Are People Really Either Gay or Straight

ARE PEOPLE REALLY EITHER GAY OR STRAIGHT?

By Garrett Jones part two

In the European tradition we have a passion for categorising. In the moral sphere, our categories tend to be slotted into one or other of two opposed boxes, e.g.:-

good / evil … virtue / vice …  right / wrong …  godly / demonic …  respectable / disreputable …  love / lust …  scientific sexology / pornography …  heterosexual / homosexual

Contrast with this the ancient Chinese concepts of yin and yang. These are opposed concepts but nobody in China would regard the one as good and the other as evil, one to be fostered and the other stamped out. Both yin and yang are essential for the creation and sustenance of life and process; you cannot have one without the other; they are like the twin poles of an electrical current or the opposite poles of a magnetic field.

The same is even more clearly apparent in the familiar Taoist symbol, which also comes from China, depicting two matching tadpoles, one black and one white, both enclosed within the same circle and each with a dot of the other’s colour in it.

My own thinking about sexuality was influenced by many conversations I had with young Indian students. These talks were spread over the period I spent in South India between 1954 and 1966 at the outset of my career.

The first thing which struck me when I arrived in India was the way youths or men would walk around holding hands or with arms round shoulders. The second thing was the way children would walk around their villages stark naked right up to the age of puberty, the boys often having their genitals fondled or manipulated by the older males in the village. This was so contrary to anything I had experienced in Britain I was eager to try to learn what these students thought about all this.

I invariably found they became very puzzled when I started talking about homosexuality as opposed to heterosexuality. This was in the late 50s and early 60s, when, in the wake of the Kinsey report, there was a great deal of controversy about the business of sexual orientation and legality in Britain. The government had set up the Wolfenden Committee to investigate this area and report back to parliament.

My Indian students enjoyed talking about sex. They found it liberating to be able to air the subject with an older male because, as they were fond of telling me, this rarely happened in India. But when I asked them about homosexuality, they were initially quite baffled. When I tried to explain our distinction between hetero- and homo- sexuality, their puzzlement often became mingled with discomfort; I had obviously introduced a new concept which was wholly alien to them. It was as if I had put a spoon in their hands at lunch time and asked them to eat their meal with that instead of with their hands.

For these students, there were simply people for whom they felt varying degrees of affection. They took it for granted they would eventually get married and have children and their parents would arrange partners for them, but, since this was not a matter of ‘falling in love’, at least to begin with, they seldom expected marriage to monopolise their affections or their sexuality. The South Indian climate permits clothing to be reduced to the minimum and the temperature encourages ardour. In this situation, these young men were obviously unlikely to forget that everybody has a body; it was natural for them to express affection physically, quite regardless of gender.

As soon as I became familiar with this way of thinking, I embraced it as being far more congenial to my own nature than the ideas (if you could call them that) I had been brought up on.

It was ironic that, back in Britain, although the post-1967 male was at last permitted to have legal sex with a consenting adult male partner in private, he was at the same time being more and more polarised. This was exactly the opposite of what Kinsey had advocated. His research had led him to adopt something very like the stance I encountered in India. This is how Kinsey had expressed his rejection of the idea of:

two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. Not all things are black nor all things white … Nature rarely deals with discrete categories. Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behaviour the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.

As is now well known, Kinsey had devised a sexual orientation grid to indicate the preferences of the people he interviewed or questioned. It was as follows:

O – exclusively heterosexual behaviour

1 – largely heterosexual with incidental homosexual behaviour

2 – largely heterosexual, but more than incidental homosexual behaviour

3 – equal amounts of heterosexual and homosexual behaviour

4 – largely homosexual, but more than incidental heterosexual behaviour

5 – largely homosexual with incidental heterosexual behaviour

6 – exclusively homosexual behaviour

An interesting fact about this list is, although it ends at 6, it is actually a 7-point scale. It thus matches the colours of the spectrum, which could be listed in a similar scale:

0. Red

1. Orange

2. Yellow

3. Green

4. Blue

5. Indigo

6. Violet

The interesting thing about the spectrum is that light, which appears to be quite colourless, can actually be broken up to reveal all the colours of the rainbow. It begins to look as if human sexuality is very much like light in this respect. [<>Recent studies of animal sexuality suggest humans are by no means alone in this. See Bruce Baghemi, Biological Exuberance: animal homosexuality and natural diversity and the websites, Marmor, J. and Denniston, R.H., Homosexuality/Bisexuality in the Animal Kingdom and also the website titled A Paradox of Evolution].

