Bisexuality -- What’s in a Name?
Is there anything more inherently suspicious than bisexuality? When a hetero male concedes attraction to another guy, isn’t his self-proclaimed "straight/curious" status just code for "gay, but not ready to admit it?" Or, could it actually be that we all have the same potential for experiencing the full spectrum of human sexuality?
Lots of research and a little common sense say that of all the above questions, only the latter gets an unqualified "yes." But who wants a fence-sitting bisexual on their team? Certainly not the nervous straights; or the sequestered lesbians; or the defensive gays. The transgendered probably don’t mind -- but who can figure them out?
And why should we try to fathom the Bs, when we’ve got enough work to do just carving out a niche for the LGTs? Besides, every reasonable person knows that going for a pint of chocolate or vanilla is a lot easier than contemplating 31 flavors at Baskin-Robbins. It’s no wonder, then, that bisexuality is often an invisible color on the rainbow pride flag - ironic, since nature apparently intended almost everybody to be at least a little bi.
It is a trend that’s getting more and more media attention. Look at Tila Tequila, the VH1 instant celebrity who got her own reality show because she was bisexual. (The gimmick was that she had to choose between groups of straight men and lesbians, and ended up choosing a man.) Or take "Torchwood," the futuristic BBC-series (starring out actor John Barrowman) in which sexuality is fluid and everyone is bisexual. But that’s fiction - what of real life?
Is Everybody Bi?
Labels: they’re simple, fun and convenient; but how many same sex experiences does it take to make a hetero a homo? Can an opposite sex experience turn a gay into a bi? Plenty of good science tells us there’s a big difference between sexual expression and sexual identity.
Brian Dodge, Ph.D., Associate Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University (which has an ongoing partnership with the nearby Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction) says "We come out of the womb unprogrammed. Kinsey was the first to back that up with behavioral data. There are very few dichotomies in life - particularly in terms of human behavior; so he was not surprised that he had large numbers of people admitting to having a same sex experience."
The Kinsey Scale (see graphic) asserts that "Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. . .nature rarely deals with discrete categories. . .The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects." The scale, which first appeared in 1948’s "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male," uses a person’s sexual history to rate them on a scale of zero to six (zero being exclusively heterosexual, 6 being exclusively homosexual).
"If you look at the Kinsey Scale, which has been validated by a number or other sexuality studies, almost half of all men have some form of same sex experience in their lifetime that leads to orgasm." says Ron Jackson Suresha, editor of two works on bisexuality ("Bi Men Coming Out" and "Bi Guys: First Hand Fiction"). "Clearly, though, a lot of people don’t go around saying they’re bi."
Lisa Diamond, an Associate Professor of Psychology and Gender Studies at the University of Utah, recently authored "Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love And Desire" (Harvard University press, 2008). Diamond emphasizes that "Bisexuality is not a fluke or aberration. It’s actually the prototype. The majority lean in one direction or the other and that’s part of what’s makes the issue so difficult to interpret - because then you have to make a decision; how much attraction to the same sex must you have to call yourself lesbian instead of bisexual?"
Diamond’s own study (which began in 1995) asked, on a day-to-day level, what percentage of attraction women felt towards other women. "Folks who described experiencing more than 75 percent of their attractions to the same sex will describe themselves as lesbian. If it is under 75, they tend to describe themselves as bisexual."
But how can you form an identity when the concept of bisexuality, by its very nature, replaces absolutes with infinite variety? "We don’t know what bisexuality looks like, so when we come across it, we don’t recognize it" says Suresha - a self-identified Kinsey Scale five who "always had a certain amount of attraction to women, though my preference is for men. I’ve been told over and over again that bisexuality is a myth, that people who say they’re bi are deluded or lying. So, for many years, I bought into that. This is a common experience with a lot of gay men who are told you have to be either gay or straight. The possibility of bisexuality seems so remote."