Photograph by Martien Mulder
CLAIRE DAVIS: I was at a pro-choice rally in D.C. in 1992 with about 750,000 other people, and I happened to take a photo of this guy holding a sign that said, “No Wire Hangers Ever.” It was a triptych of Joan Crawford.
NEAL BOULTON: My boyfriend, Edward, made the sign. He and I had been together a couple of years at that point, and he kept telling me that I’d love this march because there would be women there. My whole bisexual deal was a bone of contention for him, but I was extraordinarily patient. It was very, “Hey, if I’m with you, I’m with you. But it just so happens that I’ve also been with women and would be again if that’s what I found that I wanted.” A few months after the rally, I ran into Claire in a store. I knew immediately I had to speak to her, but she walked right up to me and said, “You’re in my photo album.”
DAVIS: I said, “You were standing on a corner, holding this sign,” and he said, “Yeah.”
BOULTON: I looked up to Edward and said, “What a great coincidence,” and we went on our way. But I was completely taken by her. I left a second store to go back and get her number, and a year and a half later we were married.
DAVIS: Two years later.
BOULTON: I came to visit her on the pretext of looking at her photos, and she had all these beautiful black-and-white portraits of women on her wall, and this amazing queer book collection, some great Dennis Cooper books and--
DAVIS: --Essex Hemphill. I was a big fan, and I studied with him before his passing.
BOULTON: I felt guilty. I thought, Oh my God, this woman is so amazing -- she must be gay, and here I am in her bedroom, wanting to kiss her. She definitely wasn’t straight.
DAVIS: I was dressing butcher, with less makeup and nail polish.
BOULTON: With a couple of hot girlfriends.
DAVIS: I liked guys and I liked women, and I didn’t feel the need to make a decision because I was in my twenties.
BOULTON: So, she lent me this photograph and then she went abroad for months. As we were parting, before she went away, we made it clear to each other that we were into both sexes.
DAVIS: When I got back from studying in Germany, he came over and we made falafel. He was the best dinner guest I’d ever had, and we were eating on the covered porch by candlelight. Then he told me that he’d been thinking of me every day, and I thought, This guy is either a stalker or he just really likes me, and I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt. We went inside, and he asked if he could kiss me, and that was it.
BOULTON: We had a lot to work out. She had a hundred girlfriends I’d never met.
DAVIS: My friends were shocked I was so into one person.
BOULTON: Claire was prolific.
DAVIS: Who wouldn’t love a beautiful woman? I had more dates and intimacies than relationships.
BOULTON: Your girlfriends seemed more serious. You had flings with boys, but slightly more intense things with women.
DAVIS: But I was so gaga for this one guy. We met when I was 21, and we were married when I was 23. We joked so many times that we either needed to break up or get married, and breaking up didn’t work -- so we got married.
BOULTON: We definitely think of ourselves as a bisexual couple. I’ve learned from Claire to be vocal, proactive, and outgoing about my sexuality. She would never let a dinner party go by without an innuendo that let people know not to assume we’re straight. When people ask how we met, she’d say, “I took a picture of him with his boyfriend.”
DAVIS: We had an open marriage for a couple of years -- before we had children.
BOULTON: Thursday nights she would go to her hot girlfriend, and I would go to my boyfriend. It was wonderful.
DAVIS: I never called her my girlfriend. We were seeing same-gendered people. It took us a lot of years to figure out how we should reconcile our sexuality with the relationship we wanted to have with each other.
BOULTON: Early in the marriage, Claire was more proactive about it, like, “Don’t you ever try to take women away from me, and you can have men.” But maintaining a mistress -- whether it’s a man or a woman -- is hard work. So we decided to revisit things and have children.
DAVIS: I got to the point where I was seeing someone for over a year, and I realized I didn’t want to be in a relationship with two people. I just wanted to be with Neal.
BOULTON: I’m sure we’ll revisit it.
DAVIS: I can’t predict the future. It’s easier for a woman than a guy, though. People seem to be OK with a woman being with a woman, but they have more of a problem accepting men with men. My kids get sick of me saying, “Sweetheart, we don’t care who you love, as long as that person is good to you.”
BOULTON: I think it would be easy for people to go, “Oh, well, of course they defaulted to being in an opposite-sex
relationship--don’t all bisexuals do that?” Maybe they do; I don’t know. I know that Claire and I have been in two long-term relationships of the same sex and one long-term relationship that wasn’t. That’s our ratio.
DAVIS: I don’t care about ratios or any of that stuff. People find lots of different ways to define themselves, and bisexuality is one of them. For me, that’s sort of my home base. For others, it might just be a comfortable place while you’re figuring it out.
BOULTON: But Noah [our 11-year-old son] said something that I think is easy to gloss over, which is that it’s about who you’re falling in love with, not gender. Claire was the man I was going to meet in some respects.
DAVIS: And I married my mother.
As told to Aaron Hicklin