Guest writer Alex Rivers takes us on a biographical personal journey through his burgeoning sexual identity.
J.R. Yussuf tweeted on 25 July that Bi+ men/masc-identified folk are “largely ignored and vilified” as a group. This statement struck a nerve with me as memories of my angst-ridden teenage years flooded back into recollection. I’d like to share some of these with you.
Most notably was a prolonged period of guilt-laden uncomfortableness during my BTEC studying health and social care. In this space, I was the sole male on a course of 60 people spread across two large sets back in 2004. Actually, there was another chap but he was a vampiric goth and therefore cast out as unclean. He escaped the nonsense that became my college politics. It was taken as a given that I was gay because why else would a man be interested in this subject? Before I even had the chance to introduce myself, I was assigned the bespoke identity that fitted their preconceptions. It was beautifully hand-written for me like a star role in a school play, that I knew I could perform without question. I had suffered with years of bullying in secondary school for not being straight and being identifiably Jewish (my mother problematically calls it our Jew nose). I arrived in bridging week and desperately needed a community. One was presented to me on the condition that I played the gay side kick.
Fast forward a moment to 2018 and most people don’t believe me that I have an eating disorder in remission, and long term PTSD because I present an excellent face of uncompromising resoluteness. I have a perpetual game face which I have perfected. Back to 2004, my trauma was ongoing, my bulimia nervosa was very active, and my general awkwardness in social interactions triggered one of two responses – escape or act overly familiar. With this constructed identity that I adopted, I presented as a camp cis-gay stereotype which was not a lie but merely one facet of Alex who exists to this day. I was flamboyant and extroverted. I was that gay best friend to cis-het women, which indicates a social conservatism that I hope flags up a warning sign to any minority person as indicative of underlying bigotry. Please don’t ever be a glorified accessory to another person irrespective of how you identify. I was indeed fabulous but it had an expiry date because it was largely performative and based on the narrative that I only dated men.
Towards the end of this academic year, I by chance introduced my girlfriend (later would-be fiancée) to my course friends and the reception ranged from frosty dismissal to open hostility. I was shunned not only as a liar for giving the impression that I was an exclusive gay (is that even a thing?) but also viewed thereafter as a sexual predator. I vividly remember my timid Christian close friend whispering to me “but I thought you were safe”. No, we didn’t resolve our differences because this isn’t a happy memory. We parted ways totally at odds purely because I had lifted the veil to show myself as a multi-faceted individual beyond the characteur they had come to love. In this scenario, bisexuality and classical masculinity were not an option. There were gatekeepers calling the shots and it was the wrong orientation that I paid the price for.
I had suffered with years of bullying in secondary school for not being straight and being identifiably Jewish (my mother problematically calls it our Jew nose). I arrived in bridging week and desperately needed a community. One was presented to me on the condition that I played the gay side kick.
Where am I going with story? I tweeted recently that I genuinely believe that Bi+ identities and orientations are so often excluded because they radically challenge societal structure which keep the people safe from our wicked sorcery. Half-way through a San Miguel, the metaphor of a swimming pool with different lanes for straight and gay orientations came to me, which other Twitter users seem to appreciate. If I could take a second to defend my choice of beverage, I find that drinking continental beers and shite lagers is the ultimate straight camouflage. If I’m drinking with my Dad, it better be a draft bitter and Lord protect me if I ask for a half. In fact, the more I think about it, I have historically been selective in my choice of poison for the very reason that we assign genders and orientations to our preference in alcohol as well as music and broader interests. Where I’ve just presented you with a frustrating example of failed bi integration amongst cis-het folk, I additionally struggled in predominantly gay spaces during my later teens and early 20s. The running theme across 2004-2010 for me was that I viewed my own orientation as something which needed to be moulded to my surroundings or risk failed rejection from any space.
My boyfriend was very proud about the fact that he would knock back pints of heavy Titanic Stout with his father, who was oblivious to his son’s sexuality, whilst maintaining the ability to sip a Campari and soda with “the gays” on a Friday. We raved to chart music in the Pink Triangle of Newcastle before we returned to listening to 70s progressive rock in the safety of closed doors. It was as if we thought our private music tastes were some perverse fetish. Ask my wife her opinion on prog-rock and I’m sure she would agree it’s a perversion that should be restricted to the car CD player and never inflicted on the wider world. However, music tastes certainly shouldn’t be a reductive statement of your queerness despite my previous beliefs that they were essential for crafting an identity. I tried to like chart music. I really did. I remember him saying to me “what gay man listens to Dream Theater and Pink Floyd Alex? You’re giving off the wrong vibes for us as a couple”. Our sexual orientations and gender identities become performative when society expects us to act within certain parameters. Me and my boyfriend parted ways after many turbulent years when we became at odds over what I now understand as our own identities bursting at the seams from the pressure.
Back to the metaphor before I lose you to my waffle. If you are unlike me, and you attend the leisure centre for anything other than the inflatables and slides, (flumes if you’re cultured), then you may have made use of the actual swimming pool for exercise. Dither around these swimming lanes and you commit a sporting social faux par. People go there to swim back and forth in their designated zones and none shall tamper with this system.
Except for us bi folk who subtly remove the lane barriers and not without angering countless members of the public who liked things the way they were. That is my belief where gender diverse folk and bi folk are naturally allied. We have been raised in a dichotomous world and our identities tamper with order. This makes us annoying at best but often we are perceived as dangerous. I thought I felt safest when my friends and partners showed me which lane I was allowed to swim in, and follow their lead on what stroke was optimal. Ignorance from authenticity is wonderful. However, I wasn’t happy in the pool and I’m not fully sure how I ended up in there in the first place. At 16, I dipped my toes in the water to gauge the temperature and my peers dragged me under. By the time I came up for air, I couldn’t find that ladder to exit the pool and the lanes were crowded with strangers, all of whom seem to know what they are doing.
My boyfriend was very proud about the fact that he would knock back pints of heavy Titanic Stout with his father, who was oblivious to his son’s sexuality, whilst maintaining the ability to sip a Campari and soda with “the gays” on a Friday. We raved to chart music in the Pink Triangle of Newcastle before we returned to listening to 70s progressive rock, in the safety of closed doors. It was as if it we thought our private music tastes were some perverse fetish.
As time has passed, I’ve toyed around with ‘bisexual person’, ‘non-binary pan’ and ‘gay man’, all as attempts to suss out where I fit on this map and still don’t quite grasp it. In fact, my wife fairly criticised me in 2012 for using the term gay man as she asked me why I was erasing our relationship. This is internalised biphobia cultivated from feeling afraid of not fitting in. You might ask why I didn’t just say straight man. I think the experiences I’ve had were so powerful at points that I’m frightened to move on from them and risk editing my journey for the sake of being normal. Growing up, I had little idea of what a bisexual person looked like without referring to sinister depictions such as Jane from Steven Moffat’s ‘Coupling’ who is nothing short of a sociopath. No wonder my lady friends at college rejected me if that’s what I was associated with. Furthermore, I absolutely was lost to the question of how a masculine bisexual would appear. What job would he have? What partner would he go for? All questions reinforcing my need to mould to others’ perceptions when I could have just said screw it and wrote my own rules.
I’m finally doing this and it’s terrifying.
Follow Alex on Twitter (@NotWayneWright)