Few of us humans are either thoroughly heterosexual or utterly homo; the landmark Kinsey reports on sexuality proposed that folks fit somewhere on a continuum of orientation.
At one extreme, there's "totally het, never so much as had a gay thought," on the other end, there's the "exclusively same-sex, thank you very much," but most of us fall somewhere in the middle.
Since sexuality is fluid, the exact balance of orientation might well vary over time. ("Back in college, I used to enjoy having sex with girls, too. Now it's guys only, and though I can see that a certain woman's attractive, she doesn't make my dick hard," for example.) Most of us have been turned on by both sexes somewhere along the line, and some of us have fucked around with women as well as men.
But does that make us "bisexual?"
Well, yes and no. These days, when out-of-the-closet bi folks are increasingly vocal and visible, there's still some confusion and ill will. Part of it is a matter of labels. An otherwise straight-as-an-arrow het can have a homosexual experience, maybe one of those "Boy, was I drunk last night" blowjobs. Does that make his sexual history a "bisexual" one? Yeah. Does that make him a "bisexual?" He'd probably say no.
"Straight," "bi," and "gay" are not only descriptive terms, they're also self-proclaimed badges of identity. As one gay-identified fellow says, "I was at this co-ed sex party, already hard from messing around with this cute boy, when a woman started flirting with me, and I flirted back. And then she went down on me. I got off on it - she sure knew how to give head. But does that make me bisexual? Not on your life."
In this either/or society, many folks want things to be simple. Self-identified bisexuals complicate matters, in part because few people remain in the dead center of the orientation spectrum throughout their lives. "Yes, I'm bisexual," says one bi-guy activist, "though in the last 10 years, all the lasting relationships I've had have been with men."
This can irritate the hell out of some dyed-in-the-wool homos. Says one, "Listen, if a man is interested almost entirely into other men but has sex with a woman or two, does that make him truly bisexual? Likewise, I don't want to be some rite-of-passage experiment for a straight boy just so he can qualify as a trendy bisexual."
Some of this hostility can be traced to high-visibility "bisexuals." Some have taken on the bi label because it's less threatening to their careers. Others (think Anne Heche or Sinead O'Connor) make a big deal of being gay or lesbian, only to end up in relationships with the opposite sex. And then there's the "just a phase" thing. "My first boyfriend dumped me for a woman who he ended up marrying, and they're still together. Whether he cruises the parks for guys, though, I have no idea." No wonder some gays think of bisexuals as "confused." And no wonder many self-proclaimed bisexuals are hurt and baffled by the hostility they've gotten from some gays. "We're all fighting against oppression by straight society, so why do some queens give me such attitude when I say I like women, too?" says that activist guy.
But Mr. Dyed-in-the-Wool retorts, "I just get so tired of hearing bisexuals tell me they're more evolved than I am because they don't 'limit' themselves to a single sex. Screw that."
So does where you put your dick determine who you are? In a perfect world, perhaps labels of identity wouldn't matter. But as long as sexual identity is a pretext for discrimination and attack, what we name ourselves does matter. Bisexual? If you say you are, who can disprove it? And, if nothing else, as they say, it does double the dating pool.
Simon Sheppard is the author of Kinkorama: Dispatches from the Front Lines
Sex Talk: Other Subjects