in the speech released to the Polish media on 3 March. He also continued to promote his controversial proposal to include a ban on rights for homosexuals in any possible future European constitution while the Polish goverment continues to press for references to 'god'."

Shall I put in some witty comments here? No - I shall let this antedilevian twaddle speak for itself.

And that's just Poland. There's some 191 other countries in the world and in at least half a dozen of them, sex really can = death.

Monday, May 14, 2007

As one blog closes, another one opens

As I've been spending quite a lot of time plonked on the sofa this week, I've been taking a look at some of the bisexual blogs I've been linking to. And I'm sorry to report that a few of them have withdrawn from the bloggy fray. Al at Bi Journey, and Fluid at Fluid Sexuality have both "officially" given up blogging. Trouser Browser simply hasn't posted anything since last November.

I have no idea why Trouser Browser - great name, eh? - has stopped, but the other two simply say that, while they enjoyed doing it and it helped them, it's time to finish. I'm going to keep all these links up, though, for Al and Fluid because their thoughts about exploring their sexuality are thought-provoking and useful, and TB because his raunchy adventures are a hoot.

Lots and lots of people stop blogging - in fact, most stop pretty quickly. Even newspaper columnists, who get paid for it, and have editors hassling them for their copy, often find it difficult to come up with things worth writing about. Then there's the lack of momentum, the boredom, the other things that you would rather be doing. There has to be a pretty strong motivation to continue; I've written about mine quite a bit.

Read this one...
But I have just found a blog that I really enjoy. It's Bitchy Jones. She's not bisexual, she's a straight dominatrix. But not, as she points out in her profile, someone who does it for money.

One of the things fortunate readers can find in a blog - which you don't get anywhere else, certainly not newspapers or magazines - is people talking about sex, and in particular their own sex lives, in a thoughtful, reflective, interesting and honest way. Of course, part of this reason is because they are anonymous. So Bitchy can talk about why a lot of standard BDSM stuff doesn't do it for her and, in particular, how dominant women are perceived to be simply a figment of sub men's imagination. She, on the other hand, likes to be in charge because she likes to be in charge. Not because some man likes it. Bitchy's pursuing her own desires in a way that women (still) aren't supposed or expected to do, instead of wingeing about neediness, will he call, will I ever get a boyfriend/husband/married stuff you get so horribly much of the time.
Her blog is full of stuff to make you think. Go there now.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The many secrets of Daphne du Maurier

Another bisexual I never met... (and whose pictures stubbornly refuse to upload).
I'm doing something old-fashioned at the moment: convalescing. I've had a minor operation - a TVT if you're bored/nosy enough to google it; there's no point in being coy – that only required an overnight stay in hospital but means that I am having two weeks off work to "recover". This means sleeping/dozing a lot and walking small distances gingerly because my thighs feel like I’ve been riding a horse for 12 hours. I assume.
I can't really concentrate a great deal, but one thing I am doing is listening to the radio. BBC radios 4 and 7 are excerpting My Cousin Rachel and Frenchman's Creek respectively, the reason being that their writer Daphne du Maurier would have celebrated her 100th birthday on Sunday. Interesting links are here and here. Apparently there will be a BBC TV drama about her tomorrow night (12th) which should be interesting. There's also the cententary version of the annual Daphne du Maurier festival in Fowey,Cornwall, where she lived.
I'm not really a lit crit person, so can't give a run down or analysis of her work – although I read her most famous books as a teenager – but in a nutshell she wrote romantic/historical/psychological/gothic novels. As well as the two mentioned above, she wrote Jamaica Inn, the House on the Strand, very many short stories – including two on which were based the films The Birds and Don't Look Now – and, most famously, Rebecca.
Its opening line "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" is one of the most famous openings to any English novel. Alfred Hitchcock also made it into a fantastic film. I do know that many argue she wasn’t taken as seriously as a writer as she deserved, being, instead, pigeon-holed as a "women's writer". Bah!
But anyway, I'm in deep water here as this isn’t an Eng lit blog, but a bisexual one – and this is about D du M’s bisexuality.

