Not Really. Really?

I want to talk more about a logical fallacy that comes up a lot, one that I briefly mentioned in my article busting the myth(s) of the barsexual. It’s called the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, and the reason it’s called that is because it’s most commonly illustrated with stories similar to this one:

Feargus reads a story in the morning paper about a horrible murder in Edinburgh. “See what these foreigners within our borders have done! No Scotsman would have done such a terrible thing!” The next morning, he learns that the crime was committed by his second cousin. “Well, he’s not really a Scot, no True Scotsman would have done this.”

One of the big areas where this comes up is because people use a version of this to erase bisexuals, almost invariably by comparing us to myths and then using those myths to claim that we’re not “real bisexuals” – some even go so far as to claim that because the standard is mythical, there cannot be any such thing as a real bisexual.

Confusing?

Let me give you an example that happened to me. A fellow said, in what appeared to be all seriousness, that “bisexual means exactly 50/50 attraction, and everyone has a preference, no matter how slight, for one gender or another, so you can’t be a real bisexual because there are no real bisexuals.” (This is the old “You’re a liar” offense. And there’s a little bit of dragging out the old “Kinsey 3” to justify it there too, dontcha think?)

Here’s some others:

“All bisexuals have to have multiple partners and threesomes, so if you don’t you’re not a real bisexual.” (Important note: having multiple partners makes you polyamorous. People who are polyamorous can be straight, gay, or bi – and as long as I’m busting myths, let me bust one about polyamory: there are plenty of polyamorous people who don’t have threesomes. Like, ever.)

“All male bisexuals are actually gay men in denial, or gay men lying in order to get more casual partners, so there are no real bisexuals, therefore you’re not really bisexual.” (“Liar Offense” strikes again.)

It’s also used quite a bit against the trans* and asexual communities.

“Women are born with vaginas, so you’re not a real woman.”

“Anorgasmia is a medical condition, so you’re not really asexual, you just need to see a doctor.”

It comes up sometimes in theist/atheist debates, often when someone who identifies as a Christian is told that “Since the Bible says it’s the whole and only truth, if you don’t believe every single word to be literally true, you’re not really a Christian.”

The upshot is this: don’t tell people they aren’t “real [whatever]s” because they don’t fit your definition of what you think they are. You are likely to be wrong, and doubly or triply so if your definition of what’s a “real” whatever is being applied to a whatever that you do not identify as.

Busting the No True Scotsman fallacy in itself busts a lot of myths, because so many of the myths used to facilitate erasure by straight and lesbian/gay people depend on it. Dan Savage famously erases bisexuality by claiming that men who like people outside the rigid poles of male/female are really just open-minded straight men, because obviously there’s nothing queer about a (presumably cis) man enjoying a penis as long as there’s a pair of breasts above it. He also erases bisexuality through repetition of the “Bi Now, Gay Later” trope, and regularly denigrates trans*folk in a lot of other ways as well.

Recently on Twitter he said he was writing a chapter on bisexuality for his new book and wondered aloud if it would “make it all better or get my gay ass killed.” Well, Dan, if you simply say “I was wrong about stuff and apologize for saying biphobic things” rather than doubling down by trying to convince us you were right all along and then saying more biphobic things, then maybe your reputation in the bisexual community will improve.

The constant use of variations on the No True Scotsman fallacy is the symptom of a big problem. It goes to the heart of many of the issues I write about.

So much of the crap that’s out there, so many of the biphobic statements and attitudes that are the reason that bisexuals have a higher rate of drug, alcohol, and mental health problems than the overall queer population, so much of the daily derp that infests the internet from Tumblrs that claim being gender-blind is superior to “reinforcing the binary” (see Even Aud for some important information on that one) to well-meaning college Queer Resource Centers that mischaracterize (or utterly erase) bisexuality in their Safe Space trainings comes from losing track of a pair of very simple and closely related ideas:

Don’t talk about us without us. Believe us when we tell you about ourselves.

It’s pretty simple. Don’t attempt to define (or redefine) bisexuality or bisexuals without listening to what we have to say about ourselves. Yes, we’re not always going to agree, any more than any other heterogonous population. There are millions of us, and about all we can actually agree on is that the one thing we all have in common is that our range of attraction is not restricted to either our own gender or a specific “opposite” gender. There are going to be individuals among us who can be found that embody any stereotype you want to apply. But none of these myths and stereotypes will apply to the entire population.

You want to know who we are? Demographically, we’re pretty much just like everybody (mostly working class, racially diverse, from all over). A lot of us are in the closet, and a lot of us are pretty stressed out by being rejected by the straight dominant culture – and many of us are further stressed by being rejected by loud elements in L/G culture too.

Some of that stress – hell, a lot of that stress – could be alleviated simply by people taking the time to listen to what bisexuals have to say. It’s not that hard. We’re everywhere.

No, seriously. We are everywhere. We’re next door, we’re downstairs, we’re behind the counter, we’re checking your blood pressure, we’re answering the phone when you call customer service, we’re sitting next to you having coffee, one of us is even in Congress. We’re in that car in front of you, we just got on the bus, we’re riding our bikes, we’re laughing at lolcats. We’re young, we’re old, we’re every race, every religion (or no religion), every socioeconomic status (although everything I’ve seen and heard tends to indicate that we’re not as well represented in the upper ranks of America’s peculiar psuedoclassless class structure as some others).

We’re right here. Ask us before telling us who and what we are. It doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request, does it.

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About fliponymous

Bisexual activist, thinker, writer, husband, father, Licensed Professional Counselor.
This entry was posted in Bisexuality, Identity Politics (non-monosexual) and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Not Really. Really?

  1. M says:

    “Tumblrs that claim being gender-blind is superior to “reinforcing the binary” ”
    Hi, I identify as bisexual, and have a friend who identifies as pansexual (who I happen to have a crush on). I’m wondering if you’ve written more about different “alternatives” to bi, because I feel it’d be a bit awkward discussing the issue of bi vs. pan (or other similar sexualities) when she knows I like her.
    Thanks for writing these posts, they help a lot now that I’ve realised I’m bi (and never 100% confident that I’m right).

    • fliponymous says:

      It’s a connecting thread in the articles tagged “sexual orientation identity”. Aud Traher’s “Even Aud” also talks about it, and it is something that I’ll be doing more on in the future. If there’s something specific you’d like to see addressed, some of my best work comes from someone asking a question that I can take a couple thousand words to eventually answer 🙂

      One of the keys to the discussion is that the places where words like pansexual and pomosexual and omnisexual are used (with concomitant redefinitions of bisexuality) tend to be places where the privilege of obliviousness is pretty visible. Places where, if they were discussing race, you’d see comments like “There’s only one race, the human race, and I don’t see color, I just see a person.” Which justifiably makes many people of color quite angry by denying their experience (see Johnson or Sue for in-depth exploration of this phenomenon).

      The same thing happens in a lit of pansexual dialog — with the added socioeconimic kicker that the word bisexual tends to be associated with a much more general population while pansexual tends to be used more often by young, white, reasonably well-off people who want to reject the “bad connotations” of the word bisexual; these bad connotations tend to be linked to the etymological fallacy and a peculiar desexualization of sexual orientation which I will be digging into as the year progresses.

      Thank you, M, and you’re welcome. I’m glad to be useful to my community..

      • M says:

        One of the things I’m curious about is the whole “pansexuals are gender-blind” or “we don’t care what gender someone is”. I strongly feel that I, as a bi woman, am mainly attracted to men, but at the moment experiencing stronger attraction to women. Do you think it is possible that someone is pansexual, and feel a more evenly distributed attraction to men and women, or is it just a new and fancy definition to avoid saying bi?

        • fliponymous says:

          In almost all cases it’s a way to avoid saying bi. Some people identify as “bi and pan”, which bothers me not at all. But primarily it’s a way to be Anything But Bisexual, based on a misconception that the bisexual identity is trans*phobic — see the Mincing Bisexual articles for an expansion of this.

          • weofui says:

            I identify as pansexual, mainly as a means to recognize those who identify as neither male nor female (gender queer, andro, “othered”, etc.). I certainly don’t consider myself gender-blind.

            It frankly hadn’t occured to me that this might be seen as dismissive or distancing from bisexuality. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

  2. My approach to attraction to women, and my approach to attraction to men, is entirely different. Unfortunately this makes me a sexist if one is just looking for a put-down. I don’t actually try to define myself by which I am more attracted to, or have had sex or relationships with. I know I trust women less despite the fact that men have hurt me more. I don’t expect men to bond sexually, I believe women will bond even if they don’t want one. As it pertains to bisexuality, I think this demonstrates better than raw data or a Kinsey scale, how bisexuality functions differently than monosexuality.

    • fliponymous says:

      As Robyn Ochs famously says: “I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge in myself the potential to be attracted, romantically and/or sexually, to people of more than one sex, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”

    • Matthew says:

      This also mirrors my experience to some degree. However I like having actual relationships and not just sex. I can date a man expecting something to happen relationship wise and it rarely has. I can date a woman and we end up in a long term relationship. However many women have wanted and expected me to be heteronormative in character which I am not. It has always gone better if the woman was bisexual/queer herself because in that there is more understanding of the flexibility of gender roles and thinking of new ways for relationships in general. But I think with women pair bonding quickly takes place. And even with the longest relationship with a man when we broke up it was like “O.K.” I was sad and missed him BUT when I would break up with a woman it would be devastating. In this way I think sexual attraction and pair bonding are entirely different things. I do believe bisexuality is gendered to some degree, but not entirely. There are a lot of factors in play including attraction, emotional bonding, lifestyle choice etc.

      That said one of the most oppressive aspects of bisexual denialism is both bisexual men and women have a greater degree of choice as far as lifestyle and partners but are frequently stripped of that personal power by denying our existence. It makes it more difficult for bisexual people to even come out to themselves so that they may exercise that power of choice.

  3. Matthew says:

    From 2005 – 2011 (the Bailey years) bisexual denialism was so high I really ended up in a great deal of grief and trauma (and ultimately in therapy and I am still recovering) The hardest incidents were with some gay men who I would talk to would have circular arguements. I have heard both “your really gay in denial” or “your really straight and fucking around”. Being that I have been emotionally, romantically and sexually involved with both genders it has caused a great deal of stress because it was a denial of my loving relationships.

    But it has a crazy making effect. It would be like this: I have two degrees a BFA and an MFA. Imagine having multiple conversation with different people and them saying, “that’s impossible you never went to school there.” “you only have one degree it is impossible for you to have two degrees.” Now try having a conversation for twenty three years telling people both how you feel on the inside and your actual lived experience and hundreds of people telling you that what you feel and what you have experienced is impossible.

    In the case of the bisexual denialism it has occurred so many times in professional circumstances that I began not to disclose, I feared to saying it anymore, I feared both professional and personal ramifications for doing so. But what’s more is I began to question my own sanity. Maybe I am really straight? Maybe I am really gay?

    That’s why I have called it the Biphobic Gas Light affect.

    • fliponymous says:

      Gaslighting is a perfect term for it — even in many cases to the way that some of the people doing it were able to use it to access resources and money that we should have been able to get — funding reports indicate that bi-specific organizations have been getting bupkis for years.

  4. Moon says:

    What Matthew describes is so commonplace that many bisexuals (or pan/omni/pomo, however they choose to describe their attraction to people regardless of gender) often find it easier to simply not speak up, rather than be ridiculed for claiming to be something that is either impossible or obscene in the accuser’s eyes. I’ve considered myself bi for nearly 2 decades, but only began to say it openly after I left a professional career that would have been in jeopardy had I been open. This is the same behavior that the L/G community experiences and despises, yet they are some of the worst offenders of bi-denial. One would think that their own experience would have taught them how painful it is to be pigeon-holed as somehow other than you identify.

    • Matthew says:

      One of the most ignorant myths about bisexual people is that it is somehow “less stigmatizing” than saying you are gay. Now we have statistical and survey evidence that bisexual men are the most stigmatized group equal to IV drug users. And the suicide rate is much higher than gay men. There were 6 incidents of harassment in my graduate art school (mostly from gay faculty and staff) and two incidents at my job (from my straight female employer in an atmosphere of almost all gay men.) The incidents were actually illegal and yet in the school situation they were not fired. But if it were a straight faculty members harassing a gay student they would certainly be fired. The affect that I am trying to get over is going forward in my life and how to confront such situations better. How out do I want to be under these circumstances? It has really affected my career and my confidence. And also the majority of my relationships have actually have been with the opposite gender. So saying the truth “I am bisexual” has had the ill effect of not communicating the truth. Hense I am considering actually coming out in different ways like by spelling it out:” I am attracted to multiple genders and I have had long term relationships with both genders and am currently in a relationship with X.” or saying “I am a kind loving person who loves other kind loving people.”

      • fliponymous says:

        One of the big goals of this blog as well as my other activist work is to remove the stigma associated with the word “bisexual”, especially in the queer community — because as has been said by others more articulate than I, intraqueer oppression legitimizes prejudice in the dominant culture.

        • Matthew says:

          That is true. I have experienced homophobia/biphobia from homophobic straight people. But in the case of my employer she was straight and her biphobia came directly from gay male culture. But I also believe that Biphobic straight women with gay friends are actually secretely homophobic. In otherwords “gayness” is O.K. As long as it is overthere somewhere and not in my boyfriend or potential boyfriend. Or “How dare a queer man have a girlfriend, we need to contain all this gay in a gay ghetto somewhere.” But biphobia also effects “straight men” for if a straight man has any gay feelings he may act out homophobicly to hide them.

          • Moon says:

            I think this piggybacks on the homophobic notion that HIV/AIDS was a “gay” disease until people started seeing that it existed in the heterosexual population. Their obvious and faulty conclusion was that bisexuals were the “carriers” between the genders. (Most couldn’t tell you what a hemophiliac was to save their lives.) Therefore, they see a bisexual (especially a male) as a Typhoid Tommy. “Ew… step back away from my man, I don’t want him to give me anything.” One wishes people would keep abreast of the information available, rather than falling back into ignorance as soon as some comforting words come out in a study or two.

  5. Matthew says:

    In Carl Wittman’s Gay Manifesto from 1970 he recognizes bisexuality as real. But then proceeds to erase it by saying “bi is a cop out for gay.” I think that this attitude was at that time more for solidarity reasons. Pre-Stonewall had bisexual activists Paul Goodman and Allen Ginsberg. Post-Stonewall seems to have had what the gay community thought a necessary political stance – no bisexuals. Historically this may be from the fact that bisexuality is difficult for the dominant culture to get their head wrapped around it. However, few gay academics since 1970 seemed to want to even acknowledge bisexuality at all to the point of a complete and shocking erasure by the time of the Bailey report of 2005. And bisexual women really have not been recognized until Lisa Diamonds study. Hense bisexual men and women have a lot of work to do to be understood by the dominant culture but also the gay and lesbian community. To not To do that work I consider myopic. So my hope is that bi men and women weather in a same sex or opposite sex relationship or single actually speak up. The big change that has occurred on the subject is the Internet. And any Biphobic articles really need to be challenged. I realize now that it will take thirty years for cultural clarity to emerge.

