FSG: Faith, Sexuality and Gender

On the margins of orthodoxy

Can One be Glad to be Bi? 28 March 2008

The bisexual pop musician and now BBC radio presenter Tom Robinson is famous for his campaigning on behalf of gay rights during the 1970s and 1980s, particularly through the anthem ‘Glad to be Gay’, written in 1976. Later, he fell in love with and married a woman, and is now a proud father. Writing of these experiences, and of the vilification to which he was subjected over his straight romance by an unholy alliance of the gay-hating tabloid press and many in the gay-rights movement, Tom states: “I called myself ‘gay’ because ‘bisexual’ seemed a bit of a cop-out”.

I’ve written previously about this tendency of the gay, and particularly the gay-rights, community to dismiss bisexuals as not having the courage of their convictions to simply admit that they’re gay and commit themselves to a more honest gay lifestyle. This may be less the case nowadays than before: ‘LGBT’ (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) is now the order of the day, and campaigns for the rights of the sexually marginalised now seek to be inclusive of the ‘cross-overs’ – the bi’s and the gender-queer.

But is there not still something of an issue about bisexuality, and about the transgendered (but I aim to come on to that subject in subsequent posts)? Bisexuality is not generally celebrated or affirmed as vocally and positively as gayness; and there are very few bisexual role models (despite the substantial Wikipedia list of bisexual musicians linked to above) for young people struggling to come to terms with mixed sexual feelings – arguably more difficult and confusing than less ambiguous gay desire. Indeed, when I went to university, I remember reading in what was somewhat coyly described as the ‘little blue book’ we were all supplied with (a mini-guide to sex, relationships and contraception) that indeed bisexuals often took much longer to come to terms with their sexuality and frequently found it less easy to establish happy sexual relationships as a result.

The years that followed provided ample illustration of the truth of this statement with respect to my own life, even though (or rather, precisely because) I was not able to be fully aware and accepting of my ambiguous sexual orientation until the age of 26! Until then, I’d thought I was straight. Existentially and experientially – in terms of the way I behaved, and responded sexually to women and men – I was straight to all intents and purposes; and I attributed the occasional and increasingly frequent momentary twinges of desire for other men to the Freudian concept of fundamental bisexuality: our latent potential to experience attraction for either sex, which in most cases is never realised (in both senses) because we find a way to adapt to social expectations of heterosexuality.

After I came to realise that my homosexual side represented not just an occasional erratic eruption of this latent universal bisexuality through the protective shell of the largely resilient straight personality I had constructed for myself, but corresponded to more deep-seated emotional needs and character traits, I then spent many more years attempting to work it all out – perpetually vacillating between thinking I was fully gay (and that my recurring heterosexual impulses reflected the continuing strength of the wish to suppress my homosexuality that had led me to believe I was straight in the first place), bisexual, or even in fact straight (when that continuing wish to not embrace my homosexual side really did make it difficult for me to open up to gay desire).

It’s only in fact in the last two or three years that I’ve finally come to fully accept my bisexuality; and this process has coincided with my being to resolve (largely) my inner conflicts regarding my mixed gender identity (both male and female); and between this bisexuality and transgenderism, and my Christian faith. It had in fact been my coming to faith at the age of 26 that had enabled me to accept my mixed sexuality in the first place: the love of God enabling me to love myself, perhaps for the first time, as I truly am. Given that this sexual self-revelation was one of the consequences of my encounter with divine revelation, one might think that I could have spared myself the agony of the years that followed: the sheer power and wonder of God’s love that I experienced at this time should have given me the trust that there was nothing I could do that could make God reject me, and that I would only lose his love if I deliberately and systematically turned my back on him. And yet, life and relationships do not always readily follow the blueprint that one might think was set out for them, and it’s taken me much, much longer to reach a point of relatively serene self-acceptance than it could have done, perhaps, if I were a more trusting person.

Perhaps it’s just middle age! Too late, now, to hurl myself into a life of bisexual promiscuity which, for all my avowed religiosity, never failed to fill my fantasies in the years since my conversion? Perhaps, for faith and for sin, it’s never too late! But it’s beginning to get late for me; and I’ve work to do, including God’s work. When I wanted to, I wasn’t sorted enough to do it; now I’m sorted, I’m setting my sights on his purposes. Perhaps my years of agonising were a sign of God’s mysterious Providence all along.


Bisexuality: The Desire Of the Other 27 March 2008

Of course, another reason why bisexuality makes people feel uncomfortable (following on from my previous blog entry) is that it calls into question their own sexual orientation – more than homosexuality presents a challenge to heterosexuals, and vice-versa. This is because it confronts people with the idea that sexuality does not consist of polar opposites but is more of a continuum, and moreover one which people can move along at different stages in their life, or from one relationship to the next. This means that their own straight or gay orientation might not be as stable or unambiguous as they would like to think.

The idea of a continuum of sexuality is not new. All the same, my experience has been that straight or gay people will often accept the idea in principle but then always feel the need to specify that they’ve never felt an attraction to anyone of the same or opposite sex respectively! I’m not sure I believe them, but then again, I would say that, wouldn’t I? It all depends what you mean by ‘attraction’, I suppose. Attraction can take place at many different levels, including those of consciousness and the unconscious. Equally, while not all attraction is sexual – in the sense of seeking some form of physical sexual release – it always involves some element of desire.

The disconnect between desire and the physical sexual urge or need (bound up with reproduction) has been well explored by psychoanalysts of the school of Lacan and critical theorists of various hues. And this disconnect can involve a separation and re-combination of the psychological and physical ‘objects’ of desire. For example, a man such as myself can be attracted to other men who combine psychological (personality) and even physical characteristics that I think of as feminine with physical features that I recognise ‘objectively’ as male and masculine. You could call this homosexual desire; but you could also say that the desire as such – the psychological component, at least – is dependent on the object being ‘like a woman’, and that therefore it is also heterosexual. And if homosexuality can be (a little) heterosexual, cannot apparently ordinary heterosexuality not also have a tinge of homosexuality about it? For instance, the need that some men have for women to be exaggeratedly, indeed artificially, feminine (concealing, perhaps, a hidden dread or excitement at the idea that women may be more like men than heterosexual convention accepts)? Or the definite attraction of some men for women with pronounced ‘masculine’ traits of character or physique?

Other-sex and same-sex attraction possibly always expresses the paradox that the other is fantasised as the embodiment of ‘my other’: the other part of myself that is beyond my conscious self-image as a man or woman, as gay or straight – my other half; the one I desire because I do not yet fully possess him or her. Do we perhaps always in this way love in the other an Other self?

We never recapture this unity of the self and the other in this life; our desire is never satisfied; attraction can always surprise us and draw us out. But in Christ I know an Other who both knows me, loves me and is me more deeply, fully and truly than I know and love and am myself. And in him, my desire finds its end.

(Originally posted on http://btcp.wordpress.com on 18 July 2007.)