Everyone is Not Bisexual, or, Kinsey is not the last word in research

Most of the myths about bisexuality come from the monosexual community. There are people who embody most of them – that’s how stereotypes become stereotypes, after all. There are effeminate gay men; there are lesbians who view anyone who has (or had) a penis as violent and eternal enemies; there are bisexuals who cheat on their same-gender partners with people of another gender. The presence of people who become the floor models of stereotypical behaviors, however, in no way reflects the diversity of thought and action within the community that they are taken to represent.

One of the persistent myths that comes up is that “everyone is bisexual.” Usually this comes right out of Freud’s “polymorphous perversity” via the Kinsey scale. This is a tricky one, because it erases us while seeming to be a validation, and is one of the ones that crops up more inside the community. The problems with this myth are multiple. Here are two big ones. First, it’s simply not true. There are many people who are monosexual, who do fit neatly into one or the other end of the attraction spectrum.

If you want to haul out Kinsey (as many who believe this myth do), it’s obvious that there are Kinsey 0s and Kinsey 6s. Regardless of how many people fall between the 2 and the 5, the 0 and 6 classifications are not outliers, but an equally valid part of the spectrum. To state that “everyone is bisexual” is to ignore this reality – while people differ about the proportion of the population that fall in the different classifications defined by Kinsey and later expanded by Klein, it is undeniable that there are no classifications that are empty – in fact, there are probably more Kinsey 0s than any other type. The point, however, is that Kinsey isn’t the be-all and end-all of research into orientation – one of the best theoretical models I’ve ever seen (and have plans to expand on in a formal way) is that of Michael Storms, which views same-gender and other-gender attractions as a 2-dimensional plane rather than a line, with no link between the amount of attraction one way or another. According to Storms, if you assign a number between 0-100 to the level of attraction on either axis, the total is between 0 and 200. None of this “30% gay, 70% straight” or “True 50/50 bisexual” garbage that’s used so often to deny people’s existence. http://www.williamapercy.com/wiki/images/Theories_of_sexual_orientation.pdf

Second, while many people reject labels altogether, many others use them for affirmation. I describe myself as bisexual, therefore I am bisexual. I am not defined by who I am in a relationship with, nor by what those relationships are. Within the broad categories of monosexual, bisexual, and asexual there are as many different relationships and relationship styles as there are people – monogamous, polyamorous, celibate, and serially monogamous barely scratch the surface. I know at least one man (yes, there are lots) who describes himself as gay who was married to a woman for a period of years. He does not label himself bisexual, he labels himself gay. I’ve been in a monogamous relationship with a woman for years, but that does not make me straight, because I choose the label bisexual to reflect my own spectrum of attraction. The point is, labels, in order to be affirmations of self, need to be self-chosen – a label imposed on another human being is an invalidation of their own experience. Many in the bisexual community have chafed for years under the imposition of labels from outside. Why would any of us choose to do the same thing to others?

To draw an analogy – it’s recognized that nearly everyone has both masculine and feminine aspects within themselves. I have a friend who is trans*gender, who has chosen to identify as such, and who presents with masculine characteristics even though he was assigned a feminine gender at birth. I am cisgender, and I present primarily but not exclusively masculine characteristics. However, I present some feminine characteristics – more than my transgender friend. This, however, does not make me transgender, because I choose the label cisgender as the best representation of my internal sense of self. If someone was to insist that “because you have some characteristics of the feminine as well as the masculine, you are therefore transgender”, they would be invalidating my reality and inviting me in turn to invalidate theirs.

Recently I had an experience with a close friend of mine, one of the last people I came out to. The only reason I had not formally come out to him was because I honestly thought he already knew. We were talking about a big queer conference I had recently attended (MBLGTACC 2012). He said, “Why did you go there?”

“Because I’m bisexual, and I wanted to increase my knowledge and network with other queers.”

“Oh, pshaw. Everyone is bisexual. That’s why Sylvester Stallone is so popular.”

