It's not always easy to take criticism (honestly, we fucking hate it, why can't you just agree with us all the time and love us unconditionally!?) but we try to view it as a learning experience, especially when it comes from someone we like/respect. So when we saw the conversation taking place over at ONTD Feminism we thought we should respond.
It seems that two of the main points of discussion have been about the term "heteroflexible" and whether bisexual women have it "easier" than lesbians or gay men. We can totally see where some of the comments are coming from and some really good points were made, but we also feel like we might have been misunderstood a tiny bit in some places, so we wanted to clarify where we were originally coming from. It's kind of funny because as soon as we hit "Publish" we had a moment where we thought 'uh... some parts of this might not go over well'... but we took the chance and, well, yeah, some parts of it didn't go over so well.
Just to recap what was actually said in the original post (for those of you who didn't click the link above to re-read the whole thing) we've reposted the specific excerpts that were questioned. [Note: Throughout this blog entry, we have quoted ourselves, comments from ONTD_Feminism and other various sources. In all excerpts, any emphasis is mine unless otherwise noted.]
On "heteroflexibility" and labels:
There were quite a few comments on ONTD_Feminism about the legitimacy of the term "heteroflexible"...IF IT FEELS GOOD... Of course, enjoying a girl-on-girl kiss every once in a while doesn't mean you have to identify as bisexual. You could call it hetero-flexible...or don't label it at all.You could call it "hetero-flexible", but please don't, because that's not a real word and it's fucking stupid. You don't need to label yourself or your behavior, but if you do come to the realization that you're bisexual just say you're bisexual. There's nothing wrong with being bisexual and owning it. You don't need to half-ass it by coming up with some "cutesy" not-too-gay-ish name for it. And if you identify as heterosexual, but just enjoy kissing girls sometimes, that's okay too. It doesn't mean you're not really straight and aren't allowed to call yourself heterosexual anymore.
I love the people at Evil Slutopia, but heteroflexible is totally a word and acceptable for people to identify as -- juhachi
I disagree about the term heteroflexible, if only because it has a very real meaning in the BDSM scene- if I use it to refer to myself, I mean that I'm willing to "play" with other girls (since I do enjoy the feel and look of a pretty woman) but not have sex (since my arousal doesn't got that far.) -- dangerousdame
You could call it "hetero-flexible", but please don't, because that's not a real word and it's fucking stupid. You don't need to label yourself or your behavior, but if you do come to the realization that you're bisexual just say you're bisexual. And no. -- petalsinthewindOkay, okay... so heteroflexible is a word (even if my spell-check doesn't agree). I'm not a big fan of any of those made-up combo words like fauxmosexual or metrosexual or ambisextrous, so I guess heteroflexible just rubs me the wrong way in the same sense. However, I do acknowledge that the term does have its place and I'm definitely not suggesting that no one has the right to identify as such. Call yourself whatever you want (or nothing at all)... It wasn't my intention to prevent anyone from doing that.
My real objection was with the context of Cosmo's usage:
Of course, enjoying a girl-on-girl kiss every once in a while doesn't mean you have to identify as bisexual. You could call it hetero-flexible...or don't label it at all.It's not that you shouldn't identify as "heteroflexible", it's that you shouldn't do it just because Cosmo is telling you to (without really knowing what it means). Cosmo uses it as a safe, not-too-gay-ish alternative to the word "bisexual". Also notice that Cosmo's only alternatives to identifying as bisexual were "heteroflexible" or no label at all. It doesn't say that you can still identify as heterosexual once you start kissing girls... even though you totally still can. Just because you might kiss a few girls doesn't mean you no longer qualify for the "straight girl" label.
I think it suggests a closed-minded and rigid definition of "bisexual" as well (which doesn't surprise me, seeing as it's Cosmo). The tone of the article was basically 'don't worry, you don't have to be bisexual unless you like girls as much as you like your boyfriend'. Being bisexual doesn't necessarily mean you have to be attracted to both genders equally 50-50. It might be more like 40-60 or 30-70... or even 2-98. It also doesn't mean that you have to be open to sexual activity with both genders or emotional relationships with both genders.
