Jessica Hoffmann

What If There Were Only Two Possible Sexual Orientations?

Filed By Jessica Hoffmann | August 11, 2008 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, The Movement
Tags: Anna David, Bi-Furious, bisexuality, Details Magazine, gender norms, heteronormative, homonormativity, identity, media, queer, queerness

You know, homosexual and heterosexual, gay and straight. What if bisexuality (let alone pansexuality and other forms of queerness) just didn't exist? What if we were totally sure there are only two genders, and there was no such thing as trans or gender-nonconforming people, let alone a vibrant trans and gender-justice movement?

That'd be the world according to Details, apparently.

I'm not exactly a regular reader of Details (how'd you guess?), but Bil forwarded me a link to "What If You Only Thought You Were Gay?", an article by Anna David at their blog, and well... Sometimes mainstream media surprises me by being even more retrograde than I thought. Details seems to have time-warped to a vintage pre-queer era. More after the jump.

Based on brief anecdotes of a few guys who slept with and/or had relationships with other guys when they were younger and then at some point realized that they wanted to be with women, the article has pretty much no space for the concept that sexuality (to say nothing of gender!) is fluid and complex- that sometimes our desires shift throughout our lives, that simplistic categories like "gay" and "straight" just might be too reductive for many people's lived experiences.

A few days ago at Bi-Furious (my new favorite blog), Aviva wrote:

I wondered if I could be straight after all for about a week before I started dating my first girlfriend; I wondered if I was really a lesbian for about another week when I was ambivalent about the man I was seeing and the sex we were having. But those things happened right after each other, and I figured out that my basic sexuality doesn't change because I'm attracted to a particular person in a particular moment. Even being the kind of bisexual who goes through phases (which I am) doesn't mean I'm gay some days or months or years and straight others.

I totally relate. In my late teens and early twenties, I came out (first to my journal, then to my friends) as bi, then gay, then straight, then dyke, then suddenly heard myself using "bi" again in conversation with a guy I was startled to find myself very attracted to (and then there was "queer").

When Anna David (once) mentions bisexuality in "What If You Only Thought You Were Gay," it's only to clarify that the guys profiled here don't identify that way, plus (just for good measure?) a little reiteration of a classic biphobic stereotype- that bisexuals "rotate between male and female sex partners the way the rest of us alternate pairs of shoes." (Hi, Anna. I'm a queer-identified person attracted to people of multiple genders; I've been in a monogamous relationship for more than a decade, and I wear the same sneakers pretty much every day. None of which is to say there's anything wrong with frequent rotation of sex partners, of course, just that that isn't the definition of "bisexual.")

We exist, people whose desires extend to people of multiple genders. And because we live in a society that likes really neat identity categories, a lot of us do a lot of painful and conflicted identifying this way and then that and then this and then that until we figure out how to identify outside of any of those categories, how to identify as the fluid and flexible creatures we are.

Now, maybe all the guys Anna David interviewed for Details uncomplicatedly used to identify as gay, and now they identify as straight. I don't want to question or challenge how any of them self-identify. I simply want to question why Details wants to publish a piece, composed almost entirely of a few individuals' anecdotes ("there aren't statistics to show how many men go through a similar sexual shift," David writes), that reinforces the limited and limiting notion of two simple and mutually exclusive categories for sexual orientation? Just why? If you're going to speak somewhat positively about what's good about "sexual experimentation," why not offer your readers something that points to an expanded set of options (to paraphrase Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, a reigning queen of expanding options), rather than reinforcing traditional gender and sexuality norms? That wouldn't, at this point, be very radical stuff. But David's apparent lack of awareness that conversations around sexual desire have expanded way beyond "gay" and "straight," combined with a picture of gayness that is all about fashion and night clubs in the Castro, suggests Details isn't as hip to the queer scene as they might want to believe.

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

Excellent article. Also, we cannot forget asexuality. It is a sexual orientation of not finding anyone sexually attractive. I have found a lot of that in the trans community.

I consider myself "historically bisexual," because I have had relationships with men in the past. I just decided to only date women now, but I'm not discounting my past. I was even part of BiNet USA at one time.

It always amazes me that when it comes to those religious groups who profess they can change gay people straight, because bisexuality isn't factored into the equation by the religious people or by many gays or lesbians. All of them go out of their way to poo-poo the idea that those people who were supposedly turn straight by Jesus may just have been bisexual people who decided to not have a same-sex relationship any longer.

"You can change a person's sexual orientation with Jesus!"

"No! You can't change a person's sexual orientation! They're still gay!"

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Oh, it is true that you can't change a person's sexual orientation, but it is wrong to assume they're still gay, or even were gay in the first place. It's just one of those things in the LGBT community that will be around as long as buttless leather chaps, feather boas and the Raindbow Flag.

Didn't read the article, but the premise sounds silly. Even the "only thought you were gay" part just makes it sound like these people didn't "change," but instead woke up one morning, went outside, stretched, and a penis fell in their asses. Ooops! Guess I was wrong about the gay thing - it was just the humidity!

totally silly! just a lil MSM reminder of how thoroughly not-clued-in reporting can be when done by someone who knows little or nothing about the people/community/ideas they're reporting on ...

Great take on an odd article, Jessica. I knew you'd have a strong opinion about it. A friend of mine works for Conde Naste, so I've made sure she's seen your post.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | August 12, 2008 9:27 PM

Great post (as usual!), Jessica!!

As a journalism graduate, I found myself thinking, "I'll bet David is a freelancer trying to pound out as many articles in a month as she can to pay the rent and put food in her mouth." Details like truth and accuracy can get lost in the shuffle.

I find this post to be nothing but an exercise in social discipline. The idea that we have to choose who we are attracted to is presented to maintain the gay/straight binary which is ultimately limiting to all people. It further promotes homophobia as the in the binary hetro is presented as good and homosexual as bad. It is not accident that this article fixates on men who supposedly switch from gay to straight.

Doh. The writer and the editors at Details need to be whacked upside the head with a clue-by-four. Hopefully, your posting will help to do that.

But... we need folks to write a few thoughtful but short Letters To The Editor, in the hope that some of them will be published. Let's not waste the opportunity generated by their idiocy to clue at least a few people in to the idea that there are more options.