Thursday, January 18, 2007

On writing...

My partner asked me yesterday what I would write about if I didn't write about bisexuality. [I do write about other things, especially when I am paid to do so, but bear with me here...] He was partly being wistful, because no one ever got rich - or even enough money for a good holiday - by writing seriously about bisexuality. Although I did hear rumours about mega spondulicks going Marjorie Garber's way for the book Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life. Still, she is a famous academic I suppose.

My main subject, what preoccupies me in both fiction and non-fiction, is "otherness". I don't mean in the academic sense of The Other, or indeed The Others that Nicole Kidman starred in, but otherness as in being an outsider.

Bisexuals are outsiders to both gay and straight worlds, never entirely accepted in either. I think it's true to say that we - and certainly me - feel that being bisexual gives you a view of the world that is unlike those of people who are only interested in one gender.

I am also interested in all sorts of other "outsiderness" but as bisexuality is the one that affects me most profoundly, it makes sense that I write about it.

But also, this blog is specifically about bisexuality because it is covered so rarely elsewhere. (Indeed, until Mercy (link) started her Bisexuality Revisited site recently, I don't think there was another non-personal bi blog out there at all.) At least, this gives me a way to disperse my ideas to the world at large.

Because of that, though, many readers will not know that I also write fiction - which was what obsessed me through my youth. Indeed I had a novel published by no less than Hutchinson. And may (you never know, fingers crossed) have another published by them. Even in this lifetime.

I write psychological thrillers - maybe slightly literary or experimental, perhaps a bit like Barbara Vine when she started. In my fiction, all my main characters bear the weight of their otherness - by not fitting in, by feeling they are on the borders of sanity, by experiencing the wrong sort of sexual desire or lack of desire at all, or simply by being outsiders. That all sounds very heavy, but I'm not sure it really is, except in the sense that psychological thrillers have to be. These characters are also often bisexual - although none of them ever uses the word - and not usually in a Good Role Model way. Often they are tormented by their desires. My interest is in making them three-dimensional, unique, plausible characters rather than having them as representatives of The Good Bisexual.

Still, bisexuality per se is not the focus of my fiction; distorted perceptions of reality, the harm (and good) people do to each other, a rattling tale - those are what I try to write.

I might post up some fiction here at some point. Otherwise, you can still buy my novel Death of the Family here.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

David Bowie made me bi

Oh dear, late again, with this blog as with life. It was David Bowie's 60th birthday yesterday. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can post things that are, y'know, timely and here I go and miss one.

So, David Bowie made me bi. Well, no, obviously not. No one can form your sexuality just like that. And there were other significant people (Kate Millett etc) later on. But he was My First and let's just say he helped. A lot.
I don't remember how I first knew about DB - he was sort of there throughout my early adolescence. But I do remember the first time I really thought about him. In 1973, when I was 16, my then-boyfriend Martin gave me a copy of Aladdin Sane. It was like having a bucket of water thrown all over me, like nothing I had ever heard before. Then I discovered shortly after that Bowie had said he was bisexual (or gay, or something, exactly what was immaterial; he denies it now anyway) and you could see him cosying up to male musicians... Wow - my eyes were opened.

Time... it's waiting in the wings

Last night I was lying in bed listening to various Bowie tracks on my iPod and it wasn't bisexuality I was thinking about first and foremost, it was my youth. In particular, all the people I used to know and don't see any more. Martin - who came to hate me for being better educated than he was; Robin, a wonderful, funny man who died in 2005 and I don't know why; Jane, his dancer girlfriend who's now a signer for deaf people and has, apparently, "a lovely life"; Trevor, my Diamond Dogs-loving ex-boyfriend who became a born again Christian. Back when Bowie was king, we were all a seething mass of potential, waiting for our lives to start.
But I also thought about how downright impossible it was to be a suburban bi-girl in the 70s. Some of my male friends experimented sexually with each other - they told me so, it wasn't a secret, just something that would-be bohemian boys did - but when I told Trevor that I was attracted to girls he simply laughed and told me I was trying to make him jealous. I filed my own bisexuality away for the future, for the life I was going to have when I could get the hell out of there. When, at about 17, two of my female friends did kiss each other in public (at a girls-only event, interestingly), I thought they were simply trying to attract attention. They were both a bit outrageous anyway, but I was furious. I knew that I wouldn't be able to get away with that myself: I had a "bad reputation" - it didn't take much in those days - and I wanted people to carry on speaking to me. I had no inkling that those girls might have actually fancied each other, and I don't suppose they did, but as one of them later had a 12-year relationship with a woman no doubt I was being harsh.

The prettiest star

Going back to David Bowie again, it was mainly because of him that I started to connect bisexuality with creativity, with androgyny and glamour and excitement, with rejecting what I perceived to be the suburban values of everyone around me. I didn't see him in concert till 1983, so missed by more than 10 years the ├╝ber-bisexuality of Ziggy Stardust and those amazing clothes. Bowie looked great though. Still does.
And the music sounds as fantastic as ever.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Why Michael Bailey is still so very wrong

Yep, it had to come sooner or later – my angry launch into some of the work done by Professor Michael J Bailey, professor of psychology at Northwestern university, USA. You know, that research heralded in the New York Times with the headline "Gay, Straight or Lying". The research that allegedly showed that true male bisexuality doesn't exist. That men either fancied men, or women, but not both, even if they said they were bisexual. I know that this research came out in 2005, but I wasn't blogging then. I know, too, that the best response to a lot of this twaddle is simply to ignore it and hope it fades away, but unfortunately this research hasn't. Indeed, a commenter on my blog has cited it within the past month.

