Stop the presses. A recent study by a team at Northwestern University in Evanston has made a ground-breaking discovery; male bisexuality exists. My takeaway from this? There’s a team with a little too much time on their hands.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the study of human sexuality, but the headline that goes with this announcement does come across as more than just a little condescending. There are a great many bisexual men who could have told this team in five seconds what they’ve apparently concluded after several years, namely that they’re bisexual.
In truth it’s not entirely the fault of the study itself. Much of the coverage of the study as well as media rhetoric regarding bisexuality over the years has to take a good portion of the blame. Ill-informed comments from pundits and celebrities claiming that bisexuals are “greedy”, “confused” or just plain “lying” have not helped. I identify as entirely gay, but I will never understand the tendency of some people to dismiss bisexuality. There’s a ‘B’ in LGBTQ for a reason. They stand with us, and they deserve to be treated with respect.
The central problem, as far as I can see, is this incessant need in some people to speculate over the sexuality of others. Again, I’m not talking about genuine academic studies, I’m talking about the gross assumptions and generalisations made by some people on a day to day basis. When someone tells you that they’re bisexual, one of the absolute worst responses is “Are you sure?”, followed by “Well, you might just be gay but haven’t come out yet.” It’s in a very similar vein to when someone comes out as transgender, only to be told that they might be “confused” or have they tried “just being gay?”
As I said, I’m gay. Gay and cis. That is me. This does not, however, give me the right to speculate on anyone else’s sexuality or gender based solely on my own experiences. I’ve never known what it is like to feel that I was born in the wrong body, nor have I ever felt attracted to girls. I tried to make it appear that I did due to pressure coming from all around me, but that’s a subject for another blog. The point is, my experiences are mine but that does not give me the right to assume that they’ve been shared by everyone else. The second someone says to me “I’m bisexual”, I accept it instantly, without question. Put even simpler, when someone tells me how they identify, I believe them.
It is quite sad that some see it as acceptable to make assumptions about and speculate over the sexuality of others. First and foremost, it’s distressing for the person who’s having this fundamental aspect of their identity taken apart so casually (or sometimes maliciously). Chances are that person has spent much time and energy working up the courage to divulge their sexuality to someone, only to be dismissed as a confused liar that doesn’t know themselves. Such speculation has consequences, and it isn’t the person doing the speculating who’ll have to deal with those consequences. I’d very much like to see a society where those who engage in such idle speculation over other people’s sexuality are, indeed, held to account. It should be seen as ridiculous, to dismiss or judge somebody’s sexuality. We don’t do it for any other aspect of our identity.
“Hello, I’m British.”
“Oh, I don’t think so. You might just be a confused Frenchman.”
You might ask, why the big fuss? Isn’t it just people talking about matters of identity and sexuality? Are you censoring people? No. General discussion of matters regarding sexuality and gender identity must always be free to be discussed. This is not the same as dismissing someone’s identity in order to project something else upon them. On an individual basis, a person’s sexuality or gender identity cannot be allowed to be squashed in the name of academic discussion. Once someone asserts their identity, that is not up for debate. Share your own experiences and thoughts, by all means. The world is better when we talk to each other. However, don’t seek to use those experiences to override those of someone else, to stamp your own sense of self onto them. As I’ve said, having your identity debated and dismissed is never going to make someone feel better about themselves. Don’t make them run that gauntlet. Accept who they are.
There’s a tweet currently doing the rounds which has, rightly, raised some eyebrows;
I offer this as a prime example of someone engaging in gross assumptions on a rather massive scale. A man, rather embarrassingly declaring how little he knows of women’s sexuality and engaging in some wild speculation, presumably without actually asking a woman. This is the lower end of the scale when it comes to ill-informed speculation over the sexuality of others. Risible and easily dealt with. However, there are those who engage in speculation over the sexuality and gender identity of others with far more sinister intent. I’m speaking, of course, about conversion therapy.
The UK government has pledged to make the abhorrent practice of conversion or “reparative” therapy illegal, although at the time of writing this, not only has there been a great deal of delay already, but it now seems that even more time is being called for in order to carry out further research. There are those, currently in the UK, who offer conversion therapy but insist that’s not what they’re doing. They claim they’re engaging in discussion about gender and sexuality issues and offering counselling to those with “unwanted same sex attractions”. A turd by any other name would smell as foul. This is precisely what I described earlier, speculation and demolition of an individual’s identity, hidden under the cloak of “academic discussion”.
These organisations insist they’re offering impartial counselling for those experiencing “unwanted same sex attraction”. It can hardly be considered impartial when the rhetoric these organisations engage in is so vehemently homophobic. The leader of one of the more prevalent organisations has called homosexuality “a danger to all humankind”. The website of this particular organisation states that they do not offer LGBT affirmative therapy. This boils down to one thing: once they’ve got you, they will do all they can to make you straight, no matter the cost to you.
They’re engaging in the most extreme form of speculation in that not only have they decided what your sexuality should be, they’re going to tear you down completely in order to “fix” you. Once you’re in with them, they’ll do all they can to win your trust, get you to talk about a past event that you found traumatic. They’ll then perform all kinds of linguistic acrobatics to convince you that this event is linked to your sexuality. Should you express doubts, or appear to be heading in a direction they don’t approve of, they tell you how disappointed they are. They shame you. They’re gambling with the well being and lives of other with no risk to them. Hopefully, the law will soon be changing to make their practice illegal, and for the first time they will have to actually deal with the consequences of their actions.
Anybody struggling with an aspect of their identity should seek out someone to talk to, a professional if need be. A truly impartial professional will believe someone when they say they’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or non-binary. Any decent therapist knows how to genuinely help someone work out who they are. It’s the ones currently kicking up a big stink over the proposed change in the law that know they’ve got something to fear. Conversion therapists aren’t interested in helping anyone. They are simply indulging in their own, rather base instinct that tells them they have a right to speculate over and judge other people’s identity. They then take that instinct and act on it, patting themselves on the back when they’ve torn you down and rapidly distancing themselves from you when you come forward and speak about how they made you feel. They deal in sham and shame. Some people do change the way they identify over time, but this needs to come about organically, through impartial discussion and a journey of self discovery, not at the insistence of fanatics.
So, in summation, just remember that when someone tells you they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, pansexual or asexual, there are only two acceptable responses;
A) Thank you for feeling that you could tell me.
B) Thank you for feeling that you could tell me, now let’s go get some cake.
Don’t speculate. Celebrate!