Are we all bisexual at our core? How much of our sexual orientation is influenced by cultural programming around sexual identity?
My curiosity with these questions was sparked after reading an article by Mike Iamele, fascinatingly titled, I’m An Otherwise Straight Man (Who Fell In Love With His Best Friend). Mike unabashedly shared his story with the world, which revealed how he developed romantic feelings for his best friend and roommate, Garrett, after a life threatening illness left Mike debhilitated and needing assistance. Because of their close friendship and shared living situation, Garrett stepped up as Mike’s caretaker.
“My roommate, Garrett, one of my best friends at the time, took pity on me. He took care of me. He picked up my prescriptions from the pharmacy. He cooked me dinner. He stayed in on Friday nights to watch movies. He’d even rub my back when I was in pain.”
Two months into the routine, Mike said romantic thoughts began to creep into his head.
“I had a thought — a tiny, little thought — that I loved him. It seemed preposterous. It seemed laughable. I shooed it away immediately. But that thought started creeping into my mind whenever he was away. That thought sneaked in whenever he did something nice or made me laugh.”
Eventually Mike came to terms with these thoughts as something very real. He decided to tell Garrett one evening, and Garrett revealed to Mike that he “loved him too.”
“We had no idea how to make this work. We had no idea if this even could work. Sometimes we still don’t. It took time — years even — to figure it out. But it’s a relationship. None of us know what we’re doing. We just try and negotiate and compromise. And, little by little, you become just another boring couple.”
Mike revealed that yes, he is an otherwise ‘straight’ man in love with another man. His thoughts around his relationship are fascinating,
“I would never reduce Garrett down to just being a man… He’s a pharmacist and a good cook and a great cards player… I love him for who he is, not what he is. We’re more than our gender. We’re more than one attribute. And sometimes we need to remember that. We have this myth of identity — that who we are is the summation of a lot of choices we made in the past. In every moment, we’re changing and evolving and growing. In every moment, we’re reconstructing our identity. We’re not defined by our decisions from two years ago. We’re not even defined by our decisions from two minutes ago. We’re defined by who we choose to be in this very moment.”
Mike’s words are powerful and couldn’t be more accurate. Should we so quickly and directly be defined by our decisions? Should our sexual identity be limited by predisposed cultural programs? I became very curious about human sexuality.
At our core, are we all open to bi-sexual experiences? Is our mono-sexual (hetero or homo) orientation and identity more so influenced and decided by cultural programming?
Bi-Sexuality In The Animal Kingdom
When looking at our animal relatives, the Bonobo Chimpanzees, we quickly learn that bisexuality is commonplace among various chimp groups. They engage in sexual acts with one another for many reasons, whether they are hungry, tired, tense, or whether they just want to play.
In fact, as of 1999, over 1500 species have been observed to showcase bisexual behaviours, including lions, lizards, swans, and dolphins.
Sexual and gender expression in the animal world displays exuberant variety, including same-sex courtship, pair-bonding, sex, and co-parenting–even instances of lifelong homosexual bonding in species that do not have lifelong heterosexual bonding.
Could this observation tell us something about our own innate sexual curiosity?
Are We Born Naturally Inclined To Bi-Sexuality?
Famous neurologist Sigmund Freud was one of the first public figures to address the concept of innate bisexuality.
The conclusions that he drew were based on the fact that at early stages of development, humans undergo a period of hermaphrodism. Based on this, he asserts that all humans are born predisposed to bisexuality but gain other sexualities throughout later psychological development – with bisexuality remaining latent.
This develops into a general theory that attraction to both sexes is possible, but that one is more common for each sex. From there, it is the supposition of some that the way in which humans express or enjoy themselves sexually is indifferent to the gender of the person from which that erotic fulfillment is derived.
Late author Gore Vidal spoke about innate bisexuality during a time when the idea was widely condemned. He said it is the “tribal taboos” that have taken our innate bisexuality away, whereas in fact it is a matter of our human condition that we are all responsive to sexual stimuli from whichever gender it should come from.
Male And Female Same-Sex Experiences: Double Standards?
Traditionally, if a man has experienced even one same-sex encounter, his sexual orientation is almost immediately equated to being homosexual. This old cultural idea effectively erases the possibility of bisexuality being possible for a man.
Yet conversely, it seems bisexuality is more commonly accepted in women. If a woman has a one-time sexual experience with another woman, she is less likely to be categorized as ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ as opposed to two men in the same circumstance.
In the past there seemed to be more sexual identity standards with regards to men as opposed to women.
Even those identifying as bisexual have often been stigmatized, sometimes being described as simply being in transition into pure homosexuality, or being sex crazed. Other social attitudes towards bisexuals paints them as neurotic or ‘incapable of making up their minds.’
In this way, bisexual individuals have been subject to double discrimination, facing hostility from both heterosexuals and homosexuals.
The point is that all too often we get caught up in defining our sexuality and thereby limit our potential as free and open beings. We are quick to place gender labels on people based on predisposed cultural ideas of gender norms. But is this all beginning to change?
Perhaps the labeling of sexuality is dissolving in our current era. In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Bisexuality titled Aren’t We All a Little Bisexual?: The Recognition of Bisexuality in an Unlikely Place, a group of heterosexual male sports players from universities across the US were asked about same-sex experiences.
Researchers asked the men questions such as, “If a straight guy had sex with a guy once, would it make him gay?”. A common answer was, “Only if he wasn’t attracted to women.”
Instead of viewing sexuality as a polarized ‘either/or’ identity, most of these men were interested in discussing issues of sexuality through a recognition of its complexity.
On participant said, “What does it really mean to be gay anyhow?”. When asked to ‘describe bisexuality’ many of these men initially offered an explanation that being bisexual means being sexually attracted to men and women.
Almost all of the men in the study maintained that bisexuality exists among men, and most even recognize bisexuality in themselves, but few know male friends who publicly identify as bisexual.
One of the participants elaborated, “It’s cool right now for girls to be into other girls. I don’t think it’s bad for guys to say they are into other guys… I don’t think there is much homophobia [biphobia], but it’s also not ‘cool’ yet. Maybe it will be in a few years. But, right now, a guy just doesn’t get the same credit with his friends for doing guys as he does for doing girls. So if you’re a guy, and you like girls [too,] I guess it just make sense to say you’re straight.”
Another participant chimed in, “I don’t get it. Why do we have to be straight or gay, or whatever? Why can’t we just be?”
In an article written for the Daily Mail titled Rise of the Female Flexi-Sexual, a study revealed that in 2010 16% of women admitted to sexual experiences with other women, compared to only 4% claiming the same in 1990.
On top of that, women said that they enjoyed the experience, but wouldn’t necessarily classify themselves as bisexual. It seems that our current era offers more sexual freedom without the worry of gender labels.
Dropping The Labels
All of these findings are fascinating indeed, they signify that sexuality is best understood as a spectrum rather than a definitive label. It’s important to take into account multiple variables in understanding sexuality, including emotional preference, social preference and more.
The questions begs, if we were born into a society that was completely neutral and void of gender and sexuality standards, would we all be open to sexual experiences with either sex? Is there an innate same-sex curiosity in all of us, that has been buried by layers of cultural programming around sexual norms?
These are all important questions which will continue to evolve as sexual freedom and non-identification becomes more ubiquitous throughout society. For now, let’s drop the identities and labels around sexual orientation and let sexual expression flow both naturally and freely.
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