Monday, April 28, 2008

Two words joined together

I’ve been reading through some notes I wrote once about bisexuality in the media. It’s about the pernicious effects of the casual use of “bisexual” linking it with every sort of misbehaviour and perversion.

Reading below, do you recognise anything similar now, and/or where you are?

This is a random sample from the non-tabloid UK press of around the recent past, including (gulp!) the Guardian.

* Bessie Smith was a “heavy-drinking bisexual”.
* A character in the documentary film Capturing the Friedmans was “bisexual and had paedophilic desires”.
* Painter Christopher Wood was a “troubled, bisexual opium addict”.
* Suzanne Watkins, a “bisexual mother of two… pleaded guilty to two counts of sex with underage boys and child abduction”.
“Bisexual Maria Hnatiuk … murdered 18-year-old Rachael Lean in a knife attack.”

Given that, is it any wonder that so many people don’t want to call themselves bisexual?

Progressive papers these days would think very hard about twinning the words “gay” or “lesbian” with “murderer” or “drug addict”. I don’t say it never happens, but I don’t remember it and there would certainly be protests. And even the Daily Mail wouldn’t call singer Amy Winehouse a “troubled, heterosexual drug addict”.

Maybe it’s time that, say, peace campaigners or sports personalities loved by millions declared that they were bi. Let's have the word "bisexual" twinned with some good things instead of bad.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I haven't met... Concha Buika

I think I’m going to start a new category on this blog: Bisexuals I haven’t met yet. Not celebrities – I mean, I have no expectation of, or interest in, meeting Angelina Jolie. Nor Bisexuals I have Met (ie famous bis I once bumped into somehow, now dead) or Never Met (famous, dead, and therefore not going to meet me this side of paradise).
However, there are some well-known bis – Alice Walker and her estranged daughter Rebecca; Saffron Burrows; Skin; David Walliams; Alan Cummings – that I could conceivably interview or something… And to start this off, someone you have probably not heard of unless you are from a Spanish-speaking country: Concha Buika.

Who is...
Concha Buika is a Spanish singer, originally from Equatorial Guinea. Aged 35, she sings a mix of latin-influenced jazz and soul and seems to be pretty well-known in Spanish-speaking countries.
I heard about her quite by accident through a music review in the Guardian about six weeks ago (mysteriously not available on the website) as an exponent of New Flamenco music.
There was also a snippet about her private life… apparently, she is married to a man and then met a woman who both she and her husband subsequently married in a three-way wedding. They all split, and she is bloodied but unbowed. According to Pop Matters
“I do what I do, and I’m not doing anything that other human beings haven’t done. All human beings are more or less the same. A lot of people don’t dare do things, but they think about them. People hide something bad. I haven’t done anything bad, so I don’t have any reason to hide it. What rule is there that two people can’t love a third person?”

Good for her. Perhaps her tremendous spirit is due to the fact that, with parents political exiles from Equatorial Guinea, she was part of the only black family on Majorca, and had to fight the racism that resulted. Then she went to Las Vegas as a Tina Turner impersonator. Well, whatever, her voice is beautiful and I’m glad I found her.

Her MySpace page describes her music as Latin / Lounge / Funk, which in my limited knowledge describes her work a bit more accurately than New Flamenco.

Anyway, here are a couple of YouTube videos of her.

This – the New AfroSpanish Collective - is a bit salsa-y and boppy:

Whereas this one - Mi Nina Lola - is slow and poignant:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bis thriving in Australia

Often, I worry that I come across as a bit miserabilist. Well – not this time. Because thanks to a commenter on my last post, I’ve been reading Thriving as a Bisexual or Queer Woman: Tips on how to flourish.

A great antidote to all the (sadly true) stuff about bis having bad mental health etc, this booklet does exactly what it says on the cover and tells you how a range of Australian women who identify as bi or queer are thoroughly enjoying life.
According to the 20 women interviewed by Mary Heath and Ea Mulligan, having a network of close, bi-accepting open-minded friends, involvement in bi groups and organisations, involvement in a bi community, coming out, personal strength and honesty, living passionately, and (for most) having a sense of spirituality, were important to thriving. Makes sense, really.

