Curiouser and Curiouser: the Strange ‘Disappearance’ of Male Bisexuality

grey Curiouser and Curiouser: the Strange Disappearance of Male Bisexuality The recent spate of media reports of the com­mon­ness of female bisexu­al­ity — and the ‘non-existence’ of the male vari­ety — inclines Mark Simpson to won­der why we seem to be kid­ding ourselves about the real, red-blooded nature of the ‘bi-curious’ times we’re liv­ing in Male bisexu­al­ity doesn’t exist. Or it’s very, very rare. Or it’s really just gay men in denial. Yeah, it’s offi­cial: bi guys are freaks and liars as well as non-existent. Female bisexu­al­ity, on the other hand, is almost uni­ver­sal. It’s as nat­ural and as true as it is won­der­ful and real and… hot! Or so you would be for­given for think­ing if you had read the effus­ive reports in the papers about California State University’s recently pub­lished sex-research which claims that women are 27 times more likely to become attrac­ted to their own sex than men. I haven’t yet been able to study the research quoted, but any sex sur­vey that claims to have inter­viewed 3,500 people and show that 0.3% of men are attrac­ted to the same sex com­pared to 8% of women (as quoted in the Independent on Sunday 12/2/06) is dif­fi­cult to take ser­i­ously. Except as a meas­ure of social atti­tudes rather than sexu­al­ity. Maybe it’s because some of my best shags are bisexual men, but I’m begin­ning to get a bit teed off with this drive to make male bisexu­al­ity dis­ap­pear, either into stat­ist­ics smal­ler than a micro-penis or obscured behind a flurry of girl-on-girl action. A few months ago The New York Times pub­lished an art­icle called ‘Straight, gay or lying?’ which seemed to be a press release for the hil­ari­ously cranky research of Dr J. Michael Bailey at Northwestern University. Apparently this research involves wir­ing up people’s gen­it­als and show­ing them dirty pic­tures and then claim­ing to have ‘proved’ that male bisexu­al­ity doesn’t exist — while the female vari­ety is com­mon­place. Which seems a much more tenu­ous con­clu­sion to reach, rather than, for instance: most psy­cho­lo­gists at Northwestern University are very strange indeed. (Amongst other extraordin­ary omis­sions, the art­icle neg­lected to men­tion that Dr Bailey has more than one ‘pre­vi­ous’ in his area: he thinks trans­sexu­als are also ‘really’ gay men). I hate to break it to you guys, but most of the evid­ence, his­tor­ical, anthro­po­lo­gical and sex­olo­gical, sug­gests that if any­thing, male ‘bisexu­al­ity’ – it’s a ter­rible word, almost as bad as ‘het­ero­sexual’ and ‘homo­sexual’, but it will have to do for now – is much more com­mon than the female vari­ety. After all, entire civil­iz­a­tions such as Ancient (and accord­ing to some accounts, Modern) Greece have been based on it. Not to men­tion pub­lic schools, the Royal Navy and Hollywood…. It’s unques­tion­able that female bisexu­al­ity is today much more socially accept­able than male bisexu­al­ity, and in fact fre­quently pos­it­ively encour­aged, both by many voyeur­istic men and an equally voyeur­istic pop cul­ture and also, per­haps slightly para­dox­ic­ally, by women’s new-found desire to assert them­selves sexu­ally. What’s more, female homo­sex has never been leg­ally or socially stig­mat­ized to any­thing like the same degree as male homo­sex. It’s a fond myth that the Victorians exemp­ted female homo­sex from legal cen­sure because Queen Victoria couldn’t con­ceive of it (apart from any­thing else, the young Victoria was a fan of the poet Sappho). Woman-on-woman love action wasn’t legis­lated against because, unlike male homo­sex, it simply wasn’t con­sidered of much con­sequence. It may be dif­fi­cult for fem­in­ists to grasp, but ‘pat­ri­archy’ was always much more con­cerned about where men’s pen­ises went than women’s tongues. Straight women now have some­thing to gain and little to lose by admit­ting an interest in other women. Rather than exile them to the acrylic mines of Planet Lesbo, it makes them