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March 21, 2014 7:17 AM   Subscribe

The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists [New York Times]
How a new breed of activists is using science to show — once and for all — that someone can be truly attracted to both a man and a woman.
posted by Fizz (81 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
In the back seat, Sylla lifted his eyes from his phone and suggested an alternate course. Then he shrugged his shoulders. “We could go either way, really,” he told us. He smiled at me. “Get it? Either way?”

“This is what happens when you’re stuck in a car with bisexual activists,” said Brad S. Kane, who was behind the wheel. “More bisexual-themed puns and plays on words than any human should have to endure.”


I didn't want to click on the link, but I was curious.
posted by three blind mice at 7:21 AM on March 21 [36 favorites]


I tend to think there are very few people in the world who aren't bisexual. cite: Kinsey.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:24 AM on March 21 [8 favorites]


Because trusting people to tell you the truth about their own experiences is just, you know, a complete waste of time.
posted by tzikeh at 7:24 AM on March 21 [59 favorites]


I didn't want to click on the link, but I was curious.

AskMetafilter: I never thought it could happen to me, but...
posted by jquinby at 7:27 AM on March 21 [12 favorites]


arg why is this still necessary
posted by likeatoaster at 7:27 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


If bisexuality doesn't exist it is because binary gender is a meaningless social construct.

*SKIPS AWAY TO THE FLOWER CROWN & HAIR BRAIDING WORKSHOP AT IDYLLIC COUNTRYSIDE QUEER SEPARATIST COMMUNE*
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:31 AM on March 21 [64 favorites]


What if it can't be scientifically proven that pansexual people are "born this way" and perhaps they're choosing to have relationships with people with varied gender identifications? Does that make those relationships any less valid? Does that make their choices any less worthy of support?
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:35 AM on March 21 [60 favorites]


The framing and title of the article are super trolly, but I actually thought the content was a pretty interesting look at the role progressive advocacy groups might potentially be able to play in nudging researchers in non-sketchy ways to expand their perspective and re-examine methods.
posted by threeants at 7:36 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


arg why is this still necessary

Because Dan Savage still has a job?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:37 AM on March 21 [8 favorites]


But sexual orientation is not just about genital arousal.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:37 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


The moderators defined bisexuality as being attracted “to one or more genders.” “Bi means two, except not really,” a moderator said. “Bisexuality was initially defined as being attracted to both men and women, but it’s being reclaimed and expanded. For example, being bisexual can now mean being attracted to women and to feminine-identified trans people.”

The "bi" is what gets me about the term -- it implies that there are just two gender possibilities for everyone else. I like that there is an effort to allow for the many genders that people can and do express, but I still wonder why, in a space where language matters so much, this term hasn't been left behind as outdated.
posted by cubby at 7:42 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I still wonder why, in a space where language matters so much, this term hasn't been left behind as outdated

In the queer spaces I frequent, there's a definite distinction between those who identify as bisexual (only attracted to cis men/women) and those who identify as pansexual (attracted to those of any gender identity and expression).
posted by Dante Riordan at 7:46 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


The term 'pansexual' is weird. It makes me picture someone dryhumping a Williams-Sonoma skillet. As for 'scientific proof' of bisexuality, what exactly do we need beyond our own observations and/or experience?
posted by jonmc at 7:48 AM on March 21 [19 favorites]


*sigh*
posted by redindiaink at 7:51 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I still wonder why, in a space where language matters so much, this term hasn't been left behind as outdated.

For me, it's a political choice. I am attracted to people of all genders, cis or trans or genderqueer (or whatever). I identify as bisexual in straight/vanilla spaces because I want to take a stand against bi-erasure. I identify as pansexual/queer in cis-queer spaces for similar reasons. In trans-friendly queer spaces I just identify as queer.

As always, Erika Moen said it better.
posted by fight or flight at 7:54 AM on March 21 [24 favorites]


The "bi" is what gets me about the term -- it implies that there are just two gender possibilities for everyone else.

What it really implies is that the bisexual person is only attracted to two genders. This is the case for some people.

I've never seen "bisexual" used to mean attracted to women and feminine-identified trans people (but not men) so I'm a little surprised at at that one. I'd call a man involved with an MTF person straight. Am I behind on something? Are we trying to allow for attraction to people with this term, or is it coming from an unfortunate "you have to be a little queer to like a trans person" place?

As for 'scientific proof' of bisexuality, what exactly do we need beyond our own observations and/or experience?

In every day life, we shouldn't need "proof" -- people shouldn't be assholes by accusing us of lying or being deluded. In the scientific realm, however, testing the things you think are true already is part of the process of building up knowledge. Most of us don't set out to test hypotheses unless we already have good reason to believe we'll end up supporting them. For understudied phenomena, this can mean some research projects whose answers seem stupidly obvious.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:55 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


This is one of those places where gender and sex get confused and I'm not sure where to parse it. Are people attracted to gender identity, or to gender presentation, or to bodies themselves? I think the answer is "yes, in varying degrees."

My wife uses the term "bisexual" to describe herself. I present as male but my identity is non-binary. I've never felt left out because of the word.

In fact despite my nonbinary gender identity I still consider myself heterosexual. (Even if I think androgynous people are pretty hot, it's the slightly-off-center femininity that I am attracted to, I think.)

Society looks at the two of us and sees a straight cisgendered couple; our identities are invisible. She's half-jokingly wished for a "I'm a Queer Lokean and I Vote" bumper sticker and I kind of want one that says "Singular They." It's not the sort of thing you usually advertise, especially when you're already in a committed relationship, but we are both annoyed by erasure.
posted by Foosnark at 7:56 AM on March 21 [13 favorites]


As a heterosexual male, I don't "get" homosexuality or bisexuality, but it's in the same vein as the fact that I also don't "get" what heterosexual women really find attractive in heterosexual men. Granted, on some absurd and assuredly, totally off-base platform I "get" lesbianism, but I am aware that all that really is is my own projection.

