I am bisexual for your amusement

Because, after all, that’s what bisexual means – just someone who’ll do anything.

It’s difficult to own to a label sometimes. I’ve been watching Big Brother 8 (UK) clips on Utube, cringing at the obviousness of it all whilst surreptitiously enjoying the permission to be a voyeur to a group of social exhibitionists. (Part of watching BB – and other reality TV shows – is this feeling of superiority. Everyone – the media, the viewers – tends to sneer at BB in Britain. The uglier side of this is sneering at the contestants: the banality and stupidity of their actions and conversations, the banality and stupidity of their identities. It’s rather worrying how easy it is to slip from the first type of sneering to the second. The metaphor of the stocks is hard to avoid.)

One of the most recent housemates is Seany, a man presented to us as so ‘wacky and weird’ that, on hearing his introduction by Davina, I wondered if he was made up. Although he probably isn’t, he has met both Hillary Clinton AND Wolf from Gladiators (not at the same time though, now that WOULD be weird.) Seany’s self-identification, in his VT, is that he has been gay “since last year.” After a day or so in the house, another male contestant was questioning him about whether he was gay or straight.* Seany didn’t answer this clearly enough for another housemate, so he was then asked whether he was bisexual. “I’m just Seany,” said Seany, which as anyfoolkno, is as good a way of ending that conversation as any.

Reader, I groaned. For I recognise the truth AND the inadequacy of that answer. Sometimes I have said it myself. Anyone who has desired more than one gender and been open about it will have experienced the question “WHAT are you?” on a sliding scale which goes from gently curious probing right down to vicious angry demanding.** Yet to answer “I’m just…me” is to avoid answering (and, I think, to imply that one is somehow above sexual identity; are all those gay- and straight-identified people not just ‘themselves’? Can Brian not just be Brian, does he have to be Gay Brian? Pah.)

I understand a little of Seany’s dilemma. He has already answered the question as to his sexual identity. That is, he used to be in heterosexual relationships, and now he is exclusively or mostly in homosexual ones. This is the most factual way to describe it: but just as the housemates’ reactions show, this is not considered an adequate answer. “Yes, but what ARE you?” – Modern western conceptions of sexuality demand that sexuality is an identity, not a behaviour. The identifying noun for Seany’s sexual behaviour is thus either gay (announcing an intention to solely desire men) or bisexual.

So what’s the problem with calling yourself bisexual? If it’s just a description of desires or sexual history….nothing. In fact, if it comes up in conversation, if someone asks, this is the term I use. I don’t want to have a conversation about queer theory and/or the problematically shifting nature of identity demarcation every time, especially if the person asking is just making (polite?) conversation… but I have to admit, I cannot get rid of some sort of shame about using that word. It feels like a defeat, a compromise, something inadequate. I know it doesn’t have to be. In fact, in a strange way, I would LOVE to be able to feel pride. But I can’t…too often I am painfully aware of the negative connotations of bisexuality. Female bisexuality as a spectacle. Male bisexuality as a dirty secret.

Programmes like BB reinscribe this stuff. Anyone remember Adele? She was bisexual, she was a black woman, she was painted in the media as devious, manipulative, questionable. I think this was largely due to the fact that we were all ‘told’ she was bisexual but she herself didn’t announce it, so much, in the house…nobody could ‘trust’ her, she got voted off. In Adele’s edited, public image, part of her “deviousness” was due to her bisexuality, part to her femaleness, part to her blackness (BB, by the way, has always been racist in the sense of the spectacle of the non-white housemates implicitly edited, reported on, talked about in terms of negative racial stereotypes. This has been going on way before the ‘racist row’ over Shilpa Shetty – remember Makosi? Remember Victor?)

Actually, the one to watch may not turn out to be Seany at all, but Gerry – the other male housemate who went in on the same night. A self-identified gay man, Gerry hinted in his intro vid that he fancies ‘a break from men’ whilst he is in the house. He might have just been flirting with the viewer. But it might also be his queer theory game plan! Oh – it’s too much to hope for, probably. But the idea of a camp-acting man like Gerry actually getting down with one of the women in the house – that would confuse the tabloids no end. I can see the headlines now…. “Gerry, what ARE you???” ***

* I’m not saying that only bisexuals get asked this. It’s often an occupational hazard for anyone even suspected of fancying the ‘wrong’ gender.

