Category Archives: UK

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.

Some thoughts on being back in the UK

Being back home was comforting and strange. A blur of travelling, pausing, catching up with friends. Social occasions planned and co-ordinated, not much time for spontaneity. Because this trip had been so organised in advance, each meeting or occasion speculated upon & discussed, I felt somehow as though I was observing my own life from a distance – events looming towards me like islands seen from a ship’s deck, a few tranquil moments spent apprehending the fine detail of each shoreline as I pass, the ship’s course one-way and inexorable. It was good to speak with people again, sit with them and hear what they had to tell me. No-one was awkward or changed, everyone themselves – even more so, perhaps – our meetings like special occasions, treats.

Of course, changes have been happening in the lives of my friends, but these seemed subterranean, apprehended yet somehow not present to me in the familiar faces, speech patterns, demeanours. One or two of my friends expressed surprise at my remembering events – days, nights – a few weeks before I left England, so clearly. (I usually have a terrible memory so it made a change.) To me, these events felt as though they had happened about a month ago – in my ‘English time’ they had. For me, it feels like England & English ‘time’ has been on pause for a year – of course to my friends, life had carried on, the familiar days, weeks and months intervening to make those weeks prior to my leaving now seem distant to them. I wonder if this means it felt to them that I have been away longer, an age, wheareas I felt it had hardly been any time at all.

Dublin: Kilmeinham Gaol

While I was in Dublin I visited the famous gaol, Kilmainham. It’s a pretty interesting place and also kind of spooky. Maybe it comes from watching too much Most Haunted but I always think about spirits in those sorts of old buildings.

I sometimes wonder about the theory that certain places act as a sort of psychic depository of past emotions…for example, Auchwitz as a site of pain & suffering. Many people who have visited agree that it is a sad place (sad, here, a pitifully inadequate adjective) – but is that due to their knowledge, the preservation of the buildings, imagination plus history? Is it measurable, does it contain echoes of the actual grief that was enacted there? Or does it act as a site of projected grief, the place pregnant with the collective mediatations of the contemporary visitors?

In my life, I’ve had two powerful experiences of places which caused in me an extreme reaction. One was in Wales, which is rather a long story. The other was in the Conciergerie, in Paris.

I was 12: on a school trip. I can’t remember too much about the place, but what does remain with me is a memory of the rising panic and claustrophobia I experienced there. I remember they were showing some video re-enactments, and there was the usual tour and informative stuff, so maybe it acted violently upon my imagination: but I also remember the clear sense of having been in that place before; a struggle against a physical nausea; a sort of disorientated jumbling of my conscious thoughts; an absolute necessary impetus to get out of that place immediately. I’ve never been back.

All sorts of theories exist to explain this sort of feeling. One is that of reincarnation, which, whilst I haven’t ruled it out, sounds a bit too neat to me. Too tidy, perhaps, to be true (because it offers such a pat answer for so much of life’s happenings – it makes too much sense, if you like. Call me perverse and stubborn.)

Another theory is that of a sort of haunting – that places may be haunted, not just with actual ghosts but with the pain and suffering of the people that have lived there. This is a very poetic hypothesis, and part of me agrees that it does feel like it could be true in certain buildings etc. Some places just have a good or bad vibe to them. But I read somewhere once that there can hardly be ten metres in any historic city, any city which has existed on the same site for millennia, which hasn’t been witness to a murder. So why aren’t there more of these spooky sites? Perhaps the other emotions that have been felt – the other acts of kindness or mercy, say – that have been enacted on the same spot as murders, separated by years and bodies, have somehow cancelled out any definite negative energy. Whereas somewhere like the Conciergerie, or like Auschwitz, remains as a preserved place of human misery and spiritual abjection. Hmm.

I didn’t feel anything of the sort at Kilmainham. I must confess, it did cross my mind whether I would. If I had felt like that in the relatively unconfined halls of the Conciergerie…! And I don’t even know much about French history! I wondered what my imagination would make of this place, the emblem of so much suffering for the Irish people. Well – I felt interested, intrigued. I felt the romance and the terror, imagined the terrible privation and hunger. But no physical reaction or identification. So much for the genetic memory theory! My ancestors were far more likely to have been banged up in Kilmainham for stealing turnips than incarcerated in the Conciergerie for being nobility…