By Garrett Jones, part six
The single-word answer to this question is: completeness.
A man who lives bisexually is free to harness the full range of his sexual, emotional and relational potential. He can have a stable cohabiting relationship; he can be a father; he can have at least one in-depth relationship with a person of gender opposite to his cohabiting partner; he can engage in more casual same-sex encounters or even, if this is desired and found to be workable, with people of opposite gender.
This kind of declaration sometimes provokes counter- questions: Why should anybody want so much? If a fellow is happily married and has a lovely family, why risk upsetting the applecart?
These are serious questions and they deserve careful answers.
The way we have been conditioned to fit without complaining into a sexual and relational pattern which is monolithic and which has been hallowed and reinforced over many centuries must be constantly borne in mind. As Jean Cocteau expressed it, even when writing from within the legally liberated French ethos:
My misfortunes are due to a society which condemns anything out of the ordinary as a crime and forces us to reform our natural inclinations [<>Quoted from Cocteau's Le Livre Blanc in Rictor Norton's website, Cocteau's White Paper on Homophobia].
This applies in most cultures, though few have been as monolithic as our own. It is chilling to recall how, as recently as the nineteenth century, men in Britain were being executed for homosexual offences. Homosexual acts between consenting adults had been taken off the statute books in most other European countries before 1800 and, even when this had not happened, they had ceased to be a capital offence. It was quite otherwise in these islands:
At the beginning of the nineteenth century a moral clampdown was impending in London. In February 1804 Mathusalah Spalding was hanged for having a “venereal affair” with James Hankinson. In October 1808 Richard Neighbour was convicted for buggery with Joshua Archer, and sentenced to be hanged. In 1809 Richard Thomas Dudman and Edward Wood were convicted of a “conspiracy” to commit sodomy, and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and to stand for one hour in the pillory, where they were pelted with offal supplied by the butchers of Newgate and Fleet Markets [<>Quoted from the Vere Street Coterie file on the Rictor Norton homepage on the Internet where a great many other carefully documented files can be found].
There was an increase in prosecutions throughout the first third of the nineteenth century in Britain. In 1806, there were more executions for sodomy than for murder. In 1816, four crewmen from a single ship were tried and executed for ‘buggery’. The death penalty was not removed until 1861, though it was not applied after the 1830s. Even after 1861, the penalties for sodomy ranged from ten years’ to life imprisonment.
In 1885, the Labouchère Amendment to the Criminal Law Amendment Act extended the range of homosexual crimes to include such ‘misdemeanours’ as gross indecency; these were notoriously ill-defined but could be punished by up to two years’ hard labour [<>See Jeffrey Weeks, Sex, Politics & Society: the regulation of sexuality since 1800 in Longman?s Themes in British Social History series, second edition, 1989, pp.100-102]. This lumping together of all male/male sex was to have very far-reaching effects on general attitudes to male homosexuality.
Homosexual acts between consenting adults in private ceased to be criminal in Britain after 1967 but, just a few years before that, there had been a horrifying return of legal savagery against homosexuals in Nazi Germany. Soon after Hitler came to power he criminalised homosexual acts between men. After the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ (June 30, 1934), in which Ernst Röhm (the homosexual head of Hitler’s stormtroopers), along with 200 other SA officers, were summarily shot, homosexual men began to be systematically rounded up, made to wear the pink triangle, and sent to concentration camps, where they were treated with especial harshness and where most of them were eventually killed.
Himmler was particularly fanatical in his pursuit of homosexuals. They were an affront to the purity of the ‘master race’ and must be ruthlessly exterminated, along with Jews, Gypsies and all other ‘degenerates’. In 1941, Himmler sent a secret circular to his SS generals instructing that any member of the SS or the police who committed an indecent act with another man or allowed himself to be indecently abused should be condemned to death and executed. Less grave offences like ‘touching the body of the other person, even when fully clothed, also the act of kissing’ should be punished by not less than six years’ penal servitude. When one realises what ‘penal servitude’ usually entailed under these circumstances, it is clear this too was tantamount to a death sentence [<>see the page relating to Nazi Persecution of Gays at the Rictor Norton site on the Internet. Counterbalancing this is the evidence supplied by Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams in The Pink Swastika, revised in 2001. Although the authors are dogmatically opposed to homosexual practice of any kind, they do show convincingly that the tie-up between a 'butch', sadistic type of homosexuality and the Nazis - even with Hitler himself - was far more extensive than was ever publicly admitted.].