Divided loyalties
Or rather, her sexuality. Apparently, she kept things pretty close to her chest - many of her letters are sealed until 50 years after her death - and according to her official biographer, Margaret Forster, lots of things about her are shrouded in mystery.
Her relationship with her father, actor-manager Gerald du Maurier, was at the very least... troubled. Daddy wanted a boy, or alternatively wanted to be her brother, or perhaps her lover. And was vociferously homophobic to boot. She married "Boy" Browning, producing three children, and they stayed married till he died, but she had a strong "lesbian side" too.
Apparently Gertrude Lawrence - a musical comedy star who may also have been her father's lover - was her main female love. She also had a powerful crush on Ellen Doubleday, wife of the publisher. Du Maurier saw herself as having two distinct sides: wife/mother (female) and lover/writer (male), a side of herself that she showed few other people and a division that she found tormenting. So she was constricted by the mores of the time and the expectations of both herself and other people.
A complicated psychology, then, but the right sort of creative compost from which to grow her dark psychological fiction.

Two more fascinating women I never met…
… and who (evidence suggests!) weren't bisexual, died this week. Isabella Blow, fashion journalist, icon and muse, discoverer of many a designer, wearer of fabulous and eccentric hats and woman who ploughed her own furrow, drank weedkiller. At 48, her third suicide attempt worked.
Lesley Blanch, traveller, "great and glamourous beauty well into extreme old age", writer of The Wilder Shores of Love - about Victorian women who chose exile and love with Arab men rather than settle for stifling English conventionality, has died aged 102. Ladies, I salute you!
If anyone is interested as to what "my type" is – so far as women are concerned – they, to a large extent, are it. Not the posh part probably (they were both pretty upper crust), but eccentric, flamboyant, unconventional, larger than life women… well, hello!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Why do I do it?

I was asked recently, by a woman researching an article to be published in Bi Tribune magazine in the States, why I was still involved in the bi community when - for so many other people, even activists - it was a short-term thing, something to help them "come to terms with their sexuality" which they moved on from sooner rather than later.
Well, I'm not sure what my involvement actually consists of these days. I don't go to meetings any more - not that there are any in London to go to, really, apart from this. I'm not sure how I would be a bi-community activist in the sense that people in the US can be.
This blog - and my book writing, when I do it - is, I suppose, my activism. What I do to contribute to the bi community and bisexual individuals at large.
Even after all these years, I am still intellectually fascinated by sexuality and bisexuality in particular. It seems to me that much of the underpinning of society - that we are only attracted to either men, or women, never both, - is based on a downright lie. A lie that has done huge amounts of harm to lots of people, certainly me. What people do and feel, and why they do and feel it, is of endless fascination to me. I like uncovering secrets in general, and a lot of bisexuality is shrouded in secrecy.
Also, I have been in a relationship with a man for 12 years and this is a way of staying connected to a very important part of myself. My being bisexual, remaining attracted to people regardless of gender, and of having had serious relationships with women as well as men, means - to me - that I see the world very differently from someone who is straight; or someone who has come out to become gay. I see that time and again when I am talking to gay/straight people. What I don't understand is my friends who, say, used to be lesbian and are now straight. They feel decisively not part of the queer community any more.
This, I suppose, is my niche. No one else is blogging like this. Not many people are writing on bisexuality - certainly not in the UK - and there is a need for it. Lots of people ask me for advice etc and seem to value my thoughts. I have thoughts on other subjects, but so do many other people and there seems to be no reason why my views on them should be valued, rather than anyone else's. I write fiction, which some people seem to think is quite good, but then so do many others.
And having thought about bisexuality for so many years (let's say, oh, 35) and read everything on it that I am aware of, I guess I am an "expert" and that, in itself, keeps me going.