After hearing some really dumb comments about bisexuality and being gay in general on The Real World Las Vegas recently(Due to house mate Dustin Zito’s “gay for pay” phase), I noticed that there are a lot of misconceptions about bi people that go far beyond what is believed about gay or lesbian people as a whole. I was going to take it upon myself to write my own opinion about the matter when I stumbled upon an article on AfterElton.com by Chris O’Guinn in his “Snails & Oysters” column that I will share in place of my own opinion. For the time being at least. So given all the things people (especially women) believe about bisexuality, particularly when it comes to men, it’s time to debunk some of those myths. Enjoy the article below.
Snails & Oysters: Debunking Four Myths About Bisexuality
So, last time on “Snails & Oysters“ we had ourselves a tiny kerfuffle over my assertion that Dan Savage is biphobic. It was a spirited debate that included such points as the nature of biphobia, the justifications some use for their biphobia, and some broad generalizations about bisexuals. On, and what sort of kindling would be best to use while burning me at the stake.
To be perfectly honest, I was more than a little shocked by some of the responses. My surprise didn’t come from people disagreeing with me or even the, uh, enthusiasm with which people voiced their disagreement. I know there are lots of people who don’t agree with me on a broad range of topics. That’s what makes these debates so much fun!
However, what troubled me was the arguments suggesting biphobia is not only justifiable, but is in fact the proper point of view. While I’m happy to say those were by far the minority of comments, challenging biphobia is one of the reasons this column exists, so, to quote Joan Rivers, “Can we talk?”
Just for the record, I know I am but one bisexual of many and it would be absurd to say I speak for all of us. These are simply my views and should only be taken as such.
Let’s start by looking at the definition of prejudice. Merriam-Webster defines it as
(1) : preconceived judgment or opinion (2) : an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge
I think that last part about “sufficient knowledge” is key to discussing prejudice and bisexuality. We bisexuals tend to hide our orientation for any number of reasons, so not a lot of people have all that much exposure to us. That’s why I’m dedicating this article to some of the myths about bisexuality in the hopes of helping people get past their biphobia.
Myth #1) Bisexuality doesn’t really exist
Obviously, this is the big one. It has several variations including the idea that true bisexuals are as rare as four-leaf clovers or that bisexuality is merely a transitional state.
If you believe that for a person to truly be bisexual they must be a Kinsey 3 — that is, they are equally attracted to both genders — then it is understandable for you to come to the mistaken conclusion that bisexuals are rare. But since bisexuality, in my view, includes Kinsey 1-5 (a zero being totally straight and a 6 being completely gay), there are far more of us than this belief would indicate.
I suppose in the grand scheme of things, everyone has to decide for themselves where the bisexuality range is — some might say it’s more of a 2 through 4 thing. But I don’t think it is reasonable to say that the Kinsey 3s in the world are the only “true bisexuals.”
As I’ve said previously when discussing the labels people apply to their sexuality, you don’t have to be equally attracted to both genders to get your membership into the bi club. In fact, some bisexuals are more attracted to members of the same sex and some are more attracted to the opposite sex.
The “scientific” basis for the myth us bi guys don’t really exist is a study done at Northwestern University in Chicago and the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto which, while not disputing the existence of female bisexuality, suggested us guys are just a bunch of fakers. You can look it up if you want to study it in depth, but let me break down the basics for you.
A group of 101 young adult men were recruited for the study. Thirty-three identified as bisexual, thirty as straight and thirty-eight as gay. These men then had a device to measure their arousal hooked up to their man-parts and shown a variety of porn.
The results showed that the three-quarters of the bisexual men demonstrated arousal patterns that matched those of gay men. The other quarter matched heterosexual men. Meanwhile, one third of each group demonstrated no arousal no matter what kind of porn was being viewed.
For starters, it’s important to put into context what this study is even trying to say. Dr. J. Michael Bailey, one of the lead researchers, put it this way in the New York Times:
“I’m not denying that bisexual behavior exists, but I am saying that in men there’s no hint that true bisexual arousal exists, and that for men arousal is orientation.”
Bisexual arousal. Even Bailey concedes that this study does not dispute the existence of bisexual emotional feelings. The only thing the study was able to say about bisexual men is that it was not able to measure any arousal response to both gay and straight porn. Few if any respected psychologists equate arousal with orientation.
The more damning part of the study showed that 3/4 of the self-identified bisexual men showed arousal towards gay imagery. Were these men really gay? No one but them would know. They were asked what orientation they felt described them and they picked bisexual. They could very well be bisexual, including being Kinsey 5′s or 4′s who prefer same-gender relationships.
Or they could be Kinsey 3s. This methodology of this study is too problematic to say.
Is this just sour grapes of one bisexual dude who doesn’t like what it had to say? No. The science of this study is deeply flawed. That’s why GLAAD denounced it, saying, “The claims put forward in the article, combined with the derogatory headline, are raising questions not only about the Times reporting on this study, but also about the study itself.”
Dr. Randall Sell of Columbia University told the Times, “We don’t know nearly enough about sexual orientation and identity” to jump to these conclusions.”
For one thing, the sampling of men was pulled largely from ads placed in gay magazines. It’s fair to ask just how many bisexual men would be reading a gay magazine. Especially if they were Kinsey 2s.
