The writer Garrett Jones has written one of the most comprehensive perspectives on bisexuality I have ever read. The following, along with the other pages you’ll find under this heading are his view on bisexuality in their entirety.
This book is a contribution to our modern quest for greater honesty and precision about sex, both in our thinking and in our practice. It makes no attempt to be detached or clinical but draws heavily on its author’s personal experience of sex and the experience of the considerable number of men who have confided in him. It cannot claim professional expertise, although it draws on reasonably wide reading in this field. My main qualification for attempting a book of this kind is that I have myself enjoyed a long, happy and diverse sex life which has contributed more to my good health and sense of well-being than any other single factor.
Sex has always seemed to me about the most engrossing subject there is. I remember feeling this as a small boy. I knew very little about the facts of the matter but I sensed their erotic pull. I now know a good deal about the facts of the matter, but the erotic pull remains undiminished. There is nothing unusual or remarkable about this except there do seem to be a number of people around who share my enthusiasm for sex but who, for one reason or another, have never been able to acknowledge it, not even to themselves.
As a lad of six or seven, playing doctors with my big sister and her pals, I knew there was something far more exciting and fascinating about the touch and exploration of other bodies, especially the hidden bits, than I had any reason to expect; I just felt it. Now, I can view a seeming infinity of male bodies on the Net, many of them proudly exhibiting their pricks, a surprising number of them as beautiful as they are sexy, and not merely feel their erotic attraction but also account for it.
My adult experience of sex has made my childhood fascination much easier to explain. Even so, there is still an element of mystery and excitement which defies rationalisation. I have been endowed with a big head but not specially big genitals. In spite of this, I have learned not to let my head bully my balls.
Already, I have a little explaining to do.
On the linguistic front, you will notice I favour Anglo-Saxon sexual terminology. I have talked about “pricks” and “balls” and this may seem to you unwarrantably crude.
It is hardly surprising, in view of the way most of us have been reared, if you feel like this. But unless you are able to come to terms with this feeling, seeing it for what it is, prepared to spend some time allowing it to change, there would be little point in going on with this book. You would be on the wrong wavelength. This isn’t a trivial matter, as I hope to demonstrate.
If we confine our attention to the male organ for the present, it must surely have occurred to you that the so-called ‘proper’ term is badly out of step with our words for other body parts: head, ear, eye, mouth, nose, leg, foot, arm, hand, etc. When have you heard even a doctor using a variant for any of these words?
The word ‘penis’ is Latin and means ‘tail’, suggesting immediately we feel sheepish about talking about it at all and can only do so by using a foreign word for a body part we don?t actually have and which, even if we did, would be entirely sexless.
Another deficiency of the term ‘penis’ is its failure to indicate which of its two states this organ is currently in. It is surely outrageous that a part of the body which has two quite distinct functions and which looks quite different when performing each of them should always be referred to by the same blanket term? It is as if we do not want to acknowledge the remarkable versatility of the ‘penis’, preferring to let it hang its head in shame.
Were we not conditioned to be so evasive, it would be much simpler to refer to a ‘flaccid penis’ as a ‘cock’ [= a tap] and an ‘erect penis’ as a ‘prick’ [= an organ which is stiff enough to penetrate]. True, because these words have customarily been regarded as disreputable, they have been used carelessly and often interchangeably, though I notice there is a growing tendency to use them more carefully, in the way I have just indicated.
Another deficiency of the word ‘penis’ is its extreme awkwardness in the plural. If I had agreed to be saddled with it, I should have needed, when talking about my Net-viewing just now, to talk about ‘penises’ or ‘penes’, both of which are an abomination. It is probably for this reason Dr James Docherty, in his excellent “guide for children and parents” about the facts of life, refers to a whole page of photographs of twinned cocks and pricks by a collective singular – ‘the penis’. These photographs, incidentally, are designed to show children the various shapes and sizes in which the male organ comes and the difference between the erect and the flaccid state of the same organ. [<>see his Growing Up, Modus/Royal Society of Medicine, 1986, pp. 46f].
If, as soon as we talk to our children about sex, we feel obliged to refer to ‘penises’ and ‘vaginas’, which sometimes (not too often) ‘have sexual intercourse’, we make it quite clear we feel as uncomfortable about this subject as the words sound when we try to talk about it.
It can be argued, of course, that we do need two separate vocabularies to distinguish educative or scientific discourse about sex from pornography or titillation. The fatal flaw in this argument is that no words can rob sex of its sexiness. I have sometimes overheard schoolboys talking to each other about sex in a swimming-pool changing room. They have often been using the ‘proper’ terms, but not in a way their parents and teachers would have regarded as proper!
