Monday, July 10, 2006

Bisexuality over 21

This post is a kind of an answer to Laura's comment (posted in response to Time to be a Rubber Fetishist, below). She said:

"When I was at university lots of girls and boys were experimenting with same sex/different sex relationships and flings but to my knowledge very few continued into adulthood... perhaps because there weren't any role models?"

The invisibility of bisexuals (pretty much everywhere outside of an organised bi community) is something I'm going to come back to again and again in this blog. The reasons for it are complex but this is it in a nutshell...
Mainstream society finds bisexuality so threatening to the status quo that it needs to make bisexuality as unappealing or impossible as it can. Bisexuality exposes as a lie the notion that people are divided into good straights and bad gays, with a brick wall between the two. It forces a recognition that fewer people are wholly straight or gay than everyone likes to think. That's something almost no one wants to hear.
It's also a vicious circle: because bisexuality is so invisible, and because there are so many myths and stereotypes about it, people in general dislike bisexuals. Therefore few say publicly that they are bisexual. Why would people tell others they are bi if the reaction they would get is overwhelmingly negative? Bisexuality is very often - at present - fraught with difficulty: no approval from friends or family, only a tiny community of people to support you even if you can find them, no "bisexual scene" to come out to.

"Well, of course, I dabbled when I was a student"
So is this the only (only!) reason that Laura's friends stopped their experimentations? Well, first of all let's look at that word "experimenting"... It might be simply that - you try something, you decide you don't like it, you don't repeat the experience. Personally, I tried horse-riding: I don't regret it, but I have no desire to do it again. Some people, for sure, who have experimented with both sexes are just trying it on for size. Trite as it sounds, experimentation when you are a young adult is part of growing up. (Although people experiment at other times of their lives too.)
But the difficulty for me is that the words bisexuality and experimentation are often muddled up together. Many people's bisexuality is considered - by themselves and others - as only about experimentation, just a temporary thing while they sort themselves out. Then there's that other synonym "dabble" - over-used by straight and gay people alike. It makes our desires sound like a bit of a joke, something to be taken lightly - when my own sexual feelings have been serious as cancer. And you don't dabble in love, for instance, or long-term relationships, only sex.

Keeping it quiet
Here's another possibility, though: maybe Laura's friends did continue their same sex/different sex behaviour into adulthood, secretly. Many people, probably most, who say to themselves "I am bisexual" or use terms like "my bi side" or have sex with men and women within, say, a five year period, won't tell their friends. I still, even now, get people saying to me: "Oh you're the only one I've ever met". What they actually mean is: "You're the only person who's ever told me they're bi".
But if bisexuality really was that rare then I'd never meet any either - and outside of the bi community, it's rare that I meet people who are openly bi. What I have had, instead, is people "confessing" to me once they know I am bisexual. These confessees, women and men, know perfectly well their sexual and emotional attractions are not confined to one or other side of the gender divide and sometimes they have acted on these feelings. What they don't know is how to cope with them. Honestly, if I had a pound for every person who asked me if I thought they were bisexual...

People like us?
So is it the lack of role models that stops people continuing with same sex/different sex relationships - or talking publicly about them?
To be sure, that's part of it. And perhaps the massive publicity that a certain sort of female bisexuality (bi-try, "party-trick lesbianism", whatever) has had in recent years means that young women are more inclined to express their sexual feelings for each other. Whether that means it's easier for them to have actual relationships is another matter. Heterosexuality rules today as much as ever.
But I think the whole idea of role models is a bit flawed. A person who is my role model might be a total turn-off for someone else. There are female bisexual role models out there if you want them - from Frida Kahlo to Angelina Jolie - although I'm not sure what real relevance they have to, say, an ordinary London woman with an office job.
That's not so true for men. I can't think of any celebrity-style bi male role models who are alive and famous right now. And all this invisibility is far worse for men. Indeed, they are often told that there aren't any out bi men... because no men are really bi.
There are non-celebrity role models though - Robyn Ochs, say, who compiles the Bisexual Resource Guide in Boston, and speaks about bisexuality here, there and everywhere. But whether the woman in the street would know about her is another matter.
Role models or not, what is essential, though, is for bisexuals and bisexuality to be more visible, more prominent, in order to counteract all the propaganda and misinformation about us. My blog is one microscopic part of that - as are the bi resource and community sites on the web, and the real world groups when you can find them and even, perhaps, the sex and dating sites. Then, more people will come out as bi, negative stereotypes will be challenged, and the vicious circle might become a virtuous one.

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