If sexuality is fluid...should you just go with the flow?
There is a lot of confusion about the concept of bisexuality. Many people are 100% gay or lesbian; in other words, they are sexually and emotionally attracted only to partners of the same sex. Others are completely heterosexual, bonding in sexual and intimate relationships only with people of another sex. But, what about everybody else?
A significant percentage of people do not fit neatly into either of these categories, because they experience sexual and emotional attractions and feelings for people of different genders at some point during their lives. For lack of a better term, they are called, bisexuals. Many people hate this term, for a variety of reasons, and prefer to call themselves “pansexual,” “non-preferential,” “sexually fluid,” “ambisexual,” or simply, “queer.”
The Kinsey scale of zero to six was developed by sex researcher and pioneer Alfred Kinsey (you probably saw the movie about him a few years ago) to describe sexual orientation as a continuum from zero to six. Heterosexual people are at “zero” on the scale, gay and lesbian people are at “six” at the other end of the scale. Everyone in between, from one to five, is bisexual.
People who fall at one or two on the scale have primarily heterosexual sexual and affectional relationships and desires, but have some attraction and experiences with same-sex partners, as well. People at three on the scale are approximately equally attracted to both men and women. People at four and five on the Kinsey scale choose primarily same-sex partners, but are not completely gay or lesbian and have some heterosexual tendencies and relationships, as well.
This picture has become further complicated in recent years since many people have become more gender-fluid, or have transitioned from their birth gender to a different gender. The labels heterosexual, gay, lesbian, and bisexual all are based on the old-fashioned concept that there are only two genders, male and female, and that whatever gender you are born with is authentic.
Many transgender people are transitioning from male to female, or from female to male, or identify as “gender-queer” because they do not comfortably fit into either the male or female gender. Since sexual orientation has always been based on the gender of your sexual partners, if gender is not a rigid category, labels such as straight and gay become much less meaningful or relevant.
There is no simple definition of bisexuality, and bisexual people are a very diverse group. There are several theories about different models of bisexual behavior. J. R. Little is a psychologist whose extensive research identified at least 13 types of bisexuality, as defined by sexual desires and experiences.
Alternating bisexuals: May have a relationship with a man, and then after that relationship ends, may choose a female partner for a subsequent relationship, and many go back to a male partner in the future.
Circumstantial bisexuals: Primarily heterosexual, but will choose same sex partners only if they have no access to other-sex partners, such as when in jail, in the military, or in a gender-segregated school.
Concurrent relationship bisexuals: Have primary relationship with one gender only but have other casual or secondary relationships with people of another gender at the same time.
Conditional bisexuals: Either straight or gay/lesbian, but will switch to a relationship with another gender for a specific purpose, such as young straight males who become gay prostitutes to make money or lesbians who get married to men in order to gain acceptance from family members or to have children.
Emotional bisexuals: Have intimate emotional relationships with both men and women, but only have sexual relationships with one gender.
Integrated bisexuals: Have more than one primary relationship at the same time, one with a man and one with a woman.
Exploratory bisexuals: Either straight or gay/lesbian, but have sex with another gender just to satisfy curiosity or “see what it’s like.”
Hedonistic bisexuals: Primarily straight or gay/lesbian but will sometimes have recreational sex with a different gender purely for sexual satisfaction.
Recreational bisexuals: Primarily heterosexual, but engage in gay or lesbian sex only when under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
Isolated bisexuals: 100% straight or gay/lesbian now but has had at one or more sexual experience with another gender in the past.
Latent bisexuals: Completely straight or gay lesbian in behavior, but they have strong desire for sex with another gender but have never acted on it.
Motivational bisexuals: Straight women who have sex with other women to please their male partner who requests it for his own titillation.
Transitional bisexuals: Temporarily identify as bisexual while in the process of moving from being straight to being gay or lesbian, or going from being gay or lesbian to being heterosexual.
While literally millions of people are bisexual, most keep their sexual orientation secret, so bisexual people as a group are nearly invisible in society. Gay men and lesbian women have long recognized the need to join together, create community, and to organize politically. Long years of hard work have led to significant gains in political and human rights, as well as a visible and thriving gay and lesbian community. Bisexual people have been much slower to come out of the closet, create community, and form political and social networks to gain visibility and political clout.
Many bisexual people complain that they feel like outsiders in both the straight and gay/lesbian worlds. They don’t fit in anywhere, feeling isolated and confused because they lack any community where they can find acceptance and role models. Many gay men feel that bisexual men are really gay, that they are just in denial about being gay. Many straight men are homophobic and hate and fear both bisexual and gay men, often victimizing them with harassment and physical violence. Many straight women reject bisexual men out of misguided fears that they have HIV or other sexually transmitted infections, and want them to “stop sitting on the fence” and “make up your mind.” Bisexual women are often distrusted by lesbians for “sleeping with the enemy,” hanging onto heterosexual privileges through relationships with men, and betraying their allegiance to women. Straight women often reject bisexual women out of fear they will make sexual overtures and try to “convert” them to being bisexual.
Both the straight and gay/lesbian communities seem to have only two possible models of bisexuality, neither of which represents bisexual people accurately. The first is the “transitional model” of bisexuality, believing that all bisexuals are actually gay or lesbian but are just on the way to eventually coming out as gay. The other is the “pathological model”, that bisexuals are neurotic or mentally unstable because they are in conflict trying to decide whether they are straight or gay/lesbian, and that they just can’t make a decision. Both models see bisexuality as a temporary experience or a “phase” born out of confusion rather than an authentic sexual orientation. Some see bisexuality as inherently subversive because it blurs the boundaries, confronting both heterosexuals and gay men and lesbian women with sexual ambiguity.
As a result, bisexuality challenges concepts of sexuality, traditional relationship and family structures, monogamy, gender, and identity. Bisexuals cannot conform to either the gay or straight world or they would not be bisexual. Instead they must re-invent personal ethics for themselves, and create responsible lifestyles and relationships that serve their needs even though they don’t fit anyone else’s rules.
Bisexual people must struggle to invent their own identities to correspond to their own experience. Forming a bisexual identity helps bisexual people to make sense of and give meaning and definition to their reality.
Kathy’s discussion of bisexuality continues next week in which she will detail the stages of how to create a bisexual identity.
Check out Kathy's new book: Love in Abundance: A Counselor's Guide to Open Relationships