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From Phyllida's Desk

The "Hot Hunk of Bisexual Manhood" Problem

Well, it's not exactly a problem...

But when I was writing the introduction to my Eclipsis series of "Lady Amalie's memoirs," I used the phrase to describe my version of Fitzwilliam Darcy, making a comparison with the HHoBM who is the hero of these new stories. Perhaps not surprisingly, the friend who was encouraging me to edit and publish these books advised me to change it. Sets the wrong tone, she felt.

The truth is, I'm not sure about that tone. I do write comedy, after all. But when it comes to those HHoBM's, I'm not joking. It reminds me of the classic Seinfeld episode, the one in which Jerry is dating a lovely young woman but wants to date her roommate instead because she laughs at his jokes. After long sessions of brainstorming, Jerry's friend George comes up with the perfect solution: Propose a three-way. The first woman will be outraged and embarrassed and will break up with Jerry without telling her friend why, leaving the path clear to the other girl.

When Jerry follows this advice, there's an unexpected result. "She's ... into it," he reports to George, who's excited at Jerry's good fortune. A three-way with two beautiful women! But Jerry panics. "I'm not an orgy guy!" he says. "I'll have to grow a mustache. Get a new bed, new drapes—a new robe!"

In the episode's payoff, George decides to use the same ploy to break up with his girlfriend, whose roommate is a schlubby guy like George. And of course, inevitably... "He's into it," George says.

On a much higher plane, I'm also reminded of Mary Renault's superb evocation of classical Greece and its tradition of same-sex male love, The Last of the Wine. Alexias, the protagonist and narrator, a beautiful youth, has the ideal older lover in Lysis, who decides, at the appropriate time, to marry. On the wedding day, as Alexias is performing his duties as best man, assisting in the simulated abduction of the bride, the innocent young girl, perhaps all of thirteen, says to her new husband, "Oh, yes, Lysis, he is more beautiful than..."

In other words, she's ... into it. Not a three-way, of course. But this young girl, for whom the "bisexual" culture of her world is completely natural, feels no jealousy, shame or embarrassment, now that she is a married woman, in appreciating the beauty, much praised but never seen, of her kind and honorable husband's beloved.

But Lysis has broken a taboo. In this sex-segregated world it was inconceivable that a man would talk to a respectable woman about such things. He has treated his wife-to-be almost like an equal, a fellow human being, and talked openly and honestly about the beautiful young man he loves.

Alexias is, naturally, humiliated and outraged. He feels betrayed by Lysis, and jealous, although he's too proud and too well brought up to show it. As Renault portrays this world, once a man marries he gives up his beloved young man, who is now free to be the older partner to his own chosen beloved, until he reaches the age, thirty or thirty-five, when he'll be ready for marriage to a woman.

This system has no place for exclusive, lifelong same-sex love between men—for "gay" romance as we understand it today. Alexias, who loves Lysis in much the way we experience modern love, is not ready for this transition prescribed by his society, just as most of us would find it difficult to follow the pattern of his time.

Felice Picano dramatizes this idea in his wonderful story, "The Shining One," in the anthology Gay City 4: At Second Glance. In this story, narrated by Peleus, the father of Achilles, we see the traditional arc of a man's life, as Peleus tells of the older men who were his lovers when he was young; his marriages to women, including the sea-goddess, Thetis, Achilles' mother; and now, as a mature man, his love for a beautiful youth. He tells his wife that he's taking this young man for his beloved. "And she accepted it, as a good wife would, and moved back to the women's quarters."

For Peleus, as for all the men of his world, there's no thought of enjoying a wife and a beloved youth at the same time. And the most transgressive concept, what Achilles does that outrages his father, is to fall in love with, and be loved by, a young man close to his own age, of his generation, at the same stage of life.

In my time, now, we're slowly accepting the exclusive, monogamous love between people of the same sex. It's that odd kind of not-quite three-way that I write that's most transgressive, or seems it—the polyamorous but non-orgiastic marriage of a man with a wife and a boyfriend.

Like Jerry Seinfeld, I'm not an orgy guy. For me, as a writer, the path of love and marriage has come full circle. Like the young bride of Wine, the autobiographical heroines of my fiction expect their husband to have a male partner. But unlike Peleus' wife, they neither "accept" the situation in glum or uncomplaining obedience, nor do they feel jealousy or resentment. Instead, like the comic roommates of the modern comedy, they're into it.

What I write, and want, what seems most shocking, is to be a fully equal partner in a marriage of three: wife to a bisexual man, one who has no need to choose between the two people he loves. Like Lysis's wife, I expect my husband to talk to me, to share his love for his male partner with me—not in the bedroom, but in the routines of daily life: meals and visits, work and childrearing. Ideally, the three of us share a house and a life together. I don't expect to be banished from my husband's bed indefinitely any more than I expect my husband's male partner to be. Rather, I hope we can take turns, work things out.

The difference between my fiction and the slightly similar situations in the past is that I'm choosing the arrangement. My bisexual husband is an aristocrat, at the top of his society. But he doesn't dominate me or his male partner. We're equals: men and women of intelligence and education, with strong passions and beliefs. We marry for love and we live together by preference. I've chosen this man because, to me, a man who loves another man and also loves me is the sexiest, most virile man there is. He's my "Shining One," my Achilles, the hero worthy of me, the creator-goddess, author of his--and my--fictional life.

In my retelling of Pride and Prejudice I make explicit what I'm convinced is implicit in Austen's original: that Mr. Darcy, with his "fine, tall person, handsome features, and noble mien," loves Mr. Bingley sexually and as a friend. While there's only a five- or six-year age difference between the two men, they're almost a generation apart in terms of experience and worldliness. Like the intergenerational lovers of mythical and classical Greece, my Fitz wants to guide his Charles to manhood while at the same time enjoying his sexual favors.

In other words, he's a hot hunk of bisexual manhood. And I'm into it.
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