Say you’re a person. Specifically, you’re an American, college educated, middle class, cisgendered, straight, attractive Caucasian person in hir early thirties. You’ve got a whole lot going for you and very little working against you.
Now, you’re also a woman. Things just got slightly tougher, but really, you’re still incredibly well-off. You, as a bit of census data, as a statistic, you as the person these characteristics define you as do not face much adversity. Sure, you have to deal with the occasional sexist comment in a bar, and sure, your salary is about 77% of what your male colleagues make, but who cares! You’ve gotten used to all that, and c’mon, you’re more-or-less on the free ride called privilege.
Now, imagine it is 2011 and there’s a study being conducted to see whether women are capable of being as intelligent as men.
“Wha-,” you say, but your boyfriend hushes you, “Sweetheart, don’t you worry your pretty little head. Everyone knows women are just as intelligent as men, it’s just that a a man who didn’t finish college earns as much as a woman with a B.A. It’s just an interesting little fact. The scientists are testing its limits. That’s all.”
“Yeah bu-,” you say, but your best friend stops you, “Look. Of all the Fortune 500 CEOs, only 12 are women. That’s not a statistic to be ignored. I’m just saying—don’t get mad! I’m just saying! Who cares what some scientists think anyway? I know you’re smart, you know you’re smart. Just forget about it.”
“This i-,” you say, but your dad says, “Honey, please. It’s just for fun. These young girls today, they’re always on the MTVs with their little shorts saying this and that and getting paid to act dumb. This is just a small statement about that culture. Don’t worry about it.”
And then the study’s results are published, and they are: “Women are just as intelligent as men, tests indicate”.
Now, how do you feel? Do you laugh about it because, well “duh”? Do you think, “Well, it seems like a frivolous thing to study, but it’s comforting to know that it’s scientifically proven”?
No. You do neither of these things because regardless of what the technical, published hypothesis is, you understand that it all started when some doctoral student said, “Yeah it’s controversial, but just hear me out. How cool would it be if we did prove women are naturally less intelligent? Right? Am I right? So cool.”
If you don’t feel belittled and insulted and angry, then you’re not paying attention.
In 2005, a Northwestern University study concluded it’s scientifically impossible for a man to be bisexual. (In a classy editorial move, the New York Times titled their coverage, “Straight, Gay or Lying?”)
Now, I love science. I love research. I love when smart people use lots of grant money to discover awesome things. But, I don’t like it when smart people begin with an inherently offensive hypothesis and then conduct a study under the pretense of wanting to prove it right.
I’m not sure if this second psychological study began with the same hypothesis, or if it was out to disprove the conclusion (or at least the methods) of the 2005-er, but researchers at Northwestern University have published another study (partially financed by the American Institute of Bisexuality… shame on you?) which reports that bisexuality in men is, in fact, possible.
You hear that bi guys? You have now received the thumbs-up from SCIENCE! Go forth! (Pansexuals, please stay on hold for the next available research grant.)
The New York Times reports that lead author Allen Rosenthal said he thinks the conclusion “will be validating to a lot of bisexual men who had heard about the earlier work and felt that scientists weren’t getting them.”
This, at its most basic, is my problem. These studies are not favors. The very idea that someone needs psychological testing to validate hir sexuality is insulting. What bisexual person has been sitting around hoping that one day, just maybe one day, a psychologist would say, “So, we’ve got your test results back and, yeah, it looks like you do, actually, feel that way. Um…so…good luck out there.” Maybe there are bisexual people who find this comforting, but I can only imagine that such approval-seeking attitudes are born out of years of feeling judged and marginalized and belittled.
In general, studies of this kind attempt to reduce sexuality into a series of moments marked by sexual arousal. But by that logic, my parents have become less straight as they’ve had less sex and been less interested in sex. (Note to self: I am so sorry for bringing up your parents in this context.) It’s nonsense.
Remember back in June when Dan Savage placed the blame of bi-phobia on “your closeted compatriots”? The bisexual community was furious, but not shocked. He said nothing we haven’t heard a million times over: that bisexuality is just a gay man’s confused pit stop.
For years, I identified as “queer” and rejected the word “bisexual” because I felt it insinuated that you have to be attracted to cismen and ciswomen in the same way, at the same time, and to the same extent. This is a rare thing. If someone rates a 2 on the Kinsey scale, they have the same claim to bisexuality as someone that rates a 3 or 4—if they choose to identify that way.
And that’s another thing; as I see it, bisexuality isn’t just a sexuality, it’s also an identity. What Dan Savage was raging against was the more fluid identity of some coming-out bisexuals which, he feels, encourages scared gay people to keep one foot in the closet. But who are you to tell someone they don’t know what they feel? It’s incredibly narcissistic to think that your coming out experience was normative, or that you somehow know what everyone else is going/ went through. And to shame anyone—especially at such a difficult time—is nothing short of unconscionable.
Bisexuals, as a group, aren’t really golden children. I think there’s an assumption that they “pass” better, but that idea confuses sexuality with performance of gender—and that’s a whole other issue I won’t get into. In the straight world, bisexual men are often labeled as closeted gays, and bisexual women are not taken seriously because, duh, they’re all just promiscuous co-eds (thank you, Katy Perry). In the gay world (forgive me for using these binaries), bisexual men are also often labeled as closeted homosexuals, and women, well, you’re just a greedy lot, aren’t you? There’s not a whole lot of acceptance on either end.
All that aside…who cares? Seriously? WHO CARES? What threat is a “real” bisexual or “confused” bisexual” or “lying” bisexual to you?
A friend of mine once responded to this question by saying that she was sick of feeling like nothing more than someone’s lesbian experience—having found out several girls had made the conscious, curious decision to sleep with her, sans any legitimate sexual or emotional attraction. My response was and is “that sucks.” No one likes to be played for the fool. However, it’s a shady thing to do no matter what your sexuality. The message of She’s All That would have been the same if the narrative was about two girls or two guys. (Yes, I just referenced that movie and it is awesome and deal with it.)
So, let’s just stop shaming each other, OK? Let’s stop thinking that we always know better. Let’s stop making assumptions about other people, and then pressuring them to fit into these molds of what we think is “real,” “authentic,” or “normal.” You can try and pass it off as curiosity all you want, but this sort of treatment toward people is nothing but hate-mongering. And if you can’t do that—if you can’t take a step back and find it in yourself not to judge and criticize people you don’t understand—then I offer you the immortal words of my grandmother: Mind your own damn business.