Amy Andre

They Don't Know Jack about Bi Men

Filed By Amy Andre | August 26, 2011 8:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Media, The Movement
Tags: alcoholism, biphobia, bisexual men, feminism, New York Times, sexism

Tom_Ford.jpgI've had a few people ask me to write some commentary on Bilerico about the latest research on the existence of bisexual men, as recently reported in the New York Times. But here's the thing: I don't understand how this is news.

I don't need a research grant, a penis-measuring-tape, and a stack of porn to prove what bi men themselves have been telling me for years (that they exist). And I don't need the New York Times telling me that that's newsworthy.

What I do need is for someone to explain to me why anyone would think that bi men don't exist in the first place!

Bisexual identity is as much about language as it is about sexuality. If someone says he is bisexual, he is bisexual. He is bisexual as soon as he says he's bisexual, because that is the word that he uses to describe his sexuality. As long as the word bisexual has been accessible for people to use to describe their sexuality, there have been men who did so.

I've met plenty of men who use this word to describe their sexuality. Therefore, they exist. They're not holograms. They're flesh and blood. And speaking of flesh and blood...

What is really being debated and dissected by the research and media reporting here is: do men who use this word - bisexual - get erections when viewing certain types of porn? The problem with this premise is that it assumes that erections can tell us something about the truth of sexual identity language. (They can't.) It assumes that men who say they are bisexual de facto can't be trusted, so their penises have to be measured. (They don't.) And it assumes that certain kinds of pornography will lead to erections. (It won't.)

One of the most frequent "bisexual men don't exist" arguments contends that men who use the word bisexual are really closeted gay men. (Oddly enough, I've never heard one of these biphobes say that bi men are really closeted straight men. What's that about?)

First of all, if men use the word bisexual to describe themselves, then that's what they are, and therefore bi men exist; and to say otherwise is straight-up rude, because it's literally saying, "I don't believe you when you talk about your sexuality." Second of all, the idea that these men who say they're bi are really monosexuals who are only interested in other men is sexist.

It's sexist because what these types of biphobes are implying is that it's impossible for a man to be attracted to men and to women, and that, if a man is attracted to other men, then that's it. Case closed. Mission accomplished. All sexuality needs taken care of and accounted for. Women? Who needs 'em? Who cares about 'em? No man who likes men would debase himself by acting on or even acknowledging - or even experiencing - attraction to a woman ever again.

Like I said, sexist.

Believe it or not, some people who like men, also like women. (And some of us don't experience attraction based on demographic characteristics like gender or race at all. Can you believe that? Shocking, I know.) This includes some men. Lots of people think that women are awesome - and some of those people are men.

But I have to acknowledge that this rhetoric doesn't exist in a vacuum. The idea - that bi men don't exist - is out there, and it's so prevalent that even the Gray Lady herself, the New York Times, has to weigh in on the "debate." And that may be the saddest piece of news I've heard all day.

It's a sad piece of news because, when people are told that they don't exist, (or that their existence is up for debate), often they internalize that message. And that internalization has very real consequences. As I wrote about in the book Bisexual Health, drug addiction, alcoholism, depression, and suicide ideation exist at higher levels among self-identified bisexuals than among gays, lesbians, and straight people. That's the real news. But have you read about that in the New York Times lately?


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I think the best response to this study can be summed up to: "Duh!"
-Jeremy

Shouldn't you be happy, then, that the study is one more tool in your arsenal, no matter how redundant it is? You might say "duh", but now if anyone throws the "bisexuals don't exist" argument, not only do you have personal anecdotes to use, you actually have a highly publicized study. That should shut people up real quick. I think it's a good thing, though I suppose it may be demeaning that it exists at all...

The methodology of the study may seem offensive, but I imagine that any other study seeking to determine sexuality for straight people or gay people would be just as flawed for using arousal response (and probably through pornography) as a simple measure. I suppose you could wire everyone up and have them read same- and opposite-sex relationship-based media of the whole range and CAT scan them all to determine brain activity, but that's a hell of a lot more expensive than something a good majority of volunteers are going to respond to by nature of their autonomic systems.

