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Bisexuality and beyond
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Yes yes I know – I keep saying I am relaunching this blog and nothing happens. Blogging is difficult, people! Not blogging in the short term, but retaining motivation over years and years…. That’s tough!

So what I want to do is to ask you for your help. I really do think there is a gap when it comes to bisexuality and people over 50. Bisexuality is still connected in so many people’s minds to youth, deciding who you want to “settle down” with, experimentation. But it is so much more than that.

The Journal of Bisexuality – an academic journal, written mainly by and for people in universities – is currently seeking contributions to a volume on bisexuality and ageing. This is great as far as it goes.  But I know full well that this will not be accessible, especially in terms of language and cost, to people at large.

What I am going to do on this blog is to focus on the things that are important to bi people over 50 (or thereabouts). One of the ways I want to do this is to ask older bisexual individuals to be featured on this site via email interviews. We are so often invisible, both as bi people and those who are older, and any way that this can be counteracted  must be beneficial. So for this, there needs to be a format, and I have posted that below.

Would you, bi (or however you define yourself) person over 50, like to be on this blog? I can offer as much or as little anonymity as you like. If you could send a photo too, that would be great. You don’t have to be recognisable at all. No nudity though and no intricate sexual details in the text please.

Don’t post this in the comments, but put the information in an email to me at sues_new_email at yahoo dot com. I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Apologies to those people who agreed to do this last year. I hope I remember who you are, and I will contact you if I can find your details….

Thanks!

Format for interviews (please write between 600-800 words)
  • Basic demographics: (name or pseudonym), age, race, gender, occupation/prior occupation, country, living situation
  • How did you come to think of yourself as bisexual (or whatever label/non-label you use)?
  • What does being bisexual (or as above) mean to you?
  • Has this changed over the years, and if so how?
  • What do other people in your life know about your bisexuality and how do they react?
  • Looking back over your life so far, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
  • What about your hopes or fears for the future (regarding bisexuality)?
  • Any words of wisdom for younger bi people – or older ones?


.


Women in the 1990s: less likely to have sex with other women
Over the past few days, there has been much discussion in the media about the British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles.

Fifteen thousand people around the UK aged 16-74 were interviewed about various aspects of their sexual behaviour in 2010-2012.

This survey – the third, following previous surveys held 20 and 10 years ago – has had its headline results published in the Lancet

Out of all the interesting research published in the survey, the aspect that has been both under-discussed and is relevant for this blog is this: women are now four times more likely to say they had had same-sex activity than they were 20 years ago. (4% in 1990 to 16% in 2010)

Director of the research, Professor Kaye Welland, was reported in Pink News as saying that this was too big a change to be simply a difference in what women said. In other words, it was not just that they had changed their way of gathering data, or that the women were being more honest. Women actually ARE having more same-sex behaviour than they were 20 years ago. Much, much more.

It is not that women are necessarily having what they coyly describe as “genital contact” – that is only 8% or half of the women reporting same-sex contact - so what does “sex” mean here? And what’s behind the increase

Here are eight (connected) reasons why I think more women are having sex with each other. They are only theories, but they sound right to me. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them. (I have comment moderation on, so please be patient if you post!)

Increased acceptability/less prejudice against women-women relationships
As well as the rates of same-sex going up, according to this survey, the percentages of people thinking same-sex relationships were always or sometimes wrong have gone down a great deal too. Women are more likely than men to think such relationships are acceptable – this has gone up from 28% in 1990 to 66% now. Relationships between women are more accepted than are those between men, especially by men, with 52% of men thinking that same-sex relationships between men are always wrong, and 48% that those between women are always wrong. In 1990, those figures were 78% and 76%.

More same-sex couples and individuals in the media
Oh yes. I mean, there’s even a UK bank ad featuring female identical twins one of whom has a female partner, the other a male. This is presented as no more of an issue than whether she does or doesn’t like swimming.

Lesbian power couple: Alice Arnold (left) and Clare Balding
There are more lesbian celebrities (Clare Balding, Sandi Toksvig etc) who are just there being presenters, comedians, newsreaders, and so forth. There are also bi celebrities (Jessie J et al) speaking about their interest in women.

More sex in general
Women are having more sexual partners in general than they were 20 years ago. The average for women aged 16-44 in 1990 was 3.7 and now is 7.7. So if there is more sex, there is also likely to be more same-sex too. There’s no research (that I know of, although you might) showing that women are more open and assertive in their sexual desires than 20 years ago, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Internet dating
You are 25, you live in a tiny village where everyone knows everyone and no one available is of interest to you. But pop online, and dozens of potential partners of whatever gender you desire are just waiting. And you know they are interested in people like you – in terms of gender, looks, interest, what-have-you – because they say so. There may be problems of course, but “do they want to have sex with someone of my gender” isn’t one of them. There is a whole pool of sexual partners who simply would not have been available before. For older people, I think this is much more difficult but for reasons of age, not gender.

The lesbian community
Not so long ago, women usually had to be part of a lesbian community if they wanted women to be their sexual partners. Of course, some women didn’t do this: they happened upon each other by accident, or maybe were part of other radical political movements, or met through friends. But most did. While of course many women were happy in their lesbian community, it had its political, social and sexual norms which you had to adhere to. It didn’t always (and still doesn’t) welcome women who didn’t agree with those norms. Bi women in particular.

But to be fair, I think it is also true that some parts of the lesbian community, anyway, are more tolerant towards women who aren't 150% lesbian, though understandably perhaps not towards women who are "experimenting".

There are also now many more same-sex friendly communities – queer, poly, bi, kink, swinger, pagan, goth, BDSM, etc etc – where women can meet each other. Many of them were around 20 years ago too, but they are much easier to find now. And if there are more women having same-sex, the chances of you just coming across them in everyday life are that much greater.

Pornography
I have no idea what proportion of women look at any kind of porn, but some of them will see other women having sex with each other on screen and start to fantasise about it themselves. I know this to be the case, because some have told me so. Of course, maybe their boyfriends have fantasies about this, or maybe they both do. Or maybe they think their boyfriends want them to (whether they actually do or not).  But maybe they have turned on their computers, gone actively searching for porn or found it by accident, and seen a woman who made them think…

For all of these reasons, women may feel it is less of a big deal to think about having sex with another woman and possibly to act on it.

Katy Perry


 “I kissed a girl and I liked it”
According to today’s colloquium on the survey, which I followed on Twitter through the hashtag #NATSAL, the increase in same-sex between women is because more of them are experimenting, rather than changing their identity [Though I don’t see why it is either experimenting OR changing your identity, or indeed what identity per se necessarily has to do with it at all]. Maybe they listened to the Katy Perry song.

Experimentation
In principle, I am in favour of young people experimenting, with the normal provisos of openness, honesty, safer sex, respecting your partner, and so on. But I still think the concept needs much more unpacking if nothing else than because “experimenting” implies something very trivial and meaningless. While sex can be both trivial and meaningless (as well the reverse), experimenting can be pretty damn serious.

Some women who start off with experimenting will go on to have more, deeper, relationships with other women. They may not call themselves lesbian, or bi, or indeed have the remotest interest in sexual identity or community, but “experimenting” doesn’t always start and finish with a bit of pawing in a club (pleasant though that might be).

Experimenting is just that – trying something out. You don’t necessarily know what the result will be. Your desires and fantasies are not always enough. You need to see whether what you have thought about really works for you – at this place, with this person, at this time in your life.

Performing bisexuality
I think some observers might count this as experimenting too. Yes, some heterosexual women are definitely kissing and groping each other in public, probably for attention, mainly from men. This was first spotted as a phenomenon around 15 years ago, and now seems pretty ubiquitous. The expectation is that this is all a bit of a joke, and that no “real sex” will occur.

But women who are doing this are not necessarily experimenting or even not properly into women. I was shocked (yes reader, I can still be shocked) by women I know to have had genuine relationships with women setting out to torment/arouse men by kissing other women in front of them.

So while I don’t dispute that more women may be sexually experimenting… can this really account for such a vast increase? It doesn’t seem likely. I think it is all of the reasons listed above.

Just for the young?
Given that I have, as I said in my last post, changed the focus of this blog to be on ageing, I do want to touch on what this might mean for us older women.

To start with, are these just young women having all this same-sex? Mostly, yes.

According to the statistics, when asked whether they’ve had any sexual experience or contact with another female, only 3% of women aged 65–74 said yes. It’s 7% for those aged 55–64, 9% aged 45–54, 12% 35–44, 18% women 25–34, and 19% 16–24. If the prevalence of same sex was constant, it would increase with age, based on the accumulation of experience. But the opposite is true. So among younger women, it’s either more common, or more honestly reported, or (as I would guess) both.

But I wonder whether older, previously heterosexual, women will start experimenting too (if not to such a great extent) as we grow and change and explore different opportunities in life. I have certainly read about women having their first female partners when they are 50+ and I am going to write about this phenomenon at some point.

In this survey, women did report “less sexual anxiety” as they got older, which can only be a good thing!

Men
Another thing coming out of this survey is that men are now far less likely to report having same-sex behaviour than are women (7% - the same rate as in 1990 – compared to 16% for women). This seems very low.

So what does this figure mean? As the (male) commenters on the Pink News site above mention, that depends on so many things. One is certainly: “what counts as sex?”

To quote one commenter:

“In my experience more men than ever are having sex with other men. These men do not regard themselves as gay at all - they just think they are sexually adventurous. As for the anal aspect [there were very low rates of penetrative sex between men] that’s just a distraction thrown into the argument by heterosexuals. Most men who have sex with men have non-penetrative [sex].”


Many other men have said this to me over the years, and I’ll be writing about all of that in some future post.


Hello to everyone reading this blog

It has been a long time since I last posted here, longer still since I updated it regularly. There's a whole range of reasons for that - pressures of work and time, new forms of social media that make blogger look positively 20th century - but I've decided to give it another go.

There are many billions of words now online, even more are being written while you are reading this. There is too much out there to keep up with anything that doesn't really hit the mark for an individual reader. Or for an individual writer, particularly when she makes a living contributing to those too-many words, which is why I am changing the focus of this blog.

Who are you?

Looking at the stats for this site, most people come here for information about coming out. Next on the list is celebrities who may or may not be bisexual, or who may have said something about it.

I have nothing at all new to say about coming out, because I did that so long ago. (Even the repeated coming out that all out bi people deal with is simply part of my life.) In any case, the world people come out into now is too different for my initial experiences to be relevant.

