I tend to blame my lack of experience with diversity on the fact that I come from Cumbria. For the uninitiated, it’s that weird bit of England that’s north of Manchester and west of Newcastle and not really identifiable as anything. We have the Lake District, which is pleasant, and Sellafield, which is less so. And then there’s livestock farming, which is intermittently interrupted by disease. What we lack is cool, edgy, urban diversity. Almost everyone I encountered while growing up was white and identified, publicly at least, as straight. Perhaps it’s changed (I left in 1993, to go to Oxford University, clearly in search of a posher version of home in terms of cultural mix).
Unlike all the cool chicks from Manchester, London and New York, I have never had a trendy, über-camp yet strangely sexless gay best friend to advise me on fashion and blow jobs. Nor have I (knowingly) had a bisexual boyfriend, which, according to the March issue of Glamour, is the new Big Thing.* Apparently “more and more women” are dating bi guys (“are they naïve – or enlightened? And would you go there?”). There then follows a personal story from a female writer who’s married to a bisexual man, plus – in case it still all feels a bit icky – a nice feature on “Celebrity bi guys” (which sounds like a game show to me, although I’ve not yet worked out the rules).
The article is alright, really. It could have been worse. There’s a bit where the writer interviews an academic “who has done extensive research into the arousal patterns of gay and bisexual people” and informs us that sexual orientation is different – different! – from sexual behaviour (which is a relief – I always assumed bisexual people were contractually obliged to shag all comers, or risk losing their official bi status). There is also some “good news” for women who fear their bi guy is secretly gay. Apparently, this used to be the case when we all hated gays, but now “the reasons the bi-to-gay move used to be so prevalent – societal and family pressures, fear of being openly gay and bi – are lessening. Progress!” Progress indeed. Although there’s still an acknowledgement of the fact that it’s easier for bi women than it is for bi men: “When a woman says she is bi, it makes her more desirable to men” (one assumes this is totally down to open-mindedness and not remotely linked to the fact that women being attracted to women is dismissed as something the ladies put on to entertain the lads).
As someone who lacks a sufficient number of sea monkey-style gay people-as-accessories, I feel nervous about objecting to the article too much. After all, I’m a straight woman who is the partner of a straight man … or am I? This is the thing that intrigues me. In the world of Glamour – a world in which hot straight guys are constantly “telling all” and gay best friends are there to mop up your tears whenever you misread straight guy “signals” – my partner doesn’t fit in. Nor do most men I know. It’s not to do with being gay, straight or bi. I think it’s to do with being a real, live person. Or am I being simplistic?
The author of the Glamour piece notes how she and her partner “run with a pretty arty crowd” (I’m taking that to mean they don’t hail from Cumbria). Her husband is “a performance artist, eccentric and has – true to stereotype – better style than me”:
And if I’m like, “Wow, Mike is super-hot”, he doesn’t stare blankly but says, “Totally. Because of the way he plays guitar, right?”
I have no idea who Mike is, by the way. All the same, I find it slightly depressing that in order for a man to see attractiveness in another man – or at least admit to it – it’s presumed he has to be gay or bi. Are these the rules in Glamourland? The author also claims that going out with a bi guy is extra-flattering:
I came to look at it this way: If he was choosing to be with me, then he was choosing me over all men and women everywhere.
Without wishing to burst the author’s bubble, I’d suggest this isn’t quite true. I, for one, have not yet consented to a hypothetical adulterous relationship with her man (if she sends me a picture, I’ll think about it).
It seems to me that in Glamourland, however enlightened one is trying to be, people who are “different” – in this case, not straight – are reduced to the status of objects who define the “normal” people, with the latter being seen as more real. It’s clear the author of the piece has an authentic, honest relationship with her husband, yet when something like this is translated into Glamour-speak it can’t quite hold together. As soon as you plonk a story such as this right in the middle of a whole range of glossy gender stereotypes, it feels demeaning. And yes, I’m not the one with a bisexual partner on my arm, so perhaps I don’t know what I’m talking about. It just seems to me that “bi guy” is on a par with the latest handbag or pair of shoes: a possession which defines how urban and trendy you are, rather than an actual human being (so maybe I’m just jealous because you can’t buy them on Net-a-porter).
Still, back in my day, you couldn’t buy cool handbags and shoes either, at least not in Cumbria (I’m old enough to remember a Carlisle before the Lanes). I’m still working on developing that air of sophistication. I’m just not so sure I’ll get it by presenting relationships as fashion statements.
* If you have read my blog before, you may notice that this is a regular monthly feature where I go “ooh, I’m sure I cancelled my subscription to that evil magazine. Ah well, seeing as it’s here, I’ll have another rant …”