Wait, sexual orientation ISN’T a binary?

Crazy but true, folks. Bisexual women actually exist. Their sexual preferences are not a phase! You hear that, bisexual ladies? You are now officially validated. You may go about your lives from this point forward knowing that a scientific study has confirmed that you’re not lying about your sexual desires. Doesn’t it feel great to know that you can believe yourself?

It’s also a relief, because god knows that human beings aren’t allowed to experience more than one type of sexual desire in their lifetimes, and in fact going through a sexual “phase” is something that’s just not acceptable. If it turned out that people were attracted more to men than women at some point in their lives and then more attracted to women at another point (or vice versa), that’d just be the end of the fucking universe, wouldn’t it? Apparently, we do and should care very, very deeply about how people decide to label themselves sexually, and in addition, they better prove that they’re for real. I mean, unless they’re straight and don’t “act gay.” It would be so much easier if everyone adhered to gender and sexual stereotypes, instead of doing all of this “individual” and political crap. How are We, The Poor Straight People that this article is obviously targeting, supposed to remember all of this?

Next up, a study to determine whether or not bisexual men are really just gay and closeted. I’m sure that the results will be fascinating.

In all seriousness, what pisses me off here is that the study — at least as the article presents it — isn’t about some more nuanced and interesting questions like “how do sexual desires change and evolve over time?” That would require including people of all sexual orientations and admitting that straight sexual identities and desires may not be static, or may not be any more or less static than those of women who don’t identify as straight (nobody has ever asked me if I’m going through a “phase,” for some strange reason). It would also require more than asking women over the phone every couple of years how they identify sexually, since those labels are only a tiny part of who we are sexually. Nope, this seems to have been about proving that bisexual women either were or were not going through a “phase,” about proving or disproving the validity of a sexual orientation, and really just reinforcing this whole all-important labeling system. And if it wasn’t? If the study was indeed a whole lot deeper than that, well none of us should be surprised that the mainstream media doesn’t pick up on anything more than OMG BISEXUALITY IS 4 REALZ.

No wonder so many women in the study identified as “unlabeled.”

0 thoughts on “Wait, sexual orientation ISN’T a binary?

  1. Ran

    I really don’t understand your issue with this study, even if it is pretty much how this article presents it. The question of “Female bisexuality: stable, or transitory?” is as open for scientific inquiry as any other, and the researchers’ attempt to eliminate confounding variables strikes me as consistent with general scientific practice (though I don’t know anything about standard practices in their specific field).

    Reply
  2. Rachel

    Ran,
    For those of us who do identify or have identified as bisexual or unlabeled, this kind of study is frustrating because it suggests that our desires and feelings are up for debate. It suggests that our experiences can be invalidated, when we know them to be valid and realistic.

    As Cara noted, heterosexual behavior or desire is never questioned – it’s accepted as valid and reasonable simply because it is the experience of a majority of people.

    In the long run, does this study change anything? Probably not. But it’s rather uncomfortable to know that someone was out there seeking to prove (or disprove) that the way I feel is ok. It’s a kind of icky feeling.

    And for the record, one face-to-face interview followed by 5 (at the most) phone interviews really shouldn’t be considered “in depth.” Blah.

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  3. Cara Post author

    Precisely, Rachel, the question isn’t “as open for scientific inquiry as any other,” because heterosexuality is not questioned. Homosexuality is still regularly questioned, though that seems to be improving with time, but bisexuality seems completely and utterly open for scrutiny over it’s validity — as is any gender variance, by the way.

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  4. Ran

    Nonsense. This isn’t politics, it’s science; and unless there’s some crystal ball you’re not telling me about, there are questions that scientific methodology can help answer. “Is bisexuality valid?” probably isn’t one of them, but “Is bisexuality stable?” probably is. (“Is heterosexuality stable?” might also be at some point, but at the moment it would be very difficult to assess, for at least two logistical reasons: (1) heterosexuality being seen as the default orientation, and non-heterosexuality being stigmatized, expressed self-identification as straight is not necessarily meaningful, and if a study found that people who identify as straight at one time frequently later identify as something else, it would be obvious that many, most, or all of said people had actually been closeted rather than straight; and (2) heterosexuality being by far the most common sexual orientation, a very large sample would have to be obtained in order to be able to detect any instability in the heterosexual population.)

