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If You Believe in Bisexuals, Clap Your Hands: My Letter to Dan Savage

DansavageSo a couple of months ago, Dan Savage of the sex advice column Savage Love wrote this column about bisexuals. While it did get my dander up, it was certainly a sight better than some of what he’s written about bisexuality in the past. In his own words: “I no longer believe that most bisexuals wind up in [heterosexual relationships] because you’re all liars and cheats, or that you’re all dying to access societal perks reserved for heterosexuals, or that you’re all cowards and it’s hard out here for a homo.”

Gee, thanks, Dan.

No, instead he now says, “I think most bisexuals wind up in heterosexual relationships because most bisexuals are mostly hetero.”

Once again — thanks. Heaps.

I wrote the following letter in response — fairly reasoned, I thought — but he hasn’t printed it yet, and I’m assuming at this point that he won’t. (Which is fine — he must get hundreds of letters, most shorter than this one and actually asking for advice.) But I thought I made some important points, and I hate writing good stuff that never makes it out into the world (I’ve never kept a journal with anything like the regularity of this blog), and I thought y’all would be interested to see it.

***

Bi2Dear Mr. Savage:

I’m not going to yell at you or call you names. So please hear me out.

In your recent column, you asserted that “very few bisexual women wind up ‘sharing their lives’ with other women,” and that “most (bisexuals) can only fall in love with an opposite-sex partner.” I’m wondering: What data are you using to come to that conclusion?

I ask because your assertion is radically different from my own observations. In my own extended circle of friends, acquaintances, colleagues and family, the significant majority of bisexuals — both women and men — are in serious relationships with women. (BTW, that includes both me and my partner.)

There are certainly exceptions, and admittedly my extended circle is not a scientifically selected statistical sampling. But your claim is so drastically different from my own experience that I have to at least question it. Do you have data to back it up, or are you simply basing it on your own unscientifically-selected circle of people you know?

Bi4I also ask for another reason. I find it very troubling when people tell other people what their sexual orientation “really” is, based on their own definitions. And I find this especially troubling when it comes from a widely read and influential sex advisor. So many different factors go into deciding which sexual-identity label fits you best — does sex count as much as romantic love? does desire count as much as behavior? does sexual and romantic history count as much as present status? does present status count as much as potential future involvements? etc. etc. etc. — and thus the definitions vary enormously depending on who you’re talking to.

And because the definitions are both so variable and so heavily loaded, I think we need to let people define themselves, based on their own definitions. Saying that most bisexuals are really straight (or even “mostly straight”) isn’t very helpful, and it’s on the insulting side — as if we don’t know enough about our own sexuality to know what to call it. I appreciate how much you’ve changed your position on this subject over the years, but when you tell bisexuals “You think you’re bisexual, but actually you’re pretty much straight,” it really is just as annoying as all those annoying goddamn bisexuals who run around saying that “everyone is basically bisexual.”

Sincerely,
Greta Christina

P.S. I have seen at least one paper backing up my assertion that both women and men are more likely to get involved with women, at least under certain circumstances — but I’m not sure how much I trust it. Anyway, one paper is just one paper. If you’re curious and want to look it up, it’s by Andrew Francis, and there’s a pdf at http://home.uchicago.edu/~afrancis/research.html .

***

Bi1So anyway. Thoughts? Observations? What are the bisexually-identified people in your life — including you, if you’re one of them — doing sexually? Romantically? Are they/you mostly in hetero relationships, as Dan Savage asserts? Mostly in relationships with women, as has been my observation? Mostly sexual with one but romantic with the other? All over the map? Something completely different?

And if you do see a pattern — do you have a theory about why that pattern is? I have one about my “bis tend to end up with women” observation, but it kind of boils down to “men are pigs,” which I don’t actually believe. (Actually, I have a bi friend who was going to make T-shirts saying “Bisexuality: Men are stupid, women are crazy,” which, while still an obvious oversimplification, does, I think, hit closer to home.) But I’m very aware of the fact that my circle of close friends does not constitute a stastically accurate sampling — so I want to expand the sampling to my circle of people who read my blog. Much more accurate…

And yes, I was once one of those annoying bisexuals who insisted that everyone was basically bisexual. Mea culpa.

Comments

  1. Dan W says

    I find it much easier to believe in an inherent sliding-scale bisexuality than I do to believe that there’s no such thing as true bisexuality.
    I know it’s small-time to ascribe motives to an argument, but I can’t help but notice a distinct tinge of bitterness to the “no such thing as bisexuality” idea. The whole thing about ” you’re all cowards and it’s hard out here for a homo” kinda gives it away.

  2. Ingrid says

    My somewhat convoluted way of thinking about the continuum of sexual orientation is this: most people have a fairly strong orientation one way or the other, but most people also probably have a touch more fluidity than they care to admit. Or to put it numerically for the geeks, hardly anyone is a perfect Kinsey 3, but hardly anyone is a 0 or a 6 either. Let’s hear it for the 1s,2s,4s, and 5s of the world!! Myself I think I’m a Kinsey Pi (an irrational number somewhat greater than 3).

  3. says

    Greta, you know that neither Dan, you, or anyone else has data about sex histories, because that kind of research is all but outlawed. We still look at Kinsey’s studies from the 30s and 40s for the tiniest clues.
    So, of course, his take is based on his friends, his readers, and his absolutely determined style of his own to be contrary!
    In person, Dan has plenty of bisexual friends, like me, who have said, “oh dan, shut up, you secret bisexual you.” Giving it back as good as he dishes it out! And when he says he’s changed over the years, it really is b/c of these friends.
    But as for your theory about “ending up with women,” I do think that has legs for another reason. The “ending Up” part implies domesticity, living together, marriage. We’re not talking about bachelors and bachelorettes who just keep “dating” women ad infinitum.
    And when it comes to playing house, home, hearth, and family, traditional femininity is a huge plus. Who wouldn’t want to “live with” a woman? Women make better “wives,” so to speak. Most of us have been trained all our lives for it.
    You see those studies about how older men living alone are much unhappier than older single women. In fact, some of the older single women sound positively gleeful. And it’s becuase of their confidence and comfort in keeping their own house, they ability to nurture themselves, or anyone else, in a home environment.
    This is why when I see moms doing their teenage sons’ laundry and makign all their meals, negotiating their whole social calendar, mednign their whatnots, i want to scream: YOU ARE NOT DOING THIS YOUNG MAN ANY FAVORS.
    I know you didn’t expect a passionate discussion of bisexuality to turn to laundry, but that’s where I went.
    And by the way, Ithink being a Kinsey Pi is just brilliant!