He meant no harm by this, but I was stunned and hurt by his erasure of me, someone he’s known for 20 years. I admit and am OK with the idea that he needed processing time after finding out in casual conversation that one of his core assumptions was wrong and that I’d been keeping a secret from him for so long, and I think he’s come around to acceptance (which I knew would not be an issue). But the shocking part was how quickly and easily this particular myth popped up – and the implication that because “everybody is bisexual, bisexual people are not really queer, they’re just open-minded straight people.”

The myth that “everyone is bisexual”, while it might be a comfort to those who are seeking a place to stand and are afraid to differentiate themselves from the majority, is fundamentally a way of seeking validation by invalidating others. Saying “everyone is bisexual” is a way of either telling monosexual people that they’re wrong about themselves, or telling bisexual people that they really aren’t.

It is bisexual erasure from the inside, and no different than the way bi leaders in the LGBT community have been removed from consciousness by labeling them gay or lesbian.

If the label bisexual doesn’t work for you, for whatever reason, then by all means find a label (or lack of label) that works for you. But forcing a label on others for your own comfort does not help those who would prefer to be called something that is congruent with their own experience and sense of self.

Invalidating others is a direct route to being invalidated.

While some would say that bisexual erasure can only be corrected by giving everyone the bisexual label, the reality is that it only serves to make us all less visible, to erase us completely by implicitly inviting others to impose a label of their choice upon us, rather than respecting our self-determination; by invalidating all the formal political distinctions between us, while allowing the informal terms (you know, words like tranny and faggot and a million other offensive and oppressive terms) to remain as the only societally accepted labels.

A final counterexample to this myth: I personally know and am quite close to a lot of people who have no same-gender attractions. Calling them bisexual would simply be inaccurate. Some of these people are fantastic allies to the queer communities (most of them, truth be told, because with my openness and activism it’s sort of hard for someone who is a dyed-in-the-wool homophobe or biphobe or transphobe to be close to my heart without a very, very good reason to be held in high esteem).

If you try to include everyone in the world in the core LGBTQ community, you eradicate the purpose of community organizing – it’s the same as a White person saying “I think there’s only one race, the Human Race”. Allies are important, but there is always a need for some spaces and dialogs that are closed to them, just as in the atheist community there are places that as a religious believer who shares the values of secular humanism I rightly should not go. I’ll write more on that later, as well as on the many places where Allies are not only to be fully welcomed but are indispensable (a hint, it’s the larger, most inclusive LGBTQA community that serves as the biggest umbrella of them all).

So the next time someone tells you that everyone is bisexual? Kindly let them know that they’re not really helping anyone by spreading that myth.

About fliponymous

Bisexual activist, thinker, writer, husband, father, Licensed Professional Counselor.
This entry was posted in Bisexuality and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Everyone is Not Bisexual, or, Kinsey is not the last word in research

  1. Anonymous says:

    There’s one part I disagree completely. Where you imply that everyone may not be bisexual, but most people are, when you state that “no matter how many people are 1s (not 2s) and 5s, 0s and 6s still exist”

    You are agreeing that 0s and 6s are exceptions afterall, and that most of the world are 1s to 5s. Or that it is an evenly spread out spectrum.
    When in reality, almost 90% and at least 80% of the world are Kinsey 0s. Unless you meant to say that as well, instead of Kinsey 6s.
    The world IS in fact a heterosexual majority, no matter how hard bisexual activists try to claim otherwise.
    Does that mean that very few people are homosexual to a degree? Um no, it’s 10% or at most 20%. That’s  1 in every 10 person or 1 in every 5.
    People often forget how numbers actually play out in real life and look at how the digits appear.
    That 10-20% is where the “a lot” comes in not “most”. It is the vocal minority that makes people think it’s most or even all.

