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Born Again Bisexual


By Carman Bradley

Dennis Altman, author of The Homosexualization of America, The Americanization of the Homosexual, noted the dilemma the bisexual poses for gay and lesbian theorists.  Commenting on the biological basis for homosexuality, he writes:

There is a political problem here: the great advantage of the idea that homosexuals are ‘born, not made’ is that it suggests the condition is unalterable, and the identity innate.  There is certain comfort in being able to assert, as does Alec in Mary Renault’s The Charioteer, ‘I didn’t choose to be what I am, it was determined when I wasn’t in a position to exercise any choice and without my knowing what was happening.[i]

The greater problem with the idea of a discrete homosexual identity is that it ignores the large numbers of people who are both behaviorally and emotionally bi-sexual and therefore ambivalent about how far to adopt a homosexual identity.  This ambivalence leads to their being attacked both by gays concerned to strengthen the idea of this identity, and by “experts” who seem affronted by ambivalence.  Thus the psychoanalyst Hendrik Ruitenbeck sees bisexuality as the refuge of “those people who are unwilling to face up to their sexuality as part of their whole being.”[ii]

Marjorie Garber, in Viceversa, offers an explanation for the value of the notion of orientation “conversion” in the so-called “sexuality wars.”   The word “conversion” seems to recur with great frequency to describe changes, or supposed changes, in people’s sexual orientation.  The word, recalling Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, calls up something that happens when one is already on a road, producing an inner change of direction, a reorientation, a turn.  The appeal of the conversion metaphor lies in part in its narrative clarity:  “I was this, but now I’m that.  I was blind, but now I see.”  However, observes Garber:

The mutual exclusivity of the two moments, figured as blindness and truth, would seem to preclude the possibility of so called ‘bisexual conversion.’

For her, in “most cases of blindness and insight, the truth may be slightly more complicated.”[iii] One further convenience of some conversion stories is the instant invalidation of an inconvenient past.  There was “before” and then there is “now.”  Apparently, if you believe in conversion, the two stages need not have anything to do with each other.  Writes Garber:

The fact that several mid-level figures in the Watergate scandal underwent highly publicized conversion experiences, becoming ‘born again’ and dedicating themselves to the pursuit of sectarian virtue, was widely seen as an appropriate cleansing gesture that wiped the moral and ethical slate clean.  For related reasons conversions in prison are not uncommon, nor do I mean to imply that they are false or insincere.  But conversion is, to use an overworked word, ‘binary.’  It draws a line.  It is not interested in questioning the existence, or the moving nature, of the borderline.[iv]

Elaine Pagels, author of Adam and Eve and the Serpent, observed that:

...converts as Justin, Athenagoras, Clement, and Tertullian all describe specific ways in which conversion changed their own lives and those of many other, often uneducated, believers, in matters involving sex, business, magic, money, paying taxes, and radical hatred.  Their own accounts suggest that such converts changed their attitudes toward the self, toward nature, and toward God, as well as their sense of social and political obligation, in ways that often placed them in diametric opposition to pagan culture.[v]

One should note that Paul and many Christians did not ask to meet Christ, they were seemingly pursued - God hunted them down.  However, the immediate question is: Does God convert one to bisexuality?

Against a backdrop of conversion ideologies, Garber cites the recent development of a button declaring the wearer to be a “born-again bisexual.”  Many persons have written memoirs or appeared on talk shows to explain how they used to think of themselves as gay or straight and now think of themselves as bisexual.  But the nature of these personal adjustments does not, by and large, present itself as exclusion or denunciation, or a rewriting of the whole personal narrative.  Rather it tends to take the form of inclusiveness, what a formerly gay man now involved with a woman described as finding the other half of the human race attractive.  It was not that he had lost his interest in men - not at all. But he was now involved with a woman.[vi]

“I know now I’m bisexual,” a woman may say.  To such statements, Garber says, “But these are not conversions.” Conversions are not rheostats but on-off experiences.  They are often, in the secular world, motivated by considerations we could call political, such as solidarity, heterosexual privilege, a decision that certain life activities, like having children, belong to a world that is hetero- rather than homosexual.  On the other hand, in the spiritual world, conversion could be motivated by issues of faith, by a belief that homosexuality and bisexuality are against God’s law.  Says Garber:

These days conversion narratives are often closely related to the whole question of sexual labels and of catagories of identity.[vii]

