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Bisexuality and beyond
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210215

Due to popular demand, I have expanded the remit of this blog series to include people who are nearly 50. There are even more of us out there!

As before, the questions in bold come from me. Otherwise, all the words are from the interviewees themselves.

***

I am Laura, 48, female, chronically sick from Ehlers Danlos, living in the USA since February 2013, in The Netherlands before that.

I am married to a woman, since May 2013. From 1986 till 2005 I was with a man and had two children with him.

How did you come to think of yourself as bisexual?
I have always had crushes on boys AND girls. Sexuality in The Netherlands is not a taboo and certainly not in my family. When I told my mother that I was seeing a girl, my first sort-of-relationship when I was 16, it got accepted without any word of surprise. When I got my first real relationship with a boy at 18, that was no subject of discussion either. I don’t even remember when I started calling it bisexuality, I do know that when I dated that girl it was not a word I used. And it did not change for me during the years.

Has this changed over the years, and if so how?
After my first girlfriend I had a few sexual experiences with girls but after that I met my boyfriend, later husband, and stayed with him for almost 20 years. After that I started dating again, but by then I had a chronic illness and the responses of the men I dated was horrifying. The last date ended with the guy asking: “But what if I want to go out on Friday evening and you are tired?” and that’s when I decided I’d had it with men. So I contemplated: how about dating women. And that was quite a step. Because I knew I was interested sexually and I knew I could fall in love, but having a relationship with a woman? And I didn’t want to date women and then have to tell them, no sorry, I’d like a night with you but a relationship no thanks... But I took the step  and never looked back. I met my present wife, by the way, very unconventionally, via Farm Ville on Facebook.... She was a new neighbor, saw my pic, thought hm ho, asked me if I needed something for FV and after the second talk we were both hooked.

When I was dating, many lesbians had atrocious statements on their profiles, like “if you’re bi, don’t even bother dropping me a note, I won’t even write you back”. The bi-hate is so big in the lesbian world. That was very very hurtful, and still is. They try to make it sound like just one of the many preferences they have, like preferring tall women, but it boils my blood. So lets not go there today.

What do other people in your life know about your bisexuality, and how do they react?
Here in the US I don’t know a lot of people, and since being gay is hard enough, I refrain from taking it one step further. When I started dating women after my divorce though, there were people who were sort of offended that they didn’t know that about me. Well, when I am with a man, you can’t TELL that I am bisexual. And if the subject doesn’t come up...

Looking back over your life so far, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
Not in regards to my bisexuality, no.

What about your hopes or fears for the future (regarding bisexuality)?
I hope that the biphobia and bi-erasure will stop, certainly from within the LGBT-community.

Any words of wisdom for younger bi people – or older ones?
Don’t let others tell you what your bisexuality means for you. People like to think that they know better, but there’s only one person who knows you best: you!

Would you like to help combat bi erasure and increase visibility of bisexuals over 50 (or thereabouts)? There are plenty of us out there but far too many people don't know that.

I am looking for other individuals who would like to contribute their "email interviews" to this blog, as Laura has done here. For more information about what to do, take a look at this post.

Thanks.



.


Here's the second in the series of "email interviews" with bi people over 50. There has been a lot of good reaction to this on social media, so many thanks! We are out there.

Each of these "interviews" is written by the individual concerned; the questions in bold come from me.

***
I'm Jan Steckel, 51, white, female, writer and former paediatrician. I live in a house in Oakland, California, USA, with my husband who is also bisexual.

How did you come to think of yourself as bisexual?
I’d had boyfriends since the eighth grade [aged 13] and assumed I was straight. Then, the summer before I turned 18, I sang in a band. I was falling in love with the lead guitarist, a man, when the drummer, a woman, asked me out. I made out with her that night and realized that I was bisexual, even though I ended up with the young man.

What does being bisexual mean to you?
It means I am sexually attracted to some people who are the same sex as I am and to some who are of a different sex from me.