    Here’s how I think it goes: 0s >>>> 1s >> 2s > 4s > 5s/6s > 3s

    With 0 and 6 being exclusively monosexual.
    1s and 5s being monosexual with bisexual tendencies AKA mostly gay/straight
    2 being bisexual but preferring the opposite sex.
    4 being bisexual but preferring the same sex.
    3 being 50/50 or 55/45 

    The number of 1s are only given that high of a number to accommodate the inflated numbers of people with homosexual attractions, if it were true. 
    But it was also because of the very sad but honest truth that heterosexuality always wins. No matter how many people have SSA, the scale will always tip towards heterosexuality.
    Let’s say the number was only 10% (much more realistic). That big of a number, still, will only be that high due to people who are hardly queer. 

    Then you look at the others, more bisexuals prefer the opposite sex than same sex. The ones that make it seem like more prefer the same sex are the ones who would even associate around the gay or LGBT community.
    I’ll assume that 50/50 bisexuality is rare. But if it isn’t. It is either more or less than the number of bisexuals that prefer the same sex.
    Then you look at the 5/6s. It’s obvious what this is about. All the other digits of the scale have been looking at the heterosexual to LGB communities.
    Now we can take a look at WITHIN the gay community. People who aren’t gay but putting on a gay label. That’s how unfair it is. For the point on the scale that has the least numbers, and the only one where it considers EXCLUSIVE homosexuality, it is further divided into around half, with that half having heterosexual tendencies. Leaving the number of true homosexuals lower than 1% in probability.

    The big picture is that heterosexuality wins homosexuality by a landslide, even in what is considered bisexuality. 

    But annoying bisexual activists constantly try erasing the existence of monosexuality, especially homosexuality. Because hey, deep down, it is obvious to them that there are more hets than homos, so most of that “effort” as unbiased at it seems, is actually directed towards homosexuals.

    Not only do they constantly bring out that “truth”, which is destroying and damaging another member of the LGBT community, they try too hard and fail at making heterosexuality seem like a minority.

    But yes, there are some stupid people who could say things like how 80% of the population is bi, with 10% gay and 10% straight.
    Deriving that from the delusional opinion that a spectrum is always evenly spread out and the long proven-as-myth statistics that 10% of the world is exclusively gay. So flip it around and you get 10% straight, THEN quote Kinsey who never claimed this.
    In fact, Kinsey never PROVED that most people are bi. He proved that a lot were bi. He THOUGHT that everyone is bi in terms of potential as a personal opinion.

    And then there are those who say that 1 in every 6 man is a Kinsey 0, 1 in every 6 is a Kinsey 1 and etc.

    Taking note that sexuality is fluid and that most movement is towards heterosexuality.
    Plus that 10% figure is that high in terms of history, not a current and sustaining level of bisexual/homosexual attraction.

    • fliponymous says:

      I make no such claim, Anonymous. If you look at what I am saying, I am specifically stating that those who claim “everyone is bisexual” are ignoring the very real presence of people with not same-gender (and people with no other-gender) attractions.

      There’s not such thing as 50/50 because the whole idea of divvying up attraction into neat percentages is a false one.

      The bisexual activists of my acquaintance are NOT the people claiming “everyone is bisexual”. It’s the people who seek to validate themselves by invalidating others, and staright people who want to utterly erase me by saying “since everyone is, you are not.”

  2. Anonymous says:

    I would like to make a correction to the post below.

    It is often said that the number of bi-identified to gay-identified is almost the same, with the bisexuals having a slightly larger number. 

    So it’s 0s >>>> 1s >> 2s > 5s/6s > 3s  > 4s

    It’s safe to exclude the 1s from this equation so let’s look at 2s to 6s.
    The 5s and 6s would be the gay *community*. 
    3s and 4s and a small proportion of 2s make the bisexual community.

    Now how many people in the gay community wouldn’t REALLY be gay?
    The outside world would assume that gay people would be as honest as it gets.
    Bisexuals when making up statistics for MOST-of-the-world-is-bi claims would leave the part of homosexuals to be what it is, and only spot out people with closeted same-sex attractions among the heterosexuals.