It's disheartening that any of this needs to be a thing. I mean, why can't we just come to a place, especially with something as personal as sexuality, that if it doesn't hurt anyone that it just is. No matter what my personal opinions are on whatever, or whether I understand it fully or not, I'll take anyone at their word if they classify themselves as anything; asexual, transsexual, bisexual, heterosexual, whatever-sexual. Provided it's two (or more... or hell... even less) mentally competent, consenting adults doing whatever the hell they want to each other without causing harm, what's the big deal?

Whether it's finding a partner to share their lives and love with, or just some dirty, down nasty grinding action, or even more likely, a combination of both, how did we even get here?
posted by Debaser626 at 7:57 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


I've been struggling (well, not really 'struggling' - 'pondering idly over tea') lately with the pansexual vs. bisexual thing. I think if I were figuring out my sexuality at this point in time, with the terminology used today, I'd call myself pansexual. As it is, I've been calling myself bisexual for nearly-20 years, and what I have always meant by it and assumed others understood by it is something a lot closer to what people are now calling pansexual.

I'm having a hard time making the mental shift where my self-identification term of choice has been re-defined out from under me when I wasn't looking, and I can't quite figure out whether to fight for a broader understanding of it, or just shrug and wrap my head around a new term because hey, there's maybe a useful distinction to be made. But when I think of re-explaining my sexuality to all those people I had to explain bisexuality to, to begin with... Ugh. I think maybe I'm too old and cranky to change my terminology for myself at this point, though I'm happy to use whatever terminology other people prefer for them.

There is some good stuff in this article. There is also some junk. And I can't stop laughing at the illustration - as I was commenting to friends, it seems to imply that I just sit around being creepily sniffed Hannibal-Lecter-style by people of all genders, while making sad faces into the mirror.
posted by Stacey at 8:00 AM on March 21 [17 favorites]


Literally not a question for anyone who has been to a community theater after-party.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:04 AM on March 21 [17 favorites]


The term 'pansexual' is weird. It makes me picture someone dryhumping a Williams-Sonoma skillet.

That's not weird, it's just very refined taste.
“This is what happens when you’re stuck in a car with bisexual activists,” said Brad S. Kane, who was behind the wheel. “More bisexual-themed puns and plays on words than any human should have to endure.”
Just like the old days on soc.bi.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:10 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


it seems to imply that I just sit around being creepily sniffed Hannibal-Lecter-style by people of all genders, while making sad faces into the mirror.

Wait. That... doesn't happen to everyone?
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:20 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


The term 'pansexual' is weird. It makes me picture someone dryhumping a Williams-Sonoma skillet.

I always pictured people lusting over half-goat half-men who leap around in the forest playing flutes.

Not saying it isn't a legitimate orientation. Just that I have an unfortunate mental image when I hear the word.
posted by bookish at 8:27 AM on March 21 [20 favorites]


It might just be the queer scene in Pittsburgh that lacks in creepy-cannibal-sniffing rituals, GenjiandProust. As a city, we're usually five or six years behind all pop-culture/lifestyle trends. We've just made the transition from cupcakeries to food trucks. So I count on MeFi to tell me what the rest of the world is doing so I'll know what to expect in five more years. If you tell me it's creepy-bisexual-cannibal-sniffing, I'll have no choice but to believe you.
posted by Stacey at 8:33 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


I think the new trend is bisexual sniffing truckeries, actually.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:35 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]



it seems to imply that I just sit around being creepily sniffed Hannibal-Lecter-style by people of all genders, while making sad faces into the mirror.

Wait. That... doesn't happen to everyone?


no sometimes you're the creepy sniffer.

is that old spice?
posted by The Whelk at 8:40 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


As for 'scientific proof' of bisexuality, what exactly do we need beyond our own observations and/or experience?

Yes, I usually call these sorts of studies "Funded by a Water is Wet Grant from the No Shit, Sherlock Foundation." And of course, for every penny that's spent on a great number of things, there's always a more legitimate need it could easily have been spent on - heck, there are always starving kids somewhere. But, it may end up preventing some kinds of discrimination if some numbers get put down in black and white.

And, yes, of course, those numbers will probably be twisted around by the usual group of idealogues who would quarrel with a man for cracking nuts, having no other reason but because they have hazel eyes.

I suppose, in the sort of world I'd like to make this one into, the results of the study would be valued simply for their insights into the intricacies of how human sexuality works.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:43 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


re: "bi" and "two"

I have seen some bisexual people identify the "bi" in "bisexual" as meaning "same and other," rather than "both."
posted by one of these days at 8:43 AM on March 21 [15 favorites]


It makes me picture someone dryhumping a Williams-Sonoma skillet.

Peter Pan was the favorite son of Ma and Pa Kettle. He had great skillet being saucier than his siblings, but when they found his pot stash, they told him to take a wok.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:51 AM on March 21 [14 favorites]


I'd be surprised to meet anyone calling themselves bisexual who defined it as only being attracted to cis men and women. Only attracted to cis-passing* or like, cis-normative-bodied (so post-genital-surgery in most cases; women with vaginas and men with penises) and fairly binary-gender-presenting trans people as opposed to genderqueer/agender/etc folks, sure. Otherwise that's not a distinction it's even possible to make in a great number of cases.

But then having said that, almost all the people I know who call themselves bisexual certainly don't apply any strict gender-normativity or genital/gender-expression matching in practice (I'd typically expect someone who IDs as bi to be into penises or vaginas whether they belong to women or men or anyone else) so I think for the vast majority of people it's just kind of a legacy term that's still useful mainly because it's familiar and more widely recognised, but that it's functionally synonymous with pansexual.

