A reader writes:
The only thing that surprised me about your reader’s letter (though it shouldn’t have) was that it came from a man. I have always believed, and almost all of my female friends agree, that women are, by their very nature, “bisexual” (unless they are gay), and that it is the rare woman who is 100% heterosexual. Women frequently have very intimate relationships with their female friends, and society generally does not think of those relationships as “sexual” ones. Yet, for most women, as studies generally show, intercourse and orgasm are not the most important aspects of sexual satisfaction. Rather, the emotional aspects of a relationship and the cuddling, holding, spooning aspect of physically intimacy with a partner are as important, if not more so. Couple that with the fact that the distance between a friendly hug and a sexual hug is not far, and the former can easily become the later.
To a large extent, I believe that the only reason that most women do not acknowledge their attractions to their girl friends or act on them is that it would be inconsistent with perceived notions of who we should and should not be attracted to, and a pervasive skepticism at the notion that someone can truly be sexually attracted to members of both genders.
I recently started using OK Cupid and I (as a 30-year-old straight guy) have been really surprised by the number of women who identify as bisexual. I don’t know what they mean by that, exactly, since it seems to mean different things to different people.
As a straight man with a bi daughter, it is my experience that both gays and straights are menaced politically by bisexuals. To gays, bisexuality is a threat to the absolutely-true-for-gays “born this way” argument which has been so successful in leveraging moves toward equality.
If there are really many bisexuals out there, many people who are born with a choice and ability to be with either sex, there’s a worry that the forces of oppression will use bisexuals’ ability to choose to cudgel gays and lesbians back into “choosing” to be straight. The activist question that gays ask of straights, “When did you choose to be straight?”, is only effective when straights don’t think they had a choice in how they express their sexuality. If lots of people realize they are partly bisexual, they’ll acknowledge increasingly that they DO have a choice, and maybe the fight for equality becomes harder as a result.
To straights, bisexuality is an even greater threat to the Manichean worldview that there are only two kinds of people in the world. The idea that maybe they could swing both ways is so terrifying that they have oppressed GLBT people for centuries to deny it. Yet the suspicion that maybe they ARE bisexual and CAN choose how they express their sexuality is why so many apparent straights have had a tough time buying the “born this way” argument for all its truth.
But if the Kinsey continuum of sexual orientation is an accurate descriptor of most people’s sexuality as I believe it is, leading to a realization that there are perhaps even MORE bisexuals in society than today’s survey indicates, then your need today to insist (while covering yourself with rhetorical caveats) that a lot of closeted gays and lesbians are only *saying* they’re bisexual will ultimately put you on the wrong side of history.
Like your reader, I’m sexually interested in both men and women. Though I haven’t a romantic relationship with a man, I wouldn’t rule it out. Unlike your reader, I identify as bisexual to friends, family, and partners. And it can be tough, especially in work or casual contexts, to balance the need for honest self-representation (most people assume I’ straight unless I clarify) with maintaining some level of privacy about my personal life.
I’m constantly asking myself: how close am I with these people? Have I become dishonest yet by not working in a declaration of my sexual orientation into the conversation? Does my boss need to know? My partner’s parents? The employees at the farm I volunteer at? And these are, for the most part, academic questions; I’m from an areligious family on the west coast, and the only person my coming out has ever, in my (blessed) experience, been a big deal to was me. I still struggle with these things, though it honestly feels like wasted energy a lot of the time.
Though I identify as bi (or queer if I’m talking to someone more familiar with the nitty gritty of current terminology), I know several men with sexual experiences similar to mine and your other reader who, looking at the sum of their sexual and romantic life, are quite comfortable identifying as straight. (What I haven’t ever encountered was a guy claiming to be bi, but apparently exclusively interested in men.) “Bisexual,” like most labels for human experience, is subject to interpretation. And like any other label, it is imperfect shorthand for the complexity and detail involved in the human experience.
I’m with your other reader: I just want to do who I want, marry who I want, and not get any shit for it. Fortunately, thanks to the struggles of an earlier generation, more of us have the opportunity to do just that.