The following is an essay I wrote last Fall for Advanced Composition I. The assignment was a 1,000 word “definition” essay. I chose to define, at least in part, bisexuality. Due to the confines of the assignment, I was only able to approach the subject very generally. If you want to further the discussion, leave a comment. Thanks for reading. -Randall
Who I Am
When I hear people talk about sexual orientation, whether they are media personalities or my friends, they most often talk about two distinct groups, heterosexuals and homosexuals. Straight people and gay people. They talk as though everyone fits neatly into one of these two groups, and they may even go so far as to assume that they know who fits into which group based on gender stereotypes. While some are heterosexual or homosexual, others fall into a category between these two: bisexual. Bisexuality is often misunderstood by both heterosexual and homosexual people because they cannot fathom a third, seemingly ambiguous, option. They write it off as a phase one may go through during formative years or as a rouse to hide homosexuality because of the social costs of being or being perceived as homosexual, but bisexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation.
Bisexuality is sexual attraction to individuals of both male and female genders. This does not, however, mean that attraction to each gender is equal. In 1948, Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s research on sexual behavior led him to conclude that sexual orientation is less dichotomous than previously thought. He and his colleagues created a seven-point scale to describe the range of orientations they were finding. Zero represents exclusively heterosexual desire; six represents exclusively homosexual desire. One through five is the spectrum of bisexual desire, varying degrees of attraction to both genders, with three indicating equal attraction to both genders. Kinsey’s scale is about sexual orientation or desire, not necessarily about sexual activity. Also, the scale is for self-reflection; there is no test that determines where one falls on the scale (Kinsey). I describe myself as a two, which means I am slightly more attracted to women than men, but I have rarely indulged my same-sex desires.
“But Randall, you’re married to a woman. How can you say that you like men, too?” is usually the first question I’m asked by someone who learns of my sexual orientation, but bisexuality does not preclude monogamy. Monogamy is a choice based on relationship not on sexual orientation. Heterosexual and homosexual people make the same choices regarding relationships based on their individual preferences and morality. Some choose one-night stands, sexually open relationships, or various lengths of monogamous relationships, but I have chosen a life-long monogamous relationship. This doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes find men, or other women, physically attractive, but I’ve made a commitment to stay faithful to her as anyone in a monogamous relationship must deny other attractions.
Unfortunately some assume that my heterosexual marriage and those of other self-described bisexuals are only facades designed to hide homosexuality, but that is not the case. This misconception most likely arises from stories of individuals “coming out” as homosexual after years of heterosexual marriage. Denial, including self-denial, of non-heterosexual orientations, bisexual or homosexual, is common because our culture prescribes a narrowly defined public morality that refuses to legitimatize non-heterosexual relationships socially or legally. Overcoming fear of the potential social backlash makes coming out as bisexual or homosexual incredibly difficult. We were married for three years before I told my wife my sexual orientation. Though she suspected that I harbored feelings toward men, too, it took me that long to overcome my internal objections and to feel that she was ready to accept the news. I was afraid that she would assume I was homosexual and intended to leave her. She understands that my attraction to men is only part of my orientation and continues trusting me.
Before I could share my bisexuality with my wife, I had to get past the idea that I was going through a phase. Thanks to the popularity of media like the Girls Gone Wild video series, many people assume that bisexuality is merely a fad for drunk sorority girls. For some, sexual experimentation with both genders may only occur during college, and those who experiment may or may not have a bisexual orientation, but even the most flippant sexual behaviors do not invalidate bisexual orientation. I first began perceiving attraction toward both women and men during my early teen years. I intentionally denied my attraction to other men because I was taught that any non-heterosexual thoughts were sinful. I struggled throughout my teen years to ignore these feelings and hoped that eventually I would say the right prayer to remove them from my psyche forever. My religious views changed over time and by my second year of college, I was ready to think of myself as bisexual, but I was 25 before I finally told anyone else how I felt.
During the time I spent hiding my bisexual orientation, few people assumed I was anything other than a heterosexual guy because sexual orientation is not tied to expression of gender roles. Other than ambivalence toward contact sports and choosing a major in English, I present myself in ways that are traditionally masculine. I dress in pants and a shirt. I have body and facial hair. I enjoy physical exertion and “manly” hobbies like working on cars and doing yard work. Binary assumptions that suggest feminine men and masculine women are homosexual while masculine men and feminine women are heterosexual fail to adequately describe the realities of gender and sexual orientation and are not only unfair to these groups but entirely leave out those of us who fall between one and five on Kinsey’s scale.
Though bisexuality isn’t a convenient, well-understood sexual orientation, it is who I am. This doesn’t stop me from enjoying a healthy and loving monogamous relationship. In fact, I think that sharing my sexual orientation with my wife has strengthened our relationship. It is not something I will just “get over” with the passage of time or by saying a prayer. I hope that this long journey to accepting this aspect of myself allows me to better understand and embrace differences I see in other people—all differences, not just sexual ones. I also hope that my choice to share something this personal and controversial will encourage others to be open and honest about who they are.
Kinsey, Alfred. “Kinsey Sexuality Rating Scale [Research Program].” Kinseyinstitute.com. The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. Web. 10 Oct. 2010. <http://www.kinseyinstitute.org/research/ak-hhscale.html>.