I’m a big Dan Savage fan, but every time he opens his mouth/picks up his pen on the subject of bisexuality, I love him a little bit less. His contribution to Bi The Way is a good example of this, and I’d post a response to his comments here if I could find a transcript of them. My roommate pointed me to this week’s Savage Love column, with which I also have issues. And this is the point where I thank all of you for giving me an audience and prompting me to actually write and send letters like this. I used to be the sort of person who thought “I should write a letter to the editor!”, but never actually got around to doing so. Now I seem to be the sort of person who actually does so, and then posts it in her blog (when writing about the Tangowire kerfuffle, I found myself typing “I’ve just emailed him to tell him so” and thinking “Well, I had better go do that before I post this” — and I did). So:
I want to start by saying that I love your column. I’m a regular reader, and I’m deeply grateful that someone is out there telling straight boys they can’t go from anal to vaginal sex without pausing to change the condom, and reassuring people that their fetishes aren’t hurting anyone (when they aren’t). I appreciate the way you work in political issues like AIDS awareness and hypocritical Republicans. So I’m not writing to you to rant about how evil you are and what terrible advice you give, but I have some concerns about your recent advice to A Concerned Kousin.
I was surprised you never took on the assertion that everyone who meets the man thinks he’s gay, and gay men think he’s handsome. Neither of these things actually means anything in terms of his actual sexuality, after all. There are plenty of masculine, “straight-appearing” gay men, and plenty of effeminate or otherwise “gay-seeming” men who really dig chicks. And in dismissing the idea that “playing for the other team” in college could have been “just a phase,” you didn’t consider the possibility that the man is bisexual, not as a phase but as a stable identity — maybe he wasn’t just experimenting when he slept with men in college, but he also loves and desires his fiancee. It does happen. You suggest that his fiancee might have seen him sucking cock and liked it, and I agree that it’s possible she’s really into the boy-on-boy action, but that doesn’t mean she’s not getting plenty of action from him herself. The evidence, after all, is that he “seems” gay, had sex with men in college, and is engaged to a woman. If someone told me those facts — and no others — about a man, my first thought would be that he’s probably bisexual. It seems at least as likely as the theory that he’s lying to everyone who cares about him.
I was also surprised to see you quoting “legit scientific research” with no skepticism, as if science hasn’t historically been used against minorities, and as if there aren’t several points at which public understanding of scientific research can break down – the study can be poorly done or the scientists can be biased or otherwise misinterpret the results, and even when these things don’t happen the media usually reports it in the most sensational way possible, regardless of whether that reflects the actual findings. In the case of the study you mentioned, what the research showed is that a small group of bisexual-identified men tended to show greater genital arousal when watching either straight porn or gay porn, but few or none of them were genitally aroused the same amount by both types. This hardly proves that male bisexuality doesn’t exist. The sample was tiny; genital arousal in response to visual stimuli is not the only factor involved in sexual attraction; and the differing sensibilities and aesthetics in gay and straight porn could influence whether someone is aroused by them as much as the bodies involved do. And after all, the men involved in the study claimed to be aroused by both types of porn – wouldn’t they be in a position to know? Haven’t you ever, once in your life, felt aroused without getting a measurable erection? I’ve never had a penis that was part of my body, but I suspect it must happen.
And finally, saying that something isn’t an insult doesn’t magically make it not insulting. You may think having fluid sexuality would be a superpower, but the myth of fluid female sexuality is damaging to bisexual women and insulting to gay and straight women. For the latter, it’s more than a bit condescending to tell anyone that you and science understand what they want better than they do, and they would be bisexual if they weren’t so brainwashed, unenlightened, or repressed. As to the former, saying that all women are bisexual completely erases the experience of women who actually identify and live their lives that way. Having the innate capacity to desire both men and women (if this is even true of women as a whole, which I don’t believe) doesn’t expose one to homophobia when walking down the street with a female partner, or ostracization from the queer community when with a male one. The trope of fluid female sexuality tells bisexual (or other multi-gender-loving queer) women that we’re just like everyone else, and can’t possibly have the same need for community, tolerance, etc. that other minorities have. And that’s just not true; living a bisexual life exposes one to plenty of difficulties and dangers that straight people don’t face, even if in a different culture those straight people could be attracted to members of their own sex. Ditto plenty of animosity from some other queers, even if deep down those queers are capable of attraction to people of other genders. Chalking it up to fluid female sexuality dismisses that entire range of experiences.
A Concerned Bisexual