When Dr. Lisa Diamond gave a keynote speech at the recent BECAUSE conference, I just had to sit up and listen. As whipsmart as she is unapologetically outspoken, this University of Utah psychology professor has her finger on the pulse of human sexuality research -- and the attention of homophobic and biphobic conservatives who try to twist her findings to further their own agenda. She's the last person who's going to take that lying down.
Dr. Diamond isn't just the author of the groundbreaking book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire. She's also a lesbian, a self-identified ally to the bi community, and a social scientist who declares that bisexuals "represent the vast majority of individuals with same-sex attractions" and are the norm in the LGB (lesbian, gay, bi) population!
In this two-part interview I got a chance to learn more about Dr. Diamond's research, her precedent-setting commitment to the truth about bisexual lives and lesbian desires, and how she stands up to bigots at the federal level. You can read part one here. And now, here is part two:
In your speech at the BECAUSE conference, you talked about anti-gay people from the far right using your data to argue that LBQ women shouldn't have rights related to sexual identity, because of the fluidity you've documented. What is your response?
This has been so frustrating for me, partly because I am aware that no matter how many times I endeavor to clarify what fluidity means, and what my research shows, it doesn't seem to matter: Those who are motivated to misuse my research will do so, regardless of what I say. For example, after I filed an affidavit in several of the court cases challenging DOMA, to clarify that the anti-gay marriage folks were misusing and misinterpreting my findings, the anti-gay-marriage folks filed a response to the affidavit, stating, "Dr. Diamond does not get to determine what her findings mean." I remember reading and thinking, "Huh?" On days like that I have to take a deep breath and just keep talking, keep sounding the alarm, keep standing up for scientific integrity and for basic sexual freedom.
Where do you see the future of our collective understanding of women's sexuality? As a society, are we moving forward or backward (or sideways, perhaps)?
On some days I feel that we are moving forward, on some days sideways. I am certainly delighted to see more and more visibility of same-sex sexuality in the media, more discussion of these issues, etc. At the same time my sense is that the models that are presented of sexuality continue to be unbelievably reductionistic; they are models that are decades old, and they don't reflect what we now know about the true diversity of sexual experience and expression over the life course.
I get particularly frustrated by television shows that have "bisexual episodes" in which one of the female characters ends up having some sort of sexual contact with another woman, and it's typically portrayed as being very titillating and exciting, but then the character not only goes back to men but makes some sort of declaration about how she now knows that she's really heterosexual because, hey, she tried the other side, and she still prefers men! So she's "uber-het" or something. That frustrates me because although it's certainly bringing visibility to issues of same-sex sexuality, it does so in the service of conventional and traditional norms about heterosexuality. But in the broad sweep of things, I suppose you could argue that the net gain of such visibility is positive, and that the more we talk about same-sex sexuality, the better off we are as a culture, because we're getting further and further away from the "old days" in which individuals couldn't even encounter such ideas or individuals.
So it's a mixed bag. We're definitely making progress, but I think it's important for all of us not to treat all forms of visibility as equivalent, and we need to remain critical of the fact that in some cases visibility of same-sex sexuality is motivated not by progressivism but by the desire to make money off of providing titillating images to viewers.
What's next on the horizon for Lisa Diamond, in terms of your research?
More research on men! For years folks have been saying to me, "Wow, I wonder if there is as much fluidity among men as among women, and we simply haven't done enough research to know." And I have always said, "That's a great question! Someone needs to find out!" I assumed, early on, that someone would seize the day and start really investigating fluidity among men, but that hasn't really happened. So although the first part of my career was really focused on the distinctiveness of women's experiences, the next chapter will involve greater attention to men, and to figuring out just where the similarities and differences between women and men really are, and where they come from.
Finally, what message would you like to get out there to other bi allies and bi-allies-to-be about how to be a good ally to us bi folk?
I guess my message would be this: It is simply ridiculous, in 2012, for there to be as much marginalization of bisexuality as there continues to be, both at a mainstream community level and also at the level of scientific inquiry.
We need to wake up: Bisexuals are not the exception; they are the norm! Study after study has shown this to be the case. How much more evidence do we need?
If we really want a powerful, cohesive, empowering queer community, then every single individual who cares about sexual freedom and self-determination -- regardless of how they personally identify -- has an obligation to speak out against the pernicious biphobia that continues to distort our science and our politics. Integrity demands no less.