*ugh I hate using the term 'passing' for anything - it sounds like I'm implying intentional deception, for one thing, which I'm emphatically not - but we're sort of stuck with it. What I mean is 'falling close enough to the accepted standard for what a woman or man's body is 'supposed' to look like that one is not typically identified as trans by others unless one chooses to be', and that's still kind of a fucked-up thing to have to say, but there you go.
posted by emmtee at 8:51 AM on March 21 [8 favorites]


... who would quarrel with a man for cracking nuts ...

I would not quarrel with this man. I would say "OW GET OFF MY NUTS!"
posted by octobersurprise at 8:51 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


I am really appreciating all of the new ways to think about what "bi-" means that I am learning in this thread!
posted by cubby at 8:52 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


A favorite past NYT headline: No Surprise for Bisexual Men - Report Indicates They Exist

Reading stuff like this, though, always surprises me with how far we haven't come. The New York Times "picked" a comment that basically reads "I'm a lesbian and I don't date bisexual women because they will leave you for a man," for crying out loud. It just doesn't seem that tough to understand: some people are attracted to people of their own sex, some people are attracted to people of other sexes, some people are attracted to both.

Then again, I might just be biased.
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 8:52 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


A friend has a FTM trans son who recently introduced her to his girlfriend. Always supportive, she occasionally gets confused and asked me, "I'm not sure--he hasn't had surgery. Is his girlfriend straight or gay?" and I could only answer, "they just sound like people who maybe need each other." It was the only answer I could give.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:54 AM on March 21 [13 favorites]


It's disheartening that any of this needs to be a thing.

I'll stop identifying as bi when people stop responding with "oh, doesn't that mean you're just greedy?" and grinning like they want me to laugh at the joke they just made.
posted by fight or flight at 9:04 AM on March 21 [8 favorites]


I like the term "omnivorous" myself.
posted by The Blue Olly at 9:18 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


If people say they are sexually attracted to two (or more!) genders, and they actively live that way, and they are happy, I fail to see any uncertainty. There is clearly a genetic component to sexuality as well as a huge cultural component, and when you mix those together you get people's sexual performances. The more ways people have to express that, the better.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:28 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Just out of curiosity, is "pansexual" taken literally in practice? For instance, would someone who is attracted to several genders but not attracted to cis-men cause misunderstanding if they described themself that way?
posted by invitapriore at 10:07 AM on March 21


I self-identify as bisexual for pretty much the same reason I self-identify as vegan; it's not exactly correct, but it's close enough that most people basically understand what I'm talking about.

Interestingly enough, I and a number of people I know who identify as bisexual often find themselves attracted to other people who identify as bisexual, even if they do not know this fact when they first become attracted.

We are bisexualsexual.
posted by kyrademon at 10:08 AM on March 21 [15 favorites]


I just wish it was more ok for men to talk about it. I've had a few guy friends say, "Well, I'm not gay, but if I was, that guy over there would totally do it for me."

Translation: "That guy over there totally does it for me but I'm not allowed to risk my predominantly heterosexual stance by admitting it."

I wish the default view was that we are all on a spectrum, instead of the either/or it is now.

Maybe people think that bi means you are equally attracted to men and women. I don't think so. If you're a hetero guy, are you attracted to all women? No. There's some you feel tingly about, and most you don't. So if you're 90% hetero but you're a picky SOB who's only interested in 1% of people you meet, well, do some math and you realize you won't cross paths with a dude you're attracted to for years at a time. When that happens it's confusing since you think 'the norm' is that you're only attracted to women.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:09 AM on March 21 [9 favorites]


Labels are hard. Seen on Tumblr a bit back: something about what you should call yourself if you're only not attracted to cis men. Suggested: "nobrosexual".

But there's a weird level of judgment in some of those communities--it does seem like there's a certain pressure, if you've identified that the gender binary is invalid, that you should also find absolutely all types of bodies attractive, and you know what? I totally can have sex with cis men. I have. I spent long enough trying to be straight. But there was never an actual attraction, never a spark, never a drive. But DMAB nonbinary, I think I could go for. I don't know why that is, it just is. But I don't feel like "DFAB agender person attracted to women and nonbinary people and some trans men" is really what the bisexual label works for. There's an assumption that bisexual at least includes both types of cis people, I think. I mean, potentially more, but at least that.

"Bisexuality" kind of implies a level of simplicity about gender that's probably a bit much, but it works for a lot of people, so, hey, great for them. It's just a label, and labels are hard.
posted by Sequence at 10:15 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


Hmm. I'm not sure I agree with the idea that everyone is "secretly" bisexual.

I absolutely agree that sexuality is a spectrum, not a binary (or maybe a sort of venn diagram, or a fuzzy cloud). But I think that saying something like "oh, you're bi, you just haven't met the right man/woman yet" to a straight person is as damaging as saying to a queer person "oh, you're straight, you just haven't met the right man/woman yet". It's a shame that this stuff is still so taboo, but you also have to accept that if you want to promote equality, you have to deal with the idea that some people are straight.
posted by fight or flight at 10:16 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


This is not a question subject to falsification, and therefore cannot be answered "scientifically."
posted by Ironmouth at 10:30 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


Is there a term for a spectrum that's heavily weighted to the extremes? A reverse bell-curve?

Because that's probably the case for both orientation and gender. If the specturm is 1-7, say (made up number here) 80% are 1 and 7.
posted by spaltavian at 10:32 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Every serious gf I've ever had in my life was absolutely, unequivocally bisexual (even though some didn't describe themselves that way, there was simply no doubt in their (nor my) mind that they were attracted to females as well as males. Most of them didn't think they needed to choose up sides or anything--it's just what they liked.