The number of individuals studied was also a problem. Thirty-three men who identified as bisexual are supposed to offer a reliable sampling? Enough to argue that bisexuality does not exist or is extraordinarily rare?
That seems hard to swallow.
Additionally, the device used to measure responses has also been cited as being unreliable at best. It’s called the plethysmograph and it’s accuracy has been much disputed by the scientific community for years. For proof, I offer that fully 1/3 of the participants in this very study showed no measurable response to any pornography at all. Given the age of the participants, that seems unlikely.
Furthermore, Dr. Bailey himself has a rocky history with the GLBT community. He’s made such charming statements as, when postulating that if science had made it possible to decide the orientation of a child in the womb, that “allowing parents to choose the sexual orientation of their children would be morally unproblematic.”
I think it’s fair to ask if Dr. Bailey might be biased in his thinking about the GLBT community and whether that might have influenced this study.
From where I sit, there are many reasons why someone’s Mr. Happy might not respond to this kind of stimuli. Maybe the porn wasn’t to these guys’ taste. Maybe they were nervous. Maybe they were freaked out by having stuff hooked up to their junk.
The point is, there are many explanations as to why a bisexual guy’s Mr. Happy might not wake up under these circumstances — which explains those subjects who did not respond at all.
And again, to let this one small, clearly flawed study be used to make such sweeping generalizations about male bisexuality as have been made is preposterous. Imagine how the gay community would respond if a similar study was used to conclude that most gay men were not being honest about their orientation.
Myth #2) Bisexuals can easily lead a heteronormative life
This seems to be one of the things that upsets our gay brothers and sisters the most. It’s also not at all that simple. First of all, this once again relies on the false assumption that bisexuals are equally attracted to both genders.
Charlie Williams, the adorable (and terribly shy) Broadway actor, identifies as bisexual and yet he freely admits that he is more attracted to men than women. For him to lead a heternormative life, he would have to deny any attraction he has toward men and lie about having an attraction to guys to anyone who might have reason to know, including any woman he wound up with.
Does that sound easy? Or does it sound more like living in a closet?
I once dated a woman and when we were getting very close, I decided it was time to let her know that I was bisexual. She freaked out and told me the idea of two men together made her sick. Needless to say, that was the end of that relationship.
In order for me to have made it work, I would have had to lie to her. There’s nothing “easy” about that.
I’ll grant that we have it easier than many gay men and that the lie we have to live if we want to pretend to be straight is not as bitter of a pill to swallow, but it’s still not something we can do trivially.
Myth #3) Bisexuals will seek out opposite sex partners when they want to settle down.
This can also be heard in the sentiment, “I won’t date a bisexual because he/she will dump me for a woman/man!”
First of all, you should of course date whomever you want. However, for my money, limiting your dating pool just because some people who identify a certain way once did you wrong seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face. For all you know, the one who is right for you just might be a bisexual.
This one is a tough myth to crack. It’s wrong simply from the standpoint that a sweeping generalization like this can’t hold up to empirical data. Like, for instance, myself. I’m bisexual and have been in a committed same-sex relationship for five years.
For a more public example, look at Alan Cumming. He’s been with his partner for six years now. Yet he has never once backed down from identifying as bisexual.
As I’ve said before, bisexuals include a wide range of preferences. Those who are more attracted to the opposite gender will most likely wind up in opposite-sex relationships and be labeled by many as straight. Conversely, those who feel more attracted to their own gender will gravitate toward a same-sex relationship and be called gay. For the rest, for those closer to that Kinsey 3, gender doesn’t matter. They will date people who they are attracted to and let their hearts decide which person they wind up with.
But all of them are bisexual.
4) People only identify as bisexual to avoid the negative social impact of identifying as gay.
This is not true. It is true that some gay people identify as bisexual because they are not yet ready to come out to themselves. However, claiming bisexuality as a label does not save a person from negative social consequences. Remember that girlfriend of mine who dumped me?
It could even be argued that taking up the bisexual label can make it worse. If you come out as gay, it’s possible you will be rejected by the straight community. However, the gay community is there to welcome you with open arms.
However, if you say you are bisexual, the common assumption from the straight world is that you are actually gay, so you get all of the same prejudice, negativity and harassment from them. However, when you turn to the gay community, you often face similar prejudice from certain members of that group as well.
It can even be argued that society as a whole is more accepting of gay people than bisexual people. More than once I’ve heard a straight person express the sentiment that they can understand how a person could be attracted to the same gender, but that being attracted to both is just weird. And how many bisexual male characters can you currently name on television? Not nearly as many as there are gay characters.
I also know that there are people who identify as bisexual who have behaved very, very badly toward their romantic and sexual partners. I’m not blind to that fact. I won’t even deny that some of those people really were bisexuals who simply couldn’t deal with the part of themselves that yearned for a same-sex relationship but ultimately couldn’t handle it.
However, you can’t judge a group by the worst members in its flock. In fact, you can’t judge any oneperson based upon the actions of other people that happen to share some traits with them.
Prejudice does no one any good and it never has. It stifles understanding and limits us. It makes us small. The gay community has lived so long in the shadow of bigotry that surely its members would not seek to inflict that on anyone else.
Instead, let’s talk through these things and learn about each other. We’ll all be the better for it.