So for information about coming out and celebrities, I recomment Twitter. Twitter works very well for responding to (for example) biphobia, homophobia, the various doings of various celebrities, etc. I can't keep up with celebrity doings, and really don't care what they do. But I can see that they are important for many, particularly young, people. If idiots post stupid things about bisexuality, then various bi people will point out the error of their ways far more quickly and forcefully than I would be able to do. And Twitter is also a great place for finding out about things too. 

Ageing
But I am interested now in bisexuality and older people. For the sake of drawing the line somewhere, I'm calling "older people" anyone over 50. 

I am now in my 50s  myself, and what I have to offer the world of bisexuality (and what could possibly be called bisexual theory) is not necessarily what people coming to this blog are after. Nevertheless, blogs are for the writer as much as for the reader - unless you are specifically blogging for money - a way of clearing our thoughts, perhaps, and getting unmonetisable ideas out there.

My thoughts on bisexuality and middle-age/ageing/getting older are what I'll be writing about on this blog from now on. As you will see from the previous post, I did a talk at the University of Nottingham about my experiences of being an “older” bisexual. The site for that event, including the text of my talk, is here. My talk is 4,700 words long, so I'm not posting it in full as a blog post. It's a general talk (not giving away anything hugely personal!) and was designed to be heard in conjunction with Rebecca Jones' presentation on research into bisexuality and ageing. In brief: there isn't much of it.

I have recorded it on Soundcloud, in case you want to listen to my dulcet tones. It's about 25 minutes long and you can find it here.

I did interview - both on email and on Skype - some other bi identifying people over 50 and - surprise - they covered a range of different behaviours, feelings, and so on. But they pretty much all felt invisible, and that's not surprising because they are. 

There are actually many things that haven't really been discussed about sexuality of any sort and ageing, and I think about them more and more these days. I'll write about some of them here. I'll also write in more depth about the issues I addressed in my talk (so you don't need to read it/listen to it) if you don't want to!

But if you are a person of 50+ to whom the concept of bisexuality is personally important - however you identify sexually, as well as if you don't - then I'd love to hear from you. I know there are a lot more of us than we think!









Hello everyone, very long time no post.

So... I am doing a talk on bisexuality and older people in April - for a health and social science professional/academic audience, although my talk is  general/personal. Other speakers will be looking at research (if any). 

Do any of you, particularly people over 50, have any thoughts on this topic? 

Some topics I am going to touch on - based on my own experience - encompass invisibility, identity, community, impact on partners/relationships/families/children. But you might think of other things you think are important.

Please share this information with anyone who might be interested. You never know - if there is enough information, I could even make it into an e-book at some point.

You can post comments here, or email me at sues_new_email at yahoo dot com

Thanks





For long as I’ve been writing this blog, one of the main ways new people find it is by searching for “bisexuality and depression”. I find that really sad, but nothing like as sad as the statistics about bisexuality and mental health.

  • A major Canadian study found bisexual men 6.3 times more likely, and bi women 5.9 times more likely, to report having been suicidal than heterosexual people
  •  A large Australian study found rates of mental health problems among bi people to be higher than those among lesbians, gay men, or heterosexuals.
  •  The UK Mind report on the mental health and wellbeing of LGB people found that bi men and women were less at ease about their sexuality than lesbians or gay men, and less likely to be out.
Bisexuality and mental health is currently a big issue in the bi community. This summer’s BiReCon (the British conference that looks at current research on bisexuality) had bisexuality and mental health as its theme.

At the conference, the speakers focused on what research is currently being done by (bi) psychologists and (bi) activists and considered how mental health professionals could better serve the needs of bi people.

The Bisexuality Report,  which came out earlier this year, also looked at the bad health – mental and physical – experienced by bisexual people. It collated a lot of existing research, including that listed at the top of this post.

Until now, most research on sexuality and mental health has lumped research on lesbian, gay and bisexual people into one queer mass.

What the Bisexuality Report did was to look at how bisexual people (as distinct from lesbians and gay men) experience discrimination and prejudice. It’s fair to say that this discrimination and prejudice has a strongly negative impact on everyone who don’t simply identify as straight or gay.

This includes:

Bisexual exclusion, erasure, invisibility

  • Many people, even now, know of no one in their daily lives who is bisexual. 
  • When people at large, or organisations, say lesbian, gay and bisexual, they really mean lesbian and gay. Or sometimes just gay.
  • Everyone is considered either gay or straight. Really. And if you aren’t now, you are either frightened (really gay) or experimenting (really straight). 
  • The concerns of bi people are ignored, trivialised, demonised, laughed at. For instance, when people say things like:

Everyone's bisexual
Men can’t be bisexual
You must be really into sex
Can I watch?
But you’re involved with X person now – that means you’re straight/gay
You’re just confused
Bi people have things really easy

And, connected with that:

Biphobia – in all its many guises

Such as:

  • Rejection by the wider queer/lesbian and gay community, whether individuals or groups 
  • At the same time as you experience rejection from friends/ family/the wider society for not being straight. A similar sort of homophobia to that experienced by lesbians and gay men, but with added extras 
  •  People saying things like: 
  • You’re too old/attractive/ugly/straight-looking/queer-looking/monogamous to be bisexual 
  • You’re young – you’ll grow out of it! 
  • Bisexuals are greedy/disgusting/can’t be trusted


 I could go on… but I’m only depressing myself!

With all that, is it any surprise that so many bi people feel they don’t belong anywhere, that you will never find a lover/s who will truly accept you? That, if you are told that bi people don’t and can’t exist, and if they do there is something wrong with them, that it might lead to lack of self-belief, and ultimately self-hatred?

Difficult circumstances and depression aren’t necessarily linked, of course, but a lack of support can make a bad time so much worse.

So, lovely readers, some questions for you.

Why do you think bi people report so much depression and other forms of mental ill-health. And what do you think we – as individuals and as a community – can do to help ourselves and others?

For more things to think about, I’ve written other posts on bisexuality and mental health here 

Glad to be bi 
My next post (to be published on 7th September) is going to be specifically on being a happy bisexual. It would be terrible if everyone thought that bi people were only miserable when, for many of us, bisexuality is great, something that has added and continued to add to their lives. And for others, their bisexuality is something that just is. A part of them that needs no more explanation than that.

As Tom Robinson sang Glad to be Gay in the 1970s, so we need a (non-religious) Blessed to be Bi for the 2010s.

We need to spell out the reasons it’s great to be bi – even when, especially when, others think it really isn’t.

Which leads on to some more questions for you: What do you love being bisexual? And, if you didn’t always feel that way, how have you made things better? Let me know.


Nerina2

(Above: Nerina in 1995, aged c87, right. With Sue1066, left, whose pic this is)

There are so many things you can learn, and be inspired by, when you look at an individual’s life in depth. Studying Nerina Shute’s life through her writings has given me so much to think about. This is just the beginning:

Bisexuality over a lifetime
For many people who aren’t bi – and even for some who are – bisexuality is something that is for young people. Only for young people. I suspect that’s because many of them connect bisexuality with having lots of partners and/or not being “settled down”.

Not much is known about the ways in which people remain bisexual over the course of their lives, how their sexuality changes (or doesn’t), and how these changes interact with the changes in society.

But for Nerina (as with other people of her generation, now dead, such as James Lees-Milne, who have published volumes of diaries) we can see that her bisexuality was important throughout her life. In her 90s, she was happy to tell an interviewer she was bisexual (see this post); in her 80s, in her autobiography Passionate Friendships, she wrote at some length about the (late 1980s) fraught relationship between bi women and lesbians. She simply didn’t understand why this tension existed:
“We are bisexual. We are ambisextrous, as Aimee Stuart would say. Lesbians accuse us of wanting the best of both worlds. Well why not?”

Bisexual life in London
As I’ve already written, bohemian Londoners of this time – whether intellectual Bloomsburyites, or actual and wannabe actresses, people who worked in nightclubs and many etceteras – tended not to choose one opposite-sex marital partner and stay with them, forsaking all other. The blog I referred to in the first of these posts, Cocktails with Elvira, describes many of the personalities involved, and the merry-go-round of relationships in which they were involved. Some of these characters tended to be gay, some tended to be straight, but many of them seemed to have partners or occasional lovers outside of this. What there were, though, were (physical) fights, intrigues and quarrels – something Nerina complains about in We Mixed Our Drinks. No doubt alcohol played a large part.

Playwright Aimee Stuart, friend of Nerina’s from 1926 until Aimee died, introduced Nerina to many of these women through her “at homes”, where sex was frequently discussed and being “ambisextrous” far from unusual. One of them was almost certainly the wonderfully named Sunday Wilshin, who acted in the film version of Stuart’s play Nine till Six. She really intrigues me, and there’s more about her here.

This is a still from The Gentle Sex from 1943, co-written by Aimee Stuart, Moie Charles (also a friend of Nerina's) and others. Apparently there is a free download of the film on that site too!



It also seems that there was a group of women who saw themselves as specifically bisexual, as distinct from lesbian. This was certainly how Nerina saw herself as a mature woman. When young, she was unhappy about her attractions to women, didn’t like the contempt heaped on lesbians, and couldn’t understand the fact that she needed both women and men.

She saw her love for men, and her love for women, as mutually complementary. A relationship with a woman would not threaten her relationship with a man, or vice versa. Her friend and sometime lover, Helen Mayo, thought so too. This is a pic of Helen, left, and Nerina, right, on holiday in Ireland, 1939.


And in Passionate Friendships, she quotes Helen, in a conversation from the late 1950s:
“’To deceive him with another man would be wrong, but not with a woman. There’s no harm in it,’ said Helen, ‘because the love between two women is totally different. It’s a form of friendship, a passionate friendship.’
“Of course I knew exactly what she meant. There is little or no similarity between the lusty love-making of a man or tender or motherly love-making between women. A male lover is unthinkable for a married woman in love with her husband. A female lover can be delightful.”

To Nerina’s husband Howard Marshall, though, a lover was a lover; their relationship ended because he considered she had been unfaithful. The fact that her lover was a woman was neither here nor there. In Passionate Friendships, she blames herself for hurting him so much, and thereby ending their marriage, when she still loved him.

