Elton John famously did it, and most of us have friends or acquaintances that have done it.
I’m talking about the gay guys who – on their first few forays from the closet – feel the need to assure everyone that they are not gay but, in fact, “only” bisexual. It’s a defence mechanism that permits them to test the water before taking the full coming out plunge.
Now a new study, published in America, seems to suggest that all men who claim to be bisexual are really just gay men who haven’t reached final destination yet.
The claim certainly put the cat among the pigeons when it was reported on the front page of the New York Times under the rather provocative heading: “Gay, Straight or Lying. Bisexuality revisited”.
The study was conducted by Northwestern University and Toronto’s Center for Addiction and Mental Health which recruited 101 men. Thirty-three of them said they were bisexual, 30 said they were straight and 38 said they were gay. They were each attached to a “penile plesmythograph” (a small harness that fits around the knob and detects any tiny fluctuations in its tumescence as a result of a variety of mucky stimuli). They were then shown pornographic images, straight and gay, and their arousal patterns were matched against their self-defined sexual orientation.
As expected, the straight men in the study group got aroused by images of women, and the gay guys responded to images of men. The unexpected finding was that three-quarters of the self-identified bi men responded only to images of men. This led the reporter on the NYT to conclude that bisexuality as a distinct sexual orientation doesn’t exist.
Dr Lisa Diamond, an associate professor of psychology and gender study at the University of Utah (who wasn’t involved in the study) was reported as saying that the discrepancy about what’s happening in people’s minds and what’s going on in their bodies is a puzzle. “We have assumed everyone means the same thing when they talk about desire, but now we have evidence that that is not the case.”
One danger of the study was pointed out by Dr Randall Sell, of Columbia University. “That last thing you want,” he said, “is for some therapists to see this study and start telling bisexual people that they’re wrong, that they’re really on their way to homosexuality. We don’t know nearly enough about sexual orientation and identity.”
The NYT claimed that previous studies had also been unable to find a difference between arousal patterns in men who call themselves gay and those who call themselves bisexuals. And in 1984, the gay magazine The Advocate conducted a survey that showed that 40 per cent of gay men had said they were bisexual before they admitted that their true orientation was, in fact, gay.
The gay and bisexual support and pressure groups were quick off the mark to rubbish the research. The NYT was flooded with letters from angry people of all orientations criticising the scientific validity and the methodology of the study and the bona fides of the man heading it.
In a statement, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF): said The NYT article “fails to note several serious and obvious questions about the study’s methodology and munderlying premises; fails to report the serious controversies that have plagued one of the study’s authors in the past; misstates some of the study’s conclusions and fails to reflect the views of any leaders in the bisexual community.”
On the other side of the fence was Chandler Burr, author of “A Separate Identity: The search for the biological origins of sexual orientation”, which claims that homosexuality is genetically predetermined.
He wrote: “Some gay and bisexual advocates are condemning ‘Straight, Gay or Lying?’ regarding a study suggesting that bisexuality may not exist among human males – something those of us familiar with the scientific literature have known since, basically, forever. Compare this hysterical – and anti-science – reaction to the conservative Christians’ anti-science reaction to studies showing that homosexuality is an inborn orientation like left-handedness. They’re identical. The right hates science because the data contradict (in the case of homosexuality) Leviticus; the left because the data contradict the liberal lie that we’re environment-created, not hard-wired in any way. These particular scientific facts are making these advocates scream like members of the extreme right, though it’s they who always tells the right to let go of concepts that are contradicted by science.”
Whatever you think of Mr Burr’s analysis, the opportunistic religious gay bashers were quickly on the case. The VirtueOnline.org website (“The Voice of Orthodox Anglicanism”) used the study to batter the gay Christian group Integrity (roughly equivalent to Britain’s Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement). “Integrity… is finding itself increasingly marginalised by newer scientific studies that show that sexuality preferences can not only be changed, but some sexual orientations might actually be fraudulent,” the website gloated.