more inter­est­ing, more adven­tur­ous, more mod­ern… just more. For the most part, how­ever, straight men still have noth­ing to gain and everything to lose by mak­ing a sim­ilar admis­sion. It renders them con­sid­er­ably… less. Unlike women, men’s gender is imme­di­ately sus­pect if they express an interest in the same sex. What’s more, any male homo­sexu­al­ity still tends to be seen as an expres­sion of impot­ence with women. In other words: men’s attrac­tion to men is equi­val­ent to and prob­ably a product of emas­cu­la­tion. A straight man admit­ting that he finds mas­culin­ity desir­able – as so many clearly, thrill­ingly do – threatens to cost him the very thing he val­ues most: not only his own man­hood and his potency, his repu­ta­tion with the ladies, but his lads-together homoso­cial intim­acy with other men. It’s a nasty, vicious, bitchy trick to play on mil­lions of red-blooded men, but this is what passes for com­mon sense in the mod­ern, Anglo-Saxon world. When a male in pub­lic life is outed as bisexual – and, with the excep­tion of controversy-courting David Bowie in the 1970s, who now denies he ever was, they almost never come out will­ingly – he is imme­di­ately rep­res­en­ted as ‘gay’. For a man, unlike a woman, there is no such thing as ‘half gay’. It’s tan­tamount to being half preg­nant. Exhibits A and B: the recent out­ings of British Lib-Dem Members of Parliament Michael Oaten and bach­elor Simon Hughes by the press as ‘gay’ – or rather ‘GAY!’ This des­pite the fact that Oaten is a mar­ried man with chil­dren and Hughes’ own care­ful present­a­tion of him­self in his (clearly arm-twisted) admis­sion as bisexual. All those witty ‘LIMP-DEMS’ head­lines illus­trat­ing once again that any male homo­sexu­al­ity is seen as emas­cu­la­tion. If a male celeb’s sexu­al­ity is ‘ques­tioned’ (a tellingly pop­u­lar phrase, sug­gest­ing his gen­it­als have been taken down the police sta­tion) by the tabs, they fre­quently run front page head­lines by some tart claim­ing ‘HE’S NO GAY! HE’S ALL MAN! WE ROMPED SEVEN TIMES A NIGHT!’ Naturally, a man’s prowess with the ladies is proof pos­it­ive that he couldn’t pos­sibly be ever inter­ested in men. Hence the pop­ular­ity of the expres­sion ‘red-blooded het­ero­sexual male’. It goes without say­ing, doesn’t it, that non-heterosexual men have pink blood. Real men don’t do dick; and if they do, well, they’re not real men. Can I have my pro­fess­or­ship at Northwestern University now, please? Speaking of unreal men, Robbie Williams, the drag king of Britpop, was recently awar­ded large dam­ages over news­pa­per reports that he had GAY HOMOSEXUAL SEX with ANOTHER MAN!. Many poin­ted out his libel action of his over accus­a­tions of GAY HOMOSEXUAL SEX was rather odd, hypo­crit­ical even, given this former mem­ber of gay disco dan­cing baby Chippendale troupe Take That’s care­ful cul­tiv­a­tion of his ‘ambigu­ous’ sexu­al­ity over the years, and its cru­cial role in mak­ing him seem much more inter­est­ing that he actu­ally is. However, Williams’ flir­ta­tion with ‘gay rumours’ was prob­ably more a I’m-so-secure-in-my-sexuality post­mod­ern strategy for dis­pelling the pos­sib­il­ity that he was homo at all. Williams spent a great deal of time and money pub­li­cising his affairs with the ladies. This care­ful invest­ment threatened to be rendered worth­less by this story. In keep­ing with their reflex­ive denial of male bisexu­al­ity, the news­pa­per alleg­a­tions of his ‘homo­sexual affair’ also sug­ges­ted that his very high pro­file rela­tion­ships with women were a sham and that he was a GAY HOMOSEXUAL really. Hence Robbie ‘red-blooded’ Williams had to sue. When men have sex with one another it is never sex – it is, you guessed it, GAY HOMOSEXUAL SEX! Last week British scan­dal sheet the News of the World ran a story about a ‘secret’ (i.e. unlaw­fully obtained) film of two bisexual English Premier League foot­ballers… hav­ing sex. The head­line for the story used the word GAY in font so large it covered more than half