    I would really like to know. Can I really assume a 2.8% gay men and 1.4% gay women figure to be true? Or do I have to worry about the Kinsey 5s, where they would actually be “separate”?
    Taking note that these figures are answers from people, not scientific tests.

    Being in the LGBT, community I’m sure you are aware of hasbians, bisexual lesbians, lesbians that sleep with men, lesbian until graduation and the less known similar dirty secrets of the gay male community.

    • fliponymous says:

      “Bisexuals when making up statistics for MOST-of-the-world-is-bi claims” are some of the people I am refuting here.

      Try thinking of the world in something other than Kinsey terms, Anon.

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  4. Thanks for this article, it was meaningful. I liked your analogy about the human race and the atheist community. I’ll try to look at your articles about your religious experiences and your values for human secularism as well.

    • fliponymous says:

      Glad you like it! Unfortunately I have not gotten around to doing pure philosophy in this space — turns out there is so much to say on bisexuality that the humanist pieces don’t get written.

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  6. David Agosta says:

    In the biology classes that you’ve obviously never taken, this “I personally know and am quite close to a lot of people who have no same-gender attractions. Calling them bisexual would simply be inaccurate” would be called meaningless subjective anecdotal evidence. You would be called an idiot.

    • fliponymous says:

      Well, David, we’re not talking about biology here — we are talking about desire, about attraction.

      By the way, calling me an idiot and insinuating that I don’t know basic things about science is *not* really a good way to start off a relationship, now, is it?

      • Sophie says:

        You should ignore that comment above. Firstly, your article wasn’t in a scientific journal, therefore I’m pretty sure a well-worded piece which is peppered with a few anecdotes is fine! Secondly, in social psychology (which is sort of what we’re talking, here!) a lot of research is conducted on analysis of people’s opinions, conversations etc – case studies and the like. And who’s to say that your (assumed) in-depth knowledge of your friends isn’t basically and informal case study?

        I find it such a shame that comments online only seem to be there to criticise and demean people.

        I enjoyed your article, it was very interesting, and I think you made your points in a fair and considerate manner.

  7. Mat says:

    The more self identified bisexual people I meet the more I see certain patterns. A friend of mine who spent most of his life in the gay community but none-the-less had about 6 short term relationships with women describes himself as a Kinsey 5. I have been the reverse I was immediately ostricized from the gay community for my identity and behavior and never put a number on my self. I had 6 short term relationships with men and most of my relationships have been with women both on numbers and length of time dating. But when we talked it became clear to me that we had a similar mode of attraction that fluctuated from men to women. Interestingly enough the relationships he had with women were self identified “lesbians” with occasional straight women encounters. And for me the majority of the women I dated were bisexual women, or self identified straight women who had sex with women. Why is this important?

    Because some of the bi women I dated had a much different sense of their gender than the straight women. They were a good mix of masculine and feminine and I was a mix feminine and masculine. This is the non-binary aspect of attraction.

    But on a purely physical level we were both turned on by female and male parts and bodies. On an emotional level it was certain types of women and certain types of men who would make suitable long term partners. We both had fluctuating attractions both physical and emotional.

    The denialism of my identity has been felt painfully because it comes with the fear that I may not find the right someone for a long term relationship. But bisexuality is infact my essence as well as it is his.

  8. Dude man says:

    Hi, great post, thank you !

    That 2-D plane is awesome ! And I totally agree that not everybody is bisexual.

    I just had a related comment about labels. As a male Kinsey 1, I only somewhat register as a bi guy. During my rare blue moon romantic feelings for a good looking man, I certainly feel bi 🙂 But they’re very uncommon and I identify as straight so I don’t have to deal with the endless static of people. If I was a 3 or 4, I’m sure I would be more willing to deal with it.

    So I guess my point is that for a Kinsey 1, especially a Kinsey 1 male, the bisexual label isn’t very useful. It’s just too vague for those that need a specific answer. I can only imagine that until the majority of people are familiar with the sexual spectrum and thus able to understand “Kinsey 1” or whatever equivalent, guys like me will either identify as straight, or not be taken seriously when identifying as bisexual just due to the fact that we’re easily written off as curious or something of the sort.

