What Are We So Afraid Of?
We think that we’ve reached the age of tolerance. We mock the provincial, the homophobic, the misogynist. This post-X generation has supposedly reached sexual enlightenment: the acceptance of sexuality, the embrace of sex. It may be our greatest claim to fame, and indeed sexuality is the one area that has actually been revolutionized in the past hundred years. Everything other area—democracy, capitalism—has maintained the general population’s acquiescence. Yet despite this revolution, our definition of sexuality still remains tightly binary. Slowly it’s been revealed that yes, we like sex, but really, in one lifetime, do we really believe that any one person can really lust after more than one, well, sex?
The dilemma of this generation’s relationship to sexuality became apparent to me recently when one after another of my friends—all liberal highly educated young Americans—acknowledged that they just didn’t believe in bisexuality. I was struck by their testament to faith, as if sexuality was a God and Its second commandment ran: there can be but two sexualities. These conversations were provoked by a 2005 study by a team of psychologists in
One friend, a straight female, told me, “I’m sorry, I just don’t think it’s real. I just don’t think you get to have it both ways. Do you think that’s selfish?” Another, a gay male, argued, “Well, I was bisexual for a while when I first came out. I just think it’s a transition phase” And more bizarrely, a bisexual woman claimed, “I just don’t believe there are male bisexuals.” Responses were gut feelings, emotional reactions, but often these rapid responses to the latest ‘most emailed’ article are the more relevant demonstrations of our cultural Zeitgeist. In which case the question is clear: is the bisexual the next frontier in sexuality? And if so, why hasn’t it yet been conquered? This is a particularly important question for women, because a specific rejection of bisexuality often signifies male bisexuality and says much about the gender roles that are still ingrained and may not be transgressed in our society.
An old stereotype: any male would love to see two chicks go at it. Female bisexuality is accepted, and is often admired and sought after by male counterparts, because it is not seen as real. Instead it is just another sex act, an exhibition for male eyes. Women may engage in this act and yet still fall within the norms of sexuality because to the male’s eyes, they haven’t actually stepped outside of those norms. Instead, the general acknowledgment of female bisexuality reveals the inner turnings of society’s mind regarding the female character. Women are fickle, changeable, affectionate, and emotional. They can love each other and yet still prioritize men. Bisexuality may just be a phase, or a greater extension of women’s natural friendship and expression of love, but it is nothing threatening. It is either pleasing to the male, or the male assumes the women will ultimately return to a heterosexual relationship to take part in that greatest of all womanly enunciations: child-bearing.
Male bisexuality is an entirely different story. Though female bisexuality is fickle, society nonetheless sees male bisexuality as threatening. Men, those stolid beasts, are choosing to go outside their reproductive drive, and it’s not just because ‘they can’t help it.’ They are still attracted to women, yet they choose to sometimes have sex with men. If they are going to make that jump, society thinks, why don’t they go all the way, and once again we trot out the well-worn trope of the weak-wristed flaming gay. Establishing that males, if they’re going to turn ‘that way’ must turn ‘all that way’, society rejects male bisexuality, as merely a ‘transition’, a dusting off of the socializing normatives. We are obsesses with dichotomies. Everything must be one way or another. We refuse to work beyond binaries, because binaries are just so easy to juxtapose. But it is essential that the feminist reject any binary system, because such systems have historically resulted in woman’s subjugation. Instead it is vital that women embrace the concept of a female sex made of many, complex identities.
Now I’m not advocating that all women, in order to do their duty to the feminist cause, must go around and find themselves the requisite bisexual man to reaffirm a place outside the binary. But the fact that some women find it natural that they would reject the very concept of having a relationship with a bisexual man reveals a troubling relationship to their own femininity, not to mention a latent homophobia. Such absolutist statements imply that sleeping with a bisexual man would somehow undermine their femininity. Because, really, what else could be the problem? Do women have an issue with where the man’s penis has been? Do they have a preconceived notion of who the bisexual male is, no better than a preconceived stereotype of the homosexual male? Or is it that the image of one’s partner sleeping outside the heteronormative somehow confuses the woman’s own sense of place in the bedroom? If I were to hazard a guess, I’d place my bet on the last one.
While the feminist theorist Monique Wittig argued that female subjugation originates in the sex act, and to overturn female subjugation we must all become lesbians, this is clearly impracticable in reality. However, to reject the concept of bisexuality is to essentialize sex, thus gender, thus ‘woman’. To refuse to date a bisexual solely because he has slept with men is to express a homophobia founded in a concept of what the sexual nature of a man and woman should be. Homosexuality can be written off as the Other because it doesn’t actually affect the normal heterosexual. In the middle school dance of life, homosexuals are in one corner of the room, heterosexuals in the other, and no one can embarrass themselves as long as there is no awkward dancing between the two. God forbid that the essential female should engage in sex acts with a man who has engaged in sex acts with another man.
One can imagine the questions: “How can you be sure he’s really into you?” “Do you think he fantasizes about men when you’re together?” “So tell me, on a scale from one to ten, how much does he like your boobs?” Thus the woman becomes de-feminized in her peers’ eyes, a replacement for the male who the bisexual man must be lusting after. Because after all, bisexuality is just a stage, isn’t it? We think we’ve had a sexual revolution and yet we are still hanging onto the wreckage of the last century. In the end, women are still afraid of their own de-feminization, even in the privacy of the bedroom. To sleep with a bisexual man means that a woman has lost her standard counterpart. If the man is de-masculinized because he sleeps with other men, then the woman must in turn lose her ‘femininity’ because she is not sleeping with a real man who only hunts chicks.