Helen and Nerina’s view of sex between women seems to have some connection with the romantic friendships of the 19th century and earlier, as detailed by Lilian Fadermann in Surpassing the Love of Men. Fadermann, writing in the early 1980s, saw romantic friendships as NOT being sexual. I don’t see that we can know, definitively.

Helen Mayo and her partner (Dorothy Anderton) Andy Sharpe, friends of Nerina’s from 1939 until their deaths in the 1970s, are also interesting to consider. They were a dentist and obstetrician, respectively, so not obvious candidates for bohemianism. Instead, Nerina places them within a work-hard/play-hard, live life to the full framework. Andy had a fiancé who was killed in WW2, and Helen had other lovers too, as well as Nerina. They were extremely sociable and life-loving, with their large house in Portland Place the scene of many parties. This was mentioned in Andy Sharpe’s obituary in the BMJ, with no further comment or explanation.

Things I don’t know about Nerina
Although I wrote above about Nerina’s lifetime of bisexuality, in fact there is little publically available information about her life in old age. I found a couple more pictures of later-life Nerina via Google Images, and they intrigue me. They are from Sue1066’s flickr account. Who are you, Sue1066? You obviously knew Nerina (see the picture of the two of them at the top of the post) and perhaps have some connection to her family – given that some of the other pics are of Nerina’s mother’s childhood home and a memorial with her maiden name Pepper Staveley. I hope you don't mind me using your pic.

Obviously, there are lots more things I don’t know. And sadly for my bank balance, these are the sort of interests that lead jobbing writers to attempt biographies.

The most obvious are: what were the real identities of her lovers Charles – abortionist turned condensed-milk salesman; and Josephine – Catholic monocle-wearer, met at a lesbian party, greatly in love with Nerina, and her assistant at Max Factor in the late 1930s? Cocktails with Elvira contains a number of candidates for Josephine, although I don’t think any likely monocle-wearers are mentioned.

Maybe Nerina was deliberately laying false trails for any future nosey-parkers.



(Left, Nerina Shute in the late 1930s)

This is the second post in my LGBT history month series on bisexual writer Nerina Shute. If you haven’t read yesterday’s post on why I’m doing this, best to read here first.

Nerina's life and times

Nerina Shute was born to an upper middle class family in Northumberland in 1908, the daughter of Cameron and Renie. Her father was in the army, her mother wrote several scandalous novels which were optioned by Hollywood.

While in California (with Nerina), Renie invested all of her money in a married paramour’s gold mine and when Cameron came to visit them, persuaded him to invest his money too. The married man was killed in a car accident and the goldmine was found to be devoid of gold, meaning that the family lost all their money.

Nerina won a short story competition while still in the USA, despite the fact that she had left school at 14. She came back to Britain from California, aged 18, soon moving to London, where she became a typist at the Times Book Club. Attending dance classes, she met playwright and bohemian stalwart Aimee Stuart, who held frequent parties and gatherings in her central London flat. As Nerina wrote later in We Mixed Our Drinks (where she writes of herself in the third person:
“Shute was an odd, rebellious young woman who happened to come of good family but preferred to be thought a ‘bohemian’ than ‘a lady’ or even ‘a gentlewoman’. She was untidy, careless and heavily made up with lipstick and rouge and eye-black ... Behind a half-hearted attempt at flippancy she was deeply in earnest. Behind her sex-talk and her bad manners she was old fashioned, and full of what she herself sometimes called ‘twisted ideals’.”

In 1927, at the tail end of the silent picture era, Nerina was offered a job as a reporter on Film Weekly. She interviewed many celebrities, and did not mince her words, offending many film stars such as Madeleine Carroll, who she described as a “ruthless Madonna”.

Here she is in The First Born, a great (silent)film that was restored/relaunched recently by the BFI.



Nerina also made a nuisance of herself around film sets: director E A Dupont banned her from his productions, and she once returned disguised as a rabbi to see what was going on.

In 1931, her first, autobiographical novel, Another Man’s Poison was published, causing scandal with her relatives, and attracting reviews, as one of its main characters, Paula, describes herself as ambisextrous. This received a fortuitous review from Rebecca West in The Daily Telegraph:
“Miss Shute writes not so much badly as barbarously, as if she had never read anything but a magazine, never seen any picture but a moving one, heard any music except at restaurants. Yet she is full of talent.” (Shute, 1944:40)

This was excellent publicity for Nerina, despite the fact that she was hurt by it, thinking it an accurate criticism. As “the girl with the barbarous touch” she wrote a series of articles for the Sunday Graphic newspaper at 10 guineas a week (compared to £4 for her job at Film Weekly), giving the opinions of “the ultra-modern girl”. Subsequently, she was invited to Lord Beaverbrook’s estate (he was then owner of the Express newspapers) and given a job as a general reporter at the Express, where she was sacked again, this time after six months.
“Far from being a good reporter, she was inexperienced, useless at writing a straightforward news-story, and on top of these fundamental drawbacks, as everyone probably knew, she disliked her job.”

Nerina was aware of her attractions to women from the 1920s on, and was nervous about them. She did not want to become a lesbian, feeling that the societal opprobrium was too great, and she felt “hurt and diminished” by this prejudice.

But around this time, she met “Charles”, a doctor who had been struck off for performing an illegal abortion. Feeling lonely, and anxious to lose her virginity, they began a relationship and were soon in love. After some months, she went to “live in sin” in Liverpool with him, where he had got a job as a condensed-milk salesman. She became jealous, however, which caused arguments, and so she left him and returned to London. Here they are, posing on Blackpool Pleasure Beach, in 1930.



Once more, she became a journalist, where she says she was obliged by her editor to write light stories which she felt were wrong in times of terrible poverty. For instance, she was sent to investigate nudist clubs and colonies “which were springing up in the green fields of England like rude little mushrooms”. She went to visit nudists in Earl’s Court but was amused to find that, for the interview, they were clothed. The editor wanted her to write stories about how they were immoral but she liked the nudists she met and wouldn’t do it.

Like very many creative (and other) people of that time, she was attracted by what appeared to be the greater equality in Russia, although after a trip there she also offended Russian Communists she met by saying they had replaced religion with politics.

Around this time, she also began a relationship with a woman she calls “Josephine”, who was a close friend and lover until the end of the 1930s.

Disillusioned with journalism, and by the lack of success of a play she had written, in 1935 she began to work for Max Factor as their publicity manager, doing what she described as “commercial propaganda” and becoming what she called a “Bond Street blonde” – well dressed and groomed, wearing high heels and bleaching her brown hair. This was a dramatic contrast to her previous look of androgynous messiness, complete with black hat. She was also briefly married to James Wentworth-Day, a high Tory journalist, who attracted her with his strongly felt ideals, even as she furiously disagreed with them. The marriage only lasted a year.

He was around 40 when they married, so I imagine this is him in the 50s:



By 1937, Nerina had lost her eagerness to write:
“A few years ago Shute had been the budding novelist and journalist, a young woman of rebellious thoughts who dreamed each night of rising up and up into the golden heights, creating with words the brave people and the lovely places she saw so clearly in her New World. Full of ambition, she had been a pig-headed untidy young romantic; she intended to write what she believed, live as she wanted, and to hell with criticism”.

In 1939, while riding her horse in Rottingdean, Sussex, she met Helen Mayo and Andy Sharpe, two women who lived in Portland Place in London and worked as a dental surgeon and obstetrician respectively. She went to live with them, becoming Helen’s lover, and worked as a nurse, almoner, and ambulance driver, throughout the war.

She also met her second husband, Howard Marshall, in 1940, a very prominent radio journalist, and the first person to broadcast ball-by-ball cricket commentary.

For the duration of the war, their relationship was intense and idyllically romantic, much of it carried on in intense secrecy as he was both famous and still married, his wife and sons being in America for safety.

This – Begin the Beguine - is one of the songs they used to dance to:



They married in 1944 and were both strongly socialist at this time, endlessly discussing what a better world might look like. Still, however, she had creative ambition: “... she was not a good enough writer. With all her heart she envied the experienced word-wealthy people”. She did, however, publish We Mixed Our Drinks (discussed in the previous post).

In the immediate post-war period, their relationship was “blissfully happy” despite the fact that they were both unemployed and in general found this period difficult:
“When all the excitement was over we all had a feeling of anticlimax. We had done our job. We had won the war. We were unprepared for the long littleness of life.”

What a telling quote! Their intense relationship soon began to show cracks: she wanted to go out, he wanted to stay in. For some years, she acquiesced to this, despite increasing loneliness. When Howard began to work in PR in late 1945, they hired a French housekeeper, "Renee". Renee brought fun and joy into what, over the next few years, became an increasingly unhappy marriage. They loved each other but were wildly incompatible.

Howard did, however, support her quieter, more intellectual endeavours. Nerina studied English at London university, and began to write the first of her historic novels. This one, about Shelley, was published in 1951



After a few years, Nerina and Renee began a sexual relationship (instigated by Renee) which seems to have been maternal on Nerina’s side. Renee, however, was in fact in her 30s, and her mental health was deteriorating. Her family had died in a bombing raid in France, and she had found parts of her mother’s body scattered in the ruins of their home.

Towards the end of her three-year stay with Nerina and Howard, Renee had a serious nervous breakdown, eventually returning to France. Nerina then became very depressed as well and sounds as if she were on the edge of a breakdown herself. “The longing to escape had returned ... this time I felt a desire to die”.

During a furious argument with Howard on New Year’s Eve 1953, several years after Renee had returned to France, she told him she had had sex with Renee. He had known nothing about her attractions to women. Despite speaking on the phone and writing letters, they never saw each other again, although she maintained until the end of her life that she still loved him.

This is Howard, perhaps in the 1940s.



Nerina went to stay in Sussex with her mother and her mother’s much younger and alcoholic sixth husband, Noel. While her depression lifted rapidly, she, her mother and step-father struggled financially, negotiating with the Inland Revenue, trying to make money on renovating houses and moving, or selling off parcels of land. Over the next four years, as her mother’s health deteriorated, Nerina wrote a memoir of Renie’s life Come into the Sunlight, designed to be a reflection of her mother’s joyful philosophy of life. After her death, Nerina and Noel soon moved to London, where they lived in Chelsea, at this time just starting to be the centre of Swinging London.

When she and Noel decided to take ballroom dancing lessons (so Nerina could take Noel’s mind off drinking) they were taught by Phyllis Haylor.