I remember one of them showing up one day with a sticker on that said "Another bisexual for equal rights" (or somesuch), and I said something like "Huh, I knew you also liked girls too, but I guess I didn't realize that you thought of yourself as bisexual." And she said "Yeah, they were giving these out, and had different kinds of stickers...but 'another straight person for equal rights' not only didn't seem quite right...it seemed really boring..."

Anyway, most bisexuals I've known haven't obsessed over labels in the way that people do, say, on Tumblr and similar places.

But...: there's no way that 'bisexual' means "attracted to one or more genders." (As claimed in the link.) Ignoring the point that it's really about sex, not gender: the term might be expanded to mean *two or more*... but no way it means *one or more.* And jeez, you'd think that people who spend so much time obsessing about language would know better... They should just introduce another term (e.g. 'pansexual', as is common) but it's silly to try to re-define 'bisexual.' It means what it says, and it says it clearly: attracted to both sexes. There's nothing wrong with introducing a new term, but there *is* something wrong with decreasing the precision of the terms by trying to make an established term with a clear, literal meaning do something it's no good for.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 10:33 AM on March 21


Is there a term for a specturm that's heavily weighted to the extremes? A reverse bell-curve?

'bi-modal' is close.

(har har...didn't even initially notice that there a joke there...)
posted by Fists O'Fury at 10:34 AM on March 21 [7 favorites]


The fuzzy cloud of sexuality comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
posted by The Whelk at 10:36 AM on March 21 [16 favorites]


It's really not such a strange thing to want to be able to prove something. If, for example, heterosexual females have reliable neural or bodily reactions to being in the presence of someone to whom they are attracted, that suggests a "hardware" mechanism for it. The presence or absence of a similar indicator in people who identify differently might shed light on the very nature of the spectrum of sexuality.

No one is out to prove that bisexuals are all just faking it or something. If the actual conscious and physiological phenomenon of sexual attraction can be reliably measured, and it looks like in many cases it can, then why not use that to investigate — and if it doesn't work the same for some people, that's a discovery in itself.

I'm curious why some of the people here think this is a question that can't be answered scientifically. Maybe it's a difficult and subtle question, but why should it be impossible?
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:39 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


but it's silly to try to re-define 'bisexual'.

Funny thing about language: you can do whatever the fuck you want with it. People can define or re-define these things if/however they need to.
posted by fight or flight at 10:40 AM on March 21


     "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
     "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
     "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."
posted by octobersurprise at 10:57 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I was ready to snark at this because I was expecting more bad science reporting, along the lines of 'shocking new scientific discovery proves it actually gets dark at night'. But the article is actually pretty excellent, and the AIB does seem to be funding some interesting research in human sexuality. Funding availability does make a lot of difference in the kinds of questions researchers can get answers to.
posted by nangar at 11:34 AM on March 21


In the queer spaces I frequent, there's a definite distinction between those who identify as bisexual (only attracted to cis men/women) and those who identify as pansexual (attracted to those of any gender identity and expression).

but you can't generalise. Some people may identify as bisexual simply because that was the word in currency when they came out, and they may not even identify as cis or find themselves attracted only to cis people.

As for Dan Savage - he's changed and grown in the past few years. Have you?

I have encountered - not phobia, but weirdness - from people when I come out as bi to them. Actually, just from a couple of gay people who couldn't comprehend a monogamous bisexual person. But they weren't mean about - just confused.

But as for bisexuality existing - given that biology tends to prefer spectrums to binaries, it makes more logical sense that sexual attraction is itself a spectrum rather than a binary. But most people in the world aren't bi - most are straight, or straight enough it makes no difference. Last survey I heard pegged about 3% of the US population as LG or B, about half of whom were B. (About 2/3 of non-straight women identified as B, whereas it was about 1/3 of non-straight men who identified as B).

nb numbers all subject to faulty human memory.
posted by jb at 11:38 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I was really bothered by the end of the article.

Szymanski told me about two female friends of theirs who only dated men until meeting each other late in life. “They’re pretty militant about their lesbianism now,” Szymanski said, “but I’ll ask them, ‘Did you have really great sex with guys?’ They nod. ‘Did you have orgasms?’ They nod. ‘Could you still have them?’ They nod. But they insist that they’re lesbians, because, I think, they’re convinced it’s in their best interest to identify that way.”

“Another case of bisexual invisibility,” Sylla said.

“Yes, and it’s strange to me,” Szymanski added. “Because wouldn’t their behavior suggest something different? Wouldn’t it suggest that they’re actually, you know, bisexual?”


These are bisexual activists who are fighting for people's rights to identify as bisexual. Great, and thanks for your service. It's a necessary battle. But why are they denying those two women's right to identify as lesbians?

One of the earlier points in the article is that part of the friction between gay activists and bisexuals is that gay activists sometimes assert that bisexuals are really just gay, but are hedging their bets either to get laid more or to retain some tiny bit of heterosexual privilege. (That's not exactly how the article puts it, but that's how I'd paraphrase that particular argument, having been in the gay community for 20-odd years.) So it's kind of hypocritical for the bisexuals to say, no really, these women are just deluding themselves because after all, they HAVE had orgasms with men.

What rings truest for me personally was this quote:
“Sure, sexual orientation is partly about our response to visual stimuli,” Robyn Ochs told me. “But it’s about other sensory inputs too. And it’s about our emotional response."
If you put me in front of a pupil response reader and showed me various smutty videos, you'd probably get a reaction from me on heterosexual or gay-male encounters, because hey, sexy people having sexy sex! I am not personally attracted to men, though. And that isn't purely physical -- it's largely emotional. How a person identifies with regard to their sexuality doesn't and shouldn't come down to inclusion (or exclusion) of all the possible things that could possibly arouse them. Emotional arousal, for lack of a better word, comes very strongly into play too. That's the problem with the labels -- because they have the word 'sexual' in them, it's too easy to contextualize questions of a person's identity solely within the framework of sex.