  4. sexposfemme says

    I don’t care much for labels because of this very thing, it ends up being so analyzed it takes all the spontaneity and eroticism out of it. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but this could be because lesbians are less likely to marry bisexuals than are straight men, as many lesbians are afraid that the bisexuals will leave them for a man. It could be because of straight privelege and fear of coming out. There are so many reasons why that could be true assuming it is.
    I don’t see myself marrying anyone, since I doubt I would find a man and woman willing to have a polyamorous union. I will just be a serial monagomist with both men and women. I usually have sex with men, but I always masturbate to women. I usually have sex with men because they’re easier to find and usually more promiscuous than women.

  5. says

    How helpful are all these labels? Bi, hetero, gay etc. It reminds me of hair-splitting in the sex trade about who is or isn’t “a prostitute.” Some women, eager to call themselves whores, don’t have sex for money but they work in a peep show. Or whatever. I’ve met women who say they’re not engaged in prostitution because they only perform manual sex. And escorts who, legalistically, argue that they are selling their time not sex. Oh and very PC girls in the sex worker movement who insist they are selling their services, not their bodies. (I used to feel that way too. Now that I no longer sell my body, I magically feel completely at ease with with the concept — nostalgia?) In the end, everybody has to make a living, though, and many can relate to each other’s struggles, situations, work. Not saying the labels are entirely useless. If they open up a dialogue, I suppose that’s something… but do some people take them too seriously?

  6. says

    Susie, I agree with you 100%. That’s pretty much where I was going with my “men are pigs” joke. If I’m right that people with a choice (i.e., bisexuals) do tend to end up with women, I think it’s because women are, on the whole, easier to be in relationships with. And not just because of the housekeeping thing. We’re trained from a very early age to be co-operative, empathetic, nurturing, emotionally expressive… all very useful traits when you’re settling down with someone for the long haul.
    Which may also be part of why older single women do better than older single men. I’ve seen a study asking people who their best friend is: women tend to name some other woman, and men tend to name their wife or girlfriend if they have one. Women seem, in general, to be better at making strong emotional connections, both in their relationships and out of them. If men don’t have partners, they’re more likely to be lonely.
    As to labels: Maybe we should draw a distinction between “labels” — which implies a certain rigidity — and “words.” I do find it useful to have a word that expresses, however imprecisely and differently-defined by different people, the fact that I’m attracted to both women and men. The labelling problem come when the words become more important than the reality — when people become so attached to a word and what they think it means that they ignore or deny the complicated, ever-shifting reality of life.
    I don’t agree that analyzing sexuality takes the fun out of it, though. Maybe it’s because I’m a giant geek, but I think analyzing sexuality *is* fun. More to the point, I know that I feel more comfortable and easy with sexuality — mine and other people’s — when I understand it better.
    And my personal theory as to why Dan Savage has been dissing bisexuals isn’t that he’s secretly bi. My theory is that he got dumped — badly — by a bisexual man who left him for a woman. That’s the thing he keeps harping on about when he talks trash about bisexuals — the idea that “bisexuals will leave their same-sex lovers for an opposite-sex one.” There’s this bitterness in his tone when he talks about it that just seems personal.
    What I find interesting about the continuum Ingrid and Dan talked about is that I’ve been sliding up and down it for my entire adult life. That’s one aspect of sexual orientation that doesn’t get discussed much: we tend to assume that it’s fixed, but in my experience it hasn’t been at all. Couldn’t that be part of our sexual identity — not just our preference, but how fixed that preference is? (See my essay “Drawing the Line” at http://www.gretachristina.com/drawingtheline.html for a more detailed rant on this subject.)
    But I’m still interested in the original question: What is your immediate circle of bi friends doing? Who are you/they settling down with, if anybody? I don’t think we’re going to get a good statistical sampling, but I’m still curious.

  7. says

    Susie,
    I liked your comment about sleeping with men because they’re easier to find and have fewer problems with “casual” sex. It’s certainly been my experience. Though most of my female lovers have been from the swinging, leather or porn communities, it seems easier to entice them to bed when there is also a man involved.
    I’ve been bixsexual for as long as I can remember, and finally used the label at age 14, when my “normal” interest in my own gender hadn’t passed. So, my same sex interest wasn’t, in fact, a “phase,” as the books of the time suggested. It took years afte that to find people to play with, but at least I knew what I was, for which I’m grateful.
    I used to think I was “50/50″ in terms of my sexual interest. Asked to choose one gender over another, I would always say, “I want both!” That changed to 55/45 when, after a short and disasterous relationship with a woman, I realized that, as much as I love women, both as a group and individually, when it comes to romantic love and mating, I fell onto the hetero side of the scale, if only barely. I never thought I’d find a compatible mate of any gender, since I am intergenderd, poly and a sex worker, to boot, but I”m happy to say that I did.
    It’s annoying, though, to have a mainstream sex advice person still be so jugemental about alternative sexual orientations. It’s not just Savage; all of the mainstream press/TV personalities do it.

  8. Janet Hardy says

    My own pattern is that women tend to push my sexual buttons and men my nesting buttons. As a result, I tend to wind up in LTRs with guys, and to have hot sex on the side with women.
    In terms of attraction, though, I’m probably about a Kinsey 2 — a man is likelier than a woman to turn my head. But it’s much easier to find women who eroticize pain, which is where my core sexual interest lies, so the majority of my sexual relationships are with women.
    And to make the whole thing even a bit more complex, I’m genetically female but gender-bent — if I’m feeling sexy I’m probably feeling male. So does that make my relationships with men the same-sex relationships, or the ones with women?
    I think part of the reason people resist the label “bisexual” is that it almost never seems to encompass the complexity of human attractions.