Separately, while I generally agree for the sake of living and let living with your "if I say I'm this, then I am this, no questions asked" philosophy for bisexuals, I even question whether or not it holds universally true. Certainly I'm willing to let bisexuals identify as bisexuals no questions asked, but am I just as willing to let Larry Craig, Rep. Phillip Hinkle identify as "straight"? Or am I more willing to call "bullshit" on that because I know this is someone deluding themselves instead of identifying as bi or gay? And why would I be more scrupulous for Hinkle and Craig claiming they're straight when they've been caught engaging in same-sex activity than I would be (or "should be") for someone identifying as bisexual in a context that looks to be less genuinely about identity than it is for say, titillation or claiming and accessing queer community (or money), like T.A.T.U. or Lady Gaga?

Do Gaga and TATU get a free pass from no-questions-asked scrutiny, but Hinkle and Craig deserve all the criticism of self-delusion? Or is it rude flat-out to question any of them and we should all just accept what they say as truth? If the idea here is "never question anyone about how they identify sexually", does that apply in a more universal sense to other states?

Is Sarah Palin really persecuted by the misogynistic liberal media for being a strong woman, despite the obvious truth that she's just a terrible politician and opportunist? If Lady Gaga insists that she was not raised in a wealthy and privileged home despite the evidence to the contrary (http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/flowchart/2010/08/20/how-lady-gaga-embodies-americas-prosperity-trap), should we just believe her claim that she was "middle class"? When white people habitually claim that their "great, great, great grandmother was a Native American princess" in an effort to access Native American community and identity, does that make it true? When a Real Housewife of New Jersey attests that she's "a really easy going person", should we really accept that? I hope it doesn't seem like a straw man, because I'm noticing an inconsistency in my own approach to identity politics that I'm hoping to reconcile and this point you've made is making me examine it.

In some sense, I interpret the politics of personal identity as entirely up to the individual in so far as the individual's claims match up reasonably with reality. For the majority of people, bisexuals included, this isn't an issue. I doubt 99% of the general population is lying when they describe their sexuality (other aspects of their identity...I'd cynically give an 75%), and I'll be damned if I allow Dan Savage to make the claim, unchallenged, that it's okay to scrutinize every bisexual because some people lie and some people are deluded. But I don't agree, either, that no one anywhere should be scrutinized ever.

People delude themselves and people do lie about all aspects of personal identity, and they do it for a variety of reasons--desire, sympathy, empathy, access to social circles or cultural identities they admire, money, privilege--or even no reason at all. I think it's wrong for people like Savage to spin that as a reason for disbelieving ALL people who identify as bisexual, but it seems silly to go on the opposite extreme and suggest that no one's claims should ever be questioned. If someone's self-identification doesn't jive with reality (and again, your average person walking down the street is probably not going to be one of those situations), why is it "rude" to question that?

I hope I don't get labeled as a raging biphobe for writing this, because I really do want to know the reasoning behind your perspective and whether I accept it and can integrate it into my approach.

I was a little quick and glib in my response, but some of your concerns did dance around in the back of my head briefly. Namely the idea that there can be no progress without some sacrifice.

But honestly, I think the issue is that no one bothered to check this out decades ago. There's no excuse for doing something like this today, decades after Kinsey came up with scale. Furthermore, as flawed as Kinsey's work was, didn't he already show that many people engage in sex with both men and woman? Which would kind of be proof in of itself?

It's hard to imagine someone having sex with both men and woman and not being sexually attracted to both.

Furthermore, as to your argument that we cannot take the word of all people, I think the obvious counterpoint is that, sure certain individuals may be lying or misleading about their sexuality. But how many people do there need to be before we go "Okay, considering the thousands (millions?) of people who identify as bi, surely there must be some among them that actually are bi."

My point being, they *all* can't be liars or misunderstanding their own desires. Therefore, at least some bi/pan/omnisexual people must exist.
-Jeremy

I should have separated my posts, since two issues I brought up are being conflated with one another (and if you posted something more glib earlier, I didn't see it, so no harm done. ;))

Anyway, the issue of bisexual denialism is separate from the issue of questioning self-identity politics.

