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Jun 10 2008

Loading The Dice: Bisexuality And Choice

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Bi
In the various and sundry debates about gay rights, the question of whether sexual orientation is a choice comes up with almost irritating predictability. And when it does, one of the things I’ve noticed is that bisexuality — as it so often does — gets completely ignored.

So I want to talk a little about bisexuality, sexual orientation, and choice.

Because, speaking as a bisexual person, in my experience I do have something of a choice.

1st_waltz_1
Of course it’s true that I don’t have a choice about who I’m sexually attracted to. And I didn’t have a choice about who I fell in love with. I don’t choose that, any more than anyone else does. But back when I was dating, I did have a choice about who I dated and who I socialized with. At the time that I fell for Ingrid, I was dating women, and socializing in the lesbian community, a whole lot more than I was with men and in the hetero community. And I was doing it out of choice.

On the whole, I like women more than men. Sexually I like both roughly the same (with something of a preference for women on the whole, but with that preference varying a lot over the years). But personally, emotionally, I tend to like women better than men. Not as friends necessarily — I have plenty of male friends — but as romantic partners. The personality traits that, in my experience, women tend to have more than men — cooperation, empathy, emotional expressiveness, good listening skills, yada yada yada — are traits that I like, and traits that I find central to a good relationship.
Dice
Now, of course, that’s a generalization, and a very broad one at that. Not all women are like that, and plenty of men are. And if I’d happened to meet and fall for a man who was cooperative and empathetic and expressive and a good listener etc., then that would have been just ducky. But back when I was dating, dating women just seemed to make more sense. It was the smart way of playing the odds. It was loading the dice.

And it works the other way, too. I’ve known other bisexuals who date and socialize more heterosexually –again out of choice.

Whatever
It is, IMO, one of the differences between being bisexual and being monosexual (hetero- or homosexual). You can, in theory, be happy being sexual and romantic with someone of either gender… and so you have at least some degree of choice about which gender you get involved with. Indeed, if your relationship preference is very strong indeed, you can actually flat-out refuse to get involved with potential partners of one gender or the other, even if your libido or your heart is temporarily pulling you towards them… and unlike homosexual people who refuse to accept their homosexuality, you can still have a happy and satisfying sexual and romantic life. And even if you don’t go that far, you can still generally date and socialize with the gender and the community you’d prefer to end up with. You can’t choose who you get the hots for… but you can hang out with the kind of people you’d be happy to hook up with if lightning strikes. You can load the dice.

So when I hear people defend gay rights by saying, “Of course it’s not a choice, who would choose to be queer, who would choose to be oppressed and vilified and discriminated against?”, my reaction is to raise my hand and say, “Me. Over here. I would.” Of course I’d rather not be oppressed, etc. — but even with all of those drawbacks, I’d still choose to be queer. And I’d still choose to be in a queer relationship. I did.

Who cares if its a choice
And this is a big part of the reason that I think the “choice” issue is a red herring in the gay rights debates. After all, you could argue that pedophiles don’t choose to be attracted to children, and still think it’s profoundly immoral to act on that attraction. The important question in the gay rights debates is not whether being queer is a choice, but whether there’s any reason whatsoever to think that being queer is harmful. And by now, the evidence is overwhelming that it is not. Whether it’s a choice or not is irrelevant. It is still, flatly and unequivocally, none of anybody else’s damn business.

I developed these ideas in a discussion thread on Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Thanks, Ed.

16 comments

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  1. 1
    Karin

    I couldn’t agree with you more. After 30 years of being only with women (24 years monogamous with my partner) two years ago I started having sex with men again, with my partner’s full knowledge and support. And I like it – a lot. I feel like I like men for friends and as sex partners and this is true also for women but additionally the emotional/intimacy connection is there. So “officially” I would define myself, if I had to, as a “lesbian-identified bisexual” although that’s so complicated a concept for most people and I am so known as a lesbian that I mostly identify as lesbian. Or maybe I just don’t want to explain to people that I am not monogamous anymore.

  2. 2
    Nentuaby

    Hear hear! I can hardly add more to that than “ditto.” I actually happen to prefer opposite-gender relations on the whole, even, so you could say I’ve “chosen to be straight” but all that retoric still pisses me off.

  3. 3
    Cory

    If you don’t mind me asking, why do you post a link/teaser to a Blowfish Blog post, then make the full post here on your personal blog a bit later?

  4. 4
    Greta Christina

    If you don’t mind me asking, why do you post a link/teaser to a Blowfish Blog post, then make the full post here on your personal blog a bit later?

    It has to do with my agreement with the Blowfish Blog. I’ve agreed that, when I write for their blog, I’ll wait 60 days before reprinting the work on my own.
    Many people who read this blog do go visit the Blowfish Blog when I post my teasers. But others seem not to. So I like to reprint the pieces here. And also, I like having them here for my archives.

  5. 5
    Amii

    Excellent point. I’ve used the argument myself, and can’t really see doing it in the future. In fact, I think next time I hear the argument I’ll have to debunk it.

