Jessie J, Cynthia Nixon and female bisexuality

// 24 April 2012

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This is a guest post by Louise McCudden. Lou lives in London, and blogs at Left Eye Right Eye, where, depending on her mood, she either writes calm, balanced objective blogs about UK politics, or else rants about sexism, homophobia, mental health, welfare reform, and human rights. She tweets as @LouMcCudden.

Photo of Jessie J singing onstage. She is wearing a glittery silver vest top and is heavily made up with a scrape-back hair style. The onstage lighitng is bright fushia.

Although it’s fantastic that the Jessie J “scandal” belly-flopped because most people didn’t actually care whether she’s gay or bi in the first place, I’ve yet to hear anyone challenge the premise of the claim itself: the presumption that it’s easier to come out as bisexual than gay.

The assumption that bisexuality is a softer way of coming out feels rather insulting to all the bisexuals who experience hate and prejudice, but sometimes, particularly for women, there’s an element of truth to it. Not because homophobes don’t mind same sex relationships if one partner is bi, but because they think we’re a joke, not a threat. Our society still promotes the belief that anyone who can choose between men and women will, in the end, choose a man for a life partner.

Cynthia Nixon tried to articulate that she’d chosen to be with a woman, and was shouted down by prominent gay rights activists. Patrick Studwick – who I usually agree with – wrote an article in the Independent dictating the terms on which she’s allowed to define her own sexuality.

His concern about throwing ammunition to bigots is understandable, but honestly, if she was gay, would he have felt entitled to write it? Why do so many people think that bisexuals need to prove ourselves or obtain validation before they will believe us when we tell them how we experience love? Why do they get to decide whether we exist?

The denial of male bisexuality happens too, but, interestingly, it manifests itself very differently. A joke in Sex and the City sums it up: all the bisexuals they knew in college, both male and female, ended up with men. I can’t speak for others but that is simply not my experience.

What an odd world we live in where a woman can have a faithful same sex relationship for years but still be accused of being heterosexual because she identifies as bi, but when a man holds his friend’s hand or kisses him drunkenly, the very same people can declare him “obviously gay”. (Other things I’ve heard given as “proof” of male homosexuality: enjoying fruit cocktails, straightening hair, wearing bright trainers, painting nails, wearing eyeliner or, er, watching Friends.)

No wonder no-one questions it when they read that a singer’s bisexuality was seen as “exotic and trendy” by her record company but that being a lesbian “alienates” people. When the ancient idea that men are an asset and women are either a burden or a plaything is so prevalent in our society, no wonder that same society finds it impossible to get their heads around people who actually do a have a certain degree of choice about which gender they end up with choosing female life partners over male ones.

It doesn’t help that these myths are constantly given credence in the media, even outlets you might expect more from. Diva magazine recently ran a feature which acknowledged the existence of the myths but presented them as normal. Simone Webb has already blogged brilliantly about the feature here. The article was titled “How to overcome your fears and date a bisexual” (not, you know, “Do you have fears about dating bisexuals? We’ll help you address that prejudice,” for instance), and they couldn’t find a single positive bisexual dating experience to include in the feature. Nor, it seems, could they find any bisexuals to speak to, instead of about.[ETA: Please see the response from Diva below.]

And this is the saddest thing about the Cynthia Nixon saga, and the Jessie J story too. There are very few out women with such extensive fan bases as Cynthia Nixon and Jessie J, much fewer who are confidently bisexual. They are great role models for girls growing up with same sex romantic feelings. And they are great examples of pride; pride in your sexuality and your gender. Look at Cynthia Nixon. She’s gorgeous, successful, and fancies both men and women. Yes, she could choose to be with a man if she wanted to. She has chosen to be with a woman. Because that’s the person she loves. That is a choice, and it’s one which should be applauded, not shouted down by people who think they have more right to speak than she does.

By redefining every openly bisexual woman as a lesbian no matter what they say with their own two lips, and shushing bi people out of a debate which is actually about them as well as about gay people, an important point about LGB pride gets lost.

We’ve all been allowing the argument to become apologetic. But surely same sex love isn’t okay just because we “can’t help it”? It’s okay because, no matter how loudly the Rick Santorums and Cardinal Keiths try to tell us otherwise, love and sex are beautiful, positive things. When bisexuals speak about “choice” we don’t mean that we “chose” to be bi, or that gay people could “choose” to be straight. We mean that some of us do have the “choice” of an opposite sex partnership, but so what? We want to be with the person we love, not the person that lets us claim straight privilege. Or to put it another way: even if it is a choice how you act on your feelings, it’s a choice you’re entitled to make, and most importantly, it’s nobody else’s damn business how you live it, feel it, and express it, but yours.

