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Biphobia, monosexism and pansexuality

Thorn Wilde

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I was browsing Tumblr the other day when I came across this quote:

Quote

I gave a speech on bisexual health at a medical association conference a few years ago. One of the attendees, who is a mental health professional — he’s a therapist — wasn’t at my talk, but when he heard the topic of my speech, he told me, "Oh, when I have clients who say they’re bi, I really question it. I really make them talk it through, and we examine it very closely."

 

I said, "What if they say they’re gay?" He was gay, by the way.

 

He said, "Oh, in that case, we just talk about whatever they came to me for."

 

It's a quote by a woman named Amy André, from a speech on bisexual health.

 

I was reminded of it when this thread emerged in The Lounge, regarding olympic diver Tom Daley. Now, Tom Daley has said that he's in a relationship with another guy. Good for him. I think this is awesome. He also says he still fancies girls. As far as I'm concerned, this places him pretty firmly in the bisexual category as far as labels go. Yet, some seem to feel that this means he's 'undecided'.

 

I tend to lean towards the masculine, but if I were to categorise my sexual orientation (personally I prefer to just call myself queer), I would probably call myself pansexual. If someone asks and I don't feel like explaining what that means, I will say bisexual, because that's easier. But I like guys, and I like girls, and I like girls who look like guys and guys who look like girls, and I like non-op transpersons and genderqueer people who feel no need to label their gender, and I don't believe in the gender binary.

 

Neither to I believe in monosexuality as some kind of default. I've always been of the opinion that people fall in love with people. That there are tastes and preferences that tend to make us more attracted to one sex than another, but that the starting point, the default state if you will, is that you can go either way. Dispute me on this if you like, my word isn't gospel. I'm not saying that no one is gay or straight, and I'm not saying that sexual orientation isn't innate, I just mean that as a species we can go either way.

 

I'm convinced that if 'alternative' sexualities were more accepted, far more straight people would identify as bisexual. As it is, many people, on both ends of the spectrum, don't even consider bisexuality to be a real sexual orientation. We're told that we're confused or greedy, that we should make up our minds. We're told that if we're in same-sex relationships we're gay and if we're in opposite-sex relationships we're straight. Mental health professionals don't take us seriously. We have a hard time finding lasting relationships because if our partners identify as completely gay or completely straight, they'll want us to identify that way as well, and they'll feel insecure and worry that we really want someone of the other sex if we refuse to.

 

This is probably part of the reason why far more bisexual people are depressed or suicidal. I think we're something like twice as likely as gay people and four times as likely as straight people to suffer from severe depressions and suicidal thoughts. Some will try to tell us to just choose, some will try to convince us we're really either gay or straight, and gay people aren't a bit better with regard to this than straight people.

 

I'm not confused. I'm perfectly comfortable with my sexual orientation. I know what I like and what I don't like. I've identified as bisexual for over a decade and I've never faltered in this. But it hasn't been easy when I've constantly been made to feel like my sexual orientation is invalid. The B in LGBT is being ignored, but we do exist, and we're not confused or greedy or undecided. We're real.

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I personally identify as bisexual leaning male, but I've always found it easier to just tell someone I'm gay if they ask. It always seems like people don't truly understand bisexuality or they are too stuck in a black and white mentality.

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I personally identify as bisexual leaning male, but I've always found it easier to just tell someone I'm gay if they ask. It always seems like people don't truly understand bisexuality or they are too stuck in a black and white mentality.

 

That's exactly what I mean. It's much easier to just say you're gay if you usually like guys, but I've heard of people having to rephrase their sexual identity because they end up falling for someone of the gender they're not usually attracted to, and pretty much being ostracised for it. People say they 'turned straight' or 'turned gay', and it's like, no, I was like this all the time, I'm exactly the same as I used to be. It's whack. 

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I think it falls into the black and white mentality that colors people's world view. Democrat or Republican, good or evil, gay or straight, etc.  I don't even think it's really consciously intentional.

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I think it falls into the black and white mentality that colors people's world view. Democrat or Republican, good or evil, gay or straight, etc.  I don't even think it's really consciously intentional.

 

Probably not, but that doesn't mean we can't try and change that mentality.

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In essence, bisexuality is the default setting, and everything else is the aberration?  I'm on board with that.

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Unlike being gay or straight, bisexuality or pansexuality is rendered invisible once a relationship with another person is established.  This is particularly true if the relationship is monogamous and the partner does not identify as genderqueer.

 

My partner and I are perceived as a gay male couple.  The reality is that my partner's orientation is more nuanced than gay and my gender is more nuanced than male.  Some people know this, particularly those who know my partner was in long term relationships with cis-gendered men and women prior to being with me or those who knew me pre-transition.

 

Now we're two guys who have been in a monogamous relationship for over ten years.  If we want to make others aware of his pansexual orientation or my transgender identity, we have to work it into a conversation.  That doesn't happen too often in day to day life so those aspects of ourselves are largely invisible to anyone other than ourselves.  Happily, this invisibility doesn't seem to engender distress for either of us.  I guess the fact that we know each other's full range of sexual expression is visibility enough?  Maybe there are still enough people who know the "full" story that we remain happy? I haven't really given this aspect of things much thought.  