I think that's where part of my issue with the term "heteroflexible" came from... while the terms heterosexual and homosexual imply sexual and/or romantic relationships with the opposite or same gender, respectively, the use of the term heteroflexible is often associated with physical experiences only. It implies 'I might fool around with another girl... but I only have real sex or relationships with men' and that implication is problematic for me. I personally believe that orientation is about more than just behavior. You don't need to be sexually active to identify as heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual... So unless you're specifically talking about sex, "heteroflexible" just feels extraneous. I do acknowledge the usefulness of the term in the BDSM scene or the like.
But my real issue was more with the implications of Cosmo's suggestion, than it was with the term itself. Although I don't personally care for the label (and it's my choice to feel that way and not identify as such) I'm not denying anyone else the right to like or use the term. If I'm being snarky about terminology in a blog about Cosmo, it's safe to assume that it's directed at their misuse of terminology and not necessarily the terminology itself. But next time I'll be more sensitive about how I phrase these kinds of objections.
Out of curiosity, I decided to google "heteroflexible" to see how others were using it and I found that many people do like and use the term:
But make no mistake: for some men, “heteroflexibility” is part of that picture. The notions of “gay,” “straight,” and even “bisexual” are far too limited to encompass what many men feel toward each other.From MedicineNet.com:
So what are these young women really up to? Are they really heteroflexible? Or are they just going through a fauxmosexual phase? [...]
"There are sexual behaviors people engage in at some early times in their lives that aren't necessarily consistent with what they end up doing," Diamond says. "Our only language is to say it's only a phase. But it is more accurate to say our sexuality is such that it is possible for people to desire and want something that runs counter to their predominant sexual disposition."From Salon.com:
This means that the person has or intends to have a primarily heterosexual lifestyle, with a primary sexual and emotional attachment to someone of the opposite sex. But that person remains open to sexual encounters and even relationships with persons of the same sex. It is a rejection of bisexuality since the inevitable question that comes up in bisexuality is one of preference, and the preference of the heteroflexible is quite clear. Heteroflexible, I am told, is a lighthearted attempt to stick with heterosexual identification while still "getting in on the fun of homosexual pleasures." [...]
I resented the fact that they would root their marginal sexual practices in the safety of heterosexuality. I resented that they would be so committed to not having primary relationships with someone of the same sex that they would preclude such possibilities with that abominable prefix. I resented that feminism had died so that women now felt free to name their primary commitment to men while proclaiming their sexual availability to other women.
And then my middle-aged rage mellowed enough to see the true genius behind this new term. Heteroflexibility -- not homosexuality or bisexuality -- would bring about an end to the hegemony of heterosexuality. Think about it. The opposite of heteroflexible is heterorigid. Imagine saying to anyone that you're heterorigid. Sounds awful, right? Like some very stiff politician in a suit and tie who is so busy being heterorigid that he can't relax his sphincter muscles enough to look natural.While I don't necessarily have a problem with any of their various uses, I do question some of the assumptions made about bisexuality:
I really think popularizing this term heteroflexible is very important. There is a big gap between bi-curious and bi-sexual and Heteroflexible fills it. For me bisexual means you like both sexes equally and bi-curious means you have never been with the opposite sex before but once you are you might consider liking both men and women equally once you do try. [sexualdeviants20.com]No one should feel pressured to identify as bisexual (or bi-curious) if that is not the label that they feel best represents them, but there's the assumption that in order to be bi, you must like men and women equally. This is NOT true. I think there are probably very few people who truly are 50% attracted to men and 50% attracted to women. I'm sure it's possible, but it seems that people are putting a strict mathematical formula on something that really, at its core, is about being open.
“A person who enjoys sex with both male and females but considers themselves heterosexual in the sense that they do not relate with the same sex for an emotional relationship like a bi-sexual could. Heteroflexible is a heterosexual person that is beyond the bi-curious stage but would never engage in an emotional relationship with the same sex.” [UrbanDictionary.com]Again more rules... Sorry, but you can be bisexual and only have emotional relationships with one gender. You can be heteroflexible and have emotional relationships with either/both genders. I think we need to be able to move past putting our own definitions and experiences onto other people.
