A reader writes:
Thanks for pointing out that LGBT as an acronym refers to so much that it refers to nothing. And I totally do think that there are a large number of “closeted bisexuals” out there, if you define “bisexuality” as anyone who has had a same-sex experience and enjoyed it. That describes me perfectly. I date women, and am romantically interested only in women. I don’t even like sex with men 1-on-1. But sometimes I do see a guy and think he’d be fun to share a girl with, and sometimes in the heat of an encounter like that, I want to play with him directly as well. And I do. And I like it. And nobody in my life, not my family or closest friends, knows that about me.
Here’s the thing, though: I’m not “closeted”. At least, not in the way a gay kid in Arkansas with an abusive, redneck father is “closeted”. My family consists of hippie liberals from the Pacific Northwest. They’d probably be thrilled that I was so open and free, especially since I’m probably still going to marry a girl someday. I don’t tell anyone because whom I fuck and how is my own business and nobody else’s. I don’t need support. I don’t want to be part of a sexual community. I just want to do what I want to do and not get any shit about it, which is 100% possible if I just keep it to myself.
I get the sense that there are TONS of people out there like me. Most of the guys I’ve been with are also in relationships with women, and “identify”, so far as they need to, as straight. I messed around with several guys in high school who are married with kids. I also knew TONS of women in college who drunkenly messed around with their friends sometimes, and are now married to guys. Are all of these people bisexual? Or is it more likely that any set of letters and specific categories cannot describe the fluidity of a human’s sexuality over time? I’d vote for the second.
This might make a good thread idea, no? Sort of a sexual “tales from the cannabis closet”. Just a thought. Thanks for airing such a frank discussion.
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.
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I think bisexuals are not out as much as gay people because we can pass. Somewhere in this NPR segment is some data that most bisexuals eventually marry a person of the opposite gender. Like the previous reader said, my sexual experiences with women are not exactly fodder for Christmas dinner family discussion, and as I’ve not had a relationship with another woman, there’s not much to say. My husband knows I also like women, but I’m not technically out to my family.
Another quotes the original reader:
I don’t tell anyone because whom I fuck and how is my own business and nobody else’s. I don’t need support. I don’t want to be part of a sexual community. I just want to do what I want to do and not get any shit about it, which is 100% possible if I just keep it to myself.
That’s what all the closeted guys say. At least the kid in Arkansas terrified of his father has a good reason. The reader admits he identifies as straight because it’s more convenient. Those of us who are mostly or exclusively homosexual don’t have that luxury, which is why we come out. And coming out is the moral thing to do because it might help that kid in Arkansas knows he’s not a freak. That reader sounds like one of the reasons a lot of gay guys don’t date bisexual guys. Many of them don’t want to publicly acknowledge their relationships, since they prefer the privileges that come with heterosexual relationships and heterosexual identity. By the way, does he keep it to himself to the exclusion of the women he dates and might eventually marry?
Another is far less resentful of that reader:
Thanks to your bisexual reader for reminding me that sometimes what is important to you may be virtually meaningless to someone else, a lesson which should be accepted with good grace. I’m a bisexual woman, but unlike your reader, my bisexuality is integral to my identity. Perhaps my family’s rejection of my sexual identity has something to do with this (I come from a very religious background, although I’ve since given up the faith). I’ve also been in serious relationships with both men and women, and while whom I fuck may not be anyone’s business, it is relevant if someone wants to get to know me.
I think what it comes down to is whether you view sexuality as self-defined (in which case your reader wouldn’t be bisexual) or based on sexual behaviour (which would mean your reader is actually in the closet, regardless of what he claims). But however you look at it, this issue creates a tension between bisexuals like me, who are tired of being lumped together (by both straight and queer folks) with people like your reader, with all the stereotypes that entails, and bisexuals like your reader who don’t want to be judged as disingenuous for occasionally straying outside the rigid sexual boundaries set by society.
Another bisexual woman tells her story:
I grew up in a very liberal household. My mother took pride in being one of the few white students in college in Louisiana who befriended the black students when they were admitted to the school. We were a household that welcomed “everybody.” So when I was raised to understand that “bisexuals don’t exist,” I believed it. I believed they were closeted gay people, just like my parents told me.
I was always attracted to men, but later in high school and in my early college years, I started having sex dreams about women occasionally. I talked to one of my boyfriends about this and he once asked me if I was bi. I became unnecessarily defensive. In my mind, of course I wasn’t bi. I just thought Eliza Dushku (Faith from Buffy) was very attractive.
In my late teenage years, I came to accept that bisexuals existed, but distanced myself from that label for early adulthood. I would occasionally kiss or fool around with a female friend when I had been drinking, but often felt like I needed to be a certain level of drunk for this to be acceptable, or excusable, behavior.
It wasn’t until last year, when I was talking to one of my best friends who is gay about his coming out experience that my parents’ words echoed through my head “bi people don’t exist.” At that moment, I finally realized I was, in fact, bisexual. I proceeded to awkwardly tell my husband and a few of my closest friends, but only a few people.
I still feel incredibly awkward about it, and will feel the hesitation when I use the word “bisexual” to identify myself. At the same rate, I’m frustrated that I only figured this out in my late 20s, and I believe I missed out by not having the opportunity to date women, since I’m now happily married.
I try to be vocal about my sexuality, in hopes that by me talking about bisexuals existing I might somehow help other younger versions of myself come to terms with their sexuality. I don’t like considering it a “coming out” process, because the situation is so different than what I know my gay friends have experienced, but it’s important for me to embrace it and be vocal about it.
I do agree with your reader that sexuality is a fluid thing, and most people I’ve told about my sexuality have said something along the same lines. However, I still fear the stigmas. How will people react when I tell them I’m bi? I’m a married woman who has only dated men. People will question me and doubt me and think I’m just trying to get attention. But it’s an important part of my identity, and so I try to talk about it, which is part of why I am sharing my story with you.