It is one of the great ironies of history that such a degenerate-looking bunch of men as the top echelons of the Nazi party should have been so hysterical about purging the race of ‘degenerate’ genes. It must have infuriated them when so many of those they hounded to death were physically so much more attractive than themselves. It must have been a great consolation to believe that the real degeneracy was in ethnic inheritance or sexual deviance rather than in actual physique or intellectual capacity.
The truly astounding thing is that a major European power could, not much more than half a century ago, convince itself homosexual behaviour stemmed from a genetic inheritance which was best annihilated.
It was one of history’s jokes when a Jew who managed, by the skin of his teeth, to escape from the Nazis and flee to Britain in 1937 was Sigmund Freud, the very man who had insisted that the basic constitution of every human being is bisexual. This was most strongly emphasised in his Civilization and Its Discontents, which was first published in 1930, a year when Hitler was on the brink of absolute power in Germany. In a footnote to the text of that book he had written:
…..if we assume it as a fact that each individual seeks to satisfy both male and female wishes in his sexual life, we are prepared for the possibility that those two sets of demands are not fulfilled by the same object, and that they interfere with each other unless they can be kept apart and each impulse guided into a particular channel that is suited to it [<>Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), Hogarth/Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1961, pp.105ff, footnote 3. For other references in the standard edition of Freud's works, see vol 1, p.179; vol 18, pp.156f; vol 19,pp.31, 258; vol 20, p.36; vol 21, pp183f, 227f].
To return to the counter-questions with which we are dealing, it is essential to bear in mind the weight of cultural conditioning to which all British males have been subjected. Although the scene has changed dramatically in recent years, a considerable homophobic hangover is only to be expected.
A good deal of this homophobia is simply a projection. Many men would rather confront the ‘queers’ out there than come to terms with the queerness lurking within themselves. Even when a certain indwelling queer streak is acknowledged, it is promptly disowned by being attributed to some evil seducer or abuser who somehow managed to insinuate it into their otherwise pristine unqueerness. Many current accusations of sexual abuse in childhood plead a prior innocence which is again strikingly at variance with Freud’s detection of “polymorphous perversity” in the children he observed [<>See Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, Penguin edition, 1964, pp. 232f, 277-80, 543].
The seeming innocence of the questions therefore calls for scrutiny. The implication is that wanting to satisfy the whole of one’s sexuality is nothing but a fad, a needless rocking of the boat, which is totally uncalled for, especially if one’s dominant drive is heterosexual. It is as if a right-handed person were told to dispense with his other hand: “you’ve got one perfectly good hand; what on earth do you want to keep the other one for?” This is such obvious nonsense nobody would give it a minute’s consideration, yet this is very much the kind of thing the counter-questioner seems to be saying.
As we have observed earlier in this book, few people are bisexual in the sense they are unaware of any gender preference at all. A few are like this and are best described as ambisexual, on the analogy of those who can use both hands with equal ease and are described as ambidextrous. But simply because most of us have one hand which is cleverer than the other (most often the right hand but quite often the left, corresponding to a heterosexual or a homosexual bias respectively), it would be the height of absurdity to suggest there are not innumerable occasions when we should be heavily handicapped if we had only the clever hand. Two hands are very often needed to perform a task efficiently and, on these occasions, both hands perform equally well.
Anybody who has evolved a satisfying bisexual lifestyle is aware there is a close analogy in the sexual sphere. Sexual preference merely corresponds to clever-handedness; most of us have it but it is never the whole story. We each have a dual sexual nature and we ignore the less pushy side of that nature at our peril.
Many men who claim to be ’100% straight’ nevertheless spend a great deal of their leisure time with their ‘mates’, chatting at the pub, cheering at a soccer match, and so on. If they actually play professional football, they may engage in some alarmingly ‘queer’ behaviour when a goal is scored, but will usually insist, if questioned about this, it is ‘perfectly innocent’ (i.e. ‘sexless’ – as if to be sexy would incur guilt!).
Those who defend this kind of ethos claim it is far healthier for male companionship to be kept virile and manly: no floppy wrists and no unwanted emotion! If asked why any non-sporting physical contact between males, or anything approaching tenderness, is so abhorrent to them, they usually just shudder – and the shudder says it all.
The truth is the huge majority of men have quite a history of wanking. Having discovered the erotic potential of their own pricks, it would be strange indeed if they did not then want to explore the pricks of others. Indeed, it is often in erotic play with their pals that boys first learn to wank. If a boy wanks in solitude and never graduates to social wanking, it may be simply from shyness (not knowing how to go about breaking the sexual ice) or from fear of being labelled a ‘poofta’ or being laughed at because of the size or shape of his organs, or from a more deeply-implanted fear any ventures in this direction could ‘queer’ him for life.
