Hello, Goodbye: Bisexual in the 70s

PEOPLE ARE OFTEN surprised to learn that I used to date men because I am a happily married, middle-aged guy with two sons. Their surprise at my sexual history catches me off guard for a couple of reasons: I assume that who I am is as obvious to everyone else as it is to me and that most people's sexual experience is similar to mine. The latter assumption is based on my hazy understanding of the pioneering research of Dr. Albert Kinsey. It turns out that my recall of Kinsey is rather poor and that contemporary research shows less sexual contact between men than Kinsey reported.

Since puberty, my own sexual life has had three distinct periods. In my teens, sex was solitary and theoretical. I read about sex a lot, thought about it constantly, and became an accomplished soloist. I decided I was bisexual very quickly and easily, an identity that was consonant not only with my own self but also with the androgynous and liberal spirit of the '70s.

My 20s were all about being activeand activistin regard to my sexuality. It was a stimulating decade, both sexually and politically, but rather emotionally exhausting.

By the mid-'80s, I had decided that monogamy was the lifestyle for me. Having more than one relationship at a time was too complicated, and AIDS, especially in the early years when knowledge about the transmission of HIV was spotty, completely changed casual sex. I had also learned in the course of my 20s that while it was easier to hook up with men (we are sluts, after all), it was easier for me to form deep romantic attachments to women. For the last 16 years, I have been with a woman in a monogamous relationship that has grown into a wonderful marriage.

Up until writing this article, I relied on my own version of Kinsey to bolster my assumption that my experience was pretty common. As Kinsey wrote, "Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects." Kinsey found 37 percent of American men had "at least some overt homosexual experience to the point of orgasm between adolescence and old age." He also reported that "10 percent of the males are more or less exclusively homosexual . . . for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55." Kinsey based his findings on 5,300 interviews with men in the 1940s. The research did not, however, use "probability samples," the touchstone of contemporary scientific statistical gathering.

In 1992, Professor Edward Laumann and his colleagues at the University of Chicago interviewed 3,432 men and women about their sex lives, using contemporary statistical methods. Laumann found 9 percent of the men reported having had some kind of sexual contact with other men since puberty. Only 4.9 percent of the men had same-sex partners since turning 18. A still smaller number of the men, 2.8 percent, "report identifying with a label denoting same gender sexuality." Assuming Laumann's research is more valid than Kinsey'sand I know that's a debatable assumptionit's no wonder that people are surprised to learn I used to date guys.

Thanks to my former writing colleague Wm. Stephen Humphrey, who coined a term for me, I'm ready to reply, however, if some social scientist calls and asks for my sexual identity: "I'm a bisexual emeritus."

ghowland@seattleweekly.com

 
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