Nerina and Phyllis began a relationship and remained lovers until Phyllis’s death. This was, according to Nerina, a very happy relationship although no particular details emerge in her late-life autobiography Passionate Friendships.
“Phyllis made me happy with an adoration based on a need for motherly tenderness which only a woman can give to another woman. Now, late in life, Phyllis was giving it to me and I was giving it to her. It was like a marriage. We became passionate friends, and our friendship lasted until the day of her death.”

During the 1970s, Nerina wrote two travel and history books about London’s villages, as well as a volume of tell-little autobiography, The Escapist Generations and, in 1986, The Royal Family and the Spencers.



In 1981, Phyllis died suddenly of a heart attack and Nerina was alone once more. Although this is not mentioned by Nerina, her obituaries mention that she began a relationship with another woman, Jocelyn Williams, in 1989, and they stayed together until Nerina died.

In later life, Nerina became as fervent a conservative as she had once been a socialist, but she remained interested in the contemporary world, even as she distanced herself from some of it. With the publication of her final autobiography, Passionate Friendships (1992), she was able to talk more freely about her bisexuality:

“I believe there are many women in the world who need the love of another woman in addition to the love of a man. We are bisexual. Usually we hide this fact from our husbands for fear of ending a happy marriage. I made the mistake of telling my husband ... By explaining how it all happened, and how it ended, I may possibly give help to others.”

So not exactly what bi people tend to think these days, then! Nerina was a product of her class and time, but/and I warm to her and think she would have made a marvellous companion.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll be writing about some of the questions and issues that studying Nerina’s life has led me to consider.

(The information in this post comes primarily from Nerina’s memoirs and autobiographies, with additional information from Shepperton Babylon, by Matthew Sweet, and from various obituaries.)







Nerina Shute, in the early 1930s








February is LGBT history month (in the UK) and – although I have several other blog posts in the offing/promised/massively overdue - I really want to add my twopennorth while I can.

Actually many more pennorth than that. This is a long post, so I’m splitting it into three, to be published over three days, thereby just about squashing it in before the end of the month.

People in the bisexual community often talk about the need for more information about bi lives – people who are now, or were in the past, some kind of bisexual. And whereas there can often be debates or confusion about whether we now can give a contemporary identity (bisexual) to them then, with Nerina there is no confusion. "I am bisexual," she said to writer Matthew Sweet, when she was in her 90s. "What does your generation think about such things?"

Nerina Shute: 1908-2004
This isn’t the first time I’ve written on this blog about Nerina – teenage film critic of the silent era, novelist, London bohemian, laugh-out-loud memoir writer and explicitly bisexual at a time it is so often assumed that people weren’t. But since 2006, when I wrote about her before, I've had more time to think about her, and her life and times.

I first found out about Nerina when I read her memoir We Mixed Our Drinks in around 2000, while I was doing research for another project. Published in 1944, WMOD is the story of her life from her teenage years in the USA when her mother lost all their money in a goldmine fraud; her time as reluctant film critic – she didn’t like film stars; an even more reluctant journalist – she didn’t know what she was doing; and an eager young novelist (nicknamed “the girl with the barbarous touch”).

At the time, WMOD was considered very shocking. Nerina is open about having lived with a man without being married, about being taken to a Chelsea orgy (where the hostess wore a vest that was both too long and too short, and they were thrown out for not taking off their clothes), about the “pansy” and lesbian circles in which she never quite said she moved.

I am fascinated by Nerina for a whole range of reasons, some of which may already be apparent. So fascinated, in fact, that even though writing about her was a significant part of my master’s degree in life history research, I still google her and her gang to see if anything new shows up. Sure enough, I found this superlative blog Cocktails with Elvira. It’s based around a notorious court case – of socialite Elvira Barney, who shot her lover in 1932.

The blog also contains a lot of information about bohemian London of that time, much of which would now be (and somewhat differently would have been then) considered “queer”. This is not simply the haute intelligentsia of the Bloomsbury Group, which has been well-documented. The various overlapping London bohemias of the 20s and 30s (and earlier, and later?) seem to have been overwhelmingly queer. Musicians, actors, models, chorus girls and boys, journalists and people about town seemed to have been strikingly unstraight. Not to mention artists, particularly those condemned with the word “Chelsea”.

“Hello darling, how’s your sex life? Lousy, darling, how’s yours?”
While Matt Houlbrook’s brilliant book Queer London looks at all the different ways in which men at this time interacted with each other for sexual/romantic purposes, there has been very little published about women’s relationships with each other outside of the most famous instances – Violet Trefusis and Vita Sackville-West, for instance.

Now that I’ve read all Nerina’s memoirs/autobiographies, it seems really apparent that there was a lively lesbian/bi/queer women’s scene in London in the interwar period and afterwards. There is more information about some of these characters in Cocktails with Elvira, and I wish I had the time to research this properly. This scene was mainly based around friendship networks of various sorts, rather than the cottaging/picking up/Turkish baths scene etc, described by Houlbrook.

While these women were often well-off, sometimes rich and independent, they weren’t necessarily so – Nerina came from a once-rich background but in the 30s she was often without a shilling for the gas - indeed the whole mix of class and bohemias seems to be to be quite complicated. I’d love to know how much, if at all, any sexual/romantic friendship networks spread to “ordinary women”.

It also seems that there was a group of women who were actively, explicitly, bisexual, who sometimes wanted to distance themselves from lesbians and sometimes had relationships with them. I’ll be looking at this in a bit more detail in a couple of days.

When I read Shepperton Babylon by Matthew Sweet – about the British film industry - I was delighted to discover that Nerina was bisexual, and quite happy to talk about it. I was much less delighted to find out that, at the time I was first devouring We Mixed Our Drinks, Nerina was actually still alive and living in Putney. She didn’t die until four years later. I suppose that’s the hard lesson for oral historians: the people you really want to speak to are often just beyond reach.

Tomorrow, I'll be posting more about Nerina's life and loves. Then finally, I'll be looking at some of the questions that her life, and what I know of her thoughts and opinions, pose for bisexual people today.



Sue George is my real name, and it never occurred to use a pseudonym on this blog. But maybe it should have.

I have a certain (small) profile as a writer on bisexuality, and wanted to continue that here. I am also a professional journalist, not (sadly) on bisexuality, but there is some overlap between the two. For instance, this blog is mentioned on my LinkedIn profile, and also on Twitter, which I use partly for work.

I thought when I started – correctly, I’m sure – that people would be more likely to read ideas and theories about bisexuality, and take them seriously, if a named individual was writing them.

But the fact that I write this as me – and people often find this blog by looking for “Sue George” – has certain ramifications. In particular, it curtails what I write about and how I write it.

You’ll search for a long time on this site before you find out much about me that shouldn’t be completely in the public domain. There’s very little information about my own relationships, and nothing about my own sexual or romantic life after about 1980. I said early on that I wasn’t going to include anything I didn’t want my family or my employer to read. Now I have no employer as such – being freelance/self-employed – that is even more important.

The downsides of being me
But recently I have been thinking about all the things I can’t write about on here, and wish I could.

I can’t write about sex. Not just my sexual life, but anyone’s. Someone who might give me work might look at it and shudder. Human rights, identity, history etc – I would have absolutely no problem arguing my right to do that, and no one has ever asked me to. It also means that I have to turn down those several people who have emailed me asking to guest post on the subject.

I can’t write much about my own life. The people involved wouldn’t like it, and have told me so on many occasions. “Don’t you dare write about me” has been several lovers’ parting shots (and not in recent years, either).

I can’t include some of my opinions which I have formed as a result of the above.

When it comes down to it, I am quite a private person and it never fails to astonish me what some people are happy to share with THE ENTIRE WORLD.

The positive side of anonymous blogging
I know that a lot of people who read this blog, and blog themselves, post under pseudonyms. They want to tell the word about their lives honestly, which they just couldn’t do otherwise for obvious reasons.

In addition, many of the blogs that I have learned from have been written under pseudonyms. The writers are free to cover all kinds of controversial subjects that they just could not have done under their own names. It frees them.

Say, for instance, you are a social worker who used to be a drug addict, or a single mother who is a sex worker, or you are in a long-term clandestine relationship, you might well have valuable insights that you wouldn’t feel happy sharing with the world under your real name. I’d certainly want to read those insights, and I’m sure others would too.

And the negatives
Of course, anonymous blogging – and particularly commenting - can and often does free a writer to be vicious, nasty and generally unpleasant. As a result, many people have called for “no more anonymity on the internet”.

Now that, of course, would make the internet a much nicer and politer place. But it would also mean that readers would be unable to learn about the otherwise hidden sides of life, something that can be really valuable for both readers and writers.

And that’s particularly so for bi people, many of whom have insights they don’t want their family and employers to know they have!


The first of January, the beginning of a new year, means a new start. Resolutions, if you like. And for some, the idea of new beginnings means coming out.

I spend quite a lot of time on Twitter these days, and various retweets – or repostings by others, if you don’t know about Twitter – are from or about people who’ve decided they are finally going to tell other people they are bisexual.

Coming out as bi can be complicated, mainly because you have to tell people over and over again. People you don’t know will assume that you are either gay or heterosexual, depending on whether your partner is a man or a woman. If you are single, or dating several people, or poly – that can be easier.

There’s no bisexual “look”, in many places there’s no bi scene, the fact that other bisexuals seem hard to find (other than on the internet)... all these things can be annoying if you are looking for support.

But telling the world you are bi is important, really important.

Most of the world thinks that there is no such thing as bisexuality, that bi people are straight people playing at being gay (bi women) or gay people running away from their real sexuality (bi men). You know that it’s not like that – for you and for many others. The more of us who come out, the easier it is for those people who are not out yet.

And there are many people who cannot be out yet, because it is too difficult. They are too unsure of their feelings, their religion says it is wrong, it is illegal in their country, everyone around them thinks it is wicked, their family actually would beat them up and throw them out. They need to know there are people in the world who can support them, however far away they are or whether or not they know them personally.

So coming out is a public service.

It’s also something to do for yourself. Telling people you are bi, especially potentially tricky ones like parents and partners, means you are telling the truth about yourself. You don’t have to lie about a significant part of yourself. Yes, it will be difficult sometimes, but you may also be surprised by the people who will help and support you.

A bi man I once interviewed - deep in the closet, with a conventional life that felt he couldn’t threaten - said that he longed to “live out loud, like other people”. Coming out is the first step to doing that.

Happy New Year. And good luck!


