In Myths on November 20, 2010 at 10:14 am
Coming out as bisexual to your partner is perhaps the riskiest disclosure. A certain amount of jealousy is common in relationships but usually focuses on one gender or the other. A bisexual partner could be tempted by either sex, and the opportunities expand into areas that previously might have seemed inconceivable, since interactions with the same sex are endless and rarely questioned. A man becomes suspicious of his wife’s nights out with the girls. A woman worries about her boyfriend’s trips to the gym. And gay women and men may fear that a bisexual partner will eventually want to settle down in a more conventional marriage with children.
Even if your partner understands that sexual attractions to both sexes are common, he or she will consider your declaration a sign that your interests are on-going and something you want to explore rather than suppress. (And shouldn’t people in relationships suppress their interests in others, regardless of gender?) Many people also view homosexuality and bisexuality as inherently promiscuous conditions, the latter almost by its nature implying something other than a monogamous life. But perhaps a relationship is strengthened and enriched by honest discussion and more seriously threatened by concealed history and on-going fantasy.
In Myths on November 11, 2010 at 8:46 am
Being a member of a minority group does not make anyone immune to sharing the stereotypes of the broader community. Even if you have sexual attractions to both men and women and have been thoughtful and restrained in pursuing your relationships, you may view bisexuals, as a group, as somehow more promiscuous and deviant.
Part of the problem is that discussions of bisexuality tend to involve people revealing their sexual interests and experiences, because sceptics want proof. Bisexuality is too invisible to discuss in the abstract. And people with more extensive experience tend to be the ones most comfortable coming out of the closet. Perhaps it would help if “sex” were not a part of the word, and if everyone was assumed to have some degree of flexibility in matters sexual.
In Myths on October 22, 2010 at 4:22 pm
Well, who can blame you? Most of us do not want to be defined by whom we have sex with. But the assumption is that almost everyone is heterosexual, so the pursuit of sexual interests in someone of the same sex can be more difficult unless you have some framework for understanding your interests and communicating them to others.
Gays and lesbians have venues where they can meet others and pursue romance without having to elicit a confession of sexual identification. People who are interested in both men and women could pursue one gender in straight establishments and the other in gay ones. A more liberated approach would be to assume that everyone you meet could be a potential romantic or erotic partner. If everyone is flexible, then there is less need to define yourself and limit your options. You can concentrate instead on finding that spark that develops between you and another woman or man.
In Myths on October 9, 2010 at 3:08 pm
Many people have a visceral reaction to what they consider deviant sex. Homosexuality can still evoke disgust, but many Americans have learned to suppress their feelings and express tolerance for what is increasingly viewed as an unalterable gay or lesbian identity, like race or gender, or (in the minds of those less tolerant) an unfortunate disability. But virtually everyone thinks of bisexuality as a lifestyle choice.
Bisexuals have also not benefited from the same sort of advocacy and exposure as gays. For example, there is no beloved openly bisexual role model like Ellen DeGeneres (though Anna Paquin has certainly stepped up to the plate). Celebrities who have claimed to be bisexual, like Elton John or Lady Gaga, are commonly viewed as gay or disingenuously self-promotional.
Extreme bi-phobic reactions could include parents throwing you out of the house, siblings telling you to stay away from their children, or acquaintances or strangers committing hate crimes. On the other hand, people’s initial reactions and prejudices often soften with time and, most importantly, with exposure. Viewed objectively, there is little difference between heterosexual and homosexual acts, so what precisely do people consider disgusting about bisexuality? What they don’t understand.
In Myths on October 5, 2010 at 2:38 am
Recently it has become possible for men and women to marry someone of the same sex and easier to raise children together, though many barriers remain, depending on the location. But the traditional view of marriage and child-rearing involves a man and a woman, and many people do not want to give up that option.
If you have the capacity to enjoy a sexual relationship with both women and men, you might prefer to stay on the more straight-forward road to your domestic goals. If you declare yourself bisexual, you may be viewed by potential future partners as deviant, unreliable in your commitment, and possibly gay. Potential spouses might not consider your flexible sexuality a strong basis for a life-long relationship. Even you might worry about how you would explain your bisexuality to your children (though hopefully such concerns will seem silly a generation from now).
On the other hand, you may not want to spend your life building a family with someone who is hostile to your experiences and interests, and from whom you have to keep secrets.
In Myths on September 26, 2010 at 7:21 am
Most of us value being able to fit in and do not want to make life more difficult. Straight is the default condition. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer all denote more marginal identities, accompanied by stereotypes, and many of us do not feel comfortable taking on such labels, at least not without the support of an accepting subculture. Women, and also men from ethnic minority groups, may be particularly reluctant to take on another possibly pejorative label based on their sexual interests, when they already face prejudice and discrimination for reasons outside of their control.
For some men, straight represents more than an interest in women; it conveys masculinity, normality, and an assertive and insertive role in sex. A man who sometimes has sex with men but is always the “top” may feel more straight than gay or bisexual; in fact, he may feel more straight (i.e., masculine) than men who only have sex with women. The problem lies not so much in the terms but in our assumptions about what sexual labels mean and what are appropriate sexual roles for men and women.
In Myths on September 7, 2010 at 8:34 pm
Is it premature to call yourself bisexual if you have not yet had sex with both men and women? Certainly you can refer to yourself as bisexual based on your attractions, even if you have not acted on them, but you may feel that your interests remain untested. You may be reluctant to commit yourself unnecessarily, especially if others might presume that you are more sexually experienced than you are.