Although Kinsey and his successors had found almost half of their sample falling towards the centre of the band spanning the extremes of exclusive homo- or hetero- sexuality, it became increasingly fashionable to admit the existence of a ‘gay’ sub-culture, now legally sanctioned, but to regard all males outside that sub-group as ‘straight’, i.e. exclusively heterosexual. This gave the ‘straight’ male the comforting assurance of being heavily in the majority.

This was almost as much at odds with the known facts about male sexuality as the pre-1967 situation, when homosexuality had been outlawed, both in the courts and in society. Now, homosexuality was admitted to exist and legally tolerated (within strict limits -even now men could be arrested for soliciting, even in a gay club, or for kissing in public. They would be very brave even to walk around holding hands – which is what Indian males do as unselfconsciously as they shave), but was held only to affect this small sub-group of unmarried and usually visible ‘gays’.

This flagrantly disregarded Kinsey’s findings that, whilst only 4% of his sample seemed to be exclusively homosexual, 46% admitted to having had some homosexual experience. [<>The actual findings in 1948 in Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male by Kinsey, A.C., Pomeroy, W.B. and Martin, C.E. were that by the time they reached middle age, about 46% of all males had some sort of overt erotic experience with members of their own sex. This accounted for every second man in America. 37% of all males had at least one homosexual experience to the point of orgasm between adolescence and old age. This applied to nearly two males out of every five. 4% of all males admitted to being exclusively homosexual in their behaviour throughout their lives]

It was no surprise when Kinsey found the majority of men (and women) claiming to be predominantly heterosexual, but the number claiming to be predominantly homosexual was larger than expected. The really big surprise was, in spite of all the conditioning in our kind of society which favours exclusive heterosexuality, nearly half of the men he questioned had engaged in same-sex activity. It is an open question how many of the remaining 50% would have become homosexually involved had they been reared in a less homophobic ethos.

Later research by Blumstein and Schwartz throws important light on this question. Talking of the relative ease or unease with which men and women are able to accept homosexual activity into their lives, they observed:

Women often felt that such activities were a natural extension of female affectionate behavior and did not have implications for their sexuality. Men, on the other hand, were much more preoccupied with what the experience meant for their masculinity, sometimes fearing that they might never again be able to respond erotically to a woman. Some men insulated themselves from the homosexual implications of homosexual behavior by exclusively engaging in either impersonal sex … or in homosexual acts where they took what they considered to be the masculine role [<>Philip W. Blumstein and Pepper Schwartz, Bisexuality: Some Social Psychological Issues, 1977, quoted from Merl Storr, Bisexuality: a critical reader, Routledge, 1999, p.73]

Returning to Kinsey’s findings, it was less surprising to learn only a small minority of his interviewees placed themselves around the centre [point 3] on Kinsey’s orientation grid since these were the rare individuals who could respond with equal enthusiasm to either gender (the people designated ambisexual by Masters and Johnson [<>in Masters, W. and Johnson, V, Human Sexual Response, 1966. There is a tendency in some more recent writing (as, for instance, in Philip Blumstein and Pepper Schwartz, Bisexuality: Some Social Psychological Issues, Blackwell, 1977) to want to use the term 'ambisexuality' as a substitute for 'bisexuality' because it sounds less rigid, more fluid, closer to most people's experience, but this obscures the difference which Masters and Johnson wished to highlight between those who live bisexually whilst having a gender preference and those much rarer birds (the 'ambisexuals') who have no preference]

The vital fact, almost totally obscured by the social polarising of ‘straights’ and ‘gays’, is that the majority of those who are predominantly one way or the other are also significantly aware, either intermittently or fairly continuously, of a compensating pull in the opposite direction. The following quotation from the website of the Robert Koch Institut [now re-named the Magnus Hirschfield Archive for Sexology] goes a long way towards clearing the confusions inherent in our present use of terms:

- the term heterosexual may be used to describe someone who has a clear erotic preference for partners of the other sex (categories 0-2 on Kinsey’s rating scale.

