Square Peg on bisexuality

It looks like two lesbian and gay magazines have used the title Square Peg. The later one is American, founded by long-time lesbian activist Jeanne Córdova, and ran from 1992-94.

The original was British, started in 1983 and if it wasn't unique, I've never seen anything else like it. A later subtitle for it was '(the journal for contemporary perverts)' – a queer art and politics and art quarterly magazine. On heavy glossy paper. In a square format.

In one of the few mentions I can find of it, 1980s gay activist Colin Clews says "In effect, it was probably one of the first publications to segment the gay and lesbian market by any measure other than gender" – and that's probably why it was so good. The collective that ran it were mixed gender, and the content was far more gender balanced than any other lesbian or gay publication.

The book What is She Like: Lesbian Identities from the 1950s to the 1990s includes it in a list of lesbian publications* that disappeared in the 1980s. That last bit's not true – its last issue was in 1991 – but the comment that "It was alternative, upfront, sexual, mixed, arty, offering fiction and plenty of art work. At the time, Square Peg was decidedly innovative, and it led the way for journals with stronger design input, higher production quality and higher prices" is spot on.

The design aesthetic didn't always make it the easiest thing to read, but the actual content was all highly readable.

Anyway, somehow it became known as somewhere that – in comparison to the rest of the lesbian and gay media – was bi friendly. Maybe that was because of the mixed gender collective, but it confused them…

"bisexuality has never been mentioned or featured in Square Peg"

So, from Square Peg issue 14 (late summer 1986):


Bisexuality
Coming out of the closet

Kinsey: 'There remains among males and females a considerable number of persons who include homosexual and heterosexual responses and attitudes… these are called bisexual.'
The only statement Kinsey made about bisexuality. He thought the common reader wouldn't know the meaning of the word.

City Limits** on Square Peg: '.. where bisexuality isn't a dirty word' – bisexuality has never been mentioned or featured in Square Peg.

Parents' Music Resource Centre,*** Washington D.C.: 'Many of today's rock stars have exceeded the bounds of decency by singing about incest, sadomasochism, bisexuality, bondage, even necrophilia..'

Kate Millett (author of Flying): 'Homosexuality was invented by a straight world dealing with its own bisexuality.'

If the straight world has the failed to deal with its own invention, consider its record in dealing with bisexuality, trivialising and usually ignoring it. Repeatedly, bisexuality has been ignored by sexologists and psychologists, at best being included with homosexual studies. Consequently, there is very little written on the subject and a lot of what is written is a mishmash of questionable theories and outlandish statements:

'Bisexuals reject stereotyped sex roles and attributes' (Charlotte Woolf)
'Everybody is bisexual really' (Ken Livingstone)

This information and confusion is not very far from popular opinion on bisexuality and supports the many myths that surround it.

There are many 'bisexualities' as there are people calling themselves bisexual. As well, there are large numbers of people both gay, lesbian and straight who, while not calling themselves bisexual, nevertheless have had closet relations with members of the other or same sex respectively; A married man who cottages, would he be considered bisexual, or is it more important how he labels himself? If your fantasies are about the opposite sex sometimes, does that you make you a bisexual, rather than lesbian or gay? Is bisexuality simply a matter of what you call yourself?

'When I started going to the group Sexual Fringe – a group which was known for its radical line on 'deviant' sexualities – some members of the group were quite hostile to the bisexual people who went along to the meetings; why is it, I wondered, that some lesbians and gays find bisexuality so threatening? After the first few meetings of Sexual Fringe realised that there were more than just a few people who, while calling themselves 'gay' or 'lesbian' actually had sexual partners of the opposite sex.'
(bisexual woman)

Bisexuals: Politics and Myths

So long as this society encourages one form of 'normal' sexuality and punishes bisexuality, homo- sexuality and other 'deviant' sexualities, then bisexuality cannot be seen as a 'choice'. Both heterosexuals and homosexuals feel alienated when bisexuals 'come out'. The majority of heterosexuals will still see gays and lesbians as something alien. Bisexuality undermines their sexual sensibility by confronting them with possibility of same sex and opposite sex contacts. Not all bisexuals are in a 'transition' stage between heterosexuality and homosexuality – yet such an assumption, that we are 'really gay' or 'really straight', is common. This is a blatant dismissal of ongoing experiences that are extremely powerful, and which have warranted many people to 'come out' as bisexual.

'I had been calling myself gay for about five years, yet for some time I had been having closeted relations with women. I always told myself that I'd eventually 'grow out of it'. Ever heard that before? I realised I was lying to myself – and my friends for that matter – by calling myself gay. Bisexuality, to me now, is an ongoing process of discovery, which constantly confronts me… every day.'
(bisexual man)
 

Some bisexuals do 'come out', finding the alternative, of staying in the closet, intolerable. Coming out releases the constraints that they themselves and others have placed on them. To have to be purely heterosexual or purely homosexual feels as though only half of your being is allowed to exist; the other half must remain hidden.