  9. QueerKitten says

    I’m a woman who dated and had sex with women exclusively for almost ten years after many unsatisfying years with men. I’m now in a LTR with a man (who, FWIW, has probably slept with more self-identified dykes than I have).
    During the time I was with women, my relatives did not once ever ask about or acknowledge any of my partners (one of my sisters told me that allowable topics of phone conversation were her job, her kids and the weather). When I started dating men again, all of a sudden came great interest in my relationships (the ones I told them about that did not involve fucking motorcycle boys on the floors of their garages).
    I recently asked my current partner to marry me and he said yes! My (gay, bi and het) friends have been wonderful with support and advice. I will not invite my relatives to any aspect of our wedding, however, because if my partner were a woman they wouldn’t come. I’m not even going to tell them about it until afterwards. I’m not sure what the lesson is here except that if you update/change/shift your orientation, remember the past.

  10. says

    These days, most of my sex is self-sex, so I guess that makes me a homosexual. ;-) I also happen to be the domestic partner of a man. We are in a nominally open relationship, yet I have not had sex with anyone besides him or myself in about a year now, largely by choice but also due somewhat to lack of opportunity. At least, that’s the story I tell myself. As I know, based on past promiscuity, I can always find sex when I want to; nowadays I’m just not that interested. I’m more committed to emotional security than sexual abundance. Could I find that someday with a woman? Probably. As long as my relationship with myself is secure and vital, anything is possible.
    I spend an average of 21 hours per day at home. When I go out driving on errands, I am moved by the visual appeal of both male and female specimens of our species. Often this joy manifests itself in passionate utterances of phrase I do not deem suitable for this forum, and best confined to the relatively safe enclosure of my minivan.
    In Hawaii, the comfort with which people, particularly young people, display their bodies both inspires and intimidates me. Probably I am just not used to it, since I have only been here for about six months, yet clearly this is one of the benefits of life in a tropical climate.
    Who is to say that each of us should not have 20,000 sexualities, one for each day of our lives? Today, for instance, the most potent sexual element in my environment has been a clutch of bright, shiny red berries I see hanging from a stately plant outside the window from which I am typing you this note. In fact, I found them so pleasingly voluptuous, I took a picture so you could enjoy them too: http://tinyurl.com/rk32l
    Despite his words about “falling in love,” Dan isn’t really writing about passion. How could he do so with any depth, given the constraints of the advice column format? His remarks regarding the risks of being replaced in an open relationship ring true, yet his comments regarding bisexuals strike me as an overgeneralization based on too small and immediate a sampling pool. There are myriad factors that influence individual sexual expression, which is fluid over the course of a lifetime. Reviewing chapters is not the same as reading the whole book, which can only be done once a life is finished. In this regard, then, Dan’s column is an intellectual exercise — one that has merit, but does not reveal a fluency in the language of passion, which is full of surprises, ultimately irrational, and joyously inexplicable.
    –Bill

  11. says

    Gretta: I want to answer your original questions. But why should I be the first?
    Let’s talk about gender. Janet is “genetically female but gender-bent”. Aren’t we all?
    Society constructs the concept of gender. Boy or girl is unambiguous, right? If I want to be gay or straight, I have to be a man or a woman to begin with. But if a boy looks and acts like a girl, or vice versa, what does that say about sexual orientation? I like the queeny twink traipsing through the Castro as much as the next guy, but those masculine lesbians in the military haircuts? They get me hard. And I consider myself a gay Dom Top. Go figure.
    Help me out here. Which makes me more gay: Sucking off the femme gay “girlfriend” with a cock or getting fucked by the packing butch dyke?
    What does the “T” in LGBT stand for anyway? When my ex says “T,” he means Testosterone. That’s because he was born female. (He’s not an “FTM.” He’s not a “transman.” People call him those things, but he’s past that now.) Do his ovaries make me straight? Are all transgendered Americans bi-sexual by definition?
    These are not academic issues. Loving my man called into question my deepest sense of gay identity, even after four and a half years of inseparable and sometimes heart-wrenching romance. I wrestled and cried and fought with my feelings and judgments. This question fucked-up my ability to love and be loved. It wasn’t my boyfriend or his chromosomes. It was my old-fashioned notions of gender and sexual orientation that really screwed things up.
    The truth is that he’s a man, and we’re both gay. Part of my mind had a really hard time with that. Gender discrimination is insidious. And that sucks.
    Now the good news. While gender (and race for that matter – just ask Tiger Woods) is an old social construction instilled in us from birth, “Sexual Orientation” is a pretty new idea. Thank modern homos for convincing the world that there are gay people, not just (straight) boys who take it up the butt. And if we can convince the world that sexual orientation exists, we can convince them that some of us are really bisexual. So let’s get Dan off his stuck-up judgmental ass so he can contribute to the construction of a sexual orientation that works for all of us.
    Dan, if you’re reading this, you should know that if you’ve ever felt a tinge of lust for a butch woman or a fem guy, you’re just a little bisexual too. So get horny, have a drink, and dim the lights, because every one of us is basically bisexual, no matter what Greta Christina says.

    Now on to your original questions… What is your immediate circle of bi friends doing? Who are you/they settling down with, if anybody?
    My closest bisexual friend (OK, she’s really a lesbian, but she calls herself bisexual) is in a stable, long term committed relationship with the bisexual man who was trying to pick me up when I introduced them to one another 15 years or so ago.
    Most members in my circle of bisexual friends are not in long term relationships. I have one male bi friend with a wife and kids.
    I know peripherally a bunch of people who grew up thinking they were either gay or straight. Now they know they are bisexual. Most are in relationships with the gender that fits the orientation they grew up with in their formative years, even though they now have sex with both men and women. (And sometimes groups, which is another issue all together. Aren’t two members of a mixed gender triad bisexual by definition?) The exceptions to the “keep what you grew up with rule” that come to mind are women raised heterosexual who settle down with other gay or bisexual women.
    What is a bisexual anyway? I did meet a lesbian couple who had a long term stable relationship. They had been best friends living next-door to each other when they raised their families with their male husbands. I asked “So you were lesbian when you were married to men?” “No,” they both replied. “We were heterosexual”. I was confused. “So you’re straight, but now you’re living together?” “No,” I was told. “We are definitely gay.” Are you bisexual? “No,” they said in unison. “We used to be heterosexual. Now we are lesbians.” End of story.

