In a guest article for The Queerness, Steve Topple gives a deeply personal account of coming out as bi and looks at the issues of bisexuality and class within the LGBTQ+ community.
I’ll cut to the chase.
I’ve recently ‘come out’ to family and friends as a bisexual man, at the age of 34.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a massive occasion for me – it was. Spending your whole life from around the age of 13 pretending to be something that you’re not takes its toll on a person in innumerable ways – my life has been blighted by chronic alcoholism, bouts of mental health problems and a struggle to ‘fit in’.
So to finally lift that last lid on who you are is an immeasurable relief. I don’t have a huge circle of family or friends – the hardest conversation was with my ex-partner of 12 years (who is still my best friend), as I was extremely fraught about how they would react. I knew they always had an inkling. However, when it came down to it they were as accepting and tolerant as I should have known they would be.
Spending your whole life from around the age of 13 pretending to be something that you’re not takes its toll on a person in innumerable ways
For me, the essence of being a bisexual man is being able to identify the different facets of your soul, and having a profound understanding of your emotions; or, if I take my journalist’s hat off and cut the bullshit semantics – I view sex and love as two, very different things, and I view individuals as just that – singular entities, not just someone of a certain gender. But the crux of being bi is that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ definition – how I feel is entirely different to how a bi cis woman feels, which is entirely different to how a bi trans person feels – and so on.
We can’t box ourselves off like the gay community do, into ‘twinks’, ‘cubs’ and ‘bears’ and whatever other white, privileged identity is on-trend at that moment. The overriding thrust of bisexuality is its individuality and not being defined by labels – which is probably why society as a whole still struggles with it.
Bisexuality is one of the last taboos. However much the cisgender (and I’m sorry, but white) gay and lesbian community emphasise the B in LGBTQ+, there is invariably an air of suspicion surrounding anyone who identifies as bi, and in society as a whole, biphobia is still rabid. ‘Promiscuous’, ‘greedy’, ‘going through a phase’, ‘sexually deviant’ – all well-worn phrases, and all utter hyperbole to cover up people’s own insecurities.
But the crux of being bi is that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ definition
Being bisexual doesn’t mean that no-one is safe from your unquenchable, carnal appetite. I’ve slept with 4 people in my 34 years on this earth, and don’t suddenly intend to start shagging anything that has a pulse. Straight men don’t need to keep their backs to the walls, Winston McKenzie. Gay men don’t need to be suspicious that we’re using them to experiment on. Women don’t need to suddenly lose all trust in a male friend who has acknowledged the fact he’s bi. Society doesn’t need to tell us that we’ll go back to one-gender attraction eventually.
Many will probably be reading this and thinking ‘Well, it’s easy for you to say! What do you know about the LGBTQ+ community and being one of us? You’ve only just come out!’
I have just come out as bisexual, after living as a cisgender gay man for 14 years and being ‘part’ of that ‘community’. Yeah – that threw you, didn’t it?
I’ve slept with 4 people in my 34 years on this earth, and don’t suddenly intend to start shagging anything that has a pulse.
The excellent writer Stephanie Farnsworth succinctly encapsulates the problem: “I know of people who have got so tired with arguing with family members they have just let them assume they are gay as it makes life far easier.” This is the same with friends. I’ve seen first-hand the attitude towards bisexual people within the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s quite often not pretty. But for me, this is a part of a much wider issue the community faces – it is quickly turning into a media-driven, middle-class caricature of itself.
It’s a community that I have always struggled to identify with. I understand that for many, it offers a sense of security, understanding and belonging – I get that. The numerous incidents of verbal and physical assaults me and my partner experienced over the years were met with equal fury back – and the perpetrators always walked away first. I understand many do not have the luxury of that, well – tenacity, hence the ‘community’ is important.
But it’s a community that in my opinion needs to stare long and hard into a mirror until its eyes bleed.
Pride, as an example, has gone from being a politically-driven protest movement into a self-serving, self-indulgent, hedonistic excuse for a crony-capitalist party. I cannot fathom why so many turn out, year after year, to support this hypocritical, narcissistic excuse for a carnival – when it has money thrown at it by the likes of Citigroup, who are the very people responsible for throwing so many of our ‘community’ into abject poverty.
It’s a community that I have always struggled to identify with.
Herein lies what I think is the problem, which is probably going to prove unpopular. The face of the LGBTQ+ movement is one which is now predominantly cis, white, middle-class and gay or lesbian – people who, frankly, now don’t have much else to campaign about in the UK. Everyone else who falls under the banner of the ‘community’ are operating in pockets of resistance, while the likes of Pride openly flaunt their winning of the war, while smooching with Barclays and Starbucks.
We need, ultimately, to question the prevalence of identity politics in society. When you have a movement which is happy to align itself with organisations which are directly responsible for the deprivation of its own; when you have a movement which still displays phobias towards its own; when you have a movement which appears to think the battle has been won – then something is going badly wrong.
I live by a very specific mantra: Class first, identity second.
Being proud of the fact you’re gay, out and ‘here’, and most people don’t bat an eyelid anymore, is – in my opinion – nothing to be proud of at all, when the rest of the world away from your perfectly-coiffed hair, scrupulously trimmed beard and Manolo Blahnik suede loafers is so utterly fucked.
I was asked last week why I never talk about ‘gay rights’, or never seem to have a view as a member of this bloody ‘community’.
It’s because my sexuality is not what defines me – it’s me, as a human, that makes me who I am.
We need, ultimately, to question the prevalence of identity politics in society.
Maybe that’s why I’m bisexual, and have always felt closer to the working class community than the one I’m supposed to be part of. I see people as individuals, but also as a collective – regardless of gender, race, sexuality, religion.
We need to turn our attentions to those who are marginalised and fighting near-lonesome battles within our community – but we also need to focus on fighting the real war: the one against the Establishment, neoliberalism and the crony-capitalist system we live under.
Until we acknowledge that these are the real causes of discrimination, segregation and disillusionment within society, then we have achieved nothing more than the right for an elite, privileged few to be comfortably LGBTQ+.
‘Pride’? This is an emotion we sadly should all be a long way off from feeling.
Follow Steve on Twitter (@MrTopple)