“Should I have lied and said I am bi?”: Jessie J’s bisexuality was ‘just a phase’

Jessie J recently called her bisexuality ‘a phase’ in an interview with The Mirror.Jessie_J_in_NYC1

Her words aroused bitter disappointment despite my having very little interest in her music or personality. Yet, everyone’s sexuality is fluid. It is valid to rise and fall on the Kinsey scale over the course of your life. Everyone should acknowledge their own feelings.

So why did this inspire anger?

Initially, it was more the phrase than the sentiment. Jessie J’s wording trivialises her previous relationships with women. It seems dismissive and all too reminiscent of the kind of criticisms that bisexual people face from all sides. Her words will give ammunition to people who say that bisexuals claim their identity either for attention, in a rebellious ‘phase’, or as a prequel ‘phase’ before fully coming out.

On further reflection though, there was more to it than semantics. Whether she likes it or not, as a celebrity, Jessie J has taken on the role of spokesperson. She may well be the only bisexual woman some people have heard of. I have written previously about the value of celebrities coming out – it can be as powerful as if it were a friend or family member. So what damage might be done by a celebrity referring to her relationships with women as ‘a phase’? What will people think to see bisexuality used in what appears to be a publicity stunt? What might the consequences be for a bisexual person seeing the casual dismissal of their sexual identity?

So back to Jessie J’s question – should she have lied and said she she is bi?

In short – no. I couldn’t condone wanting anyone to lie about their sexuality. However this wasn’t Jessie J speaking honestly and openly about the evolution of her sexuality. These inflammatory comments were clearly a shameless attempt to interest the media in her and her 3rd album. There are better ways to approach the complex subject of fluid sexuality which is still widely misunderstood by many.

A more frank, thoughtful and above all tactful, discussion of her feelings and experiences might have caused less anger. It might even have gone some way to opening up the discussion around female sexuality.

Maybe this is too much to hope for. It is, of course, unfair to hold Jessie J, of all people, to a higher standard than the rest of us. She never claimed to be a role model or a champion for bisexual women. However, from a woman who still claims to care about her LGBT fans, a bit of tact was be hoped for.

Representation of bisexuality in the media is poor at best. Even nominally LGBT friendly shows like Glee continually get it wrong when it comes to bisexuality. This makes it worse when someone who has publicly come out as bi appears to be using their sexuality as a publicity stunt.

All is not lost, there are other bisexual celebrities out there – Anna Paquin and Evan Rachel Wood spring to mind – but this is still a blow, particularly to the public perception of bisexual women and bisexuality more widely.



Here’s what you missed on Glee: biphobia

Naya Rivera (left) and Heather Morris at the P...

Naya Rivera (left) and Heather Morris at the Paley Festival 2011 panel on Glee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Santana has got a new girlfriend and this time she’s “a 100% Sapphic Goddess”. Unfortunately Glee ruined the relationship within seconds of the first flirtation by including completely unnecessary biphobia.

Dani/Demi’s comments about being a 100% Sapphic Goddess could have been acceptable if insensitive but Glee didn’t stop there. Santana went on to explain:

“I’ve never been with an actual lesbian. It’s been all bisexuals like Brittany or college girls trying to experiment…”

and then as an extra kick in the gut claimed:

“I finally have a girlfriend who I don’t have to worry about straying for penis.”

It was a perfect trifecta that managed to imply that bisexuals are sluts, not as good a lesbians and not really queer all at once.

So thank you Glee for tainting this burgeoning lesbian relationship and a really lovely “Here Comes the Sun” duet with biphobic crap.

Glee has a history of problematic comments when it comes to the ‘B’ in LGBT. In episode 2×14, when Kurt claimed bisexuality as a phase, I let it slide because they were showing Kurt lashing out and he was sort of called out on it (even though Blaine did turn out to be gay). In 5×2 the comments appear blatant, deliberately hurtful and entirely unaddressed. Rachel and Kurt both treat the comments are perfectly legitimate (though as discussed Kurt has form for this). They’ve called Santana on her shit before so why let it slide now?

This episode also feels like it has undone all the good work that was Brittany S Pierce and her sexuality. Brittany was a great example of how to do bisexuality right. She had meaningful relationships with both men and women and though she was promiscuous she didn’t cheat. She didn’t even leave Santana for a man – Santana left her for a college girl.

What has added insult to injury is the complete lack of a reaction from commentators, critics and queers. While some people have called Glee out, such as AfterEllen’s Heather Hogan in her weekly recap, the general sense is that people are too happy to see Demi Lovato and ladykisses to care. Most are either flat out denying that the comments were problematic or trying to defend them because they draw attention to the reality of biphobia. If this was the intention Glee has sadly missed the mark by completely failing to address it either on screen or off.