I’m fascinated (in a vaguely horrified way) at your reader who commented: ”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.” Really? The “rare woman”? I guess I am one of those “rare women”.
I have had many sexual relationships and many friendships with other females. I have been involved in polygamous relationships (the hinge point of a V, or perhaps a multi-directional W, depending on how you look at it. And I am solidly hetero.
I love my women friends. As friends. As sisters. As who they are. I have even loved the partners of my sexual partners, albeit not in a sexual way. But I have no interest or desire in having sex with another woman. It is not a turn on for me, it is not a sexual attractant for me, and I have chosen to NOT be part of poly relationships where there was a need/want for bisexuality.
I believe that your reader is engaging in the Unicorn Belief System, a system whereby straight men believe that all women are bisexual and want nothing more than to get it on with both men and women for the pleasure of the man involved.
There are woman such as myself who has had an encounter with another woman and found it physically pleasurable and enjoyable for what it was, but recognizes that it’s not what they want/need going forward. That doesn’t make me “bi” any more than a gay man who sleeps with a woman to try to figure out his sexuality and has an orgasm while doing so is “straight”. That makes me a person who was exploring my sexuality before settling into what I found out I wanted and needed.
In our latest Ask Anything video from Dan Savage, he defends himself against charges of biphobia:
Another reader adds to the ongoing discussion thread:
I’m a bisexual woman, so I guess I should speak up. There aren’t enough bisexuals who do, IMO, and we don’t get enough role models, fictional or otherwise. And we are often derided by both sides – from the gays for “being in the closet”, and by the straights, for whom we aren’t straight enough. The irony is, bisexuals are the ones who are confused by all this angst over sexuality. Both totally-gay and totally-straight people get “disgusted” by the idea of physical love with (whichever they’re not). But we don’t know what the fuss is all about, since we’re not “disgusted” by any of it.
Here’s what I wanted to write about, though: for circumstances having nothing to do with my sexuality, I’ve been celibate for several years. And it’s been interesting to note that on my own, with no outside influence of whom I’m dating at the time, my desires will flip back and forth between men and women. For a few weeks or months at a time, I primarily desire men, and then for another few weeks or months, women. It’s enough that I’ll think, “You know what? I’m really straight,” or “I’m really a lesbian.” After a few years of this, I’ve decided that yes, I’m definitely bi, because the other side of me always comes back. It’s been very curious to witness this in myself, and I wouldn’t have discovered it without celibacy. Curious.
Like the original reader, I am male and have had occasional sexual experiences with other men. My wife of 15 years is aware of these experiences and more often than not has been involved in them. Similarly she has had sexual experiences with women. I suppose we are what Dan Savage calls “monogamish.”
Here’s the thing though: while technically I guess I am bisexual, I do not identify that way, or see it as integral to who I am. You’ve said in the past that homosexuality is an emotional identity. I accept that this is true, but perhaps bisexuality is not.
Or, more likely, perhaps Kinsey was right and there is a fluid scale to human sexuality and some people are emotionally bisexual (and would be comfortable in a relationship with both men and women) and some people are “predominantly heterosexual, with only incidental homosexual contact.” Incidentally, most of the guys we have encountered that engage in sexual activity with other men consider themselves straight. A few of the younger guys have started using labels like “heteroflexible” to identify themselves. Chris Ryan, whom you previously profiled on your site with a series of “Ask Anything” questions, has a new relationship site, Kotango, where in addition to straight, gay and bi, users can identify as heteroflexible, homoflexible, queer or pansexual.
I agree that for some bisexuals, blending in with the straight community is easier than identifying as a often victimized sexual minority, essentially hiding in plain site. On the other hand, for me and my wife, this is just something we like to do behind closed doors, but that doesn’t really define us emotionally. Most people aren’t out about their sexual proclivities. Their parents and friends don’t know about their open marriages, foot-fetishism, interest in BSDM, cosplay or that they’re secretly furries. I’d argue this is the case for some bisexual, or heteroflexibles as well. It’s not anyone’s business what we do, and we don’t believe it’s defining to who we are, so why talk about it?
As always, thank you for initiating a frank and provoking discussion I’m quite certain would be impossible to find anywhere else on the web.
A male reader quotes another:
“(What I haven’t ever encountered was a guy claiming to be bi, but apparently exclusively interested in men.)” Actually, ”bi” was often shorthand for something else in the old “men seeking men” section of the Village Voice personals. Guys used “bi” and/or “masc” to differentiate from “fem” men (which had its own large following). “Bi” implied they pass for straight and/or were turned off by femininity in other men and themselves. It was a physical description that didn’t pertain to sexual practices because this personals section was exclusively about dude-on-dude action.
Personally, I liked the idea of dating bi men even if he really wasn’t, and I liked dating married men even if they were a little fem. They just had to be a bear.
Another has a long and dramatic story:
One of your readers in response to the original letter wrote that he has never met a bisexual man who only plays around with men. I am as close to that as I think anybody is going to find. Growing up, my animal attraction was definitely more directed at other males, but I developed deep crushes on girls and women as well. At 17, I had my first girlfriend and we were together until I was 21. Our sex life was satisfying (to me anyway, she had problems achieving orgasm from intercourse out of fear of pregnancy). However, I also had many male obsessions, any one of which I would have acted on if the situation arose – or more accurately, if the other guy had been extremely aggressive.
To that point, my only sexual encounter had been as a 16-year old at a choral convention of which my high school was one of only two invited. The rest of the groups were from colleges across the country. I relentlessly stared at this guy, not because I thought he was so attractive (there were others way more attractive) but because he was obviously gay. We eventually struck up a conversation and he asked me if I wanted to go to his room “to talk.” When there, he made a big move, which surprisingly, shocked me. But we messed around and then I went out to dinner and a show with my class, embarrassed and humiliated.
