What is Bisexuality? Dana Carvey while dressed as a woman, in a moment of ironic sexual ambiguity, reportedly said: "A bisexual is a person who reaches down the front of somebody's pants and is satisfied with whatever they find." After the laughter dies, the questions arise.
Bisexuality is the blending of what are now the two primary social sexual orientations - heterosexuality and homosexuality. While there is no hard and fast rule as to which gender someone identifying as a bisexual is attracted to, it generally refers to some form of sexual attraction to either gender. This is not to say that this attraction is evenly distributed between their sexual partners, and often there are varying degrees of same sex attraction and opposite sex attraction.
Bisexuality comes in a full spectrum of options. There are those who dip into their gender pool on every occasion they can, while others may only venture in after too many cocktails! By definition the main distinction between Bi and Hetero/Homo lifestyles is that at some point members of this group will experience "the alternate" gender from time to time. This leads many to believe that bisexuality is simply a margarita mix of homosexual and heterosexual tendencies, but other theorists define it less in a binary way (black or white) and tend to see it as an aesthetic attraction to people without regard for gender.
This less gender specific view of bisexuality has been cause for large amounts of controversy since the term was used in connection with sexual identity in the fifties. Many, in both the straight and gay community, feel that any level of participation in same sex relations is an indication of homosexuality. In this way bisexual people tend to be lumped into a political and social movement that does not necessarily reflect their particular struggles and needs. This is particularly true for self-identified 'try-sexuals' as in "try-anything-once." These tend to be people for whom sex is primarily restricted to members of the opposite sex, but during experimentation will engage in same-sex relations.
In many ways bisexuality challenges much of our conventional understandings of sexual orientation. By its very nature the term precludes simple descriptions and thus simple categorization, leaving it in a sexual limbo, which is where many bisexuals would prefer to remain, between both beds and getting the best of all worlds.
One obvious contradiction to our current views of intercourse is the naughty nature of sexual behavior demonstrated throughout world history. From the Spartan-boy lovers in ancient Greece to the shogun emperors of Japan, men have been exercising a less rigid definition of sexual activity for centuries. In fact the only peoples seen having exclusively monosexual relationships over the course of recorded history are those cultures whose social mores are constructed by Judeo-Christian religiosity. It wasn’t until western morality began to privilege heterosexuality over all other forms of the gender attraction that sexual alternatives, to the purely functional reproductive-sex, became stigmatized and marginalized.
This history has been has not been the same for women. Even today in Indian, Arabic and Japanese culture, men, before marriage, have freedom to experiment with same sex relationships, whereas women were expected to engage sexually only within the confines of heterosexual marriage. In each of the aforementioned cultures, in analogous ways, it was young boys that usually participated in gay pleasures, then moving on to bisexual experimentation as young adults and primarily heterosexual marital-relations as adults. Though they may have engaged in, at certain times, homosexual/erotic behavior, they were not considered to be homosexual. The sexual orientation demonstrated during these time periods and in these cultural groups demonstrates a more fluid understanding of sexual identity and how they can change during a person's life.
It has taken far longer for bisexuality to find a voice in western culture. It was platform shoes and disco balls that set the stage for the birth of the contemporary bisexual movement. Though there were earlier communities practicing bisexuality (such as artist communes and "swinger" groups at the turn of the century), they were more closely connected to straight 'sexual liberation' ideology, than to the gay and lesbian community.
The 1970’s brought a more clearly bisexual identity, which was first defined by its support of the gay liberation movement, and then by its alienation, when the gay movement wanted to distance itself from the ambiguity of the bi position. The Gay and Lesbian movement felt that Bisexuality diluted the liberation movement by trying to keep one foot in the straight world. This gave rise to the proliferation of bisexual political organizations throughout the eighties, devoted to supporting the concerns specific to the bi community. The contemporary bisexual movement has focused on category smashing and inclusion of trans-gendered and other sexual and gender minorities. Fighting bi-phobia on both straight and gay fronts, positions the contemporary bi-movement came to be an important tool in the fight against sexual intolerance.
In a world where sexual identity is often used to draw lines of affiliation and belonging, men and women who belong to the bisexual community often find themselves cast out of both straight and gay groups. This can often cause even more feelings of alienation for young people already struggling with their own sexual identity. Since the gay community sometimes views being ‘bi’ as a cop-out, as a toning down of gay identity to ‘fit in’ to the straight world, bisexual people are treated as inauthentic members of the larger homosexual scene. Conversely the heterosexual majority tends to view female bisexuality as a normal expression of men’s fantasy, and male bisexuality as latent homosexuality. As a result of this neither bi-sexual men nor women tend to feel as though their sexual desires and orientation are recognized as genuine. This can lead to many more feelings of self-doubt and loathing, since the resources available to them for support are far more limited than to their gay and lesbian counterparts.
Knowing the Lingo
There are lots of terms used to reflect the changing nature of bisexuality:
Pansexual - being open to all types of gender orientation, even transgender or intersex people.
Bi-permissive - someone who does not actively seek out same-sex encounters but is open to them.
Bi-curious - can be a person who is not homosexual but is looking for "experimentation."