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  • December 30, 2007

    Fluid sexuality is a girl thing

    Posted by: Chris

    Lisadiamond More evidence that "fluid sexuality" is a female thing, so I can only try to understand it from a distance.

    After a mini-row here on the blog last week about whether bisexuality is really more prominent than homosexuality within the "LGBT community" or society generally, one scholar presents evidence that up to two-thirds of women who experienced some same-sex attraction in their early 20s changed their own self-identity at least once over the next decade:

    Most women's behavior had little to do with the "gay for life" story. Some switched their sexual identity many times. In fact, when asked to define themselves as "gay," "straight" or "bisexual," a number of women refused to take any label at all. Others invented their own labels; for instance, one interviewee called herself a "reluctant heterosexual."

    About one-fourth of the women reported that their choice of sexual partners had nothing to do with gender. "Deep down," said one woman, "it's just a matter of who I meet and fall in love with, and it's not their body, it's something behind the eyes." These women often had no words for the way their hearts were wired.

    The scholar, Lisa Diamond of the University of Utah, called this "person-based attraction" rather than bisexuality, although the latter term would seem to cover it just as well.

    Whatever you call it, I can say with confidence it occurs much more rarely among men, at least as a phenomenon that's discussed openly. Take, for example, this letter and response I've excerpted from today's Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch:

    Dear Margo:
    I find myself in a predicament that I never in a million years would have predicted. I am a 25-year-old man who is married to a beautiful, committed wife. Recently, I was chatting online and met a guy. He was funny and quick-witted.

    After a while, we exchanged numbers -- and have talked for more than two hours every night since. Margo, I hate talking on the phone. Last night, we were talking and laughing together, and after a moment of silence, I said, "God, I love you." I immediately apologized, but he said, "Don't." He said he has been fighting saying it, too.

    We are both straight, and we both think homosexuality is a sin. Neither of us knows what is going on. I haven't had any desire to spend time with my wife since this person came into my life. I want to talk only with "Matt." What is going on?
    -- Dazed and Confused

    Dear Dazed:
    These things would not, could not happen to a straight man. You are gay, my friend, though heavily repressed because you think it is sinful. I think you and this other chap are so closeted that you've been hiding from yourselves. Because of your religious convictions, there's probably an element of self-loathing, too, if only on a subconscious level.

    Margo should probably have allowed for the possibility that "Dazed" is bisexual, but the fact that he completely lost interest in his wife buttresses her ultimate conclusion that he's gay. It's certainly next to impossible that he's actually heterosexual but feeling "person-based attraction" for "Matt."

    Looking back at that Hunter College/Knowledge Networks survey, the Blade reported that roughly two-thirds of the gay/bi men were gay and one-third were bisexual. Those figures were reversed for lesbian/bi women: two-thirds were bisexual and one-third were lesbian. At least those statistics make some sense if you accept that female sexuality is much more fluid.

    Also, if relatively few of the bisexuals are actively involved in the "LGBT community" -- which I think is intuitively true whether it is a response to intolerance from gays or because they can pass as straight
    -- that would mean gay men outnumber lesbians roughly two-to-one within the "community." Those percentages make a lot more sense to me.

    Gnw_lighthouse_logosmall_2 For related stories and the breaking news, click or bookmark:  gaynewswatch.com/bisexual

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    December 26, 2007

    GNW Pick: Bisexuality unexplored

    Posted by: Chris

    • "Controversial new poll shows bisexuality widespread": QUICK LOOK: A national poll showing that bisexuals account for half the number of people who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual is drawing mixed reactions. Many bisexual men and... (MORE)

    The Washington Blade's Joshua Lynsen looks into the controversial Hunter College/Knowledge Networks survey that showed Hillary Clinton with an overwhelming lead among gay Democrats -- more than two to one over Barack Obama. A number of us raised questions about the demographics of the survey, which showed more than 50 percent of LGB folks were women and 49 percent were bisexual.

    Lynsen reports:

    The poll of 768 people, conducted last month, shows in its adjusted final tally that 15.4 percent of respondents are bisexual men and 33.5 percent are bisexual women. Gay men accounted for 33.4 percent of the poll’s respondents and lesbians accounted for 17.8 percent. The poll asked respondents to assign their own sexual orientation.

    Amy Andre, a sexuality studies expert who helped write a bisexual health issues report this year for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said the poll’s findings are not without precedent.

    The U.S. government’s National Survey of Family Growth found in 2002 that 56 percent of men and women who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual were bisexual.

    “So the findings at Hunter come as no surprise to me,” she said. “Neither do the reactions to the Hunter study. Bi-phobia is unfortunately alive and well in the LGBT community, as is ignorance about the lives of bisexual people within the community.”

    Ahh yes, a mouthpiece from the Task Force -- who, it turns out, is a bisexual activist herself, although Lynsen does not identify her as such -- wagging the finger of phobia at the rest of us. The B's and the T's and their PC allies sure are ready with the phobia charge, aren't they? Does this give anyone else ENDA deja vu?

    Their view is one valid side of the story, of course, but critics of the survey ought in fairness to be given the opportunity to answer accusations of biphobia. Why is only one survey critic -- Andrew Sullivan -- quoted and given no opportunity to respond? Is that fair or balanced?

    Readership surveys of the nation's LGBT publications tell a much different story about the percentage of women and bisexuals in "the community," as do the membership lists of every major LGBT group, and the makeup of audiences at every LGBT event.