- the term homosexual may be used to describe someone who has a clear erotic preference for partners of the same sex (categories 4-6 on Kinsey’s rating scale

- the term bisexual (or ambisexual) may be used to describe someone who is erotically attracted to both sexes (categories 1-5 on Kinsey’s rating scale).

It will be observed that the third of these definitions partly overlaps with each of the other two. That is to say, the classification ‘bisexual’ includes some ‘heterosexuals’ (those in categories 1 and 2) as well as some ‘homosexuals’ (those in categories 4 and 5). This inconsistency is unavoidable unless one wants to call only those persons bisexual whose erotic interest is evenly divided between the two sexes (category 3). However, such a usage has never been widely accepted. We therefore have to live with the fact that certain persons may be referred to as ‘heterosexual’ (or ‘homosexual’) in one context, and as ‘bisexual’ in another.

My only quarrel with the above terminology is already very familiar: the term ambisexuality is again regarded as a synonym for bisexuality, whereas it is much more usefully employed to denote only the small minority of bisexually active people who are unaware of any gender preference (those who would register ’3′ on the Kinsey scale). Note, by the way, the excellent Robert Koch site, now re-named, is located at: http://www.sexology.cjb.net

What is even more confusing is, because of social pressure to conform, a man’s visible sexual lifestyle may not even reflect his dominant sex drive. The author, Bruce Chatwin, is a good recent example. Until he died of Aids in 1989, he was thought to be a respectably ‘straight’, married man. In his novel, On the Black Mountain, although the central characters, male twins, share the same bed throughout their lives, it is explicitly denied, in spite of the uncanny attachment of the one to and for the other, there is anything sexual about their intimacy.

Only after he died did it become widely known that Chatwin himself had been driven, obsessively at times, by a powerful homosexual drive. He never wrote about this and hated to talk about it even to friends.

Anybody who doubts the extent to which the same is true of other married men who appear to be respectably straight should consult the Internet. For the first time in history it is possible for men to seek their sexual partners or indulge their fantasies in strict privacy, yet with access to the whole wide world. I would suggest the sceptical surfer start with ‘Men on the Net’, then clicks on ‘male nudes’ in the left-hand column. From there he can access a fair sprinkling of the vast and rapidly growing number of websites slanted towards the ‘gay’ market. If the investigator then refers to some of the erotic fiction on offer at this and other sites, he will discover that married men turn up with unfailing regularity in ‘gay’ anecdotes and stories.

John Barrington, himself a happily married Englishman, discovered precisely the same phenomenon in real life. He published the findings of the survey he had himself conducted as Sexual Alternatives for Men in 1981 [<>Barrington notes, especially on pp.131-135 of the work cited above, married men crop up so regularly in his survey, often as the preferred partners of exclusively 'gay' men, that a society may not "be very far ahead... when bisexuality will be accepted as a normal sexual expression of a man's sexual nature..and..a man's homosexual contacts outside his marriage will be more easily socially and morally tolerated .. than his sexual contacts with women. Women are, in fact and in general, more adaptable to a male 'rival' than they are to another female who ensnares a husband: men, in general, are not considered a 'threat' to a marriage by a wife..." p.133]

If the majority of men are predominantly heterosexual and tend to suppress their less clamant homosexuality, there are also many men whose drive, like my own, is predominantly homosexual, and who tend to suppress their relatively weak heterosexuality.

I went through adolescence in the late 1940s when all the books I consulted told me, if I was aware of a powerful drive in the homosexual direction (which I undoubtedly was), I should give up any hope of ever getting married. If I was rash enough to give it a go, it would be a disaster, doing untold harm to my partner and myself [<>I read, for instance, Kenneth Walker's Physiology of Sex, Penguin, 1940, when I was fifteen and was already aware of strong homosexual desires. Walker told me, although "some of the greatest names on the scroll of artistic fame belong to those who were homosexual" p.128, "marriage is, of course, out of the question, even when the patient is bisexual, for although an invert may show a capacity for heterosexual union, his dominant desire is for a member of his own sex." p.133]

My mentors were telling me I should suffer in silence, since what I really wanted was considered by my society to be criminal and despicable – which struck me as highly ironic in view of this same society’s readiness to send young men off to war, to maim and slaughter other men or be maimed or slaughtered themselves.

