Janis Hetherington – Part 18: "Bi – the new currency of shame?"


“In my day nobody on a gay rights march was analysing your exact degree of same-sex attraction”

Janis Hetherington was the first UK woman in an openly same-sex couple to be artificially inseminated. In this, the 18th part of her exclusive autobiographical series for Biscuit, Janis wonders if our current obsession with labels means it’s actually become harder being bi…

So I am in my dotage and well past the age where my knicker elastic should remain intact… but it has twanged with my indignation at the gripes of bi versus tri or my. If your brain cells are discombulated so are mine. What is this angst about bi that seems to have sent so many to contemplate the razorblade?

Let me explain in simple terms. Half a century ago when I was still a tweenager and buggery was a prisonable offence, bisexuality was your passport to fame and fortune in the “media professions” and thought so glamorous and chic that if you hadn’t indulged, you literally were NOT. As in NOT. Not cool, not grown-up not sexy – nada. Semi-detachedsvillesuburban yuk.

The bi glamour list of that time is endless… Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Sirs Larry, Gielgud and Redgrave, the Mountbattens, Harry Roy, half the House of Windsor plus a few Brigadiers!!! All the POP management and most of the swingers swung “both ways” and usually from the chandeliers in profusion. It was de rigeur and fun.

Fine, we all fought (those of us with same-sex proclivities) for equal rights to love and lust where we chose and thereby seem to have created yet another unequal classification. To what and to whom do you commit?

I hate to bring in the old limerick joke, but it really says it all:
“There was a lesbian from Khartoum,
Took a Nancy boy up to her room,
As she turned out the light,
She said let’s get it right,
Who does what and with which and to whom?”


“Even Sappho, from whom the term ‘lesbian’ came, reportedly committed suicide over a man”

All totally unacceptable today. Must have a label and stay within that confine. So let’s take the limerick seriously and examine “lesbian”. What does it mean? If we take it as from Lesbos and the poetess Sappho (thus Sapphic love) the few scraps of poetry we have left of her writings do indeed talk of woman-on-woman love yet historically it is said she committed suicide for Phaeon who impregnated her and smashed their child’s head on the rocks of Lesbos. However there is no doubt that the women of Lesbos were a sect that openly enjoyed the love of women on women in physical and cultural terms. As indeed was enjoyed by Grecian males who revered the prospect of sharing male-on-male tutorage.

So why the anger over what is actually bi? My generation of LGBT activists thought it quite normal to have sex with whom you pleased if you had extricated yourself from the confines of inhibition that meant purity and virginity were prerequisites to marriage. Gay marching and gay rights back then did not assume any burden of responsibilities that made discerning our degree of same-sex lust a necessity. Guys were just thrilled not to be shoved in the pokey for cock sucking and ladies could wear trousers in respectable hotels without minding being called dykes.

However, the court cases I fought as the first woman ever to be artificially inseminated whilst openly in a relationship with another woman focused on the idea that my conception of my child must equate in all aspects to the “normal” idea of heterosexual parenting (except that I was inseminated and with a female)? When said female died nine months later it was up to me to prove I was a normal family, that is I was a widow bereaved of a husband. However weird that concept may seem now that was the premise of the court case and had it seemed that I could waver from that idea it would have almost been seen as a male widower suddenly wanting custody having said he was gay. In other words the “straight gay” had been invented. I had to have a constant category. How odd then that the male solicitor who fought for my rights of custody had previously been the person I had lived with and left for a woman. And was not even the sperm donor for the son I bore. How would anyone label him? The opposite of a fag hag? Must have a tag.

The need to label is both a burden and a benefit. Choosing is the arrival of adulthood in knowing that label is sewn on by you and you alone and it is your choice not to even sew it on at all.

Janis Hetherington, Part 17 – “Tittle-Tatler”

Janis Hetherington, Part 16 – “Ex-bisexuals?”

Janis Hetherington, Part 15 – “Nothing is black and white”

Janis Hetherington, Part 14 – “Arabian Ladyes”

Janis Hetherington, Part 13 – “Blow-up dolls and secret cells”

Janis Hetherington, Part 12 – “Major Ronald”

Janis Hetherington, Part 11 – “Fatwa”

Janis Hetherington, Part 10 – “Split personality”

Janis Hetherington, Part 9 – “Eccentricity”

Janis Hetherington, Part 8 – “Polyamorality”

Janis Hetherington, Part 7 – “We still weren’t ‘normal’…”

Janis Hetherington, Part 6 – “The publicity years”

Janis Hetherington, Part 5 – “Meeting Biscuit”

Janis Hetherington, Part 4 – “The custody battle”

Janis Hetherington, Part 3 – “The death”

Janis Hetherington, Part 2 – “Breaking the rules of 70s family life”

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Charlotte Dingle

Charlotte 'Lottie' Dingle is Biscuit's founding editor. When she's not running freelancing for a diverse bunch of clients ranging from Cosmo to Occupy, she enjoys teaching life drawing, discussing life/the universe/everything with her beloved (but smelly) 22-year-old cat, writing flash fiction for her MA course, getting pretentious tattoos, listening to folk music, creating surrealist art, trying to change the world and drinking red wine. Oh, and My Little Pony. Don't forget My Little Pony. Her favourite biscuits are cream crackers (do they count as biscuits?).

2 Responses to Janis Hetherington – Part 18: "Bi – the new currency of shame?"

  • Your writing style is so gloriously slap-in-the-face engaging! Great points you make too. Makes me look forward to making some time to read your book!
    Brave, witty, astute, visceral… Makes me look forward to a cuppa tea with yah! X

  • Debbie Craig says:

    Well done Janis a thought provoking piece as usual. Always enjoy reading your posts and feel we should not be given labels as to who we are, who we fancy etc…………life is for living in any way we want and who is to say hetro is the norm!!!
    Keep up the good work……….I look forward to your future pieces xx

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