In conclusion, as was stated earlier in this thread, just let people tell you who they are. Things are much simpler that way.

Disclaimer: Although I identify as gay, I wholly accept that others identify as bi- or pan-sexual. The above statement is my personal reaction to the article based on how I identify, and is not meant to be an assertion that there is only one truth and it is mine. Thank you, and have a nice day.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:45 AM on March 21 [8 favorites]


I wish the default view was that we are all on a spectrum, instead of the either/or it is now.

Or that we were on two spectra: one for whom we were attracted to, and the other for the degree to which we were attracted to anybody at all. It would be great if the man who wants to have a lot of sex with men and women, the woman who wants to have a little sex with just women, the woman who wants to have a medium amount of sex with people of all gender expressions, the man who doesn't want to have sex with anyone at all, and the woman who wants to have sex twice a day with only men could just all sit down and hang out together without any of them feeling like The Scary Other.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:57 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


> This is not a question subject to falsification, and therefore cannot be answered "scientifically."

An assertion that bi people do not exist would be falsified by the existence of bi people that the theory says do not exist. Since a fairly large number of bi people do actually exist, that assertion is obviously false. That's what falsification means.
posted by nangar at 12:06 PM on March 21 [3 favorites]


This whole discussion is so frustrating to me. Why can't people just be who they are? I have several relatives who I could talk about, but that's not fair so:

It took me 20 years of being together and 14 years of marriage to come out to my wife that I have feelings and ideas that she might not have known about and now our marriage is stronger than ever because of it. She understands me better and I have fewer (but not zero) noises in my head constantly.

I am very loyal to my marriage and I won't do anything to jeopardize it. I love her and I am very attracted to her (more and more as we get older which I do see many people have trouble with) but I am also attracted to people of other types and she can respect that while trusting me to be honest.

I wish it was less hard for people to be honest and real with their feelings and desires. I wish I could have said things 10 years ago that I only recently have. I wish I would have realized my amazing partner would still accept me after I did because my actions were what mattered and that's the agreement we have in this marriage.

The whole issue of "spectrum" and "pansexual" are not a problem for me, but I think there is too much labeling and that's why it was so hard for me for many years to just step up and say what was on my mind. Now that I have, my soul is a lot happier and my brain is a lot calmer. And guess what - my wife understands me better and is actually happy that I have said what's on my mind and that I've stopped being so weird. She stands with me. I'm quite lucky.

There doesn't need to be a spectrum. There needs to be people treating each other properly and with respect. I have been very lucky to find that in my life and I wish we all could. I really hope to see a day when that happens, but I'm not holding my breath.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 12:53 PM on March 21 [4 favorites]


This is not a question subject to falsification, and therefore cannot be answered "scientifically."

An assertion that bi people do not exist would be falsified by the existence of bi people that the theory says do not exist. Since a fairly large number of bi people do actually exist, that assertion is obviously false. That's what falsification means.


I do not understand the idea that there are "gay" and "straight" and "bi" people, so how could it be false that they exist? How could you prove that a person "is" heterosexual beyond their actual behavior? This isn't a measureable thing like height and weight. It is therefore not falisifiable.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:39 PM on March 21


Well, the question seems to have been defined by the post and in fact by most of society as "which people do you have sexual attraction towards". Now, I'm sure there are some people for whom that changes, but for most people it's pretty steady throughout their adult lives. Whether their methods for judging attraction are good or not are certainly debatable, but even if it's not your personal definition, most people don't think you actually have to have had sex with someone of the opposite sex to be straight, and so on.
posted by Sequence at 1:51 PM on March 21


I just wish it was more ok for men to talk about it. I've had a few guy friends say, "Well, I'm not gay, but if I was, that guy over there would totally do it for me."

Translation: "That guy over there totally does it for me but I'm not allowed to risk my predominantly heterosexual stance by admitting it."


It's pretty unlikely they meant that. Don't read too much into admiration.
posted by michaelh at 2:05 PM on March 21


Ironmouth: "This is not a question subject to falsification, and therefore cannot be answered "scientifically."

An assertion that bi people do not exist would be falsified by the existence of bi people that the theory says do not exist. Since a fairly large number of bi people do actually exist, that assertion is obviously false. That's what falsification means.


I do not understand the idea that there are "gay" and "straight" and "bi" people, so how could it be false that they exist? How could you prove that a person "is" heterosexual beyond their actual behavior? This isn't a measureable thing like height and weight. It is therefore not falisifiable.
"

If the classification is what you object to, I don't see anything here suggesting a taxonomy as rigid as the one you're assuming. If it's the use of arousal as a proxy measure for orientation, then we could imagine reported attraction to a given gender as just one possible alternative datum. There are certainly challenges involved in using self-reports as evidence, but there's a good amount of literature dealing with the extent to which it can be trusted and with proposing methods for conducting rigorous experiments on top of self-reported data. You have to have a pretty cargo-cult understanding of "science" to think that this is an inherently undecidable line of inquiry.
posted by invitapriore at 2:12 PM on March 21


I had a conversation with a younger cis guy who bluntly explained to me that he identified as bisexual rather than pansexual because he was only attracted to cis men and cis women, whereas pansexual people included trans* people in their attractions. He also asserted he was born that way, with an attraction to men with penises and women with vaginas, so there was no reason for trans* people to feel disrespected.

I resisted an observe-a-trainwreck urge to probe this further and unpack the assumptions in this guy's statements, but yuuuuuck. . .