Yes yes I know – I keep saying I am relaunching this blog and nothing happens. Blogging is difficult, people! Not blogging in the short term, but retaining motivation over years and years…. That’s tough!

So what I want to do is to ask you for your help. I really do think there is a gap when it comes to bisexuality and people over 50. Bisexuality is still connected in so many people’s minds to youth, deciding who you want to “settle down” with, experimentation. But it is so much more than that.

The Journal of Bisexuality – an academic journal, written mainly by and for people in universities – is currently seeking contributions to a volume on bisexuality and ageing. This is great as far as it goes.  But I know full well that this will not be accessible, especially in terms of language and cost, to people at large.

What I am going to do on this blog is to focus on the things that are important to bi people over 50 (or thereabouts). One of the ways I want to do this is to ask older bisexual individuals to be featured on this site via email interviews. We are so often invisible, both as bi people and those who are older, and any way that this can be counteracted  must be beneficial. So for this, there needs to be a format, and I have posted that below.

Would you, bi (or however you define yourself) person over 50, like to be on this blog? I can offer as much or as little anonymity as you like. If you could send a photo too, that would be great. You don’t have to be recognisable at all. No nudity though and no intricate sexual details in the text please.

Don’t post this in the comments, but put the information in an email to me at sues_new_email at yahoo dot com. I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Apologies to those people who agreed to do this last year. I hope I remember who you are, and I will contact you if I can find your details….

Thanks!

Format for interviews (please write between 600-800 words)
  • Basic demographics: (name or pseudonym), age, race, gender, occupation/prior occupation, country, living situation
  • How did you come to think of yourself as bisexual (or whatever label/non-label you use)?
  • What does being bisexual (or as above) mean to you?
  • Has this changed over the years, and if so how?
  • What do other people in your life know about your bisexuality and how do they react?
  • Looking back over your life so far, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
  • What about your hopes or fears for the future (regarding bisexuality)?
  • Any words of wisdom for younger bi people – or older ones?


.


Women in the 1990s: less likely to have sex with other women
Over the past few days, there has been much discussion in the media about the British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles.

Fifteen thousand people around the UK aged 16-74 were interviewed about various aspects of their sexual behaviour in 2010-2012.

This survey – the third, following previous surveys held 20 and 10 years ago – has had its headline results published in the Lancet

Out of all the interesting research published in the survey, the aspect that has been both under-discussed and is relevant for this blog is this: women are now four times more likely to say they had had same-sex activity than they were 20 years ago. (4% in 1990 to 16% in 2010)

Director of the research, Professor Kaye Welland, was reported in Pink News as saying that this was too big a change to be simply a difference in what women said. In other words, it was not just that they had changed their way of gathering data, or that the women were being more honest. Women actually ARE having more same-sex behaviour than they were 20 years ago. Much, much more.

It is not that women are necessarily having what they coyly describe as “genital contact” – that is only 8% or half of the women reporting same-sex contact - so what does “sex” mean here? And what’s behind the increase

Here are eight (connected) reasons why I think more women are having sex with each other. They are only theories, but they sound right to me. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them. (I have comment moderation on, so please be patient if you post!)

Increased acceptability/less prejudice against women-women relationships
As well as the rates of same-sex going up, according to this survey, the percentages of people thinking same-sex relationships were always or sometimes wrong have gone down a great deal too. Women are more likely than men to think such relationships are acceptable – this has gone up from 28% in 1990 to 66% now. Relationships between women are more accepted than are those between men, especially by men, with 52% of men thinking that same-sex relationships between men are always wrong, and 48% that those between women are always wrong. In 1990, those figures were 78% and 76%.

More same-sex couples and individuals in the media
Oh yes. I mean, there’s even a UK bank ad featuring female identical twins one of whom has a female partner, the other a male. This is presented as no more of an issue than whether she does or doesn’t like swimming.

Lesbian power couple: Alice Arnold (left) and Clare Balding
There are more lesbian celebrities (Clare Balding, Sandi Toksvig etc) who are just there being presenters, comedians, newsreaders, and so forth. There are also bi celebrities (Jessie J et al) speaking about their interest in women.

More sex in general
Women are having more sexual partners in general than they were 20 years ago. The average for women aged 16-44 in 1990 was 3.7 and now is 7.7. So if there is more sex, there is also likely to be more same-sex too. There’s no research (that I know of, although you might) showing that women are more open and assertive in their sexual desires than 20 years ago, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Internet dating
You are 25, you live in a tiny village where everyone knows everyone and no one available is of interest to you. But pop online, and dozens of potential partners of whatever gender you desire are just waiting. And you know they are interested in people like you – in terms of gender, looks, interest, what-have-you – because they say so. There may be problems of course, but “do they want to have sex with someone of my gender” isn’t one of them. There is a whole pool of sexual partners who simply would not have been available before. For older people, I think this is much more difficult but for reasons of age, not gender.

The lesbian community
Not so long ago, women usually had to be part of a lesbian community if they wanted women to be their sexual partners. Of course, some women didn’t do this: they happened upon each other by accident, or maybe were part of other radical political movements, or met through friends. But most did. While of course many women were happy in their lesbian community, it had its political, social and sexual norms which you had to adhere to. It didn’t always (and still doesn’t) welcome women who didn’t agree with those norms. Bi women in particular.

But to be fair, I think it is also true that some parts of the lesbian community, anyway, are more tolerant towards women who aren't 150% lesbian, though understandably perhaps not towards women who are "experimenting".

There are also now many more same-sex friendly communities – queer, poly, bi, kink, swinger, pagan, goth, BDSM, etc etc – where women can meet each other. Many of them were around 20 years ago too, but they are much easier to find now. And if there are more women having same-sex, the chances of you just coming across them in everyday life are that much greater.

Pornography
I have no idea what proportion of women look at any kind of porn, but some of them will see other women having sex with each other on screen and start to fantasise about it themselves. I know this to be the case, because some have told me so. Of course, maybe their boyfriends have fantasies about this, or maybe they both do. Or maybe they think their boyfriends want them to (whether they actually do or not).  But maybe they have turned on their computers, gone actively searching for porn or found it by accident, and seen a woman who made them think…

For all of these reasons, women may feel it is less of a big deal to think about having sex with another woman and possibly to act on it.

Katy Perry


 “I kissed a girl and I liked it”
According to today’s colloquium on the survey, which I followed on Twitter through the hashtag #NATSAL, the increase in same-sex between women is because more of them are experimenting, rather than changing their identity [Though I don’t see why it is either experimenting OR changing your identity, or indeed what identity per se necessarily has to do with it at all]. Maybe they listened to the Katy Perry song.

Experimentation
In principle, I am in favour of young people experimenting, with the normal provisos of openness, honesty, safer sex, respecting your partner, and so on. But I still think the concept needs much more unpacking if nothing else than because “experimenting” implies something very trivial and meaningless. While sex can be both trivial and meaningless (as well the reverse), experimenting can be pretty damn serious.

Some women who start off with experimenting will go on to have more, deeper, relationships with other women. They may not call themselves lesbian, or bi, or indeed have the remotest interest in sexual identity or community, but “experimenting” doesn’t always start and finish with a bit of pawing in a club (pleasant though that might be).

Experimenting is just that – trying something out. You don’t necessarily know what the result will be. Your desires and fantasies are not always enough. You need to see whether what you have thought about really works for you – at this place, with this person, at this time in your life.

Performing bisexuality
I think some observers might count this as experimenting too. Yes, some heterosexual women are definitely kissing and groping each other in public, probably for attention, mainly from men. This was first spotted as a phenomenon around 15 years ago, and now seems pretty ubiquitous. The expectation is that this is all a bit of a joke, and that no “real sex” will occur.

But women who are doing this are not necessarily experimenting or even not properly into women. I was shocked (yes reader, I can still be shocked) by women I know to have had genuine relationships with women setting out to torment/arouse men by kissing other women in front of them.

So while I don’t dispute that more women may be sexually experimenting… can this really account for such a vast increase? It doesn’t seem likely. I think it is all of the reasons listed above.

Just for the young?
Given that I have, as I said in my last post, changed the focus of this blog to be on ageing, I do want to touch on what this might mean for us older women.

To start with, are these just young women having all this same-sex? Mostly, yes.

According to the statistics, when asked whether they’ve had any sexual experience or contact with another female, only 3% of women aged 65–74 said yes. It’s 7% for those aged 55–64, 9% aged 45–54, 12% 35–44, 18% women 25–34, and 19% 16–24. If the prevalence of same sex was constant, it would increase with age, based on the accumulation of experience. But the opposite is true. So among younger women, it’s either more common, or more honestly reported, or (as I would guess) both.

But I wonder whether older, previously heterosexual, women will start experimenting too (if not to such a great extent) as we grow and change and explore different opportunities in life. I have certainly read about women having their first female partners when they are 50+ and I am going to write about this phenomenon at some point.

In this survey, women did report “less sexual anxiety” as they got older, which can only be a good thing!

Men
Another thing coming out of this survey is that men are now far less likely to report having same-sex behaviour than are women (7% - the same rate as in 1990 – compared to 16% for women). This seems very low.

So what does this figure mean? As the (male) commenters on the Pink News site above mention, that depends on so many things. One is certainly: “what counts as sex?”

To quote one commenter:

“In my experience more men than ever are having sex with other men. These men do not regard themselves as gay at all - they just think they are sexually adventurous. As for the anal aspect [there were very low rates of penetrative sex between men] that’s just a distraction thrown into the argument by heterosexuals. Most men who have sex with men have non-penetrative [sex].”


Many other men have said this to me over the years, and I’ll be writing about all of that in some future post.


Hello to everyone reading this blog

It has been a long time since I last posted here, longer still since I updated it regularly. There's a whole range of reasons for that - pressures of work and time, new forms of social media that make blogger look positively 20th century - but I've decided to give it another go.

There are many billions of words now online, even more are being written while you are reading this. There is too much out there to keep up with anything that doesn't really hit the mark for an individual reader. Or for an individual writer, particularly when she makes a living contributing to those too-many words, which is why I am changing the focus of this blog.

Who are you?

Looking at the stats for this site, most people come here for information about coming out. Next on the list is celebrities who may or may not be bisexual, or who may have said something about it.

I have nothing at all new to say about coming out, because I did that so long ago. (Even the repeated coming out that all out bi people deal with is simply part of my life.) In any case, the world people come out into now is too different for my initial experiences to be relevant.

