Cathy Renna

Bisexuality is its "Own" Sexual Orientation? WHODUTHUNKIT?

Filed By Cathy Renna | January 20, 2008 1:28 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Anne Heche, bisexuality, Ellen DeGeneres, GLAAD, media

This was all over the headlines last week as a new book and study are about to be released about bisexuality. Excuse my cynical – even snarky – tone here, but this seems like a long overdue realization on the part of the scientific community, the media and, well, anyone who thinks about this stuff for more than five minutes.

As someone who has been an ally to the bisexual community and an activist fighting for fair and accurate media coverage of sexual orientation issues for years, as well as a gal who has dated a number of bisexual women (and is now married to one), this a one of the many “duh” moments for the media and the public, who should really stretch their minds and know better.

Recent headlines in USA Today and other media, all along the lines of “women’s bisexuality and ‘identity’ not phase” (their quotes around identity, not mine) gave me very mixed feelings. Mostly a very large dose of “DUH” sprinkled with some “it’s about time” and “OMG how many ways will the media gratuitously sensationalize this?”

This new research, along with a soon to be released book by Utah-based professor and researcher Lisa Diamond about the fluidity of female sexual orientation, both suggest “the whole lesbian until graduation” myth (aka LUGS) is just that, and (here’s the big shocker) sexual orientation in general is a lot more diverse, fluid and complex than we thought! Ha! Someone get the smelling salts for both the gay and lesbian folks who think bisexual people are just “sitting on the fence” and the bigots who try and convert us or think we can change. It ain’t as easy as anyone wants to think, but the truth will slowly come out – and it is about time.

As an activist with a degree in biology and pre-med background (which has turned out to be very helpful), I feel like someone finally heard me (and others) who felt like we have been the proverbial trees falling – and yelling - in the forest to no avail. Even in – maybe especially in - the lesbian and gay community. Bisexual and transgender people have long understood that things are never the stark black and white most people would like life to be. I like to call it “living in the gray.” But I had to came to that realization myself when considering the amazing and sometimes frustrating diversity of our community. The media – and definitely not many of my fellow lesbians – were either no help or a font of misinformation, stereotype or flat out prejudice.

In the meantime, one of my favorite brushes with a large-scale public discussion of bisexuality came when Anne Heche (remember her?) left Ellen and began a relationship with a man. A picture is worth a thousand words – but a video is even better.

Watch this:

After my correction of his language at the onset of the interview, it is to George Stephanopoulos’ credit that he leaned over at the break and thanked me for being so polite about his gaffe. It taught me once again that it is more often ignorance, not prejudice, that prompts people to speak the way they do about LGBT people.

In a future post, I will offer a review of Lisa Diamond’s upcoming book, as well as the American Psychological Association’s research on this topic, but for now consider this a teaser – something to get people thinking and talking. I look forward to the conversation.

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I think Signorelle is wrong, most people are bisexual according to the Kinsey studies, not hetero or homosexual.

beergoggles | January 20, 2008 3:19 PM

I've always thought that all the crazy fundies who go on about homosexuality being a 'choice' are really bisexuals. Put that lot together and the bisexual population would be rather large.

most people are bisexual according to the Kinsey studies, not hetero or homosexual.

I've always wondered why gays tend to be so reistant to this idea (in my experience). I'm not sure I agree with it, but I'm open to it.

I know a lot of bi folks; I've known a lot of folks who identified their bisexuality as a "phase" (and who I am to say it wasn't?). All of my own sexual experience is gay. But my sensual/erotic experience is more, shall we say nuanced. And one thwarted "bi" experience (sorry to repeat myself).

I label myself Queer just because I find it the most encompasses all of this.

I think Signorelle is wrong, most people are bisexual according to the Kinsey studies, not hetero or homosexual.

Yeah, but I don't know if most people experience their sexualities that way. Like I don't - I can't recall ever being sexually attracted to a woman.

Of course, that could all be related to epistemology and legibility and other blah-blah-blahs, but from my perspective that's how it looks. But I'm not going to say that's true for everyone else.