 

Here's something cool.  I was talking to the mother of a student at the San Francisco Ballet School a couple weeks ago.  She knows I'm gay, but I don't know if she knows I'm trans.  She said she was asking her daughter if one of her friends was gay or straight and her daughter said, "Mom, it's not that simple!  You can't just say that you're straight anymore." 

 

A good thing - evidence that there is a growing consciousness of the middle ground of gender and sexuality and giving people a chance to claim that space for themselves.

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In essence, bisexuality is the default setting, and everything else is the aberration?  I'm on board with that.

 

Not sure I'd use that particular word, but yes. I believe there are very few people in the world who are actually totally 100% on one end of the spectrum or the other. That is to say that I think there are about as many 100% straight people as there are 100% gay people. How often don't you hear straight people (at least the ones that are comfortable in their sexuality) say that they're totally gay for some celebrity? I also think that the reason why straight people seem to be in majority is that the vast majority of bisexuals, due to societal pressure, norms or conditioning, end up identifying as straight, not because they couldn't ever be with someone of the same sex, but simply because the thought hasn't really occurred to them, and when they do feel attracted to someone of the same sex they put it down to admiration and never explore the sexual possibilities. That's just a pet theory, though, of course. Add the factors of a non-binary spectrum of gender to the mix and it becomes even more complicated, but, TL;DR in essence, yes.

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Bisexuality as a concept is something that is harder to grasp for some people because of the strict gender roles present in our society. I've been long told that my preferences just weren't valid, especially by members in my local gay community and by my own family. Upon coming to GA I've realized there are lots of accepting people here who understand that sexuality can be dynamic, it can be stable, it can be simple and it can be multifaceted, and who believe that there is no sexuality that is invalid.

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Kinsey was here in the 1940s and 1950s. His work showed that human sexuality is a continuum, not defined categories.
He made it simpler for people to understand by creating a scale - the Kinsey Scale.
And that data and his findings have been around now for over 60 years!
This really is "old news" yet, several generations later, many people still insist on categorising and pigeonholing everyone.
Presumably it helps them cope with a complicated world - if they can slap a label on everything they don't have to think about it any more.  Job done.
 

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I self identify as gay. I find women attractive, but I think it would be almost impossible to have a relationship with one.

 

I define as Gay rather than bisexual, because although I could have a sexual "event" with a woman, I could only truly be myself with a man.

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I think you express this very well and pretty much agree with your point of view. I'm sure I could fall in love with anyone: man, woman, trans. It's the person that counts. As for the sex part, I personally feel I could be very easily persuaded to enjoy intimacy with anyone I loved. And I have certainly found both men and women attractive. And there is something else queer about my inner world too, which is not entirely about sexuality, but has to do with the fact that when I am powerfully attracted to someone, I often feel that I don't just want them, I want to be them.

Thanks for this interesting blog.

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I self identify as gay. I find women attractive, but I think it would be almost impossible to have a relationship with one.

 

I define as Gay rather than bisexual, because although I could have a sexual "event" with a woman, I could only truly be myself with a man.

 

You are, of course, free to self identify however you want, and I'm certainly not judging anyone. 

 

Purely out of curiosity: You say that you can only be yourself with a man. Does that also mean that you cannot form lasting, honest friendships with women?

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Kinsey was here in the 1940s and 1950s. His work showed that human sexuality is a continuum, not defined categories.

He made it simpler for people to understand by creating a scale - the Kinsey Scale.

And that data and his findings have been around now for over 60 years!

This really is "old news" yet, several generations later, many people still insist on categorising and pigeonholing everyone.

Presumably it helps them cope with a complicated world - if they can slap a label on everything they don't have to think about it any more.  Job done.

 

 

Just to nit-pick a bit, Kinsey's findings didn't prove anything, they merely provided a possible explanation for sexual preferences.  But for the record, I think he got it right.

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You are, of course, free to self identify however you want, and I'm certainly not judging anyone. 

 

Purely out of curiosity: You say that you can only be yourself with a man. Does that also mean that you cannot form lasting, honest friendships with women?

 

That would imply that a romantic relationship and a friendship are the same, and are equally able to satisfy someone. 

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Just to nit-pick a bit, Kinsey's findings didn't prove anything, they merely provided a possible explanation for sexual preferences.  But for the record, I think he got it right.

 

Not sure what you mean by "didn't prove anything". If you mean scientific proof, well I'm not sure that human behaviour is capable of scientific "proof" since people are creatures of feelings and emotion, not logic and rationality

 

What Kinsey did do was obtain data based on self-evaluation which showed [i.e. based on the evidence he obtained and analysed] that the previous assumption [not based on material evidence]  that sexual orientation was either definitely heterosexual or homosexual was incorrect.  The data he gathered concerned a variety of activities including, but not limited to, fantasies, thoughts, dreams, emotional feelings, behaviours, social preferences, lifestyle and frequency of sexual activity and so on.  The data also showed that people's sexual orientation changes over the course of their lives, contradicting previous assumptions that sexual orientation is fixed and challenging traditional notions of sexuality being one-dimensional. His biggest achievement was analysing all this data and finding a method to display it in terms of a more understandable scale from 0 to 6, instead of the continuum which the data actually showed.

