Bisexuality: Just a Trendy Myth?
Although we have been discussing bisexuality throughout this chapter, bisexuality has really emerged more recently as a separate identity from lesbian, gay, or heterosexual identities, and we are still learning more each year (Ryan & Futterman, 2001). Social and political bisexual groups began forming in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s that an organized bisexual movement achieved visibility in the United States (Herek, 2002).
We do know that people who identify as bisexual often first identified as heterosexuals, and their self-labeling generally occurs later in life than either gay or lesbian self-labeling (Weinberg et al., 1994). It is interesting to note that for many years few people noticed the absence of research on bisexuality. This absence stemmed from the fact that researchers believed that sexuality was composed of only two opposing forms of sexuality: heterosexuality and homosexuality (Herek, 2002; Rust, 2000).
Homosexuals have tended to see bisexuals either as on their way to becoming homosexual or as people who want to be able to “play both sides of the fence,” being homosexual in the gay community and heterosexual in straight society. Heterosexuals have tended to lump bisexuals in with homosexuals. Sexuality scholars have suggested that bisexuality is: a myth, or an attempt to deny one’s homosexuality; identity confusion; or an attempt to be “chic” or “trendy” (Rust, 2000). Some studies claim that bisexuals are men and women who are ambivalent about their homosexual behavior (Carey, 2005; Rieger et
al., 2005). To study this, researchers have measured genital arousal patterns in response to images of men and women and have found that those who identify as bisexual often show physical attraction patterns that differ from their stated desires (Rieger et al., 2005). Bisexuals themselves have begun to speak of biphobia, which they suggest exists in both the straight and gay and lesbian communities. Like homosexuals, bisexuals experience hostility, discrimination, and violence in response to their sexual orientation (Herek, 2002). This hostility may come not only from heterosexuals, but from homosexuals as well.
Many bisexuals see themselves as having the best of both worlds. As one bisexual put it, “The more I talk and think about it, and listen to people, I realize that there are no fences, no walls, no heterosexuality or homosexuality. There are just people and the electricity between them” (quoted in Spolan, 1991). In our society, fear of intimacy is expressed through either homophobia if you are heterosexual or heterophobia if you are gay or lesbian; no matter what your sexual orientation, one gender or another is always taboo—your sexual intimacy is always restricted (Klein, 1978). From that perspective, bisexuality is simply lack of prejudice and full acceptance of both sexes.
More people in American society exhibit bisexual behavior than exclusively homosexual behavior (F. Klein, 1990). In sequential bisexuality, the person has sex exclusively with one gender, followed by sex exclusively with the other; contemporaneous bisexuality refers to having sexual partners of both sexes during the same time period (Paul, 1984). Numbers are very hard to come by because bisexuality itself is so hard to define. How many encounters with both sexes are needed for a person to be considered bisexual? One? Fifty? And what of fantasies? It is difficult to determine what percentage of people are bisexual because many who engage in bisexual behavior do not self-identify as bisexual (Weinberg et al., 1994).
Some people come to bisexuality through intimate involvement with a close friend of the same sex, even if they have not had same-sex attractions before. Others have come to it through group sex or swinging, in which, in the heat of passion, a body is a body and distinctions between men and women easily blur. The new bisexual movement may succeed in breaking through the artificial split of the sexual world into homosexuals and heterosexuals. Perhaps we fear the fluid model of sexuality offered by bisexuals because we fear our own cross-preference encounter fantasies and do not want to admit that most of us, even if hidden deep in our fantasies, are to some degree attracted to both sexes.