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From Phyllida's Desk

Natural Bisexuality

As regular readers and viewers of my Facebook author "fan page" have probably noticed, most of my posts are about writing, usually links to articles in publications like the New York Times. But what generate the most interest are photos (Facebook is a visual medium) and posts that in some way address the substance or theme of my own writing: male bisexuality, and the m/m/f ménage.

This past year and more, I've been struggling with my next novel--not just the writing, but its underlying concept. All of my work, the HarperCollins novels and the self-published e-books ("Lady Amalie's memoirs") can be categorized as fiction written from the point of view of a woman happily married to a bisexual man who also has a male partner. I've enjoyed writing about this situation in various forms (Regency romance, Jane Austen mash-up, sword-and-sorcery/fantasy) as a way of examining my own sexuality. But recently I've found that, just as a hilarious joke becomes less funny the more we analyze it, so the more I've asked myself "why" I'm attracted to dominant bisexual men (and the more I figure out the answers), the less interesting the subject becomes. In other words, over the long haul, my identity as a writer is more enduringly meaningful (to me) than my identity as a bisexual writer.

But the expression of bisexual identity, especially for men, continues to create misunderstanding, confusion and (still) bigotry among monosexuals. Over the past months, I've had some new experiences, and revisited old ones, that I want to share, via Facebook and my blog, limited as that exposure is. And so, one more post from what I've been calling "the third perspective," the woman who is married, by choice, to a bisexual man with one or more male partners.

Last week I attended a presentation called "Bisexuality: Identity and Experience" organized by the TrevorProject NextGen NYC:


While all the presentations were excellent, the two that directly meshed with the area of my writing, from writer Ron Suresha and sociologist Dr. Aih Djehuti Herukhuti, discussed the inherent naturalness of male bisexuality. From the Kinsey scale's introduction in the 1940s, with its view of sexuality as a continuum and its definition of bisexuality as anything from 1 to 5 (including everyone who is slightly bisexual along with people whose behavior is 50/50, and excluding those at the extremes of 0 and 6), to the increasing recognition of the pervasiveness of male bisexual behavior in nonwestern and past societies, we are hearing more and more of the arguments I made in a 2011 conference presentation and in an article published online last October:


As gay Brit blogger Mark Simpson has been saying for years: "Exclusive, life-long male homosexuality is the exceptional, not the normal form of male-on-male desire."


Really, it's the exclusively gay or hetero people who have some 'splainin' to do. (Just kidding, guys--no one should feel obliged to explain his or her sexual identity). The problem comes when those monosexual extremists require bisexual people to explain ourselves, or worse, deny our existence, our self-identification, or see nothing wrong in trashing it as lying, cheating or STD-spreading immorality.

My first personal experience with this occurred back in 2006, when a former coworker with whom I had remained friendly reacted with offense and hostility when I shared an online interview after I had self-published my first novel. "Why did you think I would want to read this?" she asked, the remembered heat of that flame e-mail still enough to singe me today. My coworker would, I think, have been embarrassed to express her revulsion at my congenital deformity of the hands, even if she felt it. Our culture teaches us to hide any hurtful responses we may have, even involuntary ones, to a condition of disability or unusual appearance that is also involuntary. But she had no reticence in expressing her revulsion at my perceived bisexuality, a reaction all the more disturbing because she was, as far as I knew, a lesbian.

Once my novel was published by HarperCollins, the greater publicity it received also generated a level of backlash to the idea of a primarily same-sex-oriented hero who discovers his (slightly) bisexual nature in the course of his marriage of convenience to a woman. Here, again, I was unprepared for the level of vitriol, especially from within the so-called LGBTQ "community." When I expressed my surprise and dismay to another coworker, a self-described former hippie and one who was consistently supportive of my writing, she said the rejection of bisexuality by lesbian and gay people was "understandable" given their long struggle for identity in a heteronormative world. Which of course, it may be--but this attitude nevertheless distressed me with its acceptance of prejudice by an otherwise progressive individual.

It was only years later, while working on that conference paper, that I truly became aware of the topsy-turvy world we inhabit today, one that is ironically the result of two cultural changes for the better: the development of the concept of sexual orientation as an identity; and the change from marriage as an arrangement based on property and family connections to one based on romantic love. And it was while writing a follow-up post after the paper was finally published, about an article that discussed life for LGBTQ people in Pakistan, a world very much pre-sexual-identity and pre-romantic marriage, that my own questions about how these changes affect bisexuality began to reach the surface of my consciousness.