VirtueOnline hates and detests gay people because our existence not only contradicts their inconsistent “Holy Book”, it also threatens to break up their beloved “Anglican Communion”. Consequently, they keep forming groups that claim to change people’s sexual orientation through prayer and brainwashing. This is their Final Solution to the Homosexual Problem – eradicate all gay people through exhortations to the bogey man in the sky.
The controversy set off debates on message boards all over the USA. On The Village Voice site, bisexuals got to speak for themselves. One wrote: “It is entirely possible that bisexual men tend to feel more attracted to one sex or the other on any given day or hour – a pattern I have observed in myself. But, hey, maybe I am just another gay man in denial.”
On the same site, ‘Girl Bi Fan’ admitted that she loved “watching straight (or marginally straight) guys kiss and fondle each other. It gets me so excited. The only reason I don’t rush off to date bi guys is because – in my experience – bi guys turn out to be just plain gay.”
‘Bisexual and Annoyed’ spoke for many when she wrote: “Bisexual is a word one often uses to define one’s sexuality when one just doesn’t fit in a gay/straight box. I also consider myself bi, because I am a woman who finds women attractive, but not most men. I am also happily married and monogamous, and I like sex with men. How can I call myself straight and then spend hours drooling over the hot girl in the sunglasses shop? How can I say I’m a lesbian when I love bonking my husband? Human sexuality is never that simple, and it would be nice if everyone could stop pretending that it is.”
In relation to all this, what are we to make of the gay men who get married and have children and then decide that they’re gay after the family structure is all in place? This can lead to dreadful agony all round. Were they bisexual men, or simply gay men who couldn’t face the pressure and decided to try to be conventional instead?
Ananova, the Press Association news site, reported that an Austrian couple with 12 children (yes, that’s twelve) have split up after the husband admitted he was gay. The wife in this scenario, Alina, said: “He told me he only had sex with me so I would get pregnant and it would give me something to do. I can’t believe we had so many children together, my whole life has been a lie.”
The Indianapolis Star carried an article about gay spouses which tried to discover why so many apparently ordinary husbands are suddenly declaring their gayness and moving on. “Gays and lesbians who perhaps felt pressured to marry are now emboldened to drop the façade and embrace their true identities,” the paper said. “The gay and lesbian rights movement has wrought major changes in American society. While social stigmas persist, the culture has become much freer for those outside the heterosexual mainstream. Today when gay and lesbian people ‘come out’, they typically find themselves wrapped in the welcoming arms of their respective communities.”
Mmm. I’m not sure there would be many ‘welcoming arms’ for a middle-aged or elderly gentleman with no experience of gay life emerging on to Old Compton Street or Canal Street. Reality would bite pretty quickly. The ‘welcoming arms’ are generally reserved for those under 25.
Which brings us back to the original question: is bisexuality real, or is it simply a mechanism for avoiding the truth?
The author of the study at the heart of this hoo-ha is Gerulf Reiger. He guesses that men who are really straight, but say they are bisexual, might do so because “it’s so much easier for a male to have quick sex with another male than with a woman. But their true sexual feelings are still for women.”
The gay literary giant Christopher Isherwood once said that you knew if you were gay if you could fall in love with someone of the same sex, rather than just have sex with them.
Is this the true definition of a bisexual, then – someone who can fall in love with, as well as shag, both men and women?
As one enquirer asked of The Village Voice agony uncle: “Am I morally bound to be true to a girl I’ve been in a loving relationship with for three long years if I have bisexual curiosity? I want to see what it is like to be with a man! She would be devastated, so I can’t tell her. But I want to do this!”
The agony uncle replied: “You’re morally bound not to be a total shit. If you can’t bring yourself to tell her you want to smoke some pole, at least have the decency to break up with her. Once you’ve satisfied your curiosity, you can go running back to your girlfriend – if she’ll have you back, that is.”
I think it’s unlikely that this young man would want an emotional commitment to the guy who’s pole he smoked in the same way he would with a woman (whether his present girlfriend or not). Would he therefore be truly bisexual? Or just someone who wants to have a bit of horse-play on the side with a well-hung fuck-buddy, no questions asked, no big love deal?
The question remains open.