Thursday, January 23, 2014

Bisexuality: What We Have Here is Failure to Communicate

I seem to have kicked up controversy among a few gay men due to my remarks about Andrew Sullivan’s biphobia. I am pleased to respond and take no offense to the criticism. Queer men of a generation beyond my own have taken liberties with an earlier post and have let their displeasure be known loudly. As is the case with many groups of people who have been repeatedly judged and shamed over the course of a lifetime, some now assume the same from me. I understand their concern, which is my motivation for qualifying my remarks.

Before I begin, I should add that my earlier words of constructive criticism are not directed at any particular person or persons. The opinions I’ve shared are partially my own and partially those of others who identify as I do. I speak my truth as I have understood it, and others are certainly free to speak theirs. Or to put it another way, what we have here is failure to communicate.

It’s mind-boggling how quickly mainstream acceptance of those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender has progressed. I am a child of the 1980’s and the early 1990’s. At the time I came of age, staying closeted remained a much more attractive option than it is today. In high school, I came out to myself, then to a select few of my classmates. Most of them, I’m happy to say, were accepting of me as I was. Ironically, they were more understanding and tolerant of me than I ever was about myself.

For some gay men, especially those a decade or two older than me, the term "bisexual" was often used as a stepping stone. At times, even I heard that bisexuality didn't really exist. Fortunately, both approaches are far less prevalent today. Bisexuality is taken seriously, not seen as a transitional phase. What Andrew Sullivan implies about the young British diver Tom Daley, who once dated women and is now prominently dating a man, is that a homosexual relationship is the athlete’s final step in self-discovery and somehow indicative of his real identity.

We can’t look inside Daley’s mind, and until we can, making judgments based on absolutely zero solid evidence is a losing proposition. If Daley eventually comes out as exclusively homosexual, Sullivan and many others will get to gloat about it. But if he does not, Andrew Sullivan will have to come to terms with his short-sighted attitudes. It used to be much easier to make glib pronouncements like these, but no longer.

I’ve known men and women both who have had relationships at separate times with a person of their own gender and the opposite gender. In fact, I myself fall into this category. To cite another example, a friend of mine first chose to partner with a woman. Her lesbian friends applauded her. Then when the relationship was over, she decided to date a man. Many of those same friends were dismayed and shocked. A more fluid sexuality should not cause a rejection of a person simply if he or she is neither completely one way nor entirely all another.

My friend wasn’t the one at fault here. Instead, the blame rests upon the attitudes of those who have yet to understand how complicated sexual orientation really is. We really can’t (and shouldn't) presume where a person will eventually land or where they'll end up. We can't read each other's minds and we surely can't know their preferences based on supposition and conjecture. So let's stop trying.

Cynthia Nixon was in a long term relationship with a man and now is married to a woman. Anne Heche partnered with men and women, but returned to men after dating Ellen. The late rock star Lou Reed had relationships with both sexes and was given electroshock therapy in adolescence to somehow “cure” him of his homosexual thoughts. There are many other examples I could use to illustrate the same idea. These people were not delusional. I'm fairly sure they thought through every decision they made when it came to who they intended to date.

I doubted my bisexuality at first. But, I found that if I pushed my fears aside, having sex with a man was very arousing and a lot of fun. At the end of a fairly meaningless and short-term tryst, I had an comforting epiphany. I really was bisexual. I could have sex with both men and women...because I was attracted to both men and women. This was not a case of mistaken identity on my part. For the first time in my life, the two felt very right lined up neatly next to each other. That day was one of the happiest ones of my life.

We must be willing to get past our pain, our past rejection, and look beyond what is easy and comfortable. I’m 33 now. The Millennials I observe on the bus seem sometimes to be speaking a foreign language. I try to observe their lingo and attitudes, in the hopes that I might keep abreast of the issues important to them. At the same time, I feel a very natural tendency to reject their perspectives sometimes because, quite frankly, it makes me feel old. And if I don't watch myself, I find myself too upset and perplexed, consumed with my own worries and phobias to really accept them on their own terms.

As I get even older, the effect will increase in magnitude. Young adults will show me the future by their very existence, whether I want them to or not. They'll have their own slang, their own clothing, and their own technological devices, to name a few. My immediate emotional and intellectual response to subsequent generations will likely be a profound sense of misunderstanding, coupled with a sense of not belonging in the spaces they inhabit.

Yet, I do have great hope for the future, as I am fairly certain their attitudes towards sexuality, gender, and sexual orientation will be vastly liberated compared to my own at the same age. The march of time continues. Let’s not get hemmed in by our past. Instead, let’s work hard to accept the present and future to come.

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