Boys at this age have rarely been given any guidance about the difference between genuinely homosexual experiences and those which are quasi-heterosexual (i.e. anal), so they are encouraged to lump them both together and shun both. This does not prevent a good deal of covert fascination with other male genitals when they are in the showers or when they get the chance to see pictures of nude males!
There are three types of sexual experience which, if no taboos are operating, we should regard as universal. In Freudian terms, these are the auto-, the homo- and the hetero- erotic. The typical course of sexual development is to move through these stages in this order, finally graduating in the hetero-erotic. Sometimes, as just noted, the first two coincide. Occasionally, a boy’s very first sexual experience is seduction by an older girl or woman, in which case he leaps straight to stage three.
A boy who becomes unusually reclusive for some reason may never ever venture into social sex, in which case, he spends his life at the first stage. A boy who has graduated to the second stage may find this so congenial he decides to stay there for the rest of his life, henceforth regarding himself as ‘a homosexual’.
Whatever the order in which a person develops sexually, it is generally a mistake to imagine, if and when the third stage is reached, the others can be kicked away as if, having served their turn, they are no longer needed. When Philip Blumstein and Pepper Schwartz published the findings of their research into the sex lives of bisexual men and women (they conducted 156 semi-structured interviews and a number of unstructured interviews) [ <> Philip W. Blumstein and Pepper Schwartz, Bisexuality: Some Social Psychological Issues in the Journal of Social Issues, 33, 2:30-45. (1977)], they warned against generalisations but were able to offer three conclusions:
From our data, then, we conclude that (a) sex-object choice and sexual identification can change in many ways and many times over the lifecycle, (b) the individual is often unaware of his or her ability to change, and (c) childhood and adolescent experiences are not the final determinants of adult sexuality [<>quoted from Merl Storr (ed), Bisexuality: a critical reader, Routledge, 1999, p.66].
Later in the same article, these researchers noted:
Several previously heterosexual men who came to a bisexual identity in their 30s reported they had had early homosexual experiences with close teen-age friends when heterosexual relations were somewhat limited. They had treated these experiences as irrelevant teen-age play, until adult experiences precipitated reconsideration [<>idem. p. 71].
It is here the analogy between sexuality and left- or right- handedness breaks down completely. It is vitally important to be clear about this. A person who is left-handed does with his left hand exactly the same things as other people do with their right. A person who is relating homosexually is doing entirely different things from a person who is relating heterosexually. This will be spelled out in greater detail in the next chapter.
It is precisely for this reason a person relating bisexually has a completeness of sexual experience which is denied to all others. A person who is left-handed is not presented with a different range of options from the right-handed person whereas a person who is living heterosexually, but is also open to homosexual experience (or vice versa), is presented with a whole set of additional options.
Notice this does not apply to anal sex, at least for the active partner, since he is doing very much the same kind of thing with a man as he would be doing with a woman – and he could do the very same thing with a woman. The passive partner is certainly having a very different experience from anything he could experience with a woman but, if he decides this is his preferred role, he is at war with his biological gender and tends to want to disown his genitals and become a woman, thus limiting, not extending, his options.
Note from Martin: In this section the author delivers a rather negative slant toward anal sex. I take issue with this point-of-view. It’s true that many gay and bisexual men have a dislike or outright aversion for anal sex, but many others find it a rewarding and integral part of their sexual lives. I see it as simply a matter of preference, that receiving anal sex does not necessarily emasculate a willing partner. I do respect Garrett’s opinion, which many will also find agreeable, and I also agree with him that anal sex does not have to part of a rewarding relationship and that it is inherently dangerous if practiced carelessly outside of a monogamous, loving relationship.
Genuinely homosexual experience, on the other hand, is by definition totally different from heterosexual experience since it requires genitals of one’s own gender, not the opposite. The things a man can do with another prick are quite different from the things a man can do with a cunt – and many of them are different from what he can do with his own prick.
Wanking is also distinctively different from social sex, its huge advantage being its constant availability, one’s own genitals being a DIY kit which is always to hand. Wanking therefore seldom outlives its usefulness. Even when a person has graduated to stages two and three, there will be times when he or she is separated from usual partners and when there is nobody attractive and available around, or when that person just happens to be in the mood for a solitary session. For many men, probably most, this first stage is never entirely discarded even when stages two and three have proved extremely fulfilling for them.
Yet it is strange indeed when men who have had some very exciting homosexual experiences in their early teens, then go on to discover the joys of sex with women, take it for granted their homosexual exploits were just a transitional interlude for which they no longer have any need. Only centuries of social and cultural conditioning could make such a conclusion seem plausible.
