Bi Now, Gay Later?

One of the myths used against bisexuals is one of instability, specifically that bisexuality is always nothing more than a transitional identity where a person begins with other-gender attractions and then works their way toward their true and exclusively homosexual self – a homosexuality that excludes everyone not clearly of the same gender.

Some people like to use the word “fluid” as an “Anything-But-Bisexual” construction. If they genuinely feel that their attractions are best characterized as in flux, then they are adopting an accurate label. I don’t feel “fluid” describes me, even though I have attractions to multiple genders, and some days my attractions to one is stronger than other days, because on the average, over time, it’s quite stable. Analogy time: sometimes I want spaghetti, sometimes I want pizza, sometimes I want General Tso’s tofu, sometimes I just gotta have a burrito. But I don’t feel like I need to describe my taste in food as fluid or constantly in flux, rather, that there is a broad set of foods from multiple cultural traditions that I enjoy. If some days I want a taco, others a chimichanga, and on alternate Thursdays only a chile relleno would do, I would simply say that I like Mexican food, right?

OK, that said. The concept of sexual fluidity has been looked at by a lot of people in a lot of ways. Dr. Lisa Diamond looks at fluidity in women, and found that among women who changed their identification, as many went from lesbian to bisexual as vice-versa. This means that any orientation label can change (and I’m not so sure that the orientation itself changed, just how people choose, for political or self-identification purposes, to label), and it’s not the simplistic “bisexuality means you can’t make up your mind” that is a significant and harmful part of monosexual discourse.

Dan Savage has taken a lot of heat from the bi community over the years. He’s relatively recently modified his stance, and I’ll give him some credit for that, but frankly I am never going to forget that not that long ago he said “I meet someone who’s 19-years-old who tells me he’s bisexual and I’m like, ‘Yeah, right, I doubt it. I tell them come back when you’re like 29 and we’ll see.'” Neither will a lot of other people. People who won’t forget the It Gets Better video where legislators said “gay, lesbian, transgender, or just not sure.” Hells yes I’m sure, thank you very much. (And, to briefly Label War, I think the slicing and dicing of bisexual into bi/pan/omni/pomo/nolabelian is partly to blame for the amazingly affirming “whatever” comments. Back to the show.) His lashback, of course, is that it’s our fault as bisexuals that we are misrepresented because so many of us are in the closet – of course, when your local queer community (or the internet for so many people who have no local community) doesn’t welcome you on your terms, when gay and lesbian therapists frequently interpret the presence of any same-gender attractions as evidence that your other-gender attractions are invalid and that what you need to do is get all the way out of the closet and quit playing with nasty fish or sleeping with the enemy (depending on your gender – I assume that genderqueer people have similar experiences), then it really doesn’t feel like it’s getting better at all.

I framed that last sentence in the nastiest, most catty way I could on purpose, by the way. Because the people who are telling bisexuals that they are just stuck in stage 1 of the Cass Model or are too immature to understand themselves are being just as offensive.

There is a very specific competency and skillset for working with gay and lesbian clients, and there is a very specific competency and skillset for working with bisexual clients – and they are not identical! If you are working with monosexuals, then go ahead and whip out the Cass Model and the old outmoded Kinsey scale. But when working with people with attraction spectrums that are not unipolar, these models simply do not work. You need to look at Fritz Klein as a minimum, and preferably Michael Storms if you want to get away from the false “half-gay/half-straight” non-integrated model. As far as the Cass Model goes, take a look at this for some ideas as to why it’s not a good fit – one of the keys is that bisexual identity does not include a need to separate from the heterosexual (or homosexual) community, but rather find a bisexual community that does not exclude attractions to people outside the narrow lines of “same gender”. It makes no sense for us to separate from all monosexual communities, and a huge amount of sense for us to join the Queer community – but it makes no sense at all to join if we are going to be told by that community that we don’t belong.

