*free on Amazon this weekend
That's what I believed when I first considered my bisexuality. I was sixteen; I had just been kissed, and in my case, it was a two-headed introduction. Sitting on the next-door neighbor's bed, I kissed my best girlfriend, and then, turning my head to the other side, I kissed him. Then all three of us made love. I was so pleased with myself you'd have thought I'd just baked two perfect cherry pies.
My first time was very much in sync with my political ideals. I thought that if everyone would get into a big waterbed, smoke a joint, and rub noses, we could live in peace, tranquillity and a perpetual state of arousal— my solution to world strife. This was before I had my own nose rubbed in that jealous, selfish pot of piss called human nature.
I came out as bi before there was a "bisexual movement" as such, before the B-word was attached to the Lesbian and Gay Freedom Day parades, community centers, and racquetball clubs. When I was sixteen, I would have gleefully joined them all and been pleased to find a political program that matched my bedroom behavior.
You've heard what the bisexual movement has to say about "bi-phobia." Behavioral scientists know that human sexuality spans a spectrum from very homo to very hetero, and most folks fall down some weird crack in the middle. Accused of being infantile, or "fence-sitters," described as traitors by the gay world and perverts by the straight one, bisexual activists have told the status quo on both sides of the argument to grow up and get real.
Fifteen years after my coming out, when the banners started waving for bisexual recognition, I nodded my head in robot-like agreement with the ten and twelve-point programs, but I didn't join up. You didn't see me in the contingent; I wasn't on the float. The bisexual movement, as such, leaves me cold, as does much of the political gay movement it comes from. How can this be?
When I first proclaimed my bisexuality in the early seventies, I was very intimidated by my lesbian elders who pointed a blunt finger at my transgressions, damning me to the Judas seat of heterosexual privilege. I hadn't even had the "privilege" of having a relationship with anyone yet, and I had only had sex a dozen times. Yet I was loyal to the principles of feminism and gay liberation. It tore me apart to think that I would ever do anything to hurt our cause, in or out of bed.
I look at my sexual history today and see that my relationships have more often than not been with people who were secretly attracted to my bisexuality rather than repulsed by it. Some of them were leaders and some of them were led by me. I was intimate with people who wanted understanding for their capacity to love more than one person at the same time. I was cherished by men who desired other men and who desired their own womanliness. I was treasured by women who valued my appeal to men, because those were the same qualities that moved them as gay women. My lovers have been butches, perverts, bohemians, philanderers and Johnny-come- latently bisexuals themselves.
I used to get in a tizzy because I wanted a written proclamation from gay society saying that bisexuals— in fact, all sexual deviants— were welcome and considered family. I even wrote a platform statement expressing those sentiments for a gay convention, held in 1980 to fight the Moral Majority. I was all but thrown bodily out of the room.
Guess what? No one gets a proclamation. If you want to be in the gay life, then you sit your ass down in the middle of it, and you don't just get up and move because someone doesn't like you. Gay life isn't a cherry pie; it's a fire walk.
The political urge to wed gay rights to the rights of sexual minorities in a genuine sexual liberation movement has made for strange bedfellows. It's straightforward enough to ask for an end to prejudice. It's preposterous to ask sexual beings to stuff ourselves into the rapidly imploding social categories of straight or gay or bi, as if we could plot our sexual behavior on a conscientious, predictable curve.
A true sexual liberation movement does not simply deal with pride. Sexual liberation challenges our hearts with unbearable feelings that no one is proud of: jealousy, sexual shame, and the uncontrollable attraction to risk. Bisexuality adds a brutal twist to these subjects only because it confronts all the prejudices between and among men and women.
Don't talk to me about gay pride or bi pride. Love has no pride— that's the banner the real world marches under. When I was young, I was very hurt by political ringmasters who said they wouldn't talk, fuck or work with me because I was bisexual. Now that I've worked, fucked and talked with them all, I'm not hurt anymore, because I knew their secret. They desire what they condemn.
The first time I spoke to a group about my bisexuality was in 1978 in a Cal State/Long Beach class called "The Lesbian." My hands shook as I addressed the circle of twenty young women. The Cal State Marching Band played "America the Beautiful" on the quad just outside our door.
No one said anything after I finished my speech. Finally, the most articulate student in class, "The Lesbian" to end all lesbians, a redheaded grad student with peerless feminist credentials, raised her eyebrow, and delivered my death sentence:
"How do you justify giving wimmin's energy and lesbian knowledge to our oppressors," she asked, "and then expect any principled lesbian-identified woman to trust you?"
I stared at her like a rabbit caught in the middle of the road. I did not know the answer to that question. Tears came to my eyes. I didn't expect anyone to trust or love me. My sexual confidence was all on paper. I had only been to bed with plain ole teenage girls, who probably thought I was the only principled lesbian feminist between us. When we made love, my mouth was full of their honey, wet from their lips and their cunts. The world of our affection and romance seemed very distant from this fluorescent-lit inquisition.
I could not have predicted at the time that one day I would be a lesbian sex expert and that this very same redhead would be living with her husband and two kids in a suburb outside of Chicago.
My politics at the time did not allow for the most important principle of all: Shit happens.
As wounded as I was by gay accusations, I was sensitive myself to the daily grind of heterosexual arrogance. I never liked to tell people that I was bi. Straight men took it as a come-on line, an advertisement. Better that they should have seen my dyke button a mile away. Dykes took it as an indication that I was playing games. Wrong again. Latent lesbian girls took my bisexual admission as some sort of invitation to them to rag on about how repulsive real man-hating lesbians were.
