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Note From A Bisexual

A reader writes:

I am bisexual, although in a mild way.  What that means is that there are very few men I am attracted to (probably less than 5% would be a good estimate — if there’s 4-5 I see in a year who visually attract me, that’s a very “bi” year) whereas I notice attractive women all the time, as in every single day.  But … within that small framework, it’s undeniable — I had a crush as a kid on another boy (again, one crush as opposed to dozens on girls, but it did happen and was real and like girl crushes), and as I say very rarely I will notice someone who is male who is attractive to me in that way — it’s always notable to me because it is so uncommon.  After my divorce about 15 years ago I had a long-distance relationship with a younger man for about 9 months (he didn’t have anything to do with the divorce, I met him a couple of years later), and I fell in love with him and all that, so I know I am bisexual, but it just doesn’t commonly manifest.

I suppose this was probably “always there” to some degree — after all I did have the crush when I was young (I think it was 7th or 8th grade).  But, I also do not doubt that if I had been growing up today I would have acted on my curiosity about this aspect of me much more when I was younger.  I did not, for various reasons (the strongest one being fear of getting sick — I am your age, and came of age during the AIDS crisis, which struck me as being a bad time to explore this in any great detail, especially since I was much more attracted to women anyway), but I think that if I had the same aspect and were growing up today, I likely would have acted on my curiosity about this rather small side of myself much, much more than I did, and I would have identified myself, to myself, as bisexual likely very early on due to that boyhood crush (I actually never considered myself bisexual until I had that relationship, because it was always so marginal compared to my attraction to women), and likely would have acted on that much more because it would have been a more firm identity.  So I think you are quite correct that the environment in total has an impact on whether marginal cases, like me, end up acting out very much on these things, especially while younger and in formation.  However, I think it is also correct that some of this is wired in — I was not molested, had a decent, not perfect, father, and so on.  It just was always there, but never prominently there (for me).  I think a different environment can take a marginal case like me, when young, and make him act out on these things in a way that he otherwise might not have done.

Of course, after my relationship with that guy ended, I repented of it when I returned to the Church and it’s clear to me that the sexual aspects of that kind of relationship are clearly sinful.  But in terms of the origins of them, at least in my experience, it was a mix of nature and nurture — nature having them be there to begin with, and nurture (or anti-nurture) discouraging me from acting on them — which would be kind of opposite from where we are today.  So I think the point is well-made, but there is also a nature component involved to some degree.

Note I think that this analysis doesn’t apply in the same way to women.  Women, in my experience, are often (not always, but often) much more sexually fluid and “flexible” than men are, and more contextual, and this isn’t really related to the rise of LGBT activism in the 00s.  Women have been acting out on sexual fluidity with other women since the start of the sexual revolution, really, and it appears to be a very different kind of thing than male homosexual/bisexual activity.  Although I am obviously not a woman, I would guess that we are seeing marginally more women self-identify as bisexual (that part is new), but not a hugely different number of women actually participating in some same-sex activity — the latter isn’t new, and it isn’t like male homosexuality because women do appear to be more contextually flexible and fluid in their attractions (again, not all, but many).  So while I can understand why both young men and women are more prone to use the bisexual label, I think the real change here is likely among the men, in terms of actual same-sex activity because it was always high-ish among women (at least relative to what it has been among men generally speaking, in *our* culture, rather than Greece/Rome, etc.).

UPDATE: Sorry, I should have indicated that this note is a follow-up to the “Born This Way? Really?” post [1]about nature, nurture, and sexuality. If you haven’t read that one, this one won’t make a lot of sense.

21 Comments (Open | Close)

21 Comments To "Note From A Bisexual"

#1 Comment By Edward Hamilton On June 15, 2017 @ 7:44 pm

One of the disappointments of the Harris poll is that it didn’t reveal any useful gender crosstabs on the data. This means that a lot of complicated stories could be hiding underneath the simpler headline graphics. One of my first impressions when looking at the relatively “flat” self-reporting of homosexuality is that it might conceal an increase in male identification (since male homosexuality had a much stronger social stigma, especially for those raised in the AIDS generation), but a decline in female identification (as fluidity has become more accepted, with females appearing more naturally gender-fluid based on arousal studies). In other words, I think the age cohort effects for both lines are stronger than the topline data would suggest.