  12. Jane says

    Hi Greta,
    Thank you for your well-pondered response to Savage’s column. This is an issue that has haunted me my entire adult dating life.
    As you know, I am a lesbian who is attracted to bi women. This does not tend to make me popular with other lesbians and gay men. The response is usually pity, which is kind of a downer for me. The nine years I have been with Annye count for nothing and my arguments are put down to denial. Can’t we all just get along?
    Bisexuals and heterosexuals have been much less judgmental and usually either tell me about their successful LTR or express their wishes for one like mine. So, most of Annye’s and my social circle are bi or straight. We have a good mix of bi women with straight men, bi women with bi men, bi women with bi women and bi women with lesbians. I think sexuality and romantic love are too varied and complex for the labels we have for them.
    I love Kinsey Pi. That’s brilliant!

  13. Lise says

    Thanks, Bill, for waving the flag for the cultural context! We know that sexual identity / sexual behavior / gender self-image are all intertwined with a myriad of other cultural factors; but we tend to forget that, and to consider our personal experience to be objective truth. Dan’s expressed opinion is ridiculous because it’s a blanket statement, no matter whether your personal experience is similar or not.
    It assumes that we’re always free, aware, and able to act on our inclinations and desires – hardly anyone’s reality. As concrete example: in the mid 1980’s I was working at Bryn Mawr College (for those who aren’t familiar, one of the “seven sisters” women’s colleges that has stayed intentionally a *women’s* school, thank you.) Given the zeitgeist, many of the students there / then called themselves ‘radical lesbian feminists’– including students who had been sent to study there (from outside the US) by their politically-connected wealthy families, not just for the school’s academic reputation but because it was [thought to be] a women-only environment. And who, upon graduation, went home to arranged marriages in places like Kuwait, India, Singapore. Are these women lesbians / bis / heteros? Were they even sexually active at all while in college, or just seduced by ideas? I – and the rest of us – have no right to slap a label on them, or to mock the labels they chose for themselves back then, or to assume we understand the realities of their lives; it would be absurd and insulting.
    That’s an extreme example. But I also wonder how many of the American students at Bryn Mawr who also identified as lesbian feminists or feminist separatists were reacting to basic demographics. (Bryn Mawr had close partnerships with Haverford College, which had been a men’s school but in the early 1980’s admitted women; by the mid-1980’s the ratio in the bi-college community was three women to each man.) That’s my other point, that our sexualities are contextual according to where and when we are at any given point in our lives. Certainly the hetero men at Haverford got away with boorish behavior that elsewhere would have been grounds for instant dumping or the full Lysistrata treatment, and the very few out gay men had extra peer pressure from their straight women classmates.
    Why write so much about that cultural microcosm? Besides giving really clear examples of cultural determinism, it was being lived by folks at the developmental stage when most of us late-20th century middle-class people are figuring out our sexual identities through actual practice. The few folks I’ve kept up with who were students there during this time have gone through major changes in their lives since then, by howdy; and I can see how that microcosm shaped them.
    Another thought: the culture that Dan, and I, and grew up in posits a tension between domestic partnership vs. sexual 
 I started to write ‘sexual opportunists’ (seeking new partners or other kinds of sexual novelty), but most folks approach this more like gatherers than hunters, really. Anyway, that culture also assumes that men are ‘normally’ more the latter, and women ‘normally’ tend towards the former, so of course we play out those assumptions. Maybe the ex that Dan’s is bitter about assumed that he couldn’t find a nurturing partner in a man, despite his obvious attraction to other men – to Dan, at least.
    In my experience, men’s sense of partnership is contextual, too – the interlocking web of mutual commitments and support that we spin when living together are cut once you’re no longer lovers. For instance, a year or two after we broke up (depending on how it’s counted), when I told my ex that I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer, he insisted that I was making it up. Maybe he was afraid that giving me support would threaten his new relationship, maybe it was fear, whatever; twenty years later, I still don’t care a rat’s ass what his sorry excuse might have been. And yet when we had been together – and I’m willing to bet, in his relationships since me – he’s one of the most uxorious, domestic men I’ve ever met. Other women (all hetero) in the post-surgery support group told stories of breakups under the stress of medical crisis (one told of being dumped because she was no longer sexy, despite their shared kid). By way of contrast, how many lesbians and bi-dykes carry their exes along with them through life? Not to mention their exes’ exes 
? I have one male ex who makes an effort to stay connected at a basic level with his former lovers, but he’s my personal exception; and I have male friends who do similarly 
 but the culture we share assumes that this behavior is ‘normal’ for women, not necessarily for men.
    At any rate, I’m another one of those folks who, after having short-term relationships with both women and men, and after trying long-term relationships with men, found what I’d call true partnership with a woman. Chalk up another one for Greta’s thesis.

  14. says

    Jane, that is deeply and profoundly weird. I understand why gay men and lesbians have issues with bisexuals — I think it’s fucked-up bullshit, but I understand it. But having issues with a lesbian who likes bi women? What the hell is that about?
    Re Seth’s comment: I guess I should clarify what I meant when I argued against “everyone is basically bisexual.” Do I think everyone — or almost everyone — has the capacity to be attracted to people of both genders, even if mildly and fleetingly? Yes, probably. But I think sexual identity is about more than that. It’s emotional, it’s culural, it’s political. Maybe in a perfect world it wouldn’t be, but it is.
    And I think that’s one of the reasons that everyone has different definitions of words like gay, straight, bi, lesbian, pan-sexual, etc. Personally, I don’t identify as bi simply because I’m hot for both women and men. I identify as bi because I’m hot for both women and men… and because that fact is important to me, a defining characteristic of my sexual self and history. But everyone has different definitions — and those definitions are heavily loaded.
    Therefore, I think we need to let people define themselves. There are people who call themselves gay or lesbian or straight whose desires and histories are… well, if I had them, I’d sure call myself bisexual. But because I don’t want anyone else telling me that I’m “really” lesbian because I’m in an LTR with a woman and haven’t had sex with a man in years, I’m not going to turn around and insist that those people are “really” bisexual. They have different definitions from me, with different aspects of the question taking more or less weight — and that’s okay.
    One other thing about Seth’s comment (this is veering off-topic somewhat, but oh well): I’m not sure gender is entirely a social construction. Obviously it is to a very large degree… but I’m not convinced that there isn’t some part of it that’s hard-wired. And I think the existence of trans people actually bolsters this thought. Trans people, after all, have been born with the genitals of one gender, and have been treated by society as that gender for their entire lives… and despite those years of early social engineering, nevertheless are positive that they really are another gender.
    And there’s the case of the boy who, due to a circumcision accident, was given gender-reassignment surgery as a baby and was treated his entire life as a girl. (He had a twin brother, which makes the case that much more fascinating.) For years the gender reassignment was considered a success, and the case was used as an argument in favor of gender roles being entirely learned… but in fact, he had never been comfortable as a girl, and in adolescence he became even less comfortable, and as soon as he was able to he got surgery turning him back into a male. (He also committed suicide — it’s an unbelievably tragic case.) The book about all this is “As Nature Made Him” by John Colapinto (and I should acknowledge here that I haven’t read it — Ingrid has, and has told me about it at length.)
    To me, all this strongly suggests some degree of hard-wiring of gender. (And it shouldn’t be a tremendous surprise. Most animals have some degree of genetic hard-wiring of gender roles, and we are, after all, animals.)
    But of course, the existence of trans people also strongly suggests that, if there is some hard-wiring of gender, it’s obviously not a simple matter of everyone being genetically sorted into pink and blue. It’s obviously more complicated, more varied, and more subtly shaded than that. (What are shades of pink and blue? Lavender, I guess…)

