Wisdom From My Female Partners

wisdom from partnerIt almost seems we bisexual guys spend a lot of time trying to convince people that we really like both men and women.  In fact we bi men may spend so much time trying to do just that, we end up getting lost in what amounts to a theoretical argument and we forget we’re actually living the experience.

Having taken a break over the past two weeks from being what you might call a professional bisexual(see my previous column), I’ve had some time to mull over my past relationships and what I have learned from them.

As if on cue, NPR’s Talk of the Nation broadcast a show last Thursday, February 3, that was just what I needed to get my creative juices flowing.  The program focused on the recent phenomenon of wives now earning more than their husbands and what that means in light of changing gender roles in our society.

What I took away from the program was how women are embodying both masculine and feminine traits–blending the yin and the yang as it were–while men still remain restricted in their outlook and behaviors.  In fact for boys, attitudes towards gender roles are more restrictive than when I was in middle school over thirty years ago.

This is very much in line with what I have experienced in my relationships.  If I take the three major intimate relationships I have had with women and compare them to those I’ve had with men, I have to say that in general women have displayed more flexibility, compassion and decisiveness than the men I have dated.

By flexibility, I refer to what I have observed as women’s facility for taking people where they are with their good points and their myriad imperfections.  There is an ability to deal with what is rather that what should be and an understanding that we all have talents and things we are terrible at.  Yes, it takes compassion to deal with people’s imperfections, but with that trait I was thinking more along the lines of women’s capacity and willingness to support others in their pain and need.  Finally, I have observed the women in my life take charge and forge ahead with their lives with a clear sense of what they want and what their world view is.

Now, I would be remiss if I did not make clear that I am to a certain extent referencing myself in the above.  After all, relationships are two-way streets.  I have to admit that I am a character–if you have not already guessed that from reading my columns.  I can be charming and witty, yet also prone to moods that are somber to put it politely.  It takes a mighty strong person to put up with me at times, but since I’m no shrinking violet it’s better they’re not either.  When it’s been necessary to tell me to set me straight–pardon the pun–it has happened.  That’s OK because I needed to hear it and life doesn’t owe me anything.

It occurs to me that my female partners got that message loud and clear themselves at some point, which is why they can approach the world with flexibility, compassion and decisiveness.  In fact, these are qualities that we humans could all afford to learn because very often life is not what we think it is or ought to be.  If women can embody masculine and feminine traits, so can we men.  Indeed, it is the very thing that will make our intimate experiences with both men and women deeper, richer and healthier.  And that can only be good for us all.

Bisexual, the Antidote to Retrosexual

bi-raduApparently there’s a crisis sweeping the nation, one that even merited the airtime of CNN International last Friday.  In case you’ve haven’t heard the news, masculinity has taken a battering and it’s time to bring back the lost of masculinity.  Hipsters and metrosexuals be damned!  The evil feminists have destroyed men, who no longer occupy their rightful place.  Men have become too soft and lazy, reduced to mere objects of ridicule.

Give me a break!

At what point did we catapult into the post-feminist, post-biphobic, post-homophobic world?

We haven’t and that’s the point.  While certain people are waxing poetic about supposedly manly virtues, some have already pointed out that the gig is up.  I can only hope the phenomenon of the retrosexual vanishes before it has a chance to take hold.

Yes my friends, you read right – retrosexual.  Thanks to shows like Mad Men and the efforts of bloggers, we can now all learn how to be real men again and take pride in doing so.  We can learn to lionize ‘great’ men like Teddy Roosevelt and John Wayne. We can dress like real men dress, read what real men read, and take up manly hobbies.  Perhaps we can learn to duel in order to preserve our honor.  Maybe you feel like you lost out on a particularly gruesome male initiation ritual.

Well I think there is a crisis in masculinity–it’s very existence.

Women got it right.  Feminism has razed the bulwark of femininity to the ground thus opening the doors of possibility wide open.

We men, on the other hand, are often still caught in the vice grip of masculinity and the dead hand of male gender roles.  Look around and you see all the advertising pandering to male insecurities.  Trying to be a real man seems to be the most important obsession for the male of the species.

It makes me think of the song “Real Men” from Joe Jackson’s 1982 album, Night and Day.  The song asks “What’s a man now?/What’s a man mean?/Is he rough or is he rugged/Cultural and clean?/Now it’s all changed/It’s got to change more/We thinks it’s getting better/But nobody’s really sure.”