the page. (The words ‘sor­did’ and ‘per­ver­ted’ and ‘obscene’ were also much in evid­ence; in a story about bisexual women the words would be: ‘saucy’ ‘steamy’ and ‘sexy’.) Likewise, ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was pop­ularly dubbed the ‘gay cow­boy’ movie, but in fact both the prot­ag­on­ists are bisexu­ally act­ive, and there’s rather more straight sex than gay sex in the film. Actor Jake Gyllenhaal has felt obliged to tell inter­view­ers how ‘uncom­fort­able’ it was for him to per­form the ‘gay sex’ scenes – des­pite there being almost none and that this is a film that likes to lec­ture us, rather tedi­ously, on how awful homo­pho­bia is. I sup­pose some would say we should com­mend his hon­esty; but then, this is a guy, remem­ber, who lives in LA and works in a pro­fes­sion where every­one smooches whenever they meet, when they leave, and when they’re feel­ing espe­cially emo­tional – like when they win an Oscar. And I’m not even men­tion­ing that one of the prob­lems with ‘Brokeback’ was that Jakey boy was just too gay look­ing. If you’re a man who loves women, admit­ting a sexual interest in other men – or even fail­ing to men­tion how uncomfortable/ill the very idea of it makes you feel – can appar­ently cost you your vir­il­ity, and expose you to pub­lic ridicule of a kind that people might think twice about if you were actu­ally gay. Partly because a degree of polit­ical cor­rect­ness now pro­tects gays, and partly because gays, unlike bis, ‘can’t help them­selves’. And at least you know where you are with them. You won’t even be praised for your ‘hon­esty’ as every­one will think you’re ‘really’ gay any­way. Why do bisexual men not come out? Because when a bisexual man comes out people shut their minds. Fear and loath­ing of male bisexu­al­ity is some­thing tends to bring het­ero­sexu­als and homo­sexu­als together. Instead of pon­der­ing the pos­sib­il­ity that pub­lic atti­tudes towards male bisexu­al­ity are a truer, less cen­sored indic­a­tion of what many people actu­ally feel about male homo­sexu­al­ity in gen­eral and its enforced incom­pat­ib­il­ity with mas­culin­ity, gay men too often rush to con­demn bisexual men and reas­sure het­ero­sexu­als: don’t worry, you’re not being homo­phobic when mouth­ing off about bisexual men coz we hate them too! Gays, when they’re not eagerly cruis­ing bisexual men in laybys, saunas and chat-rooms, are too often keen to denounce the ‘dis­hon­esty’ and ‘double lives’ and ‘repres­sion’ of bisexual men – because they have the temer­ity to not be just like them, and instead lead ‘nor­mal’ lives that hap­pen to include a dis­creet, ‘devi­ant’ side­line, rather than order their lives and their ward­robe around their devi­ation. In fact, the fet­ish might be on the other foot. The very exist­ence of male bisexu­al­ity threatens to put exclus­ive homo­sexu­al­ity into a neg­at­ive rather than a pos­it­ive light: per­haps you’re not gay because you love men but because you don’t love women. Another, per­haps more elit­ist gay response to male bisexu­al­ity is to insist that men are not ‘really’ bisexual unless they take it up the arse. This seems to me to be a pecu­liar require­ment. Would they also insist that a woman not be con­sidered ‘really’ bisexual until she had fucked a woman with a strap-on? Why priv­ilege some prac­tices above oth­ers? Many homo­sexual men are exclus­ively act­ive; are they not ‘really’ homo? Besides, it’s not for het­eros or homos to define what is ‘really’ bisexual. If it were left to them, there would be no such thing as bisexu­al­ity at all. After all, bisexu­al­ity is ‘really’ the parts of human beha­viour that under­mine the very idea idea of ‘het­ero­sexual’ and ‘homo­sexual’ – of ‘sexu­al­ity’ itself. Male bisexu­al­ity may be still offi­cially invis­ible, but chat lines, mobile phones, chat rooms and the gen­eral frag­ment­a­tion of mod­ern iden­tit­ies has made it much easier for oth­er­wise het­ero­sexual men to dis­creetly explore their ‘bi-curiousness’ (a recent, erotic