I recently agreed to do part of an online course in LGBT studies. I’m doing the “B”: bisexuality. They had a hard time finding someone to do it; no one thought they could fill the time with enough info on the subject! After all, we still live in a world where a lot of people think there is “no such thing” as bisexuality.
The more I dig, the more I feel that understanding bisexuality is the key to understanding a LOT of things about sexual orientation, behavior, attractions, and gender itself. Here are 10 things I’ve learned so far:
- There are more bisexual people than gay and lesbian people. That’s right. Not only does bisexuality exist, those who self-label as bi outnumber those who identify as gay or lesbian. A 2011 study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that 3.1% of respondents in a national survey said they were bi and only 2.5% lesbian or gay. Other studies have found similar results.
- Younger people embrace the identity more than older people. Lisa Diamond and Ritch Savin-Williams’ research shows that people under 40, and especially those under 30, think it’s no big deal to acknowledge attractions to both men and women. But then again, young people tend to think marriage equality is a no-brainer, too.
- Women may be more bisexual than men—or they just accept it more. About 15 years ago, Meredith Chivers did lab research showing that women—regardless of their sexual identity—respond more to bisexual erotica than men. And recent analyses of national youth surveys by Nanette Gartrell show about 15% of adolescent girls have had a same-sex experience, not just attractions.
- But men may be catching up. Savin-Williams is doing research on “mostly heterosexual” men—those with a little bit of same-sex attraction and behavior. There are a LOT of them. And Diamond, once an advocate of the position that women were more bisexual and fluid than men, recently published a paper called “I Was Wrong—Men Are Pretty Darn Fluid Too.”
- Bisexuals threaten heterosexuals because they “blur the line.” In case you haven’t noticed, many heterosexuals still fear and reject gay people. They want to distance from same-sex attraction in every way. If the world is divided neatly into two “camps”—those who are 100% heterosexual and those 100% gay—that’s easy. But if there is a third group, people who are attracted to both men and women, it’s harder to draw the line and make that separation.
- Bisexuals threaten gay people because they represent the ability to hide behind “heterosexual privilege.” Lesbians and gay men often fear they cannot compete with heterosexual privilege in a relationship, and many suspect that anyone who self-labels as “bisexual” will eventually find the lure of a “normal” life too tempting. Some see bisexuals as potential traitors—and heartbreakers.
- This double “biphobia” leaves bisexuals without a community. The “B” in LGBT is only grudgingly accepted. Bisexuals would normally seek solace from their “queer” tribe—but there is sometimes only marginal acceptance by the tribe.
- There is a tremendous pressure to “lie” if you are bisexual. Only 23% of self-identified bisexuals tell others. It’s easier to just let people assume that if you are with an opposite-sex partner you are straight and if you are with a same sex partner you are gay.
- This leads to “bi-invisibility.” “Biphobia” is the irrational fear of bisexuality. “Bi-invisibility” is the denial that bisexuals exist and being blind to the existence of bisexuality. Until recently, this was argued in the scientific literature about bisexuality, and it is the most common public misconception about bisexuality. But bisexuals themselves may unwittingly help to maintain bi-invisibility by not “coming out.” After all, arguably the single most important thing that advanced gay rights in the past 40 years was gays and lesbians becoming more public.
- Bi-invisibility is also maintained by “bi-erasure.” Bi-erasure is the cultural tendency to refuse to acknowledge bisexuals even when they proclaim their bisexuality. How many people think Rock Hudson gay and Marlon Brando straight? Both talked openly about attractions and sexual experiences with men as well as women. Larry King’s fumbling interview of Anna Paquin is not unusual. For reasons that mystify, many people have such a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea that someone could be attracted to both genders—or that gender might not matter—that they just erase the possibility from their worlds!
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