In fact, even Harris releasing that data might not tell the full story. The [2] of the UK population provides much better demographic sorting, and reveals a really amazing story about the dangers of relying on self-reporting.

When asked directly to give a position on the Kinsey scale (from 1 to 6), the gender gap broke in favor of females being more likely to identify purely heterosexual (a “1”), by a 76 to 68 margin. Females selected the label “heterosexual” (1-3 on the scale) at a 93% rate, compared to only 86% for males.

Later in the poll, the exact same survey (of the same respondents) asks several function questions about sexual behavior. For example, “If the right person came along at the right time,
do you think it is conceivable that you could
have a sexual experience with a person of the
same sex?”

In response to that question, the gender split for “no” was 72 to 50 in favor of men. That is, when asked to select a label, women overwhelmingly elected to self-describe as purely heterosexual. But when asked whether they’d be willing to have a bisexual experience, they were substantially more open to it. That is, about a third of “purely heterosexual” women (the “1”s) were willing to contemplate having a sexual experience with another woman at some point in the future.

This is a very important point to appreciate when interpreting poll data. Labels don’t matter, because respondents — I suspect, young respondents in particular — self-identify in ways that are inconsistent with their behavior. Calling oneself “bisexual” (or “gay”, or “lesbian”) has more to do with locating one’s membership or identity within a particular community or subculture in a public way, rather than with behavior choices.

#2 Comment By Robyn Ochs On June 15, 2017 @ 10:35 pm

I very much appreciate your speaking out. I am co-editor of an anthology titled RECOGNIZE: The Voices of Bisexual Men and another called Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World.

Sexuality falls along a continuum. Someone who identifies as bisexual can have mostly same-sex attraction, or mostly other-sex attraction, or be smack dab in the middle. In my conversations with bisexual men, I have spoken to many with experiences similar to yours. It’s all fine.

In making ourselves visible, we serve as possibility models to others. So thank you.

#3 Comment By Michael On June 15, 2017 @ 11:07 pm

Rod,

Maybe I’m dense…but why is this important or of interest?

#4 Comment By james dabney On June 15, 2017 @ 11:15 pm

I’m unclear why you posted this post “Note from a Bisexual”?

#5 Comment By cermak_rd On June 15, 2017 @ 11:27 pm

I think he’s right about women. Many women wind up having relations with other women in college because the sex ratios in colleges tilt toward more women than men. Add to that the expectation that their careers in their initial years in them will be unstable and require moves, then relationships that are intentionally sterile and temporary can be seen as better choices.

#6 Comment By Gabriel On June 16, 2017 @ 12:26 am

The truth of the matter, I suspect, is that nature and nurture play different roles with different people. Changing social mores will cause more people like the writer who have some innate bisexual attractions to identify (and act) as bisexuals. But I strongly suspect that even more people will adopt or shift their sexual attraction to a bisexual or even homosexual orientation due to the complex dynamics of our current culture.

Increasingly, gender identity and sexual orientation are seen as acceptable ways of expressing individuality in our highly individualistic society, and this kind of shift is an attractive subconscious alternative for those who don’t fit in to their mainstream peer groups, providing a narrative for their struggles, a replacement quasi-religion, a supportive community and sexual license.

#7 Comment By Sam M On June 16, 2017 @ 7:13 am

There’s nature, there’s nurture, but also a third thing that’s something like context? Maybe that falls under nurture, but here’s what I mean.

Prison. Many man who do not consider themselves gay or bi have sex with men in prison.

And shipwrecks. It’s my understanding that the real Robinson Crusoe developed a sad sort of connection to goats on the island where he was wrecked. I doubt he self identified as a bestiality guy prior to being stranded.

