Sunday, September 19, 2004

What is bisexuality?

Here is an interesting article on the nature of bisexuality and the common confusion that surrounds this phenomenon (and I think the author is somewhat confused as well).

The term bisexual is misleading. Society at large believes this term means someone who likes both sexes equally. This assumption, which I also held for a long time, is not true. Most bisexuals lean one way or the other (most often towards members of the opposite sex).


Later on in the article the author talks about the need to clarify our language & definitions. Let me offer a suggestion: There are 2 types of bisexualities which I will categorize as “type 1” and “type 2.” Type 1 is “authentic” bisexuality. And this means that the person is roughly fully and evenly attracted to both sexes. That indeed is the proper definition of bisexuality. There are very few type 1 bisexuals (Truman Capote didn’t think they existed at all), but are much more common among the female gender. They are so rare among the male gender that one wonders whether any male true bisexuals exist at all.

Type 2 bisexuals are folks who are fully attracted to one gender, but have some sort of diminished attraction to the other. In my opinion, this covers a huge portion of the population. And most of these folks do not self define as bisexuals (nor should they) and most have regular sexual or romantic relations with that gender to which they are fully attracted (again—as they should). They are not real bisexuals. On the gay side, Jim McGreevy, Leonard Bernstein, Anthony Perkins (all those gay men who married & fathered children) might be this kind of bisexual. On the straight side, Hugh Hefner, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Cary Grant may have been this type of bisexual.

Now, I don’t know what % of the population are type 2 bisexuals. I’ve heard some argue that 100% (that everyone has some sort of bisexuality, no matter how miniscule). I don’t know if I buy that. But it’s possible that as much as 20%, 40%, 70% of the population has *some* sort of bisexual orientation. Until people are upfront about their true feelings, I don’t think we’ll ever know the exact amount, other than it's more than just a nominal % of the human race.

Now here is where the confusion occurs: Society is constantly confusing these 2 phenomena. For instance, if 70% of the gay population have *some* degree of bisexuality, there are those who would mistakenly conclude that 70% are true bisexuals, with full and even attraction to both genders; hence 70% can choose who to settle down with. Or if 70% of the heterosexual population has *some* degree of bisexuality, then all of that pro-gay propaganda could lead to 70% of society going gay.

This is a mistaken assumption and it illustrates why only type 1 bisexuals should categorize themselves as such. Type 2 bisexuals should identify only according to that gender to which they are primarily attracted. Dan Savage once wrote that a guy who is 90% attracted to women but 10% attracted to guys should not identify as bisexual, because if he did, then gay guys are going to think that they have an even shot at a date with him, when, in reality, they don’t.

The only people who have a true choice as to which gender to settle down with in the long run are true (type 1) bisexuals. Society demands that when men & women do settle down, they be exclusively committed to one another. And I submit that each of us needs a full attraction to that person with whom we, in the long run, attempt to form meaningful relationships. Even when you are madly in love & lust with someone when you first meet them, no honest person can tell me that you feel the same way 10, 20 or 30 years later. That’s not to deny that there can be strong and satisfying romantic and sexual activity during all of this time. But please, sharing a bathroom with someone, seeing them warts & all for 20 years…it’s just not going to be the same as it was when you first met. And if the full attraction isn’t there to begin with…well it’s just not possible to make it work in the long run. This is why gay men who marry women, like McGreevy, find that they can perform sexually for a little while, but then just get to a point where they hit a wall and can’t do it anymore. Just try having exclusive and regular sex—say 3 times a week—for years, with someone to whom you might have *some* degree of attraction, but not full. That act is going to get real old, real fast.

Or take guys like Mick Jagger & David Bowie, both of whom had experimented with (and presumably enjoyed) homosexual behavior in the past. But both also evidenced a predominant heterosexual attraction. Take those guys and put them in an exclusive, monogamous, homosexual relationship—make them swear off women, and then expect them to have regular sex with their male partners, with whom they may have *some* but not full attraction. I would predict that they would, within a relatively short period of time, be just as miserable and feel just as trapped as do gay guys who get married to women and feel trapped, needing to come out.