"Oh, I'm sorry," I wanted to say. "You misunderstand me. I'm a man-hating bisexual. "
But I didn't say that. I told all but the most sincere that I was gay. It hardly seemed to matter. For ten years, my live-action sexual encounters with men were few, far between, and rather odd. One time, I fucked the Christmas UPS man who made deliveries at my boring job. Another time, I spent the night with one of my childhood political heroes, an old man of sixty-eight who once led a waterfront strike, but as an old man, had heart trouble anddiabetes. He couldn't get an erection and felt very badly about it.
"It doesn't matter," I told him. "I'm a lesbian, I don't expect it... I just want to be with you." His intimacy was a privilege for me.
I understand now that a mouthful like "heterosexual privilege" doesn't have anything to do with the luxury or honor of bedding down with my oppressor— or my mentor. It's just an academic way to describe the flat-out devastation of losing your woman to a man. I've played every humiliating soap opera scene in that book. I've woken up next to women who couldn't look me in the eye after clinging to me all night, and I've watched them run to their boy friends so fast they tripped over their shoelaces.
One memorable evening at a drunken party, I watched my lover, Sherry, disappear behind a bedroom door with one of my roommates, a big blond man a foot taller than me. I pressed my ear against the door and blocked out the B-52s album blaring in the background. I heard him humping her. I couldn't believe it.
Why don’t you dance with me? The B-52's were blaring through the house speakers.
I was so shocked that I was bold enough to open the door and walk in. "Sherry?" I called out to the long hair trailing over the bed. Her tiny body was covered by his. I was so close to them, it was remarkable they didn't notice me at all.
I finally left them, closed the door, and resolved to wait there, all night if necessary, to confront her when she walked out.
At 4 AM, some fresh arrivals rolled in the front door with a new keg. "Hey, your girlfriend just jumped out the bedroom window," one of them said to me. "What's her problem?"
I ran outside, but the only bit of Sherry I found was the soft spot in the grass where she'd landed.
Everybody goes to parties, they dance this mess around....
Nowadays Sherry is a butch working on the Manhattan stock exchange, and she has lived with the same woman for ten years. But that was one bad night.
I need to find the redhead, "The Lesbian," and tell her this story. Sherry betrayed me, not homosexuality, not the lesbian empire. She spread her legs for that man; I stood motionless and watched them; she flew out the window; I cried, and then we started all over again. We are capable of every betrayal and every forgiveness that follows.
I pick up my bible, Roland Barthes' A Lover's Discourse, or "Lovers Disco," as I call it.
"The sentiment of amorous suffering explodes in this cry: 'I can't go on...
But you do.
"Nothing works out, but it keeps going on."
I did not imagine I could go on after Sherry left me. Losing a woman to a man is as close to the burning sensation of childhood ridicule as one can experience. You feel incompetent, unable to compete, yet it makes you sick to even think of comparing yourself with that... thing. Not even that thing between his legs, but that thing between his ears that makes every man think that he's God.
When *I* left *my* girlfriend because I fell for a man, the harshest thing she said to me was an accusation thrown at my back, screamed as I climbed up the hill to my car filled with my half of the household furnishings.
"Have you fucked your boyfriend yet?" A direct hit.
Yes, I had fucked him, and I would do it again and again. I wanted to yell back, "You don't understand, you'll never understand."
Had she never been engulfed with desire so extreme as to spit in the face of all her principles, beliefs, morals? Of course she had. She was twelve years older than me. She understood, but I didn't.
To submit to lust is to declare a panic, a state of body emergency. My shame at leaving my girlfriend, who had fucked me in the ass with her arm, who had tasted every fluid in my body, who had brought me to the brink again and again and loved me so well— how could I do this to her?
Just watch me— and then watch yourself follow in my footsteps, the steps that lead so faithfully into every dark alley we take such pains to shun. I did not want to be straight. I had been content with my bisexuality only as long as men were tangential to it. When I fucked this man, it was an act of greatest perversion.
In my shame I picked up Lovers Discourse once again and sat down on the toilet:
"I am reduced to endurance.... I suffer without adjustment, I persist without intensity, always bewildered, never discouraged. I am a Daruma doll, a legless toy endlessly poked and pushed, but finally regaining its balance, assured by an inner balancing pin.
"But WHAT is my balancing pin? The force of love?
"...Such is life, falling over seven times and getting up eight."
Intellectually, we always favor those of our own sex, even if they're not our sexual partners. Bisexuals are the same as everyone else in this regard; we just get more opportunity to view the spectacle. To be with the opposite sex is never "better;" it's a classic compromise, however compelling.
Some think that it is "feminism" for women to prefer women and "chauvinism" for men to prefer men. But the prejudice is older than that. You are always a little disdainful of your opposite. I am capable of believing in love, certainly lust, but never in equality between the sexes.
Jealousy, however, is the great equalizer. Security and exclusivity— promises broken as often as they are offered— are high on every lover's list of demands. I despise jealousy. I control it only with discipline; it is like a skin I cannot shed.
I search for the lovers who won't consider my bisexuality a de facto threat, who will not fear that to love me is to be in perpetual competition with their sex. That fear is the true reaction to bisexuality, not political epithets. Accusing a bisexual of being a traitor reveals one's desperate, and quite human, fear of rejection. I can barely accept that feature in myself.
Let me be honest with you, and let me be shameful, as it seems so essential to my discipline: I don't want to hear that you’re "bisexual" either, especially just after you've fucked me blind. Don't tell me who you are. I'm a mere mortal, jealous and vulnerable, and I might fall for you in a big way. Show me what you can do.
If you succeed in blinding me, I will follow you, potentially into loss, betrayal, into the fire walk. It will be personal; it will not necessarily be principled. In the moment after orgasm, this is what is memorable— and for many moments after.
From Susie Bright's Sexual Reality, free on Amazon this weekend
Photo: A Place in the Sun, Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift