The stereotype, the quick and easy packaging of a person into a neat category based on the most obvious cues, is one of my favorite targets. Stereotypes often (but not always) contain a hint of truth – you can generally find someone who embodies most stereotypes. Gaydar is nothing more than a facility for spotting stereotypes.
I have no gaydar. I think it’s a function of my Aspergers [a form of high-functioning autism for those unfamiliar with the term]. Most of the “gaydar” stereotypes have nothing to do with sexual orientation and everything to do with violating gender norms. For example, the ways that I “do queer” in order to be visible include wearing pink, long dangly flashy earrings, painted nails… all things that are generally associated with gender presentation.
(As an aside, I just participated in a “Guess the Straight Person” panel, and only got 3 votes for straight, I guess being poetic about what love is and reading books are also markers for teh queer as I took off most of my rings, ear and finger, and have plain nails this month. I would like to give kudos to my LGBT Resource Center, because the activity was originally called “Guess Who’s Gay” but my school works for inclusivity.)
Some stereotypes are based on finding that a lot of people meet them – there are more than a few effeminate gay men out there, for example, as well as plenty of lesbians who present as butch. Of course, my straight wife presents more butch than I do.
Some stereotypes are utterly untrue and very, very harmful. The gay child molester, for example, who gets dragged out at every opportunity by people who want to try to get rid of us. Some of the more pernicious bi stereotypes exist in straight, gay, and bi communities, but are laid specifically on teh bi – promiscuity is a big one. In this month’s “31 Days, 31 Icons” project from LGBTHistorymonth.com, for example, not only do they eschew the word bisexual, but they reinforce myths and stereotypes about us.
The most glaring is Marlene Dietrich, who, while tagged as bisexual in the database, has a writeup that not only doesn’t use the word but points out that she “had affairs with men and women”. Really? Couldn’t you say “relationships”? Why use the emotionally loaded word? (And for another look at the same issue, here’s a post from Bialogue.)
One stereotype that does significant, measurable damage to the queer community and especially to the bisexual community comes from researcher Amity Buxton. I’ve heard she’s a nice person. But her Straight Spouses Network and the research being used to support it by the leaders of the SSN organizations is harmful and, as far as I am concerned, inadequate, biased, and downright shoddy. Yes, those are fighting words, and I stand by them.
Here’s an example, from her book “The Other Side of the Closet: The Coming-Out Crisis for Straight Spouses and Families”.
Besides the relatively small number of couples who stay married, the lack of information about enduring marriages is further explained by their invisibility. Mixed-orientation couples are generally indistinguishable from heterosexual couples, especially when they remain closeted because of privacy concerns or a fear of being stigmatized and rejected by their family, friends, employer, or community (p.161).
Let’s examine these two statements. The first question I asked upon reading this is, if most mixed-orientation marriages are invisible, how can you possibly make a broad statement about how small the number who stay married is? Buxton’s bias is clear – as a researcher, and as someone who is setting up “support networks” for the poor damaged straight spouses who have been betrayed by those awful cheating lying gay men who were never really sexually interested or in love with them, she has a vested interest in only presenting the cases where the marriage either doesn’t work at all, or works only by becoming an open arrangement, something I’ve seen decried by supporters of the ideas of the SSN as “making your poor suffering wife into your housemaid and babysitter while you go out and play” (something I’ve seen both alluded to and spelled out in comment threads).
Buxton also identifies as one of those straight former spouses, and claims to be working for LGBT rights. As I said, I’ve been told by people who know her that she’s a very sweet person who honestly thinks she’s being helpful. I don’t know her personally, but I will say this: you don’t get to have “working for LGBT rights” credentials when you are going out of your way to perpetuate harmful stereotypes about us. Sorry. It’s like some limousine liberal advocating against welfare cuts because poor people are unable to hold down jobs due to their lack of motivation and intellect. Thanks for your good intentions, there is a well-known road paved with them.
This sort of attitude destroys marriages that could work just fine. There are many mixed orientation marriages that are working – there’s a recent dissertation about them that I am reading right now – but either Buxton or the people working for the Straight Spouses Network are ignorant (to be charitable) or ignoring the existence of mixed orientation marriages that work.
Her most recent work was highlighted in the Huffington Post just in time for Bi Pride day – check out some clips from the article, with my comments in brackets.
“Those in mixed-orientation marriages, like their partners, feel unfulfilled by the sexual mismatch, often blaming themselves and accommodating their partners’ wishes at the expense of their own.” [Because obviously someone identifying as other-than-straight can’t be fulfilled in a marriage to someone of another gender… This is a mere reiteration of the “Bi Now, Gay Later” stereotype, the good old “One Drop” come around again.]
“Though some couples work out ways to stay together, most divorce, their children now in a broken family.” [If only the couples who are under so much stress that they are falling apart come to your attention, because people in mixed-orientation marriages that work or whose marital problems are unrelated to orientation aren’t part of your statistics, it is frankly irresponsible to make such a broad and sweeping statement – and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, if the organizations you have set up to “support” straight spouses start off by telling them they must be sooo traumatized!]
“It’s time to pay attention to this invisible group. A new book does just that. Unseen-Unheard: The Journey of Straight Spouses, of which I am a co-author, opens the window onto their emotional, sexual, cognitive, psychological, relational, and spiritual trauma.” [The insensitivity, and erasure of the invisible group she’s ignoring – marriages that can and do work – is stunning to me.]
The Straight Spouses Network is an organization with arguably good motivations, but that in practice has done some real damage to those people who it does not recognize, such as bisexual people and their straight spouses who are intentionally in mixed-orientation marriages. Are there marriages that break up because one member decides that they must for their own sanity pursue attractions outside of the marriage? Obviously. Funny thing – most of those attractions are to people of the same gender as the spurned spouse. But you don’t see psychologists advocating the destruction of these marriages purely on these grounds, and an organization like this that focused on ending the marriages of straight spouses of heterosexual philanderers would not be hailed as “doing so much good”, rather, it would be brought into question as a biased and potentially damaging group, as a group with an agenda to see to it that what it defines as “unsuitable” marriages don’t continue. What you see with the SSN is an organization that is reinforcing myths and stereotypes that destroy marriages rather than helping people work through them and make their own decisions.
The point of The Other Side of the Closet is marriages where the queer partner comes out during the marriage. Can there be trauma? Sure. Can there have been a problem with the marriage being fake? Absolutely. But, please, Ms. Buxton – consider what you and the people running the organizations founded on your work are doing to the marriages that do have the possibility of working and being happy. In the cases I mentioned, the problem isn’t that they are mixed orientation, it’s that they are founded on a lie – and there are plenty of marriages founded on lies that have nothing to do with orientation.
Another piece about the “coming out during marriage” is that while in some cases, these marriages are undoubtedly beards, some of them are due to the queer member not knowing themselves. As bisexuals are at least as large a part of the population as people with only same-gender attractions, painting people who discover some same-gender attractions while in a marriage to a partner of another gender as not having authentic other-gender attractions? My Stereotype Alarm Bell is ringing. Discovering that you share some attractions with your partner would seem to be the kind of thing that could strengthen a relationship, if the communication is good.
Buxton’s work perpetuates the stereotype that the worst thing a husband can do is be queer. I recall as a child hearing whispers about the neighbor’s husband, who left her [sotto voce] for a maaaan. It was considered so much worse then, and the SSN is not doing anything to help change it from being considered so much worse now.
Why is the perception that the worst thing that can happen to a marriage be same-gender attraction (with a spouse transitioning gender a close second)? There are so many other things that can go wrong. Instead of perpetuating and amplifying the stereotype, if the SSN really wanted to make the world a better place for these “discarded, traumatized, invisible” spouses, they should look at the models of what makes marriages work rather than blasting people who might have a chance for happiness with messages of victimhood and betrayal, with their own anger.
My wife was originally attracted to me in no small part because I am bi (although she didn’t put it in those terms, she said that I had a refreshing gentle manner) and has known it all along. There was no betrayal, no problems with accommodation – I forswore all others to be with her, because those are the terms of our relationship. We did a little couples counseling at one point, and thank the heavens that we didn’t get a therapist who came out of the Buxton school, because if that had been the case, we might not be together today. Therapists who are operating from her research without looking for other resources may very well be in serious violation of the codes of ethics and competence for working with LGBT people – and their Allies.
Something else about mixed-orientation marriages: I presume that the marriages that consist of one bi partner and one straight partner are probably more stable and have a better chance of working than ones with one exclusively straight and one exclusively gay partner. It seems that mutual sexual attraction is important, nu? But there is no problem having authentic mutual attraction if one partner’s attraction spectrum is broader than the other’s, as long as that attraction includes one’s partner. The Straight Spouses Network, and Buxton’s research that it is founded upon, doesn’t seem to understand that.
There is very little research out there on working mixed orientation marriages. I hope to add to that body of research someday.
Some useful links:
Some Yahoo groups that don’t follow the “Oh your marriage is doomed” model:Alternate Path, Making Mixed Orientation Marriages Work, and HUGS. If you are in a mixed orientation marriage, and are looking for support, I urge you to avoid the Straight Spouses Network and check these out instead.
And some good definitions of bisexuality can be found here.