However, apart from confiding in one or two close friends, I did suffer in silence.

Had it not been for the intense frustration felt on the homosexual front, especially in the relaxed male-male ethos in India from which I felt excluded, coupled with the fact I had met a truly wonderful young lady on the boat taking me to India, I might never have married. As it was, Margaret and I took the plunge in 1957, in spite of the taboos which Kenneth Walker and other ‘experts’ had instilled into me. I had told Margaret before we got engaged about my homosexuality and about the taboos on marriage I had read, but she was willing to take the risk.

Our marriage has been a lot happier than many others we know about and has yielded us two daughters and, so far, three grandsons and one granddaughter.

My sex drive has not been the slightest bit affected by over forty [2009: this should now read 'over fifty'] years of marital sex. Although the huge bulk of my actual sex for four decades has been heterosexual and tremendously fulfilling, my basic sex drive has remained as stubbornly homosexual as it was before we got married. If anything, I was more aware of it after marriage than before because, being now regularly sexually active, I felt much less bottled up with regard to other men. As a married man I was able to meet them and sometimes build relationships with them far more easily than during my bachelor days.

I had told Margaret before our wedding, if sex worked out well within the marriage (as it did), I expected the homosexual side of me to fall completely into the background. It came as something of a surprise to discover this did not happen. On the contrary, I began to feel more and more insistently I needed to complement my heterosexual life with at least one homosexual relationship. It was some ten years before this need found anything approaching satisfaction but, little by little, it has issued in my developing a fully rounded bisexual lifestyle, within which the marriage remains central.

The question before us is: are people really either gay or straight?

In my late teens, I would have described myself, on the strength of the sexual urges I was getting, as ‘exclusively gay’.

In 1957, I would have regarded myself as ‘a prospective convert to straightness’.

Between then and somewhere around 1977, I would have regarded myself as a somewhat uncertain and often frustrated ‘bisexual’.

Since 1977, and increasingly over the past decades, I have come to accept that, for me at least, and for reasons which will largely emerge in subsequent chapters, a bisexual lifestyle is the only one I could ever regard as completely fulfilling, either sexually or emotionally.

This of course raises the question: how far is my own experience typical, especially for men who have grown up more recently in a very different sexual and social ethos?

This question is unanswerable in the abstract and you, the reader, are the only person who can answer it as regards yourself.

In general terms, I am clearly not representative of the majority of males because, as I have repeatedly said, I have been aware since my mid-teens of a dominant sex drive which is ‘gay’, not ‘straight’. Allowing for this difference, I have reason to believe the need I felt to counterbalance my dominant drive with its opposite is far more widespread than is often thought.

On the heterosexual side, biology has ensured, however ‘gay’ we may feel ourselves to be, there is almost always the yen for parenthood lurking in the shadows and, to aid and abet this yen, the lure of organs which are purpose-built for each other.

On the homosexual side, there is the fact most males begin their sex lives by wanking. In the process, they usually discover in their own pricks an organ which can yield intense pleasure in itself, quite apart from the pleasure it may yield when interacting with a cunt. It would be extraordinary if this discovery of the intrinsic (as opposed to the instrumental) value of their own pricks did not lead to a growing interest in and desire to interact with the pricks of others. Insofar as it does not lead in this direction, this is far more likely to be because of social conditioning and a fear of becoming ‘queer’ than because there is no drive in this direction.

At the emotional and relational level, there is no doubt at all most men feel a deep need for male friends in whom they can confide over a pint at the pub and with whom they can share or contrast their hobbies and enthusiasms, participate in sports, and perhaps, especially in some of the now almost defunct manufacturing industries, team up at work.

All of this is regarded as perfectly ‘normal’. What is not generally recognised, because powerful inhibitors suppress it, is sex could usually enhance these male-male friendships. If sex can bring a man and a woman more intimately together than anything else, why should the same not be true when two men, or two women, have grown to love each other? Sex, even between a man and a woman, does not necessarily do this, of course; but sex undeniably can do this, and do it in a way which is uniquely mutual],

The answer to the question before us therefore has to be: no, people are not really either gay or straight. Most people are predominantly either gay or straight but, in varying degrees, significantly in need of sexual encounters and relationships which counterbalance their dominant drive.