Has this changed over the years, and if so, how?
Not much since I realized I was bi. It’s my gender identity that has changed instead. When I was a kid I thought I was a boy and that some mistake had been made. In college I wished I was a man. I was pretty dysphoric about my body’s curves, such as they were. I wanted the hard planes of a man’s body, and I wanted to love a man as another man. Almost all the fiction I wrote then was first person male, and my closest friends were male, too.

Now I’m comfortable with being female. As an adult, I was always more sexually attracted to women but had a tendency to fall in love with men. Since my recent menopause, I think I’ve become more attracted to women as well as to trans and nonbinary people and less attracted to men, though my attraction to my husband has remained constant.

What do other people in your life know about your bisexuality and how do they react?
Most people who know me know that I’m bi. I’m pretty out and loud about it, and have been for decades. Since my poetry book The Horizontal Poet won the 2012 Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Nonfiction,  I pretty much lead my literary bio with that. One of my older female relatives told me angrily that by putting the fact that I was bisexual on the back of my book, I had disrespected my marriage to my husband, but most of my family has been pretty cool.

When I first came out to my mother, she was worried that if I ended up with a woman I wouldn’t have children, or my children would be screwed up. She got over that well before I was out of my childbearing years, I think, though in the end I didn’t have kids. My Dad was probably more uncomfortable at first than my Mom, but he’s pretty cool about it now. My brother’s always been fine about it.

It was definitely not cool, though, with many of my fellow physicians. That’s part of the reason I’m not in medicine anymore. Poets and writers are a lot more accepting.

My husband is bisexual, too, and it’s a pretty big part of our lives. We march every year in the bi contingent of the San Francisco Pride parade, and he hosts a social group called Berkeley BiFriendly where we met. We’ve both been published in bisexual anthologies and periodicals. I just had a short story come out in Best Bi Short Stories, and he has a painting being reproduced in a forthcoming anthology of work by bi men. Many of our friends are queer, so we get a lot of support from our community around it.

Looking back over your life so far, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
I wish I had dated more women early on and had longer-lasting relationships with them. I was a little passive at first, waiting for people to pursue me instead of taking the initiative.

What about your hopes or fears for the future (regarding bisexuality)?
I belong to an online writing critique group where some jackass keeps attacking me every time I mention writing for bi periodicals or any honor I’ve got for bi writing. He accuses me of playing identity politics. My answer to that is that I’d be delighted not to need identity politics anymore. When discrimination against bisexual people goes away, then if people don’t want to label themselves according to their sexuality, fine. Until then I’m sticking to my label and making sure young people see plenty of bisexual characters in literature. I want young bisexually inclined people to see themselves reflected in what they read. I want them to have a peer group of other bisexual people, unlike me when I was coming up.

Any words of wisdom for younger bi people – or older ones?
Find a peer group of other bi people, even if it’s only online. Get support from them. Try to find a safe way to come out, even if it means moving to a city with a visible bi population. 



Would you like to help combat bi erasure and increase visibility of bisexuals over 50? There are plenty of us out there but far too many people don't know that. 

I am looking for other individuals who would like to contribute their "email interviews" to this blog, as Jan has done here. For more information about what to do, take a look at this post

Thanks.




This is the first in a series of "email interviews" from bi people over 50. Yes, we are out there!

Each of these "interviews" is written by the individual concerned; the questions in bold come from me.

Happy reading!

I’m Harrie Farrow, a 54-year-old, androgynous woman. I am a novelist (“Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe”), a bisexual blogger, a bisexual activist, and am a Life Coach for Bisexuals at Navigating the Biways. I live in the US, in a small LGBT-friendly town, and have a grown son and a grandson. I’m currently single.

How did you come to think of yourself as bisexual (or whatever label/non-label you use)?
I read an article at age 14 in a “girly” magazine, that someone had left laying around, written by someone who was of the opinion that everyone is bisexual, and I just thought, yes, of course, and therefore knew that I was bisexual.

