Sex Advice From A Fuck-Up
By Cathy Reisenwitz
Sunday was International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. A lot of people, especially city-dwellers with liberal friends, might be rolling their eyes right now. Homophobia is over, right? I mean Cate Blanchett just admitted that she’s dated women “many times.”
New sex research would indicate otherwise. Polls released last week showed that Millennials are actually less promiscuous than Baby Boomers, having an average of eight sexual partners, compared to their elders’ 11. More evidence that so-called “hookup culture” is mostly myth.
Jason Kuznicki uses the research to bolster his excellent case for why sexual freedom is not ruining marriage or making people less happy in their relationships. Tracy Clark-Flory explores her ambivalence about learning that you’re less adventurous than your parents in bed. What struck me about the research was a barely-mentioned tidbit in Clark-Flory’s analysis. I wasn’t surprised about how prude Millennials turned out to be, but I was surprised at how homophobic we still are.
“My contemporaries are more accepting than any other generation of premarital sex (62 percent said it was A-OK),” Clark-Flory writes. “They also are more accepting of same-sex relationships (56 percent gave the thumbs-up).”
WTF. Nearly half of Millennials still think same-sex relationships are morally wrong? Nearly half of young people think that being in a loving, committed, sexual relationship is unworthy of their acceptance if the people in the relationship happen to share a gender.
As an urban coastal social liberal, these numbers surprised me.
They surprised me even though I used to be part of that 44%. My evolution on sexual ethics started in college, when my best friend told me, in all seriousness, that it was morally wrong for women to teach men in church. This coincided with my sister coming out of the closet.
The restriction on women seemed wrong to me, as a long-time feminist, but I didn’t have a good answer to my friend about why. So I began to research. That set off a years-old process of beginning to think critically about gender, sex, and scripture.
A blogger pointed out that the New Testament was four gospels and a set of letters sent to specific churches to deal with specific issues of the day. Trying to apply those instructions to modern-day Christians is as impossible (some instructions refer to specific people who are obviously long dead) as it is insane (very few denominations still require women to cover their heads in church, for instance). From there it was fairly clear that instructions relating to sex and gender were meant to help specific churches deal with the pressing issues of their day, and make sense in that context, for that purpose.
Just as I came to see that keeping women from teaching is nothing more than residue from a sexist culture, I found very little to justify instructions against gay sex as anything other than reside from a homophobic one.
I am still a believer, but I no longer believe the Bible is a guide to ethics.
Like most people, I exist in a social bubble. I now see that my formative sexual ethic is outdated, irrational, counterproductive, misogynistic, fear-based and superstitious. Most of my friends look at the way I was raised in disbelief. I do too.
My turn toward sex-positive feminism is in large part a rejection my former pernicious superstitions around sex. It’s easy for me now, in my bubble, to underestimate how many other people grew up like I did, and to assume everyone grows out of these kinds of beliefs.
Before I called the sexual ethic I was raised with into question, I believed it wholeheartedly. I lost my virginity on my wedding night. People who don’t really dive deep into their superstitions around sex tend to dismiss sex-positive feminism as excessive and unnecessary because they haven’t gotten close enough to their views to get burned by them. I’ve learned that normal people don’t feel tremendous angst when their worldview is inconsistent with their behavior.
One way sexual superstition persists is that people who hold the belief that gay sex is wrong get to have it both ways. Because in coastal, liberal, well-educated circles it’s uncool to admit to being homophobic, homophobes can claim to be an oppressed minority, persecuted for their views. In fact, in some circles, it’s considered iconoclastic and free-thinking to be openly bigoted towards gay and trans people. Yet when you look at the actual numbers, people who discriminate against same-sex relationships barely qualify as a minority. Somehow these people feel like oppressed minorities for their bigotry against oppressed minorities. I used to be one of these people and I’m still galled by the the victim complex.
But I do get it. It’s difficult, if you’re not gay and you disapprove of gay sex, to imagine the stress of being judged as wrong just for doing what nearly everyone wants to do: love and be loved.
It’s also difficult, if you’re not gay and approve of gay sex, to imagine the stigma and discrimination gay and bi people still face.
When you recognize the fact of lingering homophobia, it makes more sense that many bisexual people choose to stay closeted. Some will only have public relationships with people of the opposite gender while secretly hooking up with same-sex partners on the side. Some will present as straight around straight people and gay around gay people.
Of course this is frustrating for people who want to see an end to orientation discrimination. Nearly half of Millennials exhibiting some homophobia isn’t good, but it’s way down from where it was. And most of that progress has been made because brave people came out to their friends and family. It’s easy to hate people in the abstract. It eventually became impossible for me to tell my sister that God was offended by her loving, wonderful relationship.
But before you judge bisexual people for staying closeted, consider:
- Bisexual women endure the highest rates of rape and sexual assault
- 78% of bisexual women report lifetime sexual victimization
- Bisexual people who experience violence receive less social support from family and friends
- For more examples of biphobia, check out https://twitter.com/dailybiphobia, https://twitter.com/biphobia, https://twitter.com/EndBiphobia, https://twitter.com/letsendbiphobia
Homophobia and biphobia persist. Biphobia can come from many directions. Some gay people discriminate against bi people, claiming that they are gay and lying to themselves. Other gays see bisexual people as less “pure,” or think they have an easier time because they can pass for straight more easily.
I would love to see all bisexual people be open about their orientation. But I can’t judge anyone for putting their own well-being and desire to avoid homophobia and biphobia over the social change they’ll contribute to by coming out. Either way, it’s important that we acknowledge the reality of the world they’re coming out to and stop pretending homophobia has been vanquished. We are far from finished.