So for information about coming out and celebrities, I recomment Twitter. Twitter works very well for responding to (for example) biphobia, homophobia, the various doings of various celebrities, etc. I can't keep up with celebrity doings, and really don't care what they do. But I can see that they are important for many, particularly young, people. If idiots post stupid things about bisexuality, then various bi people will point out the error of their ways far more quickly and forcefully than I would be able to do. And Twitter is also a great place for finding out about things too. 

Ageing
But I am interested now in bisexuality and older people. For the sake of drawing the line somewhere, I'm calling "older people" anyone over 50. 

I am now in my 50s  myself, and what I have to offer the world of bisexuality (and what could possibly be called bisexual theory) is not necessarily what people coming to this blog are after. Nevertheless, blogs are for the writer as much as for the reader - unless you are specifically blogging for money - a way of clearing our thoughts, perhaps, and getting unmonetisable ideas out there.

My thoughts on bisexuality and middle-age/ageing/getting older are what I'll be writing about on this blog from now on. As you will see from the previous post, I did a talk at the University of Nottingham about my experiences of being an “older” bisexual. The site for that event, including the text of my talk, is here. My talk is 4,700 words long, so I'm not posting it in full as a blog post. It's a general talk (not giving away anything hugely personal!) and was designed to be heard in conjunction with Rebecca Jones' presentation on research into bisexuality and ageing. In brief: there isn't much of it.

I have recorded it on Soundcloud, in case you want to listen to my dulcet tones. It's about 25 minutes long and you can find it here.

I did interview - both on email and on Skype - some other bi identifying people over 50 and - surprise - they covered a range of different behaviours, feelings, and so on. But they pretty much all felt invisible, and that's not surprising because they are. 

There are actually many things that haven't really been discussed about sexuality of any sort and ageing, and I think about them more and more these days. I'll write about some of them here. I'll also write in more depth about the issues I addressed in my talk (so you don't need to read it/listen to it) if you don't want to!

But if you are a person of 50+ to whom the concept of bisexuality is personally important - however you identify sexually, as well as if you don't - then I'd love to hear from you. I know there are a lot more of us than we think!









Hello everyone, very long time no post.

So... I am doing a talk on bisexuality and older people in April - for a health and social science professional/academic audience, although my talk is  general/personal. Other speakers will be looking at research (if any). 

Do any of you, particularly people over 50, have any thoughts on this topic? 

Some topics I am going to touch on - based on my own experience - encompass invisibility, identity, community, impact on partners/relationships/families/children. But you might think of other things you think are important.

Please share this information with anyone who might be interested. You never know - if there is enough information, I could even make it into an e-book at some point.

You can post comments here, or email me at sues_new_email at yahoo dot com

Thanks





For long as I’ve been writing this blog, one of the main ways new people find it is by searching for “bisexuality and depression”. I find that really sad, but nothing like as sad as the statistics about bisexuality and mental health.

  • A major Canadian study found bisexual men 6.3 times more likely, and bi women 5.9 times more likely, to report having been suicidal than heterosexual people
  •  A large Australian study found rates of mental health problems among bi people to be higher than those among lesbians, gay men, or heterosexuals.
  •  The UK Mind report on the mental health and wellbeing of LGB people found that bi men and women were less at ease about their sexuality than lesbians or gay men, and less likely to be out.
Bisexuality and mental health is currently a big issue in the bi community. This summer’s BiReCon (the British conference that looks at current research on bisexuality) had bisexuality and mental health as its theme.

At the conference, the speakers focused on what research is currently being done by (bi) psychologists and (bi) activists and considered how mental health professionals could better serve the needs of bi people.

The Bisexuality Report,  which came out earlier this year, also looked at the bad health – mental and physical – experienced by bisexual people. It collated a lot of existing research, including that listed at the top of this post.

Until now, most research on sexuality and mental health has lumped research on lesbian, gay and bisexual people into one queer mass.

What the Bisexuality Report did was to look at how bisexual people (as distinct from lesbians and gay men) experience discrimination and prejudice. It’s fair to say that this discrimination and prejudice has a strongly negative impact on everyone who don’t simply identify as straight or gay.

This includes:

Bisexual exclusion, erasure, invisibility

  • Many people, even now, know of no one in their daily lives who is bisexual. 
  • When people at large, or organisations, say lesbian, gay and bisexual, they really mean lesbian and gay. Or sometimes just gay.
  • Everyone is considered either gay or straight. Really. And if you aren’t now, you are either frightened (really gay) or experimenting (really straight). 
  • The concerns of bi people are ignored, trivialised, demonised, laughed at. For instance, when people say things like:

Everyone's bisexual
Men can’t be bisexual
You must be really into sex
Can I watch?
But you’re involved with X person now – that means you’re straight/gay
You’re just confused
Bi people have things really easy

And, connected with that:

Biphobia – in all its many guises

Such as:

  • Rejection by the wider queer/lesbian and gay community, whether individuals or groups 
  • At the same time as you experience rejection from friends/ family/the wider society for not being straight. A similar sort of homophobia to that experienced by lesbians and gay men, but with added extras 
  •  People saying things like: 
  • You’re too old/attractive/ugly/straight-looking/queer-looking/monogamous to be bisexual 
  • You’re young – you’ll grow out of it! 
  • Bisexuals are greedy/disgusting/can’t be trusted


 I could go on… but I’m only depressing myself!

With all that, is it any surprise that so many bi people feel they don’t belong anywhere, that you will never find a lover/s who will truly accept you? That, if you are told that bi people don’t and can’t exist, and if they do there is something wrong with them, that it might lead to lack of self-belief, and ultimately self-hatred?

Difficult circumstances and depression aren’t necessarily linked, of course, but a lack of support can make a bad time so much worse.

So, lovely readers, some questions for you.

Why do you think bi people report so much depression and other forms of mental ill-health. And what do you think we – as individuals and as a community – can do to help ourselves and others?

For more things to think about, I’ve written other posts on bisexuality and mental health here 

Glad to be bi 
My next post (to be published on 7th September) is going to be specifically on being a happy bisexual. It would be terrible if everyone thought that bi people were only miserable when, for many of us, bisexuality is great, something that has added and continued to add to their lives. And for others, their bisexuality is something that just is. A part of them that needs no more explanation than that.

As Tom Robinson sang Glad to be Gay in the 1970s, so we need a (non-religious) Blessed to be Bi for the 2010s.

We need to spell out the reasons it’s great to be bi – even when, especially when, others think it really isn’t.

Which leads on to some more questions for you: What do you love being bisexual? And, if you didn’t always feel that way, how have you made things better? Let me know.


Nerina2

(Above: Nerina in 1995, aged c87, right. With Sue1066, left, whose pic this is)

There are so many things you can learn, and be inspired by, when you look at an individual’s life in depth. Studying Nerina Shute’s life through her writings has given me so much to think about. This is just the beginning:

Bisexuality over a lifetime
For many people who aren’t bi – and even for some who are – bisexuality is something that is for young people. Only for young people. I suspect that’s because many of them connect bisexuality with having lots of partners and/or not being “settled down”.

Not much is known about the ways in which people remain bisexual over the course of their lives, how their sexuality changes (or doesn’t), and how these changes interact with the changes in society.

But for Nerina (as with other people of her generation, now dead, such as James Lees-Milne, who have published volumes of diaries) we can see that her bisexuality was important throughout her life. In her 90s, she was happy to tell an interviewer she was bisexual (see this post); in her 80s, in her autobiography Passionate Friendships, she wrote at some length about the (late 1980s) fraught relationship between bi women and lesbians. She simply didn’t understand why this tension existed:
“We are bisexual. We are ambisextrous, as Aimee Stuart would say. Lesbians accuse us of wanting the best of both worlds. Well why not?”

Bisexual life in London
As I’ve already written, bohemian Londoners of this time – whether intellectual Bloomsburyites, or actual and wannabe actresses, people who worked in nightclubs and many etceteras – tended not to choose one opposite-sex marital partner and stay with them, forsaking all other. The blog I referred to in the first of these posts, Cocktails with Elvira, describes many of the personalities involved, and the merry-go-round of relationships in which they were involved. Some of these characters tended to be gay, some tended to be straight, but many of them seemed to have partners or occasional lovers outside of this. What there were, though, were (physical) fights, intrigues and quarrels – something Nerina complains about in We Mixed Our Drinks. No doubt alcohol played a large part.

Playwright Aimee Stuart, friend of Nerina’s from 1926 until Aimee died, introduced Nerina to many of these women through her “at homes”, where sex was frequently discussed and being “ambisextrous” far from unusual. One of them was almost certainly the wonderfully named Sunday Wilshin, who acted in the film version of Stuart’s play Nine till Six. She really intrigues me, and there’s more about her here.

This is a still from The Gentle Sex from 1943, co-written by Aimee Stuart, Moie Charles (also a friend of Nerina's) and others. Apparently there is a free download of the film on that site too!



It also seems that there was a group of women who saw themselves as specifically bisexual, as distinct from lesbian. This was certainly how Nerina saw herself as a mature woman. When young, she was unhappy about her attractions to women, didn’t like the contempt heaped on lesbians, and couldn’t understand the fact that she needed both women and men.

She saw her love for men, and her love for women, as mutually complementary. A relationship with a woman would not threaten her relationship with a man, or vice versa. Her friend and sometime lover, Helen Mayo, thought so too. This is a pic of Helen, left, and Nerina, right, on holiday in Ireland, 1939.


And in Passionate Friendships, she quotes Helen, in a conversation from the late 1950s:
“’To deceive him with another man would be wrong, but not with a woman. There’s no harm in it,’ said Helen, ‘because the love between two women is totally different. It’s a form of friendship, a passionate friendship.’
“Of course I knew exactly what she meant. There is little or no similarity between the lusty love-making of a man or tender or motherly love-making between women. A male lover is unthinkable for a married woman in love with her husband. A female lover can be delightful.”

To Nerina’s husband Howard Marshall, though, a lover was a lover; their relationship ended because he considered she had been unfaithful. The fact that her lover was a woman was neither here nor there. In Passionate Friendships, she blames herself for hurting him so much, and thereby ending their marriage, when she still loved him.