What does being bisexual (or as above) mean to you?
Being bisexual to me means being attracted to same and different gender(s).

Has this changed over the years, and if so how?
No, my identification, and understanding of bisexuality has not changed.

What do other people in your life know about your bisexuality and how do they react?
Being a bisexual blogger, activist and an author of a bisexual themed novel means that I’m about as out as a person can be. Reactions are of course varied. Often, I am not directly present when a person becomes aware of my bisexuality and so I do not see their reactions. I find that being very confident and comfortable in my sexual identity, and presenting my sexuality in a way that conveys that the only possible response from others is respect and acceptance, results in usually not having negative things said to me. Occasionally, people will make misinformed comments based on their lack of information.

When fighting biphobia, for example as @BisexualBatmanon Twitter, I actually seek out biphobia, and the person receiving my response usually knows nothing about me except for my tweet. In this role, I have had many hateful and harassing responses. Happily, I do also get people apologizing for their biphobia, or asking for more information to educate themselves. 

Looking back over your life so far, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
From a young age, I’ve always quite consciously tried to live in a way that would result me being able to say I have no regrets. I can say that, though things did not always turn out as I would have liked, I did make the best decisions based on the realities of my life at the time.

What about your hopes or fears for the future (regarding bisexuality)?
I would like to see bisexuality become recognized and accepted as just another sexual orientation, and that we reach a time when all bisexuals are comfortable and confident with their sexual identity.

Any words of wisdom for younger bi people – or older ones?

Recognize that your sexuality is integral to who you are, and that accepting, embracing and being true to yourself is a necessary component of mental health and happiness. Do what you can to remove yourself from situations and people who cannot honor this, and find, and reach out to, the community that does. 



Would you like to help combat bi erasure and increase visibility of bisexuals over 50? There are plenty of us out there but far too many people don't know that. 

I am looking for more people to contribute their "email interviews" to this blog, as Harrie has done here. For more information about what to do, take a look at this post

Thanks.


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.)


Due to popular demand, I have expanded the remit of this blog series to include people who are nearly 50. There are even more of us out there!

As before, the questions in bold come from me. Otherwise, all the words are from the interviewees themselves.

***

I am Laura, 48, female, chronically sick from Ehlers Danlos, living in the USA since February 2013, in The Netherlands before that.

I am married to a woman, since May 2013. From 1986 till 2005 I was with a man and had two children with him.

How did you come to think of yourself as bisexual?
I have always had crushes on boys AND girls. Sexuality in The Netherlands is not a taboo and certainly not in my family. When I told my mother that I was seeing a girl, my first sort-of-relationship when I was 16, it got accepted without any word of surprise. When I got my first real relationship with a boy at 18, that was no subject of discussion either. I don’t even remember when I started calling it bisexuality, I do know that when I dated that girl it was not a word I used. And it did not change for me during the years.

Has this changed over the years, and if so how?
After my first girlfriend I had a few sexual experiences with girls but after that I met my boyfriend, later husband, and stayed with him for almost 20 years. After that I started dating again, but by then I had a chronic illness and the responses of the men I dated was horrifying. The last date ended with the guy asking: “But what if I want to go out on Friday evening and you are tired?” and that’s when I decided I’d had it with men. So I contemplated: how about dating women. And that was quite a step. Because I knew I was interested sexually and I knew I could fall in love, but having a relationship with a woman? And I didn’t want to date women and then have to tell them, no sorry, I’d like a night with you but a relationship no thanks... But I took the step  and never looked back. I met my present wife, by the way, very unconventionally, via Farm Ville on Facebook.... She was a new neighbor, saw my pic, thought hm ho, asked me if I needed something for FV and after the second talk we were both hooked.

When I was dating, many lesbians had atrocious statements on their profiles, like “if you’re bi, don’t even bother dropping me a note, I won’t even write you back”. The bi-hate is so big in the lesbian world. That was very very hurtful, and still is. They try to make it sound like just one of the many preferences they have, like preferring tall women, but it boils my blood. So lets not go there today.

