Saturday, October 13, 2007

Bisexual Advocate? OR Why I'd Rather Not Date a Bisexual

A writer named Job Brother has written a humor piece on reactions to his bisexuality for the online edition of The Advocate ("Fairy Tales" commentary/October 2007). He tells how when he told his gay date that he was bisexual the man reacted as if he might as well have said he was a mythical "unicorn." Brother then goes on with a certain flair and flippancy to paint the usual abused and misunderstood portrait of the bisexual, and to mock the reasons why gays don't think they exist. He then says -- incredibly -- that gays are far more prejudiced toward bisexuals than straights. Yeah, sure. That's why we call it the GLBT movement. The article is gay -- pardon me, gay/bi -- politics Lite, with no solid underpinning or substance to bolster its arguments. Cute. And superficial.

First of all, given the vast diversity of human nature, experience, sexuality, and psychology, it makes perfect sense that some people are genuinely bisexual, although to what degree is the question. Some people call themselves bi simply because they've had one or two experiences with the opposite sex in a lifetime of same-sex involvements. Some people -- Jim McGreevey, for instance -- are technically bisexual, because they have had wives and children yet are essentially gay. Some people say they are bi because they think at some point they might have a relationship with a member of the opposite gender, although it hasn't happened yet -- and probably never will. I have encountered only one person who has ever said they they were equally -- that is fifty-fifty-- attracted to both men and women. Some people are genuinely bi, at least in the technical sense, and some people are just full of shit. I'm not saying bi's don't exist, just not in the record numbers that bi advocates would have us believe. And that "bisexual" is often a label just as phony and misleading as "straight," post-gay, non-gay and --sorry -- ex-gay. I believe that "bisexual" is actually an umbrella title that has many different meanings to many different people.

As for straight people supposedly being more bi-friendly than gays... Undoubtedly Brother is choosy about which straights he reveals his bi-status to, probably gay-friendly straight friends. Well, why would they have a negative reaction to his bisexuality when they're already okay with people being gay? Straight people can relate more to bi's, because they see them as being part-straight, or still able to, at some point, lead a straight life like them. They can share baby photos and all that shit. Straight male pals of Brother's can think to themselves, "Hey, Job and I can go out and have a few beers and pick up chicks, just the way we used to. Cool!" Why should gay-friendly straight people care if Brother is bi? Gay people aren't so much biphobic, but skeptical -- and often for good reasons. And gays tend to identify with other gays more than bi's. Bi's just have to deal with it.

The main problem with Brother's piece, despite its hip-and-clever-sounding attempt to clarify the issue, is that he avoids the main reasons why gays are so often cynical about the reality of bisexuals. Underlining the piece's superficial approach is that Brother makes no mention of the undeniable fact that we live in -- to all intents and purposes -- a straight world and not a gay one. It is gay people who are persecuted, excoriated, and belittled for their sexuality, not straight people. Yes, Brother makes the excellent point that gay bashers would hardly exclude him from their vicious ire just because he also dates/has sex with women, but the bi-identified, like the straight-identified (regardless of the truth of their orientation), often hold on to heterosexual privileges, a certain bond with straight or "normal" society, that gay people lose when they come out as strictly gay. First, it's hard for gays to feel much sympathy for bi's (many of whom are closeted/married/in straight relationships) who in general don't have to put up with all the crap that gays do, and second, anyone who thinks this doesn't influence some of those who call themselves bisexual, even if on a sub-conscious level, is a fool. Brother never goes into -- in fact, few bisexuals ever go into -- where he might be on the Kinsey scale, or exactly how gay he is or exactly how straight. So he dates/screws women from time to time to keep his hand in, hold on to a certain heterosexual pedigree -- does that really add up to being bisexual. Who knows?