Perhaps I should also explain why I have just admitted it is male nudes which constitute my preferred viewing on the Net. This seems to indicate I am gay.
If by ‘gay’ is meant that my dominant sex drive is homosexual, this is not misleading. I find sex (non-anal) with the right fellow more exciting than anything else in life.
But this admission by no means ties it all up into a neat little parcel. I am also a married man with two daughters and four grandchildren – and wouldn’t change that for all the world. I find sex with my wife still the most satisfying (if not always the most exciting) of experiences and I love the complementarity of living with her. I find it hard to envisage an exclusively gay lifestyle which could be as rounded or as fulfilling.
For at least the last thirty-five years I have accepted I am bisexual and have gradually been able to work out a satisfying bisexual lifestyle. I want to share what I have learned because, when I read what various sexologists have to say on this subject, I usually find, whilst a good deal may be informative and consistent with my own experience, some of it strikes me as dangerously wide of the mark. I shall be giving examples in subsequent chapters.
The biggest problem, however, is the ease with which a married bisexual, provided he acts with reasonable discretion, can seem to be conforming to the conventional ‘straight’ stereotype. In fact there seems to be almost a conspiracy to ensure this is what happens. Sometimes, in conversation, I have divulged my bisexual lifestyle to a friend. It is often a bit like farting. The friend has looked decidedly uncomfortable and, as quickly as possible, changed the subject. Since I have no desire to make a ‘big deal’ of my sex life and know my wife would prefer to let sleeping dogs lie, I have not complained about this, though it seems to me the time has now come to press the point, if only because it is dishonest and misleading for people like myself to give the wrong impression to youngsters.
To a degree, the blatant veiling or ‘closeting’ of unwelcome sexual facts, which is such a prominent feature of the British ethos, is simply a by-product of our cherished right to privacy in the sexual domain. So long as our activities are not offending or harming other people, they are our own business, nobody else’s. Few married couples want to put themselves in the kind of spotlight which could become highly intrusive, a threat to the integrity of their relationship and a source of anxiety for their children.
On the other hand, if all seemingly straight couples are assumed to be as straight as they seem, this is a serious distortion of the actual situation and is particularly misleading for young people, who often lack the experience to distinguish between appearance and reality. Men who live bisexually are said to outnumber men who are exclusively gay in the ratio of three to two [<>see article entitled Understanding and Orienting Queer Students: Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Identity Development Applied to a Student Orientation Program by Kimberley K. Goodwin (Internet), where she cites work done by Kinsey, Pomeroy and Martin in 1948], and my own experience would suggest this is a very conservative estimate, yet, if almost all married bisexuals are invisible to friends and neighbours, sceptics can be forgiven for challenging the statistics.
The secrecy is not all in the public domain either. I have had sexual relationships or encounters with quite a number of married men whose own wives have been blissfully unaware of what was going on. Inevitably this introduced an element of furtiveness into the relationship which prevented the openness needed for the development of a balanced friendship.
Although my own sexual outlook and experience will seem utterly alien to many men whose genes and histories are different from mine, many of these men would be genuinely surprised if they knew how common people like myself actually are. In my own case, sexual intimacies with youths and men of widely differing types, in three continents, over five decades, has taught me I am by no means unusual – in spite of what social convention in this and other countries would have us believe.
Leonard Bernstein affords an unusually honest example of the type of married bisexual I represent. Without doubt America’s most versatile and accomplished musician to date, Bernstein was always quite open about his bisexual lifestyle. He married in 1951 and had three children over the next decade. In 1971 he embarked on a trial separation from his wife in order to live with Tom Cochran, thinking, now the children had grown, he would feel easier in a less ambiguously gay environment. It did not work out that way. He was back with his wife within a year, having learned the hard way how much he needed her. Unfortunately his wife, Felicia, died of cancer seven years later. [<>See webpages which include information about Bernstein's sexuality, including the articles in Wikipedia and in Fyne Times: also contributions by Mark Eden Horowitz and Paul Myers, and the site devoted to West Side Story]
If social pressure to conform to a monolithic sexual stereotype is less oppressive than it was when I was a youth, this greater fluidity has also made some people more frightened. Faced with some knowledge of the range of sexual types and lifestyles around them, these people become less tolerant than ever. As the familiar walls begin to crumble, they try desperately to shore them up. AIDS has given them an excellent excuse for trying to marginalise the people they regard as sexual and social renegades.