    I don’t know, just a thought. Cheers!

  9. Kurt says:

    Storm’s 2-dimensional model doesn’t actually do any better than the Kinsey scale in explaining bisexuality. It simply adds an extra dimension of ‘degree of eroticism’ in order to account for asexuality. In fact, if you draw a diagonal line through the corners of Storm’s 2-D chart and then project it onto that line, you just end up with the Kinsey scale again.

    • fliponymous says:

      So what you are saying is if you collapse the 2d model down to 1d, it doesn’t give any more information than the 1d model.

      See, when you expand it, the most problematic thing you get rid of is the false idea that use of the Kinsey promotes, which is that “More attraction to X means less attraction to Y”. Which is both false, and used against bisexuals all the time.

  10. judyt54 says:

    I love this discussion, btw. even if it makes me a bit cross-eyed: i may be out of line here (and feel free to tell me), but a lot of indentity problems and a lot of categorizing problems seem to overlook the idea of “Mary calls herself a lesbian but has had opposite sex encounters” “Aretha calls herself bisexual but has never had any but a male partner in her life” “Mike swaps between male and female partners regularly but identifies (for whatever reason) as straight”.

    Our own defnition of sexual identity is, truly, the only one there is. I know a man who is straight arrow, but if asked nicely will tell you that certain men turn him on, even though he has never acted on it…does that mean he’s straight? gay? Bi? confused? He still identifies as straight. So he goes in the books as straight man. Mary, who has had opposite sexual encounters (and two kids to prove it) calls herself lesbian. Aretha has never slept with a man in her life but identifies. for the lists, as bisexual. Mike wanders all over the place, but identifies as straight.

    The line in the sand is drawn, it seems to me, by our OWN identity, by what we choose to call ourselves. Not what turns us on, or off, or makes us faint dead away. If the nice man keeping track asks you if you’re bi or gay or straight and you say straight, thats what you are listed as, even if you’re sitting right next to your current (male) partner.

    It’s such a clouded area, and everyone has so many choices as to what and who and how many, it seems almost futile to try to pin anyone down or even separate them into coherent little sub groups.

    I know it matters, but until people can sort themselves out with working definitions of their own sexuaity and can self-identify consistently (and good luck with that one) I suspect some people will always end up invisible in some way.

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  12. Lapis says:

    Thank you so much for this article, from one bisexual to another. Every time I see this myth perpetuated, all I feel is erased. I’m content with not being part of the normal crowd; I’m very happy to be queer, and when people say this, it feels like they’re stealing my queer identity from be, because only people who have exclusively same gender attractions can be queer! Bisexuals are practically straight anyway.

    Honestly I just dislike the Kinsey scale in general because it simplifies sexuality too much for my taste, and it is already very hard for me to quantify my attraction to the different genders.

  13. Thanos6 says:

    I’ve never been a fan of the idea that allies should have certain areas closed off to them. I’m a complete bi guy myself, what Kinsey would call a 3, and I couldn’t imagine starting a group that was “bi only” or “No non-LGBTs allowed” or whatever, and would leave any group I was in if I found out they had or were adopting such a policy.

    • fliponymous says:

      I recommend you take a look at this entry about having our own spaces. While it may not change your mind, it does give some more arguments about having at least a few spaces we can call our own. Not because people need to be excluded, but because sometimes we need to be able to talk without having to tailor everything for the comfort of straight people.

      Because my survival requires me to at least occasionally not have to have my *primary* concern be providing validation for allies. I am more than happy to do it most of the time, but I think 100% is a little steep.

      • Thanos6 says:

        Good arguments, but I’m afraid I still disagree. Any ally who should be there should accept that we wouldn’t be tailoring things for them. Anyone who can’t accept that shouldn’t be there.

