Controversial poll shows wide prevalence of bisexuality

Source

21 December 2007
The Washington Blade

Controversial poll shows wide prevalence of bisexuality

Some say findings inflated, others claim ‘bi-phobia is alive and well’

JOSHUA LYNSEN

Some say findings inflated, others claim ‘bi-phobia is alive and well’

A national poll showing that bisexuals account for half the number of people who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual is drawing mixed reactions.

Many bisexual men and women told the Blade that the findings, part of a poll funded by Human Rights Campaign and controlled by City University of New York’s Hunter College, are enlightening.

“I think it definitely holds some truths about the gay community that most members would rather ignore,” said Nicole Kristal, co-author of “The Bisexual’s Guide to the Universe.”

“There are plenty of lesbians in the gay community who occasionally sleep with men and still call themselves lesbians and vice versa. People need to start being honest in their daily lives about their actual behaviors rather than hiding behind convenient black-and-white labels that breed acceptance from their gay and lesbian peers who often condemn bisexuality.”

The poll of 768 people, conducted last month, shows in its adjusted final tally that 15.4 percent of respondents are bisexual men and 33.5 percent are bisexual women. Gay men accounted for 33.4 percent of the poll’s respondents and lesbians accounted for 17.8 percent. The poll asked respondents to assign their own sexual orientation.

Amy Andre, a sexuality studies expert who helped write a bisexual health issues report this year for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said the poll’s findings are not without precedent.

The U.S. government’s National Survey of Family Growth found in 2002 that 56 percent of men and women who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual were bisexual.

“So the findings at Hunter come as no surprise to me,” she said. Neither do the reactions to the Hunter study. Bi-phobia is unfortunately alive and well in the LGBT community, as is ignorance about the lives of bisexual people within the community.”

The poll attracted several critics, including gay author and commentator Andrew Sullivan, who suggested the poll was “rigged for PC purposes to inflate the number of bisexuals and lesbians.”

Other critics said the poll erred and that bisexuals represent a small minority among those who are gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Many bisexuals, however, suggested that Sullivan maintains a narrow view.

“He surrounds himself with gay friends and is involved in social circles that are predominantly gay,” said James Fenter, a 46-year-old bisexual man from Boston. “So he doesn’t meet many bisexuals and then he just makes the extrapolation that since he doesn’t know many bisexuals, they don’t exist.”

Some bisexuals told the Blade they tire of such attitudes, shared by gays and straights alike. Loraine Hutchins, a 59-year-old bisexual woman from Takoma Park, Md., said she has “often been made to feel that bisexuality is rare and inconsequential.”

Wendy Curry, a 42-year-old bisexual woman from Weare, N.H., agreed.

“At times it seems we’ve wasted years trying to prove our existence,” she said. “And why? The Andrew Sullivans of the world will never see us.”

In this together

But many bisexuals said they were encouraged by the Hunter College poll, and noted it’s now up to individual bisexuals to affirm the finding.

“When we don’t identify ourselves, we only lend to the impression that we aren’t even there,” said Erynn Rowan Laurie, a 46-year-old bisexual woman from Everett, Wash. “We create our own invisibility.”

She said the Hunter College poll, which “demonstrates we actually exist,” could help bisexuals find new acceptance among their gay and lesbian peers.

And with that acceptance, said Mimi Hoang, a 30-year-old bisexual woman from Los Angeles, could come benefits for all.

“It’s sad to me that gays and lesbians have such a hard time standing by their bi brothers and sisters,” she said, “because we are really in this fight together, about having our love lives and families validated and respected, no matter what gender we love.”

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