ETA 26/04/12: We have since been contacted by Louise Carolin, the author of the Diva article referred to above:

I am bisexual and I am deputy editor at DIVA. Louise appears to have read Simone Webb’s blog about the article rather than the article itself. As well as being authored by a bi woman, the primary interviewee (Dr Meg Barker) is bisexual and a number of the reader accounts accompanying the piece were contributed by bi women. May I direct you (and Louise) to my response to Simone, which also appears on Simone’s blog here.

Photo by alenolasco, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Saranga // Posted 24 April 2012 at 11:10 am

Love this.

I realise your artile is mostly about bisexual women being redfined as lesbian, but I think the same problematic thing occurs when bisexual women are in opposite sex realtionships.

I’m a bisexual woman in a long term relationship with a man. He is in fact my first (and only) partner, but that does not mean I am straight. It doesn’t make the coming out process easier – most people seem to assume I am straight b/c apparently you can’t fancy women until you’ve shagged one? What a load of codswallop. I chose to be with my partner b/c I love him. I didn’t choose him for straight priveledge, and in fact, straight privledge sometimes makes things harder, b/c folk say stuff around me I’m sure they wouldn’t if I was out to them, and all that happens is I feel even more isolated and erased. The reasons why I didn’t have a saem sex partner first are many and varied, and quite frankly, none of anyone else’s business.

Basically, I don’t want to be defined by who I am with. I wish there were more out bisexual role models articulating this so that society stopped seeing sexualiy in binary terms.

G10 // Posted 24 April 2012 at 11:30 am

Oh my gosh. I have been struggling to articulate exactly what you’ve just posted since the Cynthia Nixon “choice” stuff happened. I couldn’t even get my usually very like-minded friends to understand what I understood her to mean, and the intent of the statement.

All too often people will define words used by others to mean whatever suits their argument, rather than look at the context in which they are trying to express something. (eg. “gay” meaning being in a same sex relationship, else meaning exclusive attraction to the same sex). I’m still up for a dumping of all labels…

Brilliant post. Thanks!

Ella Stevie // Posted 24 April 2012 at 11:52 am

Great post. And I agree with ‘Saranga’. It seems to be impossible for some people to see past the gender of the person you’re currently in a relationship with. So I’m with a woman now, and this apparently makes me a lesbian. And when I’m with a man in the future, that will make me straight. And, even when I’m not in a relationship people seem to have an overwhelming compulsion to categorize me as homo/hetero.

Joanna W // Posted 24 April 2012 at 12:22 pm

Brilliant. Thank you for articulating almost everything I feel on this subject.

I think another perceived problem with bisexuality is the idea that “no-one is safe” and that anyone within a mile radius of a bisexual person is being sized up as a potential shag. This links in to the myth that we’re sexually insatiable and want to sleep with everyone and the more general tendency to reduce LGB people to who they’re sexually attracted to, rather than as other citizens of society – y’know, just like them.

At work, my colleagues know that I have a girlfriend. I think they all naturally assume that I’m gay when I’m more likely to fall under the category of ‘bisexual’. Trying to express that I’m attracted to individuals rather than a person’s sex or gender tends to be received with confusion or suspicion. For some women, who audibly breathe a sigh of relief when you tell them about your girlfriend (reduced threat/competition), discovering that you could also potentially be attracted to men makes them uncomfortable because there’s a common assumption that bisexual people are sexually promiscuous and that we’re “just doing it to attract men”. Also, this:

“Not because homophobes don’t mind same sex relationships if one partner is bi, but because they think we’re a joke, not a threat.”

Add this to the bi-phobia within the mainstream LGBT scene (see the Diva article Louise refers to above) and it adds up to a pretty depressing picture.

The Goldfish // Posted 24 April 2012 at 12:33 pm

I think the recurring depressing themes are that our own accounts of our sexuality are not to be trusted, and that sexuality must be defined by behaviour, judging from the outside, and not about how a person feels inside.

Like Saranga, as a woman in love with a man, my bisexuality is often presumed to be something I grew out of or maybe even expressed at one point to seem sexy and interesting. Straight friends and family I am out to sometimes make homophobic jokes and remarks because, well, I don’t count as queer (of course the bigger problem there is the homophobic jokes, not the fact it happens in my presence). I don’t think this is any harder than being with a woman and presumed to be a lesbian, and I am very conscious of my assumed-to-be-straight privilege, but it is the same mechanism. One friend even suggested that I only *liked* the idea of being bisexual, which given the joys of my teenage years, growing up in a homophobic household, well that one stung.

I’m not sure exactly what Cynthia Nixon meant about choosing but it’s her own experience and as such, entirely valid. And it is a miserable defeatist idea that being queer is only okay *if* there’s no choice about it. As you said, “It’s okay because, no matter how loudly the Rick Santorums and Cardinal Keiths try to tell us otherwise, love and sex are beautiful, positive things.”