I’ve written about the damaging myth that everyone is bisexual in this space before – how saying “we all can have same-gender attractions as well as other-gender attractions” is the orientational politics equivalent of saying “we’re all part of the human race” and both of them invalidate the experience of people who are made keenly aware of their differences on a daily, hourly, hell, minute-to-minute basis.

This is the flip side of that myth. This is the One-Drop rule, the idea that everyone is really monosexual, and if you have any same-gender attractions then you must obviously be gay and therefore faking your other-gender attractions; either deliberate falsification or unconscious repression of your True Desires. (I’m discounting the kind of experimentation that most people do to see if they fit in a particular category – I find it hard to imagine that most straight people haven’t considered, even in fantasy, what it would be like to have sex with someone of the same gender, and people who proudly describe themselves as Gold Star must have at least thought about it, at least long enough to decide they wanted no part of it. No one has ever identified themselves as part of a community that explicitly rejects X if X has never occurred to them as an option.)

Are there people who are gay, who are monosexual with only same-gender attractions who live as straight people – or as bisexuals – while they are figuring out who they are? Captain Obvious says “Duh, yeah.”

Does that mean that it’s the general rule? I defer to Captain Obvious again. Captain? “Uh, nope.”

I promised myself that this wouldn’t turn into a simple Dan Savage savaging (look, he’s done a lot of good, and his brand of amusing snark can make me chuckle, I’m not saying he’s a bad bad man, just that he could make it get so much better if he tried), but the more I read his article blaming bisexuals for not coming out in droves, the more irritated I get. I just want to touch on one more of his statements. He says “…people get to make their own choices, and lots of bisexuals choose not to be out. While I’m willing to recognize that the reluctance of many bisexuals to be out may be a reaction to the hostility they face from non-bisexuals, gay and straight, bisexuals need to recognize that their being closeted is a huge contributing factor to the hostility they face.”

Wow. Let’s break that one down. 1) Bisexuals choose to stay in the closet because they face hostility from monosexuals. 2) Bisexuals cause that hostility by staying in the closet.

As a wise young essayist once remarked, “Grasshoppers are nervous and jumpy. They are nervous and jumpy because they cannot sleep. They cannot sleep because they have no eyelids. They have no eyelids because they are so nervous and jumpy.”

There is more in that article that I will take on another time – I can’t hit every issue every time or I may as well just call this the TL;DR blog, right?

The queer community is one that prides itself (or Prides itself) on accepting people for who they are. And yet, if you have attractions to multiple genders, you’re told that you don’t know who you are, that you are in transition, that you are immature and unstable. Bisexuality cannot exist as a discrete and stable identity because to admit that it does, oh dear, break down the comfortable binary of both straight and gay monosexualities.

Putting bisexuals down, denying their identity, serves an important purpose for people who make a career out of Gay identity. It solidifies the assimilation with mainstream heterosexual culture in the same way that focusing on marriage to the exclusion of the myriad other issues faced by queer people does – it says to those in power “Please let us participate because we’re just like you!” Denying bisexual identity as a stable and real orientation says that we’re just too queer to be for real – which is funny in a very unfunny way when the same people tell us that we’re not queer enough to belong.

On the straight side, the myth that we are just not all the way out of the closet yet serves to reassure homophobes that they can always tell not only who the faggots are but that they themselves clearly are not because they like only socially acceptable genitals to rub against their own. (Again, I use offensive language here to make a point about the thought processes of those who malevolently erase bisexuals.) It’s also entirely possible for straight people to be biphobic without being homophobic – there was a recent case where a politician with a reputation as an Ally to the GL community attacked his bisexual opponent on the grounds that she was unelectable because she was bi, something he would have gotten in serious trouble for if she’d been gay, but since it was just one of those immature instable (and slutty) fence-sitters, a lot of GL people came to his defense.

So when someone tells you they are bi, the proper response is not “Are you sure” or “So was I before I grew out of it” or even “For now.”

It’s “You have my support”, and meaning it.

