The New York Times Magazine posted this article by Benoit Denizet-Lewis, The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists, eleven days ago, and it ran in print starting last Saturday. I've linked to some of Denizet-Lewis's work in my LGBT Literature diaries, and he strikes me as being an honest broker of information, and when I did a search Thursday of this week, I was surprised to see that no one had written about it. It said "diary me," so that's what I've done.
Interesting article, too. Denizet-Lewis, a self-professed Kinsey 5, tries to determine where the science is on bisexuality. He spends a lot of time with people from the American Institute of Bisexuality (henceforth AIB), a foundation established by a rich bisexual in the late 1980s, in his quest for information. He finds that there are more bisexual people than he thought there were, and the reasons for this discrepancy may not surprise you, but they surprised me and the explanation for why this is may explain some of the friction we've seen here at Daily Kos when this subject gets diaried (admittedly, I may have caused some of that). Below the fold, please.
The good news is abundant. There are more bisexuals than there are lesbians and gay men. The Williams Institute at UCLA, a think tank devoted to rigorous independent research on sexual orientation and gender identity and public policy (and the reason we should shop at Williams-Sonoma instead of at Sur La Table), cites
a 2009 study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine [which shows that] 3.1 percent of American adults identified as bisexual, while 2.5 percent identified as gay or lesbian.This would make sense. Why don't we know this? Because a 2013 Pew Research survey found that only 28 percent of people who identified as bisexual said they were open about it. It has been pretty much axiomatic that the fact that so many gay men and lesbians came out is why we've made the gains in civil rights and political power we've made, which is precisely what the Gay Liberation Front and Harvey Milk proposed in the 1970s.
Why don't they come out? Well, after a few pages of what has become the almost ritualistic listing of some of the offences we mean gay men have perpetrated on the poor defenseless bi able-to-pass population, it comes down to this explanation from Joe Kort, a Michigan-based sex therapist:
[M]any never tell anyone about their bisexual experiences, for fear of losing relationships or having their reputation hurt. Consequently, they're an invisible group of men. We know so little about them.Or having their reputation hurt, by association with the mean gay men. Yes, SO much easier to pass without any of that stigma, that ick-factor.
Anyhow, science proves bisexual people exist. We meet Michael Bailey, a professor of psychology at Northwestern, whose first study of sexual arousal among men produced a headline in the New York Times that read "Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited." Bailey did a follow-up study in which he used more stringent criteria to find bisexual-identified subjects, and this study, published in 2011,
found that bisexual men did in fact demonstrate 'bisexual patterns of both subjective and genital arousal."The AIB people still don't trust him, but there are better test methods that the ones he was using. We'll learn about them later in this diary.
After an interlude in which we learn that more famous women have said they are bisexual than famous men, that Clive Davis, who is 80, is a famous bisexual man. Then follows another ritualistic dig at Andrew Sullivan, which prompts John Sylla, a bisexual activist to admit that gay men use bisexuality as a transition identity, but then to complain that we don't try to imagine that other men might have a different trajectory. That's fair, and here's the 2013 Pew study again:
bisexuals are less likely than gays and lesbians '"to view their sexual orientation as important to their overall identity."Not much of a surprise since we've seen gay men make the same claims here about "gay" not being important to who they are here at Daily Kos, but it shouldn't surprise bisexuals that the LGT community has historically had some difficulty with that of the "what do bisexuals want" variety as a result. Denizet-Lewis asks one of his bi friends if he can identify any places where there's an upside to broadcasting the fact that he's bi, and gets the answer, "gay chat rooms and online hookup sites." Bisexual women who aren't famous have similar issues, with a dismally similar result. Why do I say "dismally"? Brian Dodge, a researcher on bisexuality and health at Indiana University, has found
that [when bisexuals are] compared with their exclusively homosexual and heterosexual counterparts, [they] have reported higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance use, victimization by violence [!!], suicidal ideation and sexual-health concerns.Funny, but wasn't that what they used to say about lesbians and gay men who remained in the closet? The closet is bad for everyone, something that the 72% of bisexuals who don't disclose should consider very carefully.
Then Denizet-Lewis travels to Cornell University to visit Ritch Savin-Williams and Gerulf Rieger who have just completed a study of bisexuality and sexual curiosity, which indicates that bisexual men have higher levels of it than either hetero or gay men. While Michael Bailey used a genital monitor, Savin-Williams and Rieger use a pupil-dilation tracker, which appears to be more accurate. Denizet-Lewis had been tested at Northwestern, where the tester said his genital response was fairly typical for a gay men, although he was less averse to seeing women than other gay men they tested. Ar Cornell? Whammo. More bi than gay, said his pupils.
Okay. Yes, you DO exist. But where does that leave "born this way"? Denizet-Lewis isn't buying what HIS pupils say, because bisexuality didn't seem right as his own identity. Maybe, he thinks, this is an issue that won't be with us too much longer. He cites Eric Anderson, a researcher at the University of Warwick in England, who has written that
The liberalization of attitudes toward homosexuality in American cultures has also been beneficial for heterosexual men.Yes, there's a lot less homophobia and biphobia among young people, probably because of all of us, especially those of us who are in the public eye, who are out gay and out lesbian. It's not so much that we're post-gay as we are post-labeling, and that would be a good thing. As soon as ENDA becomes law, at any rate.
Denizet-Lewis concludes with dinner with two bisexual activists, men, who have also been a couple for the past 17 years. Yes, it has to be complicated, doesn't it. But he closes with this, from one of the activists:
The world needs more out bi people so that bisexuals can find support and community, just like gay people have when they come out. Many bisexuals end up saying they're gay if they're with a same-sex person or straight if they're with an opposite-sex person. It's easier to do that.So yes. You're real. Thank you for coming out, and maybe ALL of you will. But don't try to say it doesn't matter. The closet is ALWAYS corrosive.
UPDATE, 3:45 PM: Reader-response theory strikes again. This took off from an article that a couple of you have ridiculed for overlooking the wide variety of human sexual experience, which isn't what I was writing about and wasn't what Mr. Denizet-Lewis was writing about either. I didn't really want to discuss Michael Bailey's research either, and thank you for bringing THAT up in the comments.
I'm not going to unpublish this, but I AM going to let this operate as an open thread on the issue of sexuality. My comments about the closet and what damage being in it still stand, but since none of you want to discuss it, fine.