Designer Tom Ford once told Details magazine: “There’s one indulgence every man should try in his lifetime. If you’re straight, sleep with a man at least once, and if you’re gay, don’t go through life without sleeping with a woman.”
Gucci’s sartorial savant could—pardon the following phrase—”get away with” that—pardon the following adjective—”edgy” quote since he’s an out gay man. Having already wandered away from the heteronormative fold, of course it’s fine for him to explore both male and female physical contact. A straight guy saying that? Whoa, buddy, you’ve gotta be gay. Because male bisexuality doesn’t exist, right? Oh, wait.
That Ford quote popped up in 2009 Daily Beast column discussing how male bisexuality was so hot right then. Well, for starters, Ford wasn’t explicitly advocating for bisexuality but open-minded heteroflexibility. Its interpretation as a bisexuality plug isn’t all that surprising, however, since the cultural conclusions we draw about male-on-male sexual activity are far more black and white than those we make regarding females. If, say, Adam Levine had written “I Kissed a Boy and I Liked It?” do you think it would’ve been as well received as Ms. Perry’s pop single? I think not.
That 2009 column argued that pop culture “bromances” were bringing male bisexuality into the mainstream, but that thesis was tenuous at best. The “bro” in “bromance” offered a linguistic cue that any guy pals labeled as such were merely platonic, not gettin’ physical like Oliva Newton John. And not until earlier this year has scientific research dismantled the whole “gay, straight, or lying” sexual stereotype imposed on men.
Some brief background:
A 2005 study found that male participants exhibited distinctly diverging patterns in arousal when watching erotic movies involving only women or only men. In other words, the guys were either into the the guys or into the women on screen. No middle ground. Their conclusion in a nutshell? Male bisexuality is bunk.
Then, New York Times magazine featured an article in 2009 detailing the differences in male and female genital arousal when viewing erotic interactions, which implied that it’s far easier to for women to swing both ways:
No matter what their self-proclaimed sexual orientation, they showed, on the whole, strong and swift genital arousal when the screen offered men with men, women with women and women with men.
A pertinent problem with denying the existence of male bisexuality is that it, by extension, denies men the sexual fluidity afforded to women. Yes, female bisexuality is eroticized and objectified in a negative way that derides such sexual behavior as a performance to satisfy the heterosexual male gaze. But society is nevertheless more comfortable with it. For bisexual men, it’s another story. We aren’t sure what it looks like and how to negotiate it and calmly, rationally accept it as part of the sexual spectrum. So instead, we call them liars? That can’t be good for anyone. Dan Savage has offered personal anecedotal evidence of (usually) younger men who claim bisexuality to delay or avoid coming out completely, and additional academic research confirms that pattern. But again, extrapolating such evidence to frame male bisexuality as some sort of stop along the way toward Gaytopia, a gateway drug to full-blown phallic addiction, isn’t helping us either.
Fortunately, a study published this summer offered an empirical reason to reexamine this mistrust of male bisexuality. A psychology team from Northwestern University tightened the criteria for recruiting bisexual men and found that, lo and behold, the arousal patterns indeed matched their self-identification. The study authors noted “bisexual participants in past studies were partly or exclusively recruited from the gay community,” and did not rely on actual bisexual behavior or relationship, all of which could understandably skew results. Adjusting for those potential pitfalls, the Northwestern psychologists discovered something that sounds a lot like sexual fluidity to me:
On average, the bisexual men in our sample had distinctly bisexual patterns of both genital and subjective arousal. That is, their arousal responses to their less arousing sex tended to be higher than those of homosexual and heterosexual men.
What does this bisexuality talk have to do with the beauty/body image bent of Isn’t He Lovely? No, I don’t have any findings about what bisexual men see in the mirror and how they internalize and externalize the heteronormative media messages bombarding us all. But sexuality—and the acceptance of one’s sexuality, both personally and publicly—eventually traces back to the body. Healthy perspectives on sexuality tend to correlate to healthy physical perspectives as well. Imagine for a moment how you’d feel if people constantly called your sexual identity and biological arousal a fraud. Not too sexy, I’d wager.