I continued dating women but developed a crush on a co-worker who prided himself on being the “first” for a lot of straight guys. I still identified as straight and aside from saying things like “I wouldn’t push Sting out of bed”, I never let on. We wound up in an extremely unhealthy relationship that lasted for two years on and off.
After it was over and I had recovered my sanity and self-esteem, I embarked on a period of dating women and sleeping around with men. I told myself I was attracted to men but emotionally I was better off with a woman and I suspected I would never be happy with either completely. Surprisingly, I subsequently met a woman at the gym with whom I fell deeply in love. In two months we were married and in two years we had two children. I was 99% faithful as she seemed to help me put it all together. She was beautiful and wild and fun and raunchy and more importantly when I told her about my attraction to men and about my ex-boyfriend, her response was, “Cool!” Maybe twice in the first six years I had a little dalliance with a guy when she was out of town but it was nothing she probably wouldn’t have forgiven.
Seven years into my marriage, my wife was diagnosed as clinically depressed (she wasn’t, she was bipolar) and she was put on medication which made her worse and which also amplified the effects of alcohol (up to that point alcohol had no effect on her in any way, she could drink 20 shots and remain as sober as the moment she started) and she started to get drunk regularly. Our marriage started to fall apart and I started to sleep with men any chance I could get. The more unhappy we were, the gayer I became. We resembled a miserable married couple except for my secret. I still believed however, that emotionally I was meant for women and truthfully, I still loved my wife very much.
At eleven years of marriage, I met a man online and fell madly in love. Three weeks later I left my wife and he left his boyfriend of 14 years. A messy divorce followed. This man and I are still together 13 years later and we have been married for ten (in Ottawa in 2003). We regularly play outside the relationship together (although much less lately) and it’s always been with other men. We’ve joked about certain women we could have fun with (he has had his moments with women through the years), but it’s talk and nothing more. I’m very happy and I’m not tempted by women. However, I still do find certain women extremely sexually attractive and I would have no problem following through if the situation arose.
If I’m honest with myself I never really stopped being in love with my wife. I don’t have much to do with her anymore except when it comes to our beautiful children, but she really was and is someone very special to me. But for a number of reasons it wasn’t right.
I identified as bisexual for years after I left her but the truth is despite my obvious ability to have relationships and sex with men and women, I am gay. And while I’m sure you didn’t realize or expected this to go here, I really don’t believe there are bisexual men (as previously discussed, the fluidity of most women’s sexuality is way more complicated); men who can live life like a blank slate and where ever they wind up is fine with them. There is a correct choice for each person regardless of what titillates them or what they can do in the moment.
Your initial reader isn’t bisexual if his letter is honest. He’s a straight man who’s turned on by “dirty”. Despite 11 years of a mostly happy marriage in which my wife and I had a fulfilling sexual relationship until the day I left her, I could not completely be who I am with her. With my husband, I can. While many may disagree with me and that’s fine, I don’t find bisexuals threatening because I don’t believe in them. However, I’m as close to a bisexual man who only fools around with men as you are likely to find.
I feel vindicated by my earlier email to you by that fact that every letter you have posted is from a “bisexual” woman. You won’t find any truly bisexual men. Your initial reader is either titillated by the taboo of it all or he is a closeted gay man who is in denial. I know from personal experience, and so does every other gay man who finds women attractive in some way. It isn’t surprising to me that you appear to have very few men who would openly discuss their bisexuality.
Readers have added several more questions to our survey:
Cross-tabulated results will be posted soon. A reader writes:
I confess to being a fascinated outsider (a dude who doesn’t desire men), but if you’re wondering where all the out bisexual men are, look no further than these reader emails to see why they’re so scarce. You have a reader who “doesn’t believe” in bisexuality in guys, and then another “I know from personal experience” addendum. Well, fancy that! Do these guys have any idea how condescending that sounds? To tell someone else “I don’t believe you exist,” or to say “trust me, I know you better than you know yourself” Imagine if a straight guy like me told a gay guy that I “don’t believe” in homosexuality, or that “I know from person experience” that it’s only possible to desire females. I’d be called an absolute wingnut bigot, and rightly so.
I expect religious nutters to hate on anyone who isn’t straight, but I didn’t expect to find such ridiculous intolerance within the “LGBT community.” This is turning into a more fascinating read than I had first anticipated.
“You won’t find any truly bisexual men”? Hi, I’m a 34-year-old truly bisexual man. I’m married – does it matter to which gender? – because I believe in monogamy. My partner knew my orientation 15 minutes after we met, as has every potential partner that came before. My friends know. My family knows. My co-workers do not, but I work in the government and talking about personal relationships (beyond socially accepted marriage and children) is frowned upon. Co-workers in former jobs knew, however, especially in my 20s when I was dating more frequently.
Unsurprisingly, I’m pretty tired of the sentiment from your reader whose personal experience is somehow a proxy for “data” on the subject. I’ve heard from many people over the years that my orientation is a denial, or a fetish on breaking social mores, or a phase, or a linguistic trick, or something that will settle down when I meet the right person. Partners who have suggested this to me are often surprised at how swiftly they become ex-partners.
I don’t care who came before, who hurt their feelings, how many people have just flat out lied to them. I fought to understand myself for a long time – struggled with religious upbringing, family acceptance, and the social stigma levied by straights and gays alike – and have come to the conclusion that I get to decide who I am. Sorry haters!
At the same time, I understand his frustration. I think the root of the problem with talking about orientation is that it conflates two types of love – sexual and relational – that are rarely expressed in the same proportion to both genders, regardless of an individual’s orientation. In my 20s, I felt more attraction to dating one gender and sleeping with the other. Though those comfort levels converged sharply over the years, I suppose I’m still not “true” enough to say that I’d approach a relationship with a man the same way I would approach one with a woman.