I've been around for a while, and was there for the "bisexual wars" of the 1980s, when organizations were all called "gay and lesbian," and people in them were forthrightly titling bi-identified people as traitors to the cause. Among other arguments, they asserted that we would confuse straight people and the media about the immutability of sexual orientation, and that expecting people to use the phrase, "lesbian, gay and bisexual" was ridiculous, since it was such a mouthful.

In the years since fighting that battle for bi inclusion, I've moved on to identifying as pansexual mostly because as someone who is intersex by birth, sexuality defined by a binary term really seemed off-base for me. My general take on why people identified as "bisexual" rather than "pansexual" was that it was generational, as Stacey mentions above. I personally felt that "pansexual" was the more progressive term, but whatever, no big.

But now that I am aware that there is some subsection of the population out there using "bisexual" to mean "like pansexual, only with bonus transphobia," I've been feeling somewhat more cautious around people who term themselves bi. And in talking with people about what being bi-identified means to them, I've now also been, well, not exactly attacked over using the term pansexual, but told sternly by several bi activists that I was doing the community a disservice by using the term pansexual, because it would confuse straight people and the media, who were finally getting familiar with the acronym LGBT, and adding more letters or using different terms made the community look incoherent and nutty. Which, recalling the "bisexual wars" of the past, I found very ironic.

I'm not trying to diss people who identify as bi here. People should self-identify with the terms that feel right to them. I just thought I'd raise some personal experiences that have made me feel less safe around a term I myself used to use, back in the day.
posted by DrMew at 2:58 PM on March 21 [6 favorites]


Hrm. I am confused (AND bisexual). I know of the Kinsey scale, and I know of several other scales that can be used to "identify" a persons sexual orientation, however, to a greater degree, I have found that the quantifiable "label" of such is like ordering a fancy coffee at Starbucks (decaf half soy no foam with 2 splenda, etc, etc).

For example, there are gay men who will not allow themselves to be penetrated. There are women who also do not do any kind of penetration for their sexual interactions. There are women who only penetrate others (male or female presenting), there are hetero/straight men who only want to be penetrated. There are people who only have "relationships" with one sex, but have sex with the other. There are people who don't have sex at all, but only have relationships with one particular configuration of other people (who may or may not have sex). It gets really, really, really complicated, very quickly, as you can keep adding more and more variables, solely based upon one aspect of an individuals physical configuration or mental/emotional attachment. I have even met some people who will not have sex with someone if there is any kind of emotional attraction, and some people who will only have sex with someone if there is a strong emotional attachment (and that scale goes all over the place).

I also wonder if, as people have been mentioning "pansexual, just no cis-het-males", if there would be a way to describe a sexual orientation by what you are not attracted to, rather than what you are attracted to.

Also, also, is this a fixed value? Can this not change over time, with the plasticity of the brain still being studied, I do wonder if the configurations of neurons that may (or may not) determine what is and isn't sexual stimulating to someone does not change over time, or possibly certain things become more prominent while others recede.

I have dated "lesbians" (I am male), but the attraction, as stated by said lesbians was because I didn't look at them like a piece of meat, and they enjoyed my company (I also did not have sex with them, just shared a bed for a while, anyway, probably TMI). I have also gone out on "dates" with gay men, but once again, it was really much more of a sapeo-sexual relationship, and no sex was involved (much, I learned later, to the disappointment of the other party).

I do think that many times people get way too hung up on the labels, and the associated baggage of those labels, instead of realizing at best those labels shove you into a category in other peoples minds (whether it be "like them" or "not like them") and sometimes you just have to deal with the consequences of other peoples opinions, and that sucks sometimes.

I honestly think the main problem is that some people (whether activists or reactionaries) want to tell other people that the CAN'T be who they are and have to conform to some category or social model that the accuser wants to define. And that is never a good thing.
posted by daq at 3:09 PM on March 21 [4 favorites]


DrMew: I know lots of people who identify as bi who AREN'T transphobic. Some of them are trans*. Some of them are in relationships with trans* people.

I've thought that bi and trans* people really do have things in common - both of us challenge simple gender binaries. We're allies, not enemies.

I identify as bi because that was the word way back when, and because "pansexual" reminds me too much of James Marsters' character from Torchwood oogling a poodle. I'm pretty prejudiced - I'm only attracted to people.
posted by jb at 3:23 PM on March 21 [5 favorites]


As for people who have experience sexual attraction to more than one sex/gender, but identify as gay/lesbian/straight -- that's a choice to identify that way, and as valid as any other identity. I do wish that the bisexual identity becomes/stays as a legitimate and accepted choice in the queer community.

That said, it's annoying if other people round you off - if you're with the opposite sex currently, you must be straight. Doesn't work that way, nor should anyone have to "prove" bisexuality through practice. Virgins can be bisexual.
posted by jb at 3:28 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]


That said, it's annoying if other people round you off - if you're with the opposite sex currently, you must be straight. Doesn't work that way, nor should anyone have to "prove" bisexuality through practice. Virgins can be bisexual.

I totally understand this. I'm female, and in a long term monogamous relationship with a man that I expect to last for the rest of my life. My only other relationship has been with a guy.

I grew up not even knowing that bisexuality existed, not until I hit high school at least. It was really damn confusing for me--I rounded myself off as straight for years.
posted by inertia at 4:15 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I identify as bi mostly as a big old middle finger to bisexual erasure in all forms. The idea that there was no such thing as what I appeared to be, told to me by straights and gays, messed up my head something fierce when I was a teenager particularly. So although bi, I could technically be pan or what-have-you.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 4:42 PM on March 21 [3 favorites]


It's gotten to the point where I've been aggressive about it a few times.

"Oh, so you're bisexual?"

And suddenly I'm valerie solanas and waving around a gun
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 4:45 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]


jb: "DrMew: I know lots of people who identify as bi who AREN'T transphobic. Some of them are trans*. Some of them are in relationships with trans* people."

