I don’t know if I’m gay, straight or bisexual. How can I decide? Kinsey saw sexuality as a continuum, with homosexuality on one end and other-sex attractions on the other; bisexuality fell somewhere in the middle. But where? How much bisexual attraction and/or behavior does it take to make a person bisexual? How do I know what I am?
You’ve asked a complicated question, and one that frankly has gotten me into some trouble in the past. I was attacked (with some justification, I might add) by some members of the bisexual community who considered my comments in an essay on Psychology Today to be very “biphobic.” Never the less, I’ll stick my toe in that water again.
Kinsey’s work was revolutionary and controversial because it presented sexuality on a contimuum from same-sex attraction to other-sex attraction. Now, perhaps, we need to exam sexuality as a matrix rather than a simple continuum.
A researcher’s worst nightmare is a sample that is extremely diverse, and the word “bisexuality” lacks clarity and consensus about its definition. Men and women who have sex with someone of the same gender come from all ages, all communities, all ethnicities, and all socioeconomic levels, and that the number of adult men and women having sex with members of their own gender has increased dramatically as modern culture has begun to embrace same-sex relationships.
Although society has become more accepting of bisexuality, whether single or married, many lead hidden lives. Society colludes to lock these men and women inside its collective closet by ignoring, denying, or repressing the fact that men have sex with other men, and women have sex with other women, sometimes called “bisexual erasure.”
In considering sexuality, people often do not distinguish between sexual fantasy, sexual attraction, behavior and sexual identity. These are not consistent from one individual to the next, and may not be consistent even within each individual person. None of these are static; we evolve into something more complex. Someone who has had sexual experience with or even just has an attraction to people of more than one sex could be considered as bisexual, but they may not identify that way. Likewise, one can identify as bisexual regardless of sexual experience. Furthermore, identities can change over time; definitions can change too.
Many millennials reject a binary definition of masculine and feminine, and younger generations see more fluidity and ambiguity in sexuality than older generations. Terms like “pansexual,” “asexual,” “gender fluid,” “gender queer” and others are used by the younger generations, but they remain as confusing for most elder LGBTQ people as they do for the general population.
This great diversity makes it difficult to define a research cohort group that is similar enough to study. It becomes infinitely more complex because of the issue of self-labeling. Behavior is what I do; identity is what I am. It is my belief that you are gay, straight or bisexual only by how you label yourself, not by how you are defined by others.