Sunday, November 29, 2009


The midday news has just announced that Glenn Mills has died in Mt Eden Prison. It’s impossible not to feel in the newsreader’s even tones that she is inferring a sense of natural justice. He is, after all, the man who knowingly infected a large number of men and women with HIV-Aids. It’s a terrible thing to do but unfortunately it is a human thing to do.     

Let’s untie the bundle a bit. Glenn Mills was genuinely bisexual. In the early days of gay liberation we believed two mutually incompatible things. One was that everyone was inherently bisexual - that all humans existed on a continuum of sexuality and most people could be responsive to people of both the same and different gender. This was a radical idea, a beautiful idea. It posited the concept that nobody was one thing. It implied flexibility, motion, accessability. 

But at the same time, in our inner hearts, I think we disbelieved this. We believed all bisexual men were actually closeted homosexuals too timid to come out. Bisexuality, after all, was a useful transfer station for men who were in public positions. Secretly they could be gay. They would have sexual relationships with other men. Publically they were ‘engaged’ or had a ‘long term relationship’ with a woman. Or sexless marriages.

Society rewards heterosexuality in so many ways both legally and in terms of approval that this kind of closetry used to be widespread and to a degree still is. On Brothers & Sisters, there was the witty line from the gay brother about someone allegedly bisexual which went ‘Bi now, gay later.’ (as in ‘Buy now, etc.’) It was funny and bitchy and encapsulated a gay point of view. 

But as I’ve gone on in life I have come to the conclusion there are many men who are genuinely bisexual. They have an erotic response to both men and women. It’s not surprising after all. And in the morality-free zone of the net, this kind of experimentation has flourished. The public necessity for declaring sexual preference has almost vanished. It has certainly lost its dreaded taboo status, and as such has accrued a kind of so-what neutrality. 

But in the end, men prefer to keep their erotic response to other men private, secret. Unlike lesbianism, which enjoys a strong tillation factor with heterosexual men, homosexual sex is seen as publically unacceptable. So bisexual men tend to not be out publically. 

Why would you? The net delivers what you want to your door, a kind of take-out sexuality, entirely private. What you do in your own space remains your own business. But it does mean that bisexuality, genuine bisexuality, tends to go uninspected in general society - as in this case, with desperate results. 

But what’s this to do with the very sad death of a man in prison?

I suppose I am thinking of the essential loneliness of Glenn Mills. There isn’t a bisexual support group that I know of. Bisexuals tend to be, as wise old Edmund White has said, disliked and distrusted by both homosexuals and heterosexuals. This is because they don’t fit in either camp and, at certain moments, betray both forms of sexual preference. (If you are genuinely bisexual, your response is going to keep shifting all the time, I assume. If you love a woman, you will also, at some point, want to have sex with a man. If you love a man, you’ll want, at some point, to have sex with a woman.) It’s not quite the ideal world we at one time believed in.

And I think it gets very complicated. Heterosexuals don’t use condoms on the whole for casual sex. Young gay men fool themselves into believing that HIV-Aids has an age-category and they are fool proof. Anal sex is fun. It has also eased out of being an entirely homosexual pleasure. It is as much on the heterosexual pleasure menu as oral sex (at one time also an almost exclusive homosexual pleasure.) So it seems very easy for one good looking bisexual man to infect a large number of eager, unsuspecting and - unquestioning - sex partners.

I am not excusing the knowing transmission of Hiv-Aids. That is callous and a terrible human mistake to make. I know raising the word condom in the quick blindess of lust is difficult - but the difficult fact is use of a condom has to be mandatory, I’m afraid, in casual anal sex until the virus disappears. 

So I guess I am asking the people infected: you need to also bear some responsibility here. Hiv-Aids has been around a long time and everyone in a sexual encounter, no matter how hot has to think

I could have a long disabling illness from this. I could suffer from something for which there is no known cure.

