Male Bisexuality: The Facts We Don’t Want to See
Last week, I began to read Call me by your name, written by the Egyptian author, André Aciman. Although I haven’t finished the book yet, there were some parts that have drawn my attention so far. Specially, the parts of the book that portrait Elio as bisexual. Although it’s not specifically stated that he has this sexual affiliation, the story implies this.
Even though this book keeps bisexuality pretty open, in real life it isn’t a very open subject. It seems that nowadays, female bisexuality is more accepted than males’. As a friend recently said: ‘I don’t mind bisexual men, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable dating one. It would feel as if he is less of a man, and therefore, I would feel less of a woman.’ She continued: ‘Bisexual women are still female, nothing changes,’ and she added, ‘but male bisexuals just lose some masculinity.’
That conversation made me think about the differences in male and female bisexuality nowadays and how it has changed. Historians suggest that male bisexuality was recognised and was even the norm in periods early as antiquity. So, why is male bisexuality seen as more negative than female’s nowadays? Why are bisexual men seen as less masculine? And how serious is this?
The Western Binary Sexual Orientation
First of all, I want to point out that Western society largely sees sexuality binary construct. These sexual identities are seen as mutually exclusive by a large group. Therefore, the belief that if a person is not straight, they can’t be bisexual is maintained. They must either be gay or lesbian. This belief contributes to the invisibility of bisexuality in terms of sexual landscape. Bisexual people encounter, therefore, bi-negative and unsympathetic communities that are either straight or gay, as shown in studies of Flanders in 2014.
Although there have been some attempts to destabilize the binary construct it seems as if they all have failed. In the late 80’s and early 90’s we saw the rise of the queer activism. Promoting all non-binary sexual orientation as queer. However, this led to the start of monosexism versus queer. Which subtly privileged heterosexuality and homosexuality against queer – and thus bisexuality. This, again, led to the same difference as we saw with binary.
People generally recognise female bisexuality over male bisexuality. Studies on this matter show that bisexual males and females are both seen as hypersexual, but only males are perceived as ‘going through a phase’ or as confused with their own sexuality. It is not clear why bisexual males are seen in this particular way. However, we do know that bisexuality is a misunderstood sexual orientation due to the belief of the Western binary construct of sexuality, and that defiant sexual roles, especially male sexual roles, are often seen as negative.
Furthermore, studies show that bisexual males are perceived by gay communities as ‘‘attention-seeking whores’’ or as if they are just gays who don’t dare to come out. The arguments for these statements are, sadly, unknown. Nonetheless, we do know that there is a higher judgement rate against new people or new subjects in homosexual communities than in heterosexual communities. Together with the binary beliefs, it could be seen as a cause for these statements.
The role of masculinity
Studies of Flanders & Hartfield in 2014 show that cisgender straight people perceive bisexual males as more homosexual and less heterosexual than bisexual females who are engaged in identical behaviours. Also, a study of Yost & Thomas in 2012 found that cisgender straight people were more likely to doubt the sexuality of a man than a woman. Stating that these men should be ‘really gay’ and not bisexual. In general, having sex with more than one gender is perceived as more of a gender role violation for men, than it is for women. This phenomenon is largely caused by social norms, including hegemonic masculinity – which defines the sexual roles of dominance.
Moreover, we have to keep in mind that masculinity is defined by the image Western society has of it. And together with hegemonic masculinity, it implies some dominance over femininity and other sexual roles. With the violation of the masculine role, two things might happen. The rejection by other cis males who value this masculine role. But also, cisgender females who value the same role can feel as if they are less feminine.
Some other issues
Females that value this sexual role are often afraid that a bisexual partner would become gay in the future. This fear can be interpreted as fear of losing their femininity to a man. Due to this fear, bisexual men are often perceived as less trustworthy in a relationship. And sometimes even called being incapable of being faithful in a relationship. In this way they can justify their fear. This negativity is not only seen with female partners, but also in the gay communities. These communities feel as if bisexual males ‘would just have sex with anyone’.
To go back to the issue of invisibility of bisexuality, studies show that four out of five bisexual males do not openly come out, because of fear. In addition, bisexuality for men can sometimes feel as erased. It is generally perceived that a gay male that has casually intercourse with more than only men is still gay. However, when a straight man does the same, he is not seen any longer as straight. This points to the limitations that masculinity brings for the availability of same-gender behaviour for men.
All in all, it seems that the acceptance and recognition of male bisexuality is still far from present. However, I cannot say if this is caused by the previously discussed points. Neither can I say if changing the general attitude against male bisexuality will improve this matter directly. Nonetheless, I hope that our generation will make a difference in this with the knowledge we have access to, nowadays.
Although it is clear that bisexual males are perceived more negatively than bisexual females, it is still unclear to me which other factors are involved with the more positive view of female bisexuality. Does the opposite effect apply to female bisexuality? Is femininity less of a deal? Or is it more accepted because of masculine preference? Let me know what you think about this in the comments. Also, let me know if you think I missed anything or just your opinion on this piece.