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Bisexuality and Marriage Prejudice
According to national studies, approximately 4.1% of women report some degree of sexual attraction to members of both sexes, with only 0.3% reporting only attraction to other women. (The other 95.6% assumably were attracted only to men) The same survey showed that 3.9% of men self-reported some attraction to both sexes, and 2.4% reported that they were only attracted to other men. (With 93.7% assumably being strictly heterosexual) At the same time, only 0.5% of women identified as bisexual, and only 0.8% of men. (Rust, 2000) These dry statistics point to a very strange conclusion, which is that bisexuality is in reality far more prevalent than homosexuality among both men and women, and yet bisexuals are being "mainstreamed" as it were into either heterosexual or homosexual identities. This gap between actual sexual attraction and sexual identity must result from some sort of social pressure to normalize one's sexual identity. If all bisexuals were choosing to identify as heterosexual to avoid the social stigma of homosexuality, this would make a great deal of sense. Yet further studies show that at least half of self-identified "homosexual" women and one third of self-identified "homosexual" men describe their actual attractions as inclusive of the opposite gender. (Rust, 2000) This indicates that not only are some bisexuals likely giving in to social pressure by claiming to be heterosexual, but many are also claiming to be homosexual rather than bisexual. This raises many very significant questions both regarding the formulation of a community spirit among sexual minorities, but also regarding the implications of this reality for the gay rights movement and the creation of same-sex-marriage standards for the community and the nation.
In the traditional identity-building process within the gay community, individuals would first experience homosexual desire, and then proceed to homosexual experimentation, and then finally come to the place where they could overcome their internalized homophobia and their fear of society's reactions so that they could identify as a queer individual. Identity generally followed experience. Indeed, many individuals with extensive homosexual experience never identified as gay or bisexual, but continued to insist that they were straight. (Dube, 2000) The modern ex-gay movement might be seen as part of this identity-denial, which encourages people to reject the "lifestyle" even if they can't experience normal heterosexual desire. Today, the identity-building process is very frequently inverted, with young people identifying as gay or lesbian based on self-knowledge and sexual attraction before they actual experience homosexual activities. (Dube, 2000) The earlier development of stable homosexual identities is believed to stem from the greater degree of acceptance afforded to gays and lesbians in today's society, the reduction in internalized and external homophobia facing modern queer youth, and increased knowledge about the existence of such sexual identities. However, whether activity comes before identity, or identity comes before activity, in both cases two developments is more than two years time. Hence, a man was likely to be sexually active with other men for years before identifying as gay, or likely to have this identity for years before acting on it. (Dube, 2000) This little history lesson about the development of gay identity makes an important point, namely that identity is generally constructed separately from sexual experience, and may serve a different purpose than the mere cataloguing of sexual interest and is extremely sensitive to outside social pressure. If the main reason that homoesexual-acting men were not identifying as homosexuals was internal and external homophobia, then what reasons can one extrapolate about why bisexuals are identifying as either homosexual or heterosexual, but not as bisexual? The most obvious answer is the existence of bisexual-specific internal and external social prejudices. Moreover, these pressures cannot be coming only from the heterosexual world, or they would not be encouraging so many to identify as (still hated) homosexuals.
The conclusion that must be drawn here is that bisexuals face prejudice and pressure to conform both within the heterosexual and the homosexual world, which interferes with the development of a strong bisexual identity. The first critical question that must be addressed, then, is as to why bisexuals face discrimination in the homosexual community. Why would a discriminated group discriminate against others among them? There are a number of potential answers. First, there may be a lack of understanding, or a sense of being threatened and insecure in one's own sexuality. Just as the most severe homophobic are generally struggling with latent homosexual urges, perhaps the most severe bi-phobics among self-identified homosexuals are struggling with latent heterosexual urges which may in turn trigger their own internalized homophobia. After all, there is a very strong belief among homosexuals that this sexual orientation is something they are born with, and which they cannot change. Internal bisexuality implies that homosexual behavior is occasionally or even usually a choice because they could opt to only act on heterosexual interests. Though bisexuality in no way truly illegitimates the right of all sexual minorities to experience their orientation and their lovers fully, it may at first appear to do so. This ties in to the second probably cause of biphobia which is that it may be a response to external heterosexist pressures. Even if the homosexual community could embrace the idea that homosexuality is a choice and not (for example) a birth defect, it is possible that this stance could threaten their political gains in areas such as civil rights or the fight for the freedom to marry.
The commonality of bisexual feeling among self-identified homosexuals may poke holes in the argument that same-sex marriage is a civil right because everyone has the right to marry someone, but only gays are not allowed to marry anyone of the gender they are attracted to. Many anti-gay-marriage activists say that same sex marriage is "special rights" because homosexuals already have the same rights to a traditional heterosexual marriage. Pro-marriage activists counter that they do not have the same right to get married to someone they are capable of being attracted to sexually, which means that they don't have the same right to a sexually-driven marriage, which is the root of marriage. For example, the Human Rights Campaign writes: "Decades of research all point to the fact that sexual orientation is not a choice, and that a person's sexual orientation cannot be changed...In this way, the struggle for marriage equality for same-sex couples is just as basic as the fight for interracial marriage was." (HRC 2004) If most so-called homosexuals can be attracted to either gender, then they do have the right to marry someone they are attracted to, as long as that person is opposite-sex.
The second vitally critical question when dealing with bisexuality then, is how it effects the arguments for (and against) marriage within the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans- (GLBT) community. If the prejudice against bisexuality and the pressure to obscure bi-ness is related to the GLBT drive for equal rights, then one can understand it somewhat better. The key is to balance the demands of the rights of each individual to have an identity which is truly consistent with their sexual orientation with the rights of the community to pursue political and social equality.
Both through personal experience and academic research, it becomes evident that there are extensive prejudices against the development and existence of a bisexual identity. According to Rust (2000), "One of the greatest challenges facing bisexual women in contemporary Western culture is the belief that bisexuality does not exist. Women who claim to be bisexual are often told that they are 'denying' their true sexuality, which must be either lesbian or heterosexual." (Rust, 2000) Many straights and gays alike do not understand bisexuality, because they have not experienced it. Because gender is the primary qualifier for sexual attraction with them, they cannot imagine…[continue]
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