Wednesday, March 19, 2008

No bath but plenty of bubbles

I’ve been reading No Bath but Plenty of Bubbles An oral history of the Gay Liberation Front 1970-73 by Lisa Power. Published in 1995, this book about gay liberation in the UK isn’t in print any more, but you can buy second hand copies here.

There was a hell of a lot to fight about 35 years ago – and these people fought it with humour, ridiculing mainstream society. They went to meeting upon meeting, demonstrated wherever and whenever it seemed appropriate, the men dressed in radical drag, and everyone generally had a whale of a time.

This was the time of phenomenal political activity in the UK (and much of the world too) where people thought things could and would change just like that. One of the manifestations of this was (in London at least) squatting the masses of rundown property that existed at the time; living communally and trying to get rid of privacy and private property (no toilet doors, anyone?!?); linking gay liberation with all sorts of other liberation too.

Perhaps their finest hour was the 1971 Festival of Light – an evangelical Christian festival, designed to promote traditional Christianity and family values – where they carried out a hysterically funny intervention, dressing as nuns, letting out mice, singing inappropriately and seemingly having a lot of fun.

The radical drag of those times (men with beards and some lovely 30s frocks that I wish I could wear) was meant to throw stereotyped gender roles into disarray and no doubt was part of the precursor for today’s transgender movements.

As one Michael Brown said: “I was angry, I was thrilled. We thought we could change the sexuality of everyone and not just homosexuals.”

What a lovely thought. So how did they go about it?

To start with, it seems, there was a kind of embracing of polymorphous perversity – that that was a goal in and of itself. Even people whose sexual practice was strictly het could join gay lib if they wanted to support their sisters and brothers.

But after a while things got stricter, people weren’t able to keep up the level of activism over the course of years – meetings every night were a bit much. They fell out with each other – there were personal and political differences. And of course, many – although not all - of the women felt that their issues were not being taken seriously enough. There was also a distinct feeling that women would go off with men if there was the slightest possibility of them doing so – one of the ideas that led to separatist lesbianism that affected so many women at that time.

One woman at least – Sue Winter (who are you and where have you been since 1995? There’s nothing on google) – flew the flag for bisexuality as a gay lib activist. And there were men (such as Tim Clark) who found that, when they had relationships with women, that they weren’t quite so desirable as gay libbers anymore. Polymorphous perversity as a goal for the immediate future faded away, identity politics crept in, and gay liberationists concentrated on being Gay.

Many of the demands that were in the 1971 manifesto have been met in Britain - up to a point - so hurrah for us! No, that sounds too scathing - many people's lives have been absolutely transformed by the changes since then. Young queer people can't really imagine how bad it used to be, in the UK at any rate.

However, I felt sad and nostalgic reading this book. I was too young to be involved in this, although I did come into contact of the dribs and drabs of radical drag, certainly feminism, and general political activity. I wish there was that level of excitement, hope and optimism now – instead of debt, work-hard play-hard, careerism, stress, more debt. And so on. There may be civil partnerships (in the UK, and some of the rest of the world) but what there isn’t is a sense that things in general, not just sexuality, can really profoundly change. There’s assimilation, but it’s been at a high price. You have to be a “good” gay, essentially "straight-acting", if you want to be accepted.

Friday, March 14, 2008


There’s a saying, I don’t know if you know it, which goes roughly as follows:

What do gay men take on their second date? What second date?
What do lesbians take on their second date? All their furniture because they’re moving in.

So far, so clich├ęd. But what about:

What do bisexuals take on their second date? Their friends, because after all what’s the difference between friends and lovers?

I read that, or something like it, on a wall at a bi conference once and it’s stuck in my mind. For many people, particularly – but not only - in the politicised bi community, the friends/lovers blurriness is something to celebrate. You ought to be friends with your lovers, right? And people who have been your lovers, who have shared that kind of particular closeness ought to stay your friends. The relationship ought to be able to change and encompass being sexual or not.

Then again, you can be so close to your friends that you find the attraction growing into a sexual one.

Sounds lovely. Now doubt some people, some of the time, can manage this (and I’m not even going to go into jealousy, emotional trauma, and so on in this post!)

And/or lovers
But for myself, I have always found the friends/lovers thing very hard to manage. My normal pattern, for instance, is to have a group of friends rather than one particularly close one. However, when I have had a female “best friend” as I have had a couple of times in my life, the sexual tension has always been hard to navigate. To start with, they have always been heterosexual. Then again, I have sometimes felt confused about what sexual attraction means in that context. With someone I hardly know, if I feel a desire to be with them a lot of the time, I’d put that down to attraction. But if you are already close, what does that mean?

I remember a woman I interviewed once – and I think it is women, much more than men, who are confused by the borders of sex and friendship – who said that she felt her sexual feelings towards women kept her distant from other women as she was worried about how they’d react to her bisexuality and made her fearful of rejection. So much for all women being bi! I understand what she means, too, as I have felt it myself. When other (straight) women have said things in my presence like: it’s so relaxing being with women because you don’t have to worry about sex, I do feel like quietly screaming. No dear, not for me it isn’t.

Straight people, most of the time, don’t have to think about this. This is something lesbians – and to a lesser extent gay men - have to face as well. So how do we all manage it?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Touching a nerve

Aargh! Where do other bloggers find the time? I know that I’m substantially under par on the energy front, but even so! I had fully intended to post up a good few more bi history items – some are even half written - but they will have to wait.

There is something that I can direct you to in the meantime, though. It’s’s bisexual issue. Full of fascinating stuff – the sort of stuff I’d like to write if I could only get down to it. Oh and and I wanted the world at large to know about my sex life. Pah!

So if you want to know where to find out what intelligent writers think about gender monogamy, coming out for the second time, or what “lesbians until graduation” are doing these days, look here.