On a similar note, most hetero guys—even the real gay friendly ones—claim that under no circumstances could they ever enjoy any kind of same-sex contact, thus leading to the impression that there might be some kind of “innate revulsion” to homosexual behavior. I used to buy this. But then, I did a little cross-cultural and sociological research and found evidence that belies this. Now I’m not denying that a significant % of the male population may have absolutely no sex-same attraction. But I believe that just as significant a % probably does. But the point is, even if *something* is there, if it’s not the full attraction (and that exists within maybe 4% of the male population), then that person is not gay, or even a real bisexual. The problem is, if a hetero male were to admit that he could possibly enjoy a homo act, even though that’s not where his predominant orientation lies, there are many in society who would accuse that person of being either “gay” or fully bi. And that’s just not the case.

So what is the evidence that I relied upon in drawing this conclusion? Very simply this: If that 96% of the male population who are self-identified heteros had an innate revulsion to all things homosexual, then we would expect to see this level of absolute exclusive heterosexuality as a constant across various cultures and sociological circumstances. But we don’t. There have been times and places where significantly more that 4% of society has engaged in homosexual acts and in some places literally 100% of the population engages in such acts as rites of passages (like the citizen class in Ancient Greece, or the Sambians of New Guinea, where, according to Judge Posner in Sex & Reason, they have “made a form of pederasty mandatory. All adolescent boys are assigned adult male lovers whom the boys fellate; the ingestion of adult semen is believed to be necessary to male maturation.”). And here is the rub, in those times and places where huge majorities of certain populations participated in homosexual behavior at some point in their lives, there continued to exist the same consistent percentages of adult homosexuals (that is those who have an exclusive or overwhelmingly predominant homosexual orientation) as everywhere else: around 2-3%. In Ancient Greece, all members of the citizen class would participate in man/boy homosexual acts, (essentially rites of passage for the entire group). But just about all of these males went onto marry women and have families. In both Ancient Greece and in Sambia there is NO EVIDENCE that exclusive adult homosexuality was any more prevalent there than it is in this culture or anywhere else. So much for the idea that experimenting with the behavior around the early teen years will lead to more homosexuals in the population. Practically every male, in those 2 cultures, experimented with the behavior, with the result being no greater incidence of exclusive adult homosexuality than we have today.

But, if there truly were some kind of innate revulsion to all things homosexual, we wouldn’t see things like this occur in human nature—these behaviors would just be unbearable (either that or we would have evidence that part of the rite was dealing with the “disgust” of going through the acts—and as far as I know, there is no such evidence of such disgust).

Now in our culture, we can observe circumstances where normal heterosexual males are put into circumstances where there is a lack of available females: Prisons, all-boys schools, navy boats. And when this occurs, what we see is that significantly more than the 3-4% of males (the % of true homosexuals) engage in homosexual acts. What we see is many “straight” guys desiring to use other men as “female substitutes.” Men who are predominantly heterosexual may very well have an aversion to playing the “passive” or “female” role in a homosexual relationship. But take away available women, and a shockingly high number of them will find that they can enjoy using other males as female substitutes.

Now, if they truly had an innate revulsion to all things homosexual, then we wouldn’t see this occur. Even if their cell-mate were as pretty as Brad Pitt or Leonardo, if they had an innate revulsion, they would choose masturbation for release every time. Maybe some men do indeed have this revulsion. But it is by no means universal. Now I’ve discussed this with some people who are skeptical of this theory and they argue that you can’t use these awkward or unusual circumstances to demonstrate that the innate revulsion doesn’t exist in a large % of the male population. But they are exactly wrong. We wouldn’t expect a man who has a full attraction to females, but some diminished attraction to males to ever participate in homosexual behavior except in such unusual circumstances.

For instance, in the same book, Richard Posner writes, about the case where a man sets a “value” of “twenty” on “sex” with a “woman of average attractiveness,” and a “value” of “two” on “sex” with a “male substitute” (quoted from Ed Feser article). This, I submit, is probably the typical sexual orientation of the many males, perhaps a majority of the human population, who have a predominant heterosexual orientation. Now, if such a male is overwhelmingly attracted to women in a way he is not attracted to other males, and if there is a stigma associated with homosexual sex, and if he had to go out of his way to go into the gay subcultures or cruisy public areas in order to have gay sex under “normal” circumstances, we should not expect him to ever have same-sex relations, under these circumstances. It would logically follow that he would only have same-sex relations if there were a shortage of available females. And when such a male who engages in situational homosexuality under “abnormal” circumstances (the navy boat, the prison) returns to normal life, we observe that he goes back to exclusive heterosexual relations. Thus, he is not gay; he is not bisexual. He is a heterosexual who has the capacity to enjoy homosexual acts. He is normal.

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