But then again, why the hell do I need to? What is wrong with this picture that I’ve got to justify this definition of my identity? And believe me, as an out bisexual, when I let someone know, they always have more questions. ALWAYS. (Even before I was married.) Does that happen to straights and gays anymore? I honestly don’t know. But if I were any less secure of a person socially, I’d probably keep my orientation to myself and try to fit with something simpler. Which is why I think your reader’s inability to “believe” in a “true” male bisexual is one of the very reasons he can’t meet one.
Your reader writes, “While many may disagree with me and that’s fine, I don’t find bisexuals threatening because I don’t believe in them.” This is the problem.
When I was a teenager in the early 1990s, I was attracted to other young men. I was raised Southern Baptist, so this was obviously verboten, and years of prayer failed to make the gay go away. My entire sexual outlook was subsumed with the idea that being attracted to men was wrong. The strange part is that I was sexually attracted to women, but to my teenage logic being attracted to men meant that I couldn’t be attracted to both. (Emotional attraction has never been an issue.) I read enough on AOL – this was the 1990s – to know that “bisexuals don’t exist” and “bisexuals are just what gay men who aren’t comfortable being gay call themselves.” In college, I actively embraced that logic and chalked up my attraction to women as trying to fit in.
When I was 21, I had sex for the first time with a woman, and I thought, “This is great.” I wanted to date women, but my gay friends gave me such a hard time when I shared my “secret” that I felt ashamed: from “you’re lying to yourself” to “would any woman date you if she knew you had had sex with men?”
When I was 25, I moved to Washington, DC, where I decided to be straight. It was a failure because it was horrible lying. I felt that I was playing a straight man when I fact I knew I was sexually attracted to men. Sex aside, how could I talk about college without talking about my life? I thought that women would reject me for my background, but it was really lying to my friends that was the hardest.
For about six years I vacillated between trying to be simply gay to being simply straight. Neither option worked for me: I was unhappy lying to gay men and women about my actual sexual desires, and I was hurt by gay men mocking my sexuality and scared women would reject me out of hand. Eventually my frustration grew to the point of severe depression.
After a lot of counseling, I say that I am bisexual. I once joked to my counselor that “I must be the only man who’s been ashamed he is interested in women.” His solution has worked well for me: admit that my sexuality is fluid and be honest. Unsurprisingly, many of my gay friends have rejected my statement out of hand, but I have a number of gay and straight friends who have seen my evolution over the past 15 years to know that I am who I am. I’ve dated both men and women since admitting this, and I currently have a girlfriend who knows my entire history.
It may be true that there are few bisexual men, but we do exist. I’d much rather be not bi, but it’s the hand I’ve been dealt. But it’s a hell of a lot better being honest about my sexuality.
I have been following this discussion thread with much interest. It is not easy to discuss to the subject of bisexuality with others. I have identified as bisexual since college. When I first accepted this part of my identity, I came out to my friends and family as gay. The primary reason was because I wanted to explore my sexuality and did not want to have to deal with the pressure from family to suppress my same-sex desire and exclusively date women. After I broke up with my first boyfriend, I decided to tell my family the truth. Since that point, as expected, they have pressured me to get married to a woman and have children. While I am not opposed to that idea, I would like to be free from the pressure and have the ability to pursue romantic interests on my own terms.
My bisexuality also poses problems for me in dating women. The other night I was talking to a girl I have interest in who knows I am bisexual and she said that I need to figure out what I want and stop being confused. I told her what I want is a committed relationship with someone who I love, but it could be with a man or woman. Like some of your other readers, my sexuality varies, meaning sometimes I am more interested in women than men, and vice-versa. However, when I am with someone, I am with that person.
This is the main problem I think most people have with bisexuality. They think that if they are in a relationship with a bisexual, then that person will occasionally want (or need) to be with a person of the opposite sex as them. I cannot speak for other bisexuals, but like most people, I may get caught looking at other men and women, but I have no desire that I need to act on due my bisexuality, if I am already in a committed relationship.
In short, it is hard to navigate the world as a bisexual, which may be why people chose to identify in terms of gay or straight, and why many bisexuals never explore the other part of their sexuality. It is tricky to navigate family relations, as parents want grandchildren and are upset that you are not with a woman, despite the potential for such a relationship. On the other hand, my first boyfriend broke up with me largely because he was disgusted and insecure about the fact that I also liked women (a fact I did not tell him upfront, but in my defense I was wrestling with my identity at that time).
This is why discussions like this one are so important. I am not bisexual because I am a closeted gay or a postmodernist who believes in (but does not have a) fluid identity and want to explore a possibility. I am a man who is attracted to both men and women, who dates both and wants to settle down with a special someone. Hopefully, Mr/Mrs right comes my way, because like most people, all I really want is someone to share my life with who never feels the need to question my commitment to him/her.
The above screenshot from our unscientific poll shows that 12 percent of male respondents identify as bisexual while 26 percent of female respondents are bi. Of all the straight-identified respondents, 21 percent say they have had a pleasurable sexual experience with someone of the same gender. And 26 percent of respondents do not believe that bisexuality is a sexual identity of its own. Read all of the results here. Below are more stories and observations from bisexual men who bristled at the previous readers who doubted their existence:
When I was about 13 or 14, I realized I was attracted to men. I had many deep crushes on girls as children, and no real attraction to men until I hit puberty. I liked fantasizing about both, and I had two significant relationships in that period of bisexuality, one with a boy and another with a girl. They were both pretty good. Throughout this time, it was drilled into me by coming out stories and adults both gay and straight that bisexuality was a stopping point on the way to being gay. I still had crushes on girls, but my awkwardness and general unattractiveness mostly kept them from becoming relationships. I also had crushes on (mostly straight) boys.
