Shades of Sexuality
Many years ago, after attending a conference on sexual diversity, I found myself sitting in a gay bar in Colaba (the first of its kind in India I was told) – sharing a drink with some of the speakers. One of them (who had just started a movement urging homosexuals not to get into heterosexual marriages) was telling me how he thought a large percentage of men in India were bisexual. It was like lighting a stick of dynamite in that dark dank bar. The mostly gay crowd exploded in anger – and the lesson I learnt that day was that homosexual men just hate the label bisexual. “Anybody who calls himself bisexual is a liar,” shouted out a famous gay activist.
What is about bisexuals that evoke such anger among gay and straight communities? To put it simply – it threatens both positions. Bisexuality vanishes when you divide sexual orientation into black and white compartments of gay and straight. But if you emphasise it – a third distinct orientation opens up, one that cocks a snook at the other two.
Bisexuality has always evoked arguments of the extreme kind. Gay people look at bisexuals as confused homosexuals or lesbians who are unable to or unwilling to accept their true sexual orientation. Heterosexuals, on the other hand, feel bisexuality is just a by-product of repression – one that goes away when you find a partner of the opposite sex. Or explain it away (like Lindsay Lohan’s lesbian fling) as an experimental or transitional phase for people who are uncertain or have a fear of commitment.
Whatever. The thing is, bisexuality is a pretty subversive concept. You would think that the human ability to love people of both sexes would be a wonderful thing. On the contrary, bisexuality threatens to rupture conservative social structures. Think of it – a bisexual desires both men and women. That straightaway defeats monogamy. Bisexuality, it can be argued, because of its very nature leads to promiscuity and instability, often leading to complicated relationships.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Freud said bisexuality was a “universal disposition” – but people become homosexual or heterosexual depending on their early experiences of love and sensation. Alfred Kinsey, on the other hand, mapped human sexuality on a scale of zero to 6, with zero representing exclusively heterosexual behavior and 6 exclusively homosexual behaviors — bisexuality was the balance that held the extremes together.
Sexual identity is often complex. In India, many men who have sex with men do not consider themselves to be either bisexual or gay unless they take the passive-receptor role during sex. Studies indicate that lesbians sometimes sleep with men. And it is a recorded fact that bisexualtiy exists among both male and female adoloscents. Kinsey’s own seminal study found that 46 per cent of American men and 12 per cent of women had had sexual experiences with both sexes.
So where does this all put us? I’m not so sure. Trouble is there is very little research about bisexuality in India. There are hints that it is rampant among males – especially married males. What is even more troubling is that they are being portrayed as stealth assassins – bringing sexual diseases like AIDS to their unsuspecting wives. Campaigns aimed at gay men asking them not to get married isn’t going to work – simply because a bisexual prefers both sexes. In his mind, unlike a gay man, marriage to a woman is a desirable thing.
The only way forward in my mind is for both gay and straight communities to accept that there are shades to sexuality. Being rigid about their sexuality isn’t good for both gays and straights. Because, in the end, sexuality works at an individual level and is constantly changing and evolving with time. Looking at it from that viewpoint, there can be no such thing as “normal”.