There is also of course a not-insignificant number of lesbians and gay men who aren’t outraged because they agree with Santana’s comments. There are many who agree with the general sentiment that bisexuals are not as worthy as “100% Sapphic goddesses”, that they are more likely to cheat and that they’re probably secretly straight/gay anyway. Biphobia continues to plague queer communities both openly and as an underlying, unquestioned assumption. This is not only distressing for bisexuals but it may actually be causing and prolonging serious mental health issues for bisexual teens, according to a recent study.

Glee doesn’t always get the portrayal of these sensitive issues right but it is the best we’ve got. Bisexuals face enough hatred without having to get it from Glee as well so I sincerely hope that this is a blip or part of a grand plan that will show up the folly of Santana’s comments. If it isn’t, someone needs to take Ryan Murphy aside and force him to acknowledge his serious problem with bisexuality before he causes any more harm.

Pope Francis tries to brush Catholic bigotry under the carpet

Pope Francis seemed to extend tolerance to LGBT people, abortion and women on Friday in a long form interview published in the Jesuit Journals. He said:

The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.

This seemed to imply, at the very least, that he wanted to focus on the more spiritual side of Catholicism. He said he wanted to move away from these ‘petty rules’ that have ‘socially wounded’ so many. Cynicism under the cut

On Ender’s Game and the Russian Olympics: Boycotts and Free Speech

Cover of "Ender's Game (Ender Quartet)"

Cover of Ender’s Game (Ender Quartet)

This week there are two quite different things people want to boycott: Ender’s Game and the Russian winter Olympics. The reasons that they want to boycott them however are essentially the same – by supporting them, you are giving money to bigots and homophobes. Vladimir Putin has signed a law banning same-sex affection following on the heals of his terrible treatment of Pussy Riot and Orson Scott Card sits on the board of NOM and is actively involved in similarly distasteful activities including calls for homosexuality to be made illegal. Continue reading

Gay people are everywhere and persecution doesn’t help

Icon for Wikimedia project´s LGBT portal (Port...

Icon for Wikimedia project´s LGBT portal (Portal:LGBT). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite both the Vatican and Pakistan being incredibly hostile places for gay people, this week we have strong evidence that they exist in both. According to a recent survey about tolerance, only 2% of people living in Pakistan believe homosexuality should be tolerated in society and yet Pakistan is the world leader in Google searches for gay porn. In the Vatican the pope has given further credence to stories of a shady group of gay priests secretly running things behind the scenes. These revelations should scare homophobes because it is yet more proof that it isn’t a permissive society that ‘turns’ people gay. Being gay is a natural phenomenon. There are gay people all over the place whether it is legal or not, whether they are accepted or not and whether they’re allowed to marry or not. Continue reading

Why the LGBT Community Should Not Dismiss Gay Marriage

LGBT History

LGBT History (Photo credit: Earthworm)

1/4 of young homeless people in Britain identify as LGBT. Bisexual women in the US are twice as likely to have experienced rape as straight women. 88% of transgender people in the UK experience workplace harassment and discrimination. All these problems exist in our back yard – never mind Uganda or Iran – and the LGBT community has a responsibility to fight those problems particularly when they affect LGBT youth. So in comparison I can understand why some LGBT people, particularly those who have experienced these problems, find the media circus around gay marriage irritating. It is even seen as being deliberately unhelpful as it draws attention away from other problems. However many of these people have taken to tumblr and other social media to present this as an either/or situation and dismiss the fight for gay marriage entirely in favour of their favourite, bigger issues.

The continuing discussion and furore about gay marriage has kept LGBT issues at the forefront of the US and UK political agenda. The news coverage has disseminated the debates across the world to people who would not normally engage with LGBT issues. It has given a large number of LGBT people a voice that would not otherwise be heard. The prominence of the issue has also exposed unlikely allies like Clint Eastwood, the Archbishop of Wales and several Republicans. In part because of the gay marriage debate, people are forced to acknowledge the existence of gay people and allies who are like them. After all, even the presenters on BBC Radio 4 are LGBT. As people are forced to publicly examine their own feelings on the issue knee-jerk reactions will be set aside; minds can be changed and opened. The gay marriage debate will also give children and teens a platform for discussions with their parents and give them a wider context for coming out.

The gay marriage debate has also helped to ‘normalise’ homosexuality for many families and may well lead to fewer LGBT children on the street. Rightly or wrongly parents usually want traditional things for their children. Parents look forward to weddings and grandchildren and for many those things are not seen as compatible with an LGBT ‘lifestyle’ as they have experienced it through the media. Into the ‘90s and even more recently, negative stereotypes and the media focus on scandals have collated LGBT relationships with abuse, anonymous sex and AIDS which makes it difficult for those who don’t know any better to be accepting. Wanting to get married brings the LGBT community into a world they can understand because the ‘lifestyle’ now has the potential to follow a more traditional pattern. Of course not every LGBT person wants to marry and nor should they. We must embrace those who choose to reject the current social norms which have shunned and excluded them for so long as well as those who want to conform. What the fight for gay marriage can do is to show that relationship and lifestyle choices are not a matter of gay or straight or trans or cis but about who an individual is and their choices.