Some genuine bisexuals feel that that they shouldn't be tarred with the same brush as closeted homosexuals who identity as (or at least are labeled) bisexual or even straight. This is a good point. But generally, it's the latter kind of "bisexual" that irks the average gay. So -- if the bisexuals that we rail against at times aren't really bisexual, I guess we can't be called "biphobic," can we? Also, it's these kind of dishonest or loopy bi's who create so much cynicism when it comes to the subject of bisexuality. True story. One bi female once told me "I don't like the term bisexual, but I can't call myself a lesbian because once in a blue moon (italics mine) I'm attracted to a man." Duh? "Once in a blue moon?" Once in a blue moon means "hardly ever," doesn't she know that. "Once in a blue moon" I'm attracted to a female, but that hardly makes me bisexual. I wish that true bi's would get angry at these people who trivialize the whole bisexual question and not at those of us in the gay community who can't help but be a bit perplexed/skeptical when we hear stuff like this from people who rabidly insist that they're bi and you better accept it or else. Sadly, it's this kind of utter silliness that often seems to dominate discussions of the bisexual question. Gay people can hardly be blamed for that. (At least some bi-identified individuals rightly roll their eyes at straight people who say that they're "bi" because they think it's hip or want to impress their gay friends, but who have no intention of ever getting involved in gay sex or a same-sex relationship.)

Brother never goes into the negative or condescending attitudes that some bisexuals (or at least the bi-identified) have toward gays or "monosexuals." Or the fact that even out bi's (excepting many who are in long-term same-sex relationships) don't have much gay pride because they aren't gay. And this may be why some gay people with a strong sense of pride and gay identity, may not be able to relate to the bisexual and vice versa. But honestly, I know few gay people who, despite their occasional cynicism, really hate or fear bisexuals. On the other hand, some gays feel that they can be loving friends with bisexuals, but they'd rather not date one.

Now bisexuals could argue that a bisexual is capable of falling in love with someone of the same sex, so why not date a bi? Well, it could be that lack of gay pride mentioned above. Or it could be simply for practical reasons. I mean, who needs the competition? If you date a gay man that you really like, you've got enough competition from other gay men. If you date a bisexual man you really like, your competition not only includes gay men but straight women -- and there are a hell of a lot more straight women than gay men. If you date a gay man, it's unlikely he'll call you one day and tell you he's getting married -- to a woman. Yuchhh. Not only are you rejected, but so is your entire gay life. [Don't try to explain this to your bi-identified friends. Believe me, they will not get it.] Sure, I know that you could always fall for a totally gay guy who falls for someone else, but maybe with a gay guy the odds are more in your favor.

Now, Brother is different from all these real and alleged bi's who leave posts on GLBT message boards, hiding behind cute nicknames that could conceal Lord knows who or what. (I find so many of their stories to be full of holes, illogic, immaturity, confusion, not to mention glaring Freudian slips, while a few others are intelligent, reasoned, and much more convincing.) His piece is on the Internet with his photograph. I have met out of the closet bi's, and know of at least one who remains committed to Gay Rights although he now has a girlfriend after having a long-time boyfriend (who, I believe, dumped him -- not the other way around.) Perhaps if we gay people met more of these types of bisexuals in the real world and not hiding behind nicknames on message boards, we might have a different attitude. (Some of the posts I've read about bisexuality are truly bizarre. One gay man said he could always tell that a man was bisexual because they always oozed a certain overpowering and intoxicating charm -- or something along those lines. What - gay men are never charming? I had the feeling this gay guy was a bit "intoxicated" himself. Maybe it's the old pre-Stonewall "straight guys are the ultimate thrill" business and bisexual men were the closest he could get to a straight guy. )