paddling-pool coin­age which attempts to avoid the plunge-pool iden­tity of ‘bisexual’). There are vast and grow­ing num­bers of these ‘bi-curious’ men, espe­cially those under 35 (some of them are prob­ably cruis­ing the chat rooms and rest rooms of California State University). These are, after all, a gen­er­a­tion of men who have grown up with frank dis­cus­sions of homo­sexu­al­ity in the media and, more cru­cially, glossy, glam­or­ous images of male desirab­il­ity rammed down their throats, on bill­boards, magazines, films, pop music, TV and even and espe­cially on the play­ing field. Metrosexuality was in large part a response to this – and a socially accept­able, commodity-focussed male com­ple­ment to the media-generated trend towards female bisexu­al­ity which many men, while appre­ci­at­ing enorm­ously, felt some­what short-changed by. If the sex roles have broken down – nay, been battered down – why should women be allowed to main­tain the mono­poly on sen­su­al­ity and men be forced to con­tinue to merely per­form? Why the ana­chron­istic divi­sion of labour in the High Street and the bed­room? Why shouldn’t men exper­i­ment as well, and dis­cover, for example, their own pro­file – or their own G-spot? Why should Adam not be as curi­ous and as vain as… Eve? Especially since the arrival of that boon to bound­less curi­os­ity as the Internet. This is a gen­er­a­tion of men who have grown up with easy access to hard­core porn; which, by the way, means: mas­turb­at­ing over images of pussies and dicks. In fact, dicks are fre­quently the only con­stant. Anyone claim­ing that men simply don’t have a bisexual respons­ive­ness should be made to watch the porn con­sumed by straight men today. Not only do all the most pop­u­lar scenes (anal and vaginal pen­et­ra­tion, blow jobs and ‘money shots’) star — very large — pen­ises, but more and more fre­quently, they are attached to young, attract­ive, smooth, worked out men that the cam­era lingers over much more than in the past. Forget the sex-researchers with their clunky elec­trodes; the porn industry knows what today’s males like. You might counter that the met­ro­sexual male porn model phe­nomenon is simply a res­ult of the industry’s mostly fruit­less attempts to encour­age women to con­sume more porn; if you did you’d be even wider of the mark than those who have tried to explain away met­ro­sexual advert­ising entirely in terms of mar­ket­ing to women and met­ro­sexual men entirely in terms of pleas­ing women. Most ‘bi-curious’ men I’ve met – usu­ally very anonym­ously and very dis­creetly – express a very strong desire to try oral sex with a man, often as a res­ult of watch­ing so many women enjoy it. Or maybe just because most men would suck their own penis if they could, but most can’t, so have to ‘phone a friend’. Or rather, a stranger. More often than not they have had these fantas­ies for an achingly long time before act­ing on them; and they def­in­itely haven’t spoken to any­one, espe­cially sex research­ers, about them. In fact, they are usu­ally ter­ri­fied that any­one might find out and this has been the main reason why they haven’t yet acted on these fantas­ies. And these, remem­ber, are the most adven­tur­ous bi-curious men; the unad­ven­tur­ous bi-curious men simply stay curi­ous. This is prob­ably the oppos­ite for bi-curious women, who, it seems, tend to talk about it a lot before try­ing it. The most ludicrous aspect of today’s ‘sex­ist’ taboo on male bisexu­al­ity is that, after all, is it really so strange that males who are very inter­ested in mas­culin­ity quite often end up inter­ested in men. This is part of the reason why it used be thought of as a ‘phase’ that all male youths went through. There seems to me to be some­thing rather prissy and effem­in­ate about a mas­culin­ity that refuses any phys­ical intim­acy with men, ever. (Well, that’s what I say to straight men I fancy.) At its most basic, most ‘rudi­ment­ary’, male ‘homo­sexu­al­ity’ is noth­ing more than a shared wank. All