  15. Laura D says

    I think part of the problem is that there are only three labels and Kinsey only had 6 numbers and that makes labeling oneself difficult and labeling others dangerous.
    The Kinsey number line doesn’t work for me because it’s a line and sexuality isn’t one dimensional. It’s at least 3D.
    I have trouble defining myself with any sort of label because I value honesty highly and I never feel any description is ever 100% honest. Shit, I have trouble telling people what color my hair is because well I sort of think of it as light brown or auburn but a lot of people have called me blonde, so maybe I’m wrong…. and really my hair color doesn’t even matter to me….so then when I’m supposed to define my sexuality which does matter to me I get really nervous.
    Part of the problem is that things change. I change – both long term because I’ve grown and had more experiences and also just I respond differently to different situations.
    Mostly I consider myself straight….. I’ve never “had sex” with a woman by most people’s definition of sex and probably by my own definition of sex if someone tied me down and forced me to define sex….but seriously I’d rather they didn’t (good thing I’m not currently playing with anyone reading this blog because several of you are just evil enough to do it)
    That said I’ve had crushes on girls when I was a girl and on women as a woman, but I think everyone has, so I don’t really feel that makes me bi…
    but I’ve had some “sensual” and by some definitions possibly “sexual” experiences with women but they were all in the context of BDSM and I do think that as far as BDSM I’m bi….
    I’m not aware of any desire to have “sex” with any woman, but if Susan Sarandon or Gina Torres wanted to tie me up and spank me…. I wouldn’t say no (even if I tried to, it would be difficult what with the hyperventilating and all) Even in the context of bdsm I”m mostly attracted to men, but a few really powerful and hot women can flip my switch (so to speak).
    Here’s where part of the discomfort comes from – sexual orientation is so politicized that I feel like if I define myself as straight I’m denying a part of my sexuality, but if I define myself as bi I feel a bit like a poseur…. and when I’m in PC guilt mode I can feel a little guilty about either definition- is calling myself straight somehow supporting homophobia even a tiny tiny bit or would calling myself bi be co-opting something I don’t really own…. Then of course I feel ridiculous for feeling guilty.
    So when it comes up and it’s safe to share I usually say “mostly het, but submissively somewhat bi” which is as close as I can get to a label that feels honest.
    Of course all of this leaves out all kind of other sexual/relationship mode definers like the power spectrum, or the importance (or not) of monogamy or polygamy to any individual
    I like to think of it person by person. Am I attracted to this person….or that person… or that person? *How* am I attracted to this person or that person?
    otherwise it’s all just too complicated…
    or maybe I just enjoy thinking of myself as defying all labels and descriptions
    Do we all like to think of ourselves as more complicated than “ordinary” people?
    or is that just another way I’m special and different?
    (insert annoying winking emoticon here)

  16. says

    Hi Greta. I think I’ll chime in. As you know, I’m a bisexual woman who “ended up” with a man. (Well, my life’s not over yet, so the “ended up” part is an assumption at this point.)
    Honestly, I never think about my sexual orientation until someone else brings it up and wants to define me. Except for a few years of my life, I’ve pretty much been monogamous. So when I’m with a partner, male or female, I think about myself in relation to that one person specifically. I may be attracted to people of different genders, but the attraction just doesn’t mean much since I’m only going to express myself sexually with my partner. Unlike you, I generally don’t feel the need to proclaim my bisexuality because in the context of my behavior, it just doesn’t matter much to me.
    That said, I do get my dander up when OTHERS insist on defining my sexuality. When I hear, “Oh, you’re married to a man. You’re straight now” or “back in the day when you used to be a lesbian” the hair stands up on the back of my neck. My response is, “I don’t care for any labels at all, but if you must use one, it’s bisexual, thank you. Now let’s talk about something more interesting, like Excel spreadsheets or types of running shoes!”

  17. says

    Lots of folks know there is a Kinsey scale, and it was randomly numbered 0-6, but how many folks have seen or recall that it’s a big, fat ol’ BELL CURVE?
    hominayeah.

  18. says

    Well, I don’t know if I can help your survey much. I consider myself bi, and I have been faithfully married for 20 years to a wonderful woman.
    I am bi. I fell in love with a woman and married her. What else can I say? I didn’t fall in love with a man.
    Now, I know that Dan Savage says that being gay means being “emotionally available” to men, not just being turned on by them, and so bi men who just get horny for guys but don’t fall in love with them aren’t “really” bi, but just straight guys with a cock fetish (he has written this exact thing somewhere). But if “emotional availability” vs. sexual attraction is his criterion for having a sexual orientation, then there are plenty of straight guys I know who have absolutely no orientation whatsoever.
    I personally think anyone who thinks he can define someone else’s sexuality is full of it. Just like race, sexual orientations don’t exist– or so many exist that they aren’t worth defining. Wherever biology collides with culture, people begin to go insane.
    Why isn’t anyone insanely political about food?
    Oh, that’s right– no babies.
    P.S. Kinsey Pi is a beautiful idea, I agree! (It shows no regression toward the mean.)