At 16, as one of the few juniors at a debate camp full of seniors, there was a group of friends I really wanted to be part of – a clique led by a smart, good-looking girl with a gaggle of male followers. At first she thought I was hitting on her; that’s when I made my move and came out as gay. If I’m looking back and being totally honest, I think my shift from bisexual to gay at 16 was actually based on my attraction to a woman. This is a pattern that would hold for the next four years or so: I would develop close friendships with females I was actually attracted to while having sexual and romantic relationships exclusively with men. There was one exception: one of my female idols and I got so drunk and a hotel room that we attempted to have sex, but booze and marijuana and sexual confusion are not kind to the erection of any man.
At 20, I met the woman I would eventually marry. She is amazing, beautiful, smart, and we are infinitely compatible. During the early phase of our relationship, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it meant that I now had the most significant relationship of my life so far with a woman. Mostly it was just awkward. Coming out as gay to everyone you know was hard, and occasionally painful. Coming out to everyone you know again as bi just confuses them. I still am attracted to men, but I absolutely love my wife.
What I’ve concluded from all of this is that a lot of people’s confusion is based in two assumptions about bisexuality: for men it’s a phase before gay and for women it’s a phase before straight. I think this is often true, but man is it irritating to have all of those cases used against your identity.
Or as another reader puts it:
In most of these cases, a bisexual woman is perceived as a straight woman faking it to be edgy – a poser trying to attract men with a hot fantasy – and a bisexual man is perceived as a gay man in denial. In both these instances, society seems to be saying that if you’re going to deviate from the sexual norm, the only valid choice is the cock.
In my early teen years, I periodically developed powerful crushes on other boys in my classes. I’d worry that I was gay (I’m the son of a devoutly Catholic mother and was devout at that age as well), but then I’d think “but I also have a crush on all these girls.” In fact, I’d had crushes on girls from an early age. Since I’d never heard of bisexuality and figured a person was either one or the other, I figured “well, if I like girls, I must be straight, regardless of what I feel for these other boys.” Even then, when one of those boys dropped me in favor of “cooler” friends, I moped for a whole school year.
The lightning bolt didn’t really hit until a few months later when I was out hiking with my best friend and one of our old high-school buddies. My friend had joined the rowing team at his college and had become extraordinarily fit in just a couple of months. We were hiking back to the car and my two friends challenged each other to a race. As they ran off, I caught myself admiring my friend’s ass. And not just in a “hey, he looks good” kind of way. The things I wanted to do with that ass would have shocked him. I was so surprised that I had to sit down. Soon after, I told my other best friend from high school (an ex-girlfriend) that “I think I might be bisexual.”
Her response? ”Duh.”
She told me that the way I’d been around certain men had aroused her suspicions years previously. She rattled off a list of names and at each one I felt a flutter. A litany of handsome, gorgeous, or just cute young men, any one of whom I’d have eagerly …
This was all about 25 years ago. In the intervening years, I’ve dated more women than men and I have no trouble admitting that I’m more often attracted to women. My taste in men frequently surprises me; I don’t have a single type; I’m not usually attracted to tremendously masculine men or to particularly effeminate men (for that matter, my taste in women is similarly androgynous). And in the last few years my social circumstances have moved me away from “traditional” gay culture. However, the two real passions I’ve had in my life were for a simply beautiful man and a gorgeous woman. And in neither case was it because I was “turned on by ‘dirty’”, as your reader put it. I was madly in love with both of them and was crushed when those relationships ended.
So, do we exist? Yes. Are there more of us than anyone else? Well, it’s true that we have that choice and in the prevailing social climate in this country, is it any surprise that most men who are occasionally attracted to other men chose to simply “be straight”? Some of us don’t, however, and telling us that we don’t exist is, honestly, deeply insulting.
I’m just catching up on this thread and feel the need to weigh in, particularly to your reader’s comment, “What I haven’t ever encountered was a guy claiming to be bi, but apparently exclusively interested in men.” I could be the guy your reader is looking for. I openly self-identify as a gay man primarily for the sake of simplicity, and I have only had long-term relationships with other men. My friends and family all know. However, I have had sex with women, I enjoy it, and I actively seek it out on occasion. I had several legitimate “crushes” on women in my high school/college days, though nothing became of them. My romantic interest in women largely ended when I started dating guys in college (I’m 28 now). At the same time, I don’t think many women would enter a relationship with a guy who was openly bisexual, for whatever reason – fear of being his showpiece to appear straight or to satisfy his parents, or she may find it unmasculine, etc.
Starting in college, however, I’ve had a string of female partner’s I’ve hooked up with regularly, as well as a few one-off hookups. I guess that makes me the reverse of the stereotypical bisexual guy, who will have relationships with a woman and only dabble in sex with other men.
As I said before, I quite openly self-identify as gay because it’s easy, and it’s mostly true – I am more inclined toward sex with men, and I think I’m probably more compatible with men for relationships. I could probably give up sex with women if I had to. However, if I’m with gay friends and the topic of sex with women arises, I don’t mind sharing my experience. The usual response is, “Wait, you’re bi?” as if a guy who can swing both ways is a mythical creature. I just reply, “Yeah, sort of.” Then come the follow-up questions, and all I can really say is that I occasionally like sex with women. Apparently bisexuality confuses people, and initially telling someone that I’m gay just allows me to skip having to explain myself.
I am the reader who posted that I “don’t believe” in bisexuals. Of course I posted that to be inflammatory (like almost everything else I do). However, the responses don’t take into consideration my experiences. I was married to a woman for over ten years and I have two children. I had an incredibly fulfilling sex life. I had been flipping back and forth between men and women my whole life and I’ve had four long-term relationships; two men and two women. I loved my wife more than words can express and I still do.
My point only was that over time EVERYONE will find that they are better off with one or the other, whether or not they are sexually attracted, emotionally attracted, etc. to varying degrees. Unfortunately for my wife and children I didn’t realize this until it was too late to avoid causing a great deal of pain. So yes, I don’t deny that some of your male readers might be capable of relationships with both genders and that they might be fulfilling in both directions but I truly believe that for each person there will be one that will make them whole in the way the other cannot. I don’t think many of your readers who responded to me have reached this point in their lives yet. I was almost 40 when I figured it out. I wish them luck. It’s not an easy road.