    • fliponymous says:

      30 years? I can do that. 😉

    • Moon says:

      I have come to believe that L/G biphobia is a product very similar in nature to the marginalization and transphobia the transgender community experiences. Within the transgender community, cross-dressers and drag queens are not welcomed at community events because of the unwanted attention they might draw. (“We don’t want people to think THAT’S what it means to be trans*.”) To me, it seems that those individuals who are afraid of becoming further outcast or marginalized attempt to alienate those who are “more different” than themselves. Sort of an attitude of “Well, I may be a lesbian but at least I’m not a slutty bi.” Or, “I may be gay, but at least you know what you’re getting with me.” By diminishing others, the seem to believe they are lifting themselves to a higher level, when in fact they are doing quite the opposite in a very human and real sense.

      • fliponymous says:

        And the mainstream L/G movement is doing to bisexuals exactly what dominant culture does to them. It’s assimilationist heteronormativity, homonormative style.

      • Matthew says:

        As was early pointed out in the CASS article it has a great deal to do with maintaining a consistent collective gay narrative. A friend of mine previously married now in a 12 year same sex partnership lost a lot of gay friends while maintaining his bisexual identity. He went to each of his friends and asked, “do bisexual men exist?” if they said no he replied, “your not my friend.” He now says “I’m bisexually gay” or “I’m a gay man who loves to have sex with women.” But really why all the fuss? Who cares what a person calls them self? In this case I think something else is work. His bisexual identity speaks not merely about owning his history but about a level of his interior sense of self. We live in a culture which values external facts and objectivity that a persons subjective experiences are not seen as real or is of little concern. Just look what our culture has had to do to make bisexuality “real”. We measured penis responses and pupil responses. Now that we have objective facts it’s “real.” But these new “facts” actually devalues a persons own subjectivity and interior. You are only “real” if you behave a certain way, or if you respond to certain porn etc.

        • fliponymous says:

          ^^^^^THIS^^^^^

          If you’ve ever read the Bailey 2005 study, they used only gay porn — FF or MM, and assumed response to FF porn was the “straight” response. Tell me how that even makes sense.

          • Matthew says:

            Yes but also I find gay fellatio porn hot! But gay anal sex porn gross And have to turn it off and don’t practice that at all. I find some lesbian porn hot especially girls with big boobs! BUT Any porn that seems abusive or drugged I find gross and disturbing. Etc. Then there are also so many other factors in interpersonal encounters including emotional joy with being with someone you just happen to like. There are so many factors at play with each individual that quantifying bisexuality is very personal business.

            • fliponymous says:

              People’s response to visual porn is so varied that there’s simply no way to draw a useful conclusion about basic sexual ontology by having people watch it. I would probably have been judged “not attracted to women” by that study and I’ve been married to one for 20 years.

  6. Matthew says:

    To further the discussion it seems that a lot of queer people, myself included, have or continue to suffer from what Alice Miller would call the narcissistic injury. It is quite a natural consequence if you are queer in anyway because we are 1) raised with the heteronormative and cis gender assumption 2) often out caste from our families and communities of origins. Who we are is often rejected and invariably we reject ourselves (internalized homo bi and trans phobia). BUT interqueer oppression seems to be an acting out of this queer narcissistic injury, “You are not this or that.” (I reject you because I was rejected) For all of the LGBT population to thrive we ALL need to go through our healing processes of deeper and deeper self acceptance and to actually listen to one another. I have no idea what it is like to be gay (to not be attracted to women and only to men) but I still listen and can learn. I don’t know what it is to be transgendered or lesbian. We can often reach deeper self acceptance by listening to other people and accepting them for who they are and their life journey.

    • fliponymous says:

      That makes a lot of sense. A very common reaction among some of the bullied, after all, is to become bullies when they get the chance to be on top. (SOME. Many more resolve to never ever make someone else feel the way they felt.)

  7. Lynnette says:

    Reblogged this on The BiCast and commented:
    And some great thoughts from Patrick!

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