I remember the photos of  Mills, a train driver. He looked handsome, personable, possibly, even probably a good lover. Being a good lover is one of the joys of the world. Finding a good lover is a great thing. Obviously Glenn Mills was a player. I don’t have an attitude on that. Why not enjoy what the world has to offer? At different times we want different things - marriage, a stable partnership, love are only one way to be human. 

So I can’t help but feel a kind of sadness to hear today that Glenn Mills committed suicide. Suicide is always unbearably sad. And perhaps more so, when a person feels it is their ‘natural duty’. 

There is no nature, apart from variation.

But there is shame, an everlasting shame which all people who diverge from the norm experience at some moments in their lives. 

At times this shame can be so suffocating that there appears no way out.

Unfortunately, for Mills, he found a way out. 

But there are larger unanswered questions here. He dies in prison while his ‘victims’ who colluded in the act of irresponsibility live with the after-effects.

Meanwhile there is a lack of awareness of the degree of bisexuality and sexual experimentation occuring in society. Right now. Right here. While we speak.

I question whether prison is the right place for someone in Mills’ position.

I don’t think so.


  1. As a heterosexual married woman who has only known a handful of gay people- and not anyone who openly identifies as bisexual- I read this without any predetermined opinions and only great interest in your point of view. Thank you for sharing this. The issue of shame can become soul crushing regardless of it's origins. I personally loved the story line of the gay character in Six Feet Under because it explored that concept ( how shame destroys ) so well. I also love Brothers and Sisters :)

  2. Thanks, Maggie. Subsequently I found out that two of the young men Mills had infected with HIV were seventeen. It seems a terrible act of irresponsibility that an older person would betray the earnest trust of someone so young - young adults basically one year over the age of consent. People who wouldn't necessarily know what is 'expected' sexually, ie the use of condoms as a basic necessity.

    Nevertheless I note in this morning's paper that some of the people who were infected by him (horrible term, I can't think of any other one however) mourn his death. In some senses they saw him as a lover. Even someone from Women with HIV said that there was a sense of loss (and relief that people did not have to testify in court, an horrific thought.) She also said that Mills himself lived in a state of personal denial (that he had HIV) and that he did not act with deliberate malevolence. Who knows? Self deception here is not uncommon and probably a human defence.

    It is an extraordinarily complicated situation - untidy, sad - and a revealing look at the complexities of contemporary living.

  3. Oh those poor teenage boys, though. Like you say, you don't know what is 'expected' in the real sense of the term, certainly not the irrevocable and long term consequences..

  4. There is a very interesting interview with one of the young men who had sex with Mills and subsequently tested positive for HIV on

    One of the things which comes through is how casually this happened but also how deceitful Mills actually was during sex. The young man believed Mills had a condom on. Somehow during sex....the condom vanished or 'broke'.....

    Also look out for a think piece by David Herkt on

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  6. Just to say I found your piece on Glen Mills and the broader questions it raises very moving. If only we had this kind of deeper analysis, compassionate and reasoned, on our national TV. I find it pernicious that an organ of such power offers people so little enlightenment, as if the slop that is being offered is actually what is important.

    It seems to me that denial (self-delusion) is a state that to some degree and in some areas of our lives most of us live in most of the time. One of the most important things we can do is learn to recognize and face up to it.

  7. Jenny, I wrote to Pamela Stirling of the Listener offering to write a fuller article on this subject - which I think has so many interesting aspects. No reply. I felt heartened though when I read in the Dom/Post today that Lord Robert Winston, the eminent scientist, said NZ was too obsessed with low wattage celebrities and sports personalities. The latter especially got involved in all sorts of moral dilemmas but were speedily forgiven - even in the courts. In a way, we don't want to look carefully at moral dilemmas, it seems. We want titillation and schadenfreude (sp?)

  8. Let's get one thing straight. When you say "In the early days of gay liberation we believed ... everyone was inherently bisexual", you mean you and your tight-knit circle of friends. Most people didn't believe that, because logically it made no sense, and after all this time, it still logically makes no sense. Where's your apology?

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