Our guest writer, Alex Wainwright, explores in this personal essay his various identities as a bisexual man, a parent and the conflicts between them.
This essay’s concept began as a suggested topic for a bisexual friend who aspires to have children whilst being strong in their desire to retain their queer identity. This is something I immediately related to. As a relatively well known bi person in Newcastle who also happens to be regularly seen shoulder carrying his pre-schooler, I have worked hard to establish an identity which is not easy to fully grasp.
My own experiences of UK queer spaces aren’t great. I will state this now, so it’s out in the open. I’m very comfortable admitting this in conversation but writing it down for everyone to read isn’t easy at all. With my slight change in role for the Amnesty International LGBTI Network, I am now immensely proud to be working alongside countless queer asylum seekers, many of whom have never attended pride events until they arrive in the UK. Within their home countries, many face an intensely vitriolic attitude towards LGBTQ+ people and there are no open Pride events or gatherings without miserable consequences and great risk to oneself.
In reaction to this, my asylum seeker peers have understandably taken every possible opportunity to contribute and soak up the atmosphere of the UK Pride season, which I struggle to find peace with. I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt that I’m that cheerless git who wants more visibility, more acceptance and yet doesn’t like what is offered.
Whilst I want this to be a celebration piece about why every nation needs queer events and spaces like ours in the UK, I cannot do that as ours are largely flawed in their approach to inclusion. We almost have inclusion in the palm of our hands for the wider community to marvel at; then, it slips through and is found lacking. Every nation needs pride. Make no mistake, I absolutely advocate this. This isn’t about exploring the need for Pride as it’s a given. This attempts to explain my own personal struggles in engaging with my own community; partly because I’m bisexual, partly because I’m very religious, but mostly because I’m married and a parent.
Let’s look at this parent business. Perhaps my perceived instability within queer spaces is rooted in how atypical I am for a queer person. As it stands in the UK, 2% of our population are LGBTQ+ of which 0.8% are bisexual (Office for National Statistics, 2016). I sit in a slightly unusual pocket of my community as I’m in a relationship with a cis woman so we don’t quite fit the mould of what queer spaces are catering to given that we essentially appear as heterosexual. Over 70% of LGBTQ+ folk are single. This doesn’t mean they aren’t dating, sure, but single as opposed to married and settled down with two children in a semi-detached property in the urban fringe.
My family represent that classic heterosexual nuclear set up which Center Parcs get all giddy about welcoming into their white ghettos in faux forest gettaways. If Ikea is the ‘Gay Mecca’ with its swarms of bickering same-sex couples arguing the toss over interiors, then Center Parcs is what I lovingly call ‘Heteroland’. For those of you queer people who have never ventured into this haven, it’s basically an overpriced resort for wealthy families with both parents working, dotted around the country in purpose-built forests. If you enjoy paying £5.20 for a pint of beer under a palm tree in a Lake District postcode then have a mission over. I joke but whenever I spend any significant length of time in these places, I feel deeply unsafe to the point of neurotic. My anxiety spikes and the sweats start. I feel like a fake straight person playing at ‘ordinary Northern bloke’ and at any second, I will spurt out at full volume “I usually prefer men in the bedroom and my favourite film is All About Eve!”
We almost have inclusion in the palm of our hands for the wider community to marvel at then it slips through and is found lacking.
“Maybe he’s just gay and not at peace with himself”. No, trust me I’m bi and happily married but therein lies the complexity of my sexual identity which so many people may relate to. It isn’t clear cut and it isn’t rigid or restrictive in any way as I am attracted to who I’m attracted to. There isn’t always a pattern. By contrast, my identity as a parent is far more restrictive and rigid. I don’t switch this part off so simply and where I go, usually my little ones follow. As someone who enjoyed many years of the more intimidating venues within the gay scene, I now have to re-evaluate the appropriateness of such places and find more tame places to connect with my community. The obvious avenue for connecting with similar people without clubs is to meet up for just a few beers during the early evening, when people aren’t out in the same numbers, or to go for a light snack. In my case, this is brunch because I remain a firm stereotype and I haven’t quite sank to the tedious pits of wine and cheese evenings yet. Give me time.
Speaking of brunch, just a few days ago I offered to take the kids with me to see a friend, in order to allow my partner a few hours peace of mind at home. As the majority of my friends are queer, I usually end up meeting with them for coffee on a one-to-one basis as this is lower maintenance for all. I work hard to remain very active in my community still and I’m grateful for the constant flow of invites to more ambitious socials but let’s be honest for a second. Alex, the bisexual Dad with his whingy pre-schooler in tow is the queer equivalent of that vegan friend who you have to plan in advance for when they join the group for a dinner party. I require prep work that might be more effort than most are willing to invest simply in return for a 2-hour natter.
To be totally cold for a moment, we invite our peers to social gatherings based on a few simple criteria – how good their company is, how well they will mix with others and how easy it is to accommodate them. I feel that I’m now at an immediate disadvantage as my community doesn’t cater to my 30-year-old self because I sit between two very established age brackets with very purpose-built services. My younger queer friends are growing up in a less hostile environment and usually gather in gaming environments where being queer is a background intersection and not the primary reason to seek kinship. My older peers, who typically experienced far greater societal oppression in the 80s and 90s, perhaps rely on the gay scene far more than younger queer folk as it represents that safe space they need.
As someone who enjoyed many years of the more intimidating venues within the gay scene, I now have to re-evaluate the appropriateness of such places and find more tame places to connect with my community.
I also need it. Very much. But I cannot take my children there without turning almost every head in the room. People don’t like having to sensor conversations around children that aren’t their own so rather than impose, I just don’t attend. However, the less I attend, the more eroded I feel.
In short, I am now expected to settle down in the very true sense of the term. I am not expected to need queer spaces as after all, I’m in a ‘heterosexual’ relationship and I should right now be sipping merlot and watching Finding Nemo.
Follow Alex on Twitter (@NotWayneWright)