The stereotypical sexual conversion narratives can go either from straight to gay, or from gay to straight.  Garber concludes that the notion of legitimate bisexual conversion crashes against a power boundary - the “People’s erotic investment in the institution of marriage.”[viii] The collateral impact on the institution of heterosexual marriage from the legalization of say bisexual marriage would be enormous.  But more surprising to the heterosexual observer, are the consequences of full legitimacy of bisexuality within gay and lesbian communities.  Garber writes:

’Just a phase’ - it’s what many parents say and hope when their children tell them they’re gay, lesbian, or bisexual.  But bisexuals are also accused of going through a ‘phase’ by many gays and lesbians, who consider that there are really only two poles, straight and gay.  Once they grow up, the idea seems to be, they will know which one they are.  Until that time they are waffling, floundering, vacillating, faking, posturing, or being misled by dangerous acquaintances.  Bisexuality thus gets defined as intrinsically immature, as, in a way, the very sign of immaturity, and bisexuals are urged by many gays, as well as many straights, to put away childish things.[ix]

Writing under the subject, “Fluidity of Sexual Preference,” in their book Dual Attraction, authors Martin S. Weinberg, Colin J. Williams and Douglas W. Pryor explain the impact AIDS has had on the orientation of bisexuals.[x] Given that AIDS has been called a “gay disease” and that bisexuals are widely thought of as carriers of the disease, could the disease change a bisexual preference?  Was their dual attraction fixed, or could it be given up easily?  If so, were they “really” bisexual?  All these questions reflect on the wider question of the adaptability of sexual preference to environmental change.  What is changeable and what is not?  Weinberg found that the major change for the bisexuals was their avoidance of men - particularly bisexual men - as sexual partners.  Women were especially likely to do this.

I wouldn’t sleep with bisexual men at this point and I would have in the past.  [Why?] Because they could possibly be carrying the [HIV] virus.  It seems risky to sleep with men who have been sleeping with other men.  (F)

It’s been comforting to be able just to relate to females and I feel that’s an easy and valid option and a safe one too.  (F)

Weinberg found not only did bisexual women reject men as sex partners, but to a lesser degree bisexual men did as well.

I’ve stopped having sex with men.  AIDS was a big reason.  It was just not worth it.  I was afraid that women would not want to be involved with a bisexual man.  My identity as a bisexual has diminished as I don’t act on my bisexual feelings. (M)

Since I feel flexible in my sexuality and can choose between genders, I’ve made a conscious effort to choose women and avoid the AIDS problem. (M)[xi]

Thus the AIDS crisis forced many bisexuals to examine their sexual preference and to make choices.  They were more aware of the flexibility of their choices, at least insofar as their sexual behavior was concerned.  All aspects of the bisexuals’ sexual preference seemed to be touched by the emergence of AIDS: their frequency of sex; their number and balance of same sex/opposite sex partners; their view of sexual pleasure versus intimacy; their choice of some sex acts over others, and so on.  And this has occurred through factors in the social environment that Weinberg described as involved relationships, group ideologies, group support, the sexual politics of minorities, and the wider community in which they became involved.  In sum, says Weinberg, “AIDS had sharply increased the importance of environmental factors.”[xii]

Weinberg also found many other reasons bisexuals gave for changing their orientation.  He writes:

…deciding that the heterosexual label more accurately fit them; problems of self-acceptance; a result of undergoing therapy; a spiritual transformation; a desire for monogamy; wanting a traditional marriage; and having a baby.  This last case is instructive as it shows how a change in sexual preference can be affected by a typical life event, which is often underrated in academic theories of sexuality.[xiii]

Where in Scripture is lifestyle space given for bisexuality or   flexibility in sexual preference?


Copyright © 2008 StandForGod.Org

[i] Mary Renault, The Charioteer (London, Longmans, 1953), p 232, cited in Altman, p.45..

[ii] Hendrik Ruitenbeek, Homosexuality: A Changing Picture (London:Souvenir Press, 1973), p.202.

[iii] Majorie Garber, VICEVERSA (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), p.345.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Justin, I Apology pp.14-16; pp.27-29; 2 Apology; Tertullian, Apology 3. Cited in Elaine Pagels, Adam, Eve and the Serpent (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p.10.

[vi] Garber, VICEVERSA, p.346.

[vii] Ibid., pp.346 and 347.

[viii] Ibid., p.347.

[ix] Ibid., p.352.

[x] Martin S. Weinberg, Colin J. Williams, Douglas W. Pryor, Dual Attraction: Understanding Bisexuality (New York: Oxford Press, 1994), p.214.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid., p.217.

[xiii] Ibid., p.222.