  19. says

    As it happens, my own experience of people around me matches what I guess to be that of Dan Savage. I offer that vague data for what it may be worth. Does it mean I agree with Savage’s conclusion? No, not really.
    I think our personal experiences can act as existence proofs (i.e.: yes, there are at least some people who meet some definition of “bisexual” but are more attracted to the opposite sex than to the same sex), but that’s all. It seems that you and some others have had different experience from me. There is presumably some complicated fact of the matter, but as I think you are suggesting, none of us really know what it is, and there’s no good objective data available. It’s useful to compare notes, but we would all be wise not to make ex cathedra general pronouncements.

  20. Neil says

    I find it funny that most people (of any orientation) have to classify sexual attributes so closely. To make everyone happy, there would have to be a billion different kinds of straight, gay, and bi. Which of course there are, and the only shame is that people can’t admit it more often.
    I agree with the spirit of your post-good answer to a guy that should know better! I do have one comment, though. I think I understand what you were saying about no longer saying that “everyone is basically bisexual.” But it’s not as much an exaggeration as straights(and many gays) would like. I agree with a commenter above, from what I’ve read and seen myself, human sexuality is, like most things in life, a continuum or scale, with few or none existing at the “pure” edges. The vast majority of people seem to have at least some bisexual tendencies. That in itself does not justify saying “we’re all bisexual,” since many never act on their thoughts. But you can only self-define so far if you value honesty, I have met few gays of either sex who claim to have zero interest in the opposite sex. Little, maybe, but not zero. And the few I’ve known who do claim purity still view the other sex as “sexy,” they just get mad if you apply it to them! Sorry if I take the subject too lightly, but as an advocate for free choice, I hate to see gays bashing bi’s. Party purges are just so…republican!

  21. Queerly Quixotic says

    Going back to the “bisexual demographics” survey: I identify as a queer woman. If pressed, or faced with confusion, I call myself bisexual. I have had exclusive and poly LTR relationships with men, and a poly LTR relationship with a woman. I am currently in a monogamous relationship with a man. I have found that, while I find women more aesthetically and sexually attractive, my relationships with men work better. I have observed, though, that many of my female bisexual friends prefer LTRs with women, and they give me a reason that I haven’t seen anyone bring up here: they feel more confident and comfortable with women because they aren’t afraid their girlfriends are using them for sex. What do you think: do I happen to have a large number of neurotic friends, or is the fear of being used for sex by male partners, and a corresponding lack of fear with female partners, a common fear (perhaps especially among women), and a possible reason that people prefer women as LT partners?

  22. says

    Data point: my social circle is largely bi and poly. There are many lasting mixed-sex relationships, and many lasting relationships between women, but many fewer relationships between men – in fact, in the part of the circle closest to me, the only one I can think of right now is me and my boyfriend.
    I don’t know what this proves. I’m quite sure it doesn’t prove that we’re Not Bi Really, because the bi men in the circle clearly like sex with other men and would look pretty silly trying to call themselves straight.

  23. ZekeCDN says

    Chalk up another vote for Greta’s hypothesis. I’m a bi male whose position on the continuum has swung back and forth like a pendulum since puberty. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be married (for fifteen years) to an adorable and accepting straight woman, who is very understanding of my need for the occasional extramarital adventure.
    I’ve been involved in a few LTRs with men and they’ve all been unmitigated disasters. Men are terrific for casual sex, but women are infinitely more competent with relationships. So why not make the most of the gender programming of each?
    In my experience, self-identifying as bisexual has led to difficulties with both gay and straight friends and acquaintances. Gays have frequently accused me of “hiding out” in a heterosexual marriage (because I can) and straights too often consider anyone not 100% devoted to their cause as a “closet case”. It’s gotten to the point where I just try to blend into whichever crowd I happen to be in at the time and avoid getting labeled at all, if possible.
    The small city in which I live doesn’t seem to have any kind of bisexual social scene that might allow me to meet some genuine fellow travelers. So far I’ve gotten involved twice with guys who told me they were also bi and “understood and appreciated my situation”, but ultimately each of them dropped the ultimatum (i.e. “leave your wife or I’m outta here”). In both cases I was only too happy to say adios and go home to my wonderful wife … who would never dream of applying that kind of emotional blackmail.
    Love your site!

  24. William says

    In my experience, I have seen much the same as you have, Greta- both men and women who are bisexual tending towards woman as their preference.
    And I think I know one of the things that accounts for tendency.
    In our society, women are sexualized.
    So, despite society’s dominant viewpoint about being straight as the only correct way of living, woman are actually encouraged in a subtle and unintentional (as most society things are unintentional) way to find other woman appealing.
    The societal message is in conflict with itself.
    Men, on the other hand, are being told that being straight is correct and proper- and the way woman are sexualized reinforces this for men.
    The societal message is in agreement with itself.
    I believe that this helps to
    (it doesn’t in its entirety, of course- I would also agree that socialization of men to be less community and home oriented than women is also a large factor) explain two things:
    1 Why there are more women than men who identify as bisexual, and
    2 Why bisexuals, both women and men, are more attracted to women.
    Okay, that is all for tonight. I will be back, though, because our host Greta here is one of the most entertaining and insightful writers I’ve come across in a while.
    Oh, actually, one last thing- wouldn’t the Kinsey scale seem to imply that almost everybody is bi?
    After all, my girlfriend is the straightest woman I have ever talked to about sex, (and yes, I talk to lots of my women friends about sex) and even she has been attracted to a woman or two, in a casual, not even considering pursuing it sort of way.