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3 thoughts on “Are People Really Either Gay or Straight

  1. a very interesting line of thought. If two women walk down the street hand in hand you would take no notice, but when two men do the same they must be gay, why?

  2. A comment from Julian:
    Reading Garrett Jones article enters one’s psyche like a breath of re-oxygenated fresh air. His expressions, thoughts, observations and conclusions interspersed with direct life experience are ‘enlightening stuff, consumed with joyful ease and abundant agreement.

    It is a delight to read and absorb his take on male bi-sexuality, and in a sense the ‘predicaments’ we find ourselves to be in, willingly and sometimes otherwise. We suffer for the love of our art as the saying goes.

    Jones’s elegant definition of one’s homosexuality within the sphere of being bi-sexual is like a cooling balm.

    Simply, when a man is with a man call it what it is. For me too I have come know is my dominant sex drive is homosexual, regardless of whether I act on it physically or not.

    I have found in recent years when you name a strong desire for what it really is, it’s power to cause you to act is taken away. Its been caught out as it were. Because in the end it’s just an emotion, and they come and go like clouds in the wind.

    Back to the topic.

    The truth is (at least as I see it) for a bi-sexual man, as no doubt for a gay man too, men are just so sexy, emotionally, socially, intellectually and it goes without saying physically, so appealing are his ‘prick and balls’ to our male sensibilities. Let’s face it, we get what we are each on about.

    Whereas women, for the straight and the bi-sexual male, complex and emotional as they are, like Venus and Mars, they are also just so wonderful to be with, to be in their nurtured arms, with scope of their caring, they bring balance, and making love to amd with a woman you love and who loves you is simply divine.

    With out seeking to comment on all Jones says, one thing he pointed to which jumps out for me is the preference for some gay men for straight or bi married men, and it is fair to say bi men have a penchant for gay men. Funny that! I find I do, and they always seem to pick me out in a crowd, there is surely a gay gravitational pull at work. But I guess, even if subconsciously, I’m looking too. It goes with the territory. Lets face there are some really cute guys out there.

    For almost 18 months now I have been a fairly regular visitor and frequent contributor with replies and three photo pieces on this wonderfully supportive, explorative, enjoyable and mutually beneficial blog. It has been a timely catalyst for a cathartic journey unmasking and de-bugging the meaning and context of my own bi-sexuality.

    As a result, coming to deeply enjoy, and celebrate to myself, the reality that there are times when I am 100% homosexual. Like right now when the thought of being with another man, sharing intimate moments, midnight swims, and movies, comes dancing down a staircase with the fantasy and grace of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and into ones thoughts, in moments like these homosexuality is such a natural place to want to be.

    So it is easy to imagine writing these words while laying naked in the warmly sensual embrace of a male lovers arms.

    Being beyond fifty like fellow reply contributors Don and John, I wonder if when one gets to this point, if the trapping of ‘things to prove’ fall away, by choice or the nessecity (being closer now to the end of life than the beginning) so there is a ‘want’ to live with more honesty, no secrets, at least to ourselves.

    But with life as a bi-sexual man with its complexities and nuances, do I want to step out of the heterosexual mainstream and enter a gay lifestyle, no, at least not this time round.

    Maybe in another life, like Christopher Plummer’s character in the recent film Beginners about the elderly man who ‘comes out’ after the death of his wife.

    Who knows what choices the future might bring.

    As for coming out, for telling ones female-hetero partner or wife, being open about ones bi-sexuality, that is up to each of us.

    Is the world, is your world really there yet. Mine certainly isn’t. Does it need to be? Honestly I don’t know. Is this avoidance, well maybe, or simply emotional survival dressed up as pragmatism?

    Or maybe its like the old time preacher: a case of knowing the right time, knowing the right place and knowing the right congregation.

    Maybe its all of the above and maybe it’s none.

    If nothing else I hope this is a positive contribution to the discussion.

    There is another saying that goes something like this: truly know yourself first, then only then can you can truly know and help your neighbour.

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