Bisexuals coming out after having been heterosexual will probably not find themselves taken seriously (by heterosexuals) and their bisexuality will be seen as 'just a phase'. In the case of lesbians and gay men who come out as bisexual, they are coming out for the second time and it is, in many ways, harder. They will be seen as going straight and will risk being ostracised by their lesbian/gay friends.

'One boyfriend told me that I was probably straight, another told me I was definitely gay. They couldn't acknowledge my bisexuality, but it is their problem, not mine.'
(bisexual man)
 

It is important that people come out as bisexual, but for individuals their situation may make this very difficult. Avoid the urgent cries of 'come out from those already out and secure in their own safe communities. Come out at your own pace, seeking support should you need it.

'For me, bisexuality is a description I have used reluctantly or not at all, though I'm more willing to admit to having had the occasional relationship with a man. It's much easier to do that 'as a lesbian' – somehow, just even calling yourself 'bisexual' undermines your credibility…'
(bisexual woman)

Bisexuality, Sex and Myth

'When I'm having a relationship with a woman, there's more of a necessity to explore our sexuality, to talk about what pleases us and find ways of physically expressing love. In relationships with men, I've found it's often more difficult to achieve the equality of sexual satisfaction because the necessity to experiment is not there for one partner who can easily satisfy their own desire through penetration, and communication can be more confused as heterosexual stereotypes need to be rejected.'
(bisexual woman)
 

Bisexuality challenges the sexual classification system and questions fundamental notions about sexuality and gender. Within relationships with either sex bisexuals will be continually redefining their sexual identity while society will treat the two relationships vastly differently, Bisexuals can and up trying to combine two lifestyles. two erotic preferences in one way of another. Sexual orientation is subject to profound change and is constantly created and recreated every day as sexual and social experiences develop. Bisexuals have to make specific sexual choices about how and with whom they will express their sexuality.

'Sex with men is far more relaxed and anything goes, yet with women some things could be construed as sexist, rather than sexual enjoyment.'
(bisexual man)
 

Bisexuals vary from person to person, gender to gender. But in most studies of bisexuality the experiences drawn on have traditionally been those of heterosexuals who became bisexual in writing this article the people we talked to had mostly been lesbian or gay, and had later come out as bisexual They all related common experiences of coming out of their lesbian or gay 'closet'.

'Two of my co-workers were discussing a mutual friend whom they had considered had fallen from 'lesbian-feminist' grace. All three women had identified as radical lesbian separatists. The friend apparently had, after some years in their community, begun an affair with a man. The reaction of these two women was a mixture of self-righteous disgust and horror. "How could she do it!" "Well, we don't see her anymore… and it's just as well" I felt rather sorry this woman, who probably needed more support from her friends at this point her life than she ever had before, especially having been part of such of such a closed community as this. Anyway, their attitude irritated me and I said to them: "Perhaps the people who react most violently against someone like you friend are those who fear the possibility of the same thing happening to them." Half expecting an ideological rebuke, I was surprised that my comment completely silenced them.'
(lesbian)
 

Yet all the bisexual people we spoke to – the ones who had first been lesbian or gay – considered they had a definite place in the lesbian and gay community and had experienced a common oppression. The similarities with lesbians and gays, and with their struggle for an end to oppression are many.

While bisexuals differ in their attraction to the opposite sex, they share with lesbians and gays their attraction to the same sex. Disharmony between bisexuals and gay people is against everybody's interest, and ultimately is destructive of their common struggle. Yet most had already hoard the usual put-downs aimed at bisexuals from their gay and lesbian friends and now had to face up to a new type of discrimination all over again.

In relationships, if men don't like me it doesn't matter so much, but with women it's more important.
(bisexual woman)
 

Bisexuality is nowhere in this society dealt with as a potentially open, valid and acceptable option My gay friends are annoyed that I'm 'half-straight' and my straight friends are waiting for me to 'come to my senses'. Talk about alienation!
(from the Hite Report)
 

Bisexuals have no focal community (although bisexual groups exist around the country – see list below) in the way that lesbians and gays do: no pubs, clubs, venues or even special interest groups (Bisexual clones?**** SM bisexuals?***** Bisexual skinheads? Radical feminist bisexuals?) Everyone who uses lesbian/gay venues or goes to lesbian or gay groups are assured that everyone else is lesbian or gay too. Likewise the same can be said for heterosexuals who have their own communities and identity. But there is no bisexual community, no bisexual subculture. Bisexuals are forced to go either to gay or straight clubs and pubs where their identity will be taken for granted as gay or straight.

Bisexuals are people who eroticise both women and men but, as a label, it cannot say anything about the morality of politics of the individual.

