Opportunist?

Some see a bisexual label as a kind of taking advantage, or sort of gaming the system, in several ways. One is convenience: on college campuses, some women are called BUGs or LUGs (Bisexual or Lesbian Until Graduation).

“The implication is that you are not a REAL lesbian, you are just adapting to the lack of daily access to men and conforming to peer pressure at a women’s college. It’s such an insult….It implies that lesbian relationships are just practice for men.” -KL

“‘Lesbian with a boyfriend’ is a label you hear a lot, because women see the label of bisexual as apostasy to the lesbian cause. They’ve gone to all the trouble and pain of coming out and don’t want to go back. “ -GC

For some, the opportunism might just be a kind of mutual research project.

“Girls are declaring themselves lesbian and bisexual at younger and younger ages, like 14 and 15. Some are certain. Some react to their inundation with sex messages in the media and their fears of sex by deciding that experimenting with their own sex is easier…. Lots of lesbian girls experiment with boys too.” – SC

Another advantage, or reversal of a disadvantage, might be a reaction/defense mechanism where “hookup culture” is prevalent for men.

“I have a friend who says she is bisexual. She has dated women but rarely slept with them, and slept with several men but never dated them.” -KL

Some women who claim bisexuality seem to be acting, in order to use heterosexual male fantasies for their own benefit.

‘Bisexual’ is a kind of showy label…. Sometimes they hook up with women [meaning making out] in front of men just to get more male attention. – KL

What does your teen say about these ideas? 

See also this post about why the idea of change in someone’s attractions seems so terrifying.

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Fluidity is Scary

So you’re 16, and you’ve had a couple of crushes on boys turn into enough of a relationship each time that you changed your status on Facebook and, OMG so did he, and the endings were temporarily tragic and more lastingly awkward, but it all seems pretty par for the course until you find yourself head-over-heels and giddily blindsided by a much deeper love…for a girl. What does that mean?

Are you a real lesbian? Or, if the “you” above is male, are you NOT a real gay guy? That was just puppy love before? Are you actually bisexual? Will you ever fall in love with a boy again? And if you do, what would THAT mean? Can you trust your own feelings? Can sexual orientation re-orient? How do you explain this to your friends? To your ex?

What does the research say? This is a relatively new area. Some work suggests changeable attractions might be more common for women than for men, but maybe only because it has been more studied to date. Lisa Diamond: “After all, if female sexuality is fluid, one might argue that we shouldn’t bother distinguishing between lesbians and bisexuals to begin with. Perhaps all lesbians are ‘potential bisexuals’ and vice versa. Yet this would make sense only if all women appeared to be equally plastic in their sexuality, and the findings of this study suggest that this is not the case. Rather, some women appear to experience (and perceive the possibility for) greater change in their attractions and behaviors than others, and these women appear most likely to adopt non-lesbian labels or to change labels over time, even if they are predominantly attracted to women.” [1]

Diamond’s study seems to open a dangerous avenue for anti-gay proponents. If sexuality is in fact changeable, and if at least some women feel a certain degree of choice in the matter, does that allow for moral judgment, that is, a “better” form of sexuality that one should choose or move toward?

Just because a pattern of attraction might shift over time doesn’t mean we control the shift, any more than we control the attractions.  Human history across the spectrum shows our utter lack of control over the who in our attractions. Think back: haven’t you been mystified or even embarrassed by feeling that zing for someone completely unexpected? Sometimes those attractions are not appropriate to act on (one’s teacher, someone in a committed relationship, etc.), but what if the gender of the person who inspired the zing were the only part outside of your pattern of “appropriate” attractions?

Diamond told Troy Williams in an interview in 2009, “there were women who I studied who identified as bisexual but experienced their bisexuality as something that had more to do with a particular relationship they were in, rather than a stable trait.  They say, ‘I thought I was heterosexual and then I fell in love with this woman. I don’t know what that means, and I don’t know what will happen in the future.’  That open-endedness is why bisexuality gets stigmatized….The majority of women who experience any same-sex attractions at all, actually tend to experience attractions for both men and women…. This is an idea that many people find very threatening.  It’s much more comfortable for the culture at large to imagine that everyone fits into a gay or straight box.” [2]

