Benoit Denizet-Lewis has an extensive essay (NYT) on the efforts of the American Institute of Bisexuality to counter myths and stigmas surrounding bisexuality. Below he outlines the latest scientific efforts by Northwestern’s Michael Bailey, who led – and subsequently corrected – a controversial study in 2005 suggesting that “identity and arousal didn’t appear to match” among bisexual men (the study and followup study are described by Dan Savage in the above video, starting at the 2:20 mark):
[Bailey] went into an explanation of his proposed study, which I was surprised to hear wouldn’t include any actual bisexuals. Instead, he planned to test the arousal patterns of 60 gay-identified men. “We’re interested in the role that sexual inhibition can play in people’s sexuality, in ways that might be relevant to sexual identity or capacity,” he began. “There’s evidence from prior studies that if you start with a stimulus that might turn on a gay guy — say, two guys [being sexual] — and then add a woman to the scene, some gay men are going to be inhibited by that and feel less aroused, while others won’t see their arousal decrease. A subset of bisexual-identified men might be explained by that.”
“How so?” I asked. Carlos Legaspy, an A.I.B. [American Institute of Bisexuality] board member from Chicago, tried to clarify: “There’s some indication that what makes a bisexual person may be less about what they’re strongly attracted to and more about what they’re not averse to.”
Denizet-Lewis also calls me out for this post:
Though a number of famous women have said they’re bisexual (including Drew Barrymore, Anna Paquin, Megan Fox and Azealia Banks), few big-name men have followed suit. And because [Clive] Davis was 80, it would be difficult for skeptics to dismiss his declaration as one of a confused young man who would surely grow out of his bisexual phase, as the gay writer Andrew Sullivan suggested months later about the 19-year-old British diver Tom Daley.
Daley had said in a YouTube video that he was happily dating a man but was still interested in women. Sullivan predicted that Daley would “never have a sexual relationship with a woman again, because his assertion that he still fancies girls is a classic bridging mechanism to ease the transition to his real sexual identity. I know this because I did it, too.”
Sullivan’s logic is particularly frustrating to Sylla and other bisexual activists. Though they agree that many gay men use bisexuality as a transition identity — sometimes as a way to soften the blow of coming out to parents — “gay men seem to have a hard time fathoming that someone might have an honestly different trajectory,” Sylla said. (Gay men aren’t the only ones. In an episode of “Sex and the City,” Carrie Bradshaw dates a bi guy and suspects that he’s just on “a layover on the way to Gaytown.”)
Bisexual activists told me that much of what gay and lesbian people believe about bisexuality is wrong and is skewed by a self-reinforcing problem: because of biphobia, many bisexuals don’t come out. But until more bisexuals come out, the stereotypes and misinformation at the heart of biphobia won’t be seriously challenged. “The only ‘bisexual’ people that many gays and lesbians know are the ones who ended up gay,” a bisexual woman in Columbus, Ohio, told me. When she tells her gay and lesbian friends about studies showing that bisexuals outnumber them, “they look at me funny and say, ‘That’s strange, because I don’t know any bisexual people.’ ”
I take the point. But I am not backing down on my Daley prediction. Dan in the above video shares my observation about the bi bridging mechanism among many gay men. Mark Joseph Stern ponders the piece by Denizet-Lewis:
Is bisexuality the ability “to fall in love with people regardless of their gender,” as Denizet-Lewis’ bisexual friend states? Or is it, as others insist, the ability to fall in love with both men and women in part because of their genders? Each of these stances is really quite distinct; the former ignores (or transcends) gender, while the latter embraces both genders equally. Yet both of them wind up shoehorned into the umbrella category of “bisexuality.”
Of course, all this questioning is in some ways a political trap—the end-goal of the LGBTQ movement as a whole could be described as a world in which the interrogation of individual (consenting adult) desires is no longer a cultural pastime. That said, as a thought experiment, it’s interesting to consider the black hole at the center of Denizet-Lewis’ piece: Is bisexuality even an identity, in the way that homosexuality is?
Read the long Dish thread on bisexuality here.