 

Since Kinsey, a lot more work has been done to develop different scales and to show sexuality is not just about orientation but other issues like gender identity and so on, but the various further studies that have been done all support Kinsey's findings. So for 60 years we have had clear evidence that shoving people into pigeonholes of gay straight bi-sexual or whatever is irrational and contradicts the evidence, and those who continue to do so merely show their ignorance :)

 

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Since Kinsey, a lot more work has been done to develop different scales and to show sexuality is not just about orientation but other issues like gender identity and so on, but the various further studies that have been done all support Kinsey's findings. So for 60 years we have had clear evidence that shoving people into pigeonholes of gay straight bi-sexual or whatever is irrational and contradicts the evidence, and those who continue to do so merely show their ignorance :)

 

 

They support his findings in the sense that they acknowledge that sexuality is not a binary, or even "trinary,"  ;-)  thing. But rather than characterize that subsequent work as "supporting" or "confirming," I'd be more likely to characterize subsequent researchers' work as "buidling upon" Kinsey's. Some of their work takes issue with some of the implications of the Kinsey scale, for example. But not in the way of denying his basic insight that there's complexity to sexual orientation.

 

The other thing worth bringing up is that Kinsey's scale was a distillation of reports of sexual behavior and not of sexual feelings, wasn't it?

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They support his findings in the sense that they acknowledge that sexuality is not a binary, or even "trinary," 

 

Kinsey's data showed sexuality is a continuum. Infinitely variable, like a slider. Not only this, it showed that the slider can move around over time. So sexuality is not necessarily fixed. And subsequent work has, as you say, built on Kinsey showing, amongst other things, that sexuality is about much more than just hetero / homosexuality. So my gripe is with those who have strong views on human sexuality but ignore all this work by grabbing for labels. Each of us has our own unique sexuality and when people lazily use the tired old cliched labels to slap on anyone and everyone, when Kinsey and subsequent work has produced significant and credible evidence to disprove this, it just irritates me.

 

So why do I self-identify as gay? Probably two reasons: to atone for the ridiculous time it took me to accept I was not straight :P and because that's how I feel ... most of the time :) Just occasionally I see or meet a female and think, hmm, maybe just maybe my slider could move too :P

 

The other thing worth bringing up is that Kinsey's scale was a distillation of reports of sexual behavior and not of sexual feelings, wasn't it?

 

Kinsey's data came from lengthy interviews with individual subjects. Subjects were asked not just about their activities - or behaviour as you say - but also about their hetero / homosexual thoughts and feelings. So it was both.

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I think, because this is about sex and sexuality, many people are uncomfortable talking about it. Some because it makes them think about disturbing incidents in their past. Some because their religion dictates how they think they should feel and believe. Others because they think the topic is somehow icky (personally, I think hetero sex is icky!). Even from our colonial foundation, the US has been anti-sex – and we’ve done a good job of exporting our anti-sex attitude around the world.

 

 

For most people, Transgender is more of a novelty, a surprise twist in a movie or TV show, a plot device, not something that they experience in real life. It’s my impression that many Transpeople feel they've succeeded if no one knows that their chromosomes don’t match their gender identity and appearance. This adds to their invisibility with the general public which thinks they can always spot the ‘imposter’ – and in far too many cases, will murder the person who ‘deceived’ them when they discover the truth.

 

Transsexuality has existed for a long time. It’s only successful gender-confirming surgery that’s new. There are many documented cases of people who were only identified at death as not matching the gender identity and presentation that everyone had accepted. There are even wives who swore that their marriages were consummated by husbands who were discovered to be physically female.

 

Transsexuality scares many people because it disproves the immutability of gender. It makes people wonder what other hard and fast rules are not as dependable as they think. And it terrifies heterosexual men who are penis-phobic! And as Gays and Lesbians become more accepted by the general public, Trans is a scary threat that the sex-phobic right wing can use to rile up their base – according to them, Transfolk only use the restroom to molest children (not like the good, upstanding cis-gender, heterosexual pedophiles who molest the children of their family, friends, and parishioners*).

 

 

Pansexuality and gender fluid are new terms to most people. It’s going to take time for their meanings to trickle down to the masses. The subtle nuances will take additional explanation to convey. The monosexuals like me often don’t enjoy the extra self-examination and processing that might turn up unwanted surprises in their own sexuality. The familiar is comfortable and change is stressful.  ;–)

 

 

Older people were often taught that sex was dirty. It will take time for those attitudes to die out, especially in certain regions where the Patriarchy has an incentive to suppress questioning and exploration. The more these ideas get discussed, the harder they fight to censor thinking.

 

 

* That was sarcasm, by the way.

Edited by droughtquake
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