I've had a few people ask me to write some commentary on Bilerico about the latest research on the existence of bisexual men, as recently reported in the New York Times. But here's the thing: I don't understand how this is news.
I don't need a research grant, a penis-measuring-tape, and a stack of porn to prove what bi men themselves have been telling me for years (that they exist). And I don't need the New York Times telling me that that's newsworthy.
What I do need is for someone to explain to me why anyone would think that bi men don't exist in the first place!
Bisexual identity is as much about language as it is about sexuality. If someone says he is bisexual, he is bisexual. He is bisexual as soon as he says he's bisexual, because that is the word that he uses to describe his sexuality. As long as the word bisexual has been accessible for people to use to describe their sexuality, there have been men who did so.
I've met plenty of men who use this word to describe their sexuality. Therefore, they exist. They're not holograms. They're flesh and blood. And speaking of flesh and blood...
What is really being debated and dissected by the research and media reporting here is: do men who use this word - bisexual - get erections when viewing certain types of porn? The problem with this premise is that it assumes that erections can tell us something about the truth of sexual identity language. (They can't.) It assumes that men who say they are bisexual de facto can't be trusted, so their penises have to be measured. (They don't.) And it assumes that certain kinds of pornography will lead to erections. (It won't.)
One of the most frequent "bisexual men don't exist" arguments contends that men who use the word bisexual are really closeted gay men. (Oddly enough, I've never heard one of these biphobes say that bi men are really closeted straight men. What's that about?)
First of all, if men use the word bisexual to describe themselves, then that's what they are, and therefore bi men exist; and to say otherwise is straight-up rude, because it's literally saying, "I don't believe you when you talk about your sexuality." Second of all, the idea that these men who say they're bi are really monosexuals who are only interested in other men is sexist.
It's sexist because what these types of biphobes are implying is that it's impossible for a man to be attracted to men and to women, and that, if a man is attracted to other men, then that's it. Case closed. Mission accomplished. All sexuality needs taken care of and accounted for. Women? Who needs 'em? Who cares about 'em? No man who likes men would debase himself by acting on or even acknowledging - or even experiencing - attraction to a woman ever again.
Like I said, sexist.
Believe it or not, some people who like men, also like women. (And some of us don't experience attraction based on demographic characteristics like gender or race at all. Can you believe that? Shocking, I know.) This includes some men. Lots of people think that women are awesome - and some of those people are men.
But I have to acknowledge that this rhetoric doesn't exist in a vacuum. The idea - that bi men don't exist - is out there, and it's so prevalent that even the Gray Lady herself, the New York Times, has to weigh in on the "debate." And that may be the saddest piece of news I've heard all day.
It's a sad piece of news because, when people are told that they don't exist, (or that their existence is up for debate), often they internalize that message. And that internalization has very real consequences. As I wrote about in the book Bisexual Health, drug addiction, alcoholism, depression, and suicide ideation exist at higher levels among self-identified bisexuals than among gays, lesbians, and straight people. That's the real news. But have you read about that in the New York Times lately?