The issue isn't that people identifying as bi are all transphobic, but that transphobic people are trying to retcon transphobia into bisexuality, which is a bit worrying for everyone else (where 'everyone' is, uh, bi and trans people). Is the use of pan instead of bi backfiring? Perhaps.
posted by hoyland at 7:30 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]


But now that I am aware that there is some subsection of the population out there using "bisexual" to mean "like pansexual, only with bonus transphobia,"

So was there more than just the one guy, or are you stereotyping?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:48 PM on March 21


The New York Times summarized the study’s findings with a headline that read: “Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited.” “It was so disheartening,” recalled Ellyn Ruthstrom, the president of the Bisexual Resource Center in Boston. “It was this terrible moment where we all wondered, Do we really have to keep debating whether bisexuality exists? It fed into so many of the stereotypes that people believe about bisexuality — that bisexual people are lying to ourselves or to others, that we’re confused, that we can’t be trusted.”

It takes some sort of...something...to quote this, and yet still go with the headline "The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists." Umm, thanks, NYTimes, for making the GIANT leap from "lying" to "imaginary," that's real grand.
posted by desuetude at 8:13 PM on March 21


It's a good thing for friends of mine that they came out as bi long before they knew a debate raged as to the definition of "bi." But they hate labels now, so it doesn't matter.
posted by datawrangler at 8:17 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]



If the actual conscious and physiological phenomenon of sexual attraction can be reliably measured, and it looks like in many cases it can, then why not use that to investigate — and if it doesn't work the same for some people, that's a discovery in itself.

I guess just I don't believe that you can objectively measure sexual or romantic attraction, because there are literally too many variables and as scientists we don't understand the human mind (yet). Bodies do things, okay, but that doesn't tell you much of anything in a hell of a lot of cases. It tells you zero about romantic attraction, it tells you zero about the person whose kinks that aren't coming into play, it tells you zero about the subtleties of tastes and personal chemistry. I'm sure there are some people who have a perfect genital-response-to-lived-experience overlap, but do we really think it's most people? Last I heard, they weren't even sure whether female-bodied folks' so-called "arousal response" correlated with actual arousal.

I mean, I'm hesitant to say that scientific research shouldn't be done, but this faces the recurrent problem of baggage-laden subjects: preliminary and qualified results are wildly overstated and overexposed.


But that said, I really really loved the bit at the end that came off like a well-meaning but slightly befuddled old-timer facing down the barrel of rapid social change. Kids today??! Don't care?! NO LABELS?! GenderQUeeR?!
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:58 PM on March 21


I do not understand the idea that there are "gay" and "straight" and "bi" people, so how could it be false that they exist? How could you prove that a person "is" heterosexual beyond their actual behavior? This isn't a measureable thing like height and weight. It is therefore not falisifiable.

Behavior is, in fact, what they are measuring. They go on to describe the various ways that they are measuring human behaviors in the linked article, if you're curious.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:20 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Labels are useful. Have you ever tried to find something in a filing cabinet or archive without labels? It's terrible.
posted by jb at 9:33 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I've said this before, but isn't it kind of late in the game to still follow the Naturalistic Fallacy?
posted by signal at 4:33 AM on March 22


Labels annoy me. I understand the utility of them. And I think that if we couldn't name things, we'd be kinda screwed in everyday life. "Can you pass me the, uh, receptacle for the stuff that comes from the living being that stands in the large outside area and makes a noise like 'moooo'?" It's so much easier to just say "milk" and have done with it. The problem is the fact that people will often assume "cow" when you say "milk", and forget about sheep/goat/camel/soy/almond, etc. Occasionally, you'll find someone who is aware of the many more choices behind the word "milk", and that's where the confusion starts. Both people are using the same label to describe same-ish things, but one person is using the label to describe a much larger range of behaviours/options. By their nature, labels are exclusionary but they're also inclusionary. I'd suggest that cow milk is included in most all definitions of "milk". With regards to the term "bisexual", most people are going to jump to the conclusion of 'attracted to cismen and ciswomen', even if they don't use the term 'cis', just because cis is still widely presented as the only option.

I think that fight or flight makes a good point, too. Self identification is such a difficult thing, even for the person who is actively experiencing attraction. Presuming to label someone else is really really presumptuous, I think, and quite possibly damaging. I remember coming out to someone as gay (I identified as Kinsey 6 loooong before I identified as Kinsey 5) and the first words out of their mouth were "No, you're not". I had an instant withdrawing sensation, mentally and physically. It really hurt to be told that my actual experiences were not the case. I think QUILTBAG individuals are more vulnerable in this regard, since we're not really surrounded by lots and lots of images of people who are like us being happy and whatever. I can't say for sure, obviously.

Regarding the Kinsey 6/Kinsey 5 thing, my personal understanding of the label pansexual is the closest thing to that which I am. I'm apparently mostly attracted to the way a person looks, with their gender coming in way way behind that. By sheer virtue of numbers, cismen top the charts, with everyone else of varying physical conformations and genders or lack thereof making up the remainder. The first thing I see when I look at someone is they way they present. Unless they're naked, of course. Their gender isn't very often apparent, and while I don't want to denigrate those individuals whose gender is important, their gender is often not important to me. If a person is hot, then they're hot, whether they're trans*, cis, a, omni, fluid, etc etc.

To me, the term bisexual has cis overtones, whereas pan is a much more all-encompassing term. Obviously, this is not the same for everyone, but then we're back to the milk analogy. I grew up back in the days when there was very very little visibility of trans* individuals, at which age I came across the term bisexual. It was very specifically a "gender presenting" thing - someone was either male or female, with the presumption of them being cisgender, and that someone was attracted to other such cisgender people. The idea that someone could be AMAB but have their gender be woman just wasn't even considered. Pansexual is something that I came across later, along with concepts like being agender or omnisexual. Bisexual was always inculcated with cis. I'm not saying that this is right - obviously it wasn't. It's just something that I would have continued to accept if not for this thread.