Then we have these bi guys who say they can have sex with men but can only have emotional feelings for women. Now wait a minute! The modern-day definition of bisexual is someone who can fall in love with either a man or a woman. But if you have no emotional feelings for men, how can you possibly fall in love with a guy? Are men like this really bisexual? We certainly can't call them straight. Maybe they're really homosexual men suffering from internalized homophobia. I mean, the fact that life will be easier for them (or so they think) if they are in a heterosexual relationship as opposed to a gay one, has nothing to do with their maintaining that guys are just for sex ... uh, sure. (If you believe that, I could probably sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.) Adding to the confusion is that while many of the guys like this are actually on the down-low and identify as straight, there are some who seem to support Gay Rights and at least say that they have told everyone -- including their female dates -- that they're bisexual. At least they say this on message boards while hiding behind nicknames. One thing's for sure, why would any gay man looking for a relationship with another man choose to date a guy who says he can only form emotional (that is, romantic) attachments with women? A one-night stand maybe, but serious dating? Come on!

So is Brother really bisexual? Who knows? Maybe he has a need to be seen as a little more "macho" (i.e. straighter than) the average gay male (And believe me, that is one BIG reason why some essentially gay guys call themselves bi. More on this below.) That's his hang up. Maybe he genuinely likes the companionship and bodies of both men and women equally (the only kind of people I truly believe are bisexual). Maybe he'll buck society's hatred and wind up in a lifetime partnership with a man instead of a woman. Or maybe he'll get married to a woman and never, ever write for The Advocate again. Certainly not with an accompanying photo. (Now, honestly, doesn't "Job Brother" sound like a pseudonym to you?) While we can't necessarily blame Brother for this, I wish his piece hadn't been entitled Fairy Tales. Yes, I know it refers to the mythical unicorn/mythical bisexual, but still ... It comes off like a vulgar slap in the face to all those mean bi-hating homos out there. (Okay, I'm a little sensitive.)

As for that whole "macho" thing I referred to in the paragraph above. Why is it that whenever I meet a bi-identified man, he's almost always -- sorry to put it this way -- a little "nellie?" The last one I met was a couple of months ago. He was fifty-two and trying to convince me that in a few years when I was his age I'd be sleeping with women. I told him that I'd gotten all of my hetero impulses out of me years ago. I'm occasionally attracted to women in a flesh-is-flesh sort of way, but not enough to pursue them, lead them on, and engage in some kind of faux relationship with them. This bisexual really began to annoy me, it was as if he was saying there was something wrong with me because I was only into males, but I'm a nice guy and didn't tell him what was on my mind: Which was that maybe the reason he slept with women -- or at least intimated that he did -- was because I could stand on West Street, he could stand across the Hudson River in New Jersey, and I'd still be able to tell from that distance that he was gay. Okay, I'm exaggerating. But most people meeting this man would instantly peg him as a fairly stereotypical gay guy and maybe sleeping with/fantasizing about women made him feel more "manly." With the exception of cool, out of the closet, self-accepting "femmes," most men -- gay, straight, or bi -- like to think of themselves as being "manly" to a certain degree. This 52-year-old might be proof that not all bi's are in their twenties (although it certainly seems that way at times), but it's a question of when he decided he was bi. Maybe in youth, maybe more recently. Not because of the fashionable "fluidity" of sexuality that we hear so much about these days, but perhaps because all the trendy talk about bisexuality has given him a way to feel like more of a "man." Sad. Frankly, he came off as being much more confused about his sexuality than "fluid."

So back to Brother's date, y'know, who reacted to his bisexuality as if he were a mythical unicorn. Brother writes that he never saw the man again. I can understand why. The gay man might have thought to himself "either this guy is really bi or he's full of shit. If it's the latter he's carrying all sorts of issues and baggage that I as a gay man can really do without. If it's the former, I'll have to compete with straight women as well as gay men. In either case, he's really not gay like me, meaning we're not all that compatible." Unfair? Maybe. But with so many attractive gay men of all different types out there, why take chances? And bisexuals can always date other bisexuals. They have social groups, after all. (Years ago, the bi group used to meet bi-weekly -- no pun intended -- at the HQ of the Gay Activists Alliance in New York. I had always intended to attend because there was a time when I, myself -- yes! -- thought of myself as bisexual. (I got over it pretty quickly for reasons I'll go into elsewhere.) Later, I thought I would attend just to see what went on. There were a lot of articles about "the new bisexuality" and how hip it was during this period, but one piece -- I believe it was in New York magazine -- said that at the bi socials the guys cruised the guys and the girls cruised the girls. Maybe because they didn't want to go into gay bars -- internalized homophobia? Maybe they weren't so bi, after all? I decided not to go because I'd be there under false pretenses, although then -- as now -- I thought I was probably a heck of a lot more "bi" than many of the bi's in the group. I did eventually wind up at a bi social accidentally, but I'll save that funny story for another post.