men, how­ever straight, know how to please a prick and have been doing so reg­u­larly, for most of their lives – many times more often than they’ve been pleas­ing pussy. As for bug­gery – if God hadn’t inten­ded men to get fucked he wouldn’t have given them a pro­state gland. I don’t have any doubt that most of these bi-curious men really love women and always will, and in most cases rather more than they will ever love men. They are not mak­ing their first steps ‘out of the closet’ into a gay iden­tity. Many will lose their interest in hav­ing sex with another male. And there are, it is abund­antly clear to me from my own exhaust­ive sex-research, sev­eral ‘bi-curious’ straight men for every gay man. Exclusive, life-long male homo­sexu­al­ity is the excep­tional, not the nor­mal form of male-on-male desire. Male bisexu­al­ity as a phe­nomenon is here already and is some­thing that soci­ety is going to have to get used to, or at least stop pre­tend­ing doesn’t exist – except when it wants to make money out of it in the form of advert­ising, fash­ion, pop-promos, movies and porn. If I was Herbert Marcuse I might argue that reach­ing for your buddy’s shorts instead of your wal­let – choos­ing the Real Thing over Diesel and Nike — is still ver­boten because cor­por­a­tions are mak­ing so much money selling straight men ersatz homo­sexu­al­ity. That women are being encour­aged to talk about their bisexu­al­ity as an enhance­ment of their fem­in­in­ity and sexu­al­ity is rather mar­vel­lous – but it also height­ens the double stand­ard about male bisexu­al­ity, one as pro­nounced as the double stand­ard about promis­cu­ity used to be (men were ‘studs’ and women were ‘slags’), and makes it more inev­it­able that male bisexu­al­ity – by which I simply mean ‘straight’ male sexu­al­ity that doesn’t fit into het­ero­sexu­al­ity, and boy, there’s a lot of that – will have to be addressed can­didly sooner or later. The tidy-minded inhib­i­tions which keep male bi-curiousness under wraps are still power­ful, but have largely lost their social value, their attach­ment to any­thing real; they are mostly rem­nants from a Judeo-Christian (re)productive, world that doesn’t exist any more, except per­haps in Utah, every other Sunday. Dr Bailey with his ter­ri­fy­ing sex lie-detectors is the (slightly camp) voice of the Superannuated Super-Ego. When enough young men real­ise this – or maybe just the des­per­ate pre­pos­ter­ous­ness of the argu­ments and ‘sci­ence’ deployed against male bi-curiousness – the change in atti­tudes will occur very quickly and dra­mat­ic­ally indeed. Not least because the ‘bi-curiousness’ of some women seems almost bi-curious enough for both sexes. Women are begin­ning to talk about their interest in boy-on-boy bonk­ing as loudly as men have for years bragged about their interest in girl-on-girl action. Some are even try­ing to per­suade their boy­friends to return the ‘les­bian’ favour so often reques­ted of them in the past. A sep­ar­ated ‘bi-curious’ fire­man in rural England I met a few times before he went back to his wife recently con­tac­ted me to tell me some­thing rather alarm­ing. ‘She found out about you,’ he said. ‘She hacked into my Hotmail account.’ ‘Oh, shit,’ I said. ‘What did she do? Throw you out?’ ‘No,’ he said. ‘She got turned on! She wants to watch.’ The poor guy had to tell her that that this really was a kinky bridge too far for him. That he was too much a tra­di­tion­al­ist to go down that path…. However the media tries to deny it, or oblit­er­ate it with another fever­ish dis­cus­sion of female bi-curiousness, it’s just a mat­ter of time before male bi-curiousness goes main­stream. These are inter­est­ing times. What we mean by ‘straight’ is chan­ging so rap­idly that the straight­est of straight men might soon find them­selves hav­ing to at least flirt with bi-curiousness – just to lay women.

© Mark Simpson 2006


In 2011 Dr Bailey recan­ted and very kindly allowed bisexual men to exist.

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