  25. Patience says

    I’m terribly sorry, as I realize this is over a year old, but I thought I’d throw my own anectdotal evidence in.
    If I must label myself, it’s bi. I’ve always been attracted to men and women (including those who do not fit so discretely into either group), though my preference has swung back and forth from a-little-more-straight to a-little-more-dyke over the years (which sounds like I’m much older than 22). I’m in a LTR with a girl, and am much happier than I was in a(n attempted) LTR with a man. She also identifies, if pressed, as bi. If I was not with her–I find it hard to imagine, but it IS an ‘if’–I can concieveably see my self with a man or a woman (bio or not for either), though I would likely be attracted to someone older than myself, not younger (she’s the only person younger than me that I’ve been attracted to).
    I prefer etceterasexual, a term coined by one of my two best friends (well, best outside of my girlfriend). She had identified all her life as a lesbian, until her then-girlfriend came out to her as being ftm trans. They’re still happily together, and he’s finding that his own bisexuality leans mostly towards said girlfriend and fellow ftms. What in the world do you call a biogirl who is trans and taking hormones but hasn’t had surgery yet, and who is attracted to his girlfriend AND to other transmen? Etceterasexual.
    Most of the people I know who are bi are bi in the selective “I’ll sleep with my non-preffered gender, but not have a relationship” way. The majority identify as bi or straight; about half of those who identify as bi are in same-sex relationships.
    My dad identifies as gay (as far as I know), though he married a woman and produced two kids. I think he tried to soften the blow to my mom by saying he was bi, first, and that’s why she keeps sort of pushing me to admit I’m a lesbian, rather than a happy fence sitter.

  26. Patience says

    Something I forgot to mention, but think is important:
    Am I MORE bi because I enjoy playing with gender in bed? Does that somehow qualify me to say that I am more strongly bisexual than other people? I quite enjoy gender play. I’m lucky in that my girlfriend quite likes it, too. We have a single, lovely cock and I think it’s ridiculously hot to watch her blow me. I’m looking into getting toys for packing–hard AND soft. And I enjoy having sex with her when she’s playing at being male just as much. My fantasies are a mix of men and women. I guess my point is this: just because I like men and women somewhere near even (50/50 give or take 10% either way?) doesn’t mean I’m MORE or better at being bi than anyone else.

  27. Penny says

    I have a ridiculous mix of friends. One FTM trans boy whose sexuality I have no clue about. Many many many straight friends, roughly as many bisexual friends, though my bisexual friends lean from 5.9 on the Kinsey scale to about a 2, and a homosexual or three. I tend to think of myself as a 3 because it’s easiest. I’ve had a very good LTR with another girl and two (also very good) LTRs with boys (both of which had relatively disastrous endings). I don’t know what that makes me. I’m equally interested in pursuing both relationships and random play with both men and women.
    I’ve had a friend who identified as a lesbian for a very long time (and was quite butch for the majority of her high school and college years) who up and married a man very recently. My sister (bisexual) had primarily relationships with men although she had a relationship with the aforementioned friend and is now planning to get married to a man. My other sister self-identifies as bi-curious but is monogamous with (though not married to) a man.
    We’ve got people all across the spectrum over here. (Don’t know if that helps, but I tried to answer your original question…)

  28. says

    I wasn’t sure whether to add a comment here, but I see it’s been active as recently as November, so…
    I believe in bisexuals! As far as people I know are concerned, I know some a bi woman in a long-term relationship with a lesbian, a bi man married to a bi woman (so she ended up with a man, but he didn’t), several women who began by defining themselves as bi but later relabeled themselves gay, and several women who first defined themselves lesbian but later relabeled themselves bi. But…
    Several commenters have said here that there are hardly any exclusively monosexual people (either Kinsey 0s or 6s), or that Kinsey showed that most people are bisexual, or that the “Kinsey scale … is a big, fat ol’ BELL CURVE!”
    All these claims are false, as far as I know. Kinsey found that 50% of (white) males and probably over 70% of (white) females are 0s — that is, exclusively heterosexual in fantasy and deed throughout their lives — and that 4% of (white) males and 1-3% of females are 6s, or exclusively homosexual throughout their lives. (More details at http://www.indiana.edu/~health/hw/sexuality.shtml#8 ).
    These figures doesn’t graph as a bell curve, but as a plateau that trails off to one side. I’ve heard a lot of people make these claims of Kinsey and bell curve distributions, but I’ve never found a source for them. The actual numbers in the “Kinsey reports” don’t support these claims. Where did they come from? If anyone has a source, please e-mail me; I’d really be glad to know.

  29. David Harmon says

    My own take on the matter is that bisexuality is an subset of polymorphous sexuality… that is, almost all people have a primary orientation, but some are flexible enough to also be interested in the “other” sex. This generally supports Dan Savage’s view, but it’s worth noting that among humans, there are *always* exceptions to any rule….

  30. says

    Well, monosexuality would be a “subset of polymorphous sexuality too.” I don’t quite see the point of singling out bisexuality in that regard.
    And what if bisexuality is someone’s “primary orientation”? I don’t think we know enough about human sexuality to make any solid claims about such things.

  31. The Rabbit Ambulance says

    Should I assert that I’m bisexual and some brainmachine retorts “Uh, no you’re not, you just think you are”, the most appropriate answer, I would think, would be “Fuck all the way off” or some variation thereof. And if they’re some kind of mindreader who can tell what gets my dick hard better than myself, there’s a certain Mr. Randi with a cool million just for them.
    Goddamn, this sort of outside labeling about things that are *completely internal* pisses me off. There’s exactly one person who can determine a person’s sexuality, and you have three guesses as to who it is. Give you a hint: It’s not this wit.
    BTW, behavior doesn’t enter into it. If someone only ever slept with women, they are still completely justified in identifying as bisexual, or pansexual, or whatever the hell they want. Just like sleeping with a man doesn’t actually make another man gay, never sleeping with another man won’t make him straight.
    Oh, and while I’m at it: The sheer fucking gall aside to actually tell someone else what their sexuality “actually” is, what the fuck does it matter, anyway?
    Fuck it, I’m a little too worked up about this.