Before finding the term heteroflexible I would say I'm selectively bisexual and then would have to launch into a huge explanation about my "type" of woman and why that specific type turned me on. My type of woman is butch, dominant, and scrappy. [...]Um... what? I would say that all people who are bisexual, are "selectively bisexual". Or is the author suggesting that other bisexuals are not "selective" and are not only equally attracted to men and women, but that they are also attracted to every single man and woman they meet? We all have "types". The author says she is only attracted to one "type" of woman... but then she later says she is only attracted to one "type" of man too. There's nothing wrong with her identifying as predominantly heterosexual, but the inaccurate stereotype of the promiscuous bisexual is heavily implied.
So what is heteroflexible in practice? Well, it's me. I'm primarily heterosexual and I like my men to be very masculine and dominant, I need that specific mixture to be physically aroused. Of course I prefer partners of at least average intelligence too; what are you going to do when you're not having sex? The flexible part comes into play when I find a specific woman I'm attracted to. I'm not attracted to every woman I meet. I'd say I'm not even attracted to most women. [sexgenderbody.com]
Another prevalent stereotype is that of the "fake bisexual". Cosmo listed Megan Fox as an example of an actress that "wears her bisexuality with pride" and a few people have objected to that... Fox is a popular example of the so-called "fake bisexual" but I think that's really unfair. Not only is it not our place to judge or question another person's experiences and feelings, it's also wrong to expect everyone who identifies or labels themselves as "bisexual" to meet your specific expectations and requirements.
Fox has been quoted:
"I think people are born bisexual and then make subconscious choices based on the pressures of society. I have no question in my mind about being bisexual. But I'm also a hypocrite: I would never date a girl who was bisexual, because that means they also sleep with men, and men are so dirty that I'd never want to sleep with a girl who had slept with a man." [Esquire via AfterEllen.com]Fox may be a hypocrite and she may be somewhat bi-phobic and maybe even a little self-loathing, but that doesn't mean she isn't bisexual.
Speaking of biphobia, that brings us to the second issue commenters had with our blog. On "acceptance" and bisexual women:
As far as "closets" go, the group that has the easiest time being accepted by society (relatively speaking) is bisexual women. (I'm NOT suggesting that it's ever automatically easy for anyone to come out... but relatively speaking, lesbians are typically more accepted than gay men and bisexual women are typically more accepted than lesbians.) Maybe it's because a lot of straight men feel threatened by gay men because they're afraid they'll come on to them (insert eyeroll here) and find two women together to be turn-on. In their minds, a bisexual woman = threesome opportunity!A few comments from ONTD_Feminism:
But we definitely think it's good that women are more comfortable discussing, exploring, and opening up about sexuality.. and if a few celebrities coming out helps, great.
The post isn't all that great (lesbians have it easier than gay men?) -- eraserhead
but relatively speaking, lesbians are typically more accepted than gay men and bisexual women are typically more accepted than lesbians. What? No. -- petalsinthewind
I think they're confusing being accepted with being fetishized and having your sexuality viewed as acceptable for male consumption. It's a an easy mistake to make. -- moonlitdorian
that irked me really badly too. Because it's NOT easier to be accepted as a bisexual because both sides have some stigma and hate towards them. -- lvsinsanityThis was perhaps a poor choice of words on my part, which led me to my being slightly misunderstood.
I never said it was necessarily "easy" for anyone, but there is evidence to support the claim that bisexual women suffer a relatively lower level of stigma and prejudice against them than lesbians, gay men, or bisexual men. I didn't just "decide" that. There are real studies and statistics on this. It's not my theory, just something I repeated. Feel free to disagree (even I am skeptical about some parts) but just for the record, this isn't something I made up in my head without anything to back it up.
Of course, just because the statistics may support this theory, doesn't mean that your own personal experiences that may be the contrary aren't valid. It's a generalization, obviously. But just because your own personal experiences don't support this theory, doesn't mean the theory is total bullshit.
