The Bisexual Dichotomy
Sunday next launches Bisexual Awareness Week. It culminates on Sept. 23, Bisexual Awareness Day. As far as I can tell, there are no official observances, symposia or authors’ readings scheduled to celebrate the occasion. At the upcoming LGBT Film/Video Festival in October, there doesn’t seem to be any “B” dedicated programming either
I’ve always believed sexuality is a spectrum and everyone is somewhere on it. It’s not a very scientifically sound opinion but to me it’s logical enough to include all the variations. But, because we have been subjected to a heteronormative explanation of things being a certain way, we tend to conform to that conspiracy of identity. It’s a comfortable perspective for some while it simply denies the existence of all the others.
Interestingly, last season the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stackner Cabaret produced a show featuring the music of African American jazz singer Bessie Smith. This season, at the same venue, there’s a production based on another, Billie Holiday. The biographies of both mention their bisexuality. Because they lived decades ago, during an era when accepted sexual identity was exclusively heterosexual, the idea that a popular figure could be gay was anathema to their followers. Gays, lesbians and other non-conforming individuals were subject to the severest of social judgments and persecution. Yet bisexuality could be accepted in some circles if it appeared merely as dabbling or as adventurous dalliances motivated by loneliness or other crises. So it is impossible to know whether the two jazz icons were in fact bisexual, lesbian or otherwise.
I recently conducted a rather basic and admittedly unscientific survey using the personal profile information of Milwaukee men on a popular gay dating site. Of 3,879 participants ages 18 to 44, 1,284, or 33%, listed their orientation as bisexual. Add those identifying as “bi-curious” and the percentage increases to 42%. A breakdown based on ethnicity showed bisexual or bi-curious Blatinos (black and Latino mixed) were the highest at 50% with whites coming in at the low end, 22.5%. Blacks, Latinos and black/white mixed came in as 35% bisexual and, with bi-curious added, in the mid-40% range.
Yet a July 2014 National Health Interview Survey reported only 0.7% of the American population identifies as bisexual. An earlier Williams Institute review in 2011 put the number at 1.8%.
Apparently, what constitutes bisexuality in any particular individual’s mind is another variable altogether. And there’s the rub. Bisexuality has often served as camouflage, cachet or cultural compromise as the lesser of two evils. Meanwhile, true bisexuals have to compete and insist they aren’t gay or lesbian but another legitimate sexual identity. Most people, however, tend to ignore such protests with patronizing dismissal.
So, while imitation may be the highest form of flattery, the inflated numbers of those calling themselves bisexual are little consolation for the moment. However, with the younger generation trending toward more fluidity of sexual expression, there may be changes in the offing—CDC National Survey of Family Growth studies indicate ever-increasing numbers of bisexuals.
Besides, I overheard one local LGBT leader saying once trans issues are settled, the bisexuals are next.