  32. says

    I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, The Rabbit Ambulance. But I do disagree with your claim that “behavior doesn’t enter into it.” If I know, for instance, that a man is having sex with other men on an ongoing basis, I think I’m entitled to doubt any claim that he’s straight. He may be bi, he may be gay, but he’s not straight — except insofar as those labels are pledges of allegiance and don’t really tell me anything about the person. (It’s as if a regular churchgoer were to tell me that she’s an atheist, but she goes to church every Sunday because God told her to!)
    What the fuck does it matter, you ask? Well, consider Ted Haggard and Larry Craig. They insist they’re straight; maybe you think it’s wrong to doubt their word? Just sayin’. But when someone’s behavior is strongly at odds with his or her declared identity, it may not be my business to tell them otherwise, but I’m sure entitled to entertain my own doubts privately, and I think I’m also entitled to state them aloud if I think it’s appropriate. Not to demand that they conform, but to point out the cognitive dissonance, which is there whether you like it or not.
    I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as “sexual orientation.” It’s an abstraction, and abstractions can be useful. Introspection is not irrelevant, but it’s not always reliable either. (“I know in my heart I was born this way” is a datum, but it doesn’t prove anything.) Sexual identity is even less helpful than orientation: there can be a big gap between identity and reality.
    In the end I know it’s not really my business what someone else’s identity is. I know from happy experience that declared heterosexual identity doesn’t mean that a given man won’t want to sleep with me; straight-identified men can be so cuddly. But I am interested in figuring out what all these things mean, and the question cuts both ways: I mean, if labels mean nothing and WTF does it matter anyway, why do some people get pissed off when someone suggests that they’ve mislabeled themselves? They seem to be quite attached to the label that they say is so unimportant. And that makes me curious to know why.

  33. Lili says

    One should never accuse a self-declared bisexual of being a coward. Because all you have to do is listen to Dan Savage’s loathing insults which are so very typically of the gay community’s response to bi identity, and you realize: Bi’s are the ones without any community to support them. Bis are the most courageous of all because EVERYONE, not just straight people, stereotype us and hate on us, etc. Who’s a coward? People who declare themselves gay or straight when they are really bi because it’s just easier to “pick one” than to deal with being bi.

  34. Hobo says

    I’m a bi female in a hetero marriage. He just happened to be who I fell in love with. And I agree with Lili. I’ve learned the hard way to pick my friends a little more wisely now.

  35. Arnold says

    I thought that it was all about the numbers: Well over 90% of both men and women are straight, so the vast majority of people compatible with bisexual women, on the basis of sexual orientation, will be men, and similarly for bisexual men.
    On the other hand an ingrained aversion to same-sex attraction among heterosexuals could lead to more same-sex matchups among bisexuals…

  36. Destrii says

    I don’t think that you can generalise at all with things like that. I certainly have some bi friends who are more interested in one sex than the other, but will get involved if they’re interested regardless of sex.
    And out of interest, the link to Savage’s article is broken – could I read it? Just out of interest to what this idiot’s going on about.

  37. Jay says

    I’m more sexually attracted to women, but more often find myself romantically attracted to men. I’m not exactly sure why, but I find women more physically appealing.

  38. says

    Greta, this is such an important topic. And you are so right: nobody else than ourself knows what our true sexual orientation is.
    You are asking what bisexuals DO. I want to ask what bisexuals WANT. To me, it’s as relevant.
    Example : I am a bisexual (and don’t anybody question that!) but I have mostly been with men. I am now married and in my mid-thirties. I would do anything to go back in time and be more open-minded (i.e. have girlfriends as well), but when you’re not ready to acknowledge who you are, you are not. Now that I am, the situation is more complicated.
    Time will tell what I DO, but I certainly know what I WANT. I want men AND women, to the same extent, because I can fall in love with both, and/or be sexually attracted to both. As I wrote on my blog, this is very clear, very straightforward, totally unquestionable and 100% natural.
    Love to all bisexuals… and others! :-)

  39. Edgerman58 says

    It’s interesting to find here other “bi” men who are married to “straight” women. My wife accepts that her husband (me) is bi. It was hard at first, but she says that our relationship is so good, that my sexuality seems “normal” to her now. We have agreed to be monogamous, and at our age (59)it works well for us. I still find certain men “attractive”, but I no longer feel the need to act on that. Having my wife know that I’m bi (gay), and accept me for that,has drawn her and I very close together! We talk freely. No secrets. Everything is on the table. Sometimes it’s challenging, and even a little scary, but it’s the only way to be. My sxuality is her business. We’re married! I want her to know. I want her to be included in that. Why wouldn’t I? We love each other. We’er committed to making our relationship work in whatever way it needs to to be warm and supportive! I liked what NewlyDyke said about feeling that being bisexual is “100% natural.” It is for some people. Me included!
    I recommend the book, Uncommon Lives,for anyone interested in such “mixed-orientation” relationships. Fritz Klien and Thomas Schartz’s book Gay and Bisexual Husbands, is another. We are not alone in being a mixed orientation couple, either. There are more than you think! I am quite proud of my wife and I for deciding to change a few of the rules of what a marriage can be! Marriage is for PEOPLE, not just men and women!

  40. says

    I’ve never felt female or male in my life. My first lover was Bi curious I was deeply crushed when she started seeing a guy. I’ve had quite a few casual cuddles and play with some female and male friends but was looking for the one settle down with. My 2nd love was into cross dressing and identified as straight male. We had lots of fun playing dress up together. Sadly he was very abusive to me and I had to leave him. A year or two before our breakup I was very supportive of his plan to become she. I wish she had the courage to tell me she was Trans earlier but understand she had to work things out. She was wonderful but the abusive behavior became physically violent and even though I was in total support of having another female relationship and am very patient knowing that hormone therapy can be a great ordeal I respected myself enough to get out. I was very attached to her and it was very hard on both of us but it was for the best. We just were not right for each other. My current love is male and straight. We’ve been together over 10 years now and he is very open minded and has been accepting of the fact that I have the tendency to shift my position in how I relate to my own gender. Some days I feel very female. Sometimes I am pulled towards what is considered to be male behavior. Most of the time I do not feel like either. I feel like using the word Bisexual doesn’t quite fit since I have an awful time perceiving only two genders. My partner and I are friends with a couple that identifies mostly as gay. Our one friend is in transition FTM and his partner Identifies mostly Bi – Male but seems to have a similar shifting between genders as I do. The other thing that is interesting to me is that both our couples are monogamous. It has always bothered me that there is the idea that Bisexual gender has been called unreal in the case of opposite sex partners. I am glad to see that accusations of Bisexuals with opposite sex partners are ‘cowards’ is at least fading. The other annoying idea I hope fades is the ‘Bisexuals are all always horny and notoriously promiscuous. Thank you for this article, It really is wonderful to know that this topic is being discussed. Its good to see other genders are finally being recognized.

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