In Pakistan, as in many nonwestern (and perhaps preindustrial) cultures, it is easier to engage in a clandestine same-sex romance than a hetero one. Of course, same-sex couples can't marry; their love exists outside marriage, as all romantic love used to.

This post, like the long paper it followed, was written for groups that celebrate romantic love in its modern form through the study of popular romance fiction; my two novels discussed in the paper are romances. I had (and have) no desire to repudiate romantic love, nor could I sanely argue for a return to the strict gender roles of some religions and past societies and the oppression of sexual minorities and women that results. But I can't help thinking that with the rise of romantic love as the sole criterion for forming marriages some difficult questions arise, ones that have no clear answers.

As Stephanie Koontz argues persuasively in her book Marriage: a History--How Love Conquered Marriage


once we accept romantic love as the only valid basis for marriage, then there is simply no sensible reason that two people of the same sex should not be allowed to marry. At a time when not all married people want children, and when people who do want children no longer must engage in hetero sex to have them, the definition of marriage as a union of "one man and one woman" is an outdated concept at best. And the idea that domestic chores and household management are "women's work" that can only be done by a wife, not a husband, is simply ludicrous in today's world.

But what's most fascinating in the discussions among bisexuals and other LGBTQ people is that marriage itself is once again being questioned. The split is less between gay and straight, and more between those who favor monogamy and those who prefer some form of polyamory. Singles-by-choice and asexuals are also speaking up. In the TreverProject's Q&A following the presentations, the point was made that, especially with the successful campaigns for marriage equality, the social divide is widening between those LGBTQ people who say that they're "just like" heterosexual people, with the same desires for a conventional marriage and family life, and the others, many of them bisexual, who don't feel the same, and who don't want the same things, or not exactly.

In many societies of the past, and still in some today, especially those that exist outside or before the rise of monotheistic, restrictive religions, when a man married a woman for the conventional "unromantic" reasons, there was little or no shame in his enjoying a romantic love outside of marriage, with another man. This is not to say that he did not love his wife, and she him--only that the marriage was less monogamous, more polyamorous, and the love between husband and wife more practical in some ways: centered on forming a household and raising children. This ancient understanding of marriage, whether freely chosen or arranged, saw love as developing *after* marriage, the outgrowth of companionship, and resulting from a good match based on shared interests and background. Marriage led to love, not the other way around.

And as in Jack Scott's post about Ireland and Celtic culture


so in most cultures there was a long history of celebration and acceptance of male bisexuality. What Scott has done is to speak bravely from personal experience as a highly sexed man. Obviously, this is only one way among many of being bisexual, but it seems to be universal: men who marry women they love and desire, whose marriages are sexually satisfying, and who also desire men. It's important to say *and* here, not "but," because this bisexuality is expressed within the context of a conventional man-woman marriage in a traditional heteronormative society. This male same-sex activity is not occurring outside of marriage because it "cannot speak its name," or because the men "have to" marry women to "pass" as straight, but because these masculine bisexual men *want* hetero marriage. They love their wives *and* their male partners, both.

It's only with the recent trends toward identity politics and love marriages that all these desires were suddenly set in opposition to each other. If hetero marriage is based only on love, and if monogamy is the norm, then a person ought to choose one partner, man or woman, and be faithful to him or her. If we now see ourselves as having a sexual orientation, must we suppress our "weaker" (or less strong) desire, reject our bisexuality, and "choose a side," as many bisexual people have felt pressure to do, to identify as exclusively gay or straight? The common trend among monosexuals to define bisexuality as limited to that very small segment band of those whose desires are exactly 50/50 exacerbates this situation.

Both Scott and Simpson have noticed that many bisexual men have a lot more in common with heterosexual men than with today's androgynous, gender-bending, pansexual and fluid youngsters. (Not that there's anything wrong with any of that.) But this dare I say old-fashioned kind of bisexuality seems hard-wired into not only human beings but all species that reproduce sexually, that *have* sexes (male and female individuals). It's the sex drive that drives reproduction; not heterosexuality but sexuality. As evolutionary biologists continue to point out, evolution is not progress, and species and behavior don't evolve to a plan or on purpose. If something works, it's passed on through the generations. If something doesn't work, individuals that possess that trait or behave in that way don't survive to reproduce.

Every animal species that has been observed engages in bisexual behavior. Why should we humans be different? And why, as a cisgender woman who desires (among other things) cisgender men, should I not be turned on by those men having sex with each other? Why, especially, should I not want my ideal husband to behave in a way that is natural for him, an expression of his healthy sexuality, his evolutionary fitness? Why shouldn't the "third perspective" be the usual perspective?

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