'Bisexuality for me could never just be a question of personal choice; it is always a question of politics. My politics start with being honest about what I desire, instead of trying to make my desires conform to what I think I ought to want. That necessarily involves having to think and act on different levels – to my parents or employers, or to a homophobic society, I am a lesbian. At the moment it is only within lesbian/gay contexts (and only a few of them) that I can talk about how contradictory my sexuality is.'

Resources and further reading:
Sex, Power and Pleasure, Mariana Valverde (Canadian Women's Press, 1985)
Bisexuality: A Study, Charlotte Woolf
Hite Report on Male Sexuality, Shere Hite

Contacts:
London Bisexual Group – Mondays 8:30pm Fallen Angel, Graham Street N1   Tel: David (his then home number)
London Bisexual Women's Drop-in: Alternate Wednesdays 7:30pm, London Friend 33a Seven Sisters Road N7.   Tel: Sara (.. and presumably hers)
Bi-Monthly Magazine – BM Bi, London WC1N 3XX
Radical Gay/Lesbian Identified Bisexual Network Pink Dandelion (his home) Brighton BN2 3ET
Edinburgh Bisexual Group, Thursdays at LGC, 58a Broughton Street   Tel: Kate (her then home number)
Tyneside Bisexual Group, Tel: Simon (.. and presumably his***** *)


Many articles in Square Peg were uncredited and this was one such. Other material in the issue included:

Poetry in Motion – photographs by Juanito Wadhwani [in addition to the one on the cover]
Contexts – assorted news and short pieces
In Defence of [the then-banned rape revenge film] 'I Spit On Your Grave' – When the tables are turned..
Half-Hearted – Donna Deitch (just about) talks to SP about the making of 'Desert Hearts' [they weren't impressed by her not being more out]
Even Louder – New photo-graffiti by Jill Posener [about her second photo book, following on from Spray It Loud]
Parting Glances – An interview with film-make Bill Sherwood
Dominatrix, Virgina Intata – Diamanda Galás talks to Alan Reid about life, love and death
Photgyne – Photographs by Cheryl Newman
Lesbian Pornography – Love it or hate it, it's here!
Bisexuality = Coming out of the closet
Making a Statement – Emmanuel Cooper discusses the work of Adam Jones and Nick Lowe
Travelogue – Lino-prints by Kathy Ludlow
Raving Reviews
Concerning the Centenary & Eccentricities of Ronald Firbank – A re-evaluation of the work of one of England's underestimated talents [two years before the publication of Alan Hollinghurst's novel The Swimming Pool Library, which featured his life and work as a major plot element]
Letters.

A combination of buying them at the time, getting a handful of back issues from before I found out about it, and someone else's patchy collection filling two of the three holes means that I have the set.. with the exception of the issue with probably the largest print run, #1. (The collective behind it gave away copies at a summer gay festival.)

It stopped publishing in 1991 not long after I'd bought a lifetime subscription for £100 – basically a fortnight's benefit money – at a time when the cover price was £3. There are some times where I'm annoyed at publishers who've done that, but this was not a commercial venture and the magazine was so good, I just hope the money was useful.

I also got several t-shirts from them which still get worn – the one with 1970s heart-trob David Cassidy with a whip in his mouth that's made multiple appearances at BiCon is one of theirs.

I'd love a copy of the first issue…


* If you can think of another mixed gender magazine that someone with a very definite lesbian perspective would say that about without any hedging, do say.

** London listings weekly magazine City Limits was founded in 1981 by a group of striking Time Out workers following that publication's move from operating as a co-operative. As you can imagine, it kept the radical left politics that Time Out had had when it started in the 1960s.

A couple of years later, the wonderful 'fat is a feminist issue' singing group, Spare Tyre, had a song that went "Spare Rib and City Limits keep us on the straight and nar-row! We don't know where we'd be without their feminist loving care-oh.." Interestingly, between the version that's online (with a couple of mistakes in the lyrics) and the mid-80s, one of the group came out which meant changing a line to 'only (name) is gay'.

*** This then new bunch of powerful women objected to lyrics in a host of songs. They're responsible for the introduction of the "Parental Guidance: Explicit Lyrics" labels on records that have been with us ever since.

**** This makes me feel old, but I may have to explain what a 'clone' is in this context! Think Freddie Mercury in his 'short hair and a moustache' phase in leather – a prefect demonstration of a bisexual clone! – or the Tom of Finland leather men. It was a hugely popular look on the gay scene at the time.

***** SM Bisexuals came into existence a few years later

***** * This number was an 0632 Newcastle one. In the late 80s, the codes for Newcastle were changed, and since then 0632 (and, following PhONEday, 01632) have been only used for 'fictitious numbers'. Not really existing.. it's the perfect metaphor for society's view of bisexuality, isn't it?