When A Negative Statement Becomes A Claim

Note: old post, but still relevant

The other day I got into a bit of a strange discussion with my colleagues, which involved me being alone on my side of the debate defending the existence of male bisexuality.
It all started with the observation that our culture is far more accepting of a fluid sexuality for women, as it is less acceptable for a man to admit to having had the occasional male partner but still claiming to prefer women. While initially the people I was speaking to decried this double standard as unfair, at the end they still claimed that they also thought that any man who has had male partners, or wanted to have male partners is probably actually gay, and that the Kinsey Scale is probably only applicable to women. I disagreed. There are plenty of men, some of whom I know personally who claim to be bisexual, on what basis can they claim that in reality male bisexuality doesn’t exist? Personal experience is not science! I was told. That is not evidence! Who am I to say that it does exists? I have just as much justification to claim it does as they do to claim that it doesn’t.
The details of our discussion are not that important to what I want to talk about here. The point is that this whole thing got me thinking about positive versus negative claims, and how sometimes making a negative claim is actually the one requiring a larger burden of proof.
The burden of proof lies on those who make the claim. This is a very common statement used to explain atheism, and why the absence of evidence leads one to assume the negative. There is no evidence that fairies exist, therefore I do not believe they exist. Same goes for unicorns, or dragons. I cannot prove that they don’t exist, it is impossible to prove a negative, but I am not going to believe in them until I have good reason to do so. What is more, personal accounts of having seen a fairy or unicorn or dragon (or, for that matter, God) does not count as evidence in the slightest. Given this logic, I am the one with the burden of proof, no? I am the one claiming that male bisexuality exists. They are claiming it does not. Shouldn’t I be the one who has the burden of proof in this case?
Their claim that male bisexuality does not exist struck me as a much bolder statement than my claim that it does, and then I realized why.
The fact of the matter is, when it comes to something as personal as sexual attraction, personal statements do count as evidence. With something as complex as human behavior, there is very little in the way of objective evidence that one can collect, akin to something like finding an actual fairy. That doesn’t mean that one cannot attempt to design experiments which attempt to collect more objective evidence in order to verify these claims, but in this case the claims themselves do hold significant weight.
Imagine for a moment the more extreme version of this argument. There is no such thing as gay people! People who engage in gay sex are just abusers! Or people who have been abused! Or people who just want to engage in extreme sex! That seems like a very bold statement, no? It seems as though someone who believes that would have to do far more legwork than someone who believes that gay people exist in order to prove their point, even though they’re stating the negative.
In this scenario, it’s not that any of these people would need to prove that male bisexuality, or homosexuality doesn’t exist. This encounters the same problems as trying to prove that fairies don’t exist. However, what they would have to do is start by finding a plausible, evidence-backed alternative to explain all of those people who do identify as gay, or bisexual, or whatever. They need to do a lot more legwork to bring the conversation back to an even 50:50, maybe it exists and maybe it doesn’t, equal evidence on both sides. Without finding evidence that there is an alternative explanation for all of those people, it is actually far more reasonable to assume that male bisexuality does in fact exist, in lieu of further evidence.
Do you see where I’m coming from? Any thoughts?


  1. Bruce says

    Are your friends clear? Are they claiming that no true male bisexuals exist? That is a positive claim.
    Or, are your friends merely stating that they feel they have not yet seen enough evidence to convince them that true male bisexuals exist? That would be the analogy to atheism. I doubt any of them were that careful to say they had no opinion.
    In either case, the issue could be settled if you or some social scientist such as the late Kinsey could find even one person that others would believe was a true male bisexual.
    There have been so many reports of bisexuals that it seems hard to believe that there were and are no true ones.
    We must beware of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, in which any undesired result is ignored by claiming it is not a “true” example.
    Of course, all evidence can be denied if desired. I could claim that all humans have always been entirely asexual, and that all evidence of human sexuality throughout time had all been faked. As long as only I get to judge the evidence, my view can never be disproven. But it is meaningless to argue cases that depend on words having private meanings. The conversation only makes sense if words such as sexuality have definitions agreed on by many. And many people agree that the common reports of bisexual men are often valid. So they exist.
    Ultimately, you could find a guy and show him to your friends, and have him establish in commonly accepted ways that he is bisexual.
    The analogy doesn’t apply to atheism, because nobody can bring their God in front of everyone and have that God do enough miracles on demand to convince people that he is a god. At least I won’t believe it.
    But I could easily believe it was sincere if I saw a man making out with people of different genders, that he is not faking his desires.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      They are saying that they do not believe that men can be bisexual. Why do they believe this? That’s where it gets fuzzy. Im not sure even they really know why they hold this belief, which is why they go on the offensive and attack why I do believe why it exists