There is in any case always a time lag between what the better informed sexologists and more adventurous lovers are saying is ‘normal’ or virtually universal and what society at large is prepared to accept or condone,
Wanking [<>Americans would probably be more at home with 'jerking (or jacking) off' but the English term has the merit of only having the one syllable and the one meaning] is a case in point. Only fifty years ago, when Kinsey first dropped his bombshell, ‘masturbation’ or ‘self-abuse’ was still being denounced as a vicious habit which could issue in blindness or insanity. No healthy-minded boy would yield to such a degrading and hazardous temptation. [<>Lord Baden-Powell wrote, in his Scouting To-day, that masturbation was a most unhealthy abuse of the 'private parts', warning his young readers 'if you misuse them while young you will not be able to use them when you are a man; they will not work then.' Those who yield to temptation can expect anything from palpitations to lunacy as a result. Quoted from Michael Rosenthal, The Character Factory: Baden-Powell and the origins of the Boy Scout Movement, Collins 1986, p. 187.] Boys caught wanking each other in a boarding school could expect expulsion or, at the very least, a very severe dressing down.
Most of the sex manuals published since Kinsey have actually encouraged wanking as a safety valve, a means of acquiring erotic technique, a harmless source of pleasure, a healthy physical release, and, by no means least, a safeguard against rushing into ill-considered and possibly lethal sexual adventures with others.
In spite of all this, there are some religious circles in which none of this would seem to have happened. Wanking continues to be regarded, on the rare occasions when it is alluded to, as a quite unnecessary and sinful [<>often with vague and irrelevant reference to the 'sin of Onan', who 'spilled his seed' rather than beget a child for Tamar, his widowed sister-in-law (Gen 38:8-9; see Deut 25:5-10)] self-indulgence. Such circles try to perpetuate the idea that sex is the divinely ordained mechanism for reproducing ourselves and should only be engaged in by married couples who are at least open to the possibility of conceiving a child, hence the traditional Roman Catholic hostility to all contraceptive devices.
Gayness is another case in point. Fifty years ago, homosexuality was hardly talked about and only practised by those prepared to risk imprisonment and social ostracism. The conventional wisdom was that the overwhelming majority of human beings were exclusively heterosexual, with only a handful of unfortunate or perverse ‘inverts’ hovering somewhere in the shadows.
Now, gayness is constantly being talked about in the media and is known to permeate the arts and even to penetrate the more macho sanctuaries of science and sport. The man who pioneered computer technology in this country is now known to have been gay and has a gay website in his honour [<>see the 'Alan Turing' website]. More than one winner of the women’s tennis championship at Wimbledon is now known to have been at least partly lesbian. This has not prevented gangs of backwoodsmen from going on gay-bashing sprees, nor has it become any easier for some sons and daughters to ‘come out’ to their parents.
Bisexuality, however, is still something of a conundrum to the majority of people. Fifty years ago it had scarcely been heard of. Now, although a good deal is said about it, there remains a great deal of fear, confusion, and ignorance about it.
The ‘gayness’ we read about in the history books, whether in ancient Greece or in not-so-ancient Britain, turns out, more often than not, to have been more accurately described as bisexuality. Most of the more famous ‘gays’ were actually married men with children, not least Oscar Wilde himself. Many militant gay activists resist this muddying of what they like to regard as a clear-cut, either-or issue, but they are embarrassed by the fact many well-known and practically exclusively gay men (from E M Forster onwards), who would shrink from the prospect of marriage themselves, have been vocal in their preference for married men – even married policemen! – as longer-term sexual partners.
What adds greatly to the confusion is the fact we touched on earlier: most practising bisexuals are invisible. Since they all engage in heterosexual sex and mostly keep quiet about their homosexual sex, they are generally assumed to be straight.
This can be very puzzling for a youngster. A good deal of excellent material used for PSE [Personal and Social Education] in schools, and most of the handbooks about sex in the bookshops, make it clear only a minority of people on the outer edges of the Kinsey spectrum are unaware of ambivalence in their sex drive. Yet this ambivalence is rarely visible out there in society. People who are married or living with female partners are assumed to be heterosexual, whilst others may be known to be, whether flamboyantly or discreetly, homosexual. The latter have only been visible for a little over thirty years since they had no legal right to exist before then.
OK, say our schoolchildren, so there are plenty of straights around and quite a few gays. Where on earth are the bisexuals?
As we have seen, people who do live bisexually often, so far from feeling a need to declare themselves, feel a distinct need not to declare themselves. A fellow who falls for a girl knows, if he is to stand a chance with her, he has to declare his love so that, if it is reciprocated, he and she can be publicly recognised as a couple. Even if they remain unmarried, they are likely to cohabit and to become co-parents without any attempt at secrecy.