About fliponymous

Bisexual activist, thinker, writer, husband and father, non-traditional Graduate student, member BiNet USA Board of Directors. When I grow up I want to be an Existential/Feminist Psychotherapist, a community college instructor, and expand my work for bisexual visibility and equality for everyone in the QUILTBAG. This is my personal blog and the views here do not represent the official position of BiNet USA.
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30 Responses to Bi Now, Gay Later?

  1. Blown says:

    Agreed. Unfortunately I’m little by little discovering that being me is probably even worse than being homosexual 50 years ago… I suppose I’ll have to stay in the closet for many more years, until everyone fucks everyone else and don’t give a shit about what others can think. Not that I give a shit about what people think of me, if the consequences were only for me, it would be damn easy to solve…

    Thanks for the great posts.

  2. fliponymous says:

    Glad you like them! I hope that what I am doing here makes it easier for you to be out sooner rather than later.

  3. judyt54 says:

    straight broad here, weighing in: (always nice to have the um distaff side, eh) it may be that straights (and yeah, gays of both persuasions) are so uncomfortable with people in the bi community is that they introduce and element of uncertainty into things. I mean, think about it: you got this bunch of lesbians, they’re okay, they understand one another and some of them will have NOTHING to do with straights, and some will have NOTHING to do with men of any persuasion, and here comes this bi chick who likes a bit of this, and a bit of that. Some days pizza, some days mexican food. I should think it would disorient a lesbian somewhat to have, in their midst, a woman who prefers both.
    You got this bunch of straight women, they understand one another and can talk about men or Men, and they may or may not have anything to do witih lesbians. Here comes a girl who is openly avowedly both, and it makes them uncomfortable, since they know she prefers both sexes from time to time, and could very well seduce their boyfriends, husbands, brothers. Or them.
    Im also thinking that men would pay less attention to the argument, gays just not being interested in women and straight men not caring much (unless there is an attraction going on) one way or another.
    And yes, bi men, always the feeling that they too can swing both ways, and your boyfriend might suddenly disappear from view (no matter what your own gender) and turn up with his own boyfriend. ahaha you could triple date.
    The bottom line being, I can see why bisexuals have a rough time being accepted anywhere, AS bi, because no one knows which why they’re going to jump.

    The land of denial is inhabited on both sides, and the bis, once again, are somewhere in the midst of all of that. It can’t be easy, with both sides telling you you just havent made up your mind yet, in a kind of avuncluar, condescending way.

    [If any of this, btw, is off the mark, or out of line, please yell at me gently. This is, after all, a kind of peering over the fence palings thing for me. But I do get it. ]

    • fliponymous says:

      Always glad to have your perspective! One of the things that makes this difficult is that all of the stereotypes and issues are so tightly intertwined — for example, the Magic Vanishing Boyfriend is also rooted in the myths of sluttiness and untrustworthyness and obligatory polyamory (with the extra connotation of cheating that many if not most polys do not accept as their relational discourse).

      I think that there is a big gender difference, in that bi women are more likely to be told that they are really straight and doing it for attention, and bi men are more likely to be told that they are self-hating gay men in denial.

      And you’re right — it makes it hard to come out when not only does the closet have two doors, but people are actively pushing you back in through both of them.

      Hmmm. That sounds like a future blog title…

  4. fliponymous says:

    Edited to include a missing reference.

  5. Reddit visitor says:

    Has anyone ever surveyed the gay / lesbian community to determine how many of them were “transitionally bi”? Developmental Psychology published a paper a few years ago, but their sample size was only 79 women under the age of 25! Not a very useful sample… You quote Captain Obvious that transitional identity isn’t the general rule, but is there any actual evidence for or against that position… or is our answer to this question just a summary of anecdotes from the people we hang around with?

    • fliponymous says:

      Good question.

      There is little research to date, but Dr. Lisa Diamond has done studies with women that indicate that, at least in her sample, the percentages of label changes from bi to gay were equivalent to those who changed labels from gay to bi.