I think it's awesome how GMA misspelled Signorile's name.

CBrachyrhynchos | January 21, 2008 8:34 AM

Well, actually, having just escaped from academic research hell, the snark on this really misses how this kind of research works.

So to start with, there is a Catch 22 in academic research that you need to have a few dozen peer-reviewed citations just to get started, but with groups that are just starting to form a distinct political identity those peer reviewed citations are hard to come by. BABN was started in '88, Bi Any Other Name published in '89, and the First International Conference Celebrating Bisexuality was in '92. Given that it takes 2-3 years to get a paper published, and this is a 10-year longitudinal study, you can see why this is lagging behind the popular media.

And the young college activists who came out as bisexual in the '90s are getting the tenure track positions, so now is about the time we can expect to see more serious attention paid to bisexuality.

The basic fact of the matter is that you can know 100 people trough networks, come in with a stack of personal stories, anecdootes, and popular press works, and those things simply don't matter when you are applying for grant funding or human subjects permission. The grant-funding and human-subjects wonks want too see peer-reviewed research. The publication of a 10-year longitudinal study in a mainstream developmental psychology journal opens some doors for future research, and is persuasive in some circles in the ways that Kaahumanu, DiFranco and Baumgardener are not.

I did the whole "bisexual" route before coming out as gay. Since a lot of people do that as a way of "easing in" and finally admitting their sexual orientation to themselves, we end up painting with a broad brush that everyone else does that. Hence, the "phase."

It's like the ubiquitous "Well, everyone knows..." that usually ends up only being the person speaking instead of truly "everyone."

chandler in lasvegas | January 21, 2008 2:02 PM

So now, when a guy I am interested in tells me he is bi, I can unilaterally reject him without any sense of guilt on either side because he isn't gay. We are from two types of sexuality. Thank you for the clarification.

I think Bil hit the nail on the head. FWIW, there's a similar dynamic in the trans world by some transsexuals towards crossdressers (i.e. crossdressers are just transsexuals in denial). And likewise, when bi activists insist everyone is a bit bi. (For the record, I think sexuality like gender is a spectrum that our society generally presumes to be a binary, so there are many (but not all) folks who are bi to some degree, even if it's just as the level of fantasy.)

Bottom line it's the inability to see that my way of being [insert descriptor here] isn't everyone's way of being [insert descriptor here].

Steven Seidman's excellent "Beyond the Closet" also makes a point that's relevant here. He argues that during the "closeted era" (from the 1950s to 1980s), the cost of coming out was often so high that paradoxically it made being gay or lesbian the central identity for many of those who did. (Instead of being an identity, which Seidman was seeing in folks who came of age more recently. I.e. it's the difference between defining oneself as a "gay man" vs. a "man who's gay".) So for people who came of age between the 1950s and 1980s, there's a tendency to presume that "bi = too cowardly to come out."

Cathy, I love this article and although I always thought you were cool, I didnt know your wife is bi or that you are a lesbian champion of education on bisexuality! What you said to George Stephanopoulos, I couldnt have stated it better myself. Very refreshing to hear you defending Anne Heche too, I always thought she got a bad rap. I didnt see anyone getting upset when Ellen and Portia both tossed aside their respective girlfriends to get together, but Anne is still regularly trashed for breaking up with Ellen umpteen years ago. (Please note, I have always been a huge Ellen fan since before her original TV show, I am just annoyed by the double standard. In fact, when everyone else said her old show "isnt funny anymore," after it went gay, I loved it and taped every episode, which I still have, and her current show is on DVR.)

I've never experienced bisexuality as a phase. I came out bi at 16 and here I am at 51, still bi. You do the math, because I'm old and my memory's going.

Cathy, please let me know anytime you post on bisexuality because I will post about it with a link, to Bidar, my blog reporting on bisexuality in media, arts and culture. I send a weekly teaser out to thousands of bi people who appreciate reading bi-positive articles like yours.

Sheela Lambert