  6. 6
    TheNerd

    (I like having the articles here, because I rarely read them on the Blowfish.)
    Personally, I’m tired of people telling me I “can’t be bisexual” because I’m married. How do people get off saying who I “can” and “can’t” be sexually and emotionally attracted to!
    It is refreshing to find someone else in a committed relationship that will actively identify as bisexual. Hopefully more people will be encouraged to identify themselves as well.

  7. 7
    Jane Know

    Agreed. Interesting article. While I believe sexual orientation (who you are attracted to) is innate, or some combo of nature and genetics, we see all sorts of variations of who people actually end up dating and/or having sex with. But none of that matters when it comes to GLBT(etc) rights.
    Now, the false dichotomy of “nature vs. nurture” in regards to sexual orientation is just a distraction from the real issues surrounding sexual orientation and legal rights.
    Let’s stop all the sexual orientation red herrings out there. ;-)

  8. 8
    Jonathan Lubin

    If it is a choice, so what? What gives these creeps the right to discriminate against me because they don’t like the choice I make?

  9. 9
    Ben Ostrowsky

    I love the “whatever” button. Where’s it sold?

  10. 10
    Greta Christina

    The “whatever” button (and other items with that logo) are sold at Cafe Press.

  11. 11
    Brock

    It is, IMO, one of the differences between being bisexual and being monosexual
    That should be “unisexual”.
    “Uni” and “bi” are Latin prefixes. “Mono” and “di” are Greek prefixes.
    You wouldn’t call a one-wheeled vehicle a “monocycle”, would you?

  12. 12
    Franklin Veaux

    To a large extent, I also blieve the “it’s a choice/it’s not a choice” question is irrelevant, although for slightly different reasons.
    First of all, I don’t think that the folks who argue homosexuality is a choice are right, and I also don’t think the folks who argue that it’s not a choice are right…for everyone. Rather, I think that there is a tremendous variation across the human species; some people are “born straight,” unable to choose to be any other way, some people are “born gay,” unable to choose to be any other way, and some people are (to arying degrees and under varying circumstances) capable of being happy with a partner of either sex.
    And all this is part of the normal, ordinary variability between individuals.
    I say this because I appear to be one of those people who is ‘born straight,’ and I consider this to be a bug, not a feature. In fact, were someone to invent a Magic Pill which could change the user’s sexual orientation, I would be all over that in a heartbeat. As it stands now, there’s an entire range of human sexual experience that’s closed to me, and I gotta say, I do not much like that.
    (As an aside, the debate over the biological origins of sexual orientation, and especially over research aimed at understanding and potentially controlling those origins, is often miscast. Ive encountered many people who believe that such research is inherently wrong, because it will make bisexuality and homosexuality into a “medical condition,” and fundamentalists will want to “treat” their kids to make sure they’re straight.
    To this I say two things. First, anything that expands the ability of human beings to choose for themselves what they want to be is, in my book, a good thing. Second, as William Gibson famously wrote, the street finds its own uses for things. For every person out there who would want to take a Magic Pill to become straight, there’s a person out there who would use that same Magic Pill to *not* be straight. As you say, if it’s a choice, then there are going to be people who choose not to be what the majority expects. But I digress.)
    On the flip side of the same coin, there are people for whom it unquestionably *is* a choice. Two of my current partners self-identify as “bisexual,” and another of my partners self-identifies as “straight” but will, under the right circumstances and with the right person, have sex with other women. My partners who identify as “bisexual,” one of whom previously used to identify as lesbian, say they absolutely can and do choose to become sexually or romantically involved with men or women, and I have no reason to doubt them.
    Whether or not it’s a choice isn’t relevant; it isn’t even something that’s consistent across all people. What is relevant–in fact, the ONLY thing that’s relevant, from my perspective–is whether or not we as a society treat all of our citizens with compassion, dignity, and respect, and afford them equal opportunity to decide for themselves the shape of their lives, provided they do not harm others in so doing.

  13. 13
    Dr Dave

    I love the “whatever” pins and the “Bi 83″ t-shirt… where did you get them?!!

  14. 14
    Greta Christina

    I love the “whatever” pins and the “Bi 83″ t-shirt… where did you get them?!!

    Both from Cafe Press. Here’s the whatever design, and here’s the Bi 83 design.

  15. 15
    Halfshellvenus

    I still don’t really see any of these things as a “choice,” per se.
    I think it makes sense to target your energies toward what works best for you. If you tend to be more attracted to women on a “partnering” basis, why spend a lot of time in a dating pool that is more likely to thwart what you’re looking for? Who has that kind of time to waste?
    You’re not choosing to be “gay”, you just chose socializing patterns that would more likely lead to your personal happiness.
    I think people oversimplify gay/straight/bi sexuality. Human “attractions” are very complex, and for most of us they are combinations of emotional AND sexual attraction, not just one or the other.
    And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!

  16. 16
    Michael Price

    @Karin ‘So “officially” I would define myself, if I had to,’
    You don’t. Anyone who cares more about how you define yourself than your personal qualities isn’t worth the bother.

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