  2. says

    You’re absolutely correct, and this outlook is also reflected in the scientific literature. The basic way to “prove” bisexuality (or any other sexuality) is to ask questions in a survey. It’s really funny when people say they won’t take personal experiences as evidence until they see some science, and yet when you look at the actual science, all they’re doing is collecting personal experiences, albeit in a quantitative and/or systematic way. This makes a lot more sense when you realize that taking people at their word is the null hypothesis.

    I think when people demand scientific evidence, they’re usually imagining something like an objective measure of sexual arousal. “Sexual Arousal Patterns of Bisexual Men” is a well-known paper with this approach, often cited as proof against male bisexuality. However, there are a number of methodological and interpretational issues with this study. Among other things, if subjects report subjective sexual arousal, and this doesn’t match objective measures, this just means that the objective and subjective measures are measuring different things. In any case, there was a followup study (“Sexual Arousal Patterns of Bisexual Men Revisited”) which disputed their previous conclusions. Note that even in this example, the existence of bisexuality is the null hypothesis, and nonexistence is the extraordinary claim.

  3. says

    Personal experience is not science! I was told. That is not evidence!

    Huh? Your personal experience of actually observing a real life bisexual man is a hell of a lot more scientific than their just claiming bisexual men don’t exist.

  4. smrnda says

    Whether personal experience is evidence depends on the claim. A claim like ‘bisexuality is more common in women than men’ isn’t one you settle with personal experience, since you can’t make statistical generalizations based on your acquaintances. Stating that there exists at least one bisexual male – finding one is good enough there.

    Though I suspect that if presented with an openly bi man, a true denialist would decide that the man wasn’t really bi, but was just maybe having sex with women because of social pressure or while he was figuring out that he was really gay.

    I’d be curious to read studies on why this belief is so prevalent.

  5. says

    The question would also be “what would they accept as evidence for male bisexuality”?
    There’s a burden of proof and there’s an unreasonable burden of proof.
    To use another classic example “All swans are white” i.e. “there are no black swans”*. The argument is usually that finding one black swan disproves that statement, but being a good skeptic I’d be totally within the limits of reasonable doubt to demand we look at that swan because all I know it could be a dye job.
    Not reasonable: Demanding that every single feather on hat swan has to be a colour with a wavelenght between (insert number here) and then moving the goalpost even further and further.

    *Look how easily I can turn the positive into a negative

  6. Cicada Cycle says

    It’s kind of funny, because I’ve long thought that there is no such thing as complete heterosexuality, nor complete homosexuality for that matter. But maybe that’s just because I’m a bisexual man, and I’m overgeneralizing my own experience of the world, lol.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      I would say that complete hetero- or homosexuality is the minorty, that most people are somewhere in between, but I do believe that they exist. My reasons? Because I believe that I am a completely heterosexual woman, and I don’t think it is because of societal pressure or prejudice. In fact, given the women I grew up with, I am the only one who is not somewhere on the spectrum, which makes me the minority, not someone who doesn’t exist!
      Honestly, until there is a verified objective way of measuring sexual arousal, none of these questions can be answered fully and scientifically

      • Cicada Cycle says

        Of course you exist! I meant that more as a tongue-in-cheek response to those who think I don’t exist. Sexuality is a subjective experience, as far as I understand it, so no one should try to tell you what you are or aren’t.

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