A fellow seeking a male partner will also often have declared himself by ‘coming out’, perhaps going ‘on the scene’, thereby increasing the range of his options.
The case is rather different with men who live bisexually. Very few of these men are what Masters and Johnson termed ‘ambisexual’ [<>see W.H.Masters and V.E.Johnson, Human Sexual Response, 1966, and Homosexuality in Perspective, 1979], as indifferent to gender as ‘ambidextrous’ people are to left or right. Most bisexual men have a pronounced bias in favour of one gender but, at the same time, they have discovered in themselves a less imperious sexual and emotional need for the other. Although this other need is not as urgent as the dominant drive, they realise its satisfaction is still vitally important if they are to feel complete as people [<>It is for this reason it is highly misleading to define 'bisexuals' as those who sit exactly in the centre of the seven-shaded Kinsey spectrum, yet this is what Maurice Yaffé and Elizabeth Fenwick do in the key to their Sexual Profile Graph at the end of Sexual Happiness for Men, Dorling Kindersley, 1986, p.160. It is much sounder to define the minority who are poised more or less in the centre of the spectrum as 'ambisexual' and the majority who inhabit all but the outer fringes and the exact centre as in some degree 'bisexual']
Since my own sexuality is not even-handed, at least so far as drive is concerned (my primary drive being homosexual), it is worth quoting from the website of Michael W. Ebert, who tells us, after some detail about his musical and artistic interests:
I’m also an avowed bisexual; this little fact has figured prominently in my life, too. I have a lot of debates with my friends about bisexuality–most of them use the word to describe a kind of a “dually appetitive” state, i.e., a state in which an individual has one sexual appetite for men, and another, distinct one for women. When I use the term as a label for myself, however, I am describing a kind of “ambisexuality”, a state in which an individual perceives no important difference between men and women in terms of objects of sexual desire. Basically, I find myself attracted to minds, wits, bodies, quirks, etc.–personalities dictate my desire. Intimacy is intimacy; sex is sex; and tenderness is tenderness.
What is especially confusing is that many men (like myself) who live bisexually, in spite of the fact they have a marked bias in the homosexual direction, actually cohabit with a woman, enjoy a stable relationship with her, and, in many cases, become doting fathers. Such men are often respectably married and highly regarded professionally unless or until some scandal upsets the applecart – as has happened rather tragically with more than one highly placed politician in recent years.
Why is it such men seem to be so greedy, wanting the best of both worlds?
It doesn’t really take a great deal of imagination to find the answer. If a man’s sex drive is predominantly gay, nothing, not even a lifetime of happy conjugal sex, is going to alter it. But that does not necessarily mean he is going to want to ‘come out’ and adopt an exclusively gay lifestyle.
For one thing, he may not want his sexuality to become his most widely advertised feature or his most constant preoccupation; for another, he may be keen to become a father and may, in any case, find the prospect of living with a woman more attractive than living with a man.
Suppose such a man does get married and have children, he has basically three options. First, he may try to suppress his dominant drive altogether and try to become wholeheartedly heterosexual. If sex works out well in marriage, as it often does, this may seem to be a fairly attainable goal – though it rarely is. A good deal of the rage vented by husbands on their wives is the by-product of suppressed, often unacknowledged, homosexuality.
His second option, and the one I myself adopted, is to tell his prospective bride the truth about his sexuality, perhaps expressing the hope, now he has fallen in love with her, his homosexual urge will sink into the background once they are married. This leaves her free to decide whether or not she wants to take the risk of marrying him.
His third option obviously is to say nothing and hope for the best; this is the one most commonly adopted and the one which fits best with our long history of sexual subterfuge and hypocrisy.
How do wives react to these three kinds of bisexual husband or partner?
To the first kind, the reaction is likely to be one of lifelong puzzlement about behaviour which seems wholly unaccountable; in the worst cases, she may end up seeking refuge in a shelter for battered wives. To the second, there is likely to be a period of fading hope that the husband’s experience of sex with herself will render his homosexual urge redundant, followed by a period of adjustment to the fact it hasn’t and won’t, not ever. To the third, there will probably be a nagging suspicion (which may be either confronted or evaded) that her husband is hiding something important from her; should she suddenly chance on the truth, this may come as a dreadful shock, especially if it is something she had been totally unprepared for.