Where the blood flows
Michael Bailey and his researchers measured "genital arousal patterns in response to images of men and women". Apparently, even those men who identified as bi (although it's more complicated than that, see below) were only – or near as dammit – attracted to one sex or the other, usually men. They assessed this genital arousal using a plethysmograph – which measures blood flow to the penis and is apparently not admissable as evidence in US courts (although the mind boggles as to what it would be needed for).

So, why does this research have more holes in it than a leaky sieve:
* He used a tiny number of men – 104, of whom only 33 identified as bi. Only 22 of the 33 whom had "sufficient genital arousal for analyses"
* Although it's hard to figure out exactly what happened – without reading the extensive report - it seems that their self-identity wasn't used after the recruitment process. Instead, the researchers rated men as gay, straight or bi according to answers they gave to questions about their sexual desires
* Not everyone, even male everyones, is turned on by porn, particularly not in lab conditions. A third of all his research subjects (however they identified) were not aroused at all. So does that mean they are really asexual? Excuse me while I roll my eyes. What about the fact that (many? some?) lesbians like gay men's porn? What would that make them in his eyes? Or bi porn for that matter. And some people don't like some sorts of porn/some scenarios / some physical types, all of which might turn them off. Apparently, the bi men's subjective response – whether they thought they were turned on – did tally with their stated orientation. There is far more to sexuality, sexual identity, orientation and desire than simply physiological response. Surely this is common sense. Not in this study, however.
* An important element of sexuality is emotion, which isn't even alluded to here. What about all those men who are strongly sexually interested in men, but only fall in love with women?
* "I'm not denying that bisexual behavior exists," quoth The Man "but I am saying that in men there's no hint that true bisexual arousal exists, and that for men arousal is orientation." Erm, why? Seems like a leap over a huge great gulf to me. I would have thought that the differences in number between men saying they were bi and their penises saying something else precisely showed that arousal did not equal orientation. If you even buy that measuring blood flow to the penis really tells you anything useful.

Proof of what, exactly?
However, this flawed research is still currently cited and re-cited as "proof" that bi men don't exist. It's so popular because it says what people want it to say. Huge swaths of society seem to have a vested interest in implying that no men are really bisexual and all women are. Society (specifically, but not exclusively, straight men) is frightened of bi men – who are a bit too much like them - but they can push gay men over to one side and think of them as "other". They can even allow them a few rights now and then.
On the other hand, the daft idea that women are much more likely to be bisexual - to be specific, have "bisexual arousal patterns" - was allegedly demonstrated by the same team of researchers. Not in my experience, they don't, unless of course I have come across the world's largest collection of biphobic prudes.
Of course, Bailey doesn't even attempt to address the social factors making bi men differ from bi women. It is very much harder (in the West, in 2007, although not in other times or places) to be a bi man than to be a bi woman. It's also self-fulfilling: if you are a young man told you can't be bi because all bi men are really gay, chances are you will go along with that. If you are a young woman told all women are bi, you might well think your affectionate responses to your female friends should be more sexual than they are. Simple result: more women than men say they are bi.

What the papers say

While the mainstream press gave the original research a lot of favourable press coverage when it was published, the queer press was more – and sometimes highly – sceptical. It was comprehensively trounced on this blog post. In fact, this blogger has plenty of other information about why Bailey and his research shouldn't be trusted (his appalling work on transsexuals, to start with), along with some great comments. He also links to this fact sheet from the Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation which says a lot of what I have covered in this post, but better and with footnotes.
Ron Jackson Suresha, who co-edited Bi Men: Coming Out Every Which Way, writes here about some of the political reasons why the media likes anti-bi research, and ignores pro-bi information. And Mark Simpson wrote a brilliant – and funny - dissection of this research on his blog back in April. It's a long post, but it shows that – in his experience as a gay man sleeping with bi men – that there are a lot of men who will enthusiastically sleep with other men without having the remotest interest in making it a full-time job.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Happy bisexual new year

In the past couple of days, I’ve had a lot more traffic to my blog. In fact, it’s getting on for double what it usually is and most of the readers seem to have found it through putting “bisexual” in search machines rather than using links and so forth.
Is this the New Year effect? I think it might be. You know, resolution time - you’re not going to do X for another year, you’re going to make important changes and so forth. For some people, that means doing something, however small, about their bisexuality.
“Oh no,” cries a lonely voice in Sweden, or South Korea, or South Dakota. “Not another year when I’m going to hide my sexuality. In 2007 it will be different.” I hope it will.

And my resolution? Must Try Harder (to post more often on this blog).

So what about predictions… Here’s three:
* More people will decide to “explore their sexuality” as I wrote in a previous post. Indeed, in 2006 two always-gay men that I know personally told me that they had recently “experimented” with women.
* More individuals will write their bi stories on blogs and meet lovers there too. Some relationships will break up as a result, but others will last happily ever after.
* Two female celebrities will tell the world that women are beautiful and everyone is bisexual really. And one male celebrity will threaten legal action because he wants the world to know he is totally, utterly and forever straight.

No brainers, eh? For something more random, there’s always Nostradamus. Or indeed any mainstream media outlet.