But again, this supports either side of the political argument you want it to. People who are born a certain way CAN live a different way. It’s a question of whether we can or should ask or force them to.

We do all the time, actually. I think monogamy runs counter to nature in many instances. But for the sake of society we hold it up as the ideal. Or at lest we used to.

Yes. Even though you NATURE was urging you to roll in the hay with the willing pool boy or the willing babysitter or the neighbor or the old high school flame, you were supposed to tell your nature to shut the hell up.

Didn’t always happen, of course. But it was seen as possible.

#8 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 16, 2017 @ 10:01 am

Rod,

Maybe I’m dense…but why is this important or of interest?

Can’t answer for Rod, but a personal account like this seems useful to me because it gives some empirical (if subjective) experience that doesn’t fit the clashes of ideological passion, but is very real to the individual concerned.

I think we have to get to a point, when all the dust and hot air and narcissism settles down, of recognizing that individuals are different, people need to make their own choices without undue pressure from either the criminal law or their faddish peers or teachers and social workers fresh with the latest “continuing education” speculation.

And yes, statistically speaking, the human species is heteronormative, with a lot of inevitable deviations from the norm.

#9 Comment By Grumpy Realist On June 16, 2017 @ 10:21 am

The panting lover says–I quote
“Darling, you’re my symbiote
Without you I’m like to die!”
Lovers still, you notice–lie.

#10 Comment By ludo On June 16, 2017 @ 11:29 am

Bisexuality seems like double the pain and double the misery…unless you’re a woman, and it all essentially remains at an infantile, uunselfconscious mutually masturbatory level.

Consider this description of the famed Austrian (erotic) artist Egon Schiele, by the supremely inferior pseudo-artist Tracey Emin:

‘Schiele shared these artists’ sense of isolation and disclocation. “All his angst made sense, because he didn’t live very long,” says Emin. “He died when he was 28. Most artists get their MA when they’re 28 now. Egon Schiele – he was dead, his wife was dead, most of his friends were dead. If they didn’t get syphilis, they died of TB, they died of the flu, they died in the first world war. The Austro‑Hungarian Empire … all of that, it’s pretty scary times. The fact that he stayed focused on his personal perspective is pretty incredible: the strength in being able to do that at such a young age.”’

Schiele and his coterie were bohemian hedonists who channeled their philosophic fatalism into untrammeled sexual obsession (i.e. libertinism’) and ‘paid the ultimate price’ as it were, because any respite they received they squandered by returning to said obsessions, as though they tried to live in an ethereal, though unimpeachably carnal, ideal of constant sexual opioidism or inebriation, but instead of a shield against suffering this psychological strategy of obsession proved quite likely an accelerant, and not untorturous even in their physically haler moments, towards an early death. An ideal that truly only Milton’s immortal Satan could ever pull off, though not even he without much psychological torment as his equally immortal and yet entirely elected (self-)punishment.

#11 Comment By JonF On June 16, 2017 @ 12:22 pm

This piece (and kudos to the correspondent who wrote so honestly about it) assumes that the opposite trajectory could not happen: someone might have a same-sex thing in their youth, then meet the “right” person of the opposite sex later in life and settle down into a heterosexual relationship. That happens with some bisexual women who, perhaps out of frustration with the oafish behavior of young men when they are also young (guys mature slower, often socially as well), or maybe a bad relationship with a guy, turn to other women for a while, but eventually meet a decent man who attracts them later in life and they get married, have kids, etc. I’ve also known (though not well) a guy like that– in high school and college he was “gay” and had a boyfriend, but now in his 30s he’s married (heterosexually) with children.
Life is, well, complicated.

#12 Comment By kijunshi On June 16, 2017 @ 1:12 pm

Yes, exactly. A percentage of humanity (my unscientific guess would be around 15%) has the capability to be sexually attracted to both genders, in various degrees. As an earlier poster noted, it is important to separate this capability from self-reported identity (merely note the surprising number of self-declared lesbians who have sex and even marry men. They are as just as homosexual as ‘men who sleep with men’ are heterosexual).

