Thursday, September 23, 2010

Celebrate bisexuality day

It’s 23rd September today, and more people than usual are wearing purple. They’re doing that, because it’s International Celebrate Bisexuality Day or, as it has been rebranded this year Bi Visibility Day. Whichever, it’s a sort of mini-pride, and it’s all ultra-good. There’s more here about events in the UK, events in the US here, and information about why it started here.
I’ll probably be at one of these events tonight, but not wearing purple, which always makes me look sickly.

It’s no doubt just a co-incidence, but the numbers of LGB (not T, don’t know about T) people in the UK seem to have gone down. Official figures from the Office of National Statistics released today indicate that the LGB population of the UK is only 1.5%. There’s info about it from the Guardian here. The ONS asked people how they defined their sexuality, and this is the answer. Simples.

But but but ... What does it mean? Apparently interviewees were given four categories, and asked which best described them: heterosexual/straight, gay/lesbian, bisexual or other. That’s surely too broad-brush. For instance, someone who is now monogamously married, but has had significant lesbian relationships in the past, might well consider that heterosexual/straight “best describes her” but it best describes her behaviour as it is now, not her feelings, her past, her desires, all the things that make up sexuality. She might be “behaviourally heterosexual” but that’s only part of the story.

According to the ONS (in the Guardian):
“ ... the [previous] higher estimate [of LGB people] was based on different sampling methods and responses to questions about sexual attraction and behaviour both in the past and present."

But isn’t that the right way to assess sexuality? Which category “best describes you”! To my mind, that over-simplifies something which is often complicated.

The stats are odd in other ways too. Sixty-six per cent of LGB people, according to this, are under 44. What does this mean? That older people have “turned straight”? That more young people are gay these days? That queer sexuality is something that happens to the young? I don’t know. Interestingly, quite a high proportion of this 1.5% says “bisexual” best describes them.

It does seem strange to me that, when Kinsey did his famous reports estimating the gay/lesbian population of the US as 10% (this may not be precisely what he said; do correct me if I’m wrong), homosexuality was both hidden and stigmatised. This figure was accepted for a long time.

Now, homosexuality is very much less hidden. There are far far more openly gay, especially gay (and lesbian, and bi) people than there were when I was young. Yet consistently, official numbers go down. In the 1950s, it was 10%; more recently, it has been accepted as being 5%.

Purple power
As someone once said: There’s lies, damned lies, and statistics. Who knows what any of these figures mean.

What concerns me most, is that queer people’s issues will be ever more marginalised if we are seen to be such a tiny minority of the population. I simply don’t believe that it is true.

As to why bi people have taken on purple: I guess it’s because pink = gay (and, because it is the colour stereotypically loved by little girls, nothing Real Men should have anything to do with). Also, pink (for girls) mixed with blue (for boys) = purple for any and everyone.

Whatever, tonight I will be having my cake and eating it. I hope you will too.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bisexual war hero

The really inspiring experience of BiCon a couple of weeks ago, combined with me finishing my MA, means my blog hibernation is over. At the very least, there will be a few posts again before I run out of steam...

Anyway, back to an old theme of mine - Bisexuals I never met – where I write about famousish dead bi people.

The BBC radio programme Last Word often has really interesting subjects featured on it. It’s essentially an obituary programme, about notable people who’ve died in the last week or so, with comments from those who knew them. Catch it on iPlayer (if you are in a country that allows it; I don’t think the US does).

Today’s Last Word had a feature about Michael (Micky) Burn – war hero, foreign correspondent for The (London) Times, poet, novelist - who has died aged 97. Here’s an obituary about him here. Yes, posh man + the Second World War + derring-do = Daily Telegraph obituary.

There’s also an interesting trailer for a documentary about his life here, and I have to say I warm to him:

Like many people who’ve made it to obituary programmes, he came from an upper class background, and this shows in his early politics. Specifically, as a young man he used to be a Nazi sympathiser, even introducing Unity Mitford to Hitler. But (thank the lords) a trip to Dachau in 1937 put a stop to that and he spoke later about how ashamed he had been to have been taken in by fascism. He turned to the Left shortly after, and had a very active war, being imprisoned in Colditz for several years. Later, he saved the life of the little girl who would become actress Audrey Hepburn. Burn was socialist throughout the rest of his life, apparently losing all his money in mussel-breeding workers’ co-operative in the 1960s.

He was also bisexual, having a long on-off affair with the (later) Soviet spy Guy Burgess as a young man. Apparently there were other men too, and in the 1950s he was mentioned (anonymously) in the News of the World as a victim of blackmail. He was also married to Mary, who was, he said, ”the love of his life”.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this man sounds bisexual and you’d have thought that the word might have featured at least once in the programme. Not a bit of it. One of his old acquaintances bugged the hell out of me by saying again and again that Burn was homosexual. No. If he was married simply because he wanted to hide his homosexuality, fine. But Burn describing his wife as the love of his life surely puts paid to that.

I do take the point of groups like Bi Index, who say that the only person who can say someone is bi is themselves.

But Mr Burn wasn’t on this programme to say he either was or wasn’t; it was other people removing the possibility for him after his death. Anyway, one of the inter-titles on the documentary trailer (done with, presumably, his involvement) was “bisexual”. So there!

I sometimes wonder about this “Bisexuals I never met” tag - am I looking for heroes amongst them? Role models, people I can be like, look up to? I don’t really believe in that; people are flawed and adulation doomed to failure. I suppose it is partly volume: look, here’s a large number of people, bisexuals are everywhere. Still, a lot of the people I list here led fascinating lives, with all sorts of tales to tell, and I wish I had met them.

Mr Burn is a particularly apposite member of this team at the moment, what with the 70th anniversary of the Blitz (where urban parts of the UK were bombed by the Nazis) being written about so much right now. How can people in developed wealthy countries nowadays be so brave? I'm not sure that they can.

In 2008, there were reports that Burn’s autobiography, Turned Towards the sun, had been bought by Hollywood and that Jude Law was likely to be starring. Interesting. I wonder who will play Guy Burgess – or will this sub-plot be strangely absent?