Whichever of the three courses he adopts, no bisexually active man who is happily married and has children is going to want to do anything which could very adversely affect, perhaps even wreck, his family life. He is therefore likely to feel the homosexual side of his life has to be kept hidden (even from his wife if he has adopted the third option). If he has confided in his wife (the second option), she may have stipulated he must be discreet since, though she can live with his bisexuality, she would find it hard to live with a scandal which could blight her life and the lives of the children.
Whilst all this is very understandable, it is very far from ideal. Clearly, what would or would not cause traumatic scandal depends very much on the prevailing social ethos. Only a few years ago, it was considered shameful for an unmarried woman to become pregnant or for a married couple to seek divorce or for a couple to live together without being married. Few eyebrows would be raised these days by any of these happenings. Even U.S. President Bill Clinton’s eventually very public affair with Monica Lewinsky was not considered sufficiently eyebrow-raising by American voters to make a threatened impeachment possible – to the great embarrassment of his political opponents.
Where anything concerning homosexuality or bisexuality is concerned, the situation is still confusingly uneven. What would not even cause the raising of eyebrows in most large cities may, if discovered, still totally dislocate the lives of people living in a small town or village.
We are thus in this strange situation where children at school may be told that virtually everybody is in some degree bisexual, where sex manuals routinely convey the same message, yet where almost nobody seems to be living bisexually.
The message still most powerfully projected to the naive observer is that the majority of men are straight, a minority are queer but a tiny few just can’t make up their minds or don’t have the guts to ‘come out’.
This is such a travesty of the actual situation and of the facts about human sexuality it has to be corrected. Anybody who grew up in the era before Kinsey must be profoundly grateful for the revolution which the introduction of a little factual enquiry has introduced into the sexual arena. Instead of lofty sermonising (often highly hypocritical) about how sex lives should be lived, we are now increasingly aware of how sex lives actually are lived.
Inevitably Kinsey attracted a great deal of criticism: it was maintained his survey techniques were flawed and his statistics unreliable; he was too involved personally for his research to be regarded as scientific or objective; he himself had some atypical sexual propensities – and so on.
After reviewing these criticisms, Merl Storr has given a judicious recent assessment of the value of Kinsey’s work as follows:
Whatever the shortcomings or otherwise of Kinsey?s data … his conceptual contribution has been of major and lasting importance, and his model of human sexuality as a continuum running from heterosexuality to homosexuality has become a staple of sexological and popular debates alike [<>Merl Storr [ed], Bisexuality: a critical reader, 1999, Routledge, p.31].
The critics rarely saluted Kinsey’s courage in daring to explore a field which desperately needed investigating but which other researchers had thought it wiser to ignore. Freud and his colleagues may have uncovered a great deal of surprising and hitherto unsuspected sexual eccentricity in their patients, including a number of children, but nobody before Kinsey had dared pry into the sexual behaviour of a broad spectrum of people who felt no pressing need to be psychoanalysed.
The proof of the basic validity of Kinsey’s work is its aftermath. Nothing has been the same since he took the lid off and brought out into the open what many people had previously been reluctant to admit even to themselves.
We now take it for granted most boys wank and a surprising number engage in homosexual behaviour. We also take it for granted the sexual code a person pays lip service to may give little indication of the code he actually lives by. We are not particularly surprised to learn of an American President or a British Prime Minister who has been caught doing things which contradict his declared code of sexual probity.
There is, of course, still a great deal of evasion and hypocrisy. There are still plenty of people who might be persuaded to tell the truth in answering a confidential questionnaire but who would not dream of divulging this information to their parents or their sexual partners.
The result of this is people are at such different stages on the road to sexual openness it can be difficult to know what another person thinks, let alone does, with regard to sex. Even people who have known each other for years and know each other to be quite like-minded may still play hide-and-seek when it comes to sex.
Indeed, knowing a person well can often actually inhibit frankness in these matters. Friends may fear a candid sexual self-disclosure could cost them the friendship or at least destroy the ease they had previously felt in each other?s company. Adolescent children may fear too much frankness with their parents could cause them to be disowned.
This means, in spite of all that now gets said and written about sex in books, magazines, newspapers, on TV, on the Internet, on Videos, etc, there is still a great deal of inhibition, prejudice, frustration, fear and muddle-headedness about many of the central issues, especially anything relating to bisexuality.
Some of the material which circulates is ‘serious’ and informative, though often dull and ponderous, employing technical terms which alienate the very people it is designed to reach. Some of it advertises itself as ‘porn’, catering with widely varying degrees of taste and responsibility for all sexual proclivities, but most of it unashamedly exploiting sex for financial gain.
In my experience, there are still many areas which have not been adequately thought through or about which there is still far too much ignorance or confusion. The questions which head the following chapters are designed to explore some of these areas.