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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Bisexuality blues: Why does everyone want us to pick a side?

by Kia Momtazi

People have been screwing around with same-sex partners for centuries, from pederasty in ancient Greece and the Roman Empire to shudo, homosexual practices among Japanese samurai in the 17th century. But in spite of hundreds of years of same-sex activity, our current understanding of homo- and heterosexuality didn't even exist until the evolution of 19th-century psychology. Before that, while actions were understood as homosexual, the people who performed them weren't labeled as such.

The thing is, it's the labels that cause all the problems. What, exactly, does it take to make one gay or straight? And what about the vast, frequently disregarded territory of bisexuality?

The list of famous bisexuals in recent history is rather stacked on the female side: Edith Piaf, Anais Nin, Frida Kahlo, Marlene Dietrich and poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Of course, this is most likely because there's a lot less societal tolerance for masculine experimentation and sexual fluidity; if you're a male celebrity who's been known to sleep with other men, you get shuffled off into the “Famous Gays” file, and that's that.

Alan Cumming is the sole contemporary bisexual male celebrity that comes to mind. His female counterparts include Margaret Cho, Sandra Bernhard, performance artist Miranda July and Ani DiFranco—and, boy, the girls were pissed when she went off and married that dude.

But why? Why is there such limited tolerance for people who have the capacity to mentally and physically connect with both genders?

Dr. Alfred Kinsey's sex research and his development of the Kinsey Scale was meant to illustrate that there are many shades of gray in the sexuality spectrum. Most people, Kinsey believed, fall somewhere in between.

After all, there doesn't seem to be any concrete definition of bisexuality. Are you bisexual if you merely fantasize about sleeping with people of your own gender? Does a one-time same-sex encounter make you bi? What about if you only have relationships with the opposite sex, but squeeze a few same-sex hookups in during the off-season?

What if men turn you on physically but you feel deep emotional connections only with women, or vice versa?

Regardless of any specific qualifications, it seems like the overriding attitude from society is still that bisexuality doesn't exist. When all that Brokeback gay-cowboy controversy swept the nation a year ago, how come nobody stopped to consider that—featured as they were in relationships with both sexes—maybe those two hot ranchers were actually bi?

The answer, sadly, is because most people think men who identify as bisexual are just stopping over on the train to Gayville, as one tired saying goes, and bisexual women are really just straight women who let go of their inhibitions in college.

Beyond that, a person who insists on calling herself bisexual is often disregarded as a wishy-washy fence-sitter who simply doesn't know what she really wants.

I have a hard time with this one, because while I've had serious relationships with both men and women, I'd be lying if I said I didn't often feel confused. At least gay people can say with confidence that they've always known—since they were born, since they grew pit hair, or whatever—they were gay. I haven't always known anything.

I behaved like a regular straight girl for most of my adolescence but always felt open to other possibilities. When the opportunity finally arose, I took it, but the experience was oddly inconclusive. Was it the very thing I'd always been waiting for, a phenomenally more fulfilling experience than my sexual encounters with men? Not really. But was it a disgusting mistake, a lapse of judgment I never wanted to repeat? Not at all.

A few years and boyfriends after that, I ended up falling in love with a woman.

That was confusing, too. Now that I had a girlfriend, did it mean I'd really been a lesbian all along? Was that why, out at bars with my straight friends, I hardly ever thought as many boys were cute as they did? Did that explain why shaving my legs had always been low on my list of priorities?

But I couldn't be gay—I'd never even heard the Indigo Girls and I still got all tingly whenever I saw movies with Robert Downey Jr. or the guy from Motorcycle Diaries. I told myself I was bisexual and tried to leave it at that, but a voice inside my head kept pestering me. Pick a side, it nagged, just pick a side.

That relationship ended with no sex and an excessive amount of drama, so once she was gone, I quickly went out and slept with a bunch more dudes, enjoying myself tremendously at first. The encounters seemed so simple, so comparatively uncomplicated. No lesbian drama, no pesky emotions, just a simple act involving a real penis. How nice.

But, of course, it's not that simple. Casual sex wears thin after awhile, and the search for a long-term partner—either male or female—begins again.

People willing to accept the existence of bisexuality tend to incorrectly assume that bisexuals have it easier, simply because the pool of potential mates is twice as big. But that's just not the case. You can't be gay enough for the gays or straight enough for the straights. In my experience, most gay women see bisexual gals as fickle, disease-spreading infiltrators of their exclusive ranks. Contrary to stereotype, straight men seem pretty threatened by it, too. Right when you think they're going to propose a three-way with you and your best friend, they get all thrown off by the realization that you can happily engage in sex without a penis. And then there's the unpleasant assumption from the majority of both camps that if you're bisexual, you're a nympho who'll fuck just about anybody and are incapable of being monogamous.

Depending on who you're trying to date, it's really hard to know when to come forth with that information. If it wasn't something they already knew about me, I initially thought it was a first-date topic; if they couldn't accept it, then they weren't worth dating. Now I'm not so sure. As much as I want to be out and proud, I'm starting to see my bisexuality as more akin to a colostomy bag—something to be kept secret until enough love has grown between us that it might not matter.

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