      The “bi now, gay later” construction is based entirely on anecdotes, on people like Dan Savage saying “I used bi as a transition” or “I knew a guy who was bi but he’s been with David for 10 years now”. But our experiences as bisexuals with stable identities are discounted, in no small part because of the general problem of erasure and invisibility. (For example that second case? They are judging David’s orientation based on his partner. If that was true, then I would be straight — ask my wife about that, she’ll tell you in no uncertain times that I can’t even walk straight, heh.)

      • Reddit visitor says:

        Thanks for your quick reply! This seems like a really easy thing to survey, even nonscientifically over the Internet… somebody should collect ages, genders, current and past self-identification and just post some charts.

        I also agree that we can’t just measure behavior to answer this question. It is really about self-identification, which can and does change as people mature… so people are bi now if they say they are, even if they change their answer tomorrow.

        I think your reply conflates two separate issues, though. “Stable bi identity” and “Transitionally bi” are contradictory in the same person, but not in a group of people. What if there were 10 “transitionally bi” people for every 1 “stable bi” person? That wouldn’t take anything away from the stable bi people… they are real, but may be a numerical minority of bi-identifying people in any group at any given moment in time. That might go a long way to explaining why the transitional stereotype is so durable and often repeated…. but I’m just speculating now, because the ratios could just as well be the opposite! Nobody will know until some actual research is done here.

  6. fliponymous says:

    It’s a certainty that there are people who are gay who transition through bi as a step towards a purely gay identity. The problem is when the experiences of those for whom it is a stable identity are discounted — the scientific establishment only recently published a report saying that male bisexuality might actually exist, and the people who say we’re lying have forgotten that it wasn’t that long ago they they were told they were mentally ill and needed to be fixed. I’ve been bi all along, and there are still people who pat me on the head and say “Someday you’ll be able to be honest with yourself.”

  7. judyt54 says:

    ok, a question arises; if someone (as you did, flip) allies themselves with a woman, marry her, all that, that should mean, in the eyes of the gay and straight communities that that person has made the switch from bi to straight. Just as someone who is now settled in with a male (same sex) partner, is now considered (and Im sure with a big sigh of relief all around) gay.
    I think it might be time to survey the bi people and ask how they view themselves, no matter what current leanings they may be showing.
    It’s interesting, no one seems to want to ask them–and accept the answer– if they still feel bi, or do they now feel hetero or gay???

    • fliponymous says:

      By identifying as bisexual, you (I) am saying that regardless of my current (hour/day/month/year/lifetime) partner I am attracted to multiple genders — so the survey has been done. It’s just that our experiences and statements are disregarded by those who are uncomfortable with the idea that we like snails and oysters.

      You don’t switch identities when you change partners across genders, or else every celibate person in the world would be considered asexual — but straight people without partners are not considered to have “switched”.

      It’s at the heart of invisibility and erasure. See the latest post for a bit about that ;)

  8. Estraven says:

    I can’t count the numbers of gay, Lebian, or straight-identified (or primarily trans-identified) friends of mine who has privately admitted to me that they are actually bisexual, I run a bisexual support group at an LGBT Center, and again people have tip-toed over from both the Lesbian and the Gay Men’s Group, but present as monosexual in those groups. People will flip-flop every which way from Sunday to NOT identify as bisexual. People will admit to having active sex lives with people of more than one gender, while coming up with all sorts of rationalizations as to why this does not mean that they are bisexual. The CDC was aiming AIDS prevention efforts at gay and bisexual men, and realized there were tons of men having sex with men who considered themselves straight because they were married to women. So they invented the category MSM (men who have sex with men), and simply targeted the behavior without labling it, and it worked much better.

    For myself, I think the most transgressive, bold, empowered thing I can do is to claim the label “bisexual” and to be bisexual and PROUD to be who and what I am :)

    • fliponymous says:

      Labeling is much more important then some think.

    • David Lewis says:

      We used to have a booth at the Pride festival (until it got too expensive), and it was somewhat amusing to see all the surreptitious looks we got from people passing by. Lots of people would have liked to talk to us, but were reluctant to do so.