Couldn’t put it better.

ephemeradical // Posted 24 April 2012 at 12:54 pm

Thanks for this great article. Here’s another that bi readers here might like, on Nixon, choice and biphobia:

ollie // Posted 24 April 2012 at 12:59 pm

I had a friend once who told me that I should call myself straight when I was with a man, and lesbian when I was with a woman, because identifying as bisexual was insulting to my partner. :-/

Ellen // Posted 24 April 2012 at 1:30 pm

Great article – well said!

Rose // Posted 24 April 2012 at 1:37 pm

@The Goldfish – I’m in the same boat! And totally agree with you.

My past relationships with women are seen as a novelty that I grew out of – that it’s good that I grew out of. My partner understands – he’s bi too, though he’s never actually been ‘involved’ with another guy, he knows he is, because he feels it.

I find that alot of people hear ‘slut’ or ‘sex show’ when I say bi – which silences me from talking about tender, emotional, or heartbreaking moments in relationships I’ve had with women.

I find ‘choice’ to be an interesting idea – in that I choose some years ago to be a lesbian, and part of me would still prefer that. I just failed at that, by falling for a guy!

My problem is that I have seen so much male violence that I would feel much safer in a relationship with a woman. I think I’d be happier. If I were striaght I’d look to be a spinster.

My partner is a really sweet guy, who answers to the name ‘cutie’, we’ve been together for about 4 years. He’s never been in a fight, with anyone. But I still don’t think that I could ever live with him, because growing up I heard so many abused women describe how their male partner ‘used’ to be like that. I don’t think that I could just go on trust – it would kill my nerves to try.

I wish I could choose my sexuality – I’ve tried to, it just doesn’t work.

Oh well, with next relationship…who knows.

Emma Geraln // Posted 24 April 2012 at 1:45 pm

Thanks for writing this. As bisexual trans woman I find myself the butt of many jokes. The most hurtful rejection if often from the gay and lesbian community.

I’m married to a woman, we’ve been together 18 years, I’m equally attracted to men but I fell in love with a woman. Why is that such a leap for people?

Ania Ostrowska // Posted 24 April 2012 at 1:46 pm

Louise, thank you so much for this post. From my perspective, this is the best voice in this debate I’ve read (and trust me, I’ve covered miles of forums, mainly lesbian ones, since the CynthiaGate).

What I find most saddening is that while from the straight quarters a bisexual woman receives mostly winks (from men) and shrugs (from women), from lesbian positions there is at times open hostility. I believe this results from self-appointed ‘gay-gay’ women defending their beleaguered position which we as bisexual women allegedly weaken.

I was very impressed btw with how events developed on my favourite lesbian blog TheMostCake when after this post:

Came this one:

Respect, TMC!

The ensuing paradox is such: instead of having a true coalition front against those who enforce normative sexuality and lifestyle (so not only heterosexual and reproductive one but also in a nuclear family unit, in a mortgaged house etc.) as the only possibility, we end up in nasty in-fightings. And it’s not only biphobia; it’s rampant transphobia as well as damaging stereotyping of all the groups constituting the apparently ‘happy’ rainbow family, coming from the inside.

What makes me more angry (personally) than sad in this particular debate is however the lingering expectation of bi-women to come forward and give testimonies of ‘how it really is with them’. I hereby refuse, and this is a *political* decision, to give a detailed breakdown of how many women and how many men I’ve had sex with, fell in love with, formed relationships with.

I refuse because such demands are normally issued by people whose views I don’r respect and whose policies/ideologies I despise.

karen smith // Posted 26 April 2012 at 7:34 am

I think Patrick Strudwick is wrong in claiming Cynthia Nixon was throwing ammunition to bigots.

I don’t think bigots are going to be deterred from bigotry simply by an argument that sexual orientation is not chosen. Quite clearly sexual orientation isn’t a matter of ‘choice’ in that people actively choose to be gay or bisexual or straight, and that these are equally possible and attractive options for everyone, since if that was the case nobody would “choose” to be gay in most societies in the world, where being gay can mean you risk death.

However I think he probably WOULD have said the same thing if Nixon were gay -The idea that “being gay is not a choice” is wrongly seen as a response that defeats homophobia in that it is something you ‘cannot help’. This has been seized on particularly in the USA where activists became very keen on the idea of a ‘gay gene’. When of course Nixon was right in saying that this is merely letting bigots set the terms of the argument – the correct response is “It doesn’t matter why I’m gay or bisexual, because there’s nothing wrong with it”.

anywavewilldo // Posted 27 April 2012 at 12:05 am

pah – why are we back to describing Nixon as bisexual? she has just been forced to define a ‘technical’ sexual orientation for herself by essentialist US gays obsessed with the idea that the Christian fundies will undo their liberal gay rights agenda if they were not ‘born this way’.

why are we even engaging with a ’cause’ for being any kind of queer? Nixon said she’d *been* straight and was *now* gay – I don’t see any type of bisexuality here. Step away from the DYMO

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