It's difficult if not impossible to discuss these issues relating to bisexuality with some bi-identified individuals who come off as a bit militant -- definitely for lack of a better word -- even bullying, and become so defensive that they simply will not engage in a serious discourse or listen to anything you have to say, no matter how friendly or open-minded your tone. In these pc days gay people are not even allowed to be a bit questioning about certain aspects of bisexuality. Either you damn well accept that everyone who says they're bi is bi, or you're a hateful bigot who should be thrown out of the GLBT movement. Imagine if we were all supposed to accept that everyone who said they were straight was really straight? Bisexuals often have their own agenda (others don't seem to really care, they just sleep/live with who they want to, and have no particular problem in being referred to as gay). You can't say that even some bi's are gay and you don't dare suggest that most bi's have a decided preference (their own sex?) It's reaching the point where I'm beginning to think that some gays and some bi's are really not compatible.

So it's like this. I'd prefer to date a gay man over a bisexual one. I'd prefer to date a Democrat over a Republican. But I do have friends who -- at least at some point in their lives -- were technically bisexual, and I even have friends who are Republican (but we rarely talk politics).
Am I biphobic simply because I'd prefer to be dating, looking forward to a possible romantic relationship, with someone who may understand me and have a similar world-view?

Friendship is one thing, but a partnership is a whole different matter.

I recognize other gays will feel differently, and that's their prerogative. I wish we lived in a world where Gay was considered just as good as Straight, and therefore people had no need to hide behind labels, whatever they might be, and there would be much less cynicism, confusion, and misunderstanding. People could be absolutely free to be what they are: gay, straight, bi, hell even asexual, if they wanted (but what sane person would want it?) I truly don't want anyone fired from their jobs or beaten up because they are -- or call themselves -- gay, bi, transsexual, or anything else.

But let's remember that in a world full of so much homophobia, where what seems like an increasing number of people who have same-sex relationships do not want to identify as gay, GAY PRIDE should still have -- must still have -- meaning and power. Remember, whatever Job Brother may say, the gay community is much more accepting of bi's (however skeptical we may be at times) than the straight world at large. After all, it's the homosexual leanings of bi people that set them apart from the larger straight society and make them controversial and even, at times, excoriated (by society in general). And the very reason why many gays and genuine bi's would rather shoot themselves than come out as, or be thought of as, totally gay (don't kid yourself), even in this day and age.

When Gay Pride no longer has any meaning, we're all lost.


Simon Bailey said...

Interesting piece, Bill. I have always identified myself as bi, although I've never made a big thing of it. But I guess I would have to say I'm only bi in the technical sense, as you put it. From time to time I've enjoyed sex with women but I've always known that my main interest was men. Most of the bisexual men I know I feel are pretty much the same way. I don't think you're biphobic, just being honest. I don't agree with everything but at least you're trying to create an honest discussion of a complicated issue. I enjoyed reading other excellent posts on your blog. Keep it up!

Bill Samuels said...

Thanks for your comments, Simon. The bisexual question is a complex one, like any question of sexual orientation or sexual identity. Thanks for not immediately slamming me as biphobic! Like I say, being bisexual means different things to different people. Let's hope we can all get along no matter how we define ourselves! Thanks for the compliments on my posts. Bill