Monday, January 06, 2014

Here's What Bisexuality Really Is, Andrew

I’ll be perfectly frank. It annoys me that I feel the need to write a new variation on a theme every year or two. This is what I mean. Gay conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan has in the past few days repeated a particularly obnoxious and untrue sentiment, namely that bisexuality doesn’t exist in men. As you will see, I beg to differ. Revealing personal details about myself for the sake of furthering an argument has never stopped me, so here I go again.

Providing proof is neither necessary nor imperative. Revealing names of men who I have known romantically and sexually wouldn’t quiet the naysayers and the doubters. Those who will not allow themselves to look beyond their skepticism will not be swayed by anyone's persuasive essay. Though I may have been lucky, most people who’ve known me well never questioned whether or not my bisexuality was real. Friends and acquaintances have taken me at my word, and gratefully so.

My first boyfriend was a generation older. He found my attraction to both sexes perplexing at first. Perplexing, but not imaginary. Through my example and our time together, he came to recognize for himself what I’d always known. Since then, I've tried to let my life speak in a way that sober statistics alone cannot. Now and again I encountered a person rude enough to caustically dismiss me as a charlatan. Fortunately, those unsettling interludes never knocked me off track or triggered an identity crisis. I had always had faith in myself.

Though I could spin it out that way if I wanted, I don’t see my sexual orientation as especially tragic or melodramatic. While I will admit that it’s caused me substantial discomfort over a period of years, I wouldn't call myself tortured and self-loathing. Instead, I’ve had to unpack and then discard the stereotypical beliefs of both heterosexuals and homosexuals. The collection of over-generalizations that we call the gender binary have been the bane of many. As for me, I’ve gotten a double wammy of distortion, baseless conjecture, and misleading opinions masquerading as fact.

My primary task has been easy enough. I've sought to figure out how I fit in and who I really am. This kind of inner work is common to everyone, regardless of how he or she might identify. For a person like me who has lived forever with a foot in two camps simultaneously, whether I wanted to or not, it can be overwhelming. God's honest truth is very different from what many presume to know. From years of anecdotal evidence, I have come to recognize that many people who self-identify as gay are really bisexual. Not all, but many. Multiple bisexual men and women have chosen one side over the other as a kind of pragmatic compromise. In so doing, they seek to keep things simple and uncluttered for themselves.

I can’t fault them for their decision. It spares a lot of heartache and headache. Sullivan thinks that, in his words, male sexuality is cruder, simpler, and more binary than that of women. Not necessarily. While I can’t claim to have ever been a woman in my life, I will say that I began exploring gay sex at the end of high school and in college. In a more innocent time, well before Craigslist paranoia and the joys of broadband internet, I made the acquaintance of several shy, introverted guys very similar to myself.

Many of them had girlfriends already, but were looking for a very different outlet. Bisexual was the word they always assigned to themselves, and I applied the same to myself. It was in their company that I first recognized that I was far from abnormal and that, regardless of what some might believe, I was certainly not delusional.

Sullivan's opinion conveniently overlooks transgender men and women, which is another important piece of the puzzle. A woman I met at a LGBT conference this past year spoke at length to me about having relationships with both men and women. Her current partner is female, but the partner is strongly considering beginning the process of transition. To her, gender is entirely irrelevant and immaterial, regardless of whatever decision her girlfriend makes. She loves a person, not a vocabulary word.

An ex-girlfriend of mine had top surgery, began testosterone, and now identifies as a man. His partner is a woman. She was very supportive when, ten years ago, her girlfriend came out as transgender and began the process of gender transformation. My ex and I talk regularly. The fond feelings we have for each other continue to the current day.

We retain the same residual familiarity that many of us feel for those with whom we have at some point in the past entrusted with our hearts. When he declared, at first, to be a lesbian, I found it curious that his regard and desire for me never ceased. When he later revised that statement to say that he was transgender, our relationship made much more sense.  

I’m afraid I don’t see evidence of the over-simplified world where men are men and women are women. That’s never been my experience. The difference between myself and other men might be my willingness to define masculinity in a very different way. I've been willing to disregard and openly question my societal conditioning as a man. Placing too much emphasis upon biology alone is like playing without a full deck.

Having put myself to a series of tests, I’ve recognized that labels, even well-intentioned labels, can be limited. For a while they give us a kind of solidarity with others, but greater contemplation will show that we don’t need terminology to boost our self-confidence. It doesn’t matter who we partner with or who we take to bed. In the end, sexual orientation is only a fraction of who we really are. Ours is a bisexual world, neither black, nor white, gay nor straight.  


Daniel Francis said...

Andrew Sullivan Did NOT say that bisexuality doesn't exist among men. Nor has he ever said that. He simply doesn't believe every young man who CLAIMS to be bisexual because many gay young men tend to use bisexuality as a kind of reassurance mechanism. I'm not "that" different.
Perhaps he should take people at face value, but his own experience and that of so many others has been such, that he doesn't feel obligated to do so.
Obviously I agree with him. Though he could have been more tactful about the way he said it, I think he is right.

Comrade Kevin said...

For gay men of a certain generation, denoting oneself as "bisexual" is a step towards full acceptance as gay.

Biphobia is real. But fortunately it isn't as common in my generation as it is in a generation prior to my own. Bisexual means bisexual and gay means gay.

Daniel Francis said...

Its true that its less of a big deal nowadays. Bet there are still a LOT of people who do the "bisexual, sorry, I meant gay" thing. especially in the Midwest and south and mountain states like Idaho and Wyoming.

Comrade Kevin said...

Sure, but we should never make assumptions about people until we first know the facts.