But I also want to note that the growing number of people who claim that we are “all bisexual really!” are equally deluded. I don’t care what the media reports about women’s supposed increased tendency toward bisexuality (hang out in male-oriented spaces like Reddit to see their easily equal-in-number male counterpart!) – I am heterosexual, and would be unfulfilled, saddened and maybe even disgusted if I was herded into a sexual relationship with a woman. I do not find any of the secondary sex characteristics attractive at all. I presume heterosexual men have similar feelings.

I’m also a bit sad that the reader felt had to claim this relationship he had with another man – clearly something emotionally meaningful and possibly life-changing, even though it did not last – was a venal sin. Unless they were out spreading AIDS or something, I don’t see why this couldn’t be seen as just another chapter of life, even (especially?) if he goes on to happily remarry a woman. Ah well… not my culture, not my method of dealing with a breakup, I suppose.

#13 Comment By kgasmart On June 16, 2017 @ 2:46 pm

Yes. Even though you NATURE was urging you to roll in the hay with the willing pool boy or the willing babysitter or the neighbor or the old high school flame, you were supposed to tell your nature to shut the hell up.

That cuts both ways of course; in the past, when you were gay, you spent your life telling your nature to shut the hell up.

But now we’re in this era where it’s seen as virtuous to indulge that nature, that you’re only living an honest life if you do. But only for gay and bi people? In other words, if I – married 23 years – decide I really really want to chase the waitress or the babysitter and have some new thrills, am I “living an honest life” or am I demonstrating a pitiful lack of self-control?

#14 Comment By Annek On June 16, 2017 @ 3:46 pm

Gabriel:

Increasingly, gender identity and sexual orientation are seen as acceptable ways of expressing individuality in our highly individualistic society, and this kind of shift is an attractive subconscious alternative for those who don’t fit in to their mainstream peer groups, providing a narrative for their struggles, a replacement quasi-religion, a supportive community and sexual license.

I would guess there is quite a bit of truth to this.

#15 Comment By russ On June 16, 2017 @ 5:27 pm

There are natural, genetic causes of our personalities, including desire.

There are situational, environmental causes of our personalities, including desire.

Situations change, and so do personalities, tastes, even deep longings. People reject the faith of their youth, find faith later in life, and change their sexual orientation as well. Apparently (according to Sam M) Robinson Crusoe unlocked his inner capraphile (is that a word? Not going to Google it)

Regardless of the first three tenets, there are ideal relationship configurations, for personal happiness, moral living, and the continuance and advancement of society.

Do we not all agree with these things?

If we accept them, we need to determine how and whether to encourage people toward the ideal relationship configurations. But first, what are the ideal relationship configurations, the ones all of society has an interest in promoting?

I am a Christian. I believe that Biblical morality will lead to the best outcome for individuals and society as a whole. I’d like to see some light stigma applied to non-ideal (non-Biblical) relationship configurations. I don’t think that’s possible anymore, with traditional Christian positions becoming less favored (for complicated reasons, many of which professing Christians themselves have brought about, through hypocrisy and lack of grace). I believe we’re entering a period where the idea of one kind of relationship being superior to another is unraveling.

To me the next best thing is keeping the law out of areas where society has disagreements over what’s best. If marriage is defined as a contract between any two (for now) lovers who want to stay together until they don’t (I’m including the unbiblical approach to divorce here), then let’s just get rid of the concept from a legal perspective. Really what right do we have to keep any two lovers from this contract if we can’t say that one type of marriage is superior? [Yeah, this ship has sailed, I know]

Of course, I wouldn’t say the same about abortion, over which society is quite divided. And I’m glad the North didn’t take the same “every man decides for himself” approach to the topic of slavery. Those are issues where I feel it’s obvious there is no middle ground. Perhaps LGTB activists feel the same way about their cause.

#16 Comment By DRK On June 16, 2017 @ 5:46 pm

Some commenters have expressed frustration with the information graph in Rod’s previous post as being too broad a brush. Here is an article that drills down more deeply into racial and gendered subsets of LBG people, using the General Social Survey from 2008 to 2016.