“If you’re bi, you get pressure to choose. You can’t be both, socially.” – PO
What if your sexual attraction pattern could change, say, next month? What about that is so scary? I think there are 2 things: it would seem to make a long-term successful relationship with anybody more unlikely, and it means we are all in danger of being in this minority for whom life is harder.
So is there any truth to the stereotype of bisexuals having a lower probability of a long-term relationship? Maybe it’s the opposite.  Lisa Diamond, citing her 10-year longitudinal study, found, ” At the beginning of the study, when women were in their teens and early 20s, they tended to be involved in multiple successive relationships, and their ratio of same-sex to other-sex sexual contact tended to parallel their attractions. Yet 10 years later, most women had settled down into committed monogamous relationships (70% of the T5 lesbians, 89% of the T5 bisexuals, 85% of the T5 unlabeled women, and 67% of the T5 heterosexuals).”[3] (“T5” refers to the fifth biannual study time point; some subjects had labeled themselves differently at other time points.)
This study sample was only 79 women, so we can’t say definitively that women who call themselves bisexual in their 30’s are more likely to be in a successful long-term relationship than either their lesbian or straight peers, but it might just be so.
Now, what about the implication that we all could just “turn”  bisexual tomorrow? Then, we wouldn’t actually be in a minority at all….

What do your teens think about this? Is bi “trendy” in their school? So they feel the “pressure to choose?”

 


[1] Diamond, L. M. (2000). Sexual identity, attractions, and behavior among young sexual-minority women over a two-year period. Developmental Psychology, 36, 241-250

[3]Diamond, L. M. (2008). Female bisexuality from adolescence to adulthood: Results from a 10-year longitudinal study. Developmental Psychology, 44, 5-14.

Turncoat, opportunist, liar: why so much hate for bisexuals?

Even in communities and venues where liberal-mindedness and inclusion rule,  intolerance for bisexuals mysteriously persists. I wonder why.

Olympic diver Tom Daley announced via YouTube video that he “couldn’t be happier” in love with a man, but “I still fancy girls,” and the New York Times and Huffington post ran stories about snarky commentary skeptical that both these things can be true.

First the fun digression: It’s easy to get distracted by the beauty of a joyous first deep love, as you watch the video and his subsequent appearance on a British TV show , and as you read this tweet: “One day someone will hug you so tight. That all your broken pieces will stick back together.” Cue the Disney falling-in-love songs, say, “A Whole New World.” Ahhh. Except that Disney is so hetero-normative. And so we come back to the matter of non-acceptance, at both ends of the orientation spectrum.

Liar?: Is Bisexuality Real? Or the First Stop on the Gay/Lesbian Train?

Michael Shulman writes in the New York Times that “…Mr. Daley’s disclosure reignited a fraught conversation within the LGBT community, having to do with its third letter.” He quotes expert Lisa Diamond, that people don’t believe “… that bisexuality really exists, feeling that it’s a transitional stage or a form of being in the closet.”

Indeed, for some lesbian- and gay-identified people, “bisexual” was an early stage of self-acceptance:

”It’s easier to say this now [that you are bi] than before, and bi is a step on the path to self-recognition as gay for many guys. The girls include both some who want attention and some who are truly experiencing the turmoil. This is really an issue to be addressed by adults, in that changing the marriage equality laws and otherwise promoting equity will make any orientation accepted, and then kids can say who they really are.” – SQ

While for some bisexual might actually be a “gateway” self-label toward gay or lesbian, that doesn’t make it false for others. Dr. Diamond goes on to cite population studies that suggest there are more bisexual people than gays and lesbians, and Freud and Kinsey both believed bisexuality is quite common.

“I think people have sliding scales of attraction to each sex, and they are sometimes independent of each other.” -GC

“There are so many straight people who have had queer experiences but they won’t describe them that way.” -SH

A recent large study of teens by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backs up Dr. Diamond’s assertion. Of teens in 13 different sites over 9 years, between only 1-2.6% identified as gay or lesbian, and 2.9-5.2% said they were bisexual.  How they labeled themselves echoed what they did: 0.7-3.9% had sexual contact only with “members of the same sex,” and 1.9-4.9% with “both sexes”.  (CDC, “Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9–12 — Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, Selected Sites, United States, 2001–2009,” Morbidity & Mortality Report, June 6, 2011.

Do these figures surprise you? Is bisexuality “trendy” in your area, and if so, does this seem to reflect authentic attraction? What does your teen think?

Check out Science of Relationships for more myth-busting on bisexuality.

Click here to see another common, offensive dismissal of bisexuality: opportunism.