Bi the Way...
Bisexuals are the oft-overlooked segment of the GLBT and straight communities.
"The good thing about being bisexual is that it doubles your chance of a date on a Saturday night."
-- Woody Allen
"I think people are born bisexual, and it's just that our parents and society kind of veer us off into this feeling of 'Oh, I can't'. They say it's taboo. It's ingrained in our heads that it's bad, when it's not bad at all. It's a very beautiful thing."
-- Billie Joe Armstrong of Greenday
Regardless of what Billie Joe and Woody think, people who consider themselves to be bisexual are really just straight people going through an "experimental phase" or trying to be "bi chic". Or they are gay people who are in denial. A person is either gay or straight - this stuff about straddling both sides of the fence is nonsense. In any case, so-called bisexuals are sexually promiscuous, emotionally retarded individuals who are largely responsible for the spread of AIDS. With a little deprogramming, though, they can lead "normal," productive lives.
Such notions, reported by Duke University's Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Life are myths, however, with little basis in fact. Understandably, there are straights who are a little curious, or who wake up after a night of tequila shots to find themselves in bed with an overnight same-sex guest. Just as there are gays and lesbians who think that it will be easier for others to accept them as bi than as gay, so they proclaim their bisexuality to disguise their true self.
And while it's true that bisexuals have spread AIDS to their straight partners (such as AIDS activist Mary Fisher, who contracted the disease from her husband), PFLAG's pamphlet Bisexuality 101 notes that bisexuals are often scapegoats for people looking to place blame for the disease's spread. Not practicing safe sex spreads AIDS, and you can get it from anyone who is sexually active - gay, straight, or bi. Wasn't this covered in Health class, everybody?
So if the statements above are simply popular misconceptions, what is the truth about bisexuality? Is it an innate quality or just an easy answer for people who are horny a lot? Is it really that prevalent? Are bisexuals hyper-sexual sluts? Does being bisexual really double your chances for a date? If so, do you have to pay all the time?
A former co-worker of mine used to classify people's sexual orientation through a bus metaphor: there were people who rode her bus (the straight bus) and people who rode my bus (the gay bus). It never occurred to her that some people might have a transfer pass. Or that such transferees don't understand why they should limit themselves to just one route to the same destination. Like most people, she didn't give the subject of bisexuality much thought. Unfortunately, though, many who do have thoughts on the topic view it with disdain.
Either these bus-hoppers genuinely feel drawn to both sexes or there are a whole lot of delusional people out there. How many people are bisexual, that is, how many act upon bisexual impulses, is uncertain. Freud argued that we're all bisexual to some extent, but try making that argument in a rough in-a-hetero-sort of way West Texas bar on a Friday night and see how long you're left standing - and I don't mean you're invited to lie down in a friendly kind of way, either.
How prevalent one believes bisexuality is all depends on how one defines bisexuality - - that may be not as yin/yang as it seems. The most prevalent definition of this flexible phenomena is sexual in nature: if you have sex with both genders, or even if you only fantasize about it, you're bi. This definition would classify almost every hormonal, fantasy-driven teenager exploring the wonderful world of self-pleasure as being bi, as well as a whole lot of "straight" men and women who steal glances in the locker room (you know who you are).
But this definition is too simplistic and raises more questions than it resolves. It's natural to be curious about and even masturbate while fantasizing about the gender you are not usually attracted to. Additionally, participating in a mixed gender threesome or imagining it can be used as criteria to define bisexuality, even if all the actual sex that takes place as in the what goes where is heterosexual in nature. Likewise, who one considers sexually attractive could be used to establish bisexuality. For instance, I think Janet Jackson is one of the hottest humans alive and if I could, I'd do her in a heartbeat. Does my sexual attraction to this woman make me bi and not gay?
Alfred Kinsey would say "yes". In his famous but questionable study, Kinsey maintained that 15 percent of men and eight percent of women are bi, meaning there are approximately 35 million bisexuals in the US alone. Other studies report different findings. According to research cited in the Annual Review of Sex Research, 17 percent of women and 22 percent of men have had a same sex experience (this number includes homosexuals), but only 0.5 percent of women and 0.8 percent of men self-identify as bisexual (Rust, Paula. "Bisexuality: The State of the Union", 2002). Regardless of what the actual number is, almost all studies agree that there are more people engaging in bisexual behavior than engaging in exclusively homosexual behavior.
The discrepancy in numbers between these sources is most likely due to the fact that only within the last two decades have researchers recognized that bisexuality is more than just sexual in nature. A 1996 article in The American Journal of Family Therapy classified bisexuals as "individuals who identify themselves on the basis of a continuum of sexual preferences, emotional ties, and social connections." Among the factors that the authors of the article used to define bisexuality were the state of a person's marriage or primary relationship, the person's relationship with his or her children (if any exist), the degree of sexual satisfaction a person has, and the ability to communicate needs and desires. (Deacon, Rienke, and Viers. "Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Bisexual Couples: Expanding the Realms of Therapy") Using this definition, those one-night, tequila-induced experiences would be considered "experiments", and not indicative of a bisexual nature; and masturbatory fantasies would be the result of normal human curiosity. To truly be bisexual, it seems, one must be able or willing to establish an emotional bond along with a sexual rapport with a member of either gender, and not just have a desire to do the humpty-dance with anyone who is willing.