By the time I heard this song, I had already discovered that being attracted to other men meant my ‘guy quotient’ tanked.  I discovered soon after that being attracted to both genders put me in a no man’s land–pun intended.  I had a choice: play to a script or live my life.  I chose to live my life.

I’m not saying it’s been easy but it’s been authentic.  Along the way, I’ve come across plenty of other men just living their lives without obsessing about manliness.  What I have found is that bisexual men tend to have a good handle on the theater of the absurd that masculinity is.  Hold the door open for a woman and you’re either a gentleman or a dinosaur.  Hold the door open for another man–well why would you?  Or just hold the door open for other people and be polite.

How about this:  some of us are human beings who happen to be male.  We’re neither smarter or more stupid, tougher or more tender than those who are female.  I’m still not sure we know what a real man is, but does it really matter?

The Perception of Attraction

oppinionAs I was reading this article by my co writer, Peter Ruggiero, I was struck by this quote: “On top of this, there are some extra challenges for the bisexual male. If you’re one of the “regular guys,” folks may not want to believe that you are also attracted to other men. If you’re a man who’s gender atypical, folks often have a hard time believing you like women. I have a friend, also named Peter, whom I like to quote on this subject; “I’m here, I’m queer and I like women too. Get used to it!”’ I couldn’t have put it better myself.”

That really made me think—being in the bisexual community has taught me not to judge people by appearances and even mannerisms, because those are not set in stone and mean different things to different people, and can change over time. This brings with it a certain openness, to get to know people for who they are on the inside, not outside, and not to follow stereotypes. Basically, don’t judge a book by its cover, but there is much more to it even than that.

One problem people have with understanding bisexuality seems to be based on understanding gender and gender roles. If a person doesn’t fit into a certain perceived gender box, i.e. they don’t behave, look, or dress in a way that is supposed to fit with their gender, then they can’t possibly be bisexual. This has been a problem for the gay and lesbian community as well, as many masculine gay men and feminine lesbians will tell you—but it seems to be an even bigger problem for bisexuals, because of the duality of our attractions, and because we sometimes change roles and demeanor depending on what community we are in.

If a man is considered masculine, he can’t possibly be attracted to men, if he is perceived as more feminine, then he can’t possibly be attracted to women. For women, if you are “too butch”, it’s hard to imagine you liking men, and if you’re what is considered a feminine woman, people have a hard time believing you can be attracted to other women. I’ve experienced it myself—depending on how I dress, or act, my hair length, my nails-I have to be either gay or straight, because I “can’t possibly be attracted to (insert either gender).” A few weeks ago I met what many would consider a very “butch looking lesbian”—who started telling me she’s actually bisexual and dates men as well as women. I admit, even I had thought she was a lesbian by first glance-which really goes to show that unfortunately these stereotypes get ingrained in all of us at some level.

Since there is a mainstream gay and lesbian community, and several stereotypes have grown up around it (all gay men are feminine acting, all lesbians are masculine acting), bisexuals often get caught between the stereotypes—if we behave “too straight”, we must really be straight and just “experimenting”, if we behave “too gay” we must just be denying we are really gay. These stereotypes that both sides have of each other run rampant in both communities. I tried dissecting it in the gay community once, and asking “what does it actually mean to be too straight? Am I acting too feminine for you? Does this mean I can’t possibly be attracted to women? Would you say that to someone who considers herself a “femme” lesbian?” Naturally I didn’t get an answer, just a look of confusion.

I’m sure if I asked in the straight community-“what exactly does it mean to be too gay?” If a woman doesn’t wear skirts, or has short hair, or is too opinionated— does that automatically mean she can only be attracted to women and not men? If a guy is short, not into sports, and not stereotypically masculine, is he automatically attracted to only men and not women? We’ve seen those stereotypes broken over and over again, that how someone looks or even acts in a given situation doesn’t determine who they can be attracted to—there’s even a name for it in the gay community—“straight acting” gay man or woman” and yet the stereotypes persist.

Then we have the idea of “well you don’t act like a bisexual”—how is a bisexual person supposed to act? Should we have someone of each gender on each arm? Should we be a cross between a gay stereotype and a straight one? Do I need a sign? Do I need to actively chase both men and women in front of people? I never seem to get answers to any of these questions either.

So to paraphrase Peter’s friend: “I’m here, I’m queer, and I like men too. Get used to it!”