  9. Matthew says:

    Cornell U’s new pupil study now gives 4 possible orientations for men gay, bisexual, almost straight, and straight. I participated in men’s groups and many men there stated they had same gender attraction. And through the course of my life I have many men tell me they were “a little bisexual”. These are generally open minded liberal men in general. But here is the scary bit. When I came out as bisexual at 17 years old I was a football captain and track athlete. Four other guys said they had those feelings two. One said he never wanted to explore them and wanted to get married. Two said he was and I know he explored it (he is now married for the second time). Three said “I am two and you got to fight it!” he is Morman and he is now fighting it by protesting gay pride parades. But four was the oddest he was perfectly accepting it seemed of himself and of me, then he went into the marines and when I met him again he said he wanted to “Kill faggots” almost as if he forgot our entire conversation.

    The point being by perpetuating a propaganda in the gay community “bisexual men don’t exist”. The gay community is actually helping to create homophobic biggots – for real. But the bigotry of “bisexuals don’t exist” has created barriers for me in my search for a good partner.

    It is indeed odd how both bisexual men and women have only recently been found to be “real”! No wonder I have dated so many bisexual women we can at least affirm each others existence.

    • judyt54 says:

      Matthew this is beautifully stated and painfully realized. In a way, then, your own community is wiping you from their memory banks and so are you , if you get my drift. Amazing. they are forcing you into denial of your own identity. (You in the general sense) And having enough problems as it is with identity and labels, here come the very people who should be more accepting of you than anyone, telling you you dont exist. wow.
      Im sitting here trying to comprehend that kind of mindset and I can’t.
      Good luck with what youre trying to do.

      • Matthew says:

        As I mentioned I am dating a biwoman but we are in a non committed relationship (her choice) we both go out and date others. It is just the fact that when you have to explain to gay men that your opposite sex relationships were or are actually real and authentic it can be quite painful really. I now generally date other bi people and trans people both in search of a long term partner and I create community along the way. What is surprising to me is why has there not been a bisexual community all of these years until recently? Really because once a person enters into a long term same sex and opposite sex relationship the other communities takes dominance.

        It is also the nature of fluid sexuality to be fluid. I dated several guys within a year and then met my current girlfriend and we stuck together commitment or not. But I am actually doing things now so that bi people can stake a claim in the larger LGBT community at least locally regardless of who they are with.

        • fliponymous says:

          Right on! The community has been here for a long time, just mostly erased (for example, from both the mainstream and the mainstream queer media you’d have no idea that we will probably have our first out bi congressperson in office once the votes are all counted). It takes people like us and BiNET and BRC standing up and making noise to get people to realize that, as I’ve been saying, “We’re here too, we’re queer too, we have been all along.”`

        • judyt54 says:

          Devil’s food advocate, then: Why do you, as a mature, consenting adult feel the need to explain to anyone, regardless of gender or slant, why you do what you do, and why you date who you date? I understand how painful it is to be denied your own realities, but it seems almost as if you were asking permission to be who you are from people who refuse to give you that ‘permission’ at all.
          Do you see what I’m saying? Im an outsider in all of this, which is why I am asking. I want to understand why you have to be accepted at all in a community that so thoroughly rejects who you are. Not who you say you are, but your personal identity. We all need acceptance and community, of course. We are group animals, social beings. And we have a need to be with like-minded people. It would seem more logical, less painful, for you and the other bis having these kinds of difficulties to form your own communities –at least for now– and billy be damned to the gays and lesbians who refuse to accept your blurred lines as valid.

          • fliponymous says:

            Lots of answers to that, and one of the purposes of this blog is to try to provide some answers to that question. The best answer I have so far is somewhere between “You’r Out Of Your Box” and the post I have excerpted as the page “If you only read one thing, read this”. We cannot form a viable community if it is constantly being torn down by “mainstream queers” who put us down all the bloody time (like Mr. Self-Appointed Gay Spokesman Dan Savage), if we’re denied support because we’re not queer enough, if we’re cast out for being too queer.

