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Reflections on Sexual Fluidity
posted 09.22.2014

By Ray Simon 

For several years, I’ve had the good fortune to publish articles on gender, sexuality and LGBT issues in some of Philadelphia’s alternative newspapers, including the Philadelphia Gay News.

During the recession, and about the time when I hit age 40, I had returned to freelance writing. I’d made an initial attempt at being a professional writer in the mid-1990s, shortly after finishing graduate school. Although I learned a lot then, I had little input regarding subject matter.

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Join Terri Clark on Thursday, October 23 for "Bisexuality anf Aging: What's your BiQ?" This web seminar is free to ASA members! Learn more.

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Join Terri Clark and Cathy Croghan at ASA’s 2015 Aging in America Conference March 23–27 in Chicago to learn more about the KSOG and have an opportunity to complete the grid. Participants will be able to ask questions and discuss the variance and fluidity of sexual orientation. 

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This time around, I was determined to write about topics that mattered to me, including gender and sexuality. My interest was personal. I’d finally become comfortable with being bisexual, and hoped that writing about gender and sexuality— and having those thoughts published in a public forum—would allow me to push my thinking on these topics to a deeper level.

Luckily, I found editors open to my work. For roughly three years, I wrote about everything from fetish balls and queer cabarets to sex-positive workshops and transgender marches. Moreover, the people I met while researching and writing these articles were creative, thoughtful and fearless. Some were activists, others academics, but most were artists, many of whom tried to embody philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler’s thinking about gender and performance in their creative work.

During the course of researching these articles, there would invariably come a moment when I would ask my subjects whether or not they cared to mention their sexual identity in print. Not surprisingly, their answers ran the gamut: gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender (with many variations) and even straight allies. Occasionally, they would demur, preferring their work speak for itself, but that, too, struck me as a valid response.

There were fewer opportunities to write specifically about bisexuality. Still, I reviewed two books on the subject—Shiri Eisner’s Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, and Alysia Abbott’s memoir of her father, Fairyland. And once, I previewed a discussion on bisexuality by a local activist whose thoughtfulness and compassion were eye-opening and disarming.

What I learned through these interviews, profiles and research was that traditional categories of gender and concepts of sexuality were restrictive and insufficient to describe the richness and variety of human experience.

But it had little to do with the actual sexual behavior of the people I wrote about. In fact, what they did in their bedrooms was tangential to the way they explored gender and sexuality in their art.

Of course I was on occasion privy to personal details of people’s love lives. Spend even a modicum of time addressing sexuality in any public way, on stage or in print, and you meet open-minded, flirtatious people who enjoy regaling you with anecdotes about their love life.

Nothing I heard shocked me. I’d long assumed that many people would, given the right combination of desire and opportunity, express their sexuality in ways that would surprise their closest friends or even their partners. So learning that a gay man once slept with a woman or that a gold star lesbian had acted on her crush on a cute guy was more heartwarming than surprising.

This remarkable fluidity of human sexuality wasn’t my only revelation while freelancing. I was also impressed by the willingness of older adults to affirm their sexuality. My parents were older, with clear memories of the Great Depression and World War II. And although we never had a frank discussion regarding sexuality, their views differed vastly from those of the Baby Boomers, who were talking about dating and sex in ways that would have made sixty-somethings blush just a generation before.

Here, too, I had a personal stake. My hair was turning gray, I had just gotten my first pair of glasses, and, much to my mortification, I’d just been called “Daddy” for the first time, albeit by a handsome young man. Consequently, I was curious to see how men and women in their 50s, 60s and older were approaching sex and sexuality.

I was pleased to encounter older artists and thinkers for whom gender and sexuality continued to be both an object of wonder and a source of inspiration. There was the hostess of the Erotic Literary Salon, who created a safe and welcoming space for people of all ages to share frank, playful writing about sex. And the former campus minister of a nearby Ivy League university, whose feminist and sex-positive theology embraced carnality. An LGBT ally, she was honored for her support of kinksters and queers at a local fetish ball.

The local transgender community provided a different kind of positive example of aging and sexuality. In both years that I covered the Philadelphia Trans March, for example, I saw plenty of older faces, in the crowd and on stage. The fact that some of these people were also African American, or sex workers, or had suffered blatant and sometimes vicious discrimination, made their presence noteworthy. They were genuinely elders in their community, people who had suffered and sacrificed a great deal to lead a life on their own terms, and who had now become mentors to a younger generation of transgender individuals.

These last three years have not dramatically changed how I view myself. I still believe that bisexual best describes who I am on a fundamental level. I am grateful, however, that my experience as a freelance writer reconfirmed what I long suspected: people of all ages and sexualities share a common need for affection, companionship, love, romance and, yes, hot sex—a need that cannot be denied and one that doesn’t fit into tidy categories.


Ray Simon is a writer and editor in Philadelphia working for a small publisher. He can be reached at raymondpsimon@gmail.com

This article was brought to you by the editorial committee of ASA’s LGBT Aging Issues Network (LAIN).

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