** This clip is also fascinating for Seany’s discussion of converting to Islam – the awkward tension and fading smiles (see: Chanelle) in response to THAT announcement was priceless.

*** Today’s summary of The Sun reveals a predictable ‘story‘ about Shabnam having “lesbian tendencies! That she isn’t totally honest about! Maybe even to herself!!!” A very odd blend of gay panic and prurient lechery, as usual. Plus, the tack they seem to be taking on Seany and Gerry at the moment is to describe the fact that they are both in the same house, plus platonically sharing a bed (hardly much of a choice BTW since this year, there IS only one single bed) as a “burgeoning romance”. This is actually hilarious.

5 responses to “I am bisexual for your amusement

  1. Great post! BB is turning into a queer theorist’s dream.

    Modern western conceptions of sexuality demand that sexuality is an identity, not a behaviour

    I wonder if we’re starting to develop away from those conceptions. More and more people do seem to be rejecting the notion of a singular sexual identity which represents the “truth” of their selves. Obviously it’s still very much the minority, but it could be the beginning of change in the way we think about gender and sexuality.

    Yet to answer “I’m just…me” is to avoid answering (and, I think, to imply that one is somehow above sexual identity; are all those gay- and straight-identified people not just ‘themselves’?

    Yes I have problems with that kind of statement.

  2. Great post! You’re exactly right about how bisexuality is often seen as a spectacle, and how it seems to catch criticism from both the straight world and the gay world. June Jordan discusses this in her essay, “A New Politics of Sexuality”, and I haven’t read it yet, but Jennifer Baumgardner has a new book out about being bisexual called “Look Both Ways”, which might be a good read.

  3. Aphra-
    ‘More and more people do seem to be rejecting the notion of a singular sexual identity which represents the “truth” of their selves.’

    Hmm. I think (some) people have more scope now to conceptualise themselves as more than __ and in particular this is happening to queer identified peeps – relating this to the idea of ‘gay identity’, the idea that there are now various ways of being gay in UK culture, (even in the tabloids, even if it’s only a couple more options than the 1980s monolithic GAY PERVERT) it seems that the public statement about being gay is now often followed by a qualifier. What I mean is that more people are rejecting the idea that being a certain identification means that one has to identify with the common cultural qualifiers for that: so that while there are some gay men, say, who identify with the gay identity markers shown on ‘Queer Eye’ there are many other individuals who not only do not identify with that, but actively include rather the counter-identification in their self-definitions.

    Well, the optimist in me sees signs for hope in that; the pessimist in me remembers that as long as there have been people, there have been myriad sexual identities. Unfortunately too often they have become either exoticised, stripped of their meaning, silenced, or edited and subsumed into the dominant heterosexual narrative.

    So – the problem always becomes, either the dominant heterosexual narrative needs to change, or the way we think about it, from the outside, does.

    To clarify a little what I said about sexual identity in the post – while I think western culture is obsessed with sexuality as identity, IMO there are problems with viewing sexuality instead as a behaviour, mainly b/c the behavioural aspects of sex are always linked to gender – how “a man should behave”, how” a woman should behave”, and how that behaviour should be circumscribed in certain areas of life.

  4. Tracey-
    I think a lot of the criticism that bisexuality recieves is due to misapprehension of the spectacle, what’s referred to as ‘faux-bisexuality’ – wherever that criticism comes from. Actually I feel very uncomfortable when that term gets used, because it’s not as simple as saying “here’s a real sort of bisexuality over here, and over there two girls playing at faux-bisexuality.” Mainly because it annoys me that bisexuality is often assumed to be the ‘false’ part of the spectacle, but also because I think there is a side of sexuality which is valid, which is to do with troilism, exhibitionism…the bisexual aspect of which gets emphasised and highlighted. Really, it isn’t always about just that.
    Thanks for the book recommendations – I’ll look into them!

  5. I do agree with you – and all of those who have left comments.
    I suppose part of the thing about exhibitionism / voyeurism / spectacle is that – in Big Brother – nothing anyone does can ever be perceived as sincere. The mere fact that the individuals are on there in the first place makes them suspect. They may or may not be “false” bisexuals – or false exhibitionists, voyeurs etc etc. They are not being exhibitionistic or voyeuristic in the privacy of their own lives.

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