Another (to me) interesting this is that someone will say "you can't be Xsexual" because you haven't had a sexual encounter with a {type of individual}.

Something that interests me is that I'm predominantly attracted to (and I hate using this term, but it's the only one I can think of that works) masculine individuals, AMAB or AFAB. I'm also attracted to (again, hate the word) feminine AFAB individuals. My attractions to AMAB people seems much more crystallised. To use a Firefly analogy (because the world needs more Firefly), both Zoe and Inara are attractive to me. Yet only Jayne attracted me out of the guys. (Please excuse my assumptions of gender, here).

Part of me thinks that it would be nice to have some more terms for gender, physical bits-and-bobs, orientation, etc. Most people take me for a cis man, which is understandable because that's what I look like. But that's not what I feel like, inside. Most of the words we have seem to be prefixes for -man or -woman. If I identify as agender, then that's my gender. I wouldn't identify as "aman" on a form. Or as "an agender". I don't know what the word I need is, and it would be nice to have one. But then again, having more words and labels means cutting people out, those who don't fit under that label.

TL;DR, labels are hard.

~~~

Talking about this stuff is difficult for me, and I'm not always 100% sure whether a term is the correct one to use of if I'm using it in the correct way. If I've offended anyone, I apologise.
posted by A Puppet made from a Sock at 6:28 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


The "bi" is what gets me about the term -- it implies that there are just two gender possibilities for everyone else. I like that there is an effort to allow for the many genders that people can and do express, but I still wonder why, in a space where language matters so much, this term hasn't been left behind as outdated.

1. Because anti-bisexual prejudice still exists.

2. Because identities are not essentialist or mutually exclusive. They're descriptions. I'm bisexual in that I'm the target of anti-bisexual prejudice. I'm equally pansexual, omnisexual, and queer in that my sexuality is anti-essentialist, fluid, and non-binary. I fight for inclusive definitions of bisexuality (The 1990 Bisexual Manifesto, published in Anything that Moves and Bi Any Other Name) where that is the language spoken. I use other terms to describe myself where that language is understood.

3. And because the bi community has a multi-generational history of talking about non-binary gender, sexuality, and spirituality. One of the things I refuse to compromise on is the rights of queer communities to define themselves culturally without consideration for the purity of psychological or political theory. If you want to argue about the definition of bisexuality, you need to get into a dialogue with people who identify as bisexual. Activists like Ochs and Ka'ahumanu, the soc.bi faq, the Bisexual Resource Center, two manifestos, and multiple anthologies.

4. And because the latent essentialism, ignorance of history and culture, more-progressive-than-thou attitude, anti-bisexual prejudice, and even tacit transphobia expressed by a emerging generation of advocates for "pansexual" really pisses me off.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:15 AM on March 22 [8 favorites]


I am not a queer theory person; most of my "trying to understand & promote understanding and support for queerness" energy gets spend on things like having a prison penpal through a transformative justice program, encouraging safe places for absolutely anyone who chooses to to express their femininity, going to readings and events, spending money on my friend's genderqueer clothing label....I'm an active person, who generally is at least a little drunk, I'm not the deepest thinker.

I did make a conscious choice for pansexual as a better term for myself (rather than bisexual, which I used for a long time) because my personality identity and gender expressing is hella fluid (the only time my work was featured on the blue was an imperfect article I wrote about genderqueerdom). I have BOY / GIRL tattooed above my knees, I've been fantasizing about being the "boy" in the relationship since I hit puberty, gender dysphoria is an intermittent cloud that drifts and changes and occassionally blots out the sun....calling myself bisexual felt like a lie, even if it meant "same" and "different," because I didn't feel any different.

It doesn't bother me at all if people use bisexual, and I'll roll my eyes and use it when I'm on OKC (which hopefully NEVER AGAIN), and I totally get how pansexual sounds stupid as hell and like I make crystal necklaces on leather thongs that are supposed to improve your orgasms to sell at the local feminist bookshop. I can totally see a million reasons to use bisexual that aren't transphobic. You do you, boos.
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:53 PM on March 22 [4 favorites]


I'm just glad we are talking about it.
posted by Mike Mongo at 8:48 PM on March 22


I've never heard of any actual bisexuals claiming that bisexuality means cis-only, that sounds crazy to me, and quite opposite of my own anecdotal experience, wherein bisexuals tend to be more comfortable dating trans*, genderqueer, or intersex people -- because it doesn't require any juggling of our orientation-identity.

Sure, one hand, the term "bisexual" does literally refer to gender in a binary sense. On the other hand, for example, it wouldn't occur to me to exclude trans* men and women by definition, since they're...men and women. Echoing the concern by Kutsuwamushi: "is it coming from an unfortunate "you have to be a little queer to like a trans person" place?" Because that's not cool as far as I'm concerned either.

Not that I have any argument "pansexual" as a term of identification; I think folks should go with whatever resonates with them, but terms can and do overlap without being discrete categories.
posted by desuetude at 10:59 AM on March 24


Almost all of the language we use to talk about sexuality refers to gender in a binary sense, largely because it comes from the eras of Kinsey and Freud ("pansexualism" comes from Fruedian psychology and means something quite different from the contemporary identity). And there's a bit of a double-standard in that bisexual people are the apparently only ones who get identity-checked as "really pansexual."

Other reactions: Is Bisexual Identity a Useful Fiction? @slate.com, a really ugly article.

The Journalistic Quest to Write An Accurate Story About Bisexuality @autostradle.com, a better analysis.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:34 AM on March 24 [2 favorites]


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