In spite of increasing research in the field, public misconceptions about what bisexuality really is, and how prevalent it is, still exist. This has resulted in bisexuals being the subject of considerable discrimination and contempt. Consequently, Woody Allen's belief that bisexuals have twice as many dating options is incorrect. (But then, he married his step-daughter, so what the hell does he know about getting dates?) As one 51-year-old man noted on an online bulletin board for bisexuals, "I realize when (you are) Bi, you're really not wanted by anyone who's not Bi themselves. That narrows the playing field quite a bit." (posted on the forum page of bisexual woman Sylkie's homepage on Geocities.com)
Surprisingly, the greatest amount of discrimination that bisexuals face comes from the gay community. Many homosexuals won't hesitate to launch a verbal tirade against someone who looks down on us, attempts to demean us, or seeks to stifle our quest for equality. But ask most gays and lesbians what their opinion is about bisexuality and you're likely to get the response that someone who is bi is really a queer in disguise and that there is no acceptable reason for leaving our ranks.
Two noted examples come courtesy of Ani DiFranco and Anne Heche. DiFranco's fan base questioned her loyalty when she began a relationship with a man, as she observed in an interview with Off Our Backs magazine: "I read somewhere that I'm trying to challenge my dyke following by sleeping with a man. God, I would never go to such extremes -- like there's a straight girl from hell lurking within me." (November 1994) Likewise, Heche felt the wrath of many after she broke up with Ellen DeGeneres and married a man. One letter to The Advocate called Heche "embarrassingly shallow, manipulative, and desperately publicity-seeking" (4 December 2001), while Salon writer Mary Elizabeth speared Heche with "Once you come out, you can't go back, unless you're Anne Heche, and nobody in their right mind wants to be that anyway." ("Coming Out Rosie"). Granted, Heche didn't help matters by claiming to be a little loco her autobiography is titled Call Me Crazy but attacks on her began long before her book came out, just shortly after she packed her bags and broke our dearly beloved Ellen's heart.
The irony that homosexuals want others to recognize our alternative lifestyle while refusing to recognize the alternative lifestyle of bisexuals is inescapable. Perhaps it is an unspoken desire to increase our own numbers by claiming bisexuals as closeted queers. Or perhaps it is sheer cattiness at having to share potential mates with the heterosexual community. No matter how one categorizes our discrimination, it is a prejudice which is painfully obvious to those who are bi. Lisa posted a note on Sylkie's bulletin board that observes "Thirty years ago lesbians were told they only liked women because they haven't met the right man. Now I'm told I'm only bisexual because I haven't found the right woman... that my lifestyle is a 'cop-out'. Being bisexual ISN'T a 'cop-out'. It's who and what I am." (see "Bisexuality" on Geocities.com)
I spoke with Larry, a 53-year-old, married bisexual with a cheery attitude and positive self-image. His wife has known of his bisexuality since they were first married, and she is "OK with it". Outside of his immediate family, only a few people know of his sexual preferences, because, he argues, most people don't understand and don't accept it easily. He said he doesn't feel discriminated against by society, but that is most likely because society at large doesn't know of his choice. Still, he said the prevailing attitude that he encounters, particularly among gay men, is that he is a homosexual in denial.
Larry feels that there is lack of resources to aid those who are struggling with their own bisexuality, and he is right. Most GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender) organizations tend to overlook the "B". A quick perusal of GLBT organization websites reveal a pathetic lack of attention paid to those who want to know more about bisexuality issues. The Human Rights Campaign's website has over 100 resources listed for gays and lesbians, dozens for transgendered individuals, and six for bisexuals. Likewise, OutProud, the website for the National Coalition for GLBT Youth, only has one resource dealing exclusively with bisexuality, and the GLBT Funding Resources page has 72 resources named, none of them for bisexuals.
According to Larry, the way to acceptance for bisexuals, both personal and societal, is through increased public awareness about bisexuality. He seemed genuinely pleased to learn I was writing this article, noting that "the more articles written, the easier it is to be accepted." The key, he maintains, is to "show people that we . . . like sex in a different way than others." Fortunately, sites such as Biresource.org and Bisexual.org do provide places for bisexuals to feel some inclusion.
Such resources would have been useful for "Karen" (not her real name), a roommate of mine years ago. Karen was the type of hardcore lesbian who shaved her head, worked as a bartender, marched in gay pride protests, and had girlfriends that could kick the ass of any guy on Ultimate Fighter. Today, she's a married-to-a-man assistant district attorney with children. If you ask her, she'll deny she was ever a lesbian, that it was all just a 15 year "phase" for her. Apparently, she didn't know she could get a transfer pass, so she erased part of her past to make sense of her present. To her, sexual preference was an either/or proposition; consequently, her transformation from a butch, militant, hard-drinking diesel dyke into a judgmental, church-going soccer mom is a perfect example of sexual confusion for me.
Steff deals with her bisexuality more openly than Karen, but that doesn't mean her experience is worry-free. Also a married bisexual, she is worried that her husband feels she will leave him to explore her bisexual side. However, she loves her husband and their daughter and would never do anything to hurt them. Her bisexuality is simply a preference: "I tried to explain to him that for me, liking women as well as men meant no more than a man marrying a brunette when he had a thing for blondes -- he wouldn't leave (his brunette wife) for that reason."
People in general engage in a number of sexual practices and fetishes which are misunderstood by those who don't share a predilection for those practices: porn-addiction, bondage, role-playing, and foot/breast/hair/penis-size fetishes, to name a few. Many enlightened individuals adopt the attitude that if the sexual practice is consensual and harmless, then it is OK. If bisexual behavior is consensual and harmless (which includes understanding on the part of the partner), then it, too, is OK. Still, with the rabid religious right going to such great lengths to vilify homosexual behavior, it is clear why bisexuals would choose to stay below the radar, lest they become a target for such bigotry, too.
While I haven't a prejudicial attitude towards bisexuals, I must admit I fell into the category of people who never gave them much thought, either. In fact, I had the damnedest time just try to find a bisexual person to interview, not having the slightest clue where to look or how to identify such a soul -- is there such a thing as bi-dar? If so, I don't have it. Most of us don't. I think most bisexuals prefer it that way.