Fifty years on, the bi erasure continues

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The Observer have an article on the fiftieth anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of sex between men in 1967. They've called it Glad to be gay: leading figures on 50 years of liberation.

Given that the writer of the song referenced there is bisexual you'd think that… ha, of course not.

Someone who's made a documentary, Queerama, about LGBT life before 1967 says they were repeatedly "floored" by the "courage of the gay men, bisexuals and lesbians and anyone transgender or non-binary who came out in the first two-thirds of the 20th century".

I hope you enjoyed that quote. It is the only use of the word 'bisexual' in the entire piece. The only use.

Because I infamously like doing it (even if I don't like having to), I can tell you that the article says 'gay' seventy six times. I might be a bit out with that, because I didn't double count its use in pull quotes. It says 'homosexual/homosexuality' thirteen times. It says 'heterosexual' three times (and 'straight' seven). It says 'lesbian(s)' four times.

But bisexual only once. And that in the context of someone effectively spelling out LGBT.

One reason for that is that the director who did that is a woman and the six "leading figures" are all men, and all identify as gay.

Now, you can – and the Observer do – say that 'We chose to interview only men because it was to men that the Sexual Offences Act applied'. You could also see that they say that as a tiny step forward: they wouldn't have even seen the need to say anything a few years ago.*

But all gay?!? Did I miss something in the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 saying that its criminalisation of any sexual act between men didn't apply if one or more of the men identified as bisexual or had sex with another gender? No, I didn't. It was what was used to convict Oscar Wilde, for example.

Not that the author doesn't know that plenty of men who identify as gay now haven't (and don't) have sex with women. Not that she puts it that way. Instead she asks..

Did you experiment with being straight at all?


Even when one of the interviewees talks about things like bisexuality it's done in this way:

Alan Hollingsworth: Yet there is a much more fluid and complex understanding of sexuality emerging now, and often a reluctance to define yourself as one thing or the other. As a writer, too, I like the idea of exploring rather than defining sexuality.

'often a reluctance to define yourself as one thing or the other'??

Another married a woman.

Another of the interviewees gets that it's not the same for everyone:

Young people of colour have a much harder time on the gay scene in general. There is a lot of prejudice within the gay community.

.. but ..

I would tell them not to worry, that it all works out in the end.

Gay white male privilege, what's that then?

Coming from someone who specifically acknowledges that having "good job and being middle-class" (as well as being a white gay man) meant he had piles of privilege, the level of cluelessness about that would be shocking if it weren't so typical.

Another reckons that..

Even now, at the top end of the City establishment, being openly gay is hard. You have people like Christopher Bailey, chief executive of Burberry. And then there is Charles Allen who ran Granada and John Browne who ran BP – openly gay men who were not openly gay when they were chief executives of their companies.**

If only there were a bisexual in the City, someone like the Chief Exec of Lloyd's of London, perhaps.

Although Tom Robinson doesn't get a mention at all, the former Cabinet member who came out as bisexual, Ron Davies, does.. but in the context of The Sun asking "are we being run by gay mafia?"

We may not be, but sometimes it feels like every mention of the LGBT communities is, it really does.

This is what erasure looks like.

* The other small plus point is that it acknowledges that the Act applied to England and Wales only – it took until 1980 for sex between men in Scotland and 1982 for sex between men in Northern Ireland to be partially decriminalised. It also mentions it stayed an offence in the merchant navy and armed forces. On the other hand, it doesn't say anything about the 'in private' aspect, which meant that having anyone else present (involved or not) meant the participants were all committing a crime.

** Memory is telling me that John Browne was definitely out: what did for his job at BP is that he didn't want to admit how he'd first met his boyfriend – when he booked him as an escort – and lying about that in a court case, not that he had a boyfriend.

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