Some people use the terms “bi-curious” or “try-sexual” to capture the fact that they are open to exploring sex with a member of the same sex, even if their predominant emotional interests or experiences have been with the opposite sex.
In Myths on August 25, 2010 at 6:14 pm
If you tell your best friends, will they interpret it as a come-on? Men and women find it safe to talk about their sexual interests when the object of attraction is in another category. Soldiers on leave can whistle at a passing woman on the street. A gay man and his female friend can verbally undress the guys at a bar. But what happens when a male construction worker elbows his buddy and says, “Check out the ass on that guy?” Life becomes more complicated, one way or the other.
Coming out as gay has always posed this problem, though gay men at least have often felt safe confiding in their female friends. Whether you are a man or a woman, and whether you are speaking to a woman or a man, your declaration of bisexuality may raise uncomfortable questions that jeopardize your friendship.
On the other hand, you may find that your friends are wiser and more experienced than you thought, and your friendships may deepen, even while remaining platonic.
In Myths on August 11, 2010 at 7:25 pm
Bisexual is not a particularly subtle term. It implies that you are sexually attracted to men and women to the same degree and in the same ways. In fact, social scientists speak of this as “true bisexuality,” as if other forms were not genuine. But no one explained this to Mother Nature.
In fact, as you might expect, people are often attracted to men and women to different degrees and for different reasons. You might enjoy the excitement and mechanics of sex with both genders without necessarily wanting or feeling an emotional love for both. You might be turned on by women but get crushes on men, or vice versa. In other words, your sexuality might be flexible but not easily defined or labelled.
Perhaps we need as many terms for sexuality as Eskimos are said to have for snow.
In Myths on August 5, 2010 at 7:53 pm
Bisexuality strikes some people as greedy and selfish. Given that there are so many members of the opposite sex to choose from, why insist on preying on your own? Single women, in particular, may complain about the additional competition for eligible men. Homosexuality is less threatening, if one assumes that gay men and lesbians mate only with their own kind.
And if bisexuality is thought to be just a transitory phase and not a genuine condition, then you may be accused of being unable to make up your mind as you alternate between women and men. And if you persist, you may be viewed as a sexual addict, unrestrained and tempted by everything.
Of course, it is silly to speak of potential partners in global terms; we fall in love as individuals with individuals, and there is no evidence that bisexuals are cornering the market on either gender.
In Myths on July 24, 2010 at 9:17 am
Many people are confused by the concept of a bisexual orientation or identity. As a practical matter, sexuality is most easily defined by whom you sleep with. Even if you declare yourself bisexual, you may be viewed as alternately gay or straight depending on whether your current relationship is with a man or a woman.
Bisexuality becomes explicit only if you have sex simultaneously with a man and a woman, or if you maintain simultaneous relationships with both men and women. These are the least common (though perhaps the most popularly intriguing) manifestations of bisexuality.
The term is also used this way in male pornography to refer to scenes with two men and a woman, and this may be the only reference point for many men. (Scenes with two women and a man, in contrast, are called lesbian, but are presented for the man’s enjoyment.)
In Myths on July 18, 2010 at 8:59 am
There are many parallels between how we think about race and how we think about sexuality.
People are supposed to identify as black or white, for example, as if the two categories were distinct and scientifically meaningful. In fact, the genetic differences between racial groups are almost completely meaningless, and populations have mixed over the centuries to such an extent that, for example, one-third of African-Americans’ genetic heritage is European, and one-third of whites’ genetic heritage is of relatively recent African origin. Yet it is still an almost universal practice to squeeze people (including our president) into one category or another. If you don’t appear completely white, you must be black or something else.
Something similar occurs with gay and straight. If you let it be known that you have any same-sex affection, desire, attraction, or behavior, you are likely to be perceived as gay and encouraged to identify yourself as gay. The reality that roughly one-third of straight individuals have mixed interests or experiences is suppressed and ignored, and our human potential is collectively curtailed.
Racial and sexual identities have served some purpose in the evolution of civil rights, but perhaps the time has come to move beyond simplistic labels.
In Myths on July 7, 2010 at 7:33 pm
There are several reasons why few in their right mind want to call themselves “bisexual.” The term is misunderstood, which is why young people and researchers have been inventing a slew of more interesting terms, like the ones listed in the header of this blog.
With tongue partly in cheek, here’s the first of a dozen reasons not to call yourself bisexual:
Most open-minded individuals and gay rights organizations will pay lip service to the hypothetical possibility of bisexuality. But most people do not believe that bisexuality really exists, except perhaps as a transitional phase or a statistical deviation from the natural categories of straight and gay.
In fact, as I started writing the book that led me to create this blog, I was repeatedly asked, “Do you really believe that?” and, “You’re not bisexual, are you?” Friends challenged me to name a certifiably bisexual person, and examples were dismissed as “really gay.”
Both gays and straights are motivated to deny the existence of more flexible sexual orientations. Gays have found it strategic to argue that homosexuality is an unchangeable, biological category and not a choice. For straight men and women, homosexuality is the exception that proves the rule, leaving their masculine and feminine identities unquestioned. The hidden in-between is threatening to both ends of the spectrum.
In fact, studies have consistently shown that more people identify as bisexual than as gay or lesbian, and even more have had attractions to, and experiences with, both genders.
But if you don’t look for something, you won’t see it.