Friday, December 23, 2005

Kurtz's Obsession and more on Bisexuality:

Stanley Kurtz continues his obsession with trying to connect gay marriage with polygamy in this Weekly Standard article. Rob Anderson, writing in the New Republic aptly answers Kurtz's case. Among other things, Anderson addresses Kurtz's novel "bisexual" angle that Kurtz introduced into his analysis.

Kurtz's argument is predicated on the fact that there is a similar group of people waiting in the wings to enter into polyamorous relationships. Yet for all his talk of a "bisexual/polyamory movement," Kurtz does not provide much convincing evidence that one actually exists. To prove that it does, he points to the De Bruijn trio, a group of Unitarian Universalists that promotes polygamy, two pro-bisexuality articles that have appeared in separate law reviews, an academic journal, and--this isn't a joke--an independent movie about a love triangle that's slated to play on the BRAVO channel this spring. There is no meaningful leadership, no agenda, no broad-based organizational structure, no PAC, no lobbyists, no fundraising. Where is the menace?

Furthermore, for all of his time spent researching sexual orientation, Kurtz has a rather archaic view of bisexuality: "[I]ncreasingly, bisexuality is emerging as a reason why legalized gay marriage is likely to result in legalized group marriage. If every sexual orientation has a right to construct its own form of marriage, then more changes are surely due. For what gay marriage is to homosexuality, group marriage is to bisexuality." Bisexuals are bisexuals, they are not polygamists. To my knowledge, there is no scientific study showing that people who happen to be sexually attracted to both sexes are more likely than heterosexuals to chafe under the restrictions of monogamy. That's one reason why Kurtz's analogy doesn't hold up. The other is that marriage between two people, regardless of their gender, is fundamentally different than a union among three or more. In 2004 Slate's Dahlia Lithwick noted that "one can plausibly argue that there is a rational basis for states to ban polygamous and polyamorous marriages in which there has been historical evidence of an imbalance of power, coercion (particularly of young girls), and an enormous financial burden placed on the state. None of these arguments can be made against gay marriage." Same-sex marriage and polyamory are completely different things that can be differentiated by law and by morality. It is quite possible that the same people who support same-sex marriage would oppose polyamourous unions. In fact, since 65 percent of Americans already have a positive view of homosexuals living together and 92 percent disapprove of unions involving more than two people, a large percentage of Americans have already made such a distinction. We can have same-sex marriage without polyamory--just ask the American public.

By giving weight to insignificant events, Kurtz has created a problem where no problem exists. And while he wants us to believe that forces are converging to completely undo the fabric of our society, he's proven something quite different: It's not the social fabric of America that's coming apart, but the right's crusade against same-sex marriage.

Let me add that I think Kurtz fundamentally misunderstands the nature of bisexuality. He cites a Stanford law review article by Kenji Yoshino which asserts "that bisexuality is far more prevalent than is usually recognized" and defines "bisexuality as a 'more than incidental desire' for partners of both sexes." I don't know if that's a proper definition of bisexuality. I think bisexuality can be defined two ways: One, those who demonstrate a full and even attraction to both genders (or something close to it). These are very few in number and exist mainly among the female gender (in other words Kinsey, "3s"). And two those have *any* kind of desire for both sexes, even incidental attraction and experiences (in other words Kinsey 1-5s). These are some unknown but extremely large percentage of the population, much larger than you think. The 1-2s -- those who are fully attracted to the opposite sex, but somewhat less than fully attracted to the same sex -- make up the largest percentage of these folks and most of them identify and understand themselves to be heterosexual.

I agree with Yoshino that this kind of "bisexuality is far more prevalent than is usually recognized." But, "[t]he relative invisibility of bisexuality," is not because of "the mutual interest of heterosexuals and homosexuals in minimizing its significance" but rather because most of those within the largest group who have some kind of bisexuality -- those within the 1-2 range on the Kinsey scale -- feel perfectly comfortable with their "hetero" identity and lifestyle and existing within the "normal" social group.

In this sense, bisexuality is sort of like "race" or "handedness." We tend to understand ambidextrous folks as those with a relatively even and interchangeable abilities. If we instead defined it as *any* kind of skill with both hands, then arguably we'd all be ambi (though, I'm not arguing that we are all bisexual in this sense). Or with race, there are plenty of "black" people with *some* white blood. But we don't insist to lighter skinned blacks: "your not really black, technically you are 'mixed race.'" There are plenty of self-identified and self-understanding heterosexuals (a much larger % than real homosexuals, certainly in the double digits of the population) who have some sort of minor attraction to members of the same sex and in their past briefly acted upon them, but we don't or we ought not say, "your not really a heterosexual, technically your bi." Similarly, many of those "gay men" who were involved in heterosexual marriages like Jim McGreevy probably did have some sort of less-than-full attraction to their spouses, but couldn't flourish in those relations in the long run. Hence, they are better understood as "gay" even though technically Jim McGreevy is probably not a "6" on the Kinsey scale.

And this exposes the underlying flaw in Kurtz's thesis. Unless you are fully attracted to both sexes (or close to it) you are not likely to desire a "long-run" bisexually lifestyle. Rather, the actor will gravitate in the long run to that gender to which he or she is fully attracted. Certainly, a "marriage," whether plural or singular, to the less attracted gender will not work (do we really think McGreevy's marriage could have been saved by adding a third party, a male?).

Further, as Anderson notes, there is really no evidence that those with a "real" bisexual orientation, few as they are, have the "need" to be in long term relationships with both sexes. For instance, Anne Heche, Julie Cypher, those women with the wavering orientations who can flourish in long term relations bisexually...I don't see them needing to be in relationships with both sexes at the same time in a threesome. And that's because women, by their very nature, tend to be monogamous. Anne Heche falls in love with Ellen, she'll want to be with Ellen. She falls out of love with Ellen and in love with a man, she'll want to be with that man.

Although with the recent stories about Angelina Jolie....

1 comment:

Joe Perez said...

I had many problems with Kurtz's essay, but none of them were related to his definition of bisexuality. Yoshino defines "bisexuality as a 'more than incidental desire' for partners of both sexes." And you say, "I don't know if that's a proper definition of bisexuality."

In my opinion, Yoshino's definition makes a lot more sense than yours, which seems to divide bis into "real bisexuals" (50/50 bisexuals) and "the rest" (persons with any bisexual attraction, even if incidental). I wonder why you stick to your dual definition when something like Yoshino's definition explains the analogies of race and handedness more elegantly than your own definition. I wouldn't call myself ambidextrous even though if my right hand were in a cast I could probably scribble something barely legible with my left; I would require a more than incidental talent with both hands to claim I was ambidextrous. Would you say that only "real ambidextrous people" always use both hands exactly equally? With the minor exception of Native American blood (which people claim even if they are only 1/32 or 1/64), very few people would consider themselves to belong to a racial or ethnic group unless they were of substantial blood. Would you say that only "real bi-racials" are 50/50? I suspect you wouldn't, but illogically you do so in your strict definition of bisexuality. 3:23 PM 1/3/2006