Elsewhere in the world?
I did propose to a publisher once that I write a book called something like How To Be a Happy Bisexual. She “wasn’t sure how it would work” (different, yet somehow similar, to “there isn’t a market for it”). Not enough money to be made, no doubt.
This, though, is original research that seems to have been funded by the Australian Lesbian Medical Association (Wow! Do similar associations exist elsewhere in the world? That can give funding?) and Flinders university in Adelaide. You can download it as a pdf and it doesn’t cost you a penny. In its layout and design, it looks bright and positive too, so you get the message that way as well.
Lucky, lucky Aussies. I think perhaps it is a society where the things enabling you to thrive are easier to get than they are elsewhere. But I’m sure those of us in the rest of the world (and those who aren’t women too) can learn a lot from this. Download it, it really is inspirational.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Divide and rule

A landmark report by Stonewall was in the Guardian newspaper, (including online) and quite possibly other serious UK papers yesterday. It’s a depressing report, concluding that most lesbians and gay men expect to experience homophobia in all/most aspects of their daily lives.

For the majority of my readers who don’t live in the UK, Stonewall is a “professional lobbying group” which “put the case for equality on the mainstream political agenda by winning support within all the main political parties”.

Now, what I have to say in the following post is in no way to lessen the fact that this report is important, or that lesbians and gay men have a tough time. They do. The idea, for instance, that gay teenagers (and those who aren’t gay at all but are “different”, or don’t fit in to gender stereotypes) suffer more homophobia (much more, it seems) than they used to, is frankly terrible. That we are all (yes, bi people too) meant to sit back and take random homophobic comments from all and sundry. It ought to be enough to make queer people want to act. Do something like, oh I don’t know, join Stonewall…

That notwithstanding, the attitude Stonewall seems to have drives me up the wall. As a campaigning organisation, it says it promotes equality and justice for Lesbians, Gay Men and Bisexuals. Huh. If they have ever done anything for bi people, except when they couldn’t avoid it because of our same-sex behaviour, I’ll be mighty surprised.

The mystery of the vanishing bisexual

Everything this report says about lesbians and gay men is true for bisexuals too. And, as they apparently asked 1,658 lesbians, gay men AND BISEXUALS then surely some of their findings must apply to bi people too. Except that we don’t know. The word bisexual only appears three times in this report (ie “The last five years have seen a catalogue of legal changes benefiting lesbian, gay and bisexual people”; “In 2007 Stonewall commissioned YouGov to survey a sample of 1,658 lesbian, gay and bisexual people across Britain.” Plus once in the conclusion in a similar fashion.) Elsewhere, we are noticeably absent. For instance: one in five lesbian and gay people expect to be treated worse by police than a heterosexual…. Nine in ten would expect to face barriers to becoming foster parents because they are lesbian or gay. Etc.

Now, if they had separated out the bisexual responses, or put bi responses in with the lesbian and gay ones, fair enough. But they didn’t. “Bisexual” is simply a word here, put in as a sop to us, a token that means absolutely nothing. Really, they mean lesbian and gay, and people who are having same-sex at the moment who they count as really lesbian or gay.

Do they not realise that, if a doctor, MP, schoolchild, panel of foster-parent approvers, etc etc etc knows someone is bisexual they very probably think a) they are lying to us/or themselves and are really gay; b) they are oversexed and highly promiscuous, therefore dangerous to society and children in particular. Therefore, bisexuals are considered at least as bad as someone who is in a committed same-sex relationship and quite possibly very much worse.

For myself, I remember going to the doctor and being grilled about why I didn’t need any contraception, didn’t I want a boyfriend… etc. Pretty much the same as a lesbian would be grilled I suppose – but I wasn’t one. I imagine (probably correctly) that if I said I was bisexual they would have been even keener that I take a contraceptive pill!

Mind survey
I wonder if the people who wrote up this research have ever read the Mind survey that shows bi people having worse mental health than lesbians, gay men, or certainly heterosexuals? That they were extremely unlikely to tell health care providers they were bisexual, had little support from friends and family, were poorer and so on. I wrote about it on this post.

This survey took place in Britain about British attitudes, but I think much of it is likely to be true for you too, wherever in the world you live.