Bisexual denialsim is SO out there, I don't even think it's worth debating. They exist, and exist in probably higher numbers than LGTs combined. So when I brought that up, I was just saying that the study being done in 2011 could be eye-roll worthy or even offensive, but at least it's another drop in the bucket on the "bisexuals exist" argument for denialists out there. Like, I would role my eyes if another study came out saying human-affected global warming exists, but at least it's one more study, so I can't knock it entirely.

The separate issue I was raising was not about whether taking people's word should result in bisexual denialism. It was about whether it's ever appropriate to scrutinize people's sexual orientation self-identification. The idea I have from Amy's stand point is that it's never okay to do that because how they identify is how they identify and to question it is rude. But my question is if that sort of blanket ruling really holds up when we live in a world in which people DO lie about a number of their self-identifications (ancestry, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, perpetrator/victim, etc.) for a variety of reasons. I was also wondering why it is seemingly acceptable to question the veracity of an anti-gay politician's claims that he's "straight" after being caught having bathroom sex with another man but it's "rude" to question if TATU are just claiming to be bisexual when they may really just be straight girls making out with one another to gain international stardom by exploiting straight male fetishization of female homoeroticism. We don't live in a vacuum. If we did, then by all means there wouldn't be any reason to question the veracity of someone's identity. But in the real world, we have context to question the identities that people attribute to themselves. The guyor girl next to me int he cafe who says their bisexual is not someone I have enough context to question, nor would there probably even be a context worth questioning. But for someone on Grindr who says they're straight instead of bi or gay, or a pop star who claims she's bi after launching herself as a sexual provocateur and self-described "fame whore", those have contexts that it would seem (to me at least) sound to question.

It's not like it hasn't happened (re:vacuum). Nikki Minaj unabashedly did that, coming out initially saying she's bisexual and then after becoming famous, saying that she never made those comments. Is she bi, but now closeted by her own success? Or was she falsely appropriating another group's identity to give herself buzz, only to abandon it once she no longer needed it? And is it really "rude" to think the latter? Or just refusing to be taken advantage of? And shouldn't bisexuals be upset that people are falsely appropriating their identity for their own selfish gain?

This ought to be common knowledge -- but it isn't.

It ought to be common knowledge, because few of us are a pure Kinsey 0 (totally, absolutely and only heterosexual) or a pure Kinsey 6 (totally, absolutely and only same-sex-attracted).

I occasionally find women attractive, but not enough to base an intimate relationship on it. Gina Davis, Cortney Cox, Heidi Klum, Halle Berry, Kate Winslet, Anne Hathaway, Angelina Jolie ... all the Hollywood bombshells are hot enough to cause me to have fantasies about what it might be like to have a woman riding my 10-inch woody. (The 10-inch woody is a fantasy, too!) Heterosexuality is such a non-mystery to me that I don't understand why homosexuality is such a mystery to so many straights.

If I could re-make myself from scratch, I'd be bi -- I'd also be younger, more muscular, stronger, smarter, more confident, more energetic, more outspoken, more assertive ... we all have a part of us that wants to be Superman or Superwoman or both.

Bisexuality simply means that the male part of your hypothalamus and the female part are both wired up to function. Although I don't call myself bi, bisexuality ain't that much of a mystery to me.

Even Dan Savage admits there's an orientation in between. I seem to recall him addressing the issue of shemale porn(that's what they call it; no flaming, sisters, please) saying(to effect) that it sure isn't gay men downloading it. If a man who likes breasts and a penis on the same person isn't Bi, I don't know who would be.

Paige Listerud | August 27, 2011 4:52 PM

I wish I could say that this study would vanquish biphobia, bi erasure and bisexual invisibility forever and that it could be used as a tool to combat the same.

Unfortunately, I fear that just won't be the case.

Two biphobic strategies are always at work. The first categorically states: "Bisexuals don't exist." This can be fairly easily disproved. The second simply states: "Bisexuals exist. However, I don't think that YOU (the person who's just come out to me) are bisexual." The second strategy is more effective for the biphobe because it puts the out bisexual in the position of having to "prove" their own bisexuality--in effect, having to jump through the hoops that the biphobe sets up. And it is the criteria that the biphobe sets up that are the most important or credible. Those criteria are seldom, if ever, subjected to interrogation.

