Glad not to be? Please!
Articles 'celebrating' queers who deny a part of their sexuality miss the whole point, argues Tom Robinson
It's not unknown for a gay man to mistake a boyish woman for the guy of his dreams across a crowded room. So what do you do if the woman then grins and throws you a cruisy look? Sure, you can always look away, muttering "I don't do bi". But since we gay men are notoriously fun-loving sexual adventurers who'll try almost anything, another possibility is to grin back and see what happens. If that makes me (or you) bisexual, well, worse things have happened at sea. What it doesn't make you (or me) is "Glad not to be gay".
"Gay activist turns straight" is such an irresistible headline. It gets written again and again - without reference to the more complex human truths that may underlie the story. Even "Don't Panic" make a T-shirt with the slogan "The Artist Formerly Known As Gay". Bemoaning the old, lost meaning of "gay" is the usual preserve of Telegraph and Spectator columnists, but 25 years ago the "gay" in Gay Liberation Front covered pretty much any deviation from the hetero norm: homo, lesbian, butch, fem, leather, drag, vanilla, transgender, whatever. "Gay" was an inclusive, liberating concept that welcomed bisexuals at its marches and parties alongside everybody else - and I for one mourn its passing.
The newer word is "queer". Bigots don't differentiate between different flavours of non-heterosexuality, runs the argument, so if we're all equally "queer" in their eyes, why quibble? Let's reclaim the word and be a bit proud of it. Fine, but it remains so loaded an insult that it's hard to imagine the term ever passing into universal use. Rather than "Queer" Pride, our annual celebrations are now called "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender" Pride. This may be a victory for pluralism, but serves only to underline our divisions. It's like referring to Britain as the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - impeccably correct but hopelessly unwieldy. Of all the alternatives, my favourite is the Italian "diverse", which carries the inclusiveness of "queer", but without any of the emotional fallout.
But what of this thing called "bi"? Some are born bisexual, some achieve bisexuality and some have it thrust upon them. Until it happened to me I always thought "bi" a cop-out - a kind of maimed, half-hearted version of "gay", desperately clutching at a small shred of respectability. But to hell with respectability: the real point about being bisexual, as a friend pointed out, is that you're asking something other than "what sex is this person?"
In that sense, bisexuality has the potential to become a new underground. Gay liberation - according to GLF - was everyone's liberation: the universal freedom to love and be whoever we wanted. Something of that same spirit has resurfaced at recent bisexual gatherings and events - the sense of suddenly connecting to a wider world of fun, passion, discovery, sexual adrenaline and possibilities. For years gays and lesbians have urged hets to get in touch with the bisexual side of their nature and not feel threatened by it. The big news from the bi world is: increasing numbers of dykes and faggots are beginning to do the same.
Ten years ago I got flak when The Sunday Toerag published its sensationalised (and semi-fictitious) account of my private life. Nowadays I get ever more mail from gay men and lesbians who've become involved with someone of the "wrong" sex themselves: people who enjoy being gay, having gay friends and a gay lifestyle, and don't want to lose their queer identity. "Glad not to be gay" is exactly what they aren't. And if these people consider themselves still queer, how dare any outsider presume to know better? I once had a passionate affair with a man whose sexual preference was for women and whose relationship with me was a complete one-off. He has never slept with another man, before or since, and still thinks of himself as straight. That's fine by me.
These aren't isolated cases. To make sense of them we need a new way of looking at "bi" - or maybe a new term altogether, as wide and inclusive as "gay' once was. We also need a new space at Pride (and in the world at large) where the whole thing can be thrown wide open under some banner such as "Out There" or "Every Which Way". A space where everyone's welcome and anything goes: straights, dykes, males, females, drag kings, families, transsexuals, skinheads, the androgynous and the very, very gay. A space where we ask something other than "what sex is this person?", where people can define themselves in any way they want, or not at all.
"Glad not to be gay" - bollocks! Glad to be alive.
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