Helen and Nerina’s view of sex between women seems to have some connection with the romantic friendships of the 19th century and earlier, as detailed by Lilian Fadermann in Surpassing the Love of Men. Fadermann, writing in the early 1980s, saw romantic friendships as NOT being sexual. I don’t see that we can know, definitively.

Helen Mayo and her partner (Dorothy Anderton) Andy Sharpe, friends of Nerina’s from 1939 until their deaths in the 1970s, are also interesting to consider. They were a dentist and obstetrician, respectively, so not obvious candidates for bohemianism. Instead, Nerina places them within a work-hard/play-hard, live life to the full framework. Andy had a fiancé who was killed in WW2, and Helen had other lovers too, as well as Nerina. They were extremely sociable and life-loving, with their large house in Portland Place the scene of many parties. This was mentioned in Andy Sharpe’s obituary in the BMJ, with no further comment or explanation.

Things I don’t know about Nerina
Although I wrote above about Nerina’s lifetime of bisexuality, in fact there is little publically available information about her life in old age. I found a couple more pictures of later-life Nerina via Google Images, and they intrigue me. They are from Sue1066’s flickr account. Who are you, Sue1066? You obviously knew Nerina (see the picture of the two of them at the top of the post) and perhaps have some connection to her family – given that some of the other pics are of Nerina’s mother’s childhood home and a memorial with her maiden name Pepper Staveley. I hope you don't mind me using your pic.

Obviously, there are lots more things I don’t know. And sadly for my bank balance, these are the sort of interests that lead jobbing writers to attempt biographies.

The most obvious are: what were the real identities of her lovers Charles – abortionist turned condensed-milk salesman; and Josephine – Catholic monocle-wearer, met at a lesbian party, greatly in love with Nerina, and her assistant at Max Factor in the late 1930s? Cocktails with Elvira contains a number of candidates for Josephine, although I don’t think any likely monocle-wearers are mentioned.

Maybe Nerina was deliberately laying false trails for any future nosey-parkers.



(Left, Nerina Shute in the late 1930s)

This is the second post in my LGBT history month series on bisexual writer Nerina Shute. If you haven’t read yesterday’s post on why I’m doing this, best to read here first.

Nerina's life and times

Nerina Shute was born to an upper middle class family in Northumberland in 1908, the daughter of Cameron and Renie. Her father was in the army, her mother wrote several scandalous novels which were optioned by Hollywood.

While in California (with Nerina), Renie invested all of her money in a married paramour’s gold mine and when Cameron came to visit them, persuaded him to invest his money too. The married man was killed in a car accident and the goldmine was found to be devoid of gold, meaning that the family lost all their money.

Nerina won a short story competition while still in the USA, despite the fact that she had left school at 14. She came back to Britain from California, aged 18, soon moving to London, where she became a typist at the Times Book Club. Attending dance classes, she met playwright and bohemian stalwart Aimee Stuart, who held frequent parties and gatherings in her central London flat. As Nerina wrote later in We Mixed Our Drinks (where she writes of herself in the third person:
“Shute was an odd, rebellious young woman who happened to come of good family but preferred to be thought a ‘bohemian’ than ‘a lady’ or even ‘a gentlewoman’. She was untidy, careless and heavily made up with lipstick and rouge and eye-black ... Behind a half-hearted attempt at flippancy she was deeply in earnest. Behind her sex-talk and her bad manners she was old fashioned, and full of what she herself sometimes called ‘twisted ideals’.”

In 1927, at the tail end of the silent picture era, Nerina was offered a job as a reporter on Film Weekly. She interviewed many celebrities, and did not mince her words, offending many film stars such as Madeleine Carroll, who she described as a “ruthless Madonna”.

Here she is in The First Born, a great (silent)film that was restored/relaunched recently by the BFI.



Nerina also made a nuisance of herself around film sets: director E A Dupont banned her from his productions, and she once returned disguised as a rabbi to see what was going on.

In 1931, her first, autobiographical novel, Another Man’s Poison was published, causing scandal with her relatives, and attracting reviews, as one of its main characters, Paula, describes herself as ambisextrous. This received a fortuitous review from Rebecca West in The Daily Telegraph:
“Miss Shute writes not so much badly as barbarously, as if she had never read anything but a magazine, never seen any picture but a moving one, heard any music except at restaurants. Yet she is full of talent.” (Shute, 1944:40)

This was excellent publicity for Nerina, despite the fact that she was hurt by it, thinking it an accurate criticism. As “the girl with the barbarous touch” she wrote a series of articles for the Sunday Graphic newspaper at 10 guineas a week (compared to £4 for her job at Film Weekly), giving the opinions of “the ultra-modern girl”. Subsequently, she was invited to Lord Beaverbrook’s estate (he was then owner of the Express newspapers) and given a job as a general reporter at the Express, where she was sacked again, this time after six months.
“Far from being a good reporter, she was inexperienced, useless at writing a straightforward news-story, and on top of these fundamental drawbacks, as everyone probably knew, she disliked her job.”

Nerina was aware of her attractions to women from the 1920s on, and was nervous about them. She did not want to become a lesbian, feeling that the societal opprobrium was too great, and she felt “hurt and diminished” by this prejudice.

But around this time, she met “Charles”, a doctor who had been struck off for performing an illegal abortion. Feeling lonely, and anxious to lose her virginity, they began a relationship and were soon in love. After some months, she went to “live in sin” in Liverpool with him, where he had got a job as a condensed-milk salesman. She became jealous, however, which caused arguments, and so she left him and returned to London. Here they are, posing on Blackpool Pleasure Beach, in 1930.



Once more, she became a journalist, where she says she was obliged by her editor to write light stories which she felt were wrong in times of terrible poverty. For instance, she was sent to investigate nudist clubs and colonies “which were springing up in the green fields of England like rude little mushrooms”. She went to visit nudists in Earl’s Court but was amused to find that, for the interview, they were clothed. The editor wanted her to write stories about how they were immoral but she liked the nudists she met and wouldn’t do it.

Like very many creative (and other) people of that time, she was attracted by what appeared to be the greater equality in Russia, although after a trip there she also offended Russian Communists she met by saying they had replaced religion with politics.

Around this time, she also began a relationship with a woman she calls “Josephine”, who was a close friend and lover until the end of the 1930s.

Disillusioned with journalism, and by the lack of success of a play she had written, in 1935 she began to work for Max Factor as their publicity manager, doing what she described as “commercial propaganda” and becoming what she called a “Bond Street blonde” – well dressed and groomed, wearing high heels and bleaching her brown hair. This was a dramatic contrast to her previous look of androgynous messiness, complete with black hat. She was also briefly married to James Wentworth-Day, a high Tory journalist, who attracted her with his strongly felt ideals, even as she furiously disagreed with them. The marriage only lasted a year.

He was around 40 when they married, so I imagine this is him in the 50s:



By 1937, Nerina had lost her eagerness to write:
“A few years ago Shute had been the budding novelist and journalist, a young woman of rebellious thoughts who dreamed each night of rising up and up into the golden heights, creating with words the brave people and the lovely places she saw so clearly in her New World. Full of ambition, she had been a pig-headed untidy young romantic; she intended to write what she believed, live as she wanted, and to hell with criticism”.

In 1939, while riding her horse in Rottingdean, Sussex, she met Helen Mayo and Andy Sharpe, two women who lived in Portland Place in London and worked as a dental surgeon and obstetrician respectively. She went to live with them, becoming Helen’s lover, and worked as a nurse, almoner, and ambulance driver, throughout the war.

She also met her second husband, Howard Marshall, in 1940, a very prominent radio journalist, and the first person to broadcast ball-by-ball cricket commentary.

For the duration of the war, their relationship was intense and idyllically romantic, much of it carried on in intense secrecy as he was both famous and still married, his wife and sons being in America for safety.

This – Begin the Beguine - is one of the songs they used to dance to:



They married in 1944 and were both strongly socialist at this time, endlessly discussing what a better world might look like. Still, however, she had creative ambition: “... she was not a good enough writer. With all her heart she envied the experienced word-wealthy people”. She did, however, publish We Mixed Our Drinks (discussed in the previous post).

In the immediate post-war period, their relationship was “blissfully happy” despite the fact that they were both unemployed and in general found this period difficult:
“When all the excitement was over we all had a feeling of anticlimax. We had done our job. We had won the war. We were unprepared for the long littleness of life.”

What a telling quote! Their intense relationship soon began to show cracks: she wanted to go out, he wanted to stay in. For some years, she acquiesced to this, despite increasing loneliness. When Howard began to work in PR in late 1945, they hired a French housekeeper, "Renee". Renee brought fun and joy into what, over the next few years, became an increasingly unhappy marriage. They loved each other but were wildly incompatible.

Howard did, however, support her quieter, more intellectual endeavours. Nerina studied English at London university, and began to write the first of her historic novels. This one, about Shelley, was published in 1951



After a few years, Nerina and Renee began a sexual relationship (instigated by Renee) which seems to have been maternal on Nerina’s side. Renee, however, was in fact in her 30s, and her mental health was deteriorating. Her family had died in a bombing raid in France, and she had found parts of her mother’s body scattered in the ruins of their home.

Towards the end of her three-year stay with Nerina and Howard, Renee had a serious nervous breakdown, eventually returning to France. Nerina then became very depressed as well and sounds as if she were on the edge of a breakdown herself. “The longing to escape had returned ... this time I felt a desire to die”.

During a furious argument with Howard on New Year’s Eve 1953, several years after Renee had returned to France, she told him she had had sex with Renee. He had known nothing about her attractions to women. Despite speaking on the phone and writing letters, they never saw each other again, although she maintained until the end of her life that she still loved him.

This is Howard, perhaps in the 1940s.



Nerina went to stay in Sussex with her mother and her mother’s much younger and alcoholic sixth husband, Noel. While her depression lifted rapidly, she, her mother and step-father struggled financially, negotiating with the Inland Revenue, trying to make money on renovating houses and moving, or selling off parcels of land. Over the next four years, as her mother’s health deteriorated, Nerina wrote a memoir of Renie’s life Come into the Sunlight, designed to be a reflection of her mother’s joyful philosophy of life. After her death, Nerina and Noel soon moved to London, where they lived in Chelsea, at this time just starting to be the centre of Swinging London.

When she and Noel decided to take ballroom dancing lessons (so Nerina could take Noel’s mind off drinking) they were taught by Phyllis Haylor.