A reader writes:
I’ve been following this thread and I have to wonder: I’m a straight guy who is dying to have sex with a beautiful, 100% passable, pre-op transsexual. What in the bloody blue hell does that make me??? I’d love to know if there’s a term (or a “letter”) for me!
I am a bisexual male who has been completely comfortable with his sexuality for over 25 years. I exist, I am real, and I happily have sex with both men and women – sometimes separately, sometimes together. My experiences with each gender are very different, as is my role in each encounter. I would not be complete without both of them. I am not monogamous; I am not gay; I am not straight. In fact, my most satisfying sexual encounters have been with people who don’t identify as either male or female. These transgender people don’t fit within the binary, and explode the whole notion of being attracted to a single sex.
Argh! I both love and hate this discussion. Human sexuality is so wonderfully fluid. And all the pronouncements about whether there are true this or true that just drives me nuts!
For the record, I’ve long identified as a gay-identified bisexual (despite my occasional forays, I’m part of the gay community). I love having sex with women even if it’s not frequent. And as an HIV+ person, I find the opportunities more difficult given that:
1) there are more gay men with HIV expanding my horizons and 2) I prefer all-out sex that is stymied by either some women’s rejection of sex as fun or my own coding of women as not to be purely sexualized (I’m from the South and our coding of gender roles was strong). I recently dated a guy who is bisexual and had an easier time having sex with women but is dating men exclusively right now to get better at it. And I have recently been having sex with and dating a good many FTMs who identify as gay men. The crux of the matter is that I like, um, pussy. And I also like masculine energy – at least that part that sort of is animalistic and allows us to nearly devour each other.
What does that make me? A freak. And I’m quite fine with that.
What I’d like to reinforce from all of the comments about bisexuals is that sexuality is complicated, and complex. Sexuality is different from gender, yet we define it based on gender. I know I myself can’t find a label, but use bisexual because it’s the most encompassing.
I’m a male, but I tend to be attracted to women. More specifically, I tend to be attracted to boyish-looking women. Small breasts, small hips, short hair. Sometimes they’re butch, sometimes they’re trans men. And then there are the men I find attractive, which I can’t even define well. But I would say, as a whole, that it tends to be people that are not typically masculine or feminine, are gender-bending, or are non-gendered or androgynous.
I don’t know the term for this. I also know that butch women have been fetishized and I want to be aware of that. But at the end of the day, there’s my broad level “type”, and then there’s the individual who I get to know and have a relationship with. I call this being bisexual.
My husband and I are bisexuals, but we identify as gay. We have been together for over 20 years and are less promiscuous then we used to be, but in our younger days we did have several threesomes with female friends. While I find women attractive, I have a hard time forming emotional bonds with them. I am also attracted to individuals that defy gender stereotypes, particularly feminine men and masculine women.
It goes to show the connection to your audience that I’m writing these thoughts down for the first time. I’ve been married for over 15 years and yet here I share them with you.
I’m 35 years old and male. My earliest memory of an erection was seeing Christie Brinkley in Vacation on home video. That led to finding guy-on-girl porn in my Dad’s extensive video and magazine collection. All through growing up, and looking back, my infatuation was with girls. I lost my virginity at 16, had only a few partners, then met my wife at 20 and have been monogamous ever since.
In the last few years I have found myself increasingly intrigued by anal play. But here’s the rub: I feel a longing in my prostate for stimulation. Over the last few years that need has started to grow more intense. Going back even five years I never had these feelings. The more I explore the area more convinced am that the biology is asking for things I haven’t felt since the first time I found masturbation. I suppose toys are the next step and asking my wife for a good hard pegging. The problem is that approach feels weird in a way that anal sex with a man does not. Toys have never been fun. I want human contact.
So am I gay? I love the thought of multiple female partners which my wife and I have discussed. I can’t say I’ve ever been infatuated with a guy or would love a guy. But would I fool around with a guy in a threesome with my wife? I don’t see any reason why not. And I expect we’ll soon be talking about that. If I really enjoy that experience, what does it make me? Is a biological urge for stimulation reducible to identity? What if my prostate is simply enlarging with age and so now I’m now just more aware of the pleasure it can lead to.
Honestly, I don’t see why I need an identity here. I am happily married. And to this point our sex life has been more than I need. But here I am with biological urges that my wife doesn’t have the equipment to satisfy. Going outside the marriage for that satisfaction seems like an exploration in the same way that different drugs, foods or travel might be. I just don’t see the sexual categories as adding anything of substance for my life.
Isn’t it enough that we’re sexual beings and in a way in which morality doesn’t apply among consenting adults?
A reader takes the discussion thread on an unexpected tangent:
I am a member of the furry fandom. Recently the International Anthropomorphic Research Project has been conducting surveys to better understand the psychological, anthropological, and sociological aspects of the fandom. One of these surveys was on the sexual orientation of furries. Furries are vastly more likely to identify somewhere along the spectrum of bisexuality than non-furries. Only around 40% of furries say they are either exclusively heterosexual or exclusively homosexual. It is not clear to me (or to the IARP’s researchers, so far as I know) why this is the case, nor have I heard any reasonable hypotheses.
Even more interesting was the data they found on the orientation of fursonas – a furry’s created persona within the fandom. When asked about their orientation versus the orientation of their fursona, the biggest change was that fursonas were much less likely to be exclusively or almost exclusively heterosexual and much more likely to be dead-even bisexual than the person behind the fursona (some data here and here). IARP researcher Courtney “Nuka” Plante (himself a furry) has hypothesized this might be because some furries who have questions about their sexual identity might use their fursona as a sort of testing ground.
