A Closer Look at Bisexuality in the Philippines
Tristan M. was supposed to have married his long-time girlfriend a few years ago. “We’ve been together for so long I couldn’t imagine a life without her,” he recalls, smiling. “For me at that point in my life, it was just as they say it would be, an incomplete life without her.”
Tristan M., however, is not a one-man/one-woman kind of guy – well, he almost is, except that he really isn’t, as he’s “more of a one-woman/one-man/another-man or men kind of guy,” he admits laconically. “There’s the relationship between me and my fiancée; and then there’s my so-so (mainly sexual) relationships with men.”
Based on its most basic definition (the sexual and/or romantic attraction to both sexes), Tristan M. may be classified as bisexual.
First used in the 19th century to refer to intersexed people – “Whose sex chromosomes, genitalia, and/or secondary sex characteristics are determined to be neither exclusively male nor female, (since people who are) intersex may have biological characteristics of both the male and female sexes,” free encyclopedia Wikipedia states – bisexuality, as a term at least, gained wide acceptance in the early part of the 1900s, when, among others, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) used it in the “context of sexual orientation.” As discussed by psychoanalyst Joseph Merlino, senior editor of Freud at 150: 21st Century Essays on a Man of Genius, the Austrian “maintained that bisexuality was a normal part of development; that all of us went through a period of bisexuality;and that, in the end, most of us came out heterosexual but that the bisexual phase we traversed remained on some unconscious level, and was dealt with in other ways.”
Interestingly, Merlino notes how Freud found bisexuals to be “totally normal in every other regard, except in terms of their sexual preference. In fact, he saw many of them as having higher intellects, higher aesthetic sensibilities, higher morals – those kinds of things.”
In Freud’s words, people remain bisexual all their lives in a repression to monosexuality of fantasy and behavior. “(We) have come to know that all human beings are bisexual, and that their libido is distributed between objects of both sexes, either in a manifest or a latent form.”
Fast forward to 1948, when Alfred Kinsey came out with the landmark Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, wherein he noted that “46% of the male population had engaged in both heterosexual and homosexual activities, or ‘reacted to’ persons of both sexes, in the course of their adult lives.” Thus, it is “impossible to determine the number of persons who are ‘homosexual’ or ‘heterosexual.’ It (is) only possible to determine behavior at any given time.”
An even more recent study, this time done in 2005 by researchers at Northwestern University and the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, including Gerulf Rieger, Meredith L. Chivers, and J. Michael Bailey, looked at the results of penile plethysmograph tests, which purported that bisexuality, if it exists at all, is extremely rare, especially among men. To complete the study, an experiment was done to 101 men (33 self-identified as bisexual, 38 homosexual, and the remaining heterosexual), wherein they were made to watch pornographic movies, some involving only women, others involving only men. With a sensor that monitors sexual arousal, the somewhat unexpected finding was for self-described bisexuals to show “patterns of arousal (not) consistent with their stated attraction to men and to women. Instead, about three-quarters of the group had arousal patterns identical to those of gay men; the rest were indistinguishable from heterosexuals.”
“Regardless of whether the men were gay, straight or bisexual, they showed about four times more arousal (to one sex or the other),” says Rieger, the study’s lead author, as reported by the New York Times.
The study actually strengthened the findings of past studies, i.e. promoting the notion that bisexuality doesn’t exists, and those “who claim bisexuality… are usually homosexual, but are ambivalent about their homosexuality or simply closeted. ‘You’re either gay, straight or lying,’ as some gay men have put it,” the New York Times report states. Among others, a survey done by gay publication The Advocate found that before identifying themselves as gays, 40% of gay men were self-described bisexuals.
An encompassing statement such as this is sure to get flaks.
In the same New York Times report, Dr. Gilbert Herdt, director of the National Sexuality Resource Center in San Francisco in the US, says that “to claim on the basis of this study that there’s no such thing as male bisexuality is overstepping, it seems to me. It may be that there is a lot less true male bisexuality than we think, but if that’s true then why in the world are there so many movies, novels and TV shows that have this as a theme – is it collective fantasy, merely a projection? I don’t think so.” Adds Dr. Fritz Klein, a sex researcher and the author of The Bisexual Option: “Social and emotional attractions are very important elements in bisexual attraction.”
At least Religioustolerance.org agrees, saying that “bisexual people are not necessarily attracted equally to both sexes.” “Despite common misconceptions, bisexuality does not require that a person be attracted equally to both sexes.”
“Some bisexuals make a distinction between gender and sex. Gender is defined in these situations as a social and psychological category, characterized by the common practices of men and women. For example, the fact that women wear skirts and dresses in Western society while men traditionally do not, is a social gender issue. Sex in this case is defined as the biological difference between males and females, prior to any social conditioning. Bisexuals in this sense may be attracted to more than one gender but only to one sex, e.g. a male bisexual may be attracted to aspects of men and masculinity, but not to the male body,” again by Wikipedia.
Internationally, bisexuality has made waves – though not often in a good light – because of the promotion of bisexual chic of the likes of Dave Navarro (more heterosexual, with his marriage to Carmen Electra) and Anne Heche (almost married to open lesbian Ellen Degeneres, then dumped her to mother a child for a heterosexual man).
The issue is more complex locally, where bisexual orientation is very common especially among adolescents, so much so “that many of the first sexual experiences of young men (especially those from the lower strata of the society) are with homosexuals – and this doesn’t lessen their masculinity,” Tristan M. observes, adding that “such actually increase their masculinity, as if proving how attractive they can be to both sexes.”
Truly a segregation of sexual acts and gender identification, if ever there is one.
Particularly in the Philippines, there is, of course, the internally homophobic (homosexuals discriminating among members of the community) reaction to bisexuals of out homosexuals – though, of course, too, the reaction is reciprocated by self-identified bisexuals to homosexuals.
More specifically, out Filipinos “see bisexuals as confused with their gender identification, perhaps because they see more ‘normalcy’ in being bisexual, (as if saying) ‘Hey, I’m gay; but while that is unacceptable, I should still be okay since I’m only half-gay, as I still do it with women.’ It’s the ‘Bi Now, Gay Later’ saying in action,” Tristan M. says. “Self-identified Filipino bisexuals, for their part, tend to look at the out homosexuals as too out – more effeminate than (the straight-acting, straight-looking homosexual) expression common (particularly in Western countries).”
This may be why, especially when compared to the lesbian, gay and transgender sectors of the LGBT community, bisexuals remain largely invisible as far as representation is concerned; yet, interestingly, very visible when attacks on their self-expression is the topic.
As the debates on its veracity continues, bisexuality is, in itself, evolving, as self-described bisexuals, or those curious about the expression, change with the times. Already, there are the bi-curious, those who are open to homosexual experimentation; the heteroflexible (opposite is homoflexible), those who may be out homosexuals but will experiment with the opposite sex; passive bi or bi-permissive, those who are open to indirect bisexual contact; trisexual (coined by Robin Byrd), those who will “try anything once”; and omnisexual, those who are open to all kinds of sexual activities, including with intersex people, transgenders, and non-mainstream sexual activities like BDSM, fisting, et cetera.
When Tristan M. broke off the engagement with his girlfriend, it was because “I felt like I was cheating her. The thing is, if I married her, I will continue looking for homosexual acts; but when once I was in a homosexual relationship, I didn’t look for a heterosexual woman sexual partner (even once),” he says, then, laughing, adds: “I guess I’ve always been more bent towards being a homosexual than a heterosexual, or even a bisexual.”
If only things were as simple as that, however.
So for now, bisexual is as bisexual goes.