Nerina and Phyllis began a relationship and remained lovers until Phyllis’s death. This was, according to Nerina, a very happy relationship although no particular details emerge in her late-life autobiography Passionate Friendships.
“Phyllis made me happy with an adoration based on a need for motherly tenderness which only a woman can give to another woman. Now, late in life, Phyllis was giving it to me and I was giving it to her. It was like a marriage. We became passionate friends, and our friendship lasted until the day of her death.”

During the 1970s, Nerina wrote two travel and history books about London’s villages, as well as a volume of tell-little autobiography, The Escapist Generations and, in 1986, The Royal Family and the Spencers.



In 1981, Phyllis died suddenly of a heart attack and Nerina was alone once more. Although this is not mentioned by Nerina, her obituaries mention that she began a relationship with another woman, Jocelyn Williams, in 1989, and they stayed together until Nerina died.

In later life, Nerina became as fervent a conservative as she had once been a socialist, but she remained interested in the contemporary world, even as she distanced herself from some of it. With the publication of her final autobiography, Passionate Friendships (1992), she was able to talk more freely about her bisexuality:

“I believe there are many women in the world who need the love of another woman in addition to the love of a man. We are bisexual. Usually we hide this fact from our husbands for fear of ending a happy marriage. I made the mistake of telling my husband ... By explaining how it all happened, and how it ended, I may possibly give help to others.”

So not exactly what bi people tend to think these days, then! Nerina was a product of her class and time, but/and I warm to her and think she would have made a marvellous companion.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll be writing about some of the questions and issues that studying Nerina’s life has led me to consider.

(The information in this post comes primarily from Nerina’s memoirs and autobiographies, with additional information from Shepperton Babylon, by Matthew Sweet, and from various obituaries.)







Nerina Shute, in the early 1930s








February is LGBT history month (in the UK) and – although I have several other blog posts in the offing/promised/massively overdue - I really want to add my twopennorth while I can.

Actually many more pennorth than that. This is a long post, so I’m splitting it into three, to be published over three days, thereby just about squashing it in before the end of the month.

People in the bisexual community often talk about the need for more information about bi lives – people who are now, or were in the past, some kind of bisexual. And whereas there can often be debates or confusion about whether we now can give a contemporary identity (bisexual) to them then, with Nerina there is no confusion. "I am bisexual," she said to writer Matthew Sweet, when she was in her 90s. "What does your generation think about such things?"

Nerina Shute: 1908-2004
This isn’t the first time I’ve written on this blog about Nerina – teenage film critic of the silent era, novelist, London bohemian, laugh-out-loud memoir writer and explicitly bisexual at a time it is so often assumed that people weren’t. But since 2006, when I wrote about her before, I've had more time to think about her, and her life and times.

I first found out about Nerina when I read her memoir We Mixed Our Drinks in around 2000, while I was doing research for another project. Published in 1944, WMOD is the story of her life from her teenage years in the USA when her mother lost all their money in a goldmine fraud; her time as reluctant film critic – she didn’t like film stars; an even more reluctant journalist – she didn’t know what she was doing; and an eager young novelist (nicknamed “the girl with the barbarous touch”).

At the time, WMOD was considered very shocking. Nerina is open about having lived with a man without being married, about being taken to a Chelsea orgy (where the hostess wore a vest that was both too long and too short, and they were thrown out for not taking off their clothes), about the “pansy” and lesbian circles in which she never quite said she moved.

I am fascinated by Nerina for a whole range of reasons, some of which may already be apparent. So fascinated, in fact, that even though writing about her was a significant part of my master’s degree in life history research, I still google her and her gang to see if anything new shows up. Sure enough, I found this superlative blog Cocktails with Elvira. It’s based around a notorious court case – of socialite Elvira Barney, who shot her lover in 1932.

The blog also contains a lot of information about bohemian London of that time, much of which would now be (and somewhat differently would have been then) considered “queer”. This is not simply the haute intelligentsia of the Bloomsbury Group, which has been well-documented. The various overlapping London bohemias of the 20s and 30s (and earlier, and later?) seem to have been overwhelmingly queer. Musicians, actors, models, chorus girls and boys, journalists and people about town seemed to have been strikingly unstraight. Not to mention artists, particularly those condemned with the word “Chelsea”.

“Hello darling, how’s your sex life? Lousy, darling, how’s yours?”
While Matt Houlbrook’s brilliant book Queer London looks at all the different ways in which men at this time interacted with each other for sexual/romantic purposes, there has been very little published about women’s relationships with each other outside of the most famous instances – Violet Trefusis and Vita Sackville-West, for instance.

Now that I’ve read all Nerina’s memoirs/autobiographies, it seems really apparent that there was a lively lesbian/bi/queer women’s scene in London in the interwar period and afterwards. There is more information about some of these characters in Cocktails with Elvira, and I wish I had the time to research this properly. This scene was mainly based around friendship networks of various sorts, rather than the cottaging/picking up/Turkish baths scene etc, described by Houlbrook.

While these women were often well-off, sometimes rich and independent, they weren’t necessarily so – Nerina came from a once-rich background but in the 30s she was often without a shilling for the gas - indeed the whole mix of class and bohemias seems to be to be quite complicated. I’d love to know how much, if at all, any sexual/romantic friendship networks spread to “ordinary women”.

It also seems that there was a group of women who were actively, explicitly, bisexual, who sometimes wanted to distance themselves from lesbians and sometimes had relationships with them. I’ll be looking at this in a bit more detail in a couple of days.

When I read Shepperton Babylon by Matthew Sweet – about the British film industry - I was delighted to discover that Nerina was bisexual, and quite happy to talk about it. I was much less delighted to find out that, at the time I was first devouring We Mixed Our Drinks, Nerina was actually still alive and living in Putney. She didn’t die until four years later. I suppose that’s the hard lesson for oral historians: the people you really want to speak to are often just beyond reach.

Tomorrow, I'll be posting more about Nerina's life and loves. Then finally, I'll be looking at some of the questions that her life, and what I know of her thoughts and opinions, pose for bisexual people today.



Sue George is my real name, and it never occurred to use a pseudonym on this blog. But maybe it should have.

I have a certain (small) profile as a writer on bisexuality, and wanted to continue that here. I am also a professional journalist, not (sadly) on bisexuality, but there is some overlap between the two. For instance, this blog is mentioned on my LinkedIn profile, and also on Twitter, which I use partly for work.

I thought when I started – correctly, I’m sure – that people would be more likely to read ideas and theories about bisexuality, and take them seriously, if a named individual was writing them.

But the fact that I write this as me – and people often find this blog by looking for “Sue George” – has certain ramifications. In particular, it curtails what I write about and how I write it.

You’ll search for a long time on this site before you find out much about me that shouldn’t be completely in the public domain. There’s very little information about my own relationships, and nothing about my own sexual or romantic life after about 1980. I said early on that I wasn’t going to include anything I didn’t want my family or my employer to read. Now I have no employer as such – being freelance/self-employed – that is even more important.

The downsides of being me
But recently I have been thinking about all the things I can’t write about on here, and wish I could.

I can’t write about sex. Not just my sexual life, but anyone’s. Someone who might give me work might look at it and shudder. Human rights, identity, history etc – I would have absolutely no problem arguing my right to do that, and no one has ever asked me to. It also means that I have to turn down those several people who have emailed me asking to guest post on the subject.

I can’t write much about my own life. The people involved wouldn’t like it, and have told me so on many occasions. “Don’t you dare write about me” has been several lovers’ parting shots (and not in recent years, either).

I can’t include some of my opinions which I have formed as a result of the above.

When it comes down to it, I am quite a private person and it never fails to astonish me what some people are happy to share with THE ENTIRE WORLD.

The positive side of anonymous blogging
I know that a lot of people who read this blog, and blog themselves, post under pseudonyms. They want to tell the word about their lives honestly, which they just couldn’t do otherwise for obvious reasons.

In addition, many of the blogs that I have learned from have been written under pseudonyms. The writers are free to cover all kinds of controversial subjects that they just could not have done under their own names. It frees them.

Say, for instance, you are a social worker who used to be a drug addict, or a single mother who is a sex worker, or you are in a long-term clandestine relationship, you might well have valuable insights that you wouldn’t feel happy sharing with the world under your real name. I’d certainly want to read those insights, and I’m sure others would too.

And the negatives
Of course, anonymous blogging – and particularly commenting - can and often does free a writer to be vicious, nasty and generally unpleasant. As a result, many people have called for “no more anonymity on the internet”.

Now that, of course, would make the internet a much nicer and politer place. But it would also mean that readers would be unable to learn about the otherwise hidden sides of life, something that can be really valuable for both readers and writers.

And that’s particularly so for bi people, many of whom have insights they don’t want their family and employers to know they have!


The first of January, the beginning of a new year, means a new start. Resolutions, if you like. And for some, the idea of new beginnings means coming out.

I spend quite a lot of time on Twitter these days, and various retweets – or repostings by others, if you don’t know about Twitter – are from or about people who’ve decided they are finally going to tell other people they are bisexual.

Coming out as bi can be complicated, mainly because you have to tell people over and over again. People you don’t know will assume that you are either gay or heterosexual, depending on whether your partner is a man or a woman. If you are single, or dating several people, or poly – that can be easier.

There’s no bisexual “look”, in many places there’s no bi scene, the fact that other bisexuals seem hard to find (other than on the internet)... all these things can be annoying if you are looking for support.

But telling the world you are bi is important, really important.

Most of the world thinks that there is no such thing as bisexuality, that bi people are straight people playing at being gay (bi women) or gay people running away from their real sexuality (bi men). You know that it’s not like that – for you and for many others. The more of us who come out, the easier it is for those people who are not out yet.

And there are many people who cannot be out yet, because it is too difficult. They are too unsure of their feelings, their religion says it is wrong, it is illegal in their country, everyone around them thinks it is wicked, their family actually would beat them up and throw them out. They need to know there are people in the world who can support them, however far away they are or whether or not they know them personally.

So coming out is a public service.

It’s also something to do for yourself. Telling people you are bi, especially potentially tricky ones like parents and partners, means you are telling the truth about yourself. You don’t have to lie about a significant part of yourself. Yes, it will be difficult sometimes, but you may also be surprised by the people who will help and support you.

A bi man I once interviewed - deep in the closet, with a conventional life that felt he couldn’t threaten - said that he longed to “live out loud, like other people”. Coming out is the first step to doing that.

Happy New Year. And good luck!


 
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