    Perhaps there is another explanation to the Knowledge Networks survey or the National Survey of Family Growth -- which I'd never heard of before the Blade report and which Lynsen never quotes directly.  Among the demographic data collected from respondents generally is their self-reported sexual orientation.  Those respondents are then culled into an "LGB subgroup" and polled on questions like who they favor for president.

    For one thing we don't know if that's the approach at all because Lynsen doesn't include an interview with anyone at Knowledge Networks amidst all the "biphobia" finger-wagging. If my suspicion is correct, the problem with that approach is that self-identification as "bisexual" is not the same thing as self-identification as part of the "LGBT community." A bisexual man or woman married or dating exclusively in the opposite sex, living a closeted life with homosexual activity hidden from their public partner, isn't the same as an out and proud bisexual whose family, friends and partners are aware of his or her sexual orientation.

    Sticking with that theory, one way to correct the data would be to ask respondents if they are open about their sexual orientation with their partners, at least, or simply ask whether they identify as part of the "gay community," the "bisexual community" or the "LGBT community." Otherwise, data about who they support for president, or what kind of cheese they eat or which airline they fly, isn't particular relevant to the purposes to which the data is being put.

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    November 29, 2007

    Does Hillary lead among 'real gays'?

    Posted by: Chris

    Hillary_and_gays A new survey released today claims that almost two-thirds of likely GLB voters in the Democratic presidential primary support frontrunner Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama trails with 22 percent and John Edwards with 7 percent. I've posted a much more thorough analysis of the poll on Gay News Watch, but here are a few nuggets:

    • Obama and Edwards register about the same support among gays in the poll as they do with Democrats generally, meaning Hillary's higher GLB numbers represent fewer undecideds among gay voters, who the survey found are much more politically involved.
    • Even as the only candidate backing gay marriage, Dennis Kucinich managed just 5 percent support in the survey.
    • Rudy Giuliani was the top candidate for half of GLB Republicans in the poll, with John McCain managing just 23 percent, Mitt Romney at 11 percent and Fred Thompson at 10 percent. Not surprising results considering Giuliani is the frontrunner generally and his gay rights record and positions are markedly better than the others.

    Even more interesting than the results of the survey, however, are questions about its methodology. The poll was conducted by academics at Hunter College in New York, but for their sample of voters they relied upon a pool provided by Knowledge Networks, the same group that provided the sample for the Human Rights Campaign's controversial survey showing some 70 percent support for Barney Frank's gay-only, compromise ENDA.

    HRC did a poor job of providing information about that earlier survey, and there are some hints about why in this new one -- which was paid for by an HRC grant but conducted by the Hunter College professionals. First and foremost is the demographic information on the Knowledge Networks sample group. According to Hunter College, the GLB respondents were 51 to 49 percent female to male, and 49 percent bisexual.

    I noted in my post about the earlier HRC poll that a 50-50 male-female breakdown about GLB Americans probably grossly overstates the percentage of GLB Americans who are lesbians.  Every indicator I've ever seen, from readership of GLBT publications to participation in GLBT events, has shown 60 to 70 percent (or more) of "us" are men.

    Then there is the 49 percent of the Knowledge Networks pool that is bisexual. Again that is grossly overstated, from information I've seen over the years about the GLBT demographic breakdown.

    Andrew Sullivan sees something sinister in those statistics:

    So the poll is designed to reflect a pre-ordained political "community", rigged for PC purposes to inflate the numbers of bisexuals and lesbians. No big surprise which Democratic candidate won in a landslide: the candidate HRC has been supporting from the start.

    I wouldn't go so far, at least not without additional evidence. But I do see how Knowledge Networks could back themselves into those numbers. Knowledge Networks "recruits its nationally representative sample of respondents by telephone and administers surveys to them via the Internet." So if they simply cull from the general pool of respondents those who self-identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual, then the more fluid nature of female sexuality might result in high numbers of both females and bisexuals.

    The question, then, is whether we consider female bisexuals who may well be heterosexually married and not self-identify as part of our happy "LGBT community" to nonetheless "count" as GLB voters, etc. It's a question that brings to mind the earlier debate about transgender issues, and whether heterosexual cross-dressers are part of the "LGBT community."

    My own take is that the information is useful, whether or not we consider it an indication of how "the gay community" feels about an issue, whether it's ENDA or the presidential race. The most important thing is to clearly identify just who the "we" we're talking about is, so that their opinions can be put into proper perspective.

    If my suspicions about the Knowledge Networks system are correct -- and hopefully the LGBT press will delve further into the issue, both as a political story and just to get a better sense of who it is we are -- then we still don't have a good idea about the presidential proclivities of "the GLBT community," at least in the way that most of us mean when we use that (loaded) term.

    As a side note, the Blade has published an interesting report airing criticism about the methodology of HRC's survey on ENDA, though it focuses more on the wording of the questions than on the demographics. Curiously, when the Hunter College folks asked the Knowledge Networks gay pool about ENDA, they got contrary results. Only 37 percent agreed that, "It was right to remove the protections for transgender people from this bill in order for it to pass this year," while 61 percent said, "It was wrong to remove the protections for transgendered people even if this makes it easier for the bill to pass this year." 

    Of course that wording is just as treacherous, focused on "removing protections" for trans workers rather than ensuring protections for GLB workers, and grossly understating the political reality by saying that removing gender identity makes it "easier."

    The survey also reminded us how woefully uninformed most GLB folks are, since fully 40 percent thought GLB workers were already protected from discrimination under federal law.

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