[3]

Among the most interesting things he notes is that among women in this survey, and especially among black women (19% of whom now identify as lesbian or bisexual!), women are more likely to identify as bisexual than as gay, and that among men, and particularly among black men, men are more likely to identify as gay than bisexual. Almost no black men in the survey identified as bisexual Almost all the increase in people identifying as bisexual came from women, overall. All the other categories are leveling out.

Side note: I know the “nature vs. nurture” reference, but “nurture” is a grimly ironic term here for the ways in which heteronormativity was historically enforced; social stigma, criminalization, beatings,”corrective rape”, and murder.

#17 Comment By Andrea On June 16, 2017 @ 7:16 pm

I have a couple of relatives who seem to be bisexual, though I don’t know either well enough to ask. One was married to a man and has now been married to another woman for a number of years. Another was with men, then married another woman, divorced her and is now with a man. But then I also know a couple of men who have dated/married both men and women. I would guess that those who’ve researched this are right and sexuality is a spectrum, with a few having no interest in sex at all, some in the middle and attracted to both sexes to one degree or another and most closer to one pole or another. It’s likely not all genetic or all caused by exposure to different hormones in the womb. Not all identical twins are both gay or both straight. Under some circumstances, like prison, a fair number of men and women will have same sex relationships. I do think people probably have more control over their desires than it is currently in vogue to acknowledge.

#18 Comment By the guy in the OP of this thread On June 16, 2017 @ 8:04 pm

’m also a bit sad that the reader felt had to claim this relationship he had with another man – clearly something emotionally meaningful and possibly life-changing, even though it did not last – was a venal sin. Unless they were out spreading AIDS or something, I don’t see why this couldn’t be seen as just another chapter of life, even (especially?) if he goes on to happily remarry a woman. Ah well… not my culture, not my method of dealing with a breakup, I suppose.

@kijunshi —

Neither the relation, in itself, nor the love was sinful, but the sex was clearly sinful. I love him still, and he is still in my life in a non-romantic way (he is with someone else and I am engaged to a woman), but the sex was sinful objectively and I have repented of it. I am an Orthodox (big O) Christian, as is my fiancee, and she knows all of this history as well, in case you or others are curious about that.

#19 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 16, 2017 @ 8:58 pm

Side note: I know the “nature vs. nurture” reference, but “nurture” is a grimly ironic term here for the ways in which heteronormativity was historically enforced; social stigma, criminalization, beatings,”corrective rape”, and murder.

Without making the absurd claim that none of these ever occured, the incidence of any one of them varied considerable between different cultures. Further, you left out a few other forms of nurturing: mother’s gentle talks, father/son hikes in the countryside, the structure of the school prom…

#20 Comment By Eric Todd On June 17, 2017 @ 2:41 am

DRK say: “heteronormativity…”

LOL! What politically correct rubbish. That term is just another attempt to stigmatising traditional values.

#21 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 17, 2017 @ 7:30 pm

Heteronormativity… the species homo sapiens sapiens, like all biological life on planet earth more complex than a sponge, is heteronormative. If sexual dimorphism were not a good reproductive strategy, we would have no sex drive, sex hormones, overwhelming feelings of sexual bliss. Thus, there would also be no homosexuality.

Homosexuality is secondary, derivative, a statistical deviation from the norm. It has no meaning EXCEPT that those who feel that way have only one life to live, and are free to decide how to play the proteins they were dealt.

I’m also a bit sad that the reader felt had to claim this relationship he had with another man – clearly something emotionally meaningful and possibly life-changing, even though it did not last – was a venal sin.

Spare your tears. The man is happy with his decision. One reason we have a First Amendment is that we disagree in many ways about what is or is not a venal sin. The repentant sinner can’t legislate what you shall consider to be a venal sin, and you can’t legislate what he considers to be one. Of course we can all spout off about it, but nobody has listen.