The social construction of The Bisexual is that he/she/ze is inherently untrustworthy, rendered incapable of being a reliable witness to their own experience. Someone else, a non-bi/pan/fluid person, is always constructed as the more reliable witness or expert on bisexuality, pansexuality or fluid sexuality.

What goes unquestioned are the suspect motives for denying bisexual/pansexual existence. One commenter on the current bi study said it best: "Doesn't anyone think that the current popular sentiment--that all women are sexually fluid, but no men are--fits straight male fantasy like a glove?" It certainly does.

Unfortunately, it also fits some gay male strategies for political, social, and psychological survival. If a binary can be preserved and reinforced between gay and straight men, then gay men can hope to keep homophobia from their environment by throwing out bisexual men (see the current case with NAGAAA). The elimination of bisexual men also supports the political dialectic that preserves gay male "innocence." So long as The Bisexual doesn't exist, then a gay man can be an innocent victim of his biology ("born this way") and, therefore, deserving of full civil rights.

The Bisexual is not "innocent" because the Bisexual "chooses" and is innately capable of making a choice ("pick a side," "get off the fence"). It's important for gay men to separate themselves from bisexual men in order to preserve their innocence in the public eye and it's important for bisexuals to not be "real" in order to reinforce gay male innocence.

Thus, bisexual men don't exist, but 10% of heterosexual-identified men have sex with men (2006 New York Department of Health study). Bisexual men don't exist, but the few gay-identified men who have sex with women have to be told by some of their gay male compatriots that it's "against the rules to dip your dick in vag" (see almost any comment thread on bisexuality on queerty.com). Bisexual men don't exist, but some gay men have a yen for "straight cock" and apparently, there are "straight" men who are glad to oblige them.

Bisexuals have to not exist, so that gays and lesbians can advance and get their rights and so that straight people can feel safe from any encroaching queer influence--especially in their pants. The existence of bisexuals, pansexuals, and sexually fluid people makes everything for everybody more complicated and dangerous.

This research was done to conter some research that was done in 2005, by this same group, and reported on by the New York Times under the headline "Gay, Straight, or Lying? This research used very flawed methodology, but nonetheless claimed to proove that bisexual men do not exist.

I defend the bi community from biphobic attacks all over the Internet. Since "Gay, Straight, or Lying" came out it has been thrown at us as proof that bi men don't exist, and all one could do was to go through a lengthy explanation of why it was poor science (which no one ever listened to). You really have to have done what I have been doing for years, arguing against biphobic attacks against bisexuals all over the Internet, to know how often that study gets cited by biphobes, and to understand the negative power that that one little study has had. It's really quite amazing how powerful it was, but no one is happier and crueler than a bigot armed with so-called science.

I have been aware of this new research for a while, and it has been wonderful to be able to counter "Gay, Straight, or Lying?" with the fact that Bailey himself, in a better-done study, has now proved that bi men DO exist. This was the single most important thing that could have happened for bi men, to undo the single most damaging thing that ever happened to them.

Both studies were actually done by graduate students for their doctoral dissertations; one does not expect stellar research from a graduate student. That is part of why it is so amazing that "Gay, Straight, or Lying?" gained such horrible negative propaganda value against bi men, out of all proportion to the quality of the research. This is why countering this huge negative propaganda was so important that the bi community itself funded this new research, and funded the same group to do a better done study. Obviously if studied correctly, bi men would be found to exist, since they do, and that is exactly what happened.

Interesting OP-ED.. (Bi Social Network)

It is a lot easier to come out gay than to come out bi. The gays reject you saying you are lying, or afraid to be gay. The straights think you are promiscuous or you get into the whole choice thing. It is even harder explaining it to your kids and family. There is distrust from all, as if bisexuals are somehow less capable of giving their word. In the end, it is far easier to just be gay and keep one's bisexuality closeted to both gay and straight communities. Sadly, there ends up being another selective coming out.
We love who we love, same as anyone. Why can't we all be simply, fully human, without labels? That is the future, an acknowledgement of sexual orientation fluidity. One day we will look back and realize the whole labeling debate was as pointless as any other prejudice.