The popular thread continues:
Long-time reader, recent subscriber, first-time writer. Your entries on bisexuality have been fascinating, and frankly, long overdue. As a closeted bi male who has been sexually active with both men and women for nearly 15 years, I’ve agreed with most of your readers’ analysis. I just want to point out that I think people’s understanding of genuinely bi people, and particularly bi men, is severely lacking for the reason that Dan Savage hinted at on your blog. Most men who are actually bisexual cannot come out because the vast majority of heterosexual women (and likely even bisexual women) would eliminate them as sexual partners. Hence, I share Dan’s skepticism that many out “bi” men are actually bisexual. On very rare occasions I’ll come across women who are turned on by male-male contact, but these instances are few and far between. In contrast, men are often turned on by the prospect of dating a bi woman, which makes it easier for them to be open.
So bottom line: if you’re a bi guy who wants to continue having sex with women, you really don’t have a choice but to keep quiet in most scenarios. Perhaps if more bi people came out, this attitude might change, but I’m not so sure.
Another is on the same page:
If male-on-male sex was as big of a turn-on for women as girl-on-girl is for men, I guarantee there would be more male bisexuals. If anything, guy-on-guy sex is a turn-off for most hetero woman. Check out the number of women’s profiles on adult dating sites that say no bisexual men.
Those who say there is no such thing as a male bisexual really need look no further than the pages of Craigslist for a refutation. The number of men who are straight-identified but also have sex with men is legion. You go to Grindr or any of dozens of m4m hook-up sites and the married men there are ubiquitous. Maybe they’re all just deeply closeted gays, but I rather doubt it. There are so many men who are married, happily enough, willing and able to perform with their wives, but also crave a little cock on the side. Most of these men who I have met wouldn’t identify as bi, but as straight, and unless you cruise their scene you wouldn’t know they exist. But they assuredly do exist on the down-low.
As for myself, I’m monogamous and married happily to a woman, but before marriage I had sex with both men and women. I liked women somewhat better, and it was certainly the path of least resistance, socially, so I wound up partnered with one. But it was not a foregone conclusion by any means. Had I met the right guy … you never know.
I will try to keep this brief so that my wife of almost 20 years does not walk in before I send this off – and then I will delete the message from my sent folder afterwards. You guessed it. I’m not out. Not very much. I’m bisexual, and I am a man, and I have struggled for most of my adult life with how to be live in a way that respects my own integrity and the integrity of my relationship with my wife.
I am sometimes attracted to men – good-looking men (go figure) who are better looking and in better shape than I am – but I am also attracted, and with equal intensity, to good-looking women, especially women who seem to have their shit together and who seem like caring people. On a less elevated plane: I find women with beautiful, tanned breasts a huge turn-on. (Yes, Freudians can get to work on me now.) I have not acted on any attraction in either direction – except for seeking out pornography of both the straight and gay varieties. (Actually, I’m more interested in either a straight couple making love in a seemingly tender, loving way or a man satisfying himself solo – much less attracted to gay couples having sex, though I will look at that occasionally online. Not interested at all by any couple, straight or gay, having anal sex. Not my thing.)
I worry sometimes that I am addicted to pornography. I’d like to kick it altogether. But I am essentially in a sexless marriage; my wife has not had much interest in making love, or even engaging in a quickie, more than every four or five months. And then, I know she’s doing it only for me; her libido has been low for most of the past decade, though I try to be tender, patient, and I do my best to make her feel good when we do make love. It’s not my wife’s fault that I turn to porn. I’m an adult, and that’s on me. But I would rather make love to her than satisfy myself in front of a lonely computer screen once she has gone to work. And I know with all my heart that I will never try to sneak out on her with anyone else, woman or man. I’m bisexual, and I have integrity. I’m as monogamous as someone who turns to porn can be.
Eight years ago, I tried to fess up to my wife that I thought I might be bisexual. I knew I was – no doubt in my mind – but that’s how I tried to ease into the conversation. My wife believes in LGBT rights, marriage equality, stomping out stereotypes on campus, making everyone feel welcome – all that. She truly does. Except she tried to persuade me, in gentle terms, that I probably wasn’t bisexual.
When I was a pre-teen, I was sexually abused by an older male relative, and my wife wondered out loud whether I was perhaps looking at male porn online as a way of dealing with that experience. No. I honestly do not believe that experience is what caused my bisexuality. I sought out counseling in my early twenties for the after effects of that abuse (low self-esteem; lack of confidence when I was attracted to women I wanted to date during my bachelor days; anger toward the person who abused me and robbed me of my innocence before my 12 birthday). I know that gay-bashers and LGBT-bashers would like to argue that people who are bisexual or gay have been “warped” in that direction through abuse or “indoctrination” during their youth. I reject that idea with all my heart. I believe strongly that I am bisexual not because of what someone DID to me, but because that’s just who I am.
And it’s okay that I’m bisexual. I’m sometimes attracted to men, sometimes to women, but most of all I love my wife despite the imperfect marriage we share. But do I exist? Do bisexuals exist? Yes, of course we do. Even if many of us don’t feel like we can come out very far, or very often, with our friends, coworkers, or even our spouses. We exist, and my hunch is that most of try to stay healthy inside and get past the self-loathing that plagues too many in the LGBT community. We’re part of that community. And, once more: we exist.
I’m a straight, happily married man – 90% of the time, I am solely attracted to women and haven’t had any sexual experiences with men… at least, since I was a kid. Back then, I fooled around twice, with two different friends. We were very young. There was no penetration, just play. I didn’t achieve orgasm, but I don’t think I knew how at that point. I do remember being extremely turned on.
Since then, I’ve occasionally found myself desiring a man. I don’t identify as gay, and honestly don’t see myself ever being in a homosexual relationship. I do wonder if I need to be with someone more sexually adventurous. It’s so complicated, and I worry a lot about ruining the good thing my wife and I have by making her feel either inadequate, or suspicious. I wonder if I came out as “bi” if she would still want to be with me. I think she would, but that’s a big chance to take. And I simply don’t care enough about labels to take it.