What do other people in your life know about your bisexuality, and how do they react?
Here in the US I don’t know a lot of people, and since being gay is hard enough, I refrain from taking it one step further. When I started dating women after my divorce though, there were people who were sort of offended that they didn’t know that about me. Well, when I am with a man, you can’t TELL that I am bisexual. And if the subject doesn’t come up...

Looking back over your life so far, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
Not in regards to my bisexuality, no.

What about your hopes or fears for the future (regarding bisexuality)?
I hope that the biphobia and bi-erasure will stop, certainly from within the LGBT-community.

Any words of wisdom for younger bi people – or older ones?
Don’t let others tell you what your bisexuality means for you. People like to think that they know better, but there’s only one person who knows you best: you!

Would you like to help combat bi erasure and increase visibility of bisexuals over 50 (or thereabouts)? There are plenty of us out there but far too many people don't know that.

I am looking for other individuals who would like to contribute their "email interviews" to this blog, as Laura has done here. For more information about what to do, take a look at this post.

Thanks.



.


Here's the second in the series of "email interviews" with bi people over 50. There has been a lot of good reaction to this on social media, so many thanks! We are out there.

Each of these "interviews" is written by the individual concerned; the questions in bold come from me.

***
I'm Jan Steckel, 51, white, female, writer and former paediatrician. I live in a house in Oakland, California, USA, with my husband who is also bisexual.

How did you come to think of yourself as bisexual?
I’d had boyfriends since the eighth grade [aged 13] and assumed I was straight. Then, the summer before I turned 18, I sang in a band. I was falling in love with the lead guitarist, a man, when the drummer, a woman, asked me out. I made out with her that night and realized that I was bisexual, even though I ended up with the young man.

What does being bisexual mean to you?
It means I am sexually attracted to some people who are the same sex as I am and to some who are of a different sex from me.

Has this changed over the years, and if so, how?
Not much since I realized I was bi. It’s my gender identity that has changed instead. When I was a kid I thought I was a boy and that some mistake had been made. In college I wished I was a man. I was pretty dysphoric about my body’s curves, such as they were. I wanted the hard planes of a man’s body, and I wanted to love a man as another man. Almost all the fiction I wrote then was first person male, and my closest friends were male, too.

Now I’m comfortable with being female. As an adult, I was always more sexually attracted to women but had a tendency to fall in love with men. Since my recent menopause, I think I’ve become more attracted to women as well as to trans and nonbinary people and less attracted to men, though my attraction to my husband has remained constant.

What do other people in your life know about your bisexuality and how do they react?
Most people who know me know that I’m bi. I’m pretty out and loud about it, and have been for decades. Since my poetry book The Horizontal Poet won the 2012 Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Nonfiction,  I pretty much lead my literary bio with that. One of my older female relatives told me angrily that by putting the fact that I was bisexual on the back of my book, I had disrespected my marriage to my husband, but most of my family has been pretty cool.

When I first came out to my mother, she was worried that if I ended up with a woman I wouldn’t have children, or my children would be screwed up. She got over that well before I was out of my childbearing years, I think, though in the end I didn’t have kids. My Dad was probably more uncomfortable at first than my Mom, but he’s pretty cool about it now. My brother’s always been fine about it.

It was definitely not cool, though, with many of my fellow physicians. That’s part of the reason I’m not in medicine anymore. Poets and writers are a lot more accepting.

My husband is bisexual, too, and it’s a pretty big part of our lives. We march every year in the bi contingent of the San Francisco Pride parade, and he hosts a social group called Berkeley BiFriendly where we met. We’ve both been published in bisexual anthologies and periodicals. I just had a short story come out in Best Bi Short Stories, and he has a painting being reproduced in a forthcoming anthology of work by bi men. Many of our friends are queer, so we get a lot of support from our community around it.

