Tuesday 12 November 2019

It was hard fitting in with the old labels of sexuality

As half the young people in Britain say they are neither gay nor straight, married writer Anna Hart explains why being bisexual comes with its own special problems

Middle of the Kinsey scale: Anna Hart had relationships with both men and women before marrying her husband Sean.
Middle of the Kinsey scale: Anna Hart had relationships with both men and women before marrying her husband Sean.
Anna and Sean on their wedding day.

Anna Hart

I was 19 when I realised that my sexuality wasn't as straightforward as I'd thought. It came out of the blue, one of those 'SURPRISE! You thought you knew yourself. Turns out you don't, HA!' moments that life throws at you, when I met a beautiful girl at a student party. She had red hair, sang in a band and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of John Waters movies, and we fell hard and fast for each other. My feelings were simple: she was amazing, I was lucky, we were in love. The complicated bit was deciding what to tell people about it.

Coming out as gay, whilst far from easy, wouldn't have been a serious problem; my friends and family are thoroughly open-minded and loving. The snag is that I knew I wasn't gay: my first love had been a 17-year-old boy. I wasn't yet 20, but the old labels of sexual orientation had already failed me.

As someone who struggled with this in their teens, I'm now happy to hear that half of 18-24-year-olds in Britain confidently say they are neither straight nor gay, but somewhere in between. The research, by YouGov, asked respondents to place themselves on the Kinsey Scale, developed by the US biologist Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s.

On his model, level zero is 'exclusively heterosexual' and level six 'exclusively homosexual'. Respondents, aged 18-24, are now more than six times more likely than the oldest group to identify themselves as bisexual, to some degree.

Fifteen years ago, however, it wasn't much fun being bang in the middle of the Kinsey scale. Gay friends were adamant that my first boyfriend was just a blip, confidently assuring me that I'd been 'going through the motions' of a teenage heterosexual relationship, as many of them had.

The general consensus in most gay circles was that bisexuals are cowardly gays in denial, or fickle heteros trying to look more interesting than they really are. I envied my gay friends' certainty, wishing I was straight or gay, anything but bisexual. Their teasing was gentle ("Stop being so GREEDY, Anna"), but I knew they were bitterly disappointed that I wasn't joining them in being out, loud and proud.

Beyond gay circles, it wasn't any easier. I didn't come out to my parents because I didn't know what I was coming out as. Because I'd had a boyfriend AND a girlfriend some people thought I was a promiscuous sexual libertine, up for anything. As a socially awkward, unwaveringly monogamous and hopelessly romantic teenager, nothing was further from the truth, and I wasn't sure whether to be mortified or amused by my wild reputation.

I know that to conservative minds, these new figures are further evidence of crumbling moral standards, but personally, I can think of no greater mark of a civilised society. To have a same-sex relationship, you need two things: to be attracted to someone the same sex as you and also the psychological freedom, emotional support and social encouragement to act on it. This civilised state of affairs is rarer than you'd imagine.

Last week, the 27-year-old Rugby League player Keegan Hirst became the first openly gay player in the country, after splitting with his wife.

"Society dictates that when you're a 16-year-old lad you have a girlfriend, you sleep with her and that's how it is," was his tremendously sad explanation. "Especially as a rugby player and a lad who grew up on a council estate. You go out, go drinking, carrying on - that's what you do. I convinced myself, no way could I be gay, it was inconceivable."

Thankfully, what these latest statistics seem to be telling us is that fewer young people feel that being outside the boundaries of traditional relationship conventions is 'inconceivable'. Both the singer Miley Cyrus and popular model Cara Delevingne have been open about their fluid sexualities, illustrating the fact that liking both genders is simply not a big deal any more and has moved from an underground scene into the 'mainstream'. And for every headline hungry young popstrel, there is a more thoughtful and older celebrity contributing to the discussion of a more fluid idea of sexuality.

Cynthia Nixon (49) who played Miranda in Sex and the City, was in a heterosexual relationship for 15 years and had two children before falling for her current partner, Christine Marinoni, in 2004. The actor Portia de Rossi was married to a man before falling in love with the comedian and talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres in 2008 and the 65-year-old British musician Tom Robinson, who has been married to his partner, Sue, for the past 30 years, describes himself as "a gay man who happens to be in love with a woman".

During my 20s, I was mostly single, but the relationships I did have were with women, and I guess, to the outside world, I appeared gay. And then, at yet another party in Glasgow, which I went to with a girlfriend-turned-ex-turned-friend Mia, I met the man who I very quickly realised would become my husband.

People often ask how Sean responded when I told him that I was bisexual, expecting some sort of jealous showdown or years of expensive relationship therapy. Nope, he was fine about it from the start, like the open-minded, self-assured and big-hearted man he is. (I wouldn't have married anything less).

After our first kiss that night, I clumsily said: "Er, I should probably tell you that I'm Mia's ex-girlfriend."

His eyebrows raised a couple of millimetres, then he smiled and said, "Well, I've always had a lot in common with Mia."

I know he's had some stupid remarks from vague acquaintances about "turning me" (ugh), but he's always been gentlemanly enough to shield me from this. Equally, I'll shield him from the insensitive comments I get from time to time, from gay friends.

"Another one bites the dust," a friend said, bitterly, when I first told her about Sean.

Some people think that my decision to marry a man is an act of laziness and cowardice, that I've chosen to settle for an easy life, a vanilla existence, the more socially accepted relationship status, children and a home. But to me, like I suspect for many people who answered this latest survey, it's not the gender I am in love with, it's the person. Sean, well he's just Sean. I refuse to feel like a traitor for doing what I've always done: having a relationship with whoever I fall for, regardless of their gender.

Five years into my marriage, people occasionally ask, "Do you still consider yourself bisexual, then?"

Um, of course I do. My present doesn't wipe out my past. A committed relationship with a man doesn't make me ashamed of my relationships with women. Ending up with a man doesn't make my same-sex relationships a 'phase', or a 'mistake'.

Sure, as a woman married to a man, I can "pass" as straight. But I don't want to. Because I remember what a hard time I had working out what I was. And I really hope the next generation who say that they are neither straight nor gay are finding it easier to talk to their friends about it than I did.


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