You have gotten many emails from readers and they tend to be from the Western world. The discussion about sexuality is much more mature than where I am from. I grew up in Pakistan before moving to US when I was 22. I went to an elite all-boys boarding school, ages 13-18. There are raging hormones and no outlet. While messing around with other boys my age, I had strong crushes on girls. On the weekends when parents and families could visit their kids at the school, many of us would walk around and talk about all the girls who came to visit their friends, and we talked about all the MILFs (yes, my friends mothers!) and how hot they were. Now, is it simple to figure out one’s straightness or bisexuality?
I have crushes on guys even now, but I have stronger feeling towards girls. I actually know at least two dozen guys who were with me in boarding school who were the same way. Most of them are married and will probably never admit to all the experimentation. For all intents and purposes they are straight now.
A female reader:
I’m late to the thread but feel compelled to respond. I still consider myself bisexual by orientation – I first fantasized about men, have had many fulfilling sexual relationships with them, and was very late coming out - but now, lesbian by definition. Because whatever came before, I’m only interested in women going forward. I found that out when I was engaged to a man, but still sometimes thinking about women. I knew if it happened with him, it would happen with any man I was with. After that break-up, I started dating women … and with my first serious girlfriend, I never thought twice about being with men. I suppose on some level I still consider my definition fluid, but not enough to affect who I choose to pursue.
If the experience has taught me anything, it is that sexuality really is about who you want to be with romantically, not who you want to sleep with. Who makes your heart beat faster.
Here’s my deal: I identify as a straight woman, am happily married to a guy. But about 97 percent of my sex fantasies are about women – very feminine, large-breasted women. But these fantasies involve zero kissing, holding or emotional content – just fucking, and the women needn’t be actual people I know or have seen.
BUT in person, in reality, I’m attracted to very beefy, masculine men (I married one). They’re the ones I look at in yoga class, the ones I’ve slept with in real life, want to kiss and hold and have had satisfying relationships with. When I fantasize about sex with men, it takes me longer to get worked up, and I can only get off thinking about real guys – whether it’s my husband or some guy on TV or at the gym. I can’t conjure up male body parts and get aroused, the way I can with women.
I’ve only had sex with one woman and found it awkward and off-putting. I really don’t want to touch a woman’s slender shoulders or curvy butt or whatever – I’m just not interested. I especially do not want to kiss a woman or have a relationship with her. And no, I’m not a closet case in denial – I’ve explored that idea, and it’s just not accurate.
Weird wiring, eh? But what else to call me but bisexual?
It seems to me we will find out how many bisexual folks are truly out there when being gay is overwhelmingly accepted. At that point there will be no point in gay folks identifying as bi to try and hide the fact they are gay. One can only hope that some day in the future sexual identity will no longer matter and people can be who they are and find pleasure with whatever sex they choose. I suspect that for every 100% straight person there is someone out there of the same sex that could turn them on. The same applies to 100% gay people.
Rich Juzwiak gleans some interesting insight on the subject through his conversations with four guys who have sex with both men and women – but who don’t necessarily consider themselves bi. From his profile of “Allen”:
When we first met, he wasn’t entirely open. When he refused to kiss me on the mouth, I joked that he was acting like a whore in Pretty Woman. “What’s that?” he asked. He is, after all, 19. ”Kissing men kind of skeeves me out a little bit,” he explained. “I would be completely fine blowing someone over making out with him. It’s just one of those little tweaks I guess. I just don’t like kissing guys. Yet, I should say. I know one day I will. It’s the whole transitional thing again.”
Allen is out to his family and friends in college. He says that they didn’t have a hard time accepting him. If anything, the hardest time has been had by Allen, as he accepts their acceptance. ”I’m really comfortable with the situation, but it’s new so I’m insecure about it,” he says, having come out a little over a year ago. “I have no problem telling people I’m bisexual or I like guys, but I’m not used to being called bi or gay. When people say that, I still get a little defensive about it.”
So is he gay or what? “Gay and bisexual are just labels,” he told me. “People are people. I don’t really like the whole label thing. I think when you label someone gay, straight, or bi, you’re judging them. It’s just people. People are people. Your sexuality doesn’t make you who you are.”
He finds sex with women to be a “more emotional” experience, and with men, sex is more physical. (“Guys just need a release, really.”) “I don’t really run into many vers[atile] guys,” he said. “I think more people should be vers, it’s a lot funner. More people should be bisexual, it’s a lot funner.”
Rich also pens a postscript about Allen and his Pretty Woman hangup.
“Sometimes men love women/Sometimes men love men/And then there are bisexuals, though some just say they’re kidding themselves.”
As an impressionable kid, those lyrics [from Phoebe], comedic as they might be, represented the first time television had told me what to think about bisexuals. Whoever these bisexuals were, I was taught, they were foolish and cowardly. Too scared to just come out and admit their obvious gayness.
Growing up, the television and the community sold me a binary world view: gay or straight. There were only two viable options, and I secretly dreaded the eventuality of having to pick one. So I didn’t. I proceeded, undefined, not wanting to belong to either one of these groups. Not out of spite or youthful rebellion, but out of truth. I never really believed I was straight, and I never really believed I was gay.
After years of identifying himself as either one or the other - ”I was always ashamed of my dishonesty when I did this, but also relieved at having avoided a potentially complicated conversation” - Patrik came out as bisexual. But he says the stigma remains:
Some likened my sexuality to a light switch, flicked in either direction on a whim. Some have regarded me as foolish and simply afraid of admitting my attraction to men. Some have just called me greedy. … What is it about bisexuality that so confounds? Labels and categories inform so much of how we interact with others. They flavor our expectations of how people will (and should) behave and force us to see otherness where none exists. In a society so bent on ‘outing’ celebrities and public figures, the bisexual man or woman circumvents this game and evades inquiring minds by sitting on the fence and defying categorization.