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And Why I Don’t Care

Patrick Julius

By Patrick Julius
Patrick Julius is 20 years old, finishing his second year studying Brain, Behavior, and Cognitive Science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Patrick writes for Beyond Masculinity wearing the label of “bisexual” (fairly accurate, yet incomplete, as his essay will describe), which he also wears on coming-out panels for the Speaker’s Bureau of the University of Michigan Spectrum Center. He knows four languages (English, Latin, Arabic, and some Japanese), has written a book on special relativity, and is currently working on an invention that provides cardiovascular exercise and reduces carbon dioxide emissions at the same time.
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And to complicate matters further, there remains a question of whether sexual orientation is constant throughout one’s life—or even from day to day. I honestly don’t know; the answer might actually depend what you mean by the words “sexual orientation.” My own intuition is that there is some underlying core orientation that stays largely constant, but that the specifics can be significantly modulated by moods and experiences day to day and year to year. Was I gayer this morning than last Thursday, or did it just feel that way? What if I was gayer for visual stimuli and straighter for smells? I can’t say for sure, and I really don’t know how one would even go about finding out—or if it really matters anyway.

I belie all of this complexity when I label myself “bisexual;” this I do mostly for my own convenience. Rather than pulling out a brochure for the Klein continuum and delivering an hour-long lecture explaining my own multidimensional sexuality, it’s easier for me to simply use a pre-existing label and present an image of someone who doesn’t particularly care about the sex or gender of my partner. I can always explain the specifics later if it happens to come up. In the same way, I’m sure it’s easier for a mostly homoerotic and heteroromantic young man who is presently just looking for sex to say that he is “gay” so it’s clear what sort of person he’s interested in right now. If such a man grows up and marries a woman, has that man sold out? Is he closeted? Maybe not; maybe the only thing that has changed is the particular face of his identity that is most salient in his life. Or maybe these things really can change at a deeper level, but the ways they change remain mysterious to us.

In any case, it’s nowhere near as simple as we make it out to be. Nor should we expect it to be! Part of the problem is that we are bothering to taxonomize our sexuality in the first place. There are no psychologists charting out the percentage of people who prefer broccoli to asparagus, no pastors decrying the sinfulness of enjoying chocolate rather than vanilla. I have little doubt that these preferences are equally complicated as sexual orientation (broccoli goes better with stir-fry, but what about barbecued in tin-foil? Normally I like chocolate, but the other day, vanilla really hit the spot),  but we simply don’t bother to categorize people that way. We don’t even do the same thing in other kinds of sexual preference: there isn’t a word for someone who prefers blondes to brunettes, and there aren’t political organizations dedicated to destroying or upholding the rights of foot-fetishists. For some reason, we see sexual orientation differently; grand institutions have been built around defining vaginal sex between one male and one female as the only acceptable sort of sexual behavior and all other sorts of sex as not merely distinct, but so much so that one is good, holy, even obligatory and the other is evil, degenerate, even unforgivable. Even if we grant them roughly equal ethical status (as most LGBT people and allies probably would), we still tend to see some profound distinction between these two kinds of sex, and by analogy between the sorts of people who choose to engage in them. Speaking as a biological scientist, this is not a completely arbitrary distinction to make—obviously, male-female vaginal sex is the only kind of sex that ever produces children, and there are epidemiological differences as well—but it distorts and oversimplifies the issue immensely, elevating real but minor differences to absolute categories.

Ultimately, I think this is why it is so difficult to pin down a simple, accurate, measurable concept of sexual orientation: sexual orientation is not a concept we discovered, it is a concept we invented. It is imposed upon the world, not found within it; and except as a very broad generalization it does not accurately reflect the true state of human affairs. Maybe it is a convenient notion for certain circumstances (in a gay bar, I can expect to find men who are interested in men, at least in that particular context, at that particular moment in their lives); but we must be willing to abandon our convenient notions when they become oppressive.

So yes, I call myself “bisexual.” It’s easier, quicker this way; there is a little pink-purple-blue flag I can wear (that at least most LGBT people seem to recognize, though straights are typically befuddled); I have something to say when someone asks whether I like men or women. I have an identity label I can use when I speak on coming-out panels. And yes, I do all this even though my sexuality is vastly more complicated than the label makes it sound, so much so that indeed I’d probably fail a plethysmograph.

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Juan said:

It bothers me that Patrick takes on the title of "bisexual", particularly because of my own struggles with these same experiences.

I am an 18-year-old male, that for 7 years has been predominantly sexually attracted to males, while still having a powerful sexual attraction to the single woman I have identified to be as the love of my life.

My experience has been that while thinking of myself as "gay" was the title that made the most sense (to me) it was still partly inaccurate. For society, which observed my growing 3 and a half year relationship with my girlfriend, and my physical dynamics with her, it was assumed that I "must be BI". This category bothered me even more, because I have never, aside from my girlfriend, been able to identify a woman who could consistently give me an erection.

Furthermore, there are even some (specifically my family) who continue to categorize me as "straight", and discard any displays of affection I may have towards men as "temporary confusion".

The bottom line is that I do not feel ANYONE has the right to force me under the umbrella of any of these three categories. I am NOT gay, NOT straight, and NOT bisexual... and though at times it may be simpler to tell people I'm gay to justify my behaviors and to offset the courting from other women, to say I am "GAY" is to lie about who I really am.

I see myself as QUEER (i.e. UNCONVENTIONAL)

Posted at: May 20, 2008 10:52 PM

Sally said:

I am a straight woman who finds the idea of bisexuality or ambiguous sexuality in men, frankly, horrifying and threatening on a very visceral level. Articles like this have been crucially important to challenging that reaction, by helping me understand the extent to which forced binary sexuality limits the possibilities in all relationships, and I really appreciate Patrick's honesty and candor.

I also think its important to discuss the degree to which life experience would also seemingly dictate the descriptors one would use to define their own sexuality, i.e. whether or not you happen to meet the one woman or man (or 2 or 10) who can give you an erection/whom you fall in love with (I realize the terms man and woman are also generalizing, but since thats sort of the premise of the essay, bare with me). I think there should be more discussion regarding the fact that often times in life "orientation" depends a lot on the specific person/s (rather than necessarily pornography) that we find ourselves attracted to, a concept which I think of as even more disturbing and beautiful.

Posted at: May 21, 2008 5:20 PM

Jason Dilts said:

I really enjoyed this essay and Patrick's honesty. It was very helpful in my understanding complexities that exist within sexualities. I have always easily and comfortably fit into the identities of homoerotic attraction, but bringing in the other realms of romance and platonic orientations has really got my mind turning. Thanks for the insightful and provocative analysis!!

Posted at: May 24, 2008 5:27 PM

johnny said:

"is currently working on an invention that provides cardiovascular exercise and reduces carbon dioxide emissions at the same time."

sorry man, someone already invented that. it's called the bicycle.

Posted at: September 5, 2008 8:16 PM

Richard said:

This is a really great essay. It is really close to my own experiences. Thanks for letting the B's of LGBT know that we are not the only ones who are a bit 'queer'

Posted at: August 4, 2011 3:03 AM

Gregory said:

This is the sort of stuff that should be taught in sex-ed classes! I wish more people understood the world this way - it always seemed like such an obvious truth to me, and yet most people I know are so stuck in the "gay / straight" world (often even denying the existence of bisexuality or anything like it). This writer's character is so ridiculously me, I'm wondering if I have a long-lost twin I was never told about! :P

Posted at: October 26, 2011 10:08 AM