At the purely physical level, there are a lot of sexually frustrated married men around. However good their marital sex life, there just isn’t enough of it because the wife, especially if she has become a mother, simply does not have as big a sexual appetite as the husband. This is not infallibly the case, of course, but it very commonly is. He does not want to force himself on her; he does not want to be ‘unfaithful’; he may have one or two good male friends but cannot imagine what they would say if he tried to get sexy with them; in the end, he either gets angry or he settles for a wank – but resents the fact something better is being blocked.
This seems very sad, especially when we begin to realise that beneath the macho exterior which our taboo-ridden culture has imposed on so many men, there lurks a being who is almost poetical in his yearning for real intimacy with another man. The need is not just for malesex – though that need should never be underestimated – but also, and perhaps even more, for a real sense of sharing, of bonding, at the deepest emotional level.
D.H. Lawrence puts his finger on exactly this spot in the conversation between his two central male characters, after they have had a bout of nude wrestling, in Women in Love:
“‘You know how the old German knights used to swear a Blutbruderschaft,’ he said to Gerald, with quite a new happy activity in his eyes.
‘Make a little wound in their arms, and rub each other’s blood into the cut?’ said Gerald.
‘Yes — and swear to be true to each other, of one blood, all their lives. That is what we ought to do. No wounds, that is obsolete. But we ought to swear to love each other, you and I, implicitly, and perfectly, finally, without any possibility of going back on it.’
He looked at Gerald with clear, happy eyes of discovery. Gerald looked down at him, attracted, so deeply bondaged in fascinated attraction, that he was mistrustful, resenting the bondage, hating the attraction.
‘We will swear to each other, one day, shall we?’ pleaded Birkin. ‘We will swear to stand by each other — be true to each other — ultimately — infallibly — given to each other, organically — without possibility of taking back.’
Birkin sought hard to express himself. But Gerald hardly listened. His face shone with a certain luminous pleasure. He was pleased. But he kept his reserve. He held himself back.
‘Shall we swear to each other, one day?’ said Birkin, putting out his hand towards Gerald.
Gerald just touched the extended fine, living hand, as if withheld and afraid.
‘We’ll leave it till I understand it better,’ he said, in a voice of excuse.”
Birkin tries to tell Ursula how he has felt about Gerald right at the end of the novel. Here are the closing lines:
‘”Having you, I can live all my life without anybody else, any other sheer intimacy. But to make it complete, really happy, I wanted eternal union with a man too: another kind of love,’ he said.
‘I don’t believe it,’ she said. ‘It’s an obstinacy, a theory, a perversity.’
‘Well –’ he said.
‘You can’t have two kinds of love. Why should you!’
‘It seems as if I can’t,’ he said. ‘Yet I wanted it.’
‘You can’t have it, because it’s false, impossible,’ she said.
‘I don’t believe that,’ he answered.
- and there the novel ends.
It is often forgotten that, even in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, his famous plea for an earthier sexiness in heterosexual loving, a bisexual element again creeps in. Connie asks Mellors about his time in the army:
‘And weren’t you happy, when you were ..an officer and a gentleman?’
‘Happy? All right. I liked my Colonel.’
‘Did you love him?’
‘Yes! I loved him.’
‘And did he love you?’
‘Yes! In a way, he loved me. ….. I lived under his spell while I was with him. I sort of let him run my life. And I never regretted it.’
‘And did you mind very much when he died?’
‘I was as near death myself. But when I came to, I knew another part of me was finished. But then I had always known it would finish in death.’
Lawrence tries to verbalise what is in so many men’s hearts, getting them to say things they find it very hard to say. This springs, not from some classically-nourished academic grove, but from the hard face of the Nottinghamshire coalfield. It is not without a certain proletarian desire to keep the male/male relationship muscular and macho, in spite of the raw yearning embedded in it.
Lawrence himself reacted vehemently against his friend, David Garnett, when he tried to reconcile Lawrence to Francis Birrell and other members of the Bloomsbury Group. He wrote to Garnett:
Never bring Birrell to see me any more. There is something nasty about him like black beetles. He is horrible and unclean. I feel I should go mad when I think of your set. Duncan Grant and Keynes and Birrell. It makes me dream of beetles. ……. you must leave these friends, these beetles. [<>Quentin Bell, Bloomsbury, Futura, 1974 (1968), p.48].
The homophobic hangover is not only a matter of moral and religious conditioning but also of deeply ingrained class antagonisms. Men in our culture obviously have a great deal to work out of their systems before they will be able, as a matter of course, to relax in mutual love and friendship.
Yet we can confidently leave Birkin to have the last word in answer to our question:
But to make it complete, really happy, I wanted eternal union with a man too: another kind of love.