I also should have made it clear that in the original blog I wasn't referring to universal acceptance, but rather acceptance by heterosexual men. Because the blog entry was in response to a specific Cosmo article, I was basing it on their criteria ("what will he think?") As we mentioned regarding the Anna Paquin example, Cosmo has the need to put everything through the 'but how will a man react?!' filter and even an article about girls kissing girls must focus primarily on how the boyfriend will feel about it. So when I said acceptance, I mean acceptance by straight men, because that is the context in which Cosmo had already set up the issue (because they only care about straight men anyway).
I'm not talking about acceptance by truly 100% hateful homophobic people, because they likely hate all gay-ish-ness equally. I'm not talking about acceptance by truly 100% non-bigoted, overall-accepting people, because they would likely be accepting of homosexuality and bisexuality equally, regardless of gender. And I'm not talking about acceptance within the gay and lesbian community, because that's a different issue and not relevant to the Cosmo article (because in Cosmo-world they don't exist anyway).
I'm talking about relative acceptance by the stereotypical straight man. It is a fact that in many parts of the world, on average, straight men accept female-female homosexuality or bisexuality more easily than male-male homosexuality or bisexuality.
And no, I'm not confusing acceptance with fetishization. To "accept" means to receive with approval or favor; to accommodate or reconcile oneself to; to regard as normal or suitable. Yes, part of this acceptance is often because of fetishization, but that doesn't negate the "acceptance" in the way that I meant it... They accept it because they fetishize it. It's okay with them because it's a turn-on to them. To many straight men, the concept of two men together results in either a reaction of disgust or fear. Whereas, two women together is often a turn-on. Two bisexual women together is even hotter, because it's not just two women together but two women together, who he thinks will possibly let him join in. (I'm not going to expand on how obviously offensive this is, but that's a common thought process.)
Maybe "acceptance" isn't the best word to use, but I'm not sure what would've made more sense (tolerance? approval?) The fact remains that the average straight man is more likely to be able to wrap his head about female same-sex behavior than male. Another reason is that bisexuality is seen by some as being only half-gay, so it's less offensive than someone who is all-gay.
Another part of it may be because lesbian-sex doesn't seem like "real sex" to a lot of people. (Again, obviously offensive, but that is how a lot of people think.) That is, sadly enough, in our society sex is often seen through a very penis-centric scope... Sex is all in relation to the penis and where you put it. Without a penis, it's just two vaginas... it's "not real sex"... it's very non-threatening homosexual behavior. With just one penis, it's "regular" or "normal" sex. Two penises and it's like "OMG! WTF! No! Too much penis for my precious little mind to handle!" Now, of course this makes absolutely no fucking sense to people like us, who don't think that way. But to people who are ignorant or borderline homophobic, it's an actual (often subconscious) frame of mind.
And like I said, it's not some idea I made up on my own. I first learned about these kinds of knee-jerk, ignorant thought processes way back in undergrad Human Sexuality and Gender Studies classes. We found a May 1998 article from the Journal of Sex Research, entitled "Sex differences in attitudes toward gay men and lesbians: a multidimensional perspective" that goes over a lot of the older research (1974-1998) on the subject. A summary of the points made:
- Cross-sex-role behavior is more approved for girls than for boys.
- Women are allowed more fluid gender roles than men.
- Men are generally given higher status than women in U.S. society, so they have more to lose by exhibiting "homosexual behavior".
- Men's attitudes toward homosexuality are particular negative when the person being rated is a gay man rather than a lesbian.
- Heterosexual men may see lesbianism in erotic terms, which may positively influence their attitudes toward lesbians.
"Since females are allowed by our culture to explore sex-role diversity -- they can be more tomboyish than boys can be sissyish -- there is more flexibility for them to explore sexuality," D'Augelli says. "There are more girls in my research that explore bisexuality than boys."Mark Simpson, who is credited for coining the terms "metrosexual" and "retrosexual" in the UK, wrote in 2006:
D'Augelli notes that boys are much more likely to be penalized for exhibiting behavior that goes against the norm than are girls.
