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 ‘Straight, gay or lying?’ which seemed to be a press release for the hilariously cranky research of Dr J. Michael Bailey at Northwestern University, which apparently involves wiring up people’s genitals and showing them dirty pictures and then claiming to have ‘proved’ that male bisexuality doesn’t exist and that most women are bisexual. 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 and, in a coup-de-grace of his tidy-minded thinking, advocates eugenics to solve the problem of homosexuality).
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-Dems 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 aching 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 than 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 romance 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.