Looking back over your life so far, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
I wish I had dated more women early on and had longer-lasting relationships with them. I was a little passive at first, waiting for people to pursue me instead of taking the initiative.

What about your hopes or fears for the future (regarding bisexuality)?
I belong to an online writing critique group where some jackass keeps attacking me every time I mention writing for bi periodicals or any honor I’ve got for bi writing. He accuses me of playing identity politics. My answer to that is that I’d be delighted not to need identity politics anymore. When discrimination against bisexual people goes away, then if people don’t want to label themselves according to their sexuality, fine. Until then I’m sticking to my label and making sure young people see plenty of bisexual characters in literature. I want young bisexually inclined people to see themselves reflected in what they read. I want them to have a peer group of other bisexual people, unlike me when I was coming up.

Any words of wisdom for younger bi people – or older ones?
Find a peer group of other bi people, even if it’s only online. Get support from them. Try to find a safe way to come out, even if it means moving to a city with a visible bi population. 



Would you like to help combat bi erasure and increase visibility of bisexuals over 50? There are plenty of us out there but far too many people don't know that. 

I am looking for other individuals who would like to contribute their "email interviews" to this blog, as Jan has done here. For more information about what to do, take a look at this post

Thanks.




This is the first in a series of "email interviews" from bi people over 50. Yes, we are out there!

Each of these "interviews" is written by the individual concerned; the questions in bold come from me.

Happy reading!

I’m Harrie Farrow, a 54-year-old, androgynous woman. I am a novelist (“Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe”), a bisexual blogger, a bisexual activist, and am a Life Coach for Bisexuals at Navigating the Biways. I live in the US, in a small LGBT-friendly town, and have a grown son and a grandson. I’m currently single.

How did you come to think of yourself as bisexual (or whatever label/non-label you use)?
I read an article at age 14 in a “girly” magazine, that someone had left laying around, written by someone who was of the opinion that everyone is bisexual, and I just thought, yes, of course, and therefore knew that I was bisexual.

What does being bisexual (or as above) mean to you?
Being bisexual to me means being attracted to same and different gender(s).

Has this changed over the years, and if so how?
No, my identification, and understanding of bisexuality has not changed.

What do other people in your life know about your bisexuality and how do they react?
Being a bisexual blogger, activist and an author of a bisexual themed novel means that I’m about as out as a person can be. Reactions are of course varied. Often, I am not directly present when a person becomes aware of my bisexuality and so I do not see their reactions. I find that being very confident and comfortable in my sexual identity, and presenting my sexuality in a way that conveys that the only possible response from others is respect and acceptance, results in usually not having negative things said to me. Occasionally, people will make misinformed comments based on their lack of information.

When fighting biphobia, for example as @BisexualBatmanon Twitter, I actually seek out biphobia, and the person receiving my response usually knows nothing about me except for my tweet. In this role, I have had many hateful and harassing responses. Happily, I do also get people apologizing for their biphobia, or asking for more information to educate themselves. 

Looking back over your life so far, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
From a young age, I’ve always quite consciously tried to live in a way that would result me being able to say I have no regrets. I can say that, though things did not always turn out as I would have liked, I did make the best decisions based on the realities of my life at the time.

What about your hopes or fears for the future (regarding bisexuality)?
I would like to see bisexuality become recognized and accepted as just another sexual orientation, and that we reach a time when all bisexuals are comfortable and confident with their sexual identity.

Any words of wisdom for younger bi people – or older ones?

Recognize that your sexuality is integral to who you are, and that accepting, embracing and being true to yourself is a necessary component of mental health and happiness. Do what you can to remove yourself from situations and people who cannot honor this, and find, and reach out to, the community that does. 



Would you like to help combat bi erasure and increase visibility of bisexuals over 50? There are plenty of us out there but far too many people don't know that. 

I am looking for more people to contribute their "email interviews" to this blog, as Harrie has done here. For more information about what to do, take a look at this post

Thanks.


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.)


 
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