    Speaking as a gay man, Rachel, I know how you feel — I feel that way when a study tries to explain me in terms of my mother’s uterine conditions and my female relatives’ fecundity and whatnot — but it’s just a feeling. It’s not rational, and I don’t succumb to it. I’m also embarrassed to admit that I understand how the recently-blogged-about-here female-chauvinist air passenger feels (not about man vs. woman in my case, but about other, equally superficial things), but I have the good sense not to think that my feelings are an accurate representation of reality, and I’m shocked to find that liberals such as yourselves could lack it.

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  5. Ran

    (Re-reading my comment, I think I should clarify my last sentence, since it can be taken in two opposite ways. How I meant it was, I’m not shocked when a conservative lacks the good sense to distinguish “this is the feeling I’m having” from “this is common sense,” because I know many conservatives who lack it. But most of the liberals I know are pro-science, pro–rational inquiry, and so on.)

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  6. Ran

    Granted, science can be used for political ends — the results of this study, for example, will certainly end up on a “Myths and Facts about Sexual Orientation” put out by a GLBT rights group — but that’s not what you’re complaining about. No, you’re complaining that this study should never have been conducted, because it attempts to answer a question that you don’t think anyone should have. You wish that everyone simply agreed with you automatically, without caring what the facts are. Well, news flash: that doesn’t make science political, that makes you political, and pissed because science isn’t always on your side. How petty.

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  7. Cara Post author

    Yeah . . . that’s a nice perspective there, Ran. But no, I don’t mean just that science is used for political ends. SCIENCE IS POLITICAL. What is researched is political. What is NOT researched is political. How the studies are conducted are political. Who funds the studies is political. What gets funded is political. How we use that information is political. It reflects our basic understanding of the world. We are political — not just petty people like me, but everyone. And because WE are political, scientists are also political, whether they think they are or not. Institutions are political, whether they think they are or not. The people who funds the studies are political.

    And for the record, I’m not exactly convinced that this is “science” just because it used a “scientific methodology.” To call it “science” gives it a weight it doesn’t deserve. It’s surveys and asking people about their life experiences. There’s nothing definitive about this study at all, and it proves absolutely nothing. First of all, self-reporting is highly unreliable. Secondly, the study doesn’t show that bisexuality is static — it shows that bisexual women regularly identify as the same sexual orientation throughout their lives. Totally different things, by the way.

    And really, I don’t have anything else to say on the subject since it’s clearly not going anywhere pleasant or worthwhile.

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  8. Meg

    Yes, all human behavior, thought, and feelings are open to empirical investigation. Lisa Diamond is a highly respected psychologist who has published some really interesting work in top tier (obviously peer-reviewed) journals. If you haven’t already, read her work before criticizing it.

    Also, let’s *please* avoid trash-talking science.

    Reply
  9. Cara Post author

    Did I trash-talk science? I’d like to see the sentence where I said something about how science is bad or should be stifled or ignored. I said that science is political, I said that not everything that is presented as “science” actually is science, and that science can and should be criticized.

    Also, the study was not published at the time I wrote this post and I’m not sure if it is yet. Which is why I allowed for the possibility that the study was a lot more interesting and intelligent than this article makes it out to be.

    And I certainly agree that “all human behavior, thought, and feelings are open to empirical investigation.” As I’ve said, the problem is that ALL human behavior, thought and feelings are NOT open to empirical investigation — only the behavior, thoughts and feelings that society deems to be “unusual” on an arbitrary basis are up for investigation. Can you show me a study that asks the same question for straight sexual identity that this study apparently asks for bisexual sexual identity? Whether or not it is a phase? If you can, I’m still annoyed at this article and the presented basis of the study, but I will humbly concede that this may be an issue of media coverage and manipulation of studies than an issue within the research community.

    Reply

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