        • fliponymous says:

          Which is in direct contravention of what you said before. Because if you are going to advocate a space that is only open to these particular carefully vetted allies, then you may as well allow for a few Queer-only spaces.

          Should the vast majority of queer spaces allow cishets? Sure. But *all*? No way. I’d rather have a couple spots that are Queer-only than have to institute a smell test for what allies are allowed in and what aren’t. You think we have problems now…

  14. Fyre says:

    I enjoyed this article, although it lost me occasionally because I have 0 knowledge of the Kinsey scale. Despite that, I found this article clear and helpful, laying out the arguments that stir in the back of my mind when I hear the ‘Everyone is bi!’ but hadn’t worked through myself. So thanks!

  15. Mont's says:

    This is really interesting. I think the reason why this kind of “myth” is spreading is that when someone starts to reasearch about the possibility of being bi…this is what they read. And this is what I have read as well. So you think you have find the truth, you are satisfied and stop thinking about it I know is stupid, but it happens…even in open-minded people) But anyway I still miss a point in your arguments… Do you think people are born lesbian, bi, or straight or any personal condition they feel to fit their feelings? Do you think there is such a “fluidity” thing? In my opinion, is it true that there are endless shades and not only the ones kidney scale describes. But is also true that one may have a straight period, a bi period, and so on. Change is possibile, is all about culture, life experiences, personal beliefs and so on. The “everyone is bisex” opinion could be reconsidered if you say that “everyone is POTENTIALLY bisex”. That means that everyone has this possibility to change his habits/preferences/feelings during his life. Obviosly is not something you decide (tomorrow i will be lesbian!) ,but something that could happen for many different reasons The problem is that all the straight people I know are convinced that you born in one or another way and they just miss all the possibility they could have. They hide and ignore any little attraction to the same-sex or..if it become stronger, they start thinking they are discovering that they are not straght. It a black-or-white way of thinking. The same people think that bisex is only a phase, a transition…. This is why is say that the may miss something and may stay straight the whole life just because the society want them to behave like this.I’m talking about SOME people, and not all: obviously most people stay straight without having any doubt of different feeling during their whole life. But I still think it is not about genetics (not only!), is also about life experiences and the kind of society you grow in.

    Hope you will understand the point even if my english is not perfect 😉

    • fliponymous says:

      Potentialities differ. The biggest problem with the “Everyone is bisexual” construction is that it erases bisexuality, and turns everyone into “just experimenting”. Now, there’s nothing wrong with experimenting, and nothing wrong with fluidity — but I do believe that there is an inborn component (and saying “genetic” is a little too precise a way to put it) to our potential attractions. Does culture and upbringing have something to do with it? Sure.

      But there is no society in the world where there are no people who are straight, gay, and bi.

  16. Shane Turner says:

    I sometimes think I lean more homosexual than heterosexual. Like a Kinsey 3 or 4. That is because I have a very gooey feeling towards men I find hot that I feel like I could get off without even touching myself. However, I can get off on women as well. One guy tried to tell me I may be a Kinsey Scale 2 but I don’t think I am on the lower-end of the scale. I tend to feel like I am in the middle or a bit higher on the scale.

    • fliponymous says:

      Do you see how that fits my point, that this whole arbitrary “More x=Less y” is keeping us from seeing the truth, that we are integrated beings? Leave the scale alone and live in yourself.

  17. Great read, nice analysis.

    I think this myth is based on a misunderstanding of Freud. The way I see it, is that he meant that everybody is born without a clear sexual orientation, that libido, sexual energy, can be guided towards basically anything (men, women, objects, even activities). He meant that sexual orientation is in large part determined by psychological (and social) factors. It could be said that everybody is born bisexual, tho that is also a misinterpretation (it excludes object sexuality for instance). So IMO people saying everybody is bisexual don’t understand Freud.

    • fliponymous says:

      I think you’re giving Freud way too much credit (and access to anachronistic insights), but then again, I’m an anti-Freudian. Even giving Freud the benefit of the doubt, he’s still calling bisexuality an immature state of development.

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