            Separatism just doesn’t work.

  10. Matthew says:

    Community. Well this is complicated. I mentioned in another post in 1991 I and my girlfriend went to an LGBU meeting only to be kicked out. At that time at age 19 I knew only two bisexual people in the world her and I (and before the Internet). When we broke up I dated another girl, then a gay man (so I was in the gay community but not exactly “gay”) then a girl, a girl (both straight) and then another gay man. But the next person I met was a bisexual woman and dated her and she had bisexual female friends, then I met other bisexual men and women and for a moment there was a community but it really was a closeted one except me and another guy who were openly bisexual. But after we all separated into the world and in our relationships the community was gone. I dated a woman for 4.5 years and then found myself in no mans land neither part of the gay community and out of place in the straight community. It was not until 2008 that one brave soul started a bisexual meetup group and NOW there is an emerging community.

    Without the Internet this community would never have been formed and it is attracting men and women from both the “gay” and “straight” community. We meet and have fun. But one of the things that is so significant is we meet each other with very painful stories and there is a lot of healing taking place.

  11. Matthew says:

    And so it is clearer to you Judy as far as attraction it has NEVER worked out in any way that I could have planned. I could say to myself “well I dated mostly women” so I will go out and just date women. When I broke up with my previous straight girlfriend I did not want to date a woman so I seriously sought out men only to find myself attracted strongly to a woman again after a year. The fluidity defies my ability to plan any prescripted life as “gay” or “straight”. It bewilders straights and gays alike. But I have literally outlined my dating life to several gay men who said, “that’s impossible!” And if you take a stroll on the Internet you will find so much biphobic articles written by gay authors that it is enough to make anyone depressed.

    Furthermore most of the bisexual men I have known are actually in monogomous opposite sex relationships and pretty divorced from the queer community in general. I know a few in same sex relationships and they have had to go through a very difficult time in the gay community itself. Because of this many gay men and lesbians see only that tip of the iceberg and say to themselves “well these guys are in same sex relationships so they are really just actually gay.”

    The good thing about the emerging bisexual community is its diversity. Men with Men. Men with women. Women with Women. Women with Men. Polyamorous and monogomous relationships. And transgendered bisexual people.

    But what is happening has a bit of magic to it. I always felt out of place in the gay community not only because of the misunderstandings but also a certain degree of mysoginst attitude towards women “eww gross fish” etc. Gay men bewilder me I bewilder them.

    • judyt54 says:

      oh I get the fluidity, and have no problem with it, or with understanding it. It’s who you are. It’s what you are. It’s just such a shame that the one place you’ve depended on for support and understanding has turned out to be as proscribed and boxed in as the straight community. I love that last sentence. lol.

      This is, btw, a great thread.

  12. Matthew says:

    O.K. Read A Gay Manifesto (1970) by Carl Wittman. He recognizes bisexuality. He also states “Free the homosexual in everyone”. Now how in the hell are you suppose to do this is if “bisexuality does not exist”? The problem that has occurred in my own life as a bisexual man is my same sex desire erases my opposite sex desire and more often than not from gay men who refuse to accept that bisexuality is real. This is not “freeing the homosexual in everyone.” Something strange has happened with gay liberation since the year 1970. Perhaps at that time any person who was not heteronormative was an ally. But as time went on the “bisexual” was eventually seen as a traitor or coward (Just look at Maupin’s Tales of the City: gays, lesbians and transgendered people are heroic but Beecham a bisexual is just a closeted gay married man who wants to kill children.) In many ways bisexual people could not be pulled into focus until “gay” was actually liberated. Today we are at the point where gay liberation is actually manifesting. But bisexual people are left defending their cross sex desires while facing horrific discrimination from both the gay and straight communities.

  13. Pingback: Not Really. Really? | Eponymous Fliponymous

  14. The Real Answer says:

    It is Very Obvious why us Straight Guys can’t meet a Decent Woman Anymore these days.

  15. judyt54 says:

    maybe it was intended to get your attention

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