Perhaps it's a sliding scale. Or "fluid" as playwright Paula Vogel and researcher Lisa Diamond call it. Sexuality. If nothing else, we can agree it's damn complicated.
In today's New York Times, a terrific profile by Benoit Denizet-Lewis on the American Institute of Bisexuality (A.I.B.) shows a smart and well-meaning organization that is "partly responsible for a surge of academic and scientific research across the country on bi-sexuality." Biphobia is a real phenomenon, and, as they point out, particularly in the gay community. Read the article here, because it's really insightful and thorough.
But scientific studies? Do we really have to let ourselves be beholden to that again? It's such a shame. I get that science will bring support for the law, in favor of LGBT cases. I do. I'm not ignoring that. I just wish we as a culture didn't have to prove anything to be right.
Let's talk about women. You don't have to look far to find studies that demonstrate the incredible diversity and complexity of female desire. Just look at the opening chapter of Daniel Bergner's book What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire. The study he observed showed that women viewing a huge variety of porn -- and even a scene of bonobo apes having sex! -- led to "vaginal wetness" registering on the gauge of the plethysmograph they used. (Like how I just throw that word out there? Plesthysmograph. We all have one of those in our underwear drawer, right?) So what does that say? Clearly that does not prove the subjects were bestial-sexual. (Is that a word?) But it does show that female desire is incredibly complex. What's the takeaway? If they were aroused by lesbian porn, then every single woman is partly bisexual? Is everyone fluid? Some say yes, some no.
While I absolutely support every move any researcher wants to make in this arena, cuz it's damn interesting and great for dinner party conversation starters (yes I'm that person), I'm not sure the final word should come down to science. Many people tell stories of thinking they were 100% straight "until they met that one person" who happened to be of the same sex. Attraction isn't just a series of dots on a graph. And it's not just sexual. It's, duh, an emotional connection as well. We all know that. And politics -- which might be what we're really talking about here -- can follow the lead of science sometimes, but also it follows the culture. And what we as a culture feel about an issue. So there's the rub. (Lame pun intended.)
Do we really want to have to rely on science to prove it's valid whom we love? I just wonder if this reliance on an outside objective reality will hurt or actually hinder us moving forward as a culture in the long run. We want a society that accepts whatever the hell people want to identify as and what they feel. We're talking emotions, people. Look, I'm a pop brain science junkie more than most. Do NOT look at my iPad, guys. You might wonder if I actually read anything else. However I am the life of cocktail parties... although I am filled with inaccurate information and explanations for the sake of oversimplified entertaining conversation, as well as due to my crap memory for scientific details. But fun will be had! Bring on the brain science! But that can't be all we rely on.
One of the bright AIB interviewees is quoted in the article as saying, "They used videos where the women looked cracked out, had long press-on nails and seemed miserable...The idea that you could accurately judge women's bisexuality by showing them that kind of porn was really astonishing to me. If you do love and respect women, that kind of porn should repel you." I love this guy. But while my political brain says "Yes!" to this, we know that's not true. We all know that rape fantasies excite some women and that subjugation is a common fantasy that can in certain cases set off female desire. Politics aside, we can't prove the science of sexuality by the science of arousal. It's too complicated and personal.
And please, believe me, if scientists and people with research money want to go ahead and do this, I'm really not against it, I'm just worried it's going to fail us as a culture in that we'll be relying on studies to justify our choices. (But I'll be the first to add the new book to my iPad!) But where I think we should focus is on making it normalized culturally for people to feel what they want and love whom they want. It's more of a PR thing perhaps, and getting it into popular culture, but not only in a man-with-two-women-fantasy kind of overused way. (Another reason to hire more women writers! Right?! Come on people, where are the woman-with-two-men?? Sheesh!) I mean what then happens when we can't prove someone was, as they might feel, born into the wrong body? How will the transgendered community use science? What if they can't? So let's bring complexity into this discussion through the culture by way of freedom of desire and not just science.
I do love what John Sylla, the AIB president interviewee said in the Times piece: "My attraction to a person doesn't have much to do with their body parts." I love that. So. Can we quantify that in a study? Do we have to?