It’s unquestionable that female bisexuality is today much more socially acceptable than male bisexuality, and in fact frequently positively encouraged, both by many voyeuristic men and an equally voyeuristic pop culture and also, perhaps slightly paradoxically, women’s new-found desire to assert themselves sexually. What’s more, female homosex has never been legally or socially stigmatized to anything like the same degree as male homosex. [...] Woman-on-woman love action wasn’t legislated against because, unlike male homosex, it simply wasn’t considered of much consequence. It may be difficult for feminists to grasp, but ‘patriarchy’ was always much more concerned about where men’s penises went than women’s tongues.Just this May, similar points were made in regards to China's LGBT community:
Straight women now have something to gain and little to lose by admitting an interest in other women. Rather than exile them to the acrylic mines of Planet Lesbo, it makes them more interesting, more adventurous, more modern… just more. For the most part, however, straight men still have nothing to gain and everything to lose by making a similar admission. It renders them considerably… less. Unlike women, men’s gender is immediately suspect if they express an interest in the same sex. What’s more, any male homosexuality still tends to be seen as an expression of impotence with women. In other words: men’s attraction to men is equivalent to and probably a product of emasculation.
“The Chinese public look at lesbian relationships as more spiritual,” says Stanley Kwan, the director of an opera about two women in love, who, reports Global Post, "added that he doesn’t think that means an opera about men in love wouldn’t have been allowed. 'Maybe not a film or TV series, but an opera or stage drama, I hope it would be possible.'"
Adds Beijing-based lesbian activist Eva Lee: "The lesbian story is less offensive to mainstream society. When people see two men in love they only think of them having sex. They don’t treat lesbians seriously because they don’t understand how women can have sex without a man, without a penis." [Queerty.com]
This mainstream production of a lesbian romance is a first for modern-day China, but the fact that it is two women in love and not two men may have calmed the censors.
“It would have been more of a challenge to have gay men,” said Xiaogang Wei, founder and presenter of "Queer Comrades," a Beijing-based gay podcast. The idea of a gay man, he says, is more threatening than the concept of lesbians to Chinese society.The group that possibly has it the hardest is bisexual males. Just last week, CNN.com called the bisexual male "the last person out of the closet":
That could be because women are considered less sexual than men. [GlobalPost.com]
Some say that coming out as bisexual has been easier for women than men. In recent years, several Hollywood female stars have proudly declared their bisexuality. Female celebrities like Lady Gaga, Lindsay Lohan and HBO "True Blood" actress Anna Paquin have said they are bisexual.
"It's [female bisexuality] something that's tolerated because sometimes men see it as entertaining and exciting for them," said Denise Penn, director of the American Institute of Bisexuality.
That hasn't been the case for bisexual men like Robert Winn, the Philadelphia physician now married to a woman. [...] When Winn was a teenager in the 1980s, public support toward gays and bisexuals plummeted as the HIV panic stigmatized the gay community. Bisexuals were blamed for spreading the virus to the straight population, experts said.You'd think that by 2010 people would stop blaming bisexual men for spreading HIV to heterosexual women, but no. Don't forget that just last month D.L. Hughley and Sherri Shepherd spread this misinformation on The View and ABC refused to issue an apology or correction.
So, while we're not suggesting that bisexual women necessarily have it "easy" by any means, in some ways bisexual men still have a much longer way to go it seems.
**Just a little disclaimer, because we don't want any of this to be taken the wrong way... Regarding all of the above points, we don't personally feel this way about bisexuals, etc. We're just putting forth information about how some people feel, not suggesting it's the proper way to think.**
We really appreciate all of the comments about our blog, because it helps us get better and open up a conversation. We definitely encourage anyone to respond here and let us know if we've mis-stepped or just share your own feelings and experiences. And since we did get a lot of good feedback on ONTD_Feminism as well, we thought we'd end on something positive. (Because while we are always open to criticism, we do love praise.)
Do lesbians not read Cosmo? Maybe Cosmo should take a few minutes to acknowledge that there are a lot of different kinds of women out there, instead of talking down to women about whether not it's okay to kiss girls.
I agree with this part, so hard.
Also, based on the bits of the Cosmo article that the author posted, it seems like the Cosmo article is giving an impression that bisexuality is "lesbian lite" which is ridiculous. "Don't worry, your man won't be upset if you're bi, it's not like you're all gay." -- sarkozywasthere