The cover of last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine highlighted an article on bisexuality. A headline said: “How a new breed of activists is using science to prove there’s something real between straight and gay.”
That surprised me. I’ve thought for 50 years that bisexuality was an accepted part of human sexuality. I suppose I got that idea in a college psychology course in the mid-1960s. The theory, initially advanced by Alfred Kinsey, was that sexual orientation existed on a continuum from exclusively homosexual to exclusively heterosexual, with several stops in between.
“The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats,” Kinsey said. “Not all things are black nor all things white… The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behavior, the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.”
Kinsey’s research in the 1940s and ’50s showed there was a lot more going on sexually than most Americans thought. The surgical transformation of Christine Jorgensen from a man to a woman in the early 1950s was an eye-opener. Kinsey’s theories fit in well with the experimentation, openness and androgynous style of the hippie era. “Do your own thing,” was a refrain often heard in those days.
I welcomed the liberation of that era. I was glad to free of stifling traditions and repressive views on sexuality. Kinsey’s scale provided for a wide range of sexual interaction that seemed in keeping with human diversity. I assumed the insights of that era had become part of the established wisdom, as had the idea that blacks, women and gays should enjoy equal rights and that smoking is bad for your health.
The Times article, written by Benoit Denizet-Lewis, took me my surprise. I didn’t know that bisexuals had become a suspect entity in recent years. According to the article:
In the eyes of many Americans, bisexuality — despite occasional and exaggerated media reports of its chicness — remains a bewildering and potentially invented orientation favored by men in denial about their homosexuality and by women who will inevitably settle down with men.
Studies have found that straight-identified people have more negative attitudes about bisexuals (especially bisexual men) than they do about gays and lesbians, the article said, while bisexual activists say that some of the worst discrimination and minimization comes from the gay community.
Why? Because bisexuals present a political problem in these contentious times. Gays and lesbians have fought hard to advance the view that sexual orientation is determined by biological hard-wiring. It’s not a lifestyle choice that can be changed through religion or psychological therapy. Bisexuals are seen as fence-sitting hypocrites who are afraid to come out of the closet.
Much of Benoit Denizet-Lewis’ article focuses on the Los Angeles-based American Institute of Bisexuality, a deep-pocketed group partly responsible for a surge of academic and scientific research across the country about bisexuality. The group hopes that research will show that bisexuality is as biologically determined as are homosexuality and heterosexuality.
My guess is that bisexuality is an inconvenient truth that will be validated as more funding and research become available. In the meantime, it would be refreshing if those convinced of their sexual orientation would accept the wisdom of Shakespeare’s Hamlet:
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.