Wider access to gay marriage can also help another group of homeless people. There are a number of older gay people who become homeless as a result of improperly organised inheritance rules. If one half of a unmarried gay couple dies, even if they have been cohabiting long term, the remaining person doesn’t necessarily automatically inherit the house and even if they do they are liable for estate tax in the US. Gay marriage would help to clear up the legal responsibilities and provide peace of mind for people in this situation. It would also clear up a number of other legal issues related to medical insurance, hospital visitation and tax issues. Gay marriage isn’t just a point of principle, it will help real people.

Beyond the ideological issues, there is a problem of practicalities. Gay marriage is a comparatively easy win. There is an established legislative process that can be followed in order to make gay marriage happen. The possible routes to success are easy to see when the government can pass a law to make it so. This is not the case for homelessness which is a far more complex issue that needs collective introspection and an honest critique of our society and benefits system. It is also much more long term. While we do need to help as many people as we can there is also a benefit to helping change what we can. Gay marriage is on the brink in the US and a concerted push now could make equal rights under that area of law a reality in the next few years and change peoples’ lives for the better.

We can’t think in terms of a hierarchy of equalities. Every victory gained is important if it makes the world better for even one person. Gay marriage is not equality for equality’s sake. Every step toward true equality is worth celebrating.

Fatwa for Female Rock Band in Kashmir

Some days it seems like every time the world takes two steps forward in the fight for equality, it takes one step back.

West Point Cadet Accompanied by his Date (Source: Knights Out Twitter)

West Point Cadet Accompanied by his Date (Source: Knights Out Twitter)

This week there have been major advances for the LGBT community. Just last night in the UK we had a historic victory for equality with the signing of the gay marriage bill. In the US, the military has shown how far it has come since repealling DADT by circulating lovely pictures of a male West Point cadet taking his civilian boyfriend to a winter formal.

However while the LGBT community is celebrating (and rightly so) there has been a major step backwards for women in Kashmir. The first all-female, Kashmiri rock band, Pragraash, has decided to disband. The 16-year-old vocalist, Noma Nazir, and two 15-year-olds, drummer Farah Deeba and guitarist Aneeka Khalid, were the target of a campaign of virulent abuse via social networking sites. People flocked to the internet to leave comments like ‘These band girlz should be gang rapped’ and ‘shameless bithches they should be hanged’ [sic].

Initially the band decided to retreat from live performances and continue to make an album but the last straw came in the form of a fatwa against them from the Supreme Court of Islamic Shariat, headed by Grand Mufti Mohammad Bashiruddin. In his statement he linked the band’s activities to the gang rape and murder of an, as yet unnamed, 23 year old student in Delhi a few months back. The three girls have all announced that they will completely refrain from playing music in the future.

Clockwise from top left: Lita Ford, Sandy West...

The Runaways: One of the first female rock bands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to one of the girls who spoke anonymously to BBC Hindi the band didn’t understand why a fatwa had been issued; “There are many artists from Kashmir who are performing. But they did not issue a fatwa against them.” She stops short of explicitly mentioning gender but the implications are very clear. It is not surprising but it is depressing. The double standard is egregious and unrepentant. However perhaps more insidious is the idea that women are in anyway to blame for rape. Even in countries that purport to support equal rights for women this idea continues to permeate attitudes toward rape victims.

Victim blaming is alive and well in the UK and US as was seen when MP for Gloucester, Richard Graham, said short skirts and high heels make you likely to get raped and an NYT report on an 11-year-old gang rape victim highlighted her make up and grown up clothing. This attitude is no different from the Great Mufti who claims women “given freedom to roam around, sing and dance,” causes gang rape and hardline separatists who released a statement that said “No noble family will allow their girls to choose dancing as a profession which is a thing of pleasure for strangers”. Attempts to place the blame on women consistently fail to address the real problem. Telling your daughters not to wear revealing clothing or be in a rock band is not nearly as important as teaching your sons to respect people and not rape them. Make no mistake; rape is not a female issue, it is a male issue.

Despite the appalling misogyny of many, there are some hopeful signs. The band first came to prominence during a Battle of the Bands competition where they placed third and they continue to have the support of the Chief Government Officer Omar Abdulla who has promised a full police investigation into the worst of the social media abuse though he was not willing to go against the Great Mufti’s fatwa. There has also been an outpouring of support from India, specifically from Vishal Dadlani, who offered the girls a recording contract in Mumbai and begged them not to stop making music ‘due to the fear of some random lunatics’. The pressure at home